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Saturday June 22nd, 2002
Touring Martinique

Today we decided (okay, so I decided), if we could rent a car for under $30US, we'd go explore the island on our own. Europcar had a smart little Renault for $28 so we were off on our big adventure!

The first stop on our agenda (okay, my agenda) was the seaside town of Saint Pierre at the base of Mount Pelee, Martinique's volcano. It used to be the capital until it erupted in 1902. In the bustling town of 30,000 people, only one man survived. He had been tossed in prison the night before for public drunkenness. Ironically, I guess his prison cell kept him safe from harm. Afterwards, Barnum and Bailey hired him to join their traveling show. Anyway, everyone else died almost immediately as the side of the volcano facing St. Pierre glowed red, burst, and released a giant fireball of superheated gas which flowed down over the city, releasing more energy than an atomic bomb. A new town has been built over the ruins, but it's difficult to tell which are ruins and which are just neglected run down buildings. Still, there was some charm in the architecture.

We had lunch at a small café overlooking the anchorage there and recognized several American boats that seem to be keeping pace with us as we head south (though we still haven't actually met any of them). Interestingly though, we note that there are probably 40 boats at anchor with us in Anse Mitan, and I've only seen one or two American flags. All else are French or German. We wonder how that happens to be? Curt thinks all the Americans travel in a pack of sorts, but I'm still undecided.

Our next stop was a tour of the Depaz Rum Distillery. It could have just as easily been a northern California winery. A palm lined driveway led us to a group of smart buildings, meticulously manicured grounds, and an elegant chateau sitting with Mount Pelee in the background. As if I need to state the obvious, Curt was happy as a lark…. intrigued by the rum making process and its similarity to winemaking. I was more intrigued with the chateau and surrounding grounds. However, we both agreed that was the most informative and professional tour of any museum, monument, or otherwise, since we've been in the Caribbean. And the rum we got to taste at the end was excellent!

Next we headed north in search of Chateau Leyritz, a former plantation complex. All of the tourist guides and travel magazines said it was a "must-see". Our Renault buzzed up and down and all along the winding roads through rainforests, small towns and banana farms. The drive was as much a part of learning more about Martinique as our actual destinations were. I think Curt would have preferred a lot less of the scenic tour, but I quite enjoyed it. After a few wrong turns and peculiar stares from the locals we passed on the back roads, we finally found the plantation just as Curt was about to declare a mutiny (I was driving). Clearly, Curt was disappointed that I had found the place at all, and made it clear he'd rather be back on board Force Five at the moment. I tried to make it a short stop.

This old refurbished plantation was beautiful and much more handsome than I expected- especially from the glimpse we got coming up the bumpy dirt driveway littered with fallen coconuts. The buildings were of stone and an exotic dark wood- trimmed with black shutters. Tropical flowers and tress flourished everywhere. The accommodations seemed a bit more basic, if even a bit more like cabins with their box-like shape and louvered windows. Curt seemed to find the arrangement akin to those summer clubs families back east visit for the same month each year. "You know, like that movie 'Dirty Dancing'".

The ride back was about an hour and a half (to give you some idea of the size of Martinique). We zipped back through every snapshot of island life: fishing villages, farmland, the metropolis of Fort de France. The sun was just about to slip past the horizon as we found ourselves in site of Force Five again. It was one of those long days where you can't believe all you've seen in just one day! You're so happy to be home, and as you slip the key into the lock, you've already got your mind on how good it will be just to flop on the couch and relax… it was one of those moments where it seemed funny to me that this time however, our home happened to be a boat.


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