La Martinique

We just returned from two weeks in Martinique and Guadeloupe. We booked the holiday pretty late and went through a travel agent. So I was really not very well prepared for the trip.

I only realised that Martinique and Guadeloupe are French departments while sitting at the travel agent. They belong to France and have the Euro as the official currency, French as the official language and I could travel with my Austrian Personalausweis to get there.

I did some very cursory research trying to figure out if my phone plan would work the same over there. It’s the same country after all. It doesn’t though – all providers have a little asterisk somewhere that says “France metropolitaine” which is everything that is in Europe (mostly the hexagon plus Corsica). Guadeloupe, Martinique, la Réunion and Mayotte are referred to as D.O.M which means departments d’outre mer (oversea departments).

Altogether there are 100 departments in France. I live in the department of Essonne (91).

When I told people about our upcoming holiday they warned me that the accent spoken on the caribbean islands would be difficult to understand. Actually, that wasn’t quite true. I understood most people reasonably well, especially the ones working at hotels and as guides. Several times people said something like “I detect a little accent” before asking where we are from. I guess they are trying to be polite, but I always have to laugh about the blatant lie.

We stayed a week at an holiday apartment village in Martinique close to Sainte Luce. It’s on the southern coast, the Caribbean side. We specifically chose something in walkable distance to a town. When we arrived I was surprised by the size of the apartment complex and the whole operation.

view from the hotel lobby

It was Monday night, which was also the night of complimentary drinks offered by the hotel. We dutifully showed up and listened to the introductions by the enormous pool. Only when I saw the animation schedule and when the animators were introduced I realised that this was a “club” holiday.

Animation can mean many things in French, so I didn’t assume there would be water gymnastics and beach volley ball and drinking games every day. It was easy enough to avoid being animated, though. All of it was happening on hotel grounds on not on the beach. The upside of the large complex was that there was a superette as small supermarkets are called, a bar, a laverie, and three restaurants, one of which was a snack. The word is pronounced more like snuck than snack btw.

There’s a 5 hour time difference between Paris and Martinique. Like the last time we visited this part of the world, we woke up crazy early and wandered down to the beach to explore and take photos.

The caribbean is the only place I ever visited where I frequently find myself at the breakfast buffet when it opens, even if it’s 7 am. Unlike other islands, there was no reggae music and fried fish for breakfast. I don’t complain though, the selection of fresh fruit was excellent and copious and there were always at least 3 cats around to watch while they stole leftovers from empty tables. And a kid called Anaïs who frequently tried to escape up the stairs.

For Sunday breakfast we didn’t just get the accra de morue (fishcakes made from codfish) we’d been hoping for, but also ti’punch.

I like the expansive pool areas of large hotels, but only to look at. We always went down to the beach and swam in the sea. Even though the breakfast room was pretty full, there usually were few people on the beach. One person we noticed right away was a woman with a two huge bags on a blanket. She constantly changed her bikini and always wore a matching pareo. It took me a while to understand that she sold those bikinis. After that initial vendor we saw one like her on every beach. In Guadeloupe there were several using the municipal beach as a catwalk. I’d never seen it before and I still don’t really get it. Do people buy bikinis that might or might not have been worn before by the vendor? Do they even have that kind of money on them on the beach?

When we set off to explore the nearby fishing village we got into one of those downpours that soak you to the bone. I don’t mind the Caribbean rain, though. It’s never cold and therefore not as uncomfortable. And it makes for the best rainbows.

rainbow over Sainte Luce

Also it usually clears up again really quickly, and then you get to see birds that look like pterodactyls but are probably frigate birds or pelicans.

Pelicans or frigate birds

The fishing village / town of Sainte Luce really isn’t big. We found a supermarket that was slightly bigger and cheaper than the one at the hotel. And there were lots of seaside restaurants. When I say restaurant I mean a shack with plastic chairs in the sand and a grill out front. Most advertised langouste vivants (live spiny lobsters) but that seemed like a bad idea, ordering a living lobster.

We ended up at the Baraqu’Obama. Yes, we chose it for it’s name. It didn’t have wifi, and I didn’t know many of the sea food words. When I asked the waitress to explain lambis I didn’t understand her explanation at all. She went to get her cellphone to google the word and showed me the results in google images: it turned out to be the thing (clam?) that lives inside a conch. I didn’t even know that they are edible, much less their name.

And that's what a conch / lambis lookes like

And that’s what a conch / lambis lookes like. It tastes better than it looks.

Only much later I learned from a guide that they have been heavily overfished and had to be restricted to Decembre and January.

to be continued…