Published: November 1st 2007
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Imagine: you are stuck in jail for stealing a loaf of bread, in St. Pierre the bustling and busy capital of Martinique. It is the fashionable place for the French to go for their holidays and has been dubbed the Caribbean Riviera or Little Paris. But you get to enjoy none of this as you peer out through the barred window of your cell, looking out towards the harbour which is full of sailing boats loading and unloading cargo. The date is 8th May 1902 and disaster is about to strike! Late in the morning, a terrific rumble comes from the nearby mountain, Mt. Pele and suddenly rock, ash and hot embers start raining down upon the town, sinking the ships, burning buildings and killing the entire population over the course of the day. In the jail, you are the one person to survive the disaster which destroys the area….

We have spent the last few days on Martinique experiencing some French culture and food - baguettes and cheese all round! The highlight of the visit was climbing Mt Pele. On Monday we started our exploration of local history by exploring the town of St. Pierre, checking out the old buildings that survived the volcano. In the afternoon I went for a dive with two of the other teachers to try and find some of the wrecks littering the harbour - all the boats that sunk as a result of the eruption, killing everyone aboard. It was a very creepy dive in 30m of muddy water with old hulks of wood; the planking outlined in the sand appearing from the gloom.

Yesterday we climbed the volcano itself. It was a 6 hour round trip up a series of steep rocky slopes, one of which was nicknamed the ‘Spirit Breaker’ because there seemed to be no end to the climb. The whole volcano was covered in thick fog, which lifted occasionally in the strong winds to show the path for a minute or two before the fog descended again. The peak was a very lonely spot, with a jagged cliff off one side and the wind whistling up it and over the top at an alarming rate. The conditions reminded me a lot of Dartmoor with the grey drizzly weather and fog, but the hike was phenomenal and well worth the trip up the ‘Spirit Breaker’!

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