Carnival Splendor docked at Fort de France, Martinique on a sunny November day. A welcome back Carnival banner greeted the ship at the dock, hung for the first arriving ship of the season. Passengers with booked shore excursions gathered in front of the ship. Those on their own found that walking down the brightly colored dock brings them to a large tent set up with booths where locals sell their wares, much of it handmade jewelry. One booth had things made of seeds, another of mainly glass, seawater, and sand. The pier provides an excellent view of the city and of the old fort which gives the city of Fort de France its name. People on their own at Martinique could walk into the town to shop. Another option is to take an island tour from one of the local drivers waiting there or take a taxi to a specific destination.
We stepped off the ship into bright sunshine and immediately had to hold our sunhats on our heads due to the wind. Tina and I decided to go back and leave the floppy hats as we did not want to spend the day holding them on. Leaving the second time we stepped outside into rain, which stopped before we even reached the end of the dock. We also found in more than one port that the wind was strongest next to the ship.
Martinique Island Tour
We were happy to find the van tours as we wanted to see St. Pierre, a town destroyed when nearby Mt. Pelee blew up in 1902. This tour included a stop there. The tour had a lot of ups and downs – up a mountain, down a mountain, up another mountain and back down. Or at least very steep hills. Our driver, Mike, said that the airport is the only flat spot on the whole island. While the lowlands tend toward hot and dry, the higher rainforests stay cooler and wetter.
The roads were paved and in good condition. Apparently France takes better care of their Caribbean islands than the USA does judging by the pothole filled roads on St Croix. Mike said Martinique got a lot more cruise ships in port back when they had the franc and none at all when they first changed to the euro. Now the ships are starting to come back with a few more each year in spite of the exchange rate. A lot of ships that once spent winters cruising the coast of Mexico added their ranks to the ones already in the Caribbean and they all need somewhere to go, plus people will book more cruises if they can visit different ports.
High on a hill sat an old church, which became our first major stop when we reached the top. We took a few photos and then the buses from the ship’s tour showed up so we left trying to stay ahead of them.
Along the way our guide stopped here and there in random places to show us the things that grow there. He said nobody ever starves on Martinique because there is always some sort of fruit ripe. Some things like bananas and papayas they cook and eat like a vegetable when green and eat as a fruit when ripe. We also saw coffee and cocoa bean trees as well as breadfruit, grapefruit, and guava. He said that island residents have free healthcare.
One stop near the bottom of a hill included a short but steep hike down a hill and over stepping stones across a stream to see a waterfall. A couple dogs stayed near the falls even after all the people left. They looked well fed and in good condition, but seemed to be strays. Perhaps the island provides plenty of food for its dogs as well as its people. We did not see any puppies during our cruise, but most of the random dogs we saw looked like nursing mothers.
We did not see the ship tour busses again before St Pierre, where they seemed to have arrived first. We probably made more stops along the way. We drove past some ruins and then stopped in town for shopping, snacks, or a bathroom break. The public toilet would have cost money to use, but buying a little something at a café brought us access to a free restroom inside.
Most of the town has been rebuilt since the 1902 erruption, but a few ruins remain. The volcano was unusually active for about a week before the fatal blast. The townspeople were accustomed to some volcanic activity and did not take the increase as a warning to evacuate. The blast that killed a town of 30,000 consisted of superheated steam and volcanic gases. It reached the city in less than a minute from the initial blast, igniting everything flammable, though the people mainly died from heat and gas. One lone prisoner survived in an underground cell.
We stopped near the ruins of the prison, which sit behind a museum. Just down the road from there a crowd streamed back to the ship’s tour busses. Figuring there must be something worth seeing for the cruise ship tour to go there I walked down the road a bit to see where they came from.
I walked up an old stone stairway as the last stragglers from the ship’s tour came down. The stairway led to some much bigger ruins than the prison our driver took us to see. These ruins had a number of walls with and arches and a view of the volcano so the rest of the people in our van tour really missed out by not seeing anything of them except the pictures in my camera.
We stopped at a couple overlooks with views of the water on the way back. A sudden heavy rain squall showed up right when we got to the only place on our entire route with a great view for photographing the ship. We took a few pictures through the pouring rain and by the time we returned to the dock the sun shined brightly once again. So we actually hit rain more in the lowlands than in the rainforest for a change.
Watch Your Credit Card Account Carefully When Traveling
When we got back to the dock I paid for the tour with my credit card. At $40 a person this one was considerably more expensive then the usual random tour as most cost around $20-$25. St. Pierre was quite a distance away from the cruise ship dock so it took more time and gas than the average tour which justifies the higher price. The driver scanned my card twice saying it didn’t go through the first time. I specifically mentioned I did not want to be charged twice and he assured me that wouldn’t happen.
Later after I got home and checked my account I found a double charge for that tour. Whether this was an honest mistake or a deliberate attempt to scam me I can’t say, but the bank removed the second charge so if it was a scam attempt it was not successful. It definitely pays to thoroughly check your credit card account if you make any charges while traveling.