Allow me to tell you a little story about what it’s really like to hunt down a part for your boat in order to accomplish a simple project. While visiting the beautiful, French island of Martinique, we discovered that the prices for most things, especially boat parts, were better in Martinique than anywhere else we had been. So, Craig made a list of all the things we needed to complete some basic, maintenance like new anchor markers (color coded every 25 feet so we know precisely how much chain we have out when we anchor), water maker filters, shock cord to replace the tired one on the jib, a new temp switch for the generator and a visit to the Yamaha dealer for a new kill switch for the dinghy and perhaps repair our spare prop blade. That list doesn’t seem so bad, right? One stop shopping at the marine store should get it done. Wrong. We walked to 3 different stores, in 3 separate parts of town, to get the majority of items which took the better half of an afternoon. Actually we were thrilled to find these very thoroughly stocked stores in La Marin, a dinghy ride away. The Yamaha dealer, unfortunately, would have to wait because it was in Fort to France, some 39 kilometers away.
The following day we hatched a plan to take the bus to Fort de France with Bob and Christine. Craig, Liv and I met them at the bus stop at 11:50 am, only to find out the bus had just left 10 minutes earlier. Darn, when does the next bus come? Waiting around was miserable with the intense sun and the rising temperature, forced us to seek shade! The next bus came 40 minutes later, promptly 10 minutes late. We stepped aboard, paid our $1.20 Euro’s and enjoyed the short 10 kilometer ride to La Marin, across the bay from St. Ann, where we were anchored. We asked a nice young man, who spoke decent English, where we could pick up a bus to Fort de France in La Marin. We tried to help him understand using our poor french that we wanted to take the city bus and not a taxi. The young man translated to the bus driver on our behalf, but we were a little skeptical whether he fully understood what we were asking. He kept calling it a ‘taxico’ – like Texaco gas station. Huh?! So we just went with it for the time being. When he dropped us off, there was a taxi waiting for us across the street. The other ladies on the bus promptly headed for a bus stop by the side of the road. We hesitated, a bit confused, wondering what to do. We crossed the street and talked with the taxi driver. He said he was going to Fort de France and it would be $7 Euro each! Yikes, that’s like $10 per person. I quickly added that up for the 3 of us, thankful that Maggie and Kate didn’t come too. Again, we hesitated and then decided to take the ride. It was 39 kilometers, so maybe that was the going rate. The ‘buses’ don’t look like the city buses we know in the states. They are essentially minivans. Some have a ‘taxi’ sign on top, some have the route they drive plastered to the windshield and some say nothing at all.
We sat in the hot bus full of locals and watched the scenery whiz by on a actual highway. Martinique is a french department which means it gets full funding for things like roads. This was actually the first time we had been on a highway with more than one lane in a very long time. Christine got out the map and we discussed where to drop Bob and Craig off for the Yamaha dealer, while Christine, Liv and I would go a little further to the mall. We thought we knew exactly which stop the boys would need to hop off but before we knew it, we were being dropped off at the mall. How did that happen? We didn’t see the airport, which was our landmark we were looking for. Okay, now what? We looked at the map again to see how far it was back to where they needed to go. No problem, they would just walk. It didn’t seem that far.
Meanwhile, it was 2pm and we hadn’t accomplished one purchase yet. We told Maggie and Kate we'd be gone roughly 4 hours (remember, we left the boat at 11:30am!) We made a plan to meet the guys at 4:30 pm to allow enough time to get back to the boats before dark. We had no phones to call the girls and we were way out of VHF range. Luckily the mall had free wifi and I managed to send Maggie an e-mail hoping she would check it. However, there was one small problem with that brilliant idea….the girls had had their iPod privileges taken away, so she wouldn't be looking at her e-mail. Hmmm, well, I decided to send it anyway, hoping she would disobey this one time.
We girls milled around the mall and then went to the grocery store just before 4:30pm when we needed to meet the guys. They were there waiting for us empty handed. The Yamaha dealer didn’t have what they wanted and they didn’t have a phone to call the guy who could repair the spare prop. Feeling defeated, we walked across the street, over the bridge to the bus stop. The sun was falling in the western sky and darks clouds looked ominous as they floated towards us. We painfully strained our eyes at each passing bus, trying to find the one that said “La Marin”. We must have seen 2 dozen go by. Some stopped to see if we needed a ride but when we asked if they were going to La Marin, they shook their head and kept going. Finally, a sweet young couple approached us and asked if we needed help. We learned from them that the buses to La Marin became fewer and farther between after 5pm. It was 5:20pm. Great! So we waited some more to no avail. We finally waved down a bus going to La Marin, but it was too full for the 5 of us and he wouldn’t pick us up anyway. He told us we had to travel 10 miles in the opposite direction to the main bus stop and then catch the bus there. What? Why would we want to travel farther from our destination? In the end, the young couple helped us call a taxi (on their cell phone) while we were thinking “how bad could it be, it might cost us $50 Euro for all of us. Not the same as the bus fare but at that point, we just wanted to get home. It was getting dark and it had already rained on us once. Okay, so the taxi was on its way. Thank you to the french couple, our heroes. Except the taxi was going to cost $80 Eruo’s for the 5 of us. That’s like $120 US. Meanwhile, Bob was watching all the buses passing by and talked to one going to St. Lucee, which was half way to La Marin. At the last second, we decided to ride the bus to St. Lucee and get a taxi from there, where it would be a little cheaper and there was a remote possibility that we could get on another bus.
This pic of Bob and Liv pretty much sums up our bus catching prowess.
We ditched Bob and Christine as we raced to the dinghy to get back to the boat. Maggie and Kate were waiting on the bow of the boat, scanning the dinghy traffic for their parents. Kate was worried sick, but fortunately Maggie was actually composed. She said she got my e-mail despite her ban from the electronics, so she wasn't that worried. Yet. We learned a few things during that trip. Number one, the more developed the island is, the less likely there will be any kind of reliable public transportation. The french islands, by enlarge, are more developed than the rest of the Caribbean. Number two, there is no way to get to the other side of any large island and back with out it taking all day. Number three, our kids are indeed smart enough to be resourceful and disobey restrictions in an emergency.