A few days ago Brenda and I rented a car in Le Marin and set out to tour the northwestern part of Martinique. The island is too large to tour in a single day so we chose to focus on a loop that took us up about ¾ of the way to the northern tip of the island, near the summit of Mt Pelee. The currently dormant volcano that last exploded in 1902 is the highest mountain on the island, nearly 4,000’ feet. The eruption caught residents completely buy surprise in nearby St Pierre, the capitol of the country at the time, killing every living sole with the exception of two, one imprisoned in a sturdy jail cell and the other on the edge of town who survived but was severely burned. We did visit the town briefly on our way back to Pandora but I’ll save that for a subsequent post.
So, back to our road trip.
While the southern part of the island, where we have been staying, is more lush than Antigua and some of the other lower islands, much of the northern half of the island is more mountainous and home to spectacular rain forest, harboring lush and, thick with trees, vines, moss and wonderful orchids.
As we made our way north along the winding highway we made our way through mountain ridges and valleys, with constant switchbacks as we went up into the hills, higher and higher in elevation. The temperatures decreased noticeably as the elevation increased and the vegetation lining the roads became thicker and thicker.It was great fun driving along, white knuckles and all, making what seemed like impossible turns as the road made it’s way through the mountainous terrain. Suddenly, around yet another sharp bend in the road, we came upon a quick moving stream. It was beautiful. The waters rushing down from the mountains was crystal clear and wonderfully cool. A bit farther up from the road was a family lounging in the river. One bather had impossibly long hair, reaching to the ground. I’ll bet that he has wicked split ends. I wonder if his hair was as long as our granddaughter Tori when he was born. At most any point along the way Pelee was in view, towering over the landscape, shrouded in fog. As we approached the summit by road the view, well, there wasn’t a view. I guess that’s why they call it a “cloud forest”. Along the way we happened upon Domaine d’Emeraude, part of the Martinique National Park System. Good luck with the site, it appears to be available only in French. I sure wish I had payed attention to French in High school. It’s a part of the Martinique national park system. The reception building was very contemporary. On site was an interpretative museum of the natural history of the island. Unfortunately, like their website, all the information was in French but well done. A beautiful setting. Reflecting pools lined the front of the building. As y0u entered the building you were greeted by a beautifully displayed 3D map of the island, displayed under glass on the floor. It was a bit unnerving to stand on the glass. The manicured grounds surrounding the main buildings were beautifully presented. Beyond the organized parts of the preserve were miles of trails, every inch paved with cement slabs. I was told that the bags of concrete were carried in by hand and cast in place. In spite of the near constant moisture the rough surface of the path offered sure footing. I can not imagine the number of workers that it took to lay all of the pathways beginning in the 1970s, I believe. Some areas along the pathways offered dramatic views.
More often than not, the jungle was thick and you could see only a short distance.
I just loved the giant ferns that were everywhere, some 40′ tall. There are many species of orchids in the forest. Most grow hundreds of feet up in the treetop canopy but some thrive in the deep shade on the forest floor.
Some are very showy.This one, I believe is pollinated by a moth at night and has a strong sweet scent in the evening. This orchid’s flowers were less than 1/2″ long. This flower, not an orchid, looked more like a paper origami sculpture than a flower, tiny and delicate.
This one is in the lily family. Everything from the towering trees to the smallest twigs were a riot of growth. This heavily laden branch was only about 1/2″ thick. Bromeliads were everywhere. Not your typical Chiquita banana. As we walked through the forest there were a number of rough shelters where we could sit and enjoy the solitude and, I expect, escape the rain when necessary. Tiny leaves carpeting the trunk of a tree. The leaves are so small that you’d easily miss them if you weren’t paying close attention.Dainty leaves so fragile it’s hard to believe that they can compete for the available light.
A wonderful mix of textures. Some not so dainty. This showy bract stands nearly 2′ tall and a flaming red that stands out in the forest. A not so dainty emerging fern fiddle. Of course, plenty of massive plants all fighting to reach the sun. After so many years with our own home greenhouse that required a huge amount of care it’s remarkable to see these plants in their native land, where nature does all her magnificent work.
What a thrill to see such a riot of life and to be able to savor the lushness of Martinique. I can’t wait to go back soon.
Well, that’s about it for now. Off to St Lucia tomorrow or Wednesday and I am sure that island will also have lots to share.
Come back soon. Please.