Wake Up Call

St Pierre

Last Friday a musical event was being hosted by the office of tourism – planter punch cocktails were being offered at the Marina in Pointe du Bout, and there was live music on the menu. The singer was big burly chap who had a sort of Barry White type voice, and sang a few jazzy numbers before unleashing the dance hits to get people on the floor. I got talking with Véro and Nat, two young French girls on a mission to have fun in Martinique.

We spent the following days of their one week holiday together by circling the island and discovering various Martiniquian bits and bobs. It also turns out that Nat had a cousin she hadn’t seen in 10 years living on the island, who we met up with several times. Florina lives in Ducos with her boyfriend Pascal, and they both showed us around many cool spots. We all got along very well, and did a lot of hanging out on beaches, visiting places, eating and drinking together these past few days.

Anse Noire

The two girls and I rented a nifty little car on Monday and we drove around a good part of the Eastern coast as well as the Southern center of the island. We went to the majestic beach of Les Salines (the biggest of the Caribbean I hear), we walked through St Anne (a splendid area giving on to turquoise waters), we visited the Habitation Clément, a rum distillery in François which was exquisite to say the least (the rum tasting was particularly fun!), we visited part of the Tartane peninsula where there were traditional market stands scattered around the centre of the village…

We had also visited the day before St Pierre, on the North Eastern coast of the island, a charming little village from which we watched the sun set on a pontoon. St Pierre is full of very interesting history, and we had walked around the ruins of the old theater and prison cells. It is a charming place to visit because of its history and also its colorful houses, bistros and kayaks which lounge around in the yellow sand… In almost each place I have visited, there is always an attractive religious monument such as a little church, an abbey, a chapel, which give the villages an authentic touch especially when you are there to hear the bells ring.

Ti-Sable

My favorite place of all: Ti-Sable, a beautiful chic bar in Grand Anse on the beach. It had such a great vibe and atmosphere to it, and was beautifully designed – curtains, lanterns, buddhas, an attractive stage, colorful spot lights, a champagne bar, deck chairs, cushions, … and I enjoyed all this bare foot in the sand. We were there on Sunday evening, and a local band called Kaf-Konce entertained us with many musical covers which started mellow and ended up very pop and trendy. Ti-Sable essentially turned into a night club later on, and the beach bar was packed with all sorts of young hipsters (locals and tourists) waving their hands in the air and dancing away underneath the stars. What a beautiful night.

Martinique's Female Rugby Team

Another superb moment was meeting the Martinique female rugby team on the beach of Anse Dufour! They were having a lively jovial barbecue on the beach, and were often making passes and tackling each other for fun whilst the fish was grilling away. We were lying on our beach towels not so far away from them, and thus got chatting with them after watching them impress us with their rugby tackling skills. They were such happy girls, always laughing and joking around, and even told me that they were looking for extras to fill their rugby team if I was interested… Who knows, maybe one day I’ll return to Martinique and play rugby for a living!

Cheers!

On Monday I fly to Los Angeles very early in the morning – I am taking 3 flights, one to Santo Domingo, one to Miami and then one to Los Angeles. I will stay in Pasadena for 10 days or so, and then return home to the Pays de Gex, near Geneva where I was born. Yes, it will be difficult adapting to the cold again after six months of hot humid temperatures, and yes, it will be tough returning to reality, routines, an office job. Waking up from a such a wonderful dream will certainly be no picnic… But dreams such as these would not nearly be as good, tasty and intriguing if they did not have endings. What counts is bringing them to life, even if it is just for a brief moment.

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Sounds of Freedom

Anse à l'Ane

Here it is, the carnival has begun, and the streets are now lively with celebration, music, sweets and dancing. Thanks to a little program I found online, I am savvy on what is happening and where during the week. On Friday, the carnival was revving up on the beach of  l’Anse à l’Ane, a 5 mins boat ride from Anse Mitan. When I got off the boat and explored the stunning beach area, a small party was already happening – a few speakers blaring reggae and dancehall, drinks, a big barbecue, and a lot of young locals. It was a perfect way to start the weekend.

I was offered a fresh beer and got speaking with a French métro expat (métro means from metropolitan France in Europe), who looked like he was in his late twenties. He later told me that he was 40 years old, and I couldn’t believe my ears. I wondered whether it was to do with this new lifestyle he found in the Caribbean, whether this made him feel and look younger. I couldn’t help myself but interview him asking him all sorts of questions, what brought him to Martinique, whether he misses the cold sometimes, how long it took him to integrate himself and earn respect from the locals, whether he learnt to speak Créole quickly, what is so different from France and what is the same, etc. It was really interesting to speak with someone who is totally integrated within a new culture.

coconut stand @ Anse Mitan market

The following day I got up early to have a browse round the Saturday morning market. The sun was shining and the market was lively and musical – some speakers were set up at the center of the place and were playing zouk. I love markets and looking at what each stand sells, what it specializes in, speaking with the vendors about where the various products are from and how they are made. There were all sorts on Saturday – organic jewelry, hats, spices, fruit, clothes, kitchen utensils, paintings, sculptures and of course lots of different bottles of rum. Markets like these really reveal the assets and heritage of a given country. Back home, I love going to the market, buying fresh bread, choosing cheese, stocking up on fresh fruits and veggies.

I spent the following hours at Hotel Kaboua, a 4* with infinity pool and all the works, sat on the private beach and swam in its clear warm waters. I spoke with various tourists who came over to chat with me. I was then invited for lunch at a beach bar on the ocean. I ate a tasty poulet boucané salad accompanied by a Lorraine beer (the local beer) – poulet boucané is smoked chicken topped with sauce chien, a sort of spicy créole sauce, delicious to say the least.

I then ventured out of the hotel and went to Copacabana restaurant where a make up stand was being set up for the afternoon. I was immediately sat down and face painted when I arrived. I was asked what colors I wanted, and what sort of a design. I told the make up artist to use purple paint and improvise. The result was beautiful, and so were all the other makeup designs which I could see in the making. Colors, sparkles and diamonds were painted on our faces and marked us as ‘ready to celebrate’.

my carnival make up

I then walked over to the nearest beach bar and began speaking with various locals all very excited and in festive moods. I had a drink and waited for the sounds of the parade to begin. Just as I finished my last sip of beer, I heard percussions from over the street, and met with the crowds to greet the first group of paraders.

The parade was smaller than the ones I had seen in Guadeloupe, but just as lively and fun, full of instruments, lots of percussion, dancing, colors, excellent costumes and make up. There were a few chariots transporting big speakers blaring out festive zouk style music. Everyone clapped and danced along, some following the groups, some standing by the pavements to watch the spectacle go by. The streets really come to life, and it is very easy to get carried away and just follow the rhythm of whichever band tickles your fancy.

Today I went to le Bourg which is another little village, part of the Trois Ilets area. It boasts a typically créole church called Eglise du Diamant, which stands proudly in the center on the village. It is a nice little town with lots of little back allies with restaurants, bakers, bars. It gives on to the famous golfing terrain, which is magnificent – I can understand the rumors which say that it has been voted one of the best in the world. I spoke with a young man who works as a golfing teacher, who seemed very proud and happy to work there.

carnival group 'Pom Pom'

There has been such a shift of atmosphere since the beginning of the carnival. Everyone is on holiday – the locals as well as the tourists. And so it is with an inevitable smile on my face that I walk the beaches everyday, exploring a little more, eating cod fritters, sipping ti-punch and listening to the sounds of freedom here in Martinique!

Ça plane pour moi!

These past few days have been unbelievable. Last Thursday, I treated myself to two nights in La Caravelle, a Club Med resort, as there was no more room on that Thursday night at the Canella Residence. I was warmly greeted with a cocktail and a refreshing towel, and escorted to my spacey room which gave on to the beautiful views of the club’s beach. As soon as I arrived I whisked out my bikini from my luggage and stepped outside to explore all the club’s treats.

During my very short stay at the club, I did some yoga, stretching classes, pool and ocean aqua gym, archery, danced, participated in games, I even won a medal which I picked up on stage. The club was surprisingly full of people, mostly families, making the most of the sun and warmth of the Caribbean. There was all sorts going on at the club, including the usual games and competitions, and themed nights with lots of alcohol a-go-go (especially rum, of course), and dancing until 1 in the morning.

Arnaud came to pick me up on the Saturday afternoon at the club, and was amazed at the pretty surroundings. We whisked off to the private side of Pointe-à-Pitre’s airport, and met up with a colleague of Arnaud’s who is a pilot. We walked over to a little airplane which we were going to get into and circle around the neighboring islands of Guadeloupe called Les Saintes. The pilot did all the necessary checks around the plane, noting and jotting down all the information into the black booklet. He asked us to check if the front and back lights came on, and other things like wing movements. After about 30 to 40 mins of checks, I hopped into the back of the 4 person plane, fastened my seatbelt and began gazing at all the different switches, buttons and monitors on the deck. After Arnaud got in, the pilot switched on the corresponding radio, and began interacting with the command tower. It was so exciting hearing and being part of the communications, let alone being in this authentic little plane in the Caribbean, about to jet off to circle around little islands.

The take-off was excellent – the pilot revved up the noisy engine, speeded down the runway, and all of a sudden the plane felt like a feather and was floating above the ground getting higher and higher. We left the island of Guadeloupe and approached Les Saintes, which are a combination of little islands with magnificent bays and lagoon waters. After circling them once the pilot turned over to the co-pilot and myself and said ”Shall we go around again?” with a grin, and we nodded with much enthusiasm. We thus went around them once again, this time a bit lower to better observe the lands. After that we cruised around the coast of Guadeloupe, on the Caribbean ocean side, which was a little more turbulent, but much fun. You could see the volcano craters so well, which is what inspired me to go and take a closer look at Guadeloupe’s main volcano ‘La Soufrière’.

I filmed the landing, which was a bit unnerving, especially as it was the first time I was able to see the runway approaching and getting bigger and closer by the second. In the end the landing was smooth, and we parked the plane back to its original space. What an experience!

That very night, we went to a small Saturday carnival hosted in Sainte Rose, where a few groups marched up and down the streets, dancing and sounding drums along their way. They were essentially warming up for Sunday’s big main event. We ate delicious Bokits, Guadeloupian hot sandwiches, and watched until the festivities ended.

The following day we had planned on going to Marie Galante, another neighbor island. But having arrived at the busy port, we were informed that the return boat ride was much later than we had anticipated, and would mean us missing the main carnival. We therefore decided to visit the Soufrière volcano, and being rather unprepared for the idea, I hiked up part of it in flip flops! It was a very steep, difficult and long hike up, but was worth it when arriving at the Savane des Mulets, a part of flat ground which gave on to superb views of Guadeloupe’s Caribbean coast.

The day continued with visits and coastal cruises around Basse Terre’s upper part. We stopped at the Réserve Cousteau, an ideal spot of diving fanatics. A grey sand beach welcomed us, as well as lots of little boutiques, shops and many diving schools offering guided dips and lessons. Apparently this area is where you can see the best sea life, which convinced me to take a look myself. I got on to a small boat of fanatic divers, and I was the only person on board getting ready to snorkel! When I jumped into the waters, I was astonished by the diversity of color and amount of fish I saw.

There were coral reefs of all shapes, sizes and colors, and enormous tropical fish in groups or solo picking at bits of coral, or just aimlessly swimming around. I spent 1h gazing at all the sea life, discovering another fascinating part of this planet which I often tend to forget exists in such vast amounts. I saw gold scale fish with red tales, giant turquoise fat fish, trumpet fish, blue, yellow, and black tangs, and maybe another 20 or 30 types with no exaggeration. I also saw one of my favorites – a really long (about the size of my arm) box fish airing around, which I followed for quite some time. However, I got a little unsettled when I suddenly spotted about 10 meters away from me, a giant Barracuda, longer than myself, starring at me. It frightened me and so I stayed very still. It eventually swam away, and I was later told that a lot of solitary male Barracudas have a tendency of hanging out in these shallow waters, and can be quite startling…

The day ended with a visit of a pink sand beach, and a lovely gaze out towards the sunset near Sainte Rose. We directly went to the carnival, which had started at 2PM, and watched the more animated and louder groups parade by. This was a more ‘serious’ carnival, as apparently there were judges who would note all the passing groups. There was more of an observant atmosphere in Sainte Rose’s crowds than a participant atmosphere which was very present in last week’s Pointe-à-Pitre festivities. But this was definitely a larger carnival which had demanded much more organization and practice.

I am now back at Canella Residence, and have been moved to a master room with a very large bed. I have another 2 sunny weeks left here in Guadeloupe…

Ia Orana Tahiti!

I left Hawaii a week ago in a limousine to the airport, and flew once again through a rainbow on my way to Tahiti. I had such a great time both in Maui and Oahu, and I will remember those islands fondly, but time for a new country and culture…

Tahiti is similar to Hawaii in its Polynesian culture and atmosphere, except less American and more French, …which makes sense! But that feeling is very present, much more than I had expected. Tahiti is a French territory so all road signs are like the ones back home, and the supermarkets, food brands, car makes are those which I am familiar with. I have enjoyed going to Carrefour and being able to buy things I like to get back at home like goat’s cheese, millefeuille desserts and foie-gras. Of course, one has to be careful selecting wines, as there are good bottles to choose from, but it is best to avoid the older ones as they have probably been sitting in the wrong temperatures for way too long…

The Tahitian language seems to be much more alive and spoken than Hawaiian language in Hawaii. Tahitian is translated from French almost everywhere, and I do hear from time to time some people speaking it. It is very similar to Hawaiian as it I suppose it shares the same Polynesian roots: ia orana = hello, nana = goodbye, manuia = cheers, maruru = thank you, … And my personal favorite: nene = transvestite (!) Yes, much to my surprise, this seems to be a popular phenomenon here in Tahiti – many men chose to dress as women on a daily basis and a lot of them work as hotel maids, cashiers, waitresses. It is very surprising, and adds a little quirkiness to the island!

The most exciting thing for me though has been reuniting with my boyfriend Alex who is working at the Maeva Sofitel Beach Resort here in Faa’a. He works as the assistant to the hotel’s director of finances and administration. We have celebrated Christmas and New Year’s together and have done a bit of traveling together during Alex’s time off. On boxing day we took a catamaran to Tetiaora, also known as the ‘Island of Birds’, which was a stunning private island, a 3h30 boat ride away from Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. The boat ride was very choppy, and unfortunately a lot of people were sick on board. And I must admit that usually I am not sea sick but this long catamaran ride was tough. When we arrived on the island, we walked around it and its beautiful lagoons, saw some extremely rare birds of all shapes and sizes, snorkeled around the shallow waters and swam with some of the most colorful fish I have ever seen. We ate a traditional Tahitian lunch on board, and head back to Papeete in the afternoon.

Our second trip, my favorite of all, was on the 30th December, when we took a ferry to the island of Moorea. Alex had booked us in the Sofitel on that island, and because of his affiliation with Maeva Beach Resort, he got us a wonderful room for a discounted price. The resort in Moorea is picture perfect: a long stretch of real beach, pilotiers, infinity pool, beautiful cocktails, stunning rooms, really comfy beds, tranquility, Tahitian shows at night, a great bar on the beach – it was an ideal honey moon type place. Alex treated me to an 1h massage at the spa as part of a Christmas present, which was excellent. I was blown away by the quality of our room which was honestly one of the best hotel rooms I have ever seen.

The following day we walked around Moorea for an hour or so, saw a lot of crabs, market stands, fruit trees and more stunning beaches, before taking the ferry back to Papeete. Moorea is even more tranquil and laid back than Tahiti, which is sort of difficult to explain as Tahiti is very relaxing as it is..!

I have already witnessed a few traditional musical treats since my arrival – we went to see a Marquisian show at the Intercontinental hotel (our neighbors) which was full of energy, percussion and lively female and male dancers. We also got to see a lot of Tahitian tamouré dancing at the Moorea resort at the restaurant at dinner time. There are some Tahitian dances which are very similar in style to hula, but with more energetic moves, kind of like their alphabet which unlike Hawaiian contains the letter ‘r’ which gives it more oomph. The costumes the dancers wear are also generally a bit more fierce looking – more natural colors like green and brown, more traditional accessories like bamboo, wooden bracelets, more tribal make-up. The women also shake their backsides much more than hula dancers, and with much more rhythm and energy.

The internet is very slow here so it has been difficult for me to upload photos, check emails, keep in touch and write as much as I was in Hawaii where its USA internet connection is speedy and easy to access. I am going to have to get used to this slower and less modern lifestyle in the French islands which I am finding fascinating and enjoyable…

What is really interesting is this sensation that I have returned home because of the French cultural aspects that are so present, yet I am further away from home than I have ever been in my life… Nana!