Geography Report: Grenada

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Basic Facts

Capital: St. George’s
People/Customs: There are around 100,000 people on Grenada, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique. Most are descended from African slaves.
Language: English
Climate: In the winter the high is around 81°, the low, 72°. In the summer, the high is 86°, the low, 77°. Hurricane Season is from June to November. This is also the rainy season.
Food/Farming: Grenada is the world’s second largest nutmeg producer, but the island also exports mace, cloves, cinnamon, cacao/chocolate, rum, and bananas. Other tropical fruits like citrus, mangoes, avocados, soursop, breadfruit, sugar apples, and passionfruit are grown for local consumption.
Government: Grenada is an independent nation inside the British Commonwealth.
Currency: The East Caribbean Dollar (EC) is used here.
Art/Music/Culture: Soca and Calypso music are popular here, especially during Carnival (the first week of August). Other holidays include New Year’s Day, Easter Monday, Labour Day, Whit Monday, Emancipation Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

History

Grenada was sighted by Columbus in 1498, but no colonizers landed until 1609 when English settlers planned to farm tobacco on the island. The native Caribs drove them off the island, but in 1650 a French governor bought Grenada from the natives for hatchets, beads, and brandy. In 1651 French soldiers attempted to enslave the Caribs, but rather than become captives and be taken to Europe, most jumped off of a huge cliff, now called Leaper’s Hill or Caribs’ Leap. The French imported African slaves and plantations of indigo, tobacco, coffee, cocoa, and sugar thrived in the fertile soil of Grenada. England and France fought over the island until 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed and Britain took over Grenada. After slavery was abolished in 1834, the plantation became obsolete and major production of sugar stopped.

In 1877 Grenada became a crown colony, and gained independence as a nation inside British Commonwealth in 1974. In 1979, Maurice Bishop, as part of the New Jewel Movement, led a coup against the government, which was perceived to be corrupt. He became prime minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government. He was popular because he tried to improve common people’s lives, starting schools, medical clinics, and farmer’s co-ops. Division within the party led to a military overthrow and he was placed under house arrest in 1983. There was public outcry and a large crowd of people stormed Fort George. The military fired into the crowd and Bishop was taken prisoner and executed with several of his followers. During the period of unrest that followed, the United States and several Caribbean nations got involved, invading Grenada and attempting to quell the violence and reinstate a democratic leadership. Elections were held again in 1985 and Herbert Blaize became prime minister. The people responsible for Maurice Bishop’s murder were sentenced to life in prison. To this day, Bishop is viewed as a national hero, and the United States is admired for its role in the conflict.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Breadfruit, flamboyant, and palm are the most numerous trees, and Mona monkeys, 9-banded armadillos, opossums, hummingbirds, mongooses, and bats can be found on the island. The island is mountainous with tropical rainforest. Several smaller islands, the largest of which are Carriacou and Petit Martinique are also part of Grenada.

Things to do

Snorkel in Carriacou and Petit Martinique, as well as the underwater sculpture park in Dragon Bay, go to the Beach at Grande Anse, Morne Rouge, or La Sagesse, hike in the Grand Etang National Park, go on a nutmeg factory tour, chocolate tour, or rum distillery tour, and swim in Concord Falls or Seven Sisters Falls.

Bibliography

Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “Grenada.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.

Whaling in Bequia

I stare with mixed wonder and horror as Rudy, with his gap-toothed smile, explains what it’s like to stand on a whale. Stand on a whale. We are up on a hill in Bequia overlooking Friendship Bay and the Semples Cay whaling station. Rudy, a Bequian taxi driver, has grown up participating in the annual hunt for humpback whales. He is explaining the use of the tools on display at the Maritime Museum, a euphemistic title for a little open-air building with a wrap-around porch and lattice-work grill so you can see the artifacts and old boats, which are propped on whale-bone stands. I am nodding and making mental notes as if I am reporting for the local paper, a curious but unbiased listener.

Whaling Museum, Bequia

They’ve been hunting and killing humpback whales in this little island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines since 1875, when “Old Bill” Wallace, a Bequian of Scottish descent who had worked on North American whaling ships, returned to his plantation to train workers and open a commercial whaling station. More than 140 years later, the island is still granted a quota of 4 whales annually by the International Whaling Commission to be taken between January and April, which they grant to only a few countries who practice Aboriginal Substistence Whaling.

Now, I’ve read Moby Dick and have some concept of what a whale hunt entails historically. The double-ended boat Rudy is showing me now, with its loggerhead and tubs of line looks like a diagram in a notated copy of Melville’s famous work. The tools on the wall, harpoons and spades and lances are at least familiar to me, and I view them as one often views artifacts that have no bearing on one’s own daily life, with nonchalance.

But Rudy’s narrative is not a story out of the far-reaching past. As he begins to explain how the whaleboats separate the female humpback from her calf, how they keep her at the surface long enough to harpoon her, how they go for a “Nantucket sleigh ride” and eventually lance and kill her, sew up her mouth so she won’t fill with seawater and sink, then tow her, and her calf (which they also kill), back for flencing and butchering at Semples Cay, I am stunned into silence. The meat of a whale calf is a delicacy, he tells me. The whales are butchered mainly for food, since the export of whale oil ceased by the1970s. The meat is cooked in large chunks with the blubber, which melts and becomes a deep-fry. He assures me that although they took no whales this year, almost everyone still has some meat from the last hunt in their freezer. He says this with enthusiasm, and explains how the whole island turns out as for a party when a whale is killed, how the bay turns red, and how every part of the whale is used.

I find my tongue again, and ask about modern equipment—are they still using the traditional sail and row-boats, the old iron tools? He says the last harpooner, Athneal Olivierre, died in 2000. (I learn later that he was a descendant of Joseph Olivierre, who partnered with Wallace in the 1870s to open 6 whaling stations in Bequia, all but one of which closed down when whales became scarce in the 1940s. Although Athneal Olivierre is gone, a new generation of men continues to hunt whales, using a “bomb lance” and “darting gun” which use explosive shells to shock and kill the whale. The traditional boat is still used, but is often towed close to the whale by a power boat, which is also used in the chase and for towing whales back to the station.

I ask how many whales are killed every year. Rudy explains that sometimes a whale is lost in the hunt, if it is injured but not caught, or if it sinks. Some years they take the quota, but in other years, they only get one whale, and this year, none. He says that environmentalists and animal rights activists are having an effect on their hunt. Agencies like Greenpeace, he insists, are disrupting their way of life. He informs me that two tactics are used—financial disincentives (paying whalers not to catch whales), and whale-warning systems which use sound to frighten whales away from hunting areas.

One of the kids asks about sharks stealing the meat. They are plentiful around the whale carcass, Rudy says, and fishermen in small boats catch the gorged sharks easily. Because of the influx of whale meat, the sharks are killed only for their livers, which are supposed to be very good for you. The kids ask Rudy’s 11-year-old grandson, who is riding along with his grandfather today, if he eats whale meat. He replies enthusiastically that it’s good, and tastes like fish. He’s never been on a hunt, but thinks he will go someday. Rudy tells us that the fishermen of St. Vincent also hunt smaller whales, “black fish,” and dolphins, and that the meat is good. All of this I take in, reserving judgement, just trying to understand this island’s culture. I thank Rudy for his time and he takes us back to Port Elizabeth.

The kids head to the dinghy, and I stop back by a street vendor to look at some scrimshaw I saw earlier in the day, but now I know where it came from. I ask who did the carving and the vendor tells me about his cousin, and about the bone on which a tiny humpback whale has been meticulously carved. I find it irresistible, and despite my own cultural bias, I buy the souvenir.

At dinner, we have a family discussion about whale hunting. We’re telling Jay, who was at the boat working while we were on our field trip, what we have learned. I ask the kids what they think about the hunt. Aaron, at 13, does not see anything wrong with the taking of whales for meat; because they have a quota, and use the animal to feed the island, it is no different than our hunting deer or wild boar to eat. It is not as if they are poaching, like elephant hunters, to take only tusks. I consider this statement, and realize that every culture has its own rules about what is sacred—Americans eat millions of hamburgers, but in India this would be considered sacrilege. Americans view their pet dogs almost like children, but there are places where dog is a delicacy. The intelligence of an animal doesn’t seem to carry a lot of weight—pigs and monkeys are intelligent—yet they are on the menu. Maybe this is part of a bigger question: is all meat-eating barbaric? Some have come to the conclusion that it is, and become vegetarians. Those who eat kosher limit their diet to certain domesticated quadrupeds and scaled fish. Others apply their own criteria to decide what is food and what is taboo. I did not intend to open a can of worms, but only to ask if there is something inherently wrong with killing whales for food.

In order to process an answer to this question, I decide to do a little research. I stumble across a 2012 report by the Animal Welfare Institute, which was making recommendations to the International Whaling Commission about the renewal of Bequia’s quota. I discover the other side of Rudy’s story.

The main objections seem to be that Bequians do not meet the requirements for Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling; they are not an indigenous people, they do not have a longstanding historical or cultural tie to whale hunting, nor do whales form the bulk of their diet. Because whaling started out in Bequia as a commercial enterprise, it is difficult to prove that the island is eligible for “subsistence” whaling, especially because some of the meat ends up for sale in fish markets in Kingstown, St. Vincent. Furthermore, though whalers once used traditional boats and harpoons, their use of high-speed powerboats and modern weapons changes the game. They are allowed to take up to four whales per year, but they do not document losses or prove that their killing methods are humane. And despite promises by the government to end the targeting of females accompanying their young and to eventually phase out whaling entirely, Bequia continues to illegally kill females and their calves. The Animal Welfare Institute report states that St. Vincent and the Grenadines regularly fails to report their kills, losses, and killing methods to the appropriate committees of the International Whaling Commission and that when they have provided information, it is often contradictory or false. For years, they refused to provide photographic or written evidence to the Scientific Committee, as they made an effort to determine the impact on whale populations.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the International Whaling Commission has failed to enforce its own regulations and should not renew Bequia’s quota, especially because St. Vincent and the Grenadines refuses to regulate the hunt or provide proper documentation. Whalers of Barrouallie, St. Vincent also take orca, pilot whales, and dolphins with little or no oversight. It is estimated that around 300-500 cetaceans are killed annually. Fishermen carry hand harpoons for taking dolphins and small whales when the opportunity arises.

Despite the fact that the taking of 3-4 humpback whales each year does not appear to reduce “stock” and poses no significant threat to the Atlantic humpback whale population at this time (according to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, only 35 whales have been taken in as many years), the taking of females and calves is illegal and inhumane. At the very least, it is irresponsible and shortsighted, typical of what we’ve seen of Caribbean fisheries management. The International Whaling Commission reconvenes in 2018 to decide whether St. Vincent and the Grenadines should continue to receive its quota of 4 humpback whales, and it seems at this time that the apathy of the agency will continue. Whether one concludes that hunting whales is barbaric or not does not change the fact that Bequia’s hunt does not comply with the law.

Where I normally frown upon the vigilante tactics of groups like Greenpeace, I can understand their frustration with the International Whaling Commission and the use of creative strategies to discourage the killing of whales around the world. (Incidentally, I was unable to substantiate Rudy’s specific claims about anti-whaling activism in Bequia.) Another creative solution was reported by the Sierra Club in 2014: Orson “Balaam” Olivierre of Bequia hung up his harpoon and decided to try using his boat for whale-watching tours instead of hunting. This seems like a wise way to line up economics with conservation. Why not change the paradigm and use the humpback whale migration to attract tourists instead of hunters? The entire species has been protected since 1978, and humpback whales, which were once hunted nearly to extinction are recovering as a species. Why should the mere enjoyment of whale meat and cultural pride constitute a justification for the continued hunting of a protected animal?

After reading the Animal Welfare Institute’s report, I found myself second-guessing the purchase of a scrimshaw souvenir. By buying the carving, I am implicitly supporting the killing of whales and perpetuating the practice. On the other hand, boycotting the purchase of whale-bone handcrafts alone will have virtually no impact on whale hunting in Bequia, since the animals are mainly killed for their meat, and the use of bone for carvings or household furnishings (which are common in Bequia) is only secondary. I cannot view the tiny, intricate whale that has joined the collection of keepsakes from our travels without mixed feelings. My wonder is undiminished, but it is tinged with great sadness. This small souvenir shall serve as a reminder to me to think very carefully about a what a casual purchase can represent. Merely refusing to buy scrimshaw will not induce Bequia to stop its whaling practices, but an increased awareness of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ infractions could put international pressure on the island nation to stop the inhumane killing of these protected creatures.

 

If you are interested in reading the Animal Welfare Institute’s 2012 report in full, it can be found at: https://www.awionline.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/SVGReport072012.pdf

The Squall

It breaks like a giant gray wave in the sky;
The wind and rain are the weapons it wields.
I stay inside and watch as it passes by–
It moves across the bay as over an open field.
The rain comes falling like a hail–
Sometimes it hammers, sometimes it pounds,
Falling sideways, driven by the gale.
Somewhere nearby a thunderclap resounds.
The wind: those invisible fingers of persistent strength
Whose touch is chilling and will is on mischief bent,
Whispering and howling until at length
The storm recedes with power drained and anger spent.
Such magnitude without body and without shape!
The creation of such a thing comprehension does escape.

Geography Report: St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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Basic Facts

Capital: Kingstown, St. Vincent
People/Customs: St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a population of 112,000, mostly descended from African slaves, with some Scottish, English, Irish, French, Asian, and Caribs.
Language: English, with locals speaking a French Patois.
Climate: In January the daily high temperature is 81°, and the low is around 72°. In July the average daily high is 86°, while the low averages 76°. Hurricane (rainy) season is June to November.
Food/Farming: Bananas, Arrowroot, Coconut, Cocoa, and Spices.
Government: St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar
Art/Music/Culture: Reggae, Calypso, and Steel Band music is popular in St. Vincent, and common sports are cricket and football (soccer).

History

Spanish explorers discovered St. Vincent in the 1500s, and in the early 1700s French settlers established plantations on the island. The British and French fought over St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in 1783 the Treaty of Paris gave the islands to Britain. In 1812 the Soufrière volcano erupted and wiped out cocoa, coffee, and sugar plantations. Most plantations were abandoned after slavery was abolished in 1834, but those that had remained in use were further diminished by a hurricane in 1898 and another volcano eruption in 1902. Small farmers then continued to use the plantations as farmland. In 1969 St. Vincent and the Grenadines became a self-governing state of Britain, and gained full independence as a nation inside British Commonwealth in 1979.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

St. Vincent has an elevation of 4048 feet. St. Vincent is around 133 square miles, and the Grenadines, consisting of several islands, (the main ones being Bequia, Canouan, Mustique, Mayreau and the Tobago Cays, and Union),  are around 17 square miles in all. The St. Vincent Parrot is the national bird and it is endangered. There are also protected coral reefs with many species of fish and sea turtles.

Things to Do

There are botanical gardens on St. Vincent, a whaling museum on Bequia, and the Tobago Cays have a Sea Turtle Sanctuary. Union Island is known for kiteboarding.

Bibliography

Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.

Geography Report: St. Lucia

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Basic Facts

Capital: Castries
People/Customs: approximately 150,000 people live on St. Lucia, mostly descendants of slaves or people who immigrated from other Caribbean nations to work in the hospitality industry.
Language: English
Climate: In the winter the high is around 81°, the low, 72°. In the summer, the high is 86°, the low, 77°. Hurricane season (rainy season) is from June to November.
Food/Farming: Bananas, Coconuts, and Cocoa are the most productive crops on St. Lucia. They also export rum made from sugar cane.
Government: St. Lucia is an independent state within the British Commonwealth, represented by a Prime Minister.
Currency: The East Caribbean Dollar (EC) is used here.
Art/Music/Culture: English, French, African, and Caribbean cultures influence St. Lucia. Carnival is celebrated in July.

History

The Spanish discovered St. Lucia in the 1500s and the British later attempted to settle the island, but after 2 years of attacks from the Carib tribes living on the island, the effort was abandoned. The French took interest in St. Lucia and struck an agreement with the Caribs. The first town, Soufrière, was settled in 1746 by the French and plantations were established on the island. Then for the next 150 years the British and French traded control of the island until 1814 when the Treaty of Paris ceded St. Lucia to the British. African slaves worked sugar plantations until they were emancipated in 1834. French influences can still be seen in the music, food, and city names. English became the official language in 1842, and locals speak a French-based Patois. Tourism is now the main industry in St. Lucia, though agriculture still accounts for about a third of the economy.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

St. Lucia is 27 miles long, 14 miles wide, and has roughly 238 square miles. The highest peak is Mt. Gimie, the second highest is Gros Piton, and the third is Petit Piton. Much of St. Lucia is covered in rainforest, complete with tropical fruit trees and animals like birds, insects, and frogs. The Jacquot Parrot is the island’s national bird and almost went extinct.

Things to do

Visit fort ruins on Pigeon Island, Castries Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the beach at Rodney Bay; scuba dive or snorkel near Soufriere and the Pitons; spend the day at Marigot Bay (Capella Resort or Doolittle’s on the beach); rent sailboats (Rodney Bay, Marigot Bay or Sugar Beach); hike Gros Piton or climb Petit Piton, hike to the waterfalls or sulfur springs; or go to the “drive thru volcano” and mud baths.

Bibliography

Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “St. Lucia.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.

Twilight Drive in Grenada

You are standing in front of a large yellow van parked on a high mountain road. You are tired and muddy from a four-mile hike through the jungle. It is past seven o’clock, and the sun is beginning to sink below the horizon. You and the other hikers pile into the van, and you take a window seat on the left side. The driver, aptly named Yellow Man, gets into the driver’s seat on the right side. He is wearing a yellow shirt, yellow pants, yellow socks and shoes, and a yellow rubber band in his long beard. He starts the engine and the van begins to roll down the slope. For no particular reason, you slide back the window and stick your head out in to the evening air.

The wind is warm on your face, carrying with it the smell of damp vegetation and, occasionally, goats. You also catch a faint whiff of rotting mangoes. Over the rushing air, you hear the almost-electronic peeping of thousands of tiny frogs in the jungle. The road winds through the mountains, looping back and forth through the valleys and slopes. Sometimes your view is blocked by a wall of volcanic stone, and sometimes the rainforest drops away, revealing the whole island spread out before you like a wrinkled green quilt.

You pass through a small town. The houses are painted all manner of colors: powder blue, bright pink, mango orange, and banana yellow. Reggae music blasts from a small pub where local men talk and play pool. Occasionally, a car rushes past in the opposite direction. Because you are seated on the left side of the van, you do not have to worry about your head being forcibly removed by on-coming traffic, but you do have watch out for branches sticking out into the road.

At one point, you pass a landfill. You smell it long before you see it in the fading light: the stench of burning rubber. The huge piles of garbage have been burning for years, rendering this beautiful valley entirely uninhabitable. You are very relieved as the van drives away, and start to breathe from your nose again.

The van gradually makes its way out of the mountains and into the capital, St. George’s. It is well past eight o’clock and the sun is long gone. The only light comes from the orange street lamps, and the van’s own headlights. By this time, your neck is very sore from holding it outside the window for over an hour. You briefly pull your head back into the vehicle, but you just can’t stand the inanity of the conversation from the back seat.

You are beginning to feel sleepy by the time the van drives through the marina gate. You hear the sound of tires crunching over gravel as the vehicle comes to a halt, and draw your head back through the window for the last time. Yellow Man kills the engine, hops out, and opens all the doors. The seventeen occupants of the fifteen-passenger van all tumble out. You gather up the bag of muddy shoes, and say good night to the other weary hikers. As you walk down the dock toward home, calypso music drifts across the water from faraway hills.

Asking Directions in French

I remember quite clearly the first time I asked for directions in French. I was a sophomore in high school, visiting Quebec with some friends of my parents, Peter and Linda. Linda is French Canadian, and we had struck up a bilingual friendship the previous year when they had come to visit us in Florida. I had taken one year of high school French in a part of the country where a large segment of the population speaks Spanish. As is often the case, one small decision—like which language class to take—leads one down a long and surprising path.

We were in a restaurant in the old city, and I asked for directions to the ladies’ room. Evidently, my ability to ask basic questions surpassed my ability to comprehend the answers, as the hostess responded with a long and very fast explanation involving only a few words of which I caught—something about “stairs” and “to the right.” Too proud to admit my ignorance, I smiled and thanked her and went looking for some “escaliers.” (I eventually found les toilettes.)

Peter and Linda lived in a rural village 20 minutes south of Middlebury, Vermont and that summer visit whetted my appetite for both language immersion and, coincidentally, Middlebury College. Two years later, I found myself conversing awkwardly at the French table in the Middlebury Chateau Language Café, out of my league with students who had had four years of French in prep school and a score of 5 on the French AP exam. Beyond French I and II with my Egyptian teacher, Madame Assaad, at my public high school, the only speaking practice I had had was with the Quebecois on my summer trip and Haitian refugees in my hometown. But after 2 years and a semester abroad at Middlebury’s Paris campus as well as many fun weekends in Montreal, I had even begun to dream in French—the holy grail of language-learners.

After Middlebury, my opportunities for language practice were only occasional, but often essential. I worked for several years as a teacher in an Atlanta-area public school where my training at Middlebury and my ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification were quite helpful. The school was about 80% non-native-English-speakers. Translators for parent-teacher interactions were hard to come by, especially for the Vietnamese students, but lucky for me, and thanks to French colonialism, many of the Vietnamese parents had grown up speaking French in school, so I was able to help find common ground with a group of people who often felt alienated in their new country.

Twenty years have passed since I first asked for directions in French, and though I don’t get many chances to practice, the French language is deeply embedded in my memory. After sailing from Dominica, we anchored near the village of Saint Pierre in Martinique. Jay and I had to locate the café in which to fill out the customs paperwork, the Digicel store to buy a SIM card so we could have internet access, and a bank to withdraw some cash in Euros. A few days later, we took Le Petit Train Tour, which runs all over Saint Pierre, describing its former opulence and showing its devastation by Mt. Pelée; because the tour was in French, I had to act as real-time tour translator for the kids. Somehow, despite twenty years of vocabulary loss and imperfect grammar, I navigated all of these tasks in French, and also found the three things I’d been looking forward to in Martinique: le vin, le pain and le fromage! We even made friends with a French family anchored in Fort-de-France. These experiences make me feel so grateful for Middlebury’s immersion program and the gift of a second tongue. I hope the exposure to French and Spanish in the Caribbean will do for our kids what a visit to Quebec once did for me.

St Pierre, Martinique

Grenada Taxi Tour 

Last week we went on a taxi tour of Grenada. The first stop was Concord Falls. It was a waterfall about 55 feet high. There were stepping stones across the pool below, and then there was another waterfall below that. I am looking forward to swimming there another time.

Concord Falls

Then we went to the nutmeg factory. They process and prepare nutmeg for shipping all over the world.

Nutmeg Processing Plant

Next, we went to the Jouvay Chocolate company. We saw how they sort, roast, grind, melt, and mix chocolate. We got free samples; my favorite was the 60% dark chocolate. We also stopped at Carib’s Leap where the natives jumped off a cliff rather than becoming captives of the French.

Carib's Leap

Last, we saw how they make rum the traditional way at Rivers Rum Distillery. The vats of fermenting cane juice were disgusting!

Antique Equipment

Vats of Fermenting Cane Juice

Rivers Rum Distillery

Finally, we drove back to St. George’s through the Grand Etang Rain Forest, but we did not see any of the Mona Monkeys that live there. It was a long day!

Geography Report: Martinique

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Basic Facts

Capital: Fort-de-France
People/Customs: An estimated 400,000 people live on Martinique.
Language: French
Climate: In the winter the high is around 81°, the low, 72°. In the summer, the high is 86°, the low, 77°. Hurricane season (rainy season) is from June to November.
Food/Farming: Sugar cane, bananas and pineapples are the leading crops. “Rhum Agricole” is distilled from sugar cane juice for local use and export.
Government: Martinique is an Overseas Territory of France and is represented in parliament by 4 deputies and 2 senators.
Currency: Euros are used in Martinique.
Art/Music/Culture: French and Creole/African influences affect food, language, art, music and culture. The food is French-style cooking, altered to use tropical fruits and vegetables.

History

Columbus sighted Martinique in 1493, and sometime later French settlers established a fort there. The Caribs fought against the French but were exterminated by 1660. In 1636 King Louis the XIII authorized the transportation of slaves to work on the sugar plantations. From 1794 to 1815, England had control of the island during the French Revolution. French took back Martinique after the Revolution in a time of stability. The capital of the island, often called “the Paris of the Caribbean,” was St. Pierre until 1902, when Mount Pelée erupted and destroyed St. Pierre and killed 30,000 people. Fort-de-France was made the permanent capital. St. Pierre was rebuilt but never returned to its former state. In 1946 Martinique became an Overseas Department of France, and in 1974 it was promoted to a Region of France. Today it is a major tourist destination for French-speaking people.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Martinique is a volcanic island with an area of 1,080 square kilometers and its highest point is 1,397 meters above sea level. Most of the island is covered in rainforest. Anoles, snakes, and opossums are common; among the endangered species are the Martinique Trembler, the White-breasted Trembler and the White-breasted Thresher.

Things to do

In St. Pierre, take a walking tour or Petit Train Tour (if you speak French) of the old city and ruins, visit the volcano museum to see artifacts from the eruption of Mt. Pelée, or hike the aqueduct built by slaves. Go to the beach, zoo, or Botanical Gardens in Le Cabret. In Fort de France, there are shops, parks, a library, and an old fort. There are traditional sailboat races, “La Rond Des Yoles,” as part of Bastille day celebrations in July. In St. Anne, there are beautiful beaches, water sports and a floating water fun park. Eating is a major attraction in Martinique—go to ice cream shops, crêpe stands, patisseries and boulangeries (for pastries and bread), and shops with cheese, wine, and chocolate.

Bibliography

Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “Martinique.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.

Taking the Heat

It is hot in Grenada. Hot, hot, HOT!  At mid-morning, with the door and windows closed, the temperature in the cabin would be around 99 degrees Fahrenheit. A good breeze brings the temperature within tolerable limits. At anchor, the trade winds provide a consistent source of…well, wind. However, tied to a dock in Port Louis Marina, the breeze is both blocked by a mountain and hitting us at the wrong angle. Cooking only compounds the problem. Unless you were born in the tropics, or the Sahara Desert, you will be unable to function efficiently.

We are pretty tough. Six years ago, we survived a summer in Boot Key Harbor, baked by the relentless sun and besieged by the relentless mosquitoes. We lived through that by spending the heat of the day lounging on the trampolines under a shade tent, doing nothing. Needful to say, now we’re older and have school and chores to do, so lounging all day is no longer a viable solution to our little problem. The frustrating thing is that we do have air conditioners capable of bringing the temperature below 85 degrees, and shore power is available. It’s just very, very expensive; 62 cents per kilowatt hour may not sound like much, but it adds up. We could run the generator all day, but that doesn’t bring the cost down much, and it’s annoying.

Despite the various roadblocks, we are winning the battle against the summer heat. Here are some of our strategies:

  1. Shade awnings. We have four large mesh awnings stretched over the cabin top and foredeck by fiberglass broomsticks, and held taut by a complex web of small-diameter lines. It may seem low-tech, but it really helps lower the temperature.
  2. Ice cream. Every week, when mom goes to the store down the road, she brings back a 1-gallon bucket of ice cream (along with the other groceries, of course). This doesn’t directly help keep the cabin cool, but it raises morale while temporarily lowering the body temperature.
  3. Breeze Boosters. This is a special type of wind scoop that does not require the constant use of a halyard for suspension. We have four, and position them over the bedroom hatches in an attempt to funnel whatever wind there might be in to the boat.
  4. Going to the pool. As a general thing, I do not like pools, and this marina’s pool is no exception. However, sometimes it’s just too hot to object, even if the water is lukewarm, cloudy, and feels like you are swimming in lubricating oil.
  5. A/C. We typically run the generator from 7 to 11 PM, to make water and power, so we also run the air conditioners. This counteracts the added heat from mom cooking dinner, and allows us to go to bed nice and cool (I like my room at a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit). We close up the boat, and keep it closed even when the A/C goes off, trying to keep the cold in.
  6. The poor man’s A/C. Take cold shower. Turn on fan. That simple.

If all these methods fail, a visit to the air conditioned marina bathroom, grocery store, or taxi tour will provide some relief until the sun goes down. In the tropics, you have to learn to take the heat.