Bonjour tout le monde,
I am writing to you from a very unique little French island in the Caribbean called Martinique. I´m currently in Martinique for two main reasons: Firstly, I want to improve my French and am therefore attending a four-week language course in Fort-de-France. Secondly, I FINALLY want to FINISH my diving course, which I´ve already started back in Malta in 2011 and then kinda put off for various reasons. Now that I am staying in the Caribbean for over a month it is time to eventually make it happen. But let´s start off with some hard facts, so that you know what I´m talking about when you read the following parts on my travelog:
Martinique is an island in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a population of 386,486 inhabitants. It is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. One of the Windward Islands, it is directly north of Saint Lucia, northwest of Barbados, and south of Dominica. As with the other overseas departments, Martinique is one of the twenty-seven regions of France and an integral part of the French Republic. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the euro. The official language is French, and virtually the entire population also speak Antillean Creole (Créole Martiniquais). (cf. Wikipedia)
I got here on a Thursday evening in late July and was intensely welcomed by heavy rains, 30°C and 90% humidity. My immediate thought when leaving the airport was OMG – This is JUST LIKE Fiji. I was picked up by my Martiniquais host family, who then drove me to Trois-Ilets, a town on the other side of the Fort-de-France bay. Their house is beautiful and about 150m away from one of the town´s main beaches, which, for a sea-loving person like me, is absolutely AMAZING. I´ve been on the beach and been in the sea for a little swim almost every day since I arrived. Even though the climate is very exhausting and sleeping in a 29-30°C room is hardly possible, I´d like to think that I´ve adjusted pretty well so far.
Martinique reminds me a lot of Fiji – not just because of the weather. First of all, I´m also staying with a local family, which I think is very helpful to experience and understand a country´s culture (and NO, the Martiniquais are not ordinary French people – they are a mixed culture: French and Creole). Secondly, the climate is very similar, and with that certain animals within the house, such as very sneaky mosquitoes, geckos and tons of ants. Compared to Fiji, Martinique offers a lot more luxury, though. We´ve got hot water showers as well as WiFi. The standard of living is generally pretty high. The economic situation is fair as Martinique is still a département d´outre-mer and consequently benefits from France´s economic success. Also the official currency is the Euro, which makes products rather expensive.
Here are some other things I´ve noticed about Martinique:
- People have a very laid-back lifestyle. Even in Fort-de-France, which is the capital, people are relaxed, easy-going, they take their time; nobody´s rushing –> Caribbean timing!
- Caribbean timing does not only apply to the Martiniquais people, but also to every service you make use of. Buses and boats are hardly ever on time and it doesn´t matter because here in the Caribbean everyone has a lot of time on their hands.
- Public transport. Public transport in Martinique is extremely bad. Getting around without renting a car is nearly impossible. And renting a car in the French holiday season is unbelievably difficult. There are mainly three types of public transport: Taxis (which are way too expensive), Le Taxi Collectif (which are mini buses that go to certain locations for a fairly low price, but only leave the first stop once they are full – so sometimes you have to wait for a good 1,5 hrs) and public buses (there are only a few lines and they only go to the outskirts of Fort-de-France).
- Rhythm of life in the Caribbean is different from Europe. The sun rises before 5am, so people usually get up very early (one of the worst traffic jams in F-d-F is at 6am in the morning). Accordingly the sun usually sets around 6pm and it is pitch-dark by 6.30pm, so people go to bed fairly early as well (However, another explanation for that might be the over-consumation of locally produced rum, which locals seem to be drinking 24/7).
- Rainy season. Currently it is the rainy season in Martinique, which means that it rains a lot and the climate is very humid. However, there is no such thing as steady rain. Instead we have this phenomenon about 3-5 times a day: heavy rains for like three minutes and then the sun comes out again.
What a typical day looks like:
I usually get up around 6.30am (which is NOT early here) to a blue sky and 30°C. After breakfast I have to take the boat to F-d-F, where the school is located. That usually takes me between 40 and 50 minutes depending on how much the boat is delayed. On a typical day I have lessons from 8.30am to 12pm and afterwards I still have one hour before the boat goes back to Trois-Ilets. So to make good use of the spare time I usually buy lunch at either a supermarket or one of the local fruit markets, which sell all kinds of fruits – locally grown, imported from other Caribbean islands or imported from France. Sometimes in the afternoon I also have to do some homework, but after that I have the rest of the day off and mostly spend my free time at the beach relaxing, listening to music, swimming, reading or taking my diving course. And that´s pretty much it. Not special. Not adventurous. And yet it is a good experience for me to just sit back and enjoy doing nothing. 🙂
Other exciting things to do in Martinique:
Martinique generally has some amazing spots for both relaxing and being active. There are two main things I really wanted to do while I am here: Firstly, I want to climb Mount Pelée, which is a volcano and the island´s highest mountain. I was told that if the weather is good, you´ll be able to see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Plus it might be pretty cool to climb a volcano. Secondly, I wanted to go on a catamaran tour in the South of Martinique as it is one of the highlights when you visit the Caribbean. The tour offers all kinds of different things to discover including local cuisine and activities like snorkelling. I had the chance to participate in one of the catermaran tours last weekend and it really was a pretty amazing day. Of course there are plenty of other touristy locations that you can visit. For example on my first weekend I hiked to the Forêt Vatable, a recreation park built close to the sea with all kinds of plants, trees and birds. Very similar, but even better was Le Jardin de Balata in the north of Fort-de-France, which is a famous botanical garden and is rated #1 on “Activities to do in Martinique” on Trip Advisor. Apart from that, tourists enjoy all kinds of water sport activities, such as kite surfing, jet skiing or kayaking through the mangrove. The sea has an average temperature of 28C, which also makes snorkelling and scuba diving highly coveted activities. There are hundreds of different diving sites around the island, including caves, wrecks and numerous coral reefs.
My diving experience:
I´m currently in the middle of my scuba diving course and it has been pretty amazing so far. The course itself requires the completion of certain exercises under water, e.g. respirator and mask removal in 8m depth as well as swimming without mask for half a minute, then put on the mask again and get the water out while breathing normally in the respirator etc. Apart from that, we do a lot of exploration tours under water. The other day my diving instructor took me into one of the underwater caves of Canyon, a diving site in the south of Martinique. That was absolutely incredible and we even saw a turtle of 1m in size, which is pretty rare to spot. Unfortunately, there is also diving theory that I have to study and while some chapters are rather easy to understand, some others are pretty difficult. Or maybe that is because everything remotely associated with physics and chemistry seems to be a mystery to me… Anyway, to make matters worse they even gave me the entire diving theory book in French as there had not been any English versions available, so now I have to translate some of the paragraphs word by word since my French is really too bad to understand all those special terms. But you know, it´s things like these that give my Caribbean days meaning. 🙂