St Pierre, more chic than shabby and oh, so historic.

One of the best parts of being in the Caribbean, aside from avoiding the FREEZING winter conditions at home, is the nightly show as the sun sets to the west.

Sunsets in the Caribbean are nearly always impressive and last nights was even better than usual with a local fisherman out for one last set of his net as the sun set to the west.  More about how these industrious fisherman practice their craft a little later in this post.Of course, as Brenda and I sit in the cockpit or up on deck with a glass of wine,  we wonder if we will see the elusive green flash, a momentary pulse of bright green as the sun sets below the horizon.  This phenomenon only happens when the horizon is perfectly clear and lasts less than a second.  Last night was one of those nights and while I sort of missed the “flash” by a fraction of a second, we got it, a green flash!  If you don’t see it in this image, I guess you just had to be there, and we were.

I put the camera on sports mode, taking photos about twice a second as the sun sets.  It drops fast enough that you can see it move lower and lower.And, that iconic flash that, I almost, caught.  I’ve done better but you can sort of see the change of color. It was beautiful and a perfect way to end the day.

Today, the day got off to an equally impressive start with a parade of showers rolling off of Mt Pele, bringing with it a variety of rainbows.   First a partial “bow” against impressive clouds. A bit later, a full rainbow.  This photo doesn’t really give a sense of the scale.  It was really huge. And the colors looked brighter in “real life”.  This close up gives a better feel for how bright it was. The streets in St Pierre, once the capital of Martinique, are a mix of old and really old.  In 1902, Mt Pele, in the distance, capped in clouds, exploded with little warning, leveling the city and killing some 30,000 in a brief moment as superheated gas and ash, in excess of 1,000 degrees, rushed down the mountain.
In the aftermath of destruction, not a building was standing, only charred ruins.  Some of the remains of these ruined buildings are left as a memorial to that fateful day. The destruction was total, leaving not a single building standing. Every person in the city perished except a single very lucky guy who happened to be in jail when Pele exploded, and survived.  Check out this three minute video of the story of the destruction of St Pierre and one man’s very lucky day.Following the eruption, the capital was moved south to Ft de France, which remains the capital to this day.   We will be heading there, I expect, within the next few days so stay tuned on that front.

On that fateful day there were many ships anchored off of the city and most were sunk in moments.   The shore drops off steeply off of the beach so today boats have to anchor as close to the beach as they dare.  This view from the center of the city south, is more peaceful than that day in 1902.   Pandora is anchored way to the south, near the point, as there is a fairly shallow shelf in about 25′ of water so it’s a better spot than near the center of the city.

The problem with anchoring near the city center is that the drop off is so fast that if you were to drag your anchor, even 100′, the anchor and chain would be hanging straight down as you drifted to sea.  There are many spots in the ruins in the city that offer a juxtaposition of old and older like this lovely courtyard.   Notice the sleeping dog near the back wall.  Happy Rover.
I particularly liked the way that this home was built into a stretch of old stone wall.  Nicely done. And, a view of the water over the rooftop.  I love steel roofs. A few days ago we visited what has become our favorite distillery, Depaz, built into the foothills of Pele.  The facility is the only steam powered distillery, I think in the Caribbean if not the world.   It sits on the edge of thousands of acres of cane fields. Heavy machinery is used to move the ground up cane into the crusher which extracts the juice. After the cane is crushed and juice extracted, the remainder is set aside and fed into the boiler that provides steam to the engine that powers the plant. If a picture is worth a thousand words, nothing can do justice to this wonderful steam engine like this little video that I shot of the machine at work.   At less than 30 seconds, it gives a real sense of this wonderful piece of engineering in action.   Enjoy…After extracting the sugar juice it is fermented for two days and then put into a distillation tower that gasses off and then collects the alcohol.Then the distilled alcohol is put into oak barrels and aged, in some cases for a decade before being bottled.  Each year about 10% of the rum evaporates from the barrels, an amount called “the angel’s share”.  As a result of this, a bit more is added each year to top up the barrel.  So, if you purchase a rum that has been aged for a number of years, some of the rum has been added on a yearly basis to keep the barrel full.  In some cases, the barrels that the rum is aged in are discarded Port barrels or other types from the US and Europe.  The use of old barrels gives rums a special taste.

These barrels are actually empty, waiting to be filled.  When they are full, they are placed on their side. The rum business has always been profitable as witnessed by this impressive manor home, once the home of the owners of Depaz. Nice view.  I can imagine Mr Depaz sitting on the front porch, perhaps sipping an old fashioned rum punch, feeling pretty proud of himself, master of all he can see and such.  The manor homes on these estates are always sited upwind from the factory.  As you can imagine, boiling sugar water and the near constant crushing of the cane gives off a sickly sweet smell of molasses.   Not something that you’d want wafting into your home, day and night.  Following lunch at the Depaz restaurant with some friends, Brenda and I opted to walk the 1.5 miles back to town.  Down hill all the way and rain showers kept us from getting too hot.  It was a very nice walk.  Brenda has a new straw hat that she has decorated with a lovely scarf.  I finished the ensemble with some fresh flowers plucked along the side of the road.
It’s always a treat to see what grows in people’s gardens and long the roadside.  How about a mix of orchids and bougainvillea?Ok, so back to the fisherman I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

In spite of the fact that the next piece of land to the west as we look out to sea, is probably Honduras, it’s fairly settled along this coastline.  However, before dawn each morning the rocking and rolling begins when the many small fishing boats head out to fish.

In many cases, they are fishing for pilchards, or large sardines.   These 8″ long fish are considered a local delicacy that is sold in the market every morning, fresh from the boat, along with a good variety of other options. Yesterday I purchased a good sized chunk of tuna.  See the tuna “mother” off to the right of this photo?  That was where the tuna I purchased came from.  It was yummy. Also in the market, a huge variety of local vegetables.  We are particularly fond of the tomatoes, very different from the bio-engineered tasteless variety that are available in the US during the winter. So, these small boats head out to fish, early in the morning, often very close to where we are anchored.  The boats generally have two fisherman on board.  First they toss bits of palm fronds onto the water which will bring the fish to the surface.

When they see a promising school of fish, they power in a large circle, paying out their purse net over the side. This boat did their work right in front of anchored Pandora. After securing both ends of the long net together, they pull on the draw string that closes up the bottom of the next, trapping their catch.  Notice the guy on the left who is beating the water with an oar, to scare the fish back into the middle of the net to keep them from escaping under their boat before the net is fully secured.  They then pull one end of the net back aboard, slowly closing in on the school.The net gets smaller and smaller as they draw it aboard.As the net is brought back aboard they carefully pull the individual fish and toss them into a basket.It is an amazing process to watch these fisherman pursue their craft.   I expect that with the exception of using outboard motors, not much has changed for generations.

St Pierre has a long history and it is hard to imagine the horror of that day in 102 that captured the attention of the world.

We aren’t sure how long we will remain here but for now Brenda and I are enjoying spending time in St Pierre, what was once called “The Paris of the Caribbean”.  It’s still lovely and a nice mix of not to shabby and pretty chic.

That’s about it for now as Brenda and I are heading to a local Gauguin museum with our friends from Higlander.

More to come…

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