Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Day of Exploring in Dominica

After spending some time in the picturesque and friendly town Bourg des Saintes in Guadeloupe’s southern islands, the “Grenada Armada” moved on to the underdog of the Caribbean, Dominica. SV Imagine only stopped for the night, but the crew of SV Alianna (minus Ali the cat) joined Mark, Darwin and me on a land tour of the interior.

A previous attempt to see the country by car that resulted in a day of mostly driving, had taught us to focus on the important sights first. From Portsmouth in the north, Mark drove us to the area inland from the capital Roseau, already an hour and a half away. Over crumbled “roads” without any sign posts, but with the help of a friendly local, we managed to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Our first stop was Fresh Water Lake, a very serene (yep) lake surrounded by rainforest and cool air. Darwin loved the temperature and so did we. After a short walk through the greenery and a glance at the pipeline, we continued on.

Titou Gorge was our next challenge. Once again with the directions of helpful people after we parked, we reached a rocky river and walked along and over a wooden pipeline to a small fresh water pool. The water was ice cold, but we were in for a treat if we could endure it long enough. Mark, Darwin and I swam through the gorge and followed the icy river to the end (or the beginning?) where a waterfall prevented us from going further. We were surrounded by enormous walls, carved out by millions of years of water flow. On a rocky outcrop and in a separate small pool we could take a break and enjoy the incredible environment. The sun was just high enough to warm our bodies a bit while we took in the sight and the thundering noise. A “splash” caught our attention. A small lizard fell out of the sky and jumped back up the slippery wall. We wondered how many attempts he tried to reach the top of the gorge. The current pushed us back to the pool, where a divided river up in the rocks was made into a shower with slightly warmer water. Then, it was Rosy and Sim’s turn to explore the gorge. After the initial shock of the icy water, this place is most enjoyable and our favorite attraction in Dominica.

On the way back to the car, we marveled over the engineering of the pipelines (made out of wood!) that transport water to all parts of the region. A lot of the country’s electricity is also created by water. Fresh water is extremely abundant in Dominica with its 365 rivers and almost constant rainfall in the mountains. It is about the wettest place to visit by boat, but the rewards are plentiful: colorful rainbows, free water and fertile grounds. Everywhere you walk, you are likely to find fruit on the trees, from mangoes to oranges and coconuts. And calabash to make bowls.

For lunch, we found an attractive, cute, local restaurant in Wotton Waven, called Petit Paradis. The price of the food and drinks was very reasonable and the service friendly, until the ordered food was prepared and handed to us. At that point, the waitress (instigated by the owner without doubt) told us she was mistaken with the price. She meant to say US dollars instead of EC dollars, which more than doubled the cost. A game they play when they think they can get more money out of the “unaware” tourist. We didn’t “bite” and didn’t want the food anymore, but worked out a compromise. An incident like this is very unfortunate and changes the mood of the moment, that’s for sure. Our appreciation for Dominica dropped and now, we didn’t want that second drink anymore and I was not temped to buy their locally made rum either. The owner could have made more money, if she would have treated us with respect and like locals…

Our next stop was Trafalgar falls, where Sim and Rosy went for a walk, photographed the waterfalls and took a dip in hot water springs. Mark, Darwin and I waited in the parking lot and enjoyed the scenery of the jungle there. We visited the falls last year and wanted to save some money. On the way back to Roseau, we stopped near a side road to “hunt” for fruit. The reward: three oranges, a coconut, almost cocoa beans and breadfruit and two calabashes later on. Some places are better than others, like the shore side of our anchorage in Portsmouth, where mangoes and coconuts”litter” the ground.

The day was running out of hours quickly and after a short stop in Roseau, we drove back to Portsmouth after a 30 minute delay waiting for the Chinese road crew to blast part of a mountain. Mark dropped the car back off and as the sky turned black, I picked him up with the dinghy while our friends watched Darwin. A drink at Big Papa’s (another spot where tourist dollars are wanted) sealed a wonderful day of exploring. Dominica is a very interesting and beautiful country, but everything costs a lot of money and tourists are highly encouraged to hire guides, do tours and buy entry tickets and souvenirs, making it hard for the independent traveler on a budget. Renting a car and splitting the cost with some friends is in this case the best solution. Signs for sights are hard to find, but luckily there’s always a friendly face around to show you the way…

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