I had wanted to go to the Caribbean for a long time. Mostly, I admit, due to a fascination with pirates. I wanted to see the true Caribbean though, not the touristy white sand beaches (though a pretty beach or two would be nice). Martinique is known as the Island of Flowers, and is an island in the Lesser Antilles that is part of France. It has a fascinating blend of French and West Indian cultures, and most of the population speaks French as well as Creole. I ultimately chose Martinique because it’s French, and I had recently binge-watched Death in Paradise, a British crime show that is filmed in Guadeloupe, a very similar island to Martinique. This trip would be very much out of my comfort zone, and I relished the thought.
I became more and more excited as our place came into the approach. The ocean stretched out endlessly on all sides, and I kept peering at cloud formations, trying to determine if they were islands. The clouds themselves were tall and fluffy, towering into the darkening pink skies. Then suddenly, mirroring the towering clouds: mountains. Lush, verdant, sharp mountains bursting up out of the water, dotted with lights and buildings on the impossibly steep slopes. Martinique. I had no hope – I was instantly in love with the magical landscape. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for the transatlantic explorers to see this otherworldly island after weeks and weeks of sailing…how incredible.
I got off the plane and through customs rather quickly. It was a tiny airport, unsurprisingly. I went to the rental car counter and picked up my key for an automatic car. I was brave enough (barely) to drive in this island nation, but not brave enough to do so in a manual. I headed outside to wait for the rental shuttle, and was hit with the soft heat of summer. Palm trees dotted the landscape, and a cat strolled casually by amongst the hustle and bustle of airport arrivals.
The shuttle arrived and I sat in the front seat, and we were off to pick up our cars. Just the drive to the lot was eye-opening – drivers in Martinique are not kidding around! They’re fast and sharp, and my mouth went dry knowing I’d have to drive my rental to my AirBNB in the dark that night. Horns blared and cars swerved, including our shuttle. Pedestrians walked into the street without warning, one even pausing to tie his shoe in the lane of a busy roundabout. Absolutely bananas.
We were dropped off in the Avis lot and I located my car – a little white Volkswagen. I threw my stuff in and attempted to start it, pleasantly surprised with how silent it was. I pulled up Google Maps and located my AirBNB, a mere 15 minutes away, but my nerves made it seem like the other side of the island. I said a prayer and put my foot down to back out my car – and exactly nothing happened. A nice gentleman saw my distress as I wandered about the lot aimlessly looking for some help, and indicated that I needed to press down the brake pedal to start the car. No wonder it had been so silent. Good start.
I’ll never know how I made that drive from the airport to my host’s house. I was exhausted from travel, in culture shock, and in the dark. Not to mention it was my first time driving in a foreign country. I quickly discovered that in Martinique, speed limits are suggestions. There are roundabouts, not intersections. There are essentially no merge lanes. And I had absolutely no idea what any of the road signs meant. “Ditches” on the side of the road are in fact sharp two foot drop offs, and the roads are impossibly narrow, so avoiding them is a constant battle. And all of a sudden, the road can drop straight down the side of a mountain, as I discovered as I desperately drove around the neighborhood trying to locate my host’s house number.
I definitely drove the wrong way on a road or two, but I made it. Sara and Yanis, my hosts, came out to meet me and show me my room. They were very friendly and welcoming – they spoke English, but not too much. My room was simple and perfect, with nothing but netting and shutters over the windows so the sounds of the rainforests came in. I would fall asleep to the sounds of the island. I was already in a dream. I turned on the fan to help beat the heat and dropped into bed, not even bothering to figure out how to open out the couch into a bed.