Monday, January 29, 2007

Martinique Line Dance

Another video I took at the St. Joseph parades yesterday.

Carnaval videos...

I joined YouTube to be able to post these, so I hope it works....

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Weekend of Quiet, Color and Drums

I have had a solid weekend.

Friday night I went to a bar frequented by students at the IUFM and the University called Feuille de Tol to say goodbye to one of Zie Juhmans, Andy. I had a great night, meeting new people, hanging out at the bar, singing Piano Man at the top of my lungs like the boisterous American I was allowed to be when others were willing to help. There were a group of students spending their winter break doing a one-month study abroad program through University of Delaware. It was interesting talking to them and getting their impression of the island. They weren't too pleased with the place, but I told them, just rent a car for your last week here and it won't be so bad. They are only here for a month anyway. They have managed to do a lot more than I did in my first month.

Saturday, Ceri and I headed out to Anse Trabaud. The beach was off the beaten path, to say the least. There was a sign pointing the way to it, but about 100 feet after the sign, there wasn't any more road. There was a very rocky, rough terrain cut in between cow pastures and farmlands that led out to this little piece of heaven. I would be tempted to go back again if the road weren't so bad and I didn't feel like I was killing the car when I drive out there. But it was a beautiful beach, quiet, even on a Saturday, clear water, no seaweed, great body-surfing waves but calm enough to float in, I had such a relaxing, quiet day. Ceri and I barely even spoke. We just slept and read and soaked in the utter awesomeness of our surroundings. Martinique is starting to grow on me. I'm getting to the point where I'm going to miss it...

Sunday, today, I had a leisurely morning and then I went into St. Joseph, my little town, for the first taste of Carnaval festivities. What I got was great. I have been to Mardi Gras and had fun there and that was something to see. But the spirit behind Carnaval is so different. It seems more pure, more joyful and, though noisy, less raucous. I had a great afternoon trying to move like the Martiniquaise women and feeling the pulse of the beating drums, and also soaking in the intense color and spirit of the event. And this parade was very small by Carnaval standards. St. Joseph is a small town and thus doesn't get a lot going on, but this was a pretty big event. I can't imagine what the main parades will look like in FDF come Fat Tuesday itself. I realized that I know most of the Gendarmes of St. Joseph from when I got robbed. I met almost all of them at one point or another and so I saw some of them tonight and it was a good time saying hello to the boys in French blue. I also found it really entertaining that it is important that men in Martinique dress in drag for Carnaval. I thought, how perfect! The most macho men in the world taking pride in becoming women for a month out of the year. I have posted a picture of a particularly good example. Some of them look disconcertingly good as women.

Goals for this week: kayak in a mangrove forest, go to Aqualand, try a new beach.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Getting Out There

In keeping with my promise to be more adventurous, I have gotten out a bit to some new places on the island the last couple of days and had some very Caribbean experiences.

After finishing all my classes on Friday, I sort of took the night off, watched some movies on TV and went to bed early. Saturday morning I was excited because I was going to a new beach, Cap Chevalier, and going to a birthday party on the beach that night.

I picked up Ceri and we set off to the southeastern part of the island. Cap Chevalier is a beautiful string of beaches protected by coral reefs. The only thing that makes the swimming not very enjoyable is the amount of seaweed there is in the water. I went off and hiked part of the 17 mile trail that goes up the southeastern coast of Martinique. It has beautiful views but also lots of thistles so I was getting scraped up pretty good. I turned around after a few miles and headed back to the beach. Ceri was relaxing in the late afternoon sun and we were waiting around for the people to get there so the part could begin.

Around 5:30, people did begin to arrive and we found that we were setting up camp on a small isle just off the main coast. We had to take a boat to get there. I didn’t want to stay the night, I sort of panicked and wondered if I should go if I might not be able to get back if I wanted to. I talked to the boat driver and he said it would not be a problem to get back because he had to pick up some other people later anyway. So in groups of 10, we piled into the boat and motored across the turquoise water to the island party.

There was a tarp set up and underneath it were a few tables covered with food, salad, chips, and drinks of all kinds, but mostly rum and fruit juice. Soon after we arrived Zouk music was blaring and people started dancing. It was dark already and we started the bonfire so soon the smell of chicken roasting and wood burning filled the air. Even though it was a very small place where everyone was gathered, it was easy to get away from the crows and walk out to the little cove and look at the stars. A few of us gathered out there for a while to see how many constellations we could pick out from the trillions it seemed like we could see.

I had a lot of fun. There was a great mix of French, Martiniquais, international university kids and assistants there and it made for a lot of fun and good conversation. I was glad to be able to leave and not have to spend the night there. The amount of rum mixed with a whole bunch of people and not a lot of sleeping space was going to make for interesting late hours. I decided I preferred to skip and and went home around 12:30. I was really happy with the decision because I went and had a great time, but didn’t have to stay for longer than I wanted. Sunday I took it easy, read a lot, enjoyed a quiet day in preparation for Monday, yesterday, the day I planned to climb Mt. Pelée.

Mount Pelée is the volcano that completely wiped out the town of St. Pierre in the north of Martinique in May of 1908. It has been dormant since then but it remains a place of seismological study and interest. It is kind of a must-do for the assistants here, and since David Stevens, who works at the IUFM doesn’t work on Mondays or Tuesdays either, he and I decided to make the most of one of our days off and climb the mountain.

I picked him up around 7:30 and we headed off to Morne Rouge without much traffic at all. You’re supposed to start early because if you don’t it gets very hot. The mountain was completely shrouded in clouds when we got there and we could barely even see what we were climbing. We started up the steps that lead away from the parking lot and for the first time in my stay on Martinique I was actually cold. There was no sun and there was a very strong wind that was blowing the damp, cool air at me. We headed up into the clouds.

We reached the second base without in under an hour without hardly any trouble at all. The steps were steep and you have to scramble up some rock, but nothing too difficult. We wanted to climb the highest peak, naturally, and so we headed for base #3 and “Le Chinois” which is the summit of Mt. Pelée. It was a struggle from there on. In between Base 2 and 3 you descend and ascend steeply 3 times. There are a number of valleys you climb into and then out of before you reach the base of the summit itself. We had to literally climb rocks to get up, it wasn’t like walking a trail, it was scrambling and looking for footholds and handholds and hoisting yourself up. I was freaked out because I had never really done anything like that before and certain death awaited me if I fell. I kept telling myself that people do this every day and they don’t die, so you can too. David went along quickly but I was too nervous and I went very slowly.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, we got to a sign that pointed into the mist that said “Le Chinois”. We could barely see anything outside of a 40 foot radius of us, but every once in a while, the clouds would open for about 20 seconds and we would have a glimpse of what we were headed towards. When we arrived at the sign for the summit, we looked up and for a split second the clouds allowed us a peak at the big peak in front of us. It was the last part until we reached the top. I was really tired and kind of scared of more climbing but I knew I would never be back and I knew that I had to do it. So I pressed on. David went first and picked his way pretty easily to the top. I went very slowly. We finally got to the top and it felt like the wind was going to blow us off. We still had very little visibility except for those rare windows when the wind would make a break in the clouds and from there we could see how high up we were. We walked a little ways to a small flat part around the crater and then saw the last few boulders that lead to the actual summit. We hoisted ourselves up and looked over the edge into a complete void of grayness. I don’t know if it would have been scarier to actually see how high up we were at the summit, but I do know that looking out into the mist and having it hide the actual surroundings from us was a little freaky.

After spending a little bit of time resting and wondering what it would look like if there weren’t any clouds, we started the climb back down. I knew that the hard part would be getting back to base 2 and I knew I could at least get there so I wasn’t too worried. It was just hard climbing down and then up and then down again. It had cleared up a lot more when we got to base 2 and we had some great views from there. We could see both coasts and the quiet little towns bordering them. The water was very blue contrasted against the thick, lush, and intensely green vegetation that surrounded us on the mountain. Part of what made the climb hard was that the rocks were slippery from moss or algae which had formed on it, so you had to be very careful with your footing.

But as I was coming down from base 2, the clouds had disappeared and we had a clear view of what we had gone up into early that morning. It was nice to finally see it and see how high we had really gone. I felt good about having done it, even though my legs had already started to feel stiff. I am glad I don’t work on Tuesdays because I knew that I would be sore, sore, sore when I woke up the next day.

We walked around the car parking area for a bit, stretching, drinking water, shaking out our exhausted limbs, and thinking about what we had just done. We had started up at around 8:30 and we got back around 2pm. We had reached the summit before noon. It felt really good to have said we were going to go out and do something, and then actually to have done it. The pictures, which I have partially included here, are indicative of the mist that surrounded us. But you can tell the ones that I took near the end when the clouds had burned off with the afternoon sun.

David and I stopped at one of the northern beaches on the way back to take a picture of the mountain we had just climbed from afar. It was nice to stick my filthy, tired feet in the cool ocean. We snapped our photos, stopped for some snacks, then I dropped him off and went home after picking up some groceries. I took a really long, hot shower and tried to ease the muscles back into regular. I can move pretty well today although stairs are a painful exercise.

This Monday night I am supposed to go see the “legendary” Aswad in concert. I don’t really know anything about them other than all the English folk tell me they remember fondly the songs that they remember from years and years ago from Aswad’s repertoire. So we will see. I wanted to go to a reggae concert while I was here anyway. We’ll see how it goes.

Until next time.

Into the Swing of Things

It’s been a good while since I’ve been back and it has been much better since my shaky return. I have been going out more, being more adventurous, spending a lot on gas, teaching private English lessons with kids who are motivated (!!) and finally getting a sense of enjoyment out of living here. I’ve been going to the beaches more, making a checklist of things I have to do before I leave Martinique… The secret of life here is to stay busy, even if busy means taking the time to relocate to a beach to read instead of just hanging out at my place. There are a ton of tourists here now. The season for the Caribbean has begun and the prices reflect it, so do the crowds. As always, Martinique is visited by vast quantities of French people, a few German people, and even fewer other nationalities. I am glad I went to St. Lucia before the break, but now I am wishing I had gone to other islands too. I have 4 day weekends now. I do private English lessons on Tuesday nights at a family’s house in Ducos, but that is about it. I have plans to travel to Antigua over Carnaval when Benji comes to visit. And I am going to be going to Barbados and St. Croix with my family as the big finish to my time in the Caribbean.

Since I have these very long weekends, it seems like a shame not to try to visit other islands and see what I can see now that I am here and it feels like it is all at my fingertips. But the Caribbean is so expensive, especially right now. I am fighting between saving what money I have for the end of the trip and the beginning of life in Williamsburg again, but also thinking when will it ever be this cheap to travel to other islands again… I thought about doing EasyCruise but I think I would rather just go to an island and stay there for a few days. The other trick is finding people to go with. Not everyone is without things to do for four days in a row every week.

Friends and I have started making pacts about doing things before we leave, and the only way to make a successful pact is to set a date to do it. So I have already pledged myself to a reggae concert at the end of January, a drive up to Carbet to see this live latin music club do it’s Friday night dinner and dancing party, to climb Mt. Pelée, go to Anse Couleuvre (a famous black sand beach) and the Gaugin museum. There are a lot of things left to do and see here and I think I just need to get myself together and go do them. It probably sounds like it wouldn’t be that hard, bu
t driving here takes it’s toll on you pretty quickly. The roads are winding and hilly, and my car does not have power steering, so I have to get pretty physical behind the wheel. And, even though the island is small, to drive up to the northern part of the island, barely 40 miles, it takes almost two hours. So you can see that it takes motivation and a good itinerary to merit a trip like that for me.

Speaking of which, I did have a good trip up to the northernmost part of the island last week. In fact it turned into the highlight of Martinique so far for me. Ceri’s brother was visiting, so we went to Gorge de la Falaise, which is in Ajoupa-Bouillon in the heart of the mountains and fertile rainforest of the north. You drive up a gravel road to a little wooden complex of picnic tables, a gift shop and a few changing cabins, you give 7 euros to a man sitting in a chair and he sends you down a very steep pathway that leads you to the bottom of one of the cliffs. From there, you follow the little river you find up until you see a very fit man in a wetsuit waiting for you. He takes your tickets and then climbs like a spider monkey over the rocks before you, leading you into a narrow passageway between two large cliffs that has the clearest, purest, most delicious water at the bottom. You follow this trail of water, at some points swimming, at some points climbing up waterfalls, scaling boulders or walking along the edge of the rocks above until you come to a 30 foot waterfall at the end. Here there is a large pool of water and you can go under the waterfall and swim around in the pool below. The water is not warm, but it is so sweet and pure, and gives you the most refreshing feeling ever.

After you spend some time at the waterfall splashing around and getting pounded by the falls itself, basking in your own self-accomplishment, you begin the trek back. You are under the impression that you’ve done the hard part, now it’s just a matter of going back to the beginning. But the guide throws some surprises at you, you’ll be walking and you’ll get to one of the waterfalls you had to climb up and he’ll tell you, “okay, you walk out onto this rock, put your foot there, all the way to the edge…” and you do it, then he says “now jump”. And you look at him with surprise, and then you look down, and it’s not that far, but it’s a narrow jump and the pool doesn’t look that deep, so you look at him again and he says “jump!” and then you do, and it is even better than just splashing or swimming into the water. It is very deep and you couldn’t tell because the water is so clear. And it feels great. Then, you keep trekking back and there are more little surprises like a secret cave hidden under one of the waterfalls that you are challenged to enter after jumping off another small cliff. It was such a fun outing and the whole trek only took about one hour. The trip up took a long time, but it was a really great afternoon.

I went to see Giselle as performed by the Russian National Ballet Company in Fort-de-France. It was a solid performance, and it was nice to go out to a cultural evening. The Atrium center is pretty nice, but nothing like Paris. I find myself missing France a lot, especially Paris. I feel the draw to go back to the places that I fell in love with when I was there. La Martinique, ça n’a rien a voir…

This past week at school I worked with the students on songs. We translated “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and it was hilarious because all the students sang along mimicking Miss Houston’s vocal stylings. At least they had fun. But it didn’t take too much time because there aren’t a l
ot of words. So sometimes I would do two songs in one class. Another one was “I Feel Good” by James Brown, at the request of my students. Not too many words either but sometimes they would talk about it or the expressions I taught them. So it was alright.

On Wednesday I was invited to partake in “Galette” which is the traditional Epiphany cake that has a little figure hidden in it. Whoever finds it gets to wear the crown. It was one girl’s birthday. She brought in three galettes, two of almond pastry, and one of sweet potato pastry. I arrived at noon for the class, the girl was setting up everything, and she takes out the cakes, and the sweet potato one, the special one, was stolen. They took the knife too. I was under the impression that only teachers would be the subject of ridicule and stupid disrespectful actions like that, but unfortunately, there is not even a code of respect between the students. Nothing is sacred it seems. We managed to find plenty in the two cakes that were left for the class, but still, the little party was somewhat dampened by the rude actions of another class. It’s kind of a good example of how things go in the schools sometimes.

I have to do a separate entry for the last three days since this one is already getting kind of long. The pictures I posted are from a beach not too far from me, Tartane.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back in the Tropics

I have been in Dominica all day. I was supposed be in Martinique by now, but they cancelled my flight. So I had an impromptu one-day layover in Dominica today. And I have to spend most of tomorrow here too. It sounds strange to say it but I REALLY wanted to get back to Martinique today. I was so angry when they told me I couldn’t go. This happened to me with the same airline on the way home too. Thankfully, they found a way to get me to Dominica on time to catch my flight to San Juan, and ultimately, to the states. But today I couldn’t help myself and I just broke down in the middle of the Take Airlines office. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy when I came back, but I didn’t want it to start this early. I didn’t want there to be a problem before I even got to Martinique!

Today wasn’t completely wasted. I went to town to wash the one set of clothes I hav
e with me, and then I went to Trafalgar Falls just to see a little bit of Dominica while it was still possible. I know that I won’t be coming back. Then I watched the fuzzy movie channel for most of the afternoon and saw a good portion of The Producers, National Treasure, and In Her Shoes. I didn’t really want to see any of them, but it was something to do. I am just feeling very defeated already. I seem to be thwarted at every bend. I can’t even travel without getting messed up. It’s not always like that. It is just residual frustration from these crazy islands (that just cancel flights haphazardly without telling their customers) that is coming out right now.

Trekking through the rainforests and seeing the falls today was pretty cool. I am always impressed by the lush green and wild landscape in this country. I saw it a little bit in St. Lucia, and Martinique is so developed it is hard to find it, but here it is everywhere. I had a guide help me climb down near the pool at the foot of the falls, which got a little tricky because the rocks were jagged and slippery, but I made it okay. I wished I had a swimsuit with me so I could have gone in. I know that there was a bigger reason for me getting stranded here today, probably so I could see some of Dominica and not treat it as the stopover destination it is in my mind. And I am glad I could explore a little bit, but I am scared, and I feel like this mishap set kind of an ominous tone for the rest of my time here.

There are two large medical schools in Dominica, Ross University and All Saints University. On my flights to and from America I met a lot of students and they all said the same things to me about their Caribbean home. They want to get their schooling
done and get out. I feel bad that some of them have to stay years. I don’t think I could handle it. They say they mostly study, and sometimes after an exam they will go out. I guess it takes a special kind of non-native to be able to live in the Caribbean and be okay with all its twists and turns and slowness. I don’t think I am that kind of person. Even these last two months will be a serious challenge. Today when they cancelled my flight I just wanted to turn around and go home.

Home. While I’m on the subject, let me just say that I love America. Being home was wonderful, and knowing that I had to leave again the whole time was awful. But while I was there I got the recharge and the spirit-bolstering that I really needed. I am so thankful for the friends and family that are in my life. You all are my life-force while I am down h
ere and I wouldn’t make it through a day without your prayers and your kind encouragements.

I am filled with trepidation about these last two months. More than I was when I left definitely because I know what is there and I know what teaching is like. I feel very alone here on Dominica and I wanted to get back to Martinique today to at least have some familiar things around me. But such as it is, I will be
here in my little hotel room, listening to the sounds of the sea and the letting the tree frogs sing me to sleep. So, life-force creators, keep your prayers coming. I need them more now than ever. To be continued when I get back to my island.


I did get back to my island, rather late in the day on Sunday. Marie-Ange
was there waiting for me and I was glad to get back to my apartment. But I have to stay I was still a little shaky emotionally to be back. I started doing errands and going about business today. I called teachers to confirm schedules and see what they want me to do for the coming weeks. I guess two months isn’t so long, but when I say two months to myself it sounds like an eternity. I brought my replacement computer back to Martinique with me and it is on my mind to keep it safe. After I got robbed I didn’t feel so bad about leaving the house because I didn’t really have anything else they could take of great value. Now that there are valuable things here again I have taken to a strange system of hiding things, and I hope I don’t end up outsmarting myself.

In spite of all my negative talk it did actually feel good to come back to Martinique. It is home for right now I just don’t know why I can’t shake this feeling of being unsettled. I drove the roads I always drive today, remembered how outwardly beautiful the country is, remembered how much I like how colorful the flowers are contrasting against the vibrant green that surrounds them. Maybe I just got too comfortable at home, stayed too long. I remember saying it when I left Grenoble, went home for Christmas, and then left for Paris: Home is so easy, so comfortable. Then, I read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 which was, of course, comforting. I know that the most important pieces from home will always travel with me. And I know there is a reason for all of this. I just forget it sometimes.

So I begin the second half of the journey.

I thought I would include some pictures of my everyday life in Martinique that I wanted to take but when I finally decided to do it, the camera was stolen. So here they are, slightly delayed:

Some ripe oranges right outside my window bordered by the palm trees that ru
stle calmly at night.

The house where I live in Petit Berry. The wooden part is my half, and behind it is Marie-Ange's half.

This is my 1994 Citroën ZX in my driveway. I haven't named her because I don't want to get too attached since I have to part with her soon. But she knows how I appreciate her. She is good to me.

Past Entries