Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Nightmare of Fort De France

Clearance was easy, but getting to Fort De France was a nightmare! The guide mentions a ferry running from Anse a L’Ane to Fort De France every half hour, which turned out to be once every hour; and buses going around the island connecting the small communities in the bays along the coast. Since we were anchored at Grand Anse D’Arlet, we decided to use the bus and the ferry on our last day in Martinique. We asked somebody who spoke English, and learned that the bus was passing through the main road, starting around 7:30 am, schedule unknown. We got ready early in the morning, and got to the road around 8:15. Al saw two elderly islander ladies, and asked if the bus would come soon, and how much it would cost. She said in less than twenty minutes, and 1.20 Euroes. There was nowhere to sit to wait, but the road side was under the shade of tall trees. So we waited, walked up and down beside the road, looked at the beach etc. After about half an hour, we saw three buses going in the other direction, but nothing coming for us. At last a bus came, but when we asked he shook his head, and said that the bus we were waiting for was to come at 9:40 am. It was hard to believe, and I had gotten tired of standing up in one place, so we started to walk on the road until we saw a covered bus shelter with a bench, which seemed like a better place to wait than the side of the road. I sat down, and Al walked about, then we saw a couple who hauled their luggage close to the stop, and sat on the side walk. We thought that they must be going to the airport, which should be close to the city, so Al went and asked. They turned out to be very nice people who were going to Fort De France to catch a large ferry to Dominica. I suggested hiring a taxi and sharing the fare, but the guy laughed and exclaimed that finding a taxi around here was harder than catching the bus, because the distance was not long enough to make it worthwhile for the driver’s effort.

Anyway after waiting longer than an hour, the bus finally came, and took us to the small town across the bay from Fort De France. It made sense why they had the ferry at this bay, the distance being the shortest. Before we came off the bus, Al asked about the last bus to return to our town, and he said midnight. We definitely would have a bus to come back.

We saw a group of people sitting on a long bench at the dock, obviously waiting for the ferry. When we asked about the expected arrival time, the nice islander lady shrugged her shoulders, and said “whenever it would come”. Not a good sign, but at least many people were still waiting. After a few minutes we saw the ferry approaching from the other side. That was quick; we were just in time to catch it. Embarking/disembarking took a few minutes, and we reached the big city in about half an hour. We had learned earlier that the ferry ride was 6.00 Euros per person, so Al gave exact change to the collector, but he asked for one more Euro for both of us, and gave two tickets. I saw some people presenting tickets, some paying, and asked Al to get return tickets, but communication is a problem. They do not understand even if you try your hand in French, so even Al got discouraged. We paid and got the tickets without any explanation, but Al discarded them as soon as we were out the boat.

The clearance is still done at the Sea Services Chandlery. All one has to do is to fill the form on the computer, and got it printed. Since the same form is used in all points of entry to French soil, we had two copies of it from St Martin and Guadeloupe. I gave one to Al to use as a guide (the questions were in French), and he finished filling it in five minutes. The only hardship was finding our next stop in the drop down menu of countries, presented in no logical order; however, Al found it after trying many spellings of Saint and Lucia. We did some shopping at the chandlery, and were out of there before 11:30 am.

We walked up and down the street running along the docks, and turned inside on a promenade among the shops, found a place to eat with free WiFi on the second floor of a building, where we also saw John and Anita, whom we had met at Dominica. It was quite pleasant. The owner of the restaurant, who was a warm and friendly man, turned out to be from Palestine, so Al had a nice chat with him as well. We did some grocery shopping at the Carrefour at the kitty-corner, and went to the docks to wait for the ferry.

There were three docks where people were waiting for ferries. Of course there were no markings about the destinations of the multiple sized and shaped boats that were coming there. After asking, we found the dock for ours, and started looking at the small town across the bay for the boat that was supposed to come to take us. We had learned that our boat would come at the half past each hour, so we kept a look out when the time approached. We did not see any sign of the boat until it was very close to the dock.

Anyway, it did come almost on time, and took us to the small town across. This time the ferry attendant asked for Euros, apparently the tickets we discarded were actually for our return. Since we had no proof we didn’t even bother mentioning it. The ferry ride was easy, but the last leg of the eight/ten miles after it was kind of dubious, since we had no idea about the schedule of the bus. We found the bus stop, and started waiting, along with an islander girl, who was at the ferry with us.

We waited, and waited, and waited some more. It was hot, and the stop had a shelter but nothing to sit on. I was tired from the whole trip and had lost all hope of going back home. The islander girl made some calls on her cellular, and after a while got into a car that came for her. Standing up in one place is almost impossible for me, so I walked up and down, and then I saw a fair sized grocery store around the corner, where I thought a taxi-stand might be found. There was a rent-a-car office, but no taxi in the parking lot. On my way back, I saw a local gentleman using the ATM machine at the corner, and I asked him if I could call a taxi. He shook his head, and remarked that taxis did not exist there. When he leaned that I was headed to Grand Anse D’Arlet, he said that he would take me. Al was still at the bus stop, so I waved to him to urge him to come quickly. Al came but started gesturing his questions. I just said “taxi”. Then he turned to the gentleman, and asked “combien?” The man was incensed, and exclaimed that he was no taxi. I pretended that I had not understood as well, and thanked him profusely. I guess he was going that way himself. He was a man of few words, he only asked why we were going there, and I said “to our boat” with my excellent (!) French. “Ah!” That was the extent of our conversation, and he let us out at the base of the docks. I was really relieved, and congratulated myself for my instinct for picking out the only person who could help us. Al was not impressed; he still had hope for the bus to come eventually. Yes, but it would be dark by that time. As it was we returned to Ruyam II around 4:00 pm. What a total waste of a day for me.

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