A Taste of French Hospitality in Martinique

Mon 6 Mar 2006 18:18
Rodney Bay was a bit of a shock after Grenada and the Grenadines - so many people and so much grime. Actually, it's fairly quiet and clean but it wasn't like being anchored in the Tobago Cays. It was also our first time in a marina for about a month. The SSB radio seems to have gone in ok but we're still trying to get it to work fully. If any of you have a basic guide you could cut and paste into an email, it would be much appreciated. 
We had a very good sail up to Martinique. With a clean bottom and 15-20 knots on the beam, we did a steady 7 knots. We came up the West coast to the Baie de Fort de France and anchored on the South side off a place called Anse Mitan. We're sheltered from the East by a peninsula called Pointe du Bout. It's a big holiday centre with a lot of self-catering flats built in a sort of Disney-fied Creole style. They've been up about ten years now, I'd guess, and are beginning to fade a bit. There are a lot of souvenir shops and boutiques. The place reminds me of Lanzarote but for the French not the British and Germans. Very few people speak English. Anna and Eddie have a had a lot of practice 'bonjour' and 'merci'-ing. 
Across the bay is Fort de France - a city of 100,000 people and like nothing we've seen since Las Palmas. The pilot book (written by an Englishman) seems significantly less good than it did for the ex-British islands and it didn't say we could check in* here in Pointe de Bout so, after the anchor was set, we got a ferry across to Fort de France. We could not find the customs office marked on the map so started asking around. Eventually, a man said he'd take me to the customs in his car. He drove all of us half way across town to the cruise ship dock where they told him to take us back almost exactly to where we started. It turned out the customs office was inside a chandlery. No mention of it on the door but once inside it was all very straightforward. We couldn't find much in Fort de France except cheap clothes shops and bars, so we had a pint of Stella and got the ferry back. 
The following day we hired a car and drove up to St Pierre - the old capital destroyed by a volcano in 1902. The roads are much better than on St Lucia or Grenada but also busier and we had to sit in a traffic jam for the first time in more than six months at some road works. The countryside is lush but not jungly like St Lucia. We went north partly to visit 'Frank the Volvo' - a Swede, who runs what is reputed to be the best Volvo workshop in the Caribbean. American boats tend not to have Volvo engines like our's so it was important we got spares here before getting into the more clearly US-orientated islands ahead of us. Frank was shut. Turns out he opens 'some' Saturdays but not all. I've since managed to get the oil and filters for the four changes I think I might have to make between here and the UK in Pointe du Bout.
Anyway, next to St Pierre, in the shadow of the volcano, Mount Pelee, was the Centre de Decouverte des Sciences de la Terre. This is a concrete and glass box housing a sort of research/study and exhibition centre. We thought it was shut when we arrived, there were so few cars in the car-park. But it was open and for 13 Euros, we bought a family ticket. We then (because it was so quiet) got our own guide, who talked us through the exhibition on hurricanes and set up the video on the 1902 eruption to play in English. We were the only people in a 100-ish seater theatre/lecture hall. The video was good but a bit long. 28,000 people died in what was then one of the Caribbean's most fashionable resorts. The only survivor was Louis Cyparis, who was in the prison. (The video said there was another survivor - a tailor - but that spoils the story a bit and, anyway, how could you be sure there were no other survivors?) Cyparis later toured the US with Barnum's circus. We took pictures of Anna and Eddie in the cell. 
We had a good lunch, complete with 'digestif gratuit' in a restaurant on the front and then drove back via Carrefour on the outskirts of Fort de France. We did a bit of restocking of our wine supplies and bought the DVD of Charlie and the Chocolate factory for Anna and Eddie. DVDs here are European Region.            
There are not many British boats in the anchorage here. They're mainly French with quite a few liveaboard couples working during the day. It's well sheltered. The ferries make us roll a bit but generally it's very pleasant.        
*Checking in and out of the different countries is a big feature of sailing the Caribbean. Brad said he memorised the family's passport numbers on their trip and I'm nearly there. You have to see up to four officials and fill out documents for each one. It can cost up to £25. You can't do it in all ports and the officials aren't always there when they're meant to be. The worst so far has been Carriacou. You have to check in in Hillsborough even though the only place to stay is the next door Tyrrell Bay. On our last visit, I was told that my form wasn't very clearly written and I might have to do it again. Or would I like to make a contribution to the 7th Day Adventists? I donated 20EC. I guess these things are important to newly independent nations.