Home

 

News

Overview

Diary

Statistics

In Deutsch

 

MAIL

Enjoy some pictures of the worldrecordtour, taken in Martinique

 
 
Martinique Map

 

 

Map of the Caribbean

click a picture to see details

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tug and pontoon on arrival in St. Pierre
The 1'420 m high, still active volcano of Mount Pelée is the highest mountain of the island
View of the old city of Fort-de-France
 

Martinique - "The Island of Flowers"

Friday, January 9, 2004: Dawn reveals the first, feeble contours of 1420 m high Mt. Pelée, the highest mountain in Martinique, as our 3000 ton pontoon "St. Kitts" is docking on the private pier of Sablières Modernes (Sablim) in St. Pierre, the ancient capital. We are totally covered with sand, like after a strong sand storm in the Saharan desert. We find sand between our teeth, in our eyes and ears and especially also in our Landcruiser in form of tiny dunes. Leaving St. Lucia in the darkness, we paid no attention to the remaining fine, sticky "high quality construction sand" of Mt. Pelée, which remained at the edges of the barge, but made its acquaintance as soon as we reached the open sea. The strong wind that came up whirled the fine sand grains continuously around the high sidewalls, and we were in the middle of all and had absolutely no chance to escape anymore, as the tug was 200 meters in front of us. Suddenly we realize why the Captain asked us before leaving St. Lucia, if we wanted to spend the night on the tug, which we refused as we preferred to sleep in our comfortable car, because the passage lasted at least ten hours. Of course, we didn't prepare our beds in advance, which require open doors to do it. In addition, it was very hot and if we did not want to soak in our own sweat, we needed to leave the windows open. This all together was the fact that the first thing to do in the morning was to clean up the sandy mess in our car. But we "survived", and we do not want to complain, as it was a free passage for the car and us.

 

Bay of Galion
Picturesque fishing boat in a quiet bay
In Sainte-Marie everybody
helps towing the fishing net
 

Mt. Pelée, a still active volcano, remembers us very much to the Alps regarding its vegetation. It makes a very peaceful impression and it is hard to believe that on May 8, 1902 within eight seconds it erased the life of the 30'000 inhabitants of the ancient Martiniquan capital St. Pierre nestled on its foot - at that time also called "Petite Paris of the West Indies". The cloud of melted lava flow had the same devastating consequences as the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in Japan. Only a drunkard, who was put over night in an underground prison cell, survived obviously. Today, the new rebuilt St. Pierre has the charm of a quiet Mediterranean fishing village. Lying picturesquely at the seashore, dotted with small bistros, open-air restaurants, pancake stalls and benches at the shady promenade, it reflects very much the flair of Southern France. Everything is looking clean, orderly and neat. Even the multi colored recycling containers can be found - just like in Europe. The small customs station, where we are supposed to do our entry papers, is closed. We are told that the Gendarmes are out in the "field" and are advised to make our customs formalities at the main custom in Fort-de-France. Until we reach the Capital and being a Friday, it is already too late, firstly because on the way we could not resist to stop for fresh baguettes and our much-loved Camembert, and secondly because the traffic increased dramatically the closer we come to town. The first sight of Fort-de-France is a completely knock down: From the four line congested highway we can see an line of houses and unattractive skyscrapers of "low income buildings", which climb up to the hills - as far as our eyes can reach. From the distance, the old city seems relatively small, but we are mistaken. Surprisingly, we find many busy shopping streets. The main attraction is the splendid city park "La Savane", where everybody meets under the shady palm and Tamarind trees and where there is always plenty of activity.

 

White sandy beach in Pointe des Salines
at the Southern Point of the island
A flash of color: The red ginger flower
Basilica of Sacré Cœur with the unique backdrop of the Pitons du Carbet
 

On Monday afternoon, we finally drive to the main customs and get a hearty "Welcome". No reproaches why we did not come earlier, no car inspection, and no criticism about one of our tires being worn out. The only thing they want to see is our third party insurance policy. Once again, we may experience the pleasant flexibility, uncomplicated procedure and obligingness of the French people. Would we not have asked for a souvenir stamp into our passports, our entry into Martinique would have taken place without any formalities at all. So, all the worries we had in this respect have luckily disappeared - including the very high port fees (like St. Lucia) and stevedoring fees implemented by the Unions - because we entered the country on a private pier in St. Pierre. We soon realize that Martinique is not exactly Europe - but neither it is really the Caribbean.

 

In the streets of Fort-de-France
Carnival is starting
Beautiful architecture of Schœlcher
Museum in Fort-de-France
A well-deserved rest
 

But they have the Euro and therefore also the European prices. Supermarkets are full of attractive, expensive French products. But it is still possible to get many goods also to reasonable prices in food chains like "Ecomax" and "Leader Price" (comparable with Aldi and Lidl in Germany). Often, they are even cheaper than in the Anglophone countries, except Trinidad. At least for us it seems to be the right place to stock up our diminished provision. It is interesting to notice though that we never found any French product on "English" islands - except once the cheese triangles "La Vache Qui Rit" in St. Lucia. And here in Martinique there are no products from the Caricom countries at all. The Franco-Anglophone ditch seems to be very big - bigger than the one in Switzerland, separating the German and French speaking part. May be that this was also the reason why no delegation from Martinique attended the state funeral of the recently deceased Prime Minister Pierre Charles on the neighbor island of Dominica. Also shipping connections between Franco- and Anglophone islands are practically not existent. This is also the reason, why we have to change the plans for our continuation and head to Guadeloupe instead of Dominica first. This luckily means, that at least for once we will have no problems with customs, as we hop between two French islands.

 

Freshly grilled chicken can
be bought in many places
Banana and sugar cane
fields dot the gentle hills
Fishing village of Grand'Rivière at the wild Northeast Coast, where the road ends
 

We like Martinique very much, so much that it already surpasses St. Lucia. Firstly, the island is bigger and secondly the many good roads offer much more opportunities to discover and enjoy the diversity and beauties of nature. The mountainous, with dense tropical forest covered North is our big favorite. We stroll for hours through this fascinating tropical world and get never tired to admire the green splendor of exotic plants and trees. Sometimes we hear the roaring of a wild river in a deep gorge below us, other times we find ourselves right beside a romantic waterfall. Mungos speed silently over the road and the songs of tropical birds always fill the air. Also the mountain scenery with the highest Mt. Pelée and the two Pitons du Carbet, which appear nearly vertically from many viewpoints and rise majestically and photogenic towards the blue sky, are very impressive as is the wild and untouched Atlantic side with its quaint fishing villages of Tartane, Sainte-Marie and Grand'Rivière at the Northeastern corner. From there, the circular road to the West is unfortunately disrupted for about 16 kilometers until Anse Couleuvre. But also the Northwestern part with St. Pierre is attractive, where the ocean is quieter and the secluded beaches are more numerous, often even with picnic tables and/or toilets and showers. Disadvantage: Especially over the weekends all of them are hopelessly overcrowded as on the Atlantic side bathing is strictly prohibited due to dangerous currents. A little bit disappointing is that already some restrictions are implemented at some places. Direct car access to the beach is not anymore possible; parking is only allowed along the road. The Southern and Western part of Martinique, however, cannot impress us that much. For our taste, it is too touristy - some places are real tourist ghettos. Therefore, as beautiful as some long palm fringed beaches - like Pointe des Salines in the far South - are, it is not the place we want to be now in the high season. Camping is anyway restricted. Since 1999 all free campgrounds in Martinique are only open during festive and school holidays, apparently due to misuse by youngsters, but we think the reason might as well be to support the hotel business. Therefore, we chose our place to stay in Trinité in the East in middle of gentle rolling hills covered with sugar cane and banana plantations, which cover big parts of Martinique. There, the atmosphere is rural and serene, far away from the hustle and bustle of the chronically congested capital with its mostly stop and go traffic and where it always needs a lot of luck to find a place to park. If there would not be so many cars, Martinique could really be a top Caribbean destination!

Ripening bananas are protected with
blue plastic bags against birds
Splendor of a tropical sunset
Surfer enjoy the big waves in Grand'Rivière
 

One day, in the South of the island, misfortune and luck hit at the same time: It is January 28 in Ste-Luce, as suddenly we hear an ear-deafening noise coming from the rear wheel. Luckily we were able to escape to safety from the busy highway to a leveled parking lot before our car comes to a complete halt and we cannot drive anymore one meter. The misfortune is - we already know it - that it is again the rear shaft - the eighth since our journey began in October 1984. And this time, we do not have a new spare one anymore, only a used one bought once in Pakistan years ago. What choice do we have than to use this one? Replacing a shaft takes always four to five hours and at some point, a police patrol stops. The two Gendarmes who approach us are extremely nice, ask how they can help us and even offer us at their near-by police station refreshment, food and showers, what we cannot imagine to happen back home! As the rear shaft always has been a major problem, we need to organize now a replacement pretty soon. The Toyota dealer investigates for us in France and finds out that there is one single left and costs € 1000 including freight. It seems a lot of money to us why we decide to wait and hope to find a more reasonable one somewhere else. It is anyway very surprising that we had to replace it after 40'000 km only (normally, we could drive between 70 - 100'000, a refurbished one in Dubai even made it to 140'000, a second refurbished in Argentina survived only a few hundred kilometers before it broke off and we lost a wheel on an Interstate near Los Angeles). It is difficult to say whether it is the result of an improper treatment when repairing the differential in Trinidad.

 

Partial view of St. Pierre, the
ancient capital of Martinique
The majestic "Tree of the Traveler"
is widespread in Martinique
Emil needs a beer to relax when
replacing the new shaft in Sainte-Luce
 

Incidentally, we are still in Martinique when all of Fort-de-France is in a fever of expectations. On February 4, "MV Queen Mary 2" - the biggest ever build cruise ship - makes a stop here on her inaugural voyage, what brings the whole port to a still stand. For security reasons, no trucks and no cars are being unloaded or loaded. Therefore, we get also stuck as exactly on this date it was foreseen to board for Guadeloupe. But we do not mind. It is very interesting being able to admire this gigantic luxury cruiser with its 345 m length, 41 m width and a gross register ton of 151'400 (compared with 100'000 tons being the biggest ones before). It accommodates 2'620 passengers and 1'253 crewmembers. The cabin prices vary between US$2'000 and US$33'000! The euphoria of the people of Martinique is incredible. To the thousands they show up to attend to this "royal reception", the more that the architect is said to be from this island. Since days, this great event is in every ones mouth, and again and again TV was announcing its arrival at dawn which could be followed live. The authorities and the tourist board "polished" the whole city and prepared it for an unforgettable reception. Everywhere we see happy faces, women in their colorful, traditional dresses, and bands and carnival groups entertaining the crowd. Nearly on every corner beautiful flower bouquets and pots with exotic flowers underline this very special day - the festive spirit pops up everywhere. As all the other neighbors do, also Martinique is fighting with all its means to favor the cruise ship business, as competition is big and tough. The income from tourism is said to be US$300 millions per year. Cruise ship passengers spend an average of US$22 per person. Therefore it can hurt if a cruise ship, which arrives regularly 50 times a year each time with some 3'000 passengers, suddenly is diverted to Dominica! (e.g. "MV Carnival Destiny").

 

"MV Queen Mary 2", the biggest ever built cruise ship, in the harbor of Fort-de-France
Lush tropical vegetation at Morne Rouge
A local family on a Sunday excursion
 

On February 9, after 31 days and 1'500 driven kilometers, we finally say good-bye to Martinique - a country with fascinating nature and welcoming and hearty people, who with their mixture of French charm, African exotic and Caribbean flair were very special. They showed us their sympathy again and again, and invited us many times to their homes for dinner. So many times that at the end it became too much for us and we had to find an excuse. Thus, Martinique became unexpectedly a new highlight in our "Cruise" through the Caribbean. The sea is rough with waves up to four meters, as we sail with "MV Neptunia" of the French Marfret/FerryMar-Line to our next destination - Guadeloupe. This time, our LandCruiser is parked safely in the protected hatch. We have neither to deal with a "sandstorm" nor will get wet feet, nor sleep on banana boxes. We are able to stretch our legs on white linen in a comfortable cabin and have the thrill to be wonderfully spoilt by Captain Papic.

 

Woman in a traditional dress in the
Central Market of Fort-de-France
Liliana in front of splashing
waves in Sainte-Marie
A last glimpse of the old city of Fort-de-France at our departure
 
Articles in newspapers about us in Martinique:
Article: "Le Voyage sans retour", January 14, 2004