Life's a beach

Published: February 2nd 2012
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A rough 90 minute ferry crossing brought us to Martinique and into a different world. It is a department of France and much more developed that St Lucia. Gone are the unsigned, potholed roads – here we have a well-signed dual carriageway that takes us past Carrefour supermarkets. It really is the French Caribbean and quite a culture shock.

Our rental Fiat Panda – air con, shiny, wrong side of the road – joins the rush hour traffic out of the capital, Fort-de-France, on a Friday night. By the time we get to the southern tip and the little town of Ste. Anne, the road is down to a narrow two lanes and the traffic has eased. Here we have a studio in a small complex on the beach. Everything is explained to us in French – we nod as if we understand.

The beaches of Martinique are extraordinary – miles and miles of fine white sand. Occasionally busy, mostly totally empty. There are lots of well marked walking trails and we have used them to walk many stretches of the coast. While there are occasional mangroves and rocky outcrops, most of the time it is fine white sand, backed by palm trees and cacti, totally deserted apart from occasional crabs.

In the centre of the island, we walked trails that criss-cross the rainforest, a world of jungle ferns and giant bamboo; mahogany and slender palms. There are very few birds. We are told that the mongooses eat their eggs but we suspect hunting, too, plays a part.

We drove up to the northern end of the island to visit St Pierre, once the thriving capital of the island. In May 1902, Mount Pelee, a volcano five miles away, started to rumble. The elections were about to happen and the local politicians, wanting calm, told the people not to worry. After three days of rumbles, Mount Pelee suddenly erupted, sending a cloud of burning gas and ash down on to the town. Huge boulders were also thrown out. In a matter of minutes, the town was totally destroyed, every single building. The entire population of 30,000 died, one man (in jail!) survived.

Today, the volcano is still said to be active and few people want to live in St Pierre. We had planned to walk the trail to the top of the volcano but it was invisible due to low cloud.

Each evening we cook in our kitchen. It is a bit easier than on St Lucia as the kitchen is larger – still outdoor though. We also have Carrefour to shop in, as well as the markets. A lot of produce comes in from France.

It is interesting that the whole place is so French, at times it could be the Cote d'Azur not the Caribbean. We can't decide how we feel about this. As a tourist, it feels less interesting culturally but the local population are much more prosperous than on St Lucia – which we, British, gave independence to in the '70s and left to its own devices. But on St Lucia, the locals welcomed us in the markets and sold us local produce and told us how to cook it. Here, one feels they have seen more tourists and, while the fish is local, much of the food is imported.

On Saturday we will leave this land of snow white beaches and catch the early ferry, taking our second step north to the island of Dominica.

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