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!

All the colors of the rainbow

Anse Mitan

Walking up and down the streets of Trois-Ilets, the sweet smell of colombo and massala spices cooking away in small houses, the sound of waves gently crashing on Anse Mitan beach, the lively market stands selling punch and fruit, live zouk concerts here and there, … all these wonderful things have been part of my daily routine this past week.

Unfortunately I have been unable to rent a car due to having a young person’s driving license. To rent a car, one must have at least 3 years driving experience, and I only have a little over a year. On the upside, this will save me quite a few pennies! My main mode of transportation has been the ferry boat which goes from Anse Mitan to Anse à l’Ane (which I have yet to discover!), and then to Fort-de-France. Of course, I have also been walking around a lot, and have come to know the areas of Trois-Ilets and Pointe du Bout very well.

On board the ferry

What is particularly exciting is the fact that the official carnival festivities commence this week, and there are all sorts of events organized in many villages, including the one in which I currently live in. Make-up workshops, parades, stand up shows, a different dress code every day, live concerts, costume fashion shows, … All these events will be happening as of tomorrow, and I will make sure to be in the heart of things and imbibe as much as I can.

Fort de France

On Saturday I had ventured off again to Fort-de-France, and spent the morning roaming around the markets, boutiques selling carnival gear, cathedral, the famous fort and then lounged the beach. In the afternoon, like in Guadeloupe and Tahiti, all the shops close. What is really striking is the fact that in the morning the streets of the capital are heaving with people of all ages, cars, trucks, stands, pets, musicians.. It is almost exhausting just walking from one block to the next. However, once midday strikes, the shops almost immediately close their doors and the streets become completely deserted – only the pigeons shuffle around as the the cathedral bells announce the arrival of the afternoon.

There is so much color every where you go – young women will mix lots of different bright colors in their attire, men tend to wear loud checkered shirts, houses are painted in yellow, orange, pink, purple, green… And all this color adds a genuine touch of gaiety and charm to Martinique’s surroundings. Of course, so do the palm trees, bougainvilleas, hibiscus flowers, banana trees, royal palms, etc… Once again, it seems I have landed in yet another beautiful bountiful island.

Cathedral

I hear a lot of reggae, dancehall and zouk being played on beachfronts, in restaurants, bars, cars. These seem to the most popular genres. I am looking forward to all the live musical performances organized for the carnival, which will be entertaining without a doubt. Also, the weather has been much more inviting than it was at the start of my stay, so fingers crossed, sunshine and warmth will also be on the carnival’s menu.

Rainbow - view from my room

But I am realizing as days go by that I am on my ‘final’ island, and that this tropical adventure of mine is coming to an end… Thus, I am trying to soak in as much as I can before I get on that plane ride back to reality.

Hooray for having reached over 1000 Tropicalove visits!

Never would I have thought that my travel blog would have attained more than 1000 visits! I hope that it has provided some insightful, captivating and interesting snippets for all you readers… and made you believe that dreams can indeed come true! 

I have now moved to Trois-Ilets in Martinique, and have been here for barely a couple of days. Unfortunately, the weather is pretty dull and drizzly since my arrival, so my exploring has resulted in finding cafés and watching the rain pour down. Another added challenge to my explorations is the fact that I am living on top of a very steep hill, but I think in the long run, this will be good exercise! Also, my room is equipped with a nifty little balcony that looks on to a panoramic view of the sea and Martinique’s capital Fort-de-France, which lights up beautifully at night.

Trois-Ilets is a very touristy part of Martinique which perhaps makes it less authentic, but makes it safe for me, as a young solo girl, to mooch around without feeling uneasy. Don’t get me wrong though, there are plenty of locals, fish markets, traditional scenes and sights around the place, but there are also a lot of boutiques, souvenir shops and eateries catered for holiday tourists. The ‘Village Créole’ is where I have been taking refuge in cafés these past days – it is a charming little outdoor shopping center where you can find all sorts of neat colorful boutiques, attractive restaurants and bars.

I have found out that there is a little ferry which takes one to Fort-de-France everyday. It is quicker and much cheaper this way than to rent a car. Perhaps tomorrow I shall embark on the ferry, brave my sea sickness, and discover Martinique’s capital for while…

For the mean time, I am taking my time, exploring at my own pace and getting a feel for my surroundings. Yesterday evening I heard some lively music coming from down the hill, so I decided to follow it and see where I’d turn up. I ended up in Hotel Bambou, situated right on the beach, where there was some lively dancing happening. I looked up the hotel’s event board, and was pleased to see that there will be several exciting events hosted at this hotel such as a steel band concert, a traditional market night, …

It is early doors, and definitely difficult for me for the moment to compare Martinique to Guadeloupe. Speaking of Guadeloupe, Tropicalove Episode 4 is already up and ready. Check it out!

♥ Tropicalove – Episode 4 ♥

Goodbye Guadeloupe it’s Martinique on Monday!

Pointe des Châteaux

I can safely say that I now know the island of Guadeloupe pretty well. I’ve been to Basse Terre, Grande Terre, through the middle, flown over Les Saintes, been up part of the Soufrière volcano, snorkeled around the Réserve Cousteau, hung out of the beaches of Sainte Anne, Bananier, Bouillante, seen the carnivals in Sainte Rose, Pointe à Pitre and Gosier, visited a coffee museum, tasted many rums, eaten various fishes, bokits and coconut sorbets, swam the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans that hug the island’s coasts, been to the Marinas in Pointe à Pitre and Saint François, been to Pointe des Châteaux, the island’s narrowest tip and spoken with locals of all ages.

In terms of musical endeavors, I have seen several spontaneous jam sessions full of percussion and singing, have watched a floury of musical groups parade by during the carnival festivities, have been to a few créole concerts and discussed the topic of Guadeloupian music with residents as well as tourists. Gwo ka, zouk and dancehall are the dominant and popular genres of music here, and they represent Caribbean island culture so well.

It is fascinating how one can become so adapted and used to a place after a few weeks of exploration and discovery. I know my way around the island, I feel somewhat adapted to its culture, I have been to most of the hot spots and also frequented areas hidden from tourists. I feel not like I have visited Guadeloupe but that I have lived here.

The best part of traveling for a month in each island has been the learning. Once I feel like I’ve settled down, I leave and explore a new environment. Many may not see the appeal in this but I love the thrill, the fast pace, and learning how to adapt quickly and open-mindedly to everything which is exposed to me in each and every discovery. I enjoy the fact that I have just started to settle down in Guadeloupe and that I am leaving on Monday to Martinique. Four weeks will be my time limit to consume as much of this last island as I possibly can, before writing my final Tropicalove articles…

Leaving to another island..

Carried away by music

Cameroonian band and owners of Le Massai restaurant

Yesterday at 1PM I was invited to play some music in an African restaurant called Le Massai, a 5 mins walk from my hotel residence. When I showed up with my guitar in hand, a band of Cameroonian musicians were sitting round a table waiting to have a short jam session. The friendly owners of the restaurant introduced me to them, and told me to sit between them and, music maestro! I felt a little overwhelmed as I wasn’t at all sure what we were going to play together, but after 2 or 3 mins of tinkering around, we found some common ground and improvised harmoniously all together. It was great fun, entrancing, pleasing, different, exotic for me, and seemed to please the clients and the owners too, who requested ”more!” as soon as we finished our first song.

The owners of the restaurant had seen me with my guitar the previous evening – I had met Rachel and Grace there for dinner at Le Massai before going to Rachel’s house for a BBQ party. They were instantly very enthused by my apparent musicianship and immediately invited me to come to the restaurant the following day to play for them. After the jam with the musicians, I chatted quite a while the two owners who were very pleased with the performance, they offered me a drink, and I was even told come to the restaurant whenever to hang out or eat for free. I spent the earlier part of the afternoon with them, helping them close for lunch and speaking about all sorts of things, such as the benefits of travel, the release music can offer people, etc…

The band also were very enthused by this different sort of jam session, gave me one of their CDs, and insisted on having photos taken of us all together. They were a trio – two percussionists, and one guy played what I can best describe as a hand made mini steel guitar. It made a fantastic sound – unfortunately I do not remember the name of the instrument as it was very difficult to pronounce! Anyway, what a great afternoon full of new discoveries and musical treats!

Goziéval, the carnival in Gosier

I went back to the room to put my guitar down, and could here the drumming and energy of the Goziéval, Gosier’s very own carnival beginning to sound from the town’s streets. I headed out there late afternoon, watched the parades, followed some, went up and down the town’s center… The West Indies carnivals are full of stands which sell sweets, bon-bons, popcorn, candy-floss, lollipops, sodas, beers, and these special cold treats which consist of crushed ice and colorful flavored syrups served in plastic cups. And of course, there are the famous snack stands, which sell Agoulous, regular sandwiches and the infamous Bokits – very filling and delicious sandwiches made with deep fried bread. All these stands sell their treats at incredibly low prices, and people munch on the snacks as the groups parade by. I have never in my life been to something so unique.

The groups that parade by are always full to the brim with energy, rhythm, sound, percussion, lively dancing, incredible costumes. One large group which I followed with much enthusiasm boasted recycled costumes – hats made with plastic bottles, belts made with bottle caps. I thought this was very representative of island culture. If the beat of a particular group really gets you going, you can decide to follow it and let yourself be carried away by the music.

BBQ party

These past days I have met Rachel’s housemates and fellow ERASMUS friends – all doing really interesting things like medical studies, english teaching jobs, being part of travel associations… It is really nice to meet fellow keen travelers and hear their takes on cultural differences, political observations, fun tips and advice on what to visit, who to meet, what to do with your spare time. It is also heart-warming to see all different types of cultural backgrounds and nationalities blend together so well – this is one of the things I appreciate so much about our generation: the eagerness a lot of us have to travel, communicate, understand and learn about each other.

I have another week left in Guadeloupe – next Monday I fly to Martinique, the final destination of my incredible tropical journey…

Rum, Bananas and the Carnival

One week has flown by since I arrived on Caribbean territory, and what an adventure it has already been! I must admit that the contrast between Pacific and Caribbean lifestyle and culture has come almost as a shock, but I have really been enjoying noticing all the differences that will often manifest themselves spontaneously and unexpectedly.

I am staying in what is called a hotel residence in Gosier, a touristy and populated area. I have a small studio with a little kitchenette, which from all places is outside on my little balcony. If I tilt my head a little to the right when leaning over the terrace, I see the beach and sea, and hear the waves from my bed at night. Like in a hotel, a maid comes in every day, and gives me new towels, and cleans everything from floors to dishes, which is definitely an added bonus. I found this place online as it offered very interesting discounts for people wishing to stay for long periods. I am very happy to have chosen this particular place, as it also comes with a pool, a private beach, a jacuzzi, a bar, a restaurant, and breakfast included! What more could I ask for in terms of accommodation?

However, one must note and understand that Guadeloupe isn’t the safest place for a young solo girl to freely hang out in, especially at night. I had read and was expecting the island to be a bit dangerous before arriving, so I have my wits about me on a daily basis. Before landing late at night in Pointe-à-Pitre, I phoned the residence up to make sure they would organize a pick up for me at the airport. Admittedly the pick up driver was a bit scary, and was giving me instructions to meet him the following day to cruise around the coast. I believe his intentions were good, but his manner was forceful, and when dropping me off at the hotel, he even urged the receptionist to get him a room – the receptionist shoed him out of the hotel. Twice, because he insistently came back.

The island of Guadeloupe has been hit by a few crisis, and it is visible especially in the Gosier area. The first crisis happened a few years ago when a Guadeloupian strike resulted in a lot of expat European French people having to be shipped back to France. A tourist crisis has also seriously hit the island, as a lot of people nowadays do not have the financial means to get transatlantic flights and exotic hotels. All this is very visible and palpable when walking the streets of Gosier – many hotels stand abandoned, dilapidated, broke, empty, many shops and boutiques are closed, or only open a few days a week at 4PM. There is a sense that Gosier is bitterly nostalgic of a time when things were more lively, colorful, productive.

There is a hotel not far from my residence which is visibly dead, but what is shockingly striking is the fact that there is a lonely cow just outside grazing the hotel’s front lawn – a cheap way of keeping the grass from growing too much whilst the dusty hotel reminisces on better times.

But it is not all doom and gloom, and thankfully so – the island is full fruit fields and plantations, beaches, bountiful sea life, delicious treats, and what I consider as most important, rich musical talent. Traditional Guadeloupian music is called ‘Gros Ka’, which consists of strong drum percussion and vocals. People, men mostly, will hang out and jam together spontaneously on sea sides and in villages. One often sees groups of 15 to 20 men drumming, singing and dancing together, oozing with energy.

Just when I thought I was in need of some sort of a body guard to be able to fully explore and make the most of my discoveries around the island, I met Arnaud, a hench tall French chap who is also temporarily staying in the Canella Residence as part of his job. He is also a keen traveller, and we have been exploring as many local environments together as possible. We have been to restaurants, bars, beaches in Sainte-Anne, Baie Mahault, Le Moule, and yesterday we circled Basse-Terre, which is the lower part of the island of Guadeloupe. I got to see waterfalls, tropical jungles, black sand beaches, enormous banana plantations, many many sugar cane fields and their neighboring rum distilleries, and I even visited a coffee museum.

But the real cherry on the cake was attending last night’s carnival in Pointe-à-Pitre. It was absolutely amazing, full of rhythm, life, color, children, adults, costumes, instruments, and was very much a local situation as Arnaud and I were part of the rare white people airing around the city. From 7PM to 10Pm the streets were full to the brim and different groups stampeded around, appearing from different lanes and roads. Percussion, percussion, percussion – this was the main theme, and thus lots of dancing. It was literally difficult to stand still, you had to move and nod your head to the incessant vibrant rhythm of the night. What an evening! We followed the remaining group at the closure of the festivities, shuffling our feet, banging our heads, clapping and laughing as everyone around us did the same, just focusing on one thing: following the music. 

And that is exactly what I have come here for, and what has motivated me to travel from the outset.