Southern Caribbean Cruise - Fort de France, Martinique
February 16th, 2016 - Cruise Day 4
Tuesday morning we docked on the French island of Martinique, one of the largest islands in the Southern Caribbean. A member of the EU, the island is on the euro and all the inhabitants speak French and we had been forewarned that English although English may be spoken by some it is not to be assumed everyone will speak it and much like in France, the locals expect you to at least try to speak their language first. That meant that Pete and I were translators for the day!
Tom and I had breakfast on the balcony and then met our group at 8:30 am for a morning of kayaking in the mangroves. We booked the tour though the ship and overall we would give it 3/5 stars. A nice excursion but we did not see much wildlife in the mangroves, didn't have the opportunity to explore on our own in the kayaks, and the flotilla of 15+ kayaks would have been better split into small groups. That being said, our guide was great and spoke English and taught us about the mangrove. We paddled through a channel in the middle of the mangrove island so it was a nice slow pace so you could look around.
[Sorry no kayaking or beach photos since the waterproof camera seems to have died!]
We then boarded the boat that took us out to the mangroves and stopped at St Marin nearby for 30 min. I had read great things about the beaches here, but was unimpressed with the small beachhead and overcrowdedness. There is a ferry that runs from where our cruise ship docked to three beach areas at least 1x per hour and it seemed easy to use, yet from what I saw I could not recommend the beaches.
We returned to the ship around 1 pm, enjoying some cake and the local cocktail called ti ponge (tee-ponj) which is a pinch of sugar in the raw with a squeeze of lime muddled in 2-3 fingers of local rum. We preferred the mellowed dark rum which is barrel aged over the clear which had a strong bite to it. We liked the mix best with some juice in it as well so it was more of a punch and less of a shot that you sipped.
Tom and I quickly changed back on board the ship and although we had missed our original meetup time with his parents, we called their room and luckily they were still here! Pete and Ellen had relaxed on the ship in the morning and after we missed our appointed meetup time they made a valiant attempt to hire a taxi to the botanical gardens but after negotiations in both French and English resulted is too steep a price and realizing they had forgotten to bring a credit card, they returned to their rooms for money and that is when we called so it was perfect timing!
All four of us met on the pier and walked into town for a late lunch and some exploring. We walked about 7 minutes to the covered market which sells fruits, vegetables, spices, spirits, souvenirs and has restaurants lining the balcony and back end. We scoped out the options and settled on Chez Carole which I had read in several reviews online. This is the point where Tom said if he did not have a French speaker he would have gone elsewhere for lunch. Note that some friends of ours are clearly more adventurous than Tom in this regard and although the didn't speak any French they are nearby and just pointed at the menu and ate what was served. The menu is all in French and although the proprietor, Carole, spoke English, the rest of the wait staff spoke French so we did our best to translate menu options to our companions, practice our French when ordering and asking for refills and just enjoyed the experience. It was a prix fixe menu so you got a drink, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert, or could order anything a la carte. We started with more ti ponge (with extra fruit juice), a fish beinget and salad, then shared 3 entrées- chicken colombo (curry chicken), conch fricassee, and prawns. All served with lentils and rice. It was all delicious, but none of us particularly like conch so that was not a favorite. We finished by splitting an order of coconut flan which was denser than flan as we know it, almost like a rice pudding thickness, but quite flavorful.
After lunch we drifted through the market, decided we didn't want to have our bags searched by TSA when we tried to bring home spices, and hit the streets in search of sunscreen and pastries. Found the sunscreen at a nearby convenience store and stopped for pastry at a shop we passed coming from the pier. When Tom and I visited France on our trip in 2014, he went to Normandy for the day and didn't get the chance to eat fresh pastry. I told him how you could taste the butter and it was different from a croissant anywhere in the US. We decided on a pain au chocolat (think chocolate filled croissant) and a pomme/framboise chaussette (apple raspberry turnover). Both were delicious and we all split them as we walked back to the pier.
My sun hat had been looking pathetic lately so when some sun bonnets caught my eye in the shops along the pier I stopped to peruse and settled on a new one with a strong brim. It looked perfect with my white eyelet dress and I think I can swap out the ribbons for different looks in the future.
We finished the day with some rounds of trivia, reading and sunning on the balcony, and dinner in the main dining room. Dinner was unimpressive last night, as was our wait staff service, but that was the first time all week we were not happy with the food or dining experience.
Wednesday we dock in Dominca (dom- eh-NEE-ka).