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The Voyage of Spectacle Final Disappointing Thoughts on Martinique

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Final Disappointing Thoughts on Martinique

Set the scene:  On March 11, we arrived in Martinique after a dreamy and event-free 48-hour trip down from St. Martin.  Thanks to semi-cooperative wind, we were able to sail the boat more than 60% of the time, and it felt great.  Everything worked (including us), and it was nice to be reminded why we chose to be boat owners and short-handed sailors.

We were really, really, really excited to reach Martinique.  There is no place in the first half-year of our trip that we more expected to fall in love with than Martinique.  As you can probably already ascertain, we have been extraordinarily disappointed by our experience.

But, in the interest of being well rounded, and frankly, charitable, I will discuss the things I liked first.  As mentioned, Martinique has beautiful natural scenery, as you can see on the Photos page.  Another highlight, the amazingly beautiful Rocher du Diamant rises sheer from the water to over 500 feet.  Martinique also has some of the best rum distilleries in the world.  As avid wine-tasters, we jumped at the chance to rum taste although it’s a little more difficult on the palate (on my palate, anyway…).  The people at Trois Rivieres were especially nice and the historical tour at Habitation Clement was splendid.  Even better than local rum straight up is Martinique’s local drink, Ti Punch, made with 4/5 white rum, 1/5 a special cane syrup, and small slice of lime.

The guidebook says:

Martinican food has a traditional French flair and is considered by many to be the best in the Caribbean. Here, you can make your holiday almost entirely gastronomic, as there are cafes and open-air restaurants to linger in at every turn. You will find traditional cuisine gastronomique, but also its Caribbean or Creole equivalent. Lovingly prepared, the dishes are often spiced, and of course, it is all in the sauces.

I must call my website host to increase our bandwidth to provide a proper and comprehensive rebuttal.

The food has been nothing short of terrible.  Excited to hit land after such a great sail and eager to love Martinique, we ordered the first croque monsieur possible.  It arrived on sliced generic white bread with an un-melted slice of jack cheese and a slice of cold grocery store ham.  Undaunted by strike one, we scoured the guidebooks and the Internet for the savory French goodness we’ve heard so much about.  After such a great experience in Grand Case, French Saint Martin, we were very excited to dive into Martinique cuisine, the crème de la crème of the French Caribbean.

Sadly, we never located a meal even in the same ballpark as Saint Martin.  We never even found a restaurant with an actual wine list or any thoughtful, skillful preparations.  We had a decent (but no better) Creole lunch at Restaurant Josephine in St. Pierre consisting of stewed curry chicken, but that’s about it.  We went to supposedly the best French restaurant in the best eating town of Martinique, and it was inedible and cost about 100 Euros.  We then had to leave to go eat again somewhere else (which was also pretty bad).

This food discussion is not an exaggeration, and sadly, it symbolizes what we feel is the problem with all of Martinique … a lack of effort and a “who cares” attitude derived from unconditional financial support.

Martinique tenuously enjoys its French-dom … and honestly, what’s not to like?  The economy is based primarily on French government subsidies (way more than even tourism, its second-biggest source of revenue).  It is more affluent, cleaner, and infrastructure-ready than almost all of the other Caribbean islands.  Yet, island purists yearn for total autonomy even while enjoying parliamentary seats and equal voting rights.  As such, the supported colonization model can go one of two ways:  the best of France and Caribbean, or the worst of France and Caribbean.

In our opinion, Saint Martin is absolutely the best of both worlds … French, Caribbean, Creole, no matter the culinary style, all food, from a roti on the street to foie gras and blanquette de veau in Grand Case, is prepared with care and pride.  The sophisticated style of Paris is totally evident, as is the friendly and carefree Caribbean attitude, both melding together into an exquisite vibe that translates into distinctly local architecture, customs, carnivals, and of course, food and wine and service.  The standards of French tradition stirred up with Caribbean flair makes for a marvelous combination.  Even the small things — like horn-free, courteous driving (in Peugots, and Citroens of course) and yielding to pedestrians — feel uniquely French Caribbean.

Martinique lacks this thoroughly enjoyable, best-of-both-worlds vibe.  There is vague sense of menace about the place.  Actually, that’s being too nice.  There is a palpable sense of menace about the place … wild and lawless and angry and resentful.  Indeed, we had our first back-alley “run in” here, which might have become fairly ugly had our would-be assailant not been so drunk.  Sure, an altercation with an obnoxious drunk could happen anywhere.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen anywhere, it happened here in Martinique.  All over the island, you can feel the racial tension barely suppressed.

Fort-de-France could be really great, with its ocean-front promenade, the Canal Levassor, the Savane, and the roughly seven-block square “centre ville.”  Instead, it is a threatening and dumpy city that feels unsafe to walk around in broad daylight.  And even if it felt safe, there’s nothing to see or do.

So there you have it.  The wasted potential of Fort de France, the overall lousy food, the drunk guy looking for a fight, and Josephine’s headless statue … nobody cares.  No pride or effort on display in any aspect.  And really, why bother putting forth a little effort?  French subsidies aren’t going anywhere, and the most French-ness that Martinique embraces is being affected and obtrusive and arrogant.

We don’t need highfalutin cuisine, pristine beaches and umbrella drinks to have a good time.  Indeed, we like our destinations to be a little bit shabby and run down.  We loved the Dominican Republic (and not the touristy parts).  But we’re not “package tour”-type travelers, and Martinique is a package tour kind of place, a place for French (and I mean ONLY French) tourists to jet in on chartered flights from Paris and be whisked off to the various well-fenced all-inclusive resorts to soak up some sun, have a few planteurs, maybe take a distillery tour or go see Little Pompeii, and get back on the plane with a couple of bottles of rhum agricole.


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