Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mt. Pelee

We are hearing the reports of Kilauea erupting in Hawaii as we are getting ready to hike up Mt. Pelée in Martinique.  Pelée is famous for its 1902 eruption which left only two survivors in its direct path, one of whom was a prisoner in a well insulated jail cell, approximately 30,000 people died in the eruption.

I am sitting in the park in St. Pierre,  the town that was devastated by the 1902 eruption.  I am waiting for Bob to return with our rental car and I am watching the ebb and flow of life. Right in front of me is a dove picking up twigs and carrying them to his mate up in the tree above me. They are obviously building a nest and need some very small twigs. I watch as he picks up a larger stick, drags it about for a moment and then rejects it. He soon finds a more suitable twig and flies upward. Each time he comes to the nest with a twig he flies to an adjoining branch and calls to his mate before hopping over to the nest. He spends a few minutes assisting with the placement of the twig, then flies off in search of another.

The church bells just tolled 9 o'clock.

Cruisers are tying up their dinghies on the concrete town dock, depositing their garbage in the bins and heading toward the patisserie to pick up fresh baguettes. Side note- we call the loaves "French bread". The French call the sliced sandwich bread "Canadian bread" or "American bread". 

There is a small market here today, only two tables, but they are piled high with fruits and vegetables. Sliced watermelon, bananas, tangerines, mangos, pineapple, soursop, lettuce, tomatoes and much more. Tomorrow is market day and there will be at least 50 more tables here, all filled with wonderful things. Crafts and spices and clothing and music, just to name a few.

The ocean is calm, a beautiful blue. A warm breeze is blowing as fishermen are heading out in their dories. The parking places in front of the 8 á Huit (8 to 8) market are filling up, vendors are starting to set up their stalls for tomorrow.

Bob pulls up in a little white Renault. I load our bags in and run over to the 8 á Huit to pick up a fresh baguette and we are off, heading down the narrow streets f St. Pierre, looking for the signs pointing us in the right direction. Le Morne Rouge, we see the sign and make the turn, up into the hills, twisting and turning, the road getting narrower and narrower. About 20 minutes later we arrive in a small village, realize not only is it the wrong town, but there is no way to get there from here. Back down the twisting and turning road (fortunately now getting bigger as we go) all the way back to St. Pierre trying to figure out how we went wrong.

Arriving back in St. Pierre we see a second sign pointing toward Morne Rouge,  apparently after we made our turn we should have immediately turned again (going around the block) and the sign that we missed was obscured from the direction we were going. Oh well, it was a very scenic detour.

Morne Rouge, Mt Pelée, take two. The road to, and through Mourne Rouge is relatively wide and easy to navigate, it gets a bit smaller when heading up to Pelée, but not uncomfortably so. We did not realize that it was a holiday in Martinique on the day we went. There were many cars, and even a tour bus, parked on the side of the road before the start of the trail. We had to park about a quarter mile downhill.

Sitting in the car after we had parked I was watching the fog and clouds roll up the mountain. I have hiked quite a few times in the Pacific Northwest in those conditions and as I sat there, watching, I was thinking that I was not prepared, I did not have enough layers for warmth. Oh, well, we are here, I can power through I thought and I opened the door. Oh, yeah, I am not in the Pacific Northwest anymore. While the wind and the fog were definitely cooler than at sea level I was reminded that I am in the Caribbean, and was pleasantly surprised at the relative warmth of the clouds.

Last year we spent some time around St. Pierre and we never saw the peak of Pelée. We had not seen it during  our stay this year either so we did not have great hopes for magnificent views. Our expectations were realized.

This is the placard describing all the wonderful locations you can see from this spot. This is looking out to the ocean and all we could see was fog. From this point we climbed another 1200 feet to the caldera.
The path was a combination of rock, lava and wooden steps. Sometimes it was very steep and slippery from the fog and sometimes it was just steep and adding to the fun was intermittent drizzly rain which occasionally made for a slippery, sometimes muddy trek.

Some of the steps were a little more challenging than others.

There were many other hikers on the mountain that day. In North America when you encounter a group hiking you generally greet the first person in the group, and possibly the last. In Martinique every person in every group will greet each person they pass. There were a whole lot of "Bonjour"s flying around Pelée!

The markers along the path were very informative. They list the time left to get to the next intersection, of course your time may vary! I found it was much slower coming down than going up. When going up I could lean into the mountain and if I slipped I would not go very far. Not so coming down. I was much slower in placing my feet and ensuring that each step was secure.

About half way up we passed a family with young children. Shortly after that the youngest one, being carried on his father's back, decided he was not happy and he was going to let everyone know it. It is amazing how far a child's cry can carry up a mountain. We were serenaded with it for the remainder of the hike up. 

Even the sign posts grew tired and lay down for a rest. The 2nd Refuge was our chosen destination.

At last we reached the caldera. The steep sides were pretty impressive, even if we could not see very far into it.

The Second Refuge in the clouds. Every person in the refuge had some food for the hike, and for every person this included a baguette!

Feeling a little wet and bedraggled, but I thoroughly enjoyed the hike. 

Back down the mountain. Back to the warmth and the sunshine. Back to Rhapsody, ready for the next adventure.

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