A long time French colony, Martinique has surely been having its share of troubles. Currently, protests are being staged because of low salaries and the exceptionally high cost of living. So troubling are the latest developments in the Caribbean island, that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly taken up the dossier of the beleaguered island along with Guadeloupe, which is also experiencing unrest.
Should travelers planning to visit Martinique be worried? Two US travel journalists, Victor Block and Fyllis Hockman, spent two weeks in Martinique researching news stories. In a Q&A with the Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA, Hockman and Block share their accounts of their two-week stay in the troubled island. Below is the transcript:
Q: Has the labor strike in Martinique affected your stay on the island? If so, how?
A: Our two-week stay has been little impacted by the strike. One house-museum that we wished to see was closed because of the strike.
Q: Have you had any trouble getting around the island by cab? Rental car?
A: We have been traveling around in our rental car without problem. However, two times our access to Ste. Anne via one highway was blocked by police, apparently because a very long line of cars had gathered to await the opening of a gas station located on that road that was going to receive a delivery of fuel. Both times, we were able to reach Ste. Anne by another nearby route, which was open. We have seen taxis on the roads but do not know how the number still operating compares with [what is] normal.
Q: With reports of widespread gas station closings, how have you managed to maintain gas for your rental car?
A: We have refilled the gas tank in our rental car twice at the Budget car rental office at the airport in Le Lamentin, just outside Fort-de-France. We suggest that anyone planning to rent a car in Martinique during a visit there do so with one of the larger car rental companies and check whether the local office has a plentiful supply of fuel for its customers as Budget does.
Q: Have you experienced any difficulties getting food, medicines, sundries, or other basic supplies?
A: Fortunately, we have not needed any medicines; the shelves of small, local grocery stores, where we have shopped at times, have short supplies or have run out of some food items, but they have been replenished within a day or two.
Q: What shops, if any, are open?
A: In our experience, smaller, non-chain, family-owned shops and restaurants are open and operating. We have not encountered any restaurants that have been closed due to the strike but are not aware of the situation in that regard in Fort-de-France.
Q: Have you at any time during your stay felt that you were in danger as a result of the labor strike?
A: No. We have been staying near Ste. Anne on the southern end of the island, and – other than the couple of street closures mentioned above – have not been aware of any activities related to the strike. We have spoken with people waiting in long lines to purchase gas, and their mood seemed to us to be bemused and c’est la vie rather than angry or militant. For the most part, day-to-day life for visitors to the island seems to be continuing much as it would be without the strike. As for residents, many are not working and children are not attending school. This has resulted in a kind of long holiday for many island residents – except when they have to line up and wait for fuel for their car.
Q: Have you encountered any attractions or restaurants that are closed due to the strike?
A: Just the one referred to above. That was the sugar plantation home/museum of Josephine, the creole woman who later became the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Q: What advice would you have for anyone slated to travel to Martinique in the next 30 days? Should they postpone their travel plans?
A: Based on our experience, visitors will not be impacted much, if at all, during a visit to Martinique – assuming that conditions do not take a dramatic turn. Recreational activities – kayaking, sailboarding, windsurfing, jet skiing, scuba diving operations, etc. – seem to be in full swing. The very good network of hiking trails remains open. The outstanding beaches are as inviting as ever, and the little cafes that line some of them remain open and serving excellent grilled chicken, ribs, fish, etc. As things now stand, people outside of Fort-de-France, where most visitors to Martinique stay, should experience little or no problem – and, if the strike causes some people to cancel their travel plans, will encounter fewer crowds than might otherwise be here during the high season.
So far, the labor strike in Martinique is having very little impact on the island’s tourism sector, the Martinique Promotion Bureau /CMT US said. According to the tourism bureau, Martinique’s Aimé Césaire International Airport is open and operating normally; all hotels and resorts in Martinique are open and accommodating guests; all beaches in Martinique are open and remain accessible; car rental companies in Martinique are open and providing fuel to customers; approximately 50 percent of Martinique’s gas stations are open; banks across Martinique are closed, though ATM machines are functioning normally; and all emergency services (police, fire rescue, ambulance) in Martinique are operating normally.
The Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA said it will continue to monitor the situation and issue updates as warranted.
Victor Block and Fyllis Hockman are both members of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the North American Travel Journalists Association, and Travel Journalists Guild.