"Got Rum" Magazine. Photos by Mr. Paul Senft
Rum Journey's 2014 Rum Cruise, Part 2- by Paul Senft
In Part 2 of Rum Journey's 2014 Rum Cruise, Mr. Paul Senft takes us through their visit to Martinique and Grenada. Stay tuned for next month's article where Paul's journey begins on the island of Dominica.
Rum Journey's 2014 Rum Cruise, Part 2- by Paul Senft
The third day of the Rum Journey Rum Cruise aboard the Carnival Splendor brought us to the Island of Martinique. Settled in 1635, Martinique is one of the largest islands of the Lesser Antilles measuring 62 miles x 32 miles (100 Km x 37 Km). Our port of call, Martinique’s capital, the city of Fort-de-France is home to roughly 1/4 of the islands 400,000 occupants.
As we approached, our cabin view was on the starboard side of the ship providing us a gorgeous view of a fort where we could see the French flag flying proudly. We departed the ship at Pointe Simon and received our first full view of the city Fort-De-France. The first thing that grabbed my attention was an apartment tower that has to be one of the tallest buildings I have ever seen on a Caribbean island. The weather was overcast and as our group gathered for our tour it started to lightly rain. Leaving the dock we were roughly herded through a quick maze of fences and boundaries until we were ordered to our tour bus. Fort-de-France had none of the welcoming friendliness that we had encountered on other islands. For an island that is seeing more cruise and tourist traffic every year, I expected a better first impression.
Once on the bus we swiftly departed the dreary city to be met by a rolling landscape blanketed by fields of sugarcane and bananas. It was not long and we began to spot sugar plantation ruins and rhum distilleries. Part of the fun was spotting the different distilleries or regions that I have read and written about over the years. As we traveled further north the architecture switched from the structures of a busy city to the colorful buildings commonly seen on many other islands. After an hour long drive we arrived at our first destination; The Rhum St. James Museum de Rhum.
I was excited as this and Rhum Clément were the top two recommended places to visit for a day excursion. They provided the tour in French and a translator explained the agricole rhum process to us as well as the history of the distillery. Then we were allowed to explore the grounds, tour the museum, taste a variety of samples at the gift shop and watch the workers bottle product at the distillery. At the back of the property we discovered a two story building filled with one of the nicest collections of copper stills we have ever seen. After everyone made their purchases we loaded up and continued our journey north.
Our next stop was in the town of Morne for lunch at the restaurant La Bambou. This should have been an uneventful part of the trip. However, we hit construction on one of the roads and were detoured up a side road. The next half hour was spent winding up and down hills and when our driver realized a suspension bridge would not accommodate our bus, he skillfully descended a half mile down a curving hillside backwards. We finally reached our destination, with a mix of humor and relief. The food was French Creole and a fine introduction to the cuisine of the island. Salad, curry chicken, breadfruit, bananas, several wines, and a dessert of tasty ice cream or banana foster to round things out. After we finished dining we departed for our final stop of the day: The town of Saint Pierre.
Saint Pierre is considered to be the most tragic place on Martinique. In 1902 Saint Pierre was a thriving port city of 30,000 people known as the Paris of the West Indies. On May 8th, 1902, Mount Pele erupted, unleashing a poisonous cloud of volcanic ash down upon the city. In two minutes the entire population of the city perished with the exception of one man sleeping it off in an underground jail cell.
Today Saint Pierre is a small picturesque sea side town. Mount Pele slumbers above while the residents go about their daily business. Our group visited the Mount Pele volcano museum which detailed the history and displayed relics from the eruption. Particularly telling was one of the old church bells melted and warped by the disaster.
After the museum we wandered part of the town, shopped the street vendors and our guide took us over to some of the ruins of the original city. After an hour, we returned to our bus for the last time and headed back to Fort-de-France. An hour later we arrived back at the Splendor as the sun began to set. We boarded the ship and after a short time departed for our next island.
At dinner that night we learned that others in our group, who just visited Fort-de-France, found the island disappointing. It was challenging to be able to visit any of the beaches as there were no assurances they could get back to the ship on time. Most saw a couple of land marks, shopped, and returned to the ship overall disappointed with their experience.
Wednesday morning we awoke as the ship approached the island of Grenada. The island is 21 x 12 miles (34 Km x 19 Km) with a population of around 100,000 people. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1498, the island changed flags three times between the Spanish, French and the British for the next 400+ years. They gained their independence in 1974, experienced a coup by leftist forces aligned with Cuba and the Soviet Union in 1979. The coup was over thrown by American forces, returning the island’s independence.
Grenada is known as the “Spice Isle of the Caribbean” and is one of the world’s top producers of nutmeg and mace. The island also produces cocoa, cinnamon, ginger and clove. The tourist industry is regulated to preserve the environment. Most hotels and resorts are in the St. George’s or Grand Anse Beach area in the southeast corner of the island. I had visited the island in 2013 and it left quite a positive impression on me. I was excited to share the island with the group and could not wait to get started.
Our ship arrived at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal in St. George’s. We were greeted by the music of a steel drum band and guided to our bus. Visitors to the island exit through the Esplanade shopping mall where they can get a taxi or walk up the hill to the Spice market or the French built Fort George. There is so much to do and see in Grenada that we chose to have a relaxing day of rum and beach time.
We loaded our bus and departed for our first destination of the day: The Clarke’s Court Rum Distillery. A quick ride later we were issued our hard hats and took a tour of the fully operational distillery. First, we viewed the old sugar refinery equipment that is on display to explain the history of the island and distillery. The tour continued into the distillery where we witnessed the molasses fermenting, distillation tanks, barreling and bottling areas. Our tour concluded in the tasting room, where we had a huge selection of products to sample and purchase. Clarke’s Court products have limited distribution in the United States so everyone in the group took the opportunity to purchase a few bottles for their home bars.
We boarded the bus for our final stop- Morne Rouge Beach. It did not take us long and we were at the gorgeous white sand beach. We spent the rest of the time swimming and relaxing in the sun. There was a beach bar on location where we all enjoyed some Carib beer as we relaxed the day away. All too soon we were back on the bus heading back to St. George’s. I was happy to discover that the Esplanade shopping mall had excellent duty free rum opportunities and a nice variety of products produced by the residents of Grenada. We reluctantly returned to the ship and promised that the next time we visited we would make sure it was for a much longer stay. That night we prepared to visit our last rum producing island of the voyage: the island of Dominica.