We arrived in Martinique at approximately 6:30 PM, at which point the sun was already well on its way to turning in for the night.
I traveled with my friend Mary, the two of us in search of a less conventional spring break trip. We had taken off from BOS at 1:00 PM that day, meaning that with the +1 hr time difference in Martinique, our commute to the Caribbean was a 5.5-hour flight. The flight was smooth and toward its conclusion, we were gifted with spectacular sunset. Strangers took turns rotating spots with those lucky enough to have a window seat just to snap a photo or two, and the lush green hills and valleys of Martinique came into view just as the sun dipped away, a perfectly-timed finale. Making my way off the plane and along the gangway, I quickly removed the sweater whose sleeves I had stretched around my hands when I was some 39,000 feet in the air. Here on this new ground, it was warm, buzzing with the songs of crickets, and I saw leaning palm trees decorating the runway.
We moved through customs quickly and painlessly, and it took no more than fifty feet to reach the lobby of the airport’s only terminal. To my pleasant surprise, our AirBNB hosts stood right before the doorway, waiting happily with a paper sign that had my name across it. They had come to pick us up and drive us to our temporary home in the beach town of Les Anses d’Arlet. The couple kindly asked us how we liked our flight, and that took longer than it should have because I had spent more hours of the journey refining playlists than I did refreshing my French. Still, they appeared thrilled that I could speak even a word of French, and as we walked to the car we were flashed many smiles and welcoming glances, causing me to greatly look forward to the next week of French pastry free from fear of Parisian judgment.
Our hosts help us load our bags into the car and in a few moments’ time, we were cruising down a barely-lit highway through dark, dark night. Despite it not being very late, the absence of many streetlights and buildings seemed to cloak the entire island in blackness. Mary shot me a look in the back of the SUV as it took a sharp turn off a second rotary and rolled onto an entirely unlit road narrowly bordered with rainforest on either side. It said, “thank god we didn’t rent a car.” My body slid into the car door as we pulled around another corner of rainforest and the road somehow narrowed even more. I don’t even know how to drive, and Mary had no experience driving standard, so when we realized a few days prior to leaving that our rental car plan was not feasible in this country which had a sparse supply of automatic cars, we decided to just splurge on a taxi from the airport to our flat.
After a good forty minutes of whipping back and forth through back roads and the occasional glimpse of an illuminated town tucked in a valley or perched on a hillside, we approached a rotary with a massive shell sculpture some twelve feet high at its center.
“Bienvenue!” one of our hosts exclaimed from the passenger’s seat. We pulled a third of the way around the rotary and followed the road into the Les Anses d’Arlet. Even in the night, the town was filled with color, orange lamps illuminating shadowy buildings of green and lavender and yellow and pink. Our hosts pulled past a few buildings pointing out the pharmacy, a place that served good ice cream, the patisserie that opens at six each morning. I looked around and was immediately excited to explore but also somewhat nervous. I saw windows with broken shutters and no glass, doors that were left open, paint peeling off every wall. This was not an island that had yet been overrun with tourists. I wondered how far the grocery store was. I didn’t see a bar or restaurant and was unsure what we would do in the evenings. I had not wanted spring break in Cancun, but I had expected to be able to drink a cold beer by the beach or talk to locals over some island rum and pineapple juice.
We pulled onto a street behind a row of houses. It was roughly the width of a small driveway, which was evidently the norm for Martinique. Our hosts pulled up to a bright looking two-story home with a balcony on the top. They stopped the car and smiled at us, so we shuffled out and moved around the car to get our things. Clotaire insisted on getting our bags from the trunk himself, so we just stepped onto the porch. It was walled with a clean white rail and floored with crisp red tile. It looked new compared to most of the other buildings that sat around it, and felt cozy even from the outside. Clotaire’s wife reached inside her purse and pulled out a key with a funny little foam man attached to its keychain and turned the lock. In French, she told me the lock was tricky, and to watch closely as she locked and unlocked the door once more. It looked easy, and I imagined the lock on this sleek new door couldn’t be any more difficult than the ancient locks I had struggled with throughout different Italian cities two summers ago. I would find out later in the evening, after they had left us, that I was wrong, of course.
The apartment was cavernous. We walked into an open living and dining area with a kitchen lining the far left wall of the room. A velvet purple sectional sat along the wall opposite the front door and faced a flat screen TV and a stack of guidebooks set on top of a glass entertainment center. A massive glass-topped square walled with brown wicker material occupied the space to our left, and I must have been looking at it with some expression of curiosity, because as Clotaire set our bags down he caught my eye and smiled at us, quickly moving over to the square and pulling at one of the walls. He revealed a comfortable-looking chair that fit perfectly under the table to make it look like a single piece. “I need one of these,” I said to myself, pulling out one of the other chairs and taking a seat. I looked up at our hosts as Mary pulled out a chair also, and they seemed pleased with our amusement at the piece of furniture.
Clotaire motioned for us to follow him and we rose from our seats and made our way to the back of the apartment, where two identical bedrooms existed on either side of a bathroom. Looking inside, I recalled the minimalist French style shower and pictured myself flooding the bathroom the next morning. A turned to the bedroom on the right to shake the thought, and was pleased to see a comfortable full-sized bed with a mosquito net canopied over it from the ceiling. There was also a small bedside table with a lamp next to the bed and a large armoire sat on the same wall as the bedroom door. Over my shoulder, the room Mary chose had the same. Clotaire stepped inside my room and opened the armoire, explaining that there were plenty of clean towels inside, more sheets, and a comforter on top of each room in case we were to get cold. I laughed to myself and tucked a sweaty piece of hair behind my ear. I didn’t foresee getting cold.