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Opinion

Setting sail for Martinique adventure

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November 18, 2011

Traveling is a lot of fun, but getting there can be a hassle. Waiting in lines at the airport, weather delays, and unfriendly service adds more headaches than relaxation. For example, while France is one of the most popular destinations, you can still enjoy French culture without needing to fly halfway across the world. The French overseas department, Martinique!

Like many Caribbean islands, Martinique’s early history began with the Arawak and Carib Indians inhabiting the island. It also was visited by Columbus on his final voyage to the New World. However, the Spanish focused on other discoveries and turned their attention away from the island. This paved the way for the French, who first brought over settlers from neighboring St. Kitts in 1635. The settlers quickly reaped the natural resources on the island, exporting indigo, tobacco, cotton and cacao. The British attempted to claim the island, but were mostly unsuccessful. In an interesting twist, the British did occupy the island during the Seven Years War and during the French Revolution (until the French onarchy could be re-established).

The island’s largest city, St. Pierre, was completely destroyed in 1902 when the volcano Mont Pelée erupted. All but two people were killed — the survivors included a shoemaker and a prisoner. Their economy returned to form with help from the local rum distilleries. Since World War II, Martinique has enjoyed a high quality of living. In fact, many French citizens vacation here throughout the year. As a French department, Martinique is associated with the European Union and has representation in the French government. Also, the currency used is the Euro — so products will be relatively more expensive for Americans.

As I stated, you can see some highlights of Paris without needing to fly there. One of the most popular landmarks is the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral. Located outside the capital, Fort-de-France, it is a replica of the Montmartre monument. Also a replica of the Mediterranean beaches is Les Salines Beach. Its white sand with calm, cool waters is the most frequented hotspot on the island. For a history lesson, visit St. Pierre. Since being rebuilt from the volcano eruption, you can tour the museum dedicated to that catastrophe. There are many artifacts (some damaged, others intact) recovered from the disaster.

If you’re up for some nightlife, the main attraction from the locals is the Boulevard Allegre. Dance the night away along this bustling street—a regular Champs-Elysees of the Caribbean! Lastly, no trip is complete without stopping at a local rum distillery. A pertinent island export, you can find as many distillery towns as France has vineyards. After visiting the D paz distillery in 2007, I was unaware of how much care is needed to create the product. Plus, their manufacturing techniques are considerably different than here in the States. We didn’t need to wear safety equipment, and the vats were literally housed outside for the public to see.

Mes amis, this concludes our visit to Martinique. Upon returning from break, we’ll explore a new South American port that has been reopened for tourism. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Michael Leonard is a Spanish major at UW-River Falls.