But Fort de France in Martinique – this is a city. High-rise buildings, buses that look like buses not jumped up minivans with a cardboard sign in the window, shoe stores, traffic. Serious MEGA shopping stores, malls, and the like; I can not remember the last time I set foot in an actual mall with a food court. This is also an occasional cruise ship stop…you can tell by the KFC and McDonald’s that are in sight of the pier.
It is our understanding that Fort de France isn’t the most charming spot on Martinique and I’d concur, but necessity brought us here. That necessity being getting mail and packages sent to us, in particular a replacement rudder for our Portland Pudgy. Trying to get things sent to us is usually an expensive and difficult attempt to hit a moving target. To make it work we have to stop moving, or at least be somewhere for a predictable window of time. Of course, international shipping to the islands isn’t exactly predictable either. We lost five days waiting for our ship’s documentation to arrive in Antigua via Fedex because of the Easter holiday when the entire island shut down from Good Friday through the Monday afterwards so our package languished in the Fedex office in the capitol over the weekend. Similarly here the rudder was slated to arrive on April 30th, of course none of us knew that May 1st is the French Labor Day…so we took a couple more days to get our goods since the package arrived late in the day on the 30th. A big shout out to DHL for sending the package out to us instead of making us pick it up, with mangled Franglais over the cell phone the driver and I managed to make a connection and get it delivered.
Don’t get me started on the COST to get stuff sent down here! Suffice it to say that for some things you could buy two or three of them locally instead of shipping one from the States and still end up ahead of the game.
But back to Fort de France, which is actually a pretty nice town in spite of lacking a proper boulangerie – at least we could not find one. Although it’s not a yacht-centric town like Le Marin where we moved recently, it does have a chandlery and decent buses to what for us seems like stunning shopping. Large, clean grocery stores and a “Mr. Bricolage” which seems to be the French equivalent of Home Depot. We had great chuckles checking out of there with three liters of concentrated Hydrocholoric Acid and a new machete in our cart. No, we aren’t planning to dispose of a body. We just needed to de-calcify our toilets and open coconuts. One thing I learned on Dominica is that the machete is the perfectly designed tool for opening coconuts, from peeling the raw husk to popping off the top to get to the water and meat inside. Since we will be travelling in coconut infested parts of the world for some time it seemed…logical.
In addition to the “city” aspects of Fort de France like shopping and restaurants, there are some interesting sights to see in the town and it does have an enjoyable flair and bustle during the midday. The Librarie Schoelcher was disassembled in France and shipped to Martinique. We went inside and had a look around, it has spiral staircases to get up to the stacks of old books on the upper levels. It holds the original collection as donated with the library in the main building. As in many French cities and towns there are a number of small, delightful parks and gardens scattered throughout the town.
The actual fort part of Fort de France, Fort St. Louis, is not open to the public. It is an actual working French navy base still in spite of being as old as any of the forts we’ve seen on these islands. They have a handful of navy ships there we’ve seen at dock and out on maneuvers.
On the whole it was a refreshing change for a few days.
We’ve since moved to Le Marin on the South side of the island. Le Marin is a town that is, like the name suggests, really focused on all things marine. Though it is smaller than Fort de France it is huge from a yachting perspective. There are well over 1,000 small boats in this harbor, the largest marina holds about 700 boats on it’s own. Never mind the sprawling anchorage and smaller marinas. In Le Marin you can get just about anything done – there are three chandleries on the main docks in town, plus sailmakers, engine shops, metal workers, and specialists in just about anything you might need done on a boat.
The feel of the anchorage reminds us a lot of the French lagoon in St. Martin, with the large number of permanent live aboards and transient cruisers. It really is set up for yachts, one of the larger discount grocery stores has their own dinghy dock, with a rack of shopping carts behind the store near the dock.
We’ll be here for a couple more days, then head on to St. Lucia when the trade winds settle back in later this week.