THE MARTINIQUE MARATHON
Or How We Spent The Day Racing With Rhonda
It was a hot and steamy day on the isle of Martinique in the Eastern Caribbean as our fearless blind crew from the Royal Princess cruise ship ventured out into the Fort-de- France city. Our intrepid troupe had the best of intentions. We had planned carefully every detail of the day’s excursion. We were picked up by our lovely hostess, Rhonda, with an air conditioned motor coach. She was to be our guide through a walking tour of the city. Yes, she was indeed knowledgeable of the city and island’s rich French history. And, yes, she was indeed knowledgeable of how to navigate the slender sidewalk passageways. But as our crew soon discovered she was also an olympian sprinter when she was not escorting tourists around this picturesque city.
Before long we discovered how not getting on our treadmills before this eastern Caribbean adventure trip was probably a mistake. Rhonda certainly must have had roller blades in her shoes as she sped through the many twists and turns that were definitely designed for building up triathlon like stamina. She navigated the sidewalks with incredible ease almost as if she’d planned to torture us out of shape mere mortals.
However ease of navigation was indeed not the case for our entourage of blind and low vision adventurers. The cobble stoned passageways lined with Creole and colonial styled buildings were definitely far from modern as they only allowed enough room for a guide dog and companion to safely forge ahead. Buildings on your left and uneven curbs on your right. And yes there even were mirrors too.
Being one of our party who can see well enough to guide others I then had a challenge when my tag along-ers were more than one. Guiding any more than that then brought the train thingy absolutely into play. And then there’s the oncoming obstacles know more commonly as other tourists. I can tell you there was a lot of zig zagging going on. Trying to keep up with roller blade Rhonda was definitely on my mind. Did she just turn left? Or was it right? And what color was that blouse she was wearing again?
So there we were in a strange land doing our best to learn as much as we could about this country’s rich culture while we endeavored to stay within hearing range of our host. To our team’s credit we actually enjoyed the day. Vigorous exercise can certainly do wonders to clear one’s head. Speaking of clearing one’s head; we even got to see a statue of Napoleon’s first wife, the Empress Josephine who was from Martinique. Minus the head of course. After all, to the citizens of this French colonial island, authenticity is an extremely important thing which must be taken seriously.
One of the reasons that our cast of sight free characters chose this particular walking tour has nothing to do with history or warm, clear Caribbean fresh air. Oh, no, my friends. It had to do more with one word in the tour’s description. A magical word for many to be sure. And that word is…shopping. We were in port for the entire day so naturally there was going to be shopping involved as the tour was only going to last a few hours.
Here’s where our day in Martinique diverts off the planned path. Yes, even Patrick and his planning can sometimes hit a snag or two.
At the end of our tour we found ourselves in front of the Schoelcher Library. Some of our group decided that they wanted to head back to the ship while the rest of us, myself included, wanted to stay in Fort-de-France to experience some local cuisine, and, oh, shop. So roller blade Rhonda would be escorting some back to the ship. Being strangers in these parts that had just experienced a whirlwind tour all we knew was that we were somewhere in a city we’d never seen before. As experienced travelers we figured, “OK, we got this.” Asking Rhonda for specific instructions and directions on how to get back to our ship later in the day we received a detailed and precise response. “Down this street. You’ll see it.”
We all learned, or was re-taught, one of life’s invaluable lessons that day as we perspired in the Caribbean heat infused cobbled streets of Fort-de-France. Yes, people are indeed the same everywhere.
As us folks with sight looked around all we could see was colonial architecture. There was no water, no piers, no ships for as far as anyone (even fully sighted folks) could see. And now…let the “What do we do now?” group deliberations begin. Do we stay and take our chances in a city where French was the only language everywhere? I must admit that visions of getting lost in this beautiful, seemingly friendly, city had me thinking about Josephine’s headless statue for a moment. Or do we go with plan B and try and keep up with Rhonda as she speedily guided us on a return journey to the ship?
We decided to race along with Rhonda and return to the ship. Our rationale for that decision was multi-faceted. By going back to the ship we would then be familiar with the route and could return to the city after eating lunch for free on the ship. We figured there would be plenty of time to enjoy the city’s liquid hospitality and shop. This decision was supported by Rhonda’s insistence that the ship is “Right over there.” Let’s just say that her understanding of that phrase is “tres different” than ours.
As we headed as a group off to find our long lost sailing vessel we noticed that sidewalks and streets were no longer made of cobble stone and that the buildings had transformed into more 20th century structures. But sadly as our extremely warm race continued beyond the promised “Right over there” five minute walk we begun to wonder just what had Rhonda been smoking before she met us. Our jaunt allowed us to see some of the lesser known establishments of Fort-de-France as we enjoyed lovely rustic warehouses, train yards and parking lots. Finally, after about a 20 minute sprint we discovered where “Right over there” really was as our ship came into view after passing the last warehouse.
Did I mention that it was hot? Being the seasoned travelers that we are we always take a backpack and a bottle of water with us. After all one must have storage capacity for shopping and one must also stay hydrated. As luck would have it everyone else brought water too. But, as that same luck would have it, everyone finished all the water near the end of the tour back at Josephine’s place. By the time we made it to the pier it was clear that the pool deck on the ship was looking like an excellent choice for the rest of the day. Especially since a round trip back into the city on foot would have taken up most of our shopping and libation time. So back on board we each took our soggy selves first to our cabins for a quick spritz of cooling water and then to the Lido deck for food and the fruity alcohol laced drink of the day.
That was how our plans changed while in Martinique. But no worries folks cause it isn’t always all about the place. Some, dare I say most, times it’s about the experiences and memories you make with friends along the way. Even though we didn’t plan to partake of the Martinique Marathon with Rhonda we certainly now have some fond memories. We’ll see you again soon Martinique you beautiful little country, you.