What a gorgeous day – not quite as hot, not quite as humid, a nice breeze most of the day, and no rain showers during the day. Kathleen had been going to The Baguette Shop each morning to either get us a fresh baguette (to eat not only in the morning, but with lunch meat and cheese), or a breakfast pastry – we both love pain chocolat. But this morning I got ambitious and scrambled 3 eggs in butter, with gouda cheese and prosciutto cut ham. Kathleen always makes the coffee, which we drink out of the large, American size mugs I had bought (the cottage is furnished with tiny espresso size cups, which is just not large enough for us). It was a yummy breakfast, and the cats got to enjoy leftovers. Kathleen call the cats the “Greek Chorus” and this morning we were up one more, from a mama cat and a kitten lookalike plus a teen longer hair tortoiseshell, but another smaller kitten mom look-alike. Kathleen gives them canned food, then sprinkles dry kibble on a fresh portion of the New York Times she had brought with her from JFK and read in the first 3 days. I washed the dishes, Kathleen took out trash and recyclables to the bins in the parking lot behind the gardens, which means going outside the gate, down the sidewalk to the roundabout, around the corner and down the stairs. We have our own areas of specialty – Kathleen usually cooks, but hates housework. I am annoyed by feeling sand or grit beneath my feet, so I have been sweeping the rooms. Today I decided I also wanted to wash the towels, and let them dry in the sun room, since I’d been here 10 days already. Kathleen is an avid reader, and heat and humidity really get to her. She promised she’d go to the beach again tomorrow, but this morning I left her under the front covered porch, reading, enjoying the breeze, and watching birds land on the hibiscus shrub. I took my beach lounge chair in one arm, my St. Martin beach bag with cold drink in one pocket, tissues to blow my nose in another, a beach cover up shawl and and change of sandals. My poor feet are tender from being in snowboots and not used to sandals, so I figured I could wear the sandals with the thong between the big toes going to the beach, and the Birkenstocks slide-in sandals on the way home, to avoid blisters. I decided to walk to the Pointe du Bout beach, which has fewer commercial establishments along it, and more shade. My lounge chair continues to challenge me to get it to set up right, so I positioned the back next to a rock wall to keep the back angled for the support I wanted. I took off my sandals and waded in the water a minute, then settled down in the beach chair. I took a couple photos that were not only to commemorate the beauty of this place, but that I might try to transpose into a water color at some later point. Then I people watched. When I was younger and lustier, I would have been checking out the men. I did notice there were mostly senior couples, a few younger couples. But the appealing thing about where I’d chosen to sit was that I was in the “family section” – 3 young children and families were all near me. A darling toddler girl to my right, who was taken in the shallow water by first her mother, then her aunt. She did that cute toddler thing of stooping down to make the water splash with both hands. An older girl, maybe 3 ½ – 4 , had a toy watering can, and she kept going to the water’s edge, filling it up, and taking water about 15 feet away to something she was constructing. But my favorite was an adorable boy (I even told his parents “votre fils es adorable”) who was perhaps 3. He splashed the water, kicked the water, did his best to swim from one parent to the other at their encouragement. The most amusing, however, was when he was first turned loose in the water, given goggles to put on so he could see better underwater. Obediently he put the goggles on his head, and bent way down, staring just past his feet, but keeping his face out of the water, just about an inch above it. His mother explained that the goggles worked by being in the water. Obediently, the little boy took off the goggles, dropped them into the water, and again bent down close to the water level, not actually getting his face wet. I only stayed about an hour on the beach, then walked back. Kathleen and I enjoyed another bread, cheese and salami lunch. The big outing for the day was to drive over to the House of Sugar and learn about the sugar cane industry in Martinique, but luckily the location was very near ours, just a few minutes east of Trois I’lets on the way to Riviere Salee. It was a lovely museum, with most of the signage in both French and English. The invention of a different process to extract sugar in the 1800s made a huge difference – instead of taking 20 days to distill in the complicated process, now it took about a minute. Central refineries were built – and the heyday was the end of the 19th c. – first half of the 20th c. Upstairs was more information on rhum – white rum is made from sugar cane, while apparently regular rum comes from molasses. But it was considered a useless byproduct until the later part of the 1800s, and the proliferation of rum as a desired drink really happened in the 20th c. Wait, I realize- since most of the pirates were active before that, – 1600s, 1700s, then the old supposed pirate cry of “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” was an anachronism. We resolved to look it up in Wikipedia and find out. Since our expedition to the Maison de Canne was mid-afternoon, we brought the car back and walked over to get some glacee to cool off- Kathleen tried a melon sorbet, while I channeled my late mother by ordering a caramel pecan. We still think French glacee is even better than Italian gelato, although we aren’t quite sure what the difference involves. For late afternoon, Kathleen read and napped, I napped and then began another water color painting, this one of the Point du Bout beach, with a rock wall marking the edge of the swimming area, and palm trees on the beach. Kathleen cooked up the steak and made a cucumber tomato salad for a late dinner, about 7:30 PM. I got to do dishes again, then brought out my tablet to the outdoor picnic table to begin working on my travel blog. Mosquitos began to bother us, so even though the temperature on the outside porch was delightful, we were driven indoors, where we turned on the AC. Kathleen is first to bed again – although I was first last night.
When we traveled together in October to Southern France, Kathleen and I had established a pattern or going out and about to explore one day, and having a quieter day resting at home the next. So Wednesday was our day to stay at our cottage and in the Village of Pointe du Bout. Kathleen makes morning coffee and buys fresh baguettes from the Baguette Shop. We eat bread and cheese or fruit for breakfast, bread and cheese and salami or ham for lunch. Kathleen cooks dinner, and I wash dishes. I also sweep the floor when motivated (sand gets tracked in on the tile floors). There is a small front load washer in the kitchen. Today I decided to wash my bottom twin sheet, as I’d been here a week and would wake up sweating if I turned off the AC or didn’t have the windows open (which I distrust, as I am fearful of mosquitos getting in). There are clothes lines in the sun porch area (which the bathroom is off of). I had bought clothes pins at the Carrefour. I am so short I have to stand up on a chair to reach the line to attach the garments, but I can pull the garment lower to take off the clothespin and remove it from the line. I took my new beach chair to the Pointe du Bout beach in the morning, and down to the Ains Mitan beach in the late afternoon. Kathleen chose to stay on the porch at the cottage, alternately reading and working on her quilting. In the afternoon we each had naps. I discovered when visiting elderly parents 15 years ago that naps as an adult were quite nice, and helped to make up for the ferocious intensity with which I tend to live the rest of my life. Kathleen finished reading all 3 books she had brought we her, and began re-reading them. She lent me her Frances Mayes book Under Magnolia, which has reminisces about her childhood in George, but I don’t’ find it as engaging as Under the Tuscan Sun. Mays relates various memories without as much analytical review as I wanted – like reporting her father’s temper and the whippings she got on her egs with a switch from out back, but not thinking through how her father came to be like this. Kathleen and I keep making ourselves virgin mojitos with tonic water, syrop de mojito and ice cubes. I fill my plastic glass with a top several times a day with a fresh drink mixture, sometimes adding lime slices. Quinine water was originally used as a defense against malaria. Kathleen has taken to teasing me about drinking so much quinine water that I’ll be impervious to malaria for life. This night was leftover night. Although we’d thought about going out for ice cream for dessert, we were really full. We claimed that we didn’t need glacee because we are both heavier than we’d like to be, but the real reason we didn’t go out again was that we were too lazy! It is good to be 66 years old and not have to rush about and get out and do things like when we were younger!
We had such a wonderful time a year ago, when we spent 9 days in Martinique, that my friend Kathleen and I planned to come back again. I am staying for 4 full weeks; Kathleen will be here 3 weeks, and then my youngest daughter will visit for 5 days at the end of January. I asked Annette about renting before we left in January 2017, and paid 100 euros deposit.
After spending the night with my youngest daughter in NYC, I drove my car over to my friend Jill’s house in Bellrose on Long Island – she will use it while I am gone. She dropped me off at JFK, 3 hours before scheduled departure. Luckily Terminal 1 had not suffered the damage that Terminal 4 had experienced with the bombegenesis winter storm a few days earlier. The flight was only slightly delayed, so we left about 30 minutes after schedule.
I always choose a window seat, if I can. My seat mate, in the middle seat, turned out to be a young woman from Denmark. I said, Oh, my last name is “Hansen” and I have Danish ancestors. Stine’s last name is “Nielsen” – also a common last name in Denmark. She is a social worker, coming to Martinique for 2 ½ months, planning to do some volunteer work with autistic children. The European Union agreement lets her work in another country – and apparently the Danish government will still give her a stipend, as long as all the right paperwork is filled out.
Although Stine was exhausted from more than 35 hours traveling to Copenhagen, to NYC, then stuck at the airport overnight, we ended up talking more than sleeping. We exchanged contact information so that I’d be able to contact her on social media, and hopefully connect with her on the island while we are both here.
After considering the high cost of one way taxi rides ($80 one way to Pointe du Bout from the airport) and unreliability of other public transport, my friend Kathleen and I had decided to split the cost of renting a car for the whole month. Now used to this airport, I was able to quickly confirm my rental, catch the shuttle to the Budget car lot, and get my subcompact. The guy at the desk wasn’t sure if I could really drive a standard, did I need to upgrade to an automatic? I assured him that No, I drive a stick shift.
Annette greeted me when I arrived at the cottage, and gave me the keys. After unloading the car, I decided that, even though I don’t want to eat out as much this time, I deserved to go out to eat my first night. I went back to the Havana Café, where I ordered a citron crepe and a pina colada. The crepe was delicious, but I had forgotten that the rhum portions are very generous here, so the drink was too strong for my taste. Nonetheless, I enjoyed sitting in an open air café at 9 PM, with a soft tropical breeze ruffling my hair.
After dinner, I walked the short block back to my cottage and prepared for bed. I tried to shower, but couldn’t get the hot water to work (finally figured it out the next day when I wasn’t sleep deprived), so after a lukewarm rinse, I changed and went to bed, where I slept till daylight, without my usual trip to the bathroom.
I got back to my apartment on Rue de Flamboyants right before a downpour happened, so I took a nap, recharged my phone and worked on a blog entry. When it stopped raining, I sat in the back garden for a while – it was very private, and besides the pots of flowers and other plants, the chickens were out of their coop, with the roosters providing amusement by going after each other and crowing, although it was mid-afternoon, not dawn. Late afternoon I decided to stroll back to the restaurant and shopping area by the harbor, and decide where I wanted to eat. All the tourist boats had come back from their afternoon trips and were unloading or preparing for the next day. I looked at the possible boat trips but decided again I wanted to take it slow on my last day, Friday, and just hang around the beach and town here. I began checking out restaurants – a lovely one overlooked the harbor from its upstairs location – but none started serving dinner until 7:00 PM, and it wasn’t even 6:00 PM yet. It was then that I ended up talking to another couple from the states – we were used to US dinner times starting at 5:00 PM.
While deciding what to do, another rainstorm began, so I sheltered temporarily in a bar. But I really didn’t want anything alcoholic to drink, and was told their restaurant also didn’t open until sept heures. I window shopped under shelter and gradually made my way back to the street when the rain let up. Then I got trapped for several minutes by a downpour, but made it to an art shop while I was waiting. The art shop was to benefit turtle sanctuaries and had lovely water colors, but I didn’t have funds or room in my suitcase to take anything home. Finally I dashed across the street to Creole Village and tried to decide which restaurant to try. I ended up at the top in a modernistic restaurant Infiniti. I was the first customer, arriving a little before 7. I wasn’t really hungry, but wanted something to tide me over through the night. There was some kind of daily special, and I tried to translate, recognizing camembert as a cheese and guessing at Truff as a mushroom. The waitress didn’t speak English but she called the bartender over, and he translated that it was an appetizer meant for companions, with baguette and cheese. I had him suggest a wine to go with it – I got vin rouge. And best of all, he offered the password for their internet! So, for the first time on Martinique I was able to get online, check email, and social media. My smart phone informed me it was freezing back in Upstate New York, while it was 73 in the evening there in Martinique.
I ended up in a WhatsApp long chat with my youngest daughter – she’d told me to download it because it can be used internationally even when phone texting isn’t available. We chatted about the challenges of my trying to remember French from back in my high school days – she told me “I want” is “je voudrais” – I’d been saying “je desire.” We both complained about the zika virus scare, and she wished she could have been with me. I definitely want to come back here – 3 days was not nearly long enough, and hope she’ll be able to come with me.
When I checked my email, I had another message from a high school friend – we’re talking about a big trip together to celebrate our 65th birthdays. After I responded to her original message, I saw in another email that Norwegian Airlines was announcing another sale to the Caribbean – this one starting next November. Apparently they cease service May – October and only fly November – April. The cheapest flight from NYC was only $49 one way ($149 cheapest to return). Holy cr*p! I wrote her. We may have to consider this!
Although I made a valiant attempt, I couldn’t finish the whole camembert by myself, and asked for it to be wrapped to take back to my apartment. Although it wasn’t yet 9:00 PM, I was ready to relax and unwind in my temporary quarters.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Our Norwegian Airlines flight landed early at Lamentin Airport. Which makes sense since flights to or from JFK are so often delayed an extra 30 minutes are built into flight times, and we didn’t wait at all before taking off. We landed as daylight was waning. We had to wait to disembark the plane till stairs were brought. That’s good, I prefer not to start jumping out of planes at my age, I quipped. Then we had to wait to be escorted as a group across the tarmac. Then wait to go through customs. Then wait at the car rental booth. “Ah-vee” not “A-vis”. Then wait for the shuttle to where the rental cars are. I finally was in my rental car – different auto maker but almost exactly like my Hyundai Accent to drive, including that Reverse — pull up the stick and pull toward you, then forward towards the dash. So I was fine driving. Martinique was like the US in terms of which side of the road to be on. The issue became that it was very dark when I was finally driving towards Tres Ilets, and signage leaves something to be desired and roads aren’t lit up.
My father hates roundabouts. I don’t mind them but it was pretty comical having me circle around more than once trying to figure out where I wanted to go. When I originally left the car rental, I took a wrong turn at a roundabout and ended back at the airport. When I exited the airport I tried a couple roundabouts before I was sure I was really heading south. Although I had a map of the island, and pulled over 3 times to consult it, it’s hard to drive at night in a strange place. I tried to exit the main highway too early, determined that I wasn’t far enough yet, got back on and finally followed a sign that indicated Tres Ilets to the west. Even then I was unsure and pulled off again. Then I followed several cars – helpful when the roads weren’t lit and there was no shoulder. From Tres Ilets I tried to follow signage to Pointe du Bout, then find the Rue du Flamboyants that my studio apartment was on. I tried pulling over again, but to my disgust, GPS on Google maps wasn’t working on my phone. I tried phoning across from a Copacabana Night Club, no answer. Asked someone on the street about La Pagerie Hotel, because my apartment was supposed to be across the street. Back to a roundabout, gauche, gauche et droit I think I understood. I pulled over again in a bit, this time got an answer, and talked until I saw a man in the street who said, I see you, you’re on the phone, non? Turned out I’d called the landline the first time, and the mother of the woman who advertises the flat was out with her cell phone, which I called the second time. One of her sons was the one who flagged me down and showed me where to turn in to a gated driveway.
I was so happy to arrive – I’d been traveling nearly 24 hours, had very little sleep on the bus or plane, and my head was going roundabout! But we got my suitcase inside, I was given keys and shown the light switches, etc., and I got to unwind at last.
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.
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.