Martinique
  

 
  "We had planned to spend another day on Martinique but ferry schedules this time of year dictated otherwise."  




 

Nov 23

A rainbow provided a cheerful greeting as we pulled into the harbour of Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France.

After having our passports stamped by one of the more friendly custom’s officers in the Caribbean, we walked west up and over a small hill, passed Fort St-Louis and La Savane (city park), and then south towards the water and our accommodations, Hotel le Lafayette.

The room was sparse with bright red headboards and bright blue bedcovers. The view from the shuttered windows provided some compensation. We looked out over the park and it’s under-construction market place (with an eye to future cruise ship passengers). Towards the water we could see the wide ocean-side promenade and beyond that, jutting into the sea, Fort St-Louis.

This site wasn’t the French settler’s first choice as a location to establish a community; that distinction, in 1635, went to Saint Pierre on the north-west coast of Martinique.

While pirates and countries marauded the Caribbean, frequent skirmishes proved Saint Pierre difficult to protect so the governor went out looking for another location. The site, which would come to be known as Fort-de-France was an inhospitable marsh crawling with yellow-fever infected mosquitoes ... but ... the governor appreciated it’s large and well sheltered bay for France’s fleet of ships. A small fort was built and a small village sprang up around it.

In 1674 it was attacked ... and survived. The battle, labelled the ‘Rum Victory’, was brought to Louis XIV’s attention and he agreed to erect a real fort and name it Fort Royal ... which was later changed to Fort-La-Republique during the French Revolution and finally (or at least they think so) Fort St-Louis sometime in the 19th century. Whatever happened to lil’ ol’ Saint Pierre? It was wiped out in ten minutes by the 1902 eruption of Mont-Pelé.

Today was Sunday and Fort-de-France was quiet. Shops were locked up and most restaurants closed.

Fort-de-France has suffered its own experiences with disasters from earthquakes to fires, therefore its more prominent heritage buildings are relatively young. One of the most photographed buildings is the Schoelcher Library with its ornate facade and colourful Byzantine dome. The building’s debut was at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris after which it was dismantled and shipped to Fort-de-France. It’s selection of books began with a collection from abolitionist Victor Schoelcher with the intent that every person would have free access to culture. Today’s library possesses at least 130,000 books and remains open to all ... except on Sundays.

Cathedral St-Louis, built in 1895 and designed by Henri Picq, the same man who built the Schoelcher Library, is the seventh church to stand upon this site. We thought we might be too late to hear the large organ, but we could at least see the interior. Wrong. Even the Cathedral is closed on Sundays after 11am.

We walked the narrow streets of Fort-de-France looking for a place to having a leisurely dinner of local cuisine. The only thing we could find open and agreeable was a Kentucky Fried Chicken ! Giving credit where credit is due, this outlet had a very delicious salad ... most satisfying.

Leaving KFC, we meandered down to the waterside promenade, a popular place for strolling, picnics and spending cool time with family. A group of boys were taking turns diving off a dockside railing as two police officers chatted nearby.

A lady was selling tall brown-paper cones. We approached a couple who were just opening theirs. With friendly smiles they showed us the contents ... peanuts in the shell. We bought a paper cone of our own and joined in on the evening activity of walking and talking as the sun set and lights began to sprinkle the hillsides.

Before returning to our room, we strolled the street facing the promenade and found some cafes that would have been just right for dinner ... too late ... instead we got in line for a cup of ice cream being sold out of the back of a woman’s hatchback car.

We had planned to spend another day on Martinique but ferry schedules this time of year dictated otherwise.

Nov 24

The morning was bright and comfortably cool as we made our way back to the ferry port. The people of Martinique, who in the Creole language are called Foyalais from the time of ‘Fort Royal’, were beginning another work week as we boarded a catamaran to St. Lucia.


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