Martinique: North And Other Adventures

We have spent the first few days in Martinique visiting beaches in the south and in the meantime, managed to toast ourselves to the level of lobsters. We woke up with our backs red and itchy – it was clear that we need to alternate beach time with other activities. An ambitious plan prevailed – we were going to hike mountain Pele and drive through tropical forests possibly stopping at the botanical garden.

We set out early morning on our third day in a direction north and it did not take too long until we were on one of the national highways (which there are I believe 5 of them). The roads were new and smooth and ran through the mountains with thick tropical forests on the sides. While Nicolas was excited to drive, those are the exact types of roads that make me sick so I was hoping that we make it to our destination as fast as possible (that not to say that I was not excited by nature around – just seeing orange tree with fruit on them was impressive; for some reason, it is a common fruit for me but I have never seen it in its natural environment!). We have all forgotten about the botanical garden, Jardin de Batala, and were merrily driving through narrow roads in the direction of the mountains when we stumbled upon a range of cars parked on the sides of the road and then it clicked – here was the garden we planned to visit while we were still in Canada.

Jardin de Batala was great – there were rare tropical species and some of them were flowering, lily ponds and canopy walks. It was fun to walk between trees with the views on the ocean and mountains in the distance.  The visit of the garden also made me think of my grandfather who was always very fond of plants and animals and knows many species by heart. I have decided to take pictures of the most unusual plants that we saw during the trip and make short descriptions on the back of the printed photos so that I can mail some of those memories to him.

After the garden, we headed further north but lost our road at some point and by accident arrived at Depaz – rum factory/distillery in the north of Martinique. The visit to the factory is free but to enter the “chateau”, a place where the plantation owner lived, you would need to pay 5euro. Initially, we planned to go but it was closed for the lunch break at that moment so we skipped and did some rum and punch tasting instead.

As the day drew past afternoon and as to hike the mountain, we would need around 3 hours, the plan to go to the volcanic beach prevailed. Anse Belville in the north of Martinique was great – there were barely any people so we had plenty of space and the waves were huge. We ended up jumping in the waves for hours and headed home after having “fricassee du jour” (in my case these were Creole style huge shrimps) at the sunset in one of the restaurants that we bumped into on the way back.

From other memorable adventures from the trip, scuba diving was impressive and I really enjoyed it. Nicolas was really excited about doing it even before we came and it was his main goal for this vacation but I have never tried it before. I was a bit scared since I know that some people have panic attacks under water. We took the boat with instructors and two other beginners to the corals’ area and let them go first (there were two instructors and each couple did 30 minutes one after the other) while we decided to snorkel a bit with a regular tube to get used to the water. I think this helped me a lot to relax and snorkeling with the tube was fantastic since we could see quite well underwater life.

My instructor, a French girl Ariande, was amazing – she was caring, soothing and spoke French slowly when she realized that I am not completely fluent. Once we got underwater and closer to the bottom of the sea, I had a minute of panic when I thought I could probably sink with that tank on my back. I also thought to myself that it would probably be the worst time to panic and if I could continue breathing slowly, I could probably be all right. And so I was – once the initial pang of fear left, I started enjoying the robust and fascinating underwater life around me – one fish slightly bit my finger and I touched a sea egg that you can let stick to your hand while you turn it upside down. I also felt amazed at those opportunities humans have created for exploring nature.

Once we dropped off our car after 4 days, we had to be creative about how to get around the island. There is no public transportation system that goes north or south so we figured we can take a ferry from Forte-de-France to Anse L’Anne and then try to hike to some of the interesting beaches (the ride costs 7euro back and forth for the ferry).

One of the hikes led us to a place where you could find huge seashells – we saw those being sold earlier for 10euro per piece. Another hike included 10k back and forth on the highway and through the tropical first to Anse Noir – great place for snorkeling. We did get lost in the forest on the way there and as per Nicolas, we bumped into a big snake but it seems that my brain blocked that out and chose not to see it as those freak me out. I did see another underwater snake when snorkeling after Nicolas came back from his swim mentioning that there are huge turtles. In an attempt to see them, I bumped into a snake but oh well, c’est la vie.

We also got to visit the local library where you could see the books hundreds of years old. The building itself was beautiful and the entrance for tourists is free.

We spent our last evening at the Fuji Sushi getting the best fish I had in my life. As we walked back home, we bumped into our neighbors who were also from Montreal and who offered us a lift to the airport as they were leaving the same day and still had their rented car. We thanked them heartily and left Fort-de-France right at the sunrise the next morning.

On the price side, here are a few notes:

  • A dinner per person will cost approximately 20-30 euro but the portions you get are huge (I also tried there one of the best and freshest sushi in my life)
  • The groceries stores are great and you can find there a lot of European products with a fresh bakeries station. Bakeries cost between 1-3 euros.
  • There is no Uber but you can take a cab which will cost around 30-40 euros. But if you are staying in Forte-de-France, there is a bus from the city center to the airport which costs 1,45 euro one way. The bus is super clean and accessible and fast since it has its own lane.
  • Renting a car will cost starting 60 euro a day (it is possible to find a cheaper option if you are booking long in advance; we booked right on the spot).
  • Parking in Fort-de-France is paid but all the machines for parking were broken so we and anyone else including locals never paid for it.

A few more general notes on Martinique:

  • the country is extremely safe – we didn’t have any trouble walking the streets either late at night or early in the morning
  • Martinique is great with recycling – they don’t sell plastic bags in the store so you have to get reusable one and small bags for groceries are all biodegradable and made from the vegetable base
  • the water from the tap is drinkable as it adheres to French standards (it is always good to double check with your Airbnb owner)
  • Most of the tourists are French or Quebecers. I believe I saw around 2 couples during the whole week who spoke English. That should not be an issue when visiting though since people are very friendly

C’est tout! Martinique definitely had a lot to offer – a small Carribean island that has rich nature and warm beaches. It feels like a good break from Canadian -20 where I am heading right back to!

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