A Travellerspoint blog

So I kinda climbed a volcano

And nearly lost my life in the process...

Yesterday didn't look like a very promising day, when I woke up at 6:30 it was pouring like cats and dogs...in a way I almost hoped that it would continue to rain and that our excursion would be cancelled. The entire time we've been on this trip, it has been non-stop go with class and excursions and you typically don't get any time to yourself. At the end of each day when you come home to eat with the family, of course they want to talk to you about your day and what you did, etc (this is typical of course, not out of the ordinary) but what is straining is that after a long day of physical and mental exercise (talking in french and hiking for 4-5 hours) you just want to shut down. I feel bad because although I want to talk to my host family after dinner and wind down, I just need to speak in English, catch up with some friends online and oh yea possibly do some homework somewhere inbetween all of this. When I come home I'll probably just sleep for a few days to recoop...

Ok soooo anyway we did end up going on the excursion and the day was mapped out so that we would climb Mt. Pelee in St. Pierre, Martinique which is a volcano that erupted in 1902 and 1929. Before the first eruption there were 30,000 people living in the town and it was the original capitol of the island. This location was booooming with trade and crafts, it was the most advanced area on the island and the port was a wonderful location for trade ships to go to and from France with goods (horses, coffee, sugar, rhum, etc).

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St. Pierre is located on the west coast of Martinique towards the North right on the water...

Our first stop yesterday was at the city limits to look at a tree that survived the volcanic eruption. A lot of people thought that the tree was extremely strong and just survived the ashes, etc...but after research was done they shared that this tree was just far enough away that the eruption JUST missed it. It was a huge tree though. Looked kinda like the tree from the Lion King movie.
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Here is an image of the town and look a rainbow. The rain had been going on and off all day long and God was kind enough to give us this lil' present :)IMG_6170.jpg

Unfortunately it started raining again and to hold off on climbing the volcano we went to visit a rhum distillery. It was pouring down rain outside but it was pretty cool to see all of the barrels of rhum fermenting in storage. Since this time of year is their wet season, they use this time to do repairs on the distilleries. Unfortunately the production of rhum in Martinique has gone down considerably with the economy recently and there are only a few that are still up and running.
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Allison and I got a little thirsty while we were in there...
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we couldn't help it...and the barrell was empty but it had been filled with rhum at one point, the smell still resonated inside.

Following the visit to the distillery we actually went down into the town of St. Pierre and looked around at some of the ruins. The story of the town was that a lot of people had evacuated to save their lives, but it was election day and the mayor who was extremely focused on winning went back to the town and told everyone that it was ok. People returned to the town and as I said earlier 30,000 people lost their lives and there were only two survivors (that they have recorded). We visited the ruins of one of the churches and it was crazy to see how the rocks had been moved. So surreal to be somewhere that had so much history. One of the girls on my trip said that you couldn't pay her to live in that town now!
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Then we went visited an old theatre, but the best part was visiting the prison...why would the prison be cool to visit? I mean it's just a prison, right? Welllll this prison was super special because of the two survivors that they found after the eruption, one of them was a prisoner. His jail cell was sealed so tightly that the gas and ashes couldn't make their way into the cell except for in small portions. He survived for 4 days after the eruption without food and only drank water that dripped into his cell through cracks in the walls and ceilings. Saved by a priest from France, this prisoner became absolutely famous. His skin was scarred with burns all over his body but miraculously he made it through...
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This was the cell that saved his life...
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After this we grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant where I had the best fish evvvvver (it was nice that this time the eyeballs weren't on the fish) and it continued to downpour for another hour or so. We tried to wait until the rain stopped so we could climb the volcano, but either way we were going to be screwed. This volcano climbing wasn't a walk in the park by any means. The trail started off fairly nice, but only got worse and worse the further we went up. In combination with the rain and the steepness of the climb, I really wish I had had my climbing shoes, harness, ropes, etc...to be honest, this climb was extremely dangerous and a good amount of people on this trip are not the most athletic. I loved it, but the liability was crazy...now I know why the unversity made us sign a contract to not sue them if anything happened to us while on the trip. People were falling all of the place trying to hold onto anything that they could while we were climbing. There was moss covering almost every inch of the rocks and your foot placement had to be very specific to ensure that you wouldn't fall. I'd like to say that my experience with rock climbing helped, but it was still even hard for me. Without the appropriate gear, I can't see why they would think this was a good idea for anyone. Sadly we climbed as high as we could but with the combination of the pouring rain and the time getting closer and closer to 6 we had to cut our journey short :( I wish we could have gone on a day that the view would have been better because with all of the clouds and the rain you couldn't even see volcano 20 feet in front of you. At one point I thought we had reached the top and then we walked as I said 20 more feet and I saw a huge mountain in front of me...so yea it was totally crazy, but I'm glad to say that I did it! Maybe I'll come back to Martinique again one day and conquer Mt. Pelee for real!
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Notice how you can't even see the volcano in because of the fog...it was crazy!

Here's a marker point that I snapped a photo at...IMG_6237.jpg

In the midst of trying not to die while I was climbing and the continuous rain, I wasn't able to take photos of the really dangerous parts of the climb, maybe someone else on the trip was able to snap a shot (some people brought water proof cameras) I'll keep an eye of for some of them if I can come across any.

The day ended well with a wonderful view of the sunset on the water while we were taking our hour long bus ride home. I am extremely proud of myself and my fellow classmates for completely this task. This experience is something that we shared together and that nobody else will ever understand. My life long journey of traveling has only just begun and I cannot wait to see where else it takes me. I thank all of you who have been supportive of me to follow my dreams.

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Posted by agawel17 06:36 Comments (0)

Ever taste chocolate before they add the sugar?

I have and it tastes nothing like what you buy...

Ok so yesterday was awesome, we were able to go to "La Chocalaterie" aka the Chocolate factory and see where they make chocolate. I've been to the Hershey Chocolate factory in PA so I didn't think this was going to be too exciting, how wrong I was...This was an actually factory where people worked, not something staged that you could walk through and observe the "process" of making chocolate. The tour guide showed us from the very beginning what the actual chocolate seeds look like that are harvested off of the trees.
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This is what the seed looks like before it is passed through the machine and basically burned to death before we eat it. The process was really interesting and I took a video of it. We were also able to taste the chocolate before they added any sugar or milk to it and it was sooooo bitter. I had no clue that's what pure chocolate tasted like, but it was eek gross and for those of you that know me...you know I love chocolate, but thank goodness people figured out that they could add sugar and milk to it to make it taste better.

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The best part about the chocolate bars that were made there is that they legit only have 4 ingredients and I know what they all are...it's not like there's niacin or red#5 in it...makes me feel a lot better about eating chocolate a piece of that chocolate. The factory worker gave each of us 4 bars of it to take home with us, if you're lucky enough I'll have some left over for when I come home! I took a video of the production line where the chocolate bars were actually made and wrapped and placed in boxes, but the video won't upload right now :( One thing that I did realize is that a lot of times in my life, I never really think about what it takes to get a product to the store where people will buy it. In America, we are huge consumers and I don't always think about the little people that work on the factory lines that get my product onto the shelves. I couldn't imagine working on an assembly line for 8 hours (or longer) each day just making chocolate bars, or anything else. Also there was a young boy working in the factory...I'd like to look up the labor laws here because he couldn't have been any older than 12 or 13 - that brought a whole new series of questions to my mind. Ok and so here's a pic of me after I had tasted the chocolate and I think my face explains enough lol yuck...

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Worst part about it was that I didn't know what to do with the remaining chocolate on my finger...

Posted by agawel17 04:48 Comments (0)

Ouchy this sunburn hurts...

Glad I'm not back home with the snow right now :)

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St. Anne's in the South of Martinique...I know you love my "superstar" pose!

Yesterday was quite a long day. Well to start off in the morning, my roommate and I ran into an issue with our guard-dog and the cleaning lady/maids daughter...yea ask me about that another time, it was pretty scary. We were a half an hour late getting to school to catch the bus to head down to St. Anne's. Once we got on the bus we had another wonderful hour bus ride (this is typical of Martinique...the north is about an hour from Fort de France and the South is about an hour away as well...to put things into perspective...the island is probably about the size of the state of Delaware. Oh yea and everyone here pretty much drives manuals because of all of the hills and mountains and such (this is the first time I've ever seen a manual leasure bus lol). So we did some awesome hiking for about 2 hours and saw some beautiful sights along the way. The beaches in the south have white sand and the beaches in the north have black sand because of the volcanic ash. The weather itself yesterday was pretty gloomy, the sun was going in and out the entire day so I didn't think I got much sun - errr I was wrong. By the end of the day I was looking like a red hott chili pepper lol. The sun managed to creep its way through the clouds. The picture above was taken at a pretty cool spot that look "canyon-ish" I don't know if it had a name, but I really thought it was cool. I took a lot of pictures of this area, so you can look at them once I get my album posted. Also there was a pretty cool cliff spot where the edge was about 70 feet from the water and somehow the water managed to crash onto the side of the cliff and reach all the way up to the top!!! Totally neato. The reason why the waves are really strong in the south is because of the coral reefs the are located below the water, well at least that's what our history teacher told us lol. We finally got to a cool spot where the beaches were absolutely beautiful...we went for a little swim, but unfortunately it started raining on and off so we had to boot scoot and boogie and get onto the bus. We found a few cool vendors while we were there with cool dresses and jewelry...I picked up some souvenirs for family and friends while I was there :) Can't wait to get back to the states so you guys can see them!

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The tour guide is showing us different plants in this picture and he told us that these plants are actually poisonous and when it rains you don't want to touch the water that comes off of them because the water could actually burn you. Pretty crazy!

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Here's that spot I was talking about where the waves were crazy strong and crashing up to the top of the cliff!

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In tropical paradise, there's always palm trees...my trip wouldn't be complete without a picture of me with one of them!

Today we are going to a place to make chocolate! I'm pretty excited because for those of you who know me...I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!! Thanks for reading everyone, sorry I didn't have enough time to talk about all of the other cool stuff I've done that I talked about yesterday...anyway off to class.

<3
Ally

Posted by agawel17 04:30 Comments (0)

Week #3

I can't believe it's almost over...

This past week has been really exciting on the island. My professor has kept us busy with excursions every week and the only days we have off completely are on Sundays. Sundays in Martinique are a big family day. For the most part families come together and have huge lunches on Sunday afternoons and chat about whatever is on their minds at the time. This past Sunday I went to my host father's sister's house in the South of Martinique. The house was absolutely beautiful and would have been considered a "rancher" back in the States. Rolling hills and cattle cover the distance for as far as you could see. A serene and peaceful swimming pool was also located inside of the home. This coming weekend I believe I will be back there and I must remember to take a picture. During the lunch the family discussed politics and they were extremely concerned with the United State's and their healthcare reform. Extremely interested in the agenda of Obama, my roommate and I were asked multiple questions and were able to give our persepective as Americans on this bill. Grinning at each other, Margaux and I were impressed with our ability to hold this conversation in French and appropriately relay our message to people frmo another culture. I find myself every day growing more and more accustomed to speaking French, and I am absolutely thrilled with this, although I do need to remind them to speak slowly. The problem that one might encounter if they study French in Martinique is that the culture is not only French, but it has it's roots in other areas of the world as well (moslty Africa because of the slave trades) and this brings in other languages. Here in Martinique there is a language called "Creole" which is almost a sort of "slang". When people are gathered in a setting that is mostly family and friends, they resort to this language because it is less formal. Since I am technically part of a family here, my host family tends to forget that I do not know Creole and they start having conversations in this language and I don't even know what's going on. They use a lot of the same french words, but they say them differently so it is difficult to make out what is actually being said. All and all I can't complain. The weather is wonderful and the scenery is to die for. Today we will be going to St. Anne's on an excursion in the south of Martinique. Located in this area are numerous beautiful beaches. We will be "hiking" and walking on trails for the majority of the day - hence the reason I am so pooped on Wednesday nights. Alrighty well it's only 6:23am back home and I'm off to the L'UIFM (my school) to catch the bus for the hour/hour and a half bus right to St. Anne's. Hopefully tonight I'll be able to get back on here and write about the mangrove's, kayaking, the sugar cane factory, learning "Belle", taking a Salsa class in Martinique, riding on a glass bottom boat to see the coral reefs in Martinique, scuba diving in the coral reefs,etc. Stay posted!large_IMG_5638.jpg

Posted by agawel17 03:13 Comments (0)

Bonjour!

J'ai dormi une bonne! ( I slept well)

Hey hey heyyyy!!!

So today is day two of my actual time here in Martinique, yesterday was craziness! They have a celebration here called l'epiphane des rois. This celebration is supposidly from what I could gather in French of the day when the three wise men came to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. So yesterday was spent celebrating that day.

The host father's parents were having a party for this celebration. The party started around noon, but before we could go to the party we had to pic up our host mother's cousin. In my preparation for the party I attempted to take a shower. At the house that we are staying at, the shower head is not attached to the wall (in my bathroom at least) therefore I needed to hold the shower head and just spray myself off while attempting to watch my body and my hair (this was extremely interesting as I was placing the shower head on the floor to try to reach up onto the top shelf of the shower to grab my body wash and shampoo and conditioner). Not only was that difficult, but I couldn't figure out how to make the water hott, sooo I ended up taking a cold shower. Later on while we were at the party I explained in the best french possible to my host mom that the water was cold and she felt sooooo bad and said she would show me later. Hopefully I will be able to figure out how to use it today (we're going on an excursion with the rest of the group - which I haven't seen since we departed from the airport).

The cousin that we picked up on our way to the party spoke a good amount of English, supposidly she studied for 3 months in an English speaking country and she told us that if we want to learn as much as possible, we should ONLY speak in english, even me and my roommate. Yea right, if I need to say something to Margaux (my roommate on the trip that goes to UD as well) and I can't explain it in french, I will resort to english. This is a difficult enough experience in and of itself and if I cannot communicate with anyone and she's the only person I can, I'm not going to sit there like a small child with nothing to say, but unfortunately that's what happened at the party anyway. After the cousin kind of let us know how she felt about us talking in english to each other we both tried to start talking french, but we don't know enough to hold full blown out conversations.

Streets in Martinique are worse than New Jersey, talk about crazy drivers!!!! As we were on our way to the party, I noticed how ridiculous the roads were. Since Martinque is an island with mountains and volcanoes you're constantly either going up or down very steep hills and New Jersey circles are evvvvvvverywhere!!!! Definitive lines for the cars don't seem to be exact, driving on the right side of the road seems like just an option. There are tons of motorcycles out here and people whipping around on them everywhere. With how windey these streets are I would not feel safe riding motorcycle or "moto" in French lol.

After the crazy road experience and traveling across the island and seeing the ocean and the houses scattered across the hilltops, we arrived at our destination. The house that the party was held at was beautiful, you could definitely tell the people had money. A beautiful canopy reached out across a pool and overlooked the ocean, similar to what you see in movies with celebrities or on "Cribs". We had a long day ahead of us as far as this party was concerned, you could tell that Margaux and I were both a little unsure of how to act while we were there. Were we supposed to try to communicate with people? Were they going to laugh at us if we couldn't say certain words? So many different thoughts were running through our heads and when people tried to talk to us and we didn't understand, we just smiled and said "Oui?" lol. It was so sweet, everyone there was extremely nice and the French tradition of kissing people on each cheek as opposed to the American handshake was used with every person we met. This was a bit difficult for me when we first started being introduced to new people. One minute you're kissing grandpa on both cheeks then you're kissing a kid, it's odd and in American culture there would be some underlying thing as to why you were kissing each other on the cheek, obviously this would mean you were interested in this person in some sentimental/love way, but here it is just like a handshake, so yeaaaaa still adjusting.

The party was legit alllllllllll day long like people were just sitting around and chatting and drinking and eating and that was it. In America that would be considered a waste of time. Spending an ENTIRE day just lounging around...people even went off to take "une petite ciest" aka a "nap"....seriously you just looked around the party and people were just sleeping right next to someone else who was having a conversation, it was realllly different lol. For this celebration they eat "galette des rois". I don't believe we have a food like this in the United States, but it is sort of like a pie with a thin layer of lemon in it. It is extremely tastey though :)

....

I want to start off this next section with letting you know that I am extremely tired so I'm not going to go into a lot of details, although I wish I could :( One of the interesting things about the host family that Margaux and I are staying with is that they have a modern day maid that cooks and cleans the house for them. This morning when I woke up there was a woman in the kitchen making the quiche that we were going to eat for dinner. At the table there were two placemats set out nicely with a plate, cup, fork, knife, spoon, and napkin on a tray, almost as if we were royalty. This is a common occurance at this house during the week and on the weekend, but I don't believe the maid works on the weekends, unless they are asked to...but unfortunately I don't know how to get that across that question in french to my host family. Again this morning I had "pomplemousse" i think that's how you spell it...it's grapefruit. Mom, you would absolutely LOVE it! The fruit is sooooo fresh with the stems still in them right off the trees (I don't know how to say sugar yet, so I wasn't able to put any on top of the grapefruit like we do back home...crazy how that food made me feel at home, almost like mashed potatoes :).

Our host mom was gone this morning and didn't arrive back at the house until around 11:45 We were supposed to meet the rest of the students a le pont de bateaux dans le Fort de France a vais les trois ilets a 12h. In english that means we were supposed to meet at the place of the boats in Fort de France (the capitol of Martinique) to go to the three islands at 12:00. We were late, but that's typical here in Martinique, allllllll the time. Nothing is ever on time and usually you have no idea what's going on either. Everything is extremely laid back which I enjoy, but being an American, I feel I should not waste time and that there's always something to do ( I may have said that already, sorry for repeating myself if I did lol). Once we got there we had a tour guide show us a few places in the capitol that were important, I couldn't really understand him and it doesn't help that I don't typically enjoy guided tours (I would prefer to explore on my own and see what I wanted to see - my attention span is not very long). I took a lot of pictures sooooo just wait for those to be uploaded!!!

We went to a sandwich shop in Fort de France where our Prof. told us it was a good idea for us to get lunch here or something. It was really cool to order in French and speak to native people. I was so proud of myself when I successfully order mon sandwhiche de jambon, fromage, et la salade (ham sandwhich with cheese and lettuce...they didn' thave tomato...I asked :) Then we did the tour that I didn't understand (I got the events mixed up as to what went when.) Following the tour we walked around the town a little bit but quickly headed over to the pier where the boat was going to pick us up and take us to the island.

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This was a view of the fort where the military stayed (I don't know exactly what was going on in that part of the tour, but the beach was pretty and the water was beautiful!!!)

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Here is a view of Fort de France from the boat, it was pretty awesome to have such a wonderful view. Once we got to the island we tried some local ice cream...mint chocolate chip tastes reallllly good in Martinique. After the ice cream we went over to a private beach for a little while, but I forgot my bathing suit (as I said communication is extremely bad here so I didn't even know we were going to a beach) Anyway even though I didn' thave my bathing suit, I still got sunburn, but hopefully tomorrow we will go to the beach after class!!

Alrighty, enough with all of that. Tonight was awesome, our host family had two friends over for dinner and Margaux and I spoke in French almost the entire time, it was really fun because they also wanted to know words in english like how to say 100 and 101 lol. I still can't believe I am here, I am so lucky to be enjoying an experience like this, but for those of you who know me...we all know that if I set my heart on anything I will get it. Traveling the world is a passion of mine and this is only the beginning. Who knows where the wind will take me...I think it would be pretty neat to just throw a backpack on my bag and fly to Europe and just wander like a nomad and stay in hostiles and just explore everything. Society portrays a certain image that you have to live your life a certain way or you're not living your life the right way. In America if you don't have the white picket fence and the dog and the "right job" and the kids, then in some way you're a failure...whelp I've got news...who cares. Each and every person has the right to decide how they are going to live their life and whatever one person does is not necessarily the right thing for the next person. To be honest, I never thought much about my future except that I knew I needed to go to college and get a degree and that everything else would kind of just fall into place. As I got older and went through more years in school I started to worry about what kind of job I was going to get and if I was going to have enough money to keep up with the Jones's, but now I'm growing further away from those worries and trying to live my life and just enjoy eating, breathing, and socializing.

Ok enough of the sentimental stuff. I hope that was some food for thought for all of you! Follow your dreams because there is nothing holding you back except for yourself. If you ever need advice I'm great at listening and helping other people on their journeys :)

A bientot!!

Posted by agawel17 18:37 Comments (0)

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