Mar. 6 / Mar. 27, 2011

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montréal to Fort-de-France, Sun. Mar. 6
3  Fort-de-France, Mon. Mar. 7
4  Fort-de-France to Rivière Salée, Tues. Mar. 8
5  Rivière Salée to Camp Ste. Anne, Wed. Mar. 9
6  Camp Ste. Anne, Thurs. Mar. 10
7  Les Salines, Fri. Mar. 11
8  Camp Ste. Anne, Sat. Mar. 12
9  Camp. Ste. Anne to Tartane, Sun. Mar. 13
10  Tartane to Fort-de-France, and back, Mon. Mar. 14
11  Tartane to Camp. Ste. Anne, Tues. Mar. 15
12  Camp Ste. Anne, Wed. Mar. 16
13  Ste. Anne to Fort-de-France, Mon. Mar. 21
14  Ste. Anne to Fort-de-France, Tues. Mar. 22
15  Ste. Anne, Wed, Mar. 23 to Sat. Mar. 26
16  Ste. Anne to Montreal, Sun. Mar. 27
17  Trip Map

1  Introduction

This particular trip was inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal telling how you could put a week vacation into just four days, in and out. The rugged lush scenery, flowers, and snorkeling, appeared to set it apart from other Caribbean islands. Although it is painful to get there from the US, having to make connections in Miami and San Juan, Air Canada has non stop flights from Montréal. This reduced the pain of going and coming sufficiently that I decided to go. I did my research about camping and campgrounds and discovered that camping sauvage was frowned upon, but legal during school holidays. However, there were very few campgrounds, and I discovered, after I arrived that several of the ones reported no longer existed. I also discovered, after I arrived, that it was almost impossible to find a place to camp because any area that was flat, other than a beach, was very inhabited. Beaches were too open, and mostly off limits to camping. It turned out that even the flatter southern part of the island was incredibly hilly.

I also arrived woefully out of shape since I had not been riding all winter, so after some initial pain, mitigated by kindnesses of a couple of people, I rented a car and used my bicycle for local transportation. This made towns and villages accessible since it was almost impossible to find places to park inside towns.

2  Montréal to Fort-de-France, Sun. Mar. 6

The day started very early at 2:00am when got up and started cleaning the house in anticipation of Kiyoko's arriving from Lincoln on the Saturday, Mar. 20, the day before I was intending to come back.

The taxi arrived promptly at 4:45am and we made it nicely to the airport. The back seat was large enough for me and my bicycle. After some delay, Air Canada finally found me on their passenger list, and checked me in. I knew that there would be a charge of $20 for my second bag and/or a charge of $50 for my bicycle. They were even specific about ``collapsible'' bicycles. Unfortunately the charge was and rather than or so it was a total of $70. The real indignity of that was they managed to bend the front derailleur, something that I discovered after I had been riding for about an hour. I was able to partially straighten it but it is far from perfect.

We came in over the northern mountains ... they looked rather formidable. I will. perhaps, venture into them, but will retreat to the flatter south as required.

The plane arrived about an hour late, because of the conditions in Montreal. I took my customary 2 hours or so to rebuild everything, and started on my way to the hotel. I had not eaten very well, and was really tired. Unexpectedly, I discovered that the hotel seemed to be on the top of a hill. It was Mardi Gras (Carnival) week here and my ride from the airport to the hotel was complicated by totally closed streets for the celebrations.

Just as it was getting dark, a woman stopped, as I was resting on the side of the road, and asked me how I was doing. I was exhausted, but the GPS said the hotel was only another 500m. I was then sent down a private road, and turned around. Then I got stuck on an Autoroute, riding down a bus lane. The same woman stopped again, and offered to drive me to the hotel. She had a very small car, and I was too exhausted to get my folded bike into her car. She drove away, and got a friend that helped us put the folded bike, and wheel less trailer in her car. Then she drove me to hotel. It turned out that my GPS coordinates were very wrong, so I would not have found it, even if I hadn't run out of power. I am here for two nights, and will discover tomorrow where I am. It appears to be much higher up the hill than I had thought yesterday.

3  Fort-de-France, Mon. Mar. 7

I rode down the hill and found Carrefour, but they didn't have the right gas canisters for my stove. They had the old fashioned puncture type, so I bought some, and a new stove so I could make morning coffee. Then, as I was sitting outside Carrefour, staring at the people, I saw an Intersport across the way. They had some of the right canister types so I took the stove and old canisters back to Carrefour and got a refund. Interestingly, although I paid for the stuff on my credit card, the refund was in cash.

The ride back up the hill was very tiring. I knew I would eventually make it, but the strain was great, even on the empty bike. I was offered some help, but refused. I was back at about 3:30pm and have staring at the Heliconia that are quite common in Hawaii.

4  Fort-de-France to Rivière Salée, Tues. Mar. 8

I had wanted to stay in this hotel an the night before I left, but it is too far up the hill to be a final night here in Martinique. I rode down to look for a more convenient hotel, but decided that I didn't want to go up the small hill towards it. Another choice for the last night was to camp by the airport. According to Google Earth, there was a potential area nearby. I started down the road but immediately ran into No Bicycle signs. I quit and turned around. I rode south of the airport but found nothing. After lunch at McDonald's I continued towards Ducos. This may be the flat area of Martinique, but it was far from it.

I still found no possible place to camp, and Ducos was hilly, with no guarantee of a hotel. I stopped by a road leading into a banana plantation, but decided that the gate was impossible to go around. As I was sitting and resting, a man drove in to the plantation, slowing down to look at me suspiciously. A little later Antoinette stopped, and asked if she could help. I had essentially decided to go back up the hill to Ducos so I tried to refuse. She was insistent, saying I could stay at her place, so I put the trailer in the back of her car and started to follow her. I was unable to keep up, so she went home, unloaded the trailer, and came back for me.

Her place is in an incredibly hilly, town that would have killed me if I had to ride the whole way. Her house is quite small, and she shares it with her ancient mother.

I put the my tent up outside,

and after supper, and a cold shower went to bed.

5  Rivière Salée to Camp Ste. Anne, Wed. Mar. 9

It does not appear that there is any place I can stay near the airport, and I don't have the energy levels to really handle Martinique. After Antoinette, and her boyfriend, come back from their gardening job, she said she would drive me back to airport where I will rent a car.

I rented a car from Budget at an exorbitant price, and followed Antoinette back home. It was early afternoon, so I decided to drive to the El Nid campground in Anse l'Âne. The restaurant was there but the campground no longer existed. There was supposed to be a second one there, but when I asked, I was told that I had to go to Ste. Anne. This would have been rather distressing if I were riding.

I drove towards Ste. Anne with several detours because the centre of the towns were closed for Ash Wednesday celebrations.

Ste. Anne is quite small.

I continued around the bay, and found Camp Ste. Anne. It is really quite pleasant, and right on the beach.

I have doves, the occasional cattle egret, nice sunsets.

6  Camp Ste. Anne, Thurs. Mar. 10

There was a large encampment, just across from me, and some left on Thursday, instigating a water fight just before they left.

Ste. Anne has only a 8 á Huit convenience grocery store, so that was the one of choice. The really nice thing though was that the small restaurant across the road had free WIFI. I spent time there for breakfast and emailing.

I am sure the inhabitants of this prime real estate in Ste. Anne don't appreciate the view.

Perhaps it was the way out of town.

7  Les Salines, Fri. Mar. 11

I rode down to Plage Les Salines, a huge beach, hidden?? away at the southern end of the island. From the map, I thought it was going to be nice and isolated. Unfortunately, it was very urbanised and crowded.

The sun was sufficiently oppressive that almost everyone was in the shade.

One nice feature though, was the fresh water showers.

The name Les Salines is derived from a small pond that is now a wildlife refuge. Today it was rather vacant, but the crabs do find it difficult to run away.

The birds were limited, and unobtrusive.

I rode up the ridge, and back to Ste. Anne.

8  Camp Ste. Anne, Sat. Mar. 12

Today was overcast and rainy ... my first for this trip. I kept my big camera away and tried out my new waterproof Pentax.

I went into town again, and failed to get the email to work ... along with everyone else.

On the way back to camp, I stopped to take a picture of their church with two, definitely unchristian pictures in front.

9  Camp. Ste. Anne to Tartane, Sun. Mar. 13

Today I drove north, past Le Marin and on to Vauclin. The point here supposedly allows camping but it was not very inviting.

This is banana plantation territory, and all the bananas seem to be covered with transparent blue plastic bags ... rat or bird or ??? protection?

In the early afternoon, I tried to cross the island on a road that was closed in 10km. On the way up, there were vistas, and enough evidence that I didn't want to be riding.

The road became narrower, and finally was closed, even to hikers on pain of death.

I turned around and went back, and then started down a narrow gravel road, passing much torch ginger in the drizzle.

It was pitch black when I finally found a hotel. Although I would have preferred to camp, that was impossible with the highly visible car.

10  Tartane to Fort-de-France, and back, Mon. Mar. 14

I drove into Fort-de-France, and discovered that it was virtually impossible to park, even at some of the large shopping centres.

I came back to my hotel in Tartane, and then drove up to the end of the road to visit the Chateau Dubuc, an eighteenth century sugar and coffee plantation.

The highlight of the afternoon, though, was the little mountain whistler that I saw on the way back up the hill to the car.

11  Tartane to Camp. Ste. Anne, Tues. Mar. 15

I started this morning on a mountain tour. On the way back from Grande Rivière I saw my first plumeria, also known as frangipani.

The highest point on the island is Mont Pelée. You can drive up to a station at the base of a trail that apparently leads to the top of the mountain. Only when you get to the top do you realise that this is really the lower of the two peaks that make up the mountain.

Just south of the old capital, St. Pierre, which had little charm, tucked deep in the mountains is the small town of Morne-Vert

Deep in a valley near the town is a small church.

This is still rain forest country where the vines have a dominating existence.

I continued down the coast, past Fort-de-France and back to Camp Ste. Anne.

12  Camp Ste. Anne, Wed. Mar. 16

With the holiday over, the campground was virtually empty. The campground is on the large beach just north of town, and south of Club Med, which very jealously guard their property.

The camp ground was pleasant, with more doves, a small blue back grassquit and flame trees, also known as royal poinciana, a tree I enjoyed while living in Hawaii.

13  Ste. Anne to Fort-de-France, Mon. Mar. 21

Today, I drove a young French couple, from a small town near Limoges, to catch the ferry in Fort-de-France to continue their trip on to Santa Lucia. They had just turned in their car, and would have had to make do with huge backpacks in the small busses that go around the island. They were obviously an adventurous pair, having arrived in Martinique, from Senegal. The drive into the centre of Fort-de-France confirmed my opinion that it was almost impossible to find places to park in the centre of any town in Martinique.

14  Ste. Anne to Fort-de-France, Tues. Mar. 22

I still had not seen the centre of Fort-de-France and after yesterday, decided that the best way to do it would be to drive to Carrefour, near the centre, park the car and ride into town.

It was very easy. The centre is very compact, and dominated by the Fort St. Louis and the Parc La Savane.

The most famous building in town is the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, named after the French cabinet minister that oversaw the emancipation proclamation for the island. It made him a current hero and the sworn enemy of the sugar planters of the time.

St. Louis must have a special reverence on the island being the name for the fort an the cathedral.

Some houses showed that there was a time of greater glory.

15  Ste. Anne, Wed, Mar. 23 to Sat. Mar. 26

Ste. Anne has a small pleasant market, that obviously caters mostly to tourists.

When you get tired of looking inside, you can look outside.

16  Ste. Anne to Montreal, Sun. Mar. 27

I left with plenty of time to turn in the car and make my plane, but misjudged the difficulties. The roads were very slow because of hundreds of bicyclists out racing and training. However, the major problem was that almost all of the gas stations were out of gas. There has been an island wide strike and many things are in short supply. I passed one station near the airport with a huge line of waiting cars, and decided to try some others. After failing at over six others, I came back and waited, over an hour, in the line I first passed.

I made it back to Budget, just as my time limit was expiring, but turned the car in with no problems, and their shuttle took me over to the airport. Someone was waiting for the shuttle with a cart so that made it easy to carry my stuff.

After some effort, I found the Air Canada checkin, and was delighted to find that here they only charged me for the second piece of luggage rather than for both the bicycle and the second piece. I think I might have been overcharged in Montréal. The rest of the trip was uneventful, although we were delayed Fort-de-France by a faulty on board computer.

I had some trauma when I couldn't find my trailer. It was found for me by an Air Canada baggage handler on an incorrect carousel. I did manage, though, to save one of the other passengers on the flight even more anxiety. At the top of the stairs leading down to customs and immigration, I found a folder and an IPad computer. Before I collected my baggage, I found the Air Canada baggage office, and they paged the owner. He hadn't even known by then that the computer had been lost. His little girl raced over to her mother to show her that it had been found. The result was especially gratifying.

Kiyoko decided not to come to Montréal, so I took a taxi home, and safely arrived with everything.

17  Trip Map

This is the link to the Google Earth Map of the trip.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 31 Mar 2011, 05:30.