The Wanderer: Martinique, the isle of Flowers in the Caribbean

This French-speaking island lies just south of Dominica in the Caribbean. Its ties to history lie primarily through the French painter Paul Gauguin and Napolean’s wife Josephine who was born on the island.

The island itself is very green and mountainous and includes the semi-active volcano, Mt. Pelee, which is popular with hikers. Over 200 species of birds roam the island. Agriculture is the dominant income producer with shipments from the French West Indies of a mind boggling 25,000,000 bananas per week to France. Martinique claims that they are the biggest distillers of rum in the Caribbean.

Non-stop flights from BWI are available on Norweigian Airlines. As a department of France, the euro is the currency in use. Credit cards are accepted most places. Unfortunately for non-French speaking tourists, there is a language barrier. Much more so than in St. Martin or St. Barts!

The weather varies from 72 to 83 degrees throughout the year. The rainy season is from June to October.

Car rental is almost obligatory to truly see much of the island. The major highways may be the best in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, in the steep, twisty countryside there is a lack of signage. Rather interesting, there are no traffic lights on the island. Roundabouts control the traffic. Highway and other litter is almost non-existent. Unfortunately, taxis are expensive, costing as much 60/100 euros from the airport to your hotel. Thankfully, driving is on the right. Beware of motorcycles that frequently occupy the center white line.

Dining selections are centered on French and creole cuisine. An island favorite is columbo, a cumin-flavored meal centered around chicken, goat or fish, and always served with rice. Roast chicken is on every menu as well as served at the ever-present roadside stands. Drinking water is safe throughout the island. For those seeking fast food, there are a few KFC’s and McDonalds that stretch the budget.

Tours are available on the water as on land and in the air. Most of the best beaches are located in the southern part of the island. One golf course and several equestrian centers round out the activity centers.

In 1902 there were rumblings in St. Pierre, the capital. Mt. Pelee erupted covering the town with ash and killing 30,000 residents while demolishing the entire town. There was only one survivor, a prisoner in the city’s dungeon whose sentence was later suspended and who spent the remainder of his life touring with the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Martinique is modern with 98 percent literacy and a good infrastructure. The citizens benefit greatly from French welfare programs. Super markets provide complete lines of food such as we are accustomed to in the States. There you will also find breadfruit and christophine, island favorites.

Visitors have lots to see if they are going for more than the beaches. The Banana Museum offers a 10-acre outdoor showroom covering the history of the banana as well as how environmentally friendly the crop is. There is also a very nice restaurant on the grounds serving lunch. The zoo offers a nice setting in an old sugar plantation.

If one has time, they can visit a straw weaving center, The House of Sugar Cane, botanical gardens, and an Earth & Science Discovery Center, and a beautiful library built for the 1889 Paris Exhibition, then dismantled and rebuilt in Martinique.

The La Savanne des esclaves is well worth a visit. Built on a site of a former swamp, a village has been constructed showing the life of escaped slaves. France and their colonies eliminated slavery 20-years before the United States.

Editor’s note: This is likely to be the last travel article by the Wanderer. While his Wanderings will not cease entirely, he is not likely to wander very far, certainly not to places of interest to the Banner’s readership.

I want to thank the folks at the Banner for allowing me, over the past seven years, to share with its readers the fun-filled travels that Mrs. Wanderer and I have enjoyed. From Moscow to Senegal to Peru to Roatan, it has been quite a journey. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have.

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