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Breadfruit au gratin

Saturday we thought would be a good day to explore Martinique. From the large tourist map we’d acquired on our first trip ashore it looked like a bus trip to Mourne Rouge to the north of our anchorage in Forte de France would be a great way to see much of the interior but first we needed to investigate the possibility of exchanging our very rusty Camping Gaz bottle(s).  Soon after breakfast we were wandering the streets heading over the canal to where Chris Doyle’s Windward Island pilot guide suggested there was a gas supplier; there was but he only stocked large bottles. The helpful guy in the chandlery Sea Services that we past on our way back to the taxi bus stand suggested we try the zone industriel just past the fort which lay beyond the anchorage, a task for Monday.

Services to Mourne Rouge we rapidly discovered are limited on a Saturday and we had just missed the 9am taxi bus, the next one was at 11. Guessing we’d not have time for a leisurely lunch there we decided to look for an alternative destination but nothing seemed o be leaving soon except buses to location either we’d sailed past on our approach or within the city itself. What about a ferry across the huge bay? Trois Islets, Empress Josephine’s both place had sounded interesting in the aforementioned Doyle guide and the ferry left in four minutes. We asked and were directed together with a large crowd from the latest cruise ship to appear at the jetty beside the anchorage, to the appropriately named Josephine.

Sadly too late we found ourselves on the ferry to Pointe Bouche, a pleasant beach resort in the Meditteranean style a few kilometres west of our intended destination. However we had a wander peering in the shops, enjoying cafe au lait et croissant and later after a paddle along the sand in pristine crystal clear waters found a beach cafe for a fish lunch; grilled lambi steak for Erica and Kevin, grilled dorado for me plus a beer or two. Beautifully cooked and not particularly expensive for Euroland.

Returning to Temptress mid afternoon there appeared be preparations afoot for some evening event in Forte de France. After a swim and a change of clothes the intrepid crew headed ashore for sundowners at a little artdeco hotel facing Le Savanne, an area of grass and trees that lay just beyond the dinghy dock, similar to Singapore’s Padang or Port of Spain’s Savannah. First we joined the locals in a short stroll around the green, or at least Erica and I did, the skipper’s back was sore so he opted to sit on a bench.

The hotel has iron gates rather than doors or windows all along its street frontage. We could sit either on the pavement or in comfy garden sofas just tucked inside. The was defiantly something planned for the evening; next door outside the imposing post office two lighting arches were being erected and barriers placed either side of the street. We asked and the rather surprised barman Jim told us it was Le Carnival! Obviously we were supposed to know this, after all it would be the major event of the year for the city if not the island! We had seen no posters nor had the information been volunteered by any of the tourist guides we’d spoken to around the town centre since our arrival. Never mind we’d make a night of it, after all this was our self declared treat of a day off from preparations for the passage to Panama.

A couple or three beers later hunger drove us to investigate the stalls we’d seen setting up earlier along the quay. Rejecting the Paella Geant (6 foot pans of chicken still cooking), we decided to try a Bokit each as we’d watched the lady preparing the dough earlier. Ah ha we’d discovered the Martinique version of one of Trinidad’s favourite dishes Shark’n Bake! These are flattish oval rolls deep fried till crisp on the outside and full of airy bread inside. Here in Martinique the hot Bokit is slit through then stuffed with a filling of your choice like mayo, chicken, lettuce and vinegrette or substitute the chicken for tuna or salt fish or….

Fortified we wandered back up the street to the post office and found ourselves a prime spot to hang out just by the judges table. Over an hour later, perhaps even two around eight, the Carnival parade opened with a bang or rather a lot of drumming and calabash shaking as a women’s group set the bar high for all the rest of the evening’s entertainment with a showy coordinated display of rhythmic drumming and dancing in simple costumes directed by a whistle and much arm waving. The troupe stopped in front of the judges, turning to face them (and us), being allowed around two minutes of performance time before the marshals indicated they needed to move on. Troupe after ear splitting troupe sashayed up to perform whilst between them were occasional smaller fancy dress groups in Devils costumes or scary masks and furs or swathed in white sheets. All the ritual elements of carnival including one group wearing little but swimming costumes and motor oil.

We lost count of the number of bands and the rhythms began to blend noisily into each other. Our feet were sore from standing and our ears were ringing, deafened by the continual noise for when there was no troupe performing down on the seafront a few hundred metres away were two massive DJ set ups with man sized speakers just in case there was heaven forbid a lull in the proceedings! Eventually unanimously we headed for the boat, not that it was any quieter, conversation was difficult but at least we could sit down and read with a night cap before taking our books to bed. And even later amazingly we all slept, the drumming of the massed bands in the park and along the seafront sounding like continuous heavy gunfire or a goods train running over a lengthy wooden bridge.

Occasionally during the night we’d wake and hear the noise albeit subdued, continuing. Around 06:30 on Sunday morning a loud voice making some sort of distorted pronouncement in French probably woke the entire town as well as the crews aboard the thirty or so boats in the anchorage. Shortly after the all night DJ was replaced by a young lady leading an exercise class to “music” for thirty minutes or so whilst we ate breakfast. Then suddenly silence; it seemed even Forte de France sleeps sometimes!