Unplanned in Martinique

As New England faces another big snowstorm today–the 3rd in only the first half of March!– Bob and I have been tied down in Martinique due to the sea state that results from storms in the North Atlantic.  That’s okay.  This is a beautiful island, so it’s not a bad place to be ‘stuck.’

This morning I saw in the NYTimes that Ethel Stein passed away at 100 years old.  What a wonderfully long, creative life she led.  What amazing influences from other artists she experienced in her long journey of creativity!  I visited her once with a group of weavers who, like me, lived along the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City.  She was probably about the age then that this photo was taken.  I was smitten with her beautiful surroundings in Croton-on-Hudson, by her draw loom which she adapted herself, and of course, by her woven pieces. I was with good friends that day, who remain good friends all these years later.

I can’t help thinking of the recent TED talk I saw about what it takes to live a long a life.  It’s not what we all expected–eating well, not smoking or using recreational drugs, drinking moderate alcohol if any, getting physical exercise.  No!  It turns out that while those things certainly help, it’s more important to have close relationships, to be engaged in the world, to be intellectually active.  Ethel certainly filled all these requirements.  My friend June did too, and although she did not make it to 100 years, she lived an active and vital 88 years.  In fact, she was on the short side to turning 89.

But back to our unintended extra time in Martinique.  We have been back in the islands for a week, and while we thought we’d be on our way to St. Lucia shortly after arriving back here, the weather has not cooperated.  And sometimes, that’s just what we need–a forced detour from the plan– to learn a bit more about things.  We rented a car on Saturday, our 2nd car rental during our long stay on Martinique, and we explored the northwestern part of the island.  Mt. Pelee, the big volcano on Martinique is in this part of the island, as well as a national park that has trails through the rainforest.  It was the highlight of our stay in Martinique, so we are both glad for the extra time here.

Mt. Pelee has been known to erupt every 100 – 150 years.  Since its last eruption was in 1902, when it wiped out the entire city of St. Pierre (only two people survived), it could gear up any time now for another event.  Nowadays there are ways of monitoring these things that were not even ideas the last time Mt. Pelee erupted, and at the moment the volcano is silent.  But if it continues as it has for previous eruptions, Mt. Pelee could wake up any year now.

All the volcanic islands in this part of the Caribbean are known as the “islands that kiss the clouds.”  They are certainly big mountains–Mt. Pelee is 4,000 ft high, and that does not take into account what lies below the surface of the sea.  I just asked Bob to check his charts on how deep the ocean is off the coast where Mt. Pelee sinks into the sea.  It’s about 8,000 feet there, so that makes Mt. Pelee 12,000 feet high.  I have come to think that these mountains attract the clouds down to them, wringing out moisture that nourishes the rainforests, rather than rising up to ‘kiss the clouds.’ I am using a photo from the internet because the day we drove around Mt. Pelee and up the winding road as far to the top as it went, there was far more cloud cover.  St. Pierre is shown in the foreground.

mt pelee

The rainforest we visited on Martinique is the most beautiful we’ve seen so far in our travels.  Here are a few photos.

There were so many trees that must be carrying their weight in other plants along their trunks and branches.  This trunk is covered in bromeliads.


I enjoyed watching Bob take photos.  Here he is crossing a small bridge over a crystal clear stream.


And here’s that stream–


Out in the gardens there were some broad vistas where perhaps you can see Mt. Pelee on a clear day, but  I’m not sure there are any clear days for the summit of that mountain.


Also, the entrance to the rainforest is a well designed museum with gardens to tour.  I loved the various displays in the museum and the gardens around it almost as much as the trail through the forest.  I loved this view through an opening in the museum building.


There were so many tree ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and vines growing deep in these woods.  It was breathtaking.  There is such a variety of life that I hardly ever think about unless I’m confronted by it!  Oddly, we only heard one bird call in these forests, a large, robin-sized songbird, with an orange/red breast and mostly black/brown body. Later on our walk we saw two light green parakeets take flight across one of the planned gardens outside the museum.  It was eerily silent in the forest, and  I saw no bugs, no snakes, and only two types of bird.  Yet there was so much flora to support what I bet is a multitude of creatures!

Bob took a photo that is calling for my attention.  I think it has great potential for a tapestry design.  I look forward to playing with it.  There is so much possibility for a limited color palette with lots of texture….and those tiny leaves!


On our way down from Mt. Pelee we took a different route in order to drive into St. Pierre to see the city that was destroyed in the 1902 volcano. Before that eruption, St. Pierre was known as “the Paris of the Caribbean.”

Along the our route we passed an historic rum distillery, and Bob can never pass up the chance to taste rum.   I am also glad we stopped because the original owner’s house and gardens have been well maintained over the centuries.

Giving in to my love of photographing windows surrounded by flowers, I think this might be the most opulent one I’ve ever encountered. It’s the north wing on the front of the house. I can’t stop thinking about throwing open those shutters early in the morning to watch the beaugainvillea bend in the breezes off the Caribbean while the sun rises at the back of the house–with a cafe au lait, of course!


This magnificent tree dominates the entrance to the house, near matching relfecting pools with fountains that flank the front walkway.


Here’s the view from the front north corner of the house.


The back of the house has nice views and gardens as well.  Not surprising.


The siting of this distillery has plenty of water to run the operation.  This is the spillway for the runoff on the day we were there.  That’s a lot of water over the bridge–or the road, so to speak.


All that rushing water runs this wheel–


Along with the well preserved history here, you can even have lunch here in a beautiful restaurant that overlooks the fields of sugar cane and out to the Caribbean Sea. The view is similar to the one from the front of the owner’s house.

I shamefully photographed my salad, and then became so engrossed in this exceptional meal that I forgot to take a photo of the main course, and believe me, it was a work of art and tasted as good as it looked!


So, after the extended visit to the Depaz Distillery, we headed into the center of St. Pierre. There are ruins of the 17th c. French fort still in the main part of the city, and the only currently inhabited buildings were built in the 20th c., after the last eruption.  The church dates back to 1659, although it was damaged on numerous occasions during the 17th and 18th c.’s, during battles between the French and English for naval supremacy of the Caribbean (and the world).  It was rebuilt in the mid-19th century and afterward changed from a neo-classical facade to its current Baroque facade.  It is a beauty!  Of course, I much preferred this view from the side, so you don’t even see the front facade.


St. Pierre is now a charming seaside town. The beaches along the water’s edge in St. Pierre are dark grey volcanic ash, which is somewhat visible in the photo.


This is the explosion (bad word choice perhaps) of bougainvillea on the balcony of the orange building in the previous photo.


We hope to leave for St. Lucia in the next day or so.  More seasoned cruisers to this part of the world have assured us that the further south we go, the more lush and beautiful the islands are.  We are looking to that and to seeing what mother nature throws in our path when she ties us down in other places.

**note–due to weak wifi I had a devil of time getting photos to load.  Some of the appear to have not loaded well, and when I have better internet I will fix these problems!  I hope you’ll check back here!

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