Martinique is both fully Caribbean and fully French, if you can imagine that. It's a French department -- the equivalent of a U.S. state. In fact, it seems to fill the same role for France that Hawaii fills for the U.S. -- a tropical vacation spot where you're still in your own country, you can drink the water, and they speak your language. Very lush, with banana and sugar cane plantations covering much of the reasonably flat land. The sugar cane is actually grown not for sugar but for making rum, which besides bananas and tourism appears to be the main local industry.
The island's a nice size -- about 15-20 miles across east-west and about 50-60 miles across north-south. Small enough that you can wrap your arms around it but large enough that there's plenty to explore. There's a spine of volcanic mountains running up the middle of the island.
During a free afternoon on Martinique I hiked up the tallest volcano, the 4500 foot Mt. Pelee. It had erupted in 1902, decimating the north end of the island. The really cool thing is that I had the mountain completely to myself. I saw absolutely no one else while hiking, which was really nice. Of course, the near-total overcast and driving rain at the top may have had something to do with that. :-) But it was really refreshing, nonetheless.
The overcast was so complete that for about 20 minutes I walked along a ridge line near the top thinking it was a standard knife-edge ridge. Then all at once the clouds cleared for 20 seconds or so enough to give me a few hundred feet of visibility and I realized that I wasn't walking along a typical ridge at all -- I was walking along the edge of the 1902 cinder cone, with the other side visible a several hundred feet away. Because of how tropical the climate was even the interior of the cinder cone was a lush jungle, with only the shape of the terrain telling the story about what had happened there. Breathtaking!
After enjoying the solitude and scenery for a while at the top though, I had to high-tail it down. I started down around 5:30 and knew it was going to be completely dark by 7:30. This was tricky because the downpour that had developed while I was near the top made everything very slippery and while there was lush vegetation everywhere there was still lots of sharp volcanic rock I didn't want to take any falls onto. So I moved quickly but deliberately and made it down to my car maybe 10-15 minutes before I wouldn't have been able to see anything and might have had to just sit down and stay put for the night. I cut it close but just couldn't tear myself away from the top until I knew that it was now or never.
The lip of the 1902 crater. Note how lush the vegetation is. And a sign saying not to go there. :-)
Views of the Mt. Pele summit and the 1902 caldera during brief moments when the mist partially cleared.
Vegetation found on the crater rim
Sugarcane plantation, banana plantation
Tropical plants near sea level
Why was I in Martinique, you might ask? ... I was there to attend a computer dependability conference. I accepted the invitation to give an invited talk back around October 1999 thinking that if there were any good Y2K-related failure stories that this would be the crowd that would know them and this would be the time to learn them. None of them knew of anything at all consequential. Yes, there were isolated point failures but none of the unanticipated cascading failures of interacting systems that people got so worked up about last year.
I think it's pretty safe to say that Y2K was a non-event. Yes, the preparations people put into fixing bugs helped make it that way. But I think I feel vindicated at this point in having told everyone that asked me what I thought not to worry about it. (In fact, I voted with my body and flew on January 1st.) The thing that I think was good about the Y2K preparations was that it forced everyone to take a look at what software they were running and why. A lot of good infrastructure improvements and upgrading occurred as a result.
More road trips