Tag Archives: Caribbean

Women Who Buy Shoes

I can’t believe I came to Martinique and bought shoes.

A daughter who lives in New York City was upset when her puppy chose to chew on – you guessed it – her designer heels. I’m now a senior citizen. Not only do I NOT care about designer heels, I don’t care for heels at all. I don’t know how those young women can walk around NYC in stilettos, and think they’re crazy. Especially with all the grates in the sidewalks. I gradually stopped wearing high heels as I got older, and gave them up completely in my 50s. Then, after breaking a bone at the bottom of my foot, I gave up even low heels. I now wear running shoes or other shoes that support my feet.

For my trip to Martinique, I brought an older pair of white running shoes and flip-flops. But, it turns out the older pair of running shoes are getting worn down and were hurting my feet after walking around all day. So I switched to the flip flops. Only I ended up with blisters where the stupid thong fits between the big toe and next toe, and also sores where the plastic rubbed the tops of my feet.

Old women have different priorities from younger ones. While my daughter cares about style, I just wanted shoes that didn’t hurt my feet! I decided I couldn’t last even the one remaining day of vacation, so hobbled over to the shopping district in search of comfortable shoes. Most of the shops had swim suits and more flip flops; I found one store that carried a few pairs of patterned canvas high tops that looked like they were meant for skateboarders. Finally I found a store that had Birkenstock sandals with 2 straps across the foot and nothing between the toes. They were 49 euros, but I probably would have paid even more to save my feet.

So, the souvenir I’m taking home from the French Caribbean is German shoes. LOL!

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La Sud du Martinique

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Originally I’d planned to rent a taxi to and from the airport and just stay put during my short half-week visit to Martinique. But taxis were so expensive I decided to rent a car. And for the price of renting a car, it seemed like I should spend at least one of my 3 days exploring in the car. So I decided to head for Le Diamant, one of the more famous landmarks (seamarks? It’s just off the coast) in Martinique. Also, from my location near Tres Ilets, it wasn’t that far away. I had to head back through Tres Ilets – and toward the main North/South Highway N5. I was glad to see the landscape by daylight – I hadn’t known I’d driven by a golf course in the night! And driving during daylight I got better oriented as to where the Baie du Fort du France and where the mountains were. I got back on N5 near Trois Rivieres, which is often 4 lanes, and at least passing lanes and headed south, then exited west towards Diamant. A young couple from France was hitchhiking by the road and I gave them a lift to Diamant, where they planned to stay at a youth hostel. The young woman, who spoke more Anglais than the young man, told me she’d spent part of her childhood on Martinique and St. Martin, but now she lives in Bordeaux. The road was fairly straight west, with more roundabouts to get off to side roads and villages. We came into Diamant, followed signs towards the town centre and plages, and after passing a public beach I decided to find a place to park. The young man helped me parallel park on the left on a one-way part of the street, then we wished each other bonne journee and parted ways.
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I took photos of the iconic Le Diamant sitting out off shore. I could see several sailboats around it and wished I was on one of them. When I come back to Martinique I want to take a boat trip – I love sailing. The beach was longer than Anse Mitan where I’m staying, but there weren’t many people out in the late morning. It was fairly windy out, partly cloudy but mostly sunny, so the wind actually helped keep the temperature from feeling too hot. Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I decided to have an early lunch and sought out a restaurant next to the ocean. I was the first patron at Chez Lucie, with open-air seating right above the beach, so I sat right at the edge of the ledge above the beach, looking out onto the water and having a view of Diamant in the distance. I ordered chicken columbo, fresh vegetables (which turned out to be green lettuce, grated carrot and grated something else) and rice. A large bottle of Chanflor water was only $2.50 E. Although the ocean view, listening to the waves roll to shore, made whatever price worthwhile, the restaurant was not expensive, less than New York certainly, and the food was better than I’d had so far in Pointe du Bout.
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After lingering over my meal, adding coconut flan as my dessert, I walked back out the street the opposite direction from my car, past a church and school and more tourist shops. I cut down to the beach at a convenient opening and walked farther up the beach, enjoying the wet sand on my bare feet. After sitting on a rock for a while, watching the waves, I walked back down the beach toward the public quay and my car. I went up the steps, back towards my rental car, window shopping and observing the other people on the sidewalks. When I was walking by a mausoleum I suddenly realized I definitely didn’t remember walking past that after I’d gotten out of my car, and had to re-trace my steps to find my rental car after I’d walked by it! BTW, almost all rental cars look alike, they’re almost all white, and I hadn’t memorized the license plate. BUT I had left a brightly flowered beach bag in the back and that was how I identified the rental car I’d parked!
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I headed east back to the N5, but instead of heading north towards Trois Rivieres and the Trois Ilet exit, headed southwest towards St. Lucie. St. Lucie proved to be a small village with many one way streets. I found a parking place and looked for a restaurant I could get a drink and a snack at. I settled for a restaurant overlooking the bay, but they were out of the dessert I wanted. I settled for a kind of sweet cake with cream. Then I went walking down the street by the ocean. It was fascinating – the street was one way, with restaurants and their kitchens on the land side, but outdoor seating across the street covered by umbrellas and tents on the beach side. There were a number of tourist shops, selling souvenirs and swim wear and boogie boards, etc. The restaurants offered seafood and poulet columbo (a Creole speciality), local beers and rhum.
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One of the restaurants was named “Barracuda Obama” and I wondered if that was in tribute to the U.S. President. As I walked by one tent area with several young men handing around, I could distinctly smell something I remembered smelling from college in the 1970s – marijuana. I have no idea if marijuana is legal in Martinique, but I smelled it a couple other evenings back in Pointe du Bout as well.

Both Diamant and St. Lucie had some closed shops and stores, and the streets didn’t seem very full for what should be full out tourist season in February. I wondered if the zika virus had affected the tourist population – it was the reason my daughter wasn’t traveling with me. Diamant and St Lucie also seemed a little less well kept up, a little poorer, than the Pointe du Bout area. I was glad I hadn’t chosen to stay in the Diamant or St Lucie villages but in the Anse-Mitan/Pointe du Boute area. I also overheard more Americans/English speakers in these other towns, compared to the French staying in Pointe du Bout.

I left mid-afternoon, traveling back to my apartment, and got home shortly before a rainstorm hit. Great timing!

French Caribbean Winter Escape

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I wasn’t supposed to be going on this trip by myself. It had been 8 years since my younger daughter & I had traveled to Scotland together. At the end of April, when she has a week off work, we planned to fly to Martinique. In January we bought tickets, paid for lodging, and were excited about our spring visit. She speaks fluent French; I love French breads, cheeses, desserts! But then WHO & the CDC put out travel warnings due to the mosquito carried Zika virus. My daughter is not expecting a baby, but in her 30s, she didn’t want to delay 2 years. So plans changed.
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Except that, where I could get most of my money back through AirBnB for our rental, I was going to lose money on Norwegian Airlines if I cancelled outright. And since my daughter is not currently pregnant, their policy wouldn’t refund our tickets. But I could re-book… for a fee, of course. And the JFK run to Martinique stops after April.

So, here I am, another Senior Solo trip about to happen. A week ago Upstate New York was the coldest place in the lower 48 (20 below zero according to the weather app on my phone). Although we’re above zero now, I’m anticipating flying to a place that’s in the low 80s F.

Mont Vernon Pool and Orient Beach

The Mont Vernon condos boast an amazing swimming pool right above Orient Beach, with an amazing view. Just gorgeous, lots of seating, 2 sides to the pool – one deeper for more serious swimming, the other side more shallow where kids liked to play. There is a bridge across the middle.

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From a corner of the pool area is direct access to Orient Beach. It’s easy to take a beach chair down and hang out right on the beach and contemplate the waves. Or walk down the beach towards beach bars and sporting outfits. During the afternoon there are folks out para-sailing, motor boating, etc. The Mont Vernon end is quieter, easier to just appreciate the natural beauty.

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Farther south on Orient Beach, around a point, is a beach intended for au naturelle. “No photos!” is posted. Since Orient Beach is part of French Antilles, it is quite common for French women to let the sisters swing free instead of containing them in a bathing suit top. But what I discovered on my last morning when I finally got up in time to walk right after dawn, is that early in the morning the beach front becomes a parade of walkers and runners… most of them old, many of them stark naked. I had to time my own walk down the beach so that my view ahead was not of some old guy’s behind… And I had to avert my eyes whenever some guy approached letting his cajones get aired out for the day. Not attractive.

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But the beach itself, the water, the sky and clouds, were all mesmerizing. I wasn’t there to people watch but to re-connect to nature. So inspiring!

Loterie Farm and Pic Paradis

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Sunday I decided to hike… so I headed out to Pic Paradis. I parked at Loterie Farm. From there I could take the longer hike of 2-3 hours to the top, or the shorter hike of about 45 minutes. Good thing I took the shorter hike, zig-zag up a steep hillside, with me scrambling to grab on or hold onto something to get up. But even though the day was hot and humid, there was a bit of a breeze in the shade, and the vegetation was lush. The views once I got closer to the ridge, was amazing.

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I was encouraged on my walk by a young French speaking family from St. Martin, who told me to look out for monkeys. Sure enough, down the other side we saw them. I tried to get them in a photo, but couldn’t get a good shot with my camera phone. A little later, near the bottom, a monkey literally ran across the path ahead of me. Golden brown with black faces, the vervet monkeys are an invasive species in the Caribbean, native to Africa.

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When I got back down to the bottom, I enjoyed lunch at the open air restaurant there at Loterie Farm. Almost as good as the French restaurants at Grand Case… I took the leftovers home to re-heat for dinner in the micro-wave at the condo.

Paddling Out to Pinel Island

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Saturday was my day to explore Pinel Island off St. Martin itself. The ferry runs every 30 minutes…or you can rent a kayak from Caribbean Paddling & take 20 minutes crossing over against a headwind, and only 12 minutes crossing back.

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Pinel has 2 beachfront sportsbars… $15 to rent a chair with shade umbrella, $3 for a can of Sprite, $7 for a rum punch (evidently rum punch is the signature drink of the Caribbean Islands & tourists are supposed to imbibe large quantities). Tasty but expensive lunch menu ($32?!!!). For outdoor relief, the outhouse is out back, up the hillside…Do NOT put TP in hole. 

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Aside from the sandy beach & beachfront restaurants, the island is a nature preserve, with trails of hard packed dirt & rock between dry grasses & hardy vegetation.

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The Atlantic Ocean side is very different from the west side. I meet only 1 other person checking out the trails… most tourists are hanging at the beach, sunbathing or playing in the shallow water. A few children are admiring fresh caught lobster in their cages. Oh, it must be too much to get out of the sea to drink alcohol, because the 2nd beach bar has cute little round tables set up in the water. What is the point of going somewhere exotic on vacation and getting drunk & not remembering it?

Sailing the Caribbean off St. Martin

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Friday I booked a day trip with Random Wind to sail out of Simpson Bay. It was a beautiful, sunny day. We sailed east towards Phillipsburg along the southern coast, stopped to allow snorkeling and eat lunch, then sailed back towards Mullet Bay and moored to allow folks to take advantage of a trapeze swing out into the ocean and have snacks, then finally returned to moor back at Simpson Bay. Diane and Trevor picked up passengers from the boat dock behind Skip Jack’s, and after climbing aboard the sailboat from the dinghy, enjoyed an all day sailing adventure.

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The Random Wind is a ketch that was originally built in South Africa, but has been in St. Martin for about 20 years. Diane & her husband bought the business in 2007; she still runs it even though she and her husband have separated. The captain is Trevor, originally from Great Britain, but sailed all over. They do a great tag team in sailing the ship and catering to their guests. Diane made a delicious, healthy lunch, lots of snacks, open bar/any beverage you could desire throughout the day. Trevor captained the ship, and supervised the trapeze swing… the pre-teen and teen girls were a hoot, swinging out over the ocean, dropping in, swimming back to the ladder, climbing back aboard and waiting for their turn to drop in the drink again!

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I wasn’t interested in aquatic gymnastics… I just enjoyed the sail. Although one person in our group of 14 ended up experiencing some seasickness, I thoroughly enjoy the rolling of a sailing ship. There’s something so calming about looking out at the ocean or back to land, and being lulled by the motion of an ocean vessel. The turquoise water close to shore that the Caribbean is famous for is so stunning, and St. Martin sports mountain peaks that rise fairly precipitously up from sea level. For those who like to marvel at big ships, we also saw cruise ships and huge yachts… But I always find the natural landscape provides the most fascinating views.

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When I go back to St. Martin (already planning on it!), I’ll want to sail on the Random Wind again. My only regret for the whole day was not putting enough sunscreen on top of my feet… I got a little sunburn!