At the End of the Road in Martinique: Anse Couleuvre

The road stops at Anse Couleuvre. Literally. The road going North and South that starts out as a highway from Fort-de-France ends up as a winding path around the hills at Anse Couleuvre. This is a place so far in the boondocks that Corentin exclaimed in surprise, “They have electricity here?!” when he saw the long poles following the edge of the road.

I woke up early yesterday morning before the sun rose to begin the trip to Anse Couleuvre. The drive from Francois takes about an hour and a half, because Anse Couleuvre is on the north-western tip of the island. This means driving to Fort-de-France and then tracing the coast upwards to Carbet, Saint Pierre and, finally, Anse Couleuvre. But, even so, why did I need to get up that early for a hike? Because, the best weather of the day is between 5:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.—before the noon sun burns down on the island.

The hike at Anse Couleuvre takes about three hours roundtrip. Luckily, the hike is entirely under the shade of the rainforest. We began walking around 8 a.m. and it was not hot—but it was humid. So humid that, in spite of the lack of heat, I was drenched in sweat. Now, just picture that humidity in a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

We walked across streams and up and down steep hills under the large protective leaves of tall trees. A man in our group stopped us and pointed out a pod.

What is it? I asked.

A cacao pod, he replied.

They are all over the place in this beautiful rainforest. The green pods turn golden brown and the darken and wither, unharvested.

He climbed up the tree and twisted the pod until the pod broke off the vine. He sliced open one of the cacao pods and told everyone to take one of the seeds. Don’t bite it, he said, just suck on it. For those of you who haven’t seen the insides of a cacao pod, let me tell you what this looks like. The inside of the pod is filled with a white, mucusy type of goo that sticks to the seeds of the cacao. It looks disgusting.

It tastes delicious. It’s slightly tart and sweet at the same time, and very refreshing when you’ve just been hiking for an hour and a half. Inside the seeds is the beginning of what we know as cacao. It doesn’t taste anything like cocoa, even the gross unsweetened stuff (and I would know, I’ve tried it because I like chocolate that much).

The highlight of the hike, though, was definitely the waterfall at the end of the hike. The water cascades down a long, straight expanse of rock and the sun shone just above the rock. We were so hot and sweaty that some of us stood under the waterfall. The water was great—and it definitely made the hike back more pleasant.

After the hike, we walked to the ruins of an old habitation. In 1902, the volcano Mont Pelée erupted. In Saint Pierre, the city that used to be the capitol of Martinique, everybody died, except for a couple of men who were locked underground in the city jail for drunken behavior. Since 1902, Saint Pierre has been rebuilt, the old ruins entangled with more modern buildings. It’s common in Saint Pierre for a row of buildings to be broken up by the ruins of one of the old buildings. Still, Saint Pierre has never become the city it once was—and it is no longer the capitol. The city was destroyed, and the ruins at the habitation were evidence of this destruction.

When you’re in Martinique, if you walk far enough, you will reach a beach. So, I wasn’t all that surprised when we found ourselves at the beach. Still, each beach is different. Since Anse Couleuvre is on the west coast of Martinique, its beaches are on the Caribbean Sea. The water on the beaches on the Atlantic have a turquoise sheen, while the water on the beaches on the Caribbean sea is a dark blue color, the color of sapphire—and it glistens just like one. The reason for this is that the water deepens more quickly along the west coast than it does along the east coast. Because we were further north, near the volcano Mont Pelée, the sand was a dark gray color.

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