March 04, 2016

A Spontaneous Solo Trip To The Island of Martinique

Words + Photos : Rachel Amico

Everyone has their vices. Mine happens to be google.com/flights. Almost all of my spare time is dedicated to daydreaming about my next trip, and hunting for flight deals. When I saw crazy-cheap roundtrip tickets to Martinique, a french caribbean island I knew nothing about, I just felt that I had to go.

Thanks to Norwegian Airlines’ new direct flight options from NYC and DC, what used to be a 10-25 hour flight with multiple layovers is now 5 hours direct. The island, long popular with french vacationers, is now more accessible to americans than it ever has been.

Three days before my departure, I learned that New York was about to get slammed by a classic northeastern blizzard. In what became the general theme of the trip, I had to go with the flow. I was on hold with Expedia for 2 hours, booked an AirBnB, and left two days early to avoid the storm, carrying just a backpack and a tote bag.

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Fort-de-France, Martinique

I landed in Fort-de-France, the island’s capital, in the humid early evening and made my way via taxi to the apartment i’d be staying in. Although it’s the largest city in Martinique, Fort-de-France is really quite small.

Despite some initial miscommunications, I was lucky to learn that my host, while shy about it, spoke very good english. We chatted and smoked on her balcony before she offered to take me out to for a drink or two. As a solo female traveler, this was a golden opportunity to indulge in local spirits with relative safety and ease–and I was extremely excited.

The next morning, I decided to stay local and explored downtown Fort-de-France. The city is very clearly in-transition with construction lining the roads, and the large bay-facing park, La Savane. Nonetheless, the streets bustled with colorful shops and restaurants. I stopped by a few historical sites, including the Schoelcher library, where I learned about the famous french abolitionist, Victor Schoelcher, who was dedicated to abolishing slavery in the french caribbean. The library, countless streets, and even a small town on the island are named for him. The library building itself is stunning, and was shipped in pieces from France in the early 1900s.

Moreover, Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, was born in Martinique, and because she is considered responsible for re-introducing slavery to the island, a statue of her decapitated body stands in the center of Fort-de-France.

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The uncharted path to Anse L’Ane

I took the ferry, one of the only truly reliable forms of mass transportation on the island, from Fort-de-France to Les Trois-Ilets, a beach town across the bay. On the recommendation of my host, I started at Anse Mitan, one of two main beach stops, but it felt too crowded and I quickly decided I would try walking to nearby Anse L’Ane.

The island isn’t that walkable, but I was charmed by the bonjours of locals, and geckos and hummingbirds that joined me along the trafficless main road. Eventually, I found a scrappy piece of wood leaned up against a traffic barrier pointing directly into the woods. The words on the sign read, “Anse L’Ane”. The road ahead was blocked off by a sealed gate, so I weighed my options. I’ve seen enough horror movies to realize that following a sketchy sign into the woods isn’t the smartest idea, but my adventure couldn’t just stop at a gate! I walked into the woods – wide-legged pants, flip-flops, crop top and all.

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An old garden with new friends

I’m usually very open to meeting new people when I travel, especially when traveling alone. While planning my trip I connected with a few locals online, one of whom was a taxi-driver and tour guide named Kalonji. He picked me up in the morning so we could flag down cruise passengers for day tours. We failed to get any customers, but I ended up on a separate tour to Jardin de Balata, the famous botanical garden north of Fort-de-France. Designed in 1982, the private garden sits in a lush rainforest north of Fort-de-France.

When the rest of the tour decided to go back for lunch on the boat,  I decided to leave them behind and continue the tour on my own. One woman decided to join me, so we strolled together, chatting about New York and Tokyo as we took in the gorgeous landscapes, and enjoyed beautiful views from a rope-bridge course. We had a quick lunch of codfish accras (an absolutely delicious, lightly-fried appetizer common throughout Martinique) before splitting a taxi back.

I spent the evening with a casual dinner in Schoelcher with my new french friend. I later ran into Kalonji at a beach bar near my hotel, where we meet some Americans from Washington, D.C., as well as a Dutch couple, who were sailing through the caribbean. After drinking until the bar closed, I walked to a nearby Casino and promptly won every roulette bet I made, ending my night up by 120 euros–luck doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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Le Diamant

I woke up early without a plan, determined to make the most of my final day. I had dreamed of hiking the enormous dormant volcano Montagne Pelee, but it was hard to get there without a car. When my french friend contacted me, offering a ride to Le Diamant in the south of the island, I accepted. Known for its gorgeous scenery, Le Diamant has the longest beach on the island. So long, in fact, that I missed my ride back to town at our scheduled meet-up point.

I was stranded in the south, with almost zero phone battery, no car, and knowing none of the french language. But I wasn’t concerned and I trusted something would fall into place. As I walked the beach and hiked on the rocky, northern edge, I was enamored by the colorful, beachfront houses and the rough waves crashing against the shoreline.

Soon enough, I received a message from a friend I’d met who offered to spend the afternoon showing me around. From the overlook at the Aime Cesaire promenade, to the towering, sobering slavery memorial at Anse Cafard, to a winding overlook over Diamond Rock, to the gorgeous crystal blue waters of Grande Anse and Anse D’Arlets, it was the perfect end to a perfect trip.I didn’t want to leave, but knew i’d be back.

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Making spontaneous decisions

From takeoff times and hotel reservations, to transportation, translation, and currency conversion – it’s easy to get caught up in the details of planning a trip. I usually spend weeks scouring the internet for the best things to do, the best restaurants, and how to maximize my experiences in the limited amount of time I have. When an unexpected storm shook up my plan, I was forced to think on my feet, and it completely changed my experience.

If I had stuck directly to my original plan, I wouldn’t have even made it to Martinique, let alone hiked a mystery trail, ditched a tour group, gambled in a foreign casino, and met so many new friends. It was an exercise in letting go, and it reminded me that traveling is more than just checking things off of a list – it’s about laughing with strangers, finding new paths, and having a little faith it’ll all be worth it.

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