Fort de France & Nord de la Martinique

We booked a bus tour of the North of the island to get to know more than just our little beach. We were expecting a bus full of elderly French people and except for the young women with a selfie stick, that’s what we got. I have preconceptions about German tourists abroad and was suprised to learn that quite a few of those preconceptions are true for French tourists as well. At least they wear the same kind of terribly patterned holiday clothes and also get loud and drunk when there’s wine for lunch. They don’t complain about the air conditioning as much as Austrians and Germans do, though.

Our tour took us to a church in Ford de France that was built in the image of scare coeur.

After the church we visited the botanical gardens. 
Our guide was a bit of a botanist and language buff and explained lots of words by their greek or latin roots. There was one couple on the bus who didn’t speak French, so he explained everything twice and I had a chance to catch the stuff I didn’t understand in French when he repeated them in English. That worked pretty well for me.

On this trip I learned bananas are not palm trees but a type of grass (like bamboo). And the tiny bananas you sometimes get are actually a different kind, not the Cavendish banana. Bananas take 9 months to grow and the plant dies after the harvest. Before they do, they produce one or more offshoots from which the new banana plant is grown. Banana season is all year long, so in the one grove we visited there were almost ripe bananas as well as those who had just bloomed.

In French the plant on which bananes grow are called a bananiers and it’s the same pattern for all fruits. You just add the syllable -ier at the end.

We also visited the infamous mont pelé. That was one of the few things I had read up on before climbing on the plane – the eruption of the volcano of 1902 that killed every person but one in the then capital of Martinique, Saint Pierre. When I think of volcanoes, I think of lava flowing down a mountain. So I didn’t get how something relatively slow moving can kill an entire town.
 The eruption of 1902 was a pyroclastic surge though. It means basically that the core of the mountain heated up but very little of that heat and gas escaped upwards. Right until one side of the mountain collapsed and an avalanche of stones, ash, and hot gas swept down the caved in mountainside and right into the town. The air was so hot it incinerated trees and structures. People died from the intense heat and/or the poisonous gas. The sole survivor was in an underground cell of the prison that was badly ventilated and he barely made it and was badly burned. There were more survivors apparently, but they were much further away from the town center – either on boats that were pushed out into the sea by the explosion or on the boundaries of the town where the heat was less intense. It was the same type of eruption as when Mount Saint Helen exploded.

After 1902 the main city of Martinique became Fort de France and it’s the commercial hub still today. The capital of Martinique is Paris, though (The guide made a point of explaining that to us.) Saint Pierre is a fishing village of a few thousand inhabitants now. It never quite recovered. You can visit ruins of a theatre and the prison.

Lunch was very Martiniquaise: We had planter’s punch / planteur as aperitif. Accras and spicy black pudding / boudin noir carraïbe for starters, followed by Colombo pork, a stew with Indian spices. And the lunch spot was quite interesting too: We were at a restaurant on Mont Pelé. It’s forever shrouded in clouds and looks like the end of the world.

Looks are very deceiving though. It was windy, but still very warm and humid.

We continued our tour at a rum distillery. There was a very short intorduction into the production of rum, followed by a tasting. The rum of Martinique and Guadeloupe is called rhum agricole and is made from fermented sugar cane juice, not from molasses as on other Caribbean islands. It’s burned to a very high alcohol percentage and then watered down to 40% for rum that’s exported and 50% for the rum that is consumed locally. The local drinks are planteur (planter’s punch) which is a mix of fruit juices and rum and ti punch. When you order ti punch you often get served the bottle of rum, lime slices and a bowl of cane sugar and you help yourself. You squeeze the lime, drop it into the glas and use it to dissolve the sugar. Then you add rum.  You stir. That’s it. It’s an aperitif and like all mixed drinks usually made with white rum. The aged ones are amber and darker, depending on how long they aged and in what kind of barrels. They are usually drunk pure after a meal.

Apparently every year’s output tastes a little differently – the sugar cane is sweeter when it’s hotter and better when it rains at all the right times and not the weeks before the harvest. I doubt I will develop a palate fine enough to vintage, though.

The only other trip we did on Martinique was to the capital main town, Fort de France. We tried to figure out how to go there by bus, but we couldn’t find a connection. Busses are organised by town and we couldn’t find any reliable information on busses connecting towns. The hotel wasn’t helpful either. They just said that busses are too complicated but they could call a taxi. They wouldn’t say how much that would cost either not even approximately.

The shortest route to Fort de France was via a ferry from across the bay. Our driver was the kind that likes to chat, and immediately started to explain. There are two things you shouldn’t do when on holiday: get stressed about time and try to save money. “This is going to be expensive”, I thought. And it was: about 50€. The ferry across to Ford de France was 7 € for the return trip.

we were on a boat

the fort

We spent half a day in FdF, walking the streets and visiting the covered market. Whenever we get close to a market Gergö goes into purchase prevention mode and tries to talk me out of buying anything. We could agree on getting a giant avocado for dinner and had a great lunch upstairs.

I also bought a sim card and after lots of hand wringing managed to activate it. After visiting the Schoelcher library and the headleass Jsephine we tried to visit the Fort, but we couldn’t find an entry. Walking around it we found a little public beach instead and a corner where iguanas hung out.

We used the new found connectivity to play Pokemon go (obviously) and to research alternatives to the taxi ride home. We found a page listing Taxis Collectifs and with lots of trial and error found a line that went all the way to sainte luce for 4,20 each. We weren’t sure if it really existed because online it only showed up as running from Sainte Luce to Fort de France and not in the other direction. The stop for our line ended up being right across the ferry harbour. It was the sort of mini bus I know from Barbados, but without the melodic horns. It generally seems more regulated. There were even designated stops and prices depending on distance traveled. I guess that’s what they mean when they say Caribbean but organised by the French. We made it home in 45 minutes and were really proud of having saved that taxi fare but even more so of having solved the public transport puzzle. It’s a matter of pride, when you don’t drive, I think.