Whenever we travel, we typically come back in better shape than when we left. Mostly because we have the time to be active every day, and love getting in lots of hiking, tennis, swimming (I love swimming!!!)… Really whatever we can. And Martinique is ideal for an active vacation as it is known for its great hiking thanks to the beautiful mountainous terrain. It really looks like something off of Jurassic Park. I just LOVE it there!
So for our first day we thought we would get started by hiking Mont Pelée, the active volcano in the northern part of the island. We were up early and raring to go… Well as early as we could justify given that it was the first day of our vacation 🙂 We got up around 6:15am, and were on the road by quarter to 7 in the morning. BUT if we had anticipated that the morning commuter traffic was going to be bumper to bumper and crawling on the N5 (one of the main highways that runs from the airport to the south of the island) we might have set our alarm a little earlier!
This is the route we had planned to take. Looks nice and simple, right? It was supposed to be about an hour and a half drive, putting us at the base of the volcano around 9:15am.
This is the route we actually took, getting us into the base of the volcano, nice and grumpy from hours on the road, around 11:30am:
Let me explain…
In the morning we started out from our hotel in Les Trois-Îlets. Everything was going great as we travelled along the N5 until we hit Le Lamentin and traffic began to crawl!!!
We sat in the bumper-to-bumper traffic for a while with our windows down and enjoying the scenery. Until we realized that the commuters were all heading into the capital, Fort-de-France and that it wouldn’t ease up anytime soon. And then we got to thinking, “hey! You guys have to sit in this traffic. We are on vacation and can do whatever we want”… So we did.
We had a map (that by the end of our trip was beginning to disintegrate in my hands, precicesly because of this type of this thought process/attitude/behaviour!). You can’t tell by this picture, but it is about one or two folds away from falling apart!
So with Davin as the captain, and me acting as navigator we started off on our detour to Mont Pelée, and thought we would see a bit of the island in the process. And boy did we ever 🙂
We cut off the N5 around La Lamentin onto the more rural D3, then D27 and hooked back up with the more major route on N4 through Gros-Morne. We heard that La Trinité was really pretty and worth seeing. So since we weren’t going to get the (sort of) morning hike we had anticipated we thought we would stop there and see what is to be seen.
They were having a festival or open air market by the beach (I wish I had taken some pictures!). Not sure if it was an actual event (it was Wednesday morning!) but there was definitely a lot of activity. There was live music, fresh fish for sale, spices, homemade sauces, and other goods likes beeswax lip balm, assorted clothing… that type of thing. Great atmosphere for a little stop over! We spent a bit of time looking at the different stalls, and walked down to the beach.
Now, here is where we get into trouble… When we cut off the N5 we travelled along two “D” series roads (the “N” series highways are the major roads, while the “D” series are the smaller roads). So when the navigator (me) was looking at the map and charting a course to the base of Mont Pelée, I thought it would be ideal to cut across the island from La Trinité along the D1 and D2. And this would drop us nicely at the base of the mountain…
We were soon to learn however that not all “D” roads are created equal.
We started on our merry way along the D2. As we were driving, we noticed the road started getting more narrow (note, the roads in Martinique are generally already perilously narrow to begin with!!). But no big deal and we didn’t think much of it. Until it began to turn into this:
And that is not even as narrow as it was still to get! Not to mention that Martinique is very mountainous. So as we were crossing the island, we were also climbing a pretty serious mountain. And then as it got even more narrow, we were like, “what happens if a car comes at us from the opposite direction?” We had a steep drop to our left, and a mountain side to our right… And you think this would deter us… Well, surprisingly this is not the first time that I have been in a car with Davin, winding along a treacherously narrow path at the top of a mountain with a perilous drop to one side. So we pushed on.
Then we came across one of those concrete dividers (the kind that separates traffic on highways). Given that we had already travelled an ever narrowing path, and now were staring at a concrete traffic divider, the normal person would think “okay, that’s enough. We are turning around”. But nope. By this time we had come too far and were determined to conquer this damn road! And besides, if you sort of looked at the concrete divider with one eye closed, and from the right angle it looked like it was just telling us that past this point was a one way road. And, duh. It is obviously only oneway traffic at this point… *sighs*
So Davin manoeuvred our tiny rental car around the concrete divider that was effectively blocking the road. And blocking the road for good reason as we were yet to find out.
And we continued.
By this time tree branches were clawing their way at the windshield and sides of the car as we forged ahead. The nature in Martinique is truly spectacular. It is almost like the flora is just waiting to reclaim the land, if given just the slightest opportunity.
Eventually we hit the summit. Here is Davin, pretty proud of his driving skills at the only place along the whole drive where you could actually get a car to do a three point turn.
It was also a very pretty view. I am telling you, Jurassic Park all the way!
After the summit, we began to descend at a fairly steep incline. And nature continued to win the battle to recover the land… We didn’t get too far down the mountain past the summit, because it was just getting way, way to hairy with no sign of it getting better anytime soon! But, of course the road was so extremely narrow by this point (branches were pressed pretty completely against the car on either side) and there was still the steep drop on the one side that had been our constant companion for the past couple kilometres. As turning the vehicle around wasn’t an option, and continuing forward was looking bleaker by the minute, Davin drove in reverse, all the way back up to the summit where there was just enough room to actually turn the vehicle around and head back the way we came.
You may think that we might have felt dejected. Like the mountain won or something (or maybe that is just the competitive streak that runs pretty deep in both of us!). BUT that was such a white knuckle drive for the approximately 40 minutes it took along that freaking goat-trail, that we were both relieved to be heading back where we at least new the road, and most importantly, knew that it would get better!!!
And I’ll just jump ahead a bit to say this (I wish I had taken a picture but we drove by it too fast!): When we were coming back after our hike up Mont Pelée (yes we eventually made it, spoiler alert! ;p) we drove down the N3 on our way home. And it just so happened that the D1 “connects” to the N3 where we were driving. Well as we were coming along the highway I told Davin that our nemesis road was coming up on our left (as I was following our route on our map), and that we should shake our fists at it as we drive by. And we definitely would have, if our jaws were not hanging open at what we saw: a big “ROUTE FERMÉE” sign, along with one of those same cement dividers, and what was only the remnants of a road, taken back by nature. Hah!!!
So after our little stunt, here is what our actual route to Mont Pelée looked like after leaving La Trinité:
We were pretty road weary when we arrive at the base of the volcano. And just as we pulled into the parking lot, it started to pour buckets of rain like it does in tropical climates. We read that the volcano is often shrouded by clouds. So part of the reason that we wanted to hike on this particular day was that it had the best weather outlook on the 7 day forecast. Obviously wrong. So we were also nice and cranky that getting any sort of view from the top was going to be out of the question. There was a moment when we pulled in, right after we turned the car off and we were just sitting in our seats, seat belts still buckles, and not moving. Our eyes locked, and the unspoken “I won’t judge you if you don’t want to do this. Maybe lets not do this?” passed between us. Haha.
But then we both knew that we would regret it, and be even more cranky about it later. And Davin’s favourite line when we are travelling is: “We may NEVER be here again! We may NEVER get the chance to do this EVER AGAIN! So we have to take advantage while we can!!!” It can be exhausting trying to wring every last drop out of every experience when we are travelling. But ultimately I love the zest for life that he has, and how he doesnt take these experiences for granted and wants to soak them up to their fullest! And I have become a better person for all that we have been able to do together, specifically because of his approach to not only travelling, but to life as well 🙂 *heart*
So we got out of the car and took our way-too-serious-looking-“hiking backpacks”-for-a-two-hour-hike out of the trunk. And started towards the trail leading up to the mountain.
There is a concern for dengue fever in Martinique (as in many tropical areas) http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/notices-avis/notices-avis-eng.php?id=44. So before we left I bought lots of bug spray (which I hate), but I also brought these cool Off Clip-ons. They just attach to you, have a little fan inside, and once turned on the fan blows out repellant that creates an area where mosquitos don’t want to hang out.
And this probably would have been a great idea, had is not been so damn windy that there was no WAY a tiny little mosquito would be hanging out anywhere near us! Don’t forget rainy… and misty, and COLD!!!!
There was a stray dog that we found in the parking lot. She came with us for a bit of the way (we gave her some of our granola bar that we had). But then once it got too steep she was like, “yeah, I’m just going to not. You guys go on ahead”.
Almost the entire time we were hiking the mountain was covered in cloud. And it was so windy that when we were walking along a few of the ridges I had to brace into the wind as it felt like it could pick me right up off my feet!!! But a few times when the wind would blow away the clouds long enough to get a bit of a glimpse, we were able to get an idea just how stunning this hike would have been on a clear day!!! It would be fun to go back, and do it again without the rain/wind/clouds!!!! I snapped a few pictures when the wind whipped the cloud coverage away. But these moments lasted only seconds, and for the most part our visibility was quite poor. BUT I would still recommend this hike even with the bad/cold weather. It was really fun, and once we got going and got the fresh air in our lungs we felt great!
Here is Davin peeking out at me during another brief moment when the clouds parted a bit for us:
We made it up to Morn Le Croix at 1255 metres where there is a little shelter (that really smells, so it is not a place that you want to hang out for too long). But it was a way to get out of the wind as we were pretty cold once we stopped moving.
At that point, we could have continued on to the summit, and the highest point on the island. We really wanted to. Whenever we are in a new place, Davin LOVES to climb to as high a point as he can in order to get a view, and a lay of the land. And on Martinique, the summit of Mont Pelée is it. But the wind was pretty fierce, and there was no chance of a view for us. So at this point we thought it was a good time to head back and see what other type of trouble we could get in.
We were soaking wet, and cold. But the hike was really great and I would do it again in a heart beat! And the air was so fresh! The clouds parted for us a few times on the way down and you can really see how beautiful the scenery is: