Petite Martinique: as wide as a smile

Residents of tiny Petite Martinique in the Grenadine chain are like one big extended family, says Antonia MacDonald

A game of dominoes helps while away a lazy afternoon. Photograph by Orlando RomainAt under six hundred acres, Petite Martinique is one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Caribbean. Photograph by Orlando RomainCommunity members help launch a newly built boat. Photograph by Orlando RomainPhotograph by Orlando RomainPhotograph by Orlando RomainPhotograph by Orlando RomainPhotograph by Orlando RomainPhotograph by Orlando Romain

In the Grenadines — and for that matter in any part of the Caribbean where small islands cluster companionably together — boats are the preferred mode of inter-island travel. The length of your journey to Petite Martinique depends on how you’ve chosen to get there. If you are making your way south from St Vincent, then you may have started with an island-hopping plane ride. You will now drive to the Kingstown port to make your way by sailboat to Bequia, then on to Canouan, Mayreau, and Union Island. Petite Martinique is the next stop. It’s wise when taking this route to travel without the encumbrance of too many suitcases: due to space constraints, they may not all arrive with you. Travellers who find themselves unable to travel light may be wiser to take the Osprey ferry from Grenada, via Carriacou.

The ride on the Osprey is generally smooth sailing, though Kick-’em-Jenny — the underwater volcano between Grenada and Carriacou — ensures that for maybe five minutes you have a few jolts. After all, you need an adventure to relate when you go back home. Less than two hours after leaving St George’s, having spent only US$76, you find yourself in a green oasis, embraced by the salty tang of the sea and braced by the burly arms of the boatman as he ensures that you and your suitcases make safe landing in Petite Martinique. Accompanying camera forgotten, you are mesmerised by the sight of such natural beauty, and imagine yourself as a modern-day Columbus or Gilligan. Now all you have to do is pause on the jetty for a few moments to exchange your sea legs for land ones. Your vacation has started.

“Forget all your troubles and escape to the paradise island of Petite Martinique.” If you do not dismiss this invitation as the clichéd caption that tourist brochures readily trot out, and if you’re adventurous enough to succumb to the lure of a promise, you’ll discover that the island lives up to this reputed idyll. Along with Carriacou, Petite Martinique — or PM, as it is affectionately referred to by the islanders — is part of the tri-island state of Grenada. Two and a half miles north-east of Carriacou, PM seems to be a stone’s throw from Petit St Vincent, an island that is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Facetiously you may wonder if there is a Petite St Lucia nestling somewhere nearby.

Petite Martinique — at not quite six hundred acres, one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Caribbean — is as wide as the smile with which you are greeted as you walk along the jetty after your boat ride. Unlike Carriacou or Union Island, there is no airport on PM, nor are there any banks. Children living on PM attend secondary school in Carriacou, and many adults work in the resort on neighbouring Petit St Vincent. Motored dinghies ply a constant route between these islands. In the borderless sea, these islanders are one huge extended family, for generations criss-crossing between St Vincent to the north and Grenada to the south, officially connected to one or the other of these bigger islands, yet managing to rely on neither for their economic survival.

It’s no surprise, then, to find that boat-building is a major activity in PM. Used for fishing or as water taxis, these boats — originally made of local cedar, but in recent times constructed from marine plywood — are built as a community activity, and provide employment for many. Unlike some of its neighbours, PM does not depend on tourism. Instead fishing is the economic mainstay. Residents are fond of saying, “As long as fish biting, PM people will never go hungry.” The fish they catch is exported to the United States via Grenada, or sent directly to Martinique, where there is a long-established market. PM also benefits from the yachting activity that dominates life in the Grenadines. It is a regular refuelling stop, and the island’s proximity to the Tobago Cays means a steady stream of yachties seeking to maximise their enjoyment of the peace and tranquillity of this island.

A word of caution: Petite Martinique is not the vacation choice for a thrill-seeker. However, if you are looking for a holiday that takes you far away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, then consider visiting this island, where the eight-hundred-plus inhabitants will welcome you warmly as family and then, with the same familiarity of family, leave you to your own devices, confident that should you desire company you will wander out of your solitude to watch some boat-building, or join the revellers in one of the many festivals that decorate the lives of Grenadines people. And if you’ve chosen PM as your getaway island, there’s no need to worry about burning a hole in your pocket. Tourism is not a way of life on the island, and although there are three guesthouses, these low-budget accommodations define affordability in terms of cleanliness, safety, and freedom from ostentation.

Having settled in and unpacked your bags, you have the choice to wander off on your own, perhaps exploring the trail up to Mt Piton, from which point you can enjoy the panoramic spectacle of countless coral islands ringed by turquoise water. Sitting in the shade of the cedar trees, you can watch the steady traffic of boats moving from island to island, berthing at not-so-faraway docks, and know that should you wish to rejoin the world, it is only a boat trip away. Workboats will happily provide you with a lift from one island to another, should you find yourself needing to reconnect with work or responsibility. In PM itself, even though you can walk everywhere you need to go, giving you the chance to observe island life up close, the few local taxi men will also be glad for your business.

You may be lucky enough to visit Petite Martinique when there is a wedding taking place. And yes, you are cordially invited. Everyone on the island is. You need not feel self-conscious as you join the community for the traditional dancing of the flags. Dancing to the music of a local string band, you may find yourself moving along with the gaily-clad revellers to a central point where the bride’s party meets the groom’s, and flag-bearers from each party dance with their flag, one trying to gain ascendancy over the other.

You will not be surprised that in this traditional festival the groom’s flag finally dominates the bride’s. And as the bride’s flag is attached to the pole along with the groom’s, you will find yourself singing the chorus of a catchy folk song as you watch with wonder the dancing of the wedding cake. The skill of the dancer balancing the wedding cake on her head is awe-inspiring, as impressive as the artistry with which the cake itself has been iced.

The tradition of the dancing of the cake is not reserved for weddings. It is also an integral part of the blessing of new boats, and the blessing of tombstones in honour of the dearly departed. Whatever the occasion, as a visitor to Petite Martinique, you’ll be struck by the strong community spirit that holds the islanders together, a community spirit that includes visitors without being overpowering.

And as you leave PM, fortified by its tranquillity, lightened by its calming casualness, you may wonder how long this island will remain uncluttered by hordes of tourists. You may speculate that soon the many yachts anchored off Petit St Vincent will be jostling for anchorage closer to PM. Perhaps gaudy hotels will soon be climbing the western slopes of the island, competing for the eye’s attention. But maybe not in the near future. Land ownership in PM is a tangled family business, which makes the sale of land to outsiders a long and frustrating legal affair. So, for now, you are sincerely welcomed as a visitor. Consider yourself at home in PM. You are invited to return as often as you may wish.

 


Caribbean Airlines operates direct flights to Grenada’s Maurice Bishop International Airport from Trinidad, with connections to other destinations