We’ve been on Martinique for the past few days. Work had to come first, but over the weekend, we got to explore this beautiful, well cared for island and meet some of its kind, gentle people.
We checked in at Port au Prince, then continued up the coast looking for somewhere more peaceful than that city of over 2 million. We found it in Schoelcher, where we were were the only boat in the bay, and enjoyed a lovely, simple dinner right on the beach at an untouristy restaurant called Senat on Plage de l’Anse Madame. The next day, we sailed up the coast from Schoelcher to Saint Pierre.
Saint Pierre has a well-stocked grocery store, and with the US Dollar strong and the Euro weak, prices were very good. It also has a renowned Saturday market. There, we found very good produce, spices, homemade vanilla essence, and even fresh fish, and I learned a valuable lesson: always ask the hotness of the peppers!
Previously, in Grenada, Bequia, other English language places, I have been buying small multi-colored peppers that are not hot, but impart delicious flavor. In the other markets, the vendors would say the peppers were “for flavor” rather than being hot peppers.
At the Saint Pierre market, I saw what looked similar to those flavorful peppers. I asked the french-speaking vendor if they were “for flavor,” using the word “goût.” I guess my mediocre french didn’t translate the way I intended.
For dinner tonight, I made a potato dish. I decided to add three red and three green peppers from the ones I bought at the market. I removed the seeds and chopped them with my bare hands and added them to the onions and potatoes. Not too long after that, my nasal passages started to burn, as did my eyes, my hands and my lips. Uh oh…I quickly realized my little peppers were not sweet at all, but hot. As it turned out, they were not just hot, but the hottest of the hot, painfully hot! Rand, who has enormous tolerance for spicy, hot food, said they were good and ate quite a lot, but later his GI system indicated its displeasure. And my hands are still burning now, hours later, even after rinsing them with milk, slathering them with yogurt for good measure, and sticking them in a cooler of ice water.
Something else we did here on Saturday was to take our bikes to shore and bike along the coast road and around the north end of the island. Unfortunately, one of our Dahon fold-up bikes had a gear problem and only two of its gears worked, so we stuck to the relatively flat coast road instead of biking up the steep hills and mountains.
Today we climbed Mount Pelee, an active volcano near our anchorage in St. Pierre, Martinique. Mount Pelee is 4,583 high, which offers a lovely cool respite from the temperatures at sea level. We started at the trailhead just above the town of Morne Rouge. Taxis and buses do not run on Sundays in Saint Pierre, but we were able to hitch a ride from a very nice local lady and returning after our hike, we caught a ride with a nice mother and daughter visiting Martinique from Reims, France.
Pelee slept peacefully today (thankfully), but in 1902, it erupted catastrophically killing 30,000 people in Saint Pierre who had been misled into thinking they would be safe in Saint Pierre if the volcano erupted.
There’s actually a fascinating political backdrop to the volcano story. Politics explain why so few of the city’s residents left, even though the mountain had been sending up many signals that should have told them danger was imminent. Two excellent books on the story have been published:
- The Day the World Ended by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts, 1969
- The Last Days of St. Pierre by Ernest Zebrowski, 2002