There's a reason why the boat is called "Wave Rider"
12.03.2015 - 12.03.2015 29 °C
An early start this morning for a day trip to the neighbouring island of Martinique. Despite the marina being just around the corner from our hotel, we are one of the last to board. We manage to find a seat at the front of the catamaran, fairly protected from the wind and the spray – the latter of which doesn't become evident until we leave the sheltered area around the marina.
You know it is going to be a rough crossing when you overhear the captain say: “oh huh, it's a bit choppy out there”.
This day trip is obviously billed to appeal to those people who are staying in all-inclusive resorts, who don't want to miss out on their cocktails, and as soon as we get on board a young girl comes around with rum punches, and a light breakfast is available inside. Nice friendly crew, although at times it leaves me with a “hi-dee-hi” feeling of being a holiday camp with enforced jollity. Fortunately it is not overdone and once we're on the open seas we can't hear anything over the loudspeakers anyway.
On the way out of the marina we get a good view of Pigeon Island, and the fort at the top of the hill.
We are followed for a while by a couple of beautiful Red Bill Tropicbirds with their long, elegant tails.
A school of flying fish perform near the boat, using their wing-like fins to glide over the water for a considerable distance. The average “flight” of a flying fish is around 50 metres and they are able to stay out of the water for up to 40 seconds. Quite impressive!
One by one passengers make their way inside as they get drenched by the spray coming over the front and side each time the catamaran slams down into the swells. The video below just shows a very light dusting, as I really don't want to damage another lens – salt water and cameras don't mix well.
Apart from the odd Brown Booby hanging above the boat, there really isn't much to see until we get near to Martinique.
As we approach land, Fort-de-France (Martinique's capital and our destination) looks very much larger and more commercialised then any town in St Lucia.
Martinique is an overseas region of France, and an integral part of the French Republic as well as being a member of the European Union. They speak French and the currency is the Euro. Damn! If I'd known I was going to be visiting the Eurozone, I would have brought some Euros with me as I do have a few stashed away at home. Not that I am really thinking of buying anything.
Our first stop on arrival in Martinique, is the cruise terminal Duty Free shopping area. Here people rush off to get their cheap cigarettes, alcohol and perfume; while we don't even bother to look at what they are offering for sale apart from picking up a couple of post cards. No stamps available though, but the lady explains to me where the post office is in town. Or at least I think that's what she is telling me; my French is almost non-existent.
One of the conditions of being able to buy goods without paying excise duty on them, is that you return immediately to you ship. So once everyone is back on board (a few did get somewhat carried away in the store and didn't quite make the allocated return time) we travel the very short distance from here to the main dock, which is conveniently situated right in the middle of the town.
As part of the day trip, a guided tour of the town has been arranged, starting with the “craft market”, which turns out to be a warehouse on the docks themselves, packed full of souvenir stalls, through which we are herded like cattle. So far our time on Martinique has been exactly how I have always feared cruise ship visits would be, and I am not impressed! We walk from the waterfront area up the side streets through the town. The whole area is tatty, run down and totally devoid of charm.
Our second stop on the walking tour is the St Louis Cathedral, a late 19th-century Romanesque Revival church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The original cathedral was built in 1657, but it, and the subsequent five cathedrals built on this site, has been destroyed by various natural disasters that have plagued Martinique over the years. The current structure dates back to 1895 and was built with an iron frame in order to withstand these calamities – but of course is now totally rusty!. Hence it is currently covered in scaffolding. The church's main claim to fame is that it was designed by Gustave Eiffel, and as far as I can see, its only redeeming feature.
In fact, I get more excited about the reflection of the church in the modern glass building behind it.
The tour is led by one of the crew from the boat, and although she is very sweet, she lacks enthusiasm and knowledge about her subject, reading the information from a small notebook. We decide to opt out of the rest of the trip - which includes the library and another shopping stop at the spice market - to go in search of the Post Office and a pair of swimming shorts for David instead.
We find the post office. Closed. We ask in a couple of small souvenir shops if they sell stamps. They don't, and they cannot understand why the post office is shut. Great! We have more luck with David's swimming shorts, and fortunately he can pay by credit card so doesn't need to change any money into Euros.
Unfortunately the fort by the entrance to the wharf is also closed, so we rather dejectedly return to the boat where a BBQ lunch is being served. And guess what? They've run out of chips! The burger is nice though.
Fort St Louis
We are joined by a shirt-less pot bellied Scotsman who is around 4ft 6in tall with facial hair in places where no human should have facial hair. Like his appearance, he has a clown-like personality, and I am not sure whether it is a good or a bad thing that I can't understand most of what he says.
From Fort-de-France we make our way along the coast, and the biggest excitement of the day so far is seeing a Marine sea-rescue exercise. A man is lowered from a helicopter into the water and picked up by others in a rubber dinghy – like something out of a James Bond movie.
At the black sandy bay of Anse Noire, we have free time to swim, snorkel, sunbathe or just chill.
The snorkelling is extremely well organised, with everyone provided with an inflatable buoyancy aid (great idea!) which not only helps those swimmers who are less than confident in deep water (such as David), but it also helps the crew to keep track of where everyone is. Not only do they have a lead snorkeller at the front, one of the crew members goes out in a kayak to keep an eye on everyone – I am very impressed with this set up and their attention to health and safety.
Rocher du Diamant
During the Napoleonic wars, the British built fortifications on the top of this "island" and hoisted two 18-pounder cannons to the summit! Looking at the sides of the rock, this seems like a physical impossibility! 120 men were stationed here, with caves on the Rock serving as sleeping quarters for the men; the officers used tents. For two years the rock was the stronghold of the British before being captured by the French. It has now been handed over to the local birds.
The 175m high basalt island - Diamond Rock - gets its name from the reflections that its sides cast at certain hours of the day, which evoke images of a precious stone. In reality, the glistening white material is guano – bird poop!
On the way over, people were fighting to get the front seats on the outside deck of the boat. For the return crossing, there is only four of us out there. Such wimps! There are an awful lot of green faces during the crossing, and a few hasty visits to the facilities. OK, so it is pretty rough, and we do get absolutely soaked to the skin, but it is a lot of fun!
Trying to get some pictures of the Brown Boobies hanging on the thermals above the boat is challenging to say the least! Not only the usual complications of trying to photograph flying birds; attempting to hold the camera steady with a long lens attached when I am bobbing up and down on the ocean, is more miss than hit.
Having recently read this story about photographer Dawn Kish who ended up looking rather battered and bruised after encountering rough waters, I am a trying very hard to be careful not to hit myself in the face with the camera in the process.
I finally manage to get a few decent shots of the Boobies.
We return to the hotel tired and windblown, and although we both enjoyed our day trip to Martinique, I can't say it was good value at $200 per person. I did, however, come back with more than I bargained for: a sunburn! I obviously did not take into account the reflection of the sun on the water. Plenty of moisturiser and the red will turn to brown in a couple of days.
When David orders a cocktail called “Kiss Sex Goodbye”, I realise it isn't going to be my night. Our favourite waitress, Cathy, teases him about it relentlessly.
I am not sure whether she is showing off her exhibitionist side, or if she has just lost her common sense, but one of the single girls in the hotel goes back to her room which is on the ground floor right next to the restaurant. From where I (and numerous others) am sitting, I get a perfect view when she changes her clothes as she hasn't bothered to draw the curtains. No pictures of that, sorry.
Cathy (the waitress) confirms that the Jerk Chicken is spicy and she is somewhat taken back when I tell her to ask the chef for extra chilli. When she brings the dish out, she jokes about getting me a large jug of water.
The chicken, like everything else we have eaten at this hotel, is lovely, but even with the extra chilli I would say it is still only a 5-6 on the Grete Scale of Spiciness.