Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Dominica  ,
Thursday, March 8, 2007

After several relaxing days punctuated by other days of long hikes, we left Les Saintes and headed north to the inside right-hand-wing of the Guadeloupean butterfly-looking island. We anchored off with two other boats, with a short dinghy ride to the main part of town.

Every morning until noon we discovered specialty markets close to the dock - fresh vegetables and fruits, spices, flowers and fish fresh from the boats tied up along the quay. We were delighted with the selection and did our bit to support Pointe-a-Pitre's economy. The local sellers were excited to "snag" a potential customer and they chatted away in French extolling their goods. When I tried to explain that I couldn't understand, they just smiled and continued jabbering away trying to make that sale.

We were just in time for Carnival in the capital city of Pointe-a-Pitre. We were unsure of our translation of the brochure which showed parades each afternoon from 3:00 until 9:00, but headed in the first day in order not to miss the festivities. We needn't have worried. And, yes, our translation was correct. The parades lasted all day. With what seemed to be little to no organization, the parade participants tooted and danced and marched to the tune of different drummers with approximately 30 minute intervals between groups. Oh, our aching feet. But oh, their aching feet - the parade route seemed to go on for miles as we could hear them continuing down the road to other villages. We watched for a few hours and then went back to the boat where we could still hear them tooting and drumming to their heart's content. Amazingly, all of the drummers in all of the groups for all of the days had the very same rhythm. And we heard it in the splash of the water, and the slap of the sails for days after.

In the states, we celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in preparation for Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. Here they celebrated Dimanche (Sunday) Gras, Lundi (Monday) Gras and Mardi (Tuesday) Gras, capping it all off with fue d'artifice (fireworks) on Wednesday evening. The town seemed to be centered on the parades with streets blocked off and people standing patiently, visiting with friends waiting for the next group to go through. We wound our way around to where the judge's stand was and with thousands of other people stood patiently waiting. After the sun and crowds (and the fact that all I could see of the parade route was the back of people's heads), we turned back in search of at least one of three things: shade; seats; something cool to drink. We lucked out and found a small bar on the route and ordered three cool ones, grabbed chairs and waited under the awning. Perfect. And when the parade bits made it to our spot, we were actually able to see them.

After our day of patiently waiting and watching the parade, and since this was an island where the cars drove on the "right" side of the road, we decided to rent a car to do some more exploring. With my brother, Ellis at the wheel, we were off and made great time until we caught up with every other person on the island who wanted to go to the southern tip where, evidently the Mardi Gras celebration was even more crowded then at Pointe-a-Pitre. We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic until we decided we were crazy. We ditched those plans and decided to take a smaller road across the island. It was here that we found a beautiful waterfall not far from the road in which Chris refreshed himself with a cooling dip. A little further down this road we found another treasure as we walked in the tropical jungle with the most enormous green leaves that would have Adam and Eve envious.

On the second day of car rental (Wednesday), we were met with much less traffic and we ended up where we planned - la Chutes du Carbet - beautiful waterfalls including one that was 354 feet tall. We climbed up and down, on planked sections followed by slippery rock sections for nearly two hours until we arrived at this wonder. Tired and wondering just how we'd ever get back to the car, we ate our granola bars, drank some water and bolstered ourselves for the walk back. We managed to make it somehow, drove the hour back to the boat and collapsed until KABOOM! Eight o'clock pm the fue d'artifice started right on schedule. We were closer than we've ever been to some of the most amazing pyrotechnics - and we've been close before. A few times I started to head for cover fearing I'd get sprinkled with twinkles.

It seemed a fitting way to cap our visit to Guadeloupe and we left the following morning for an overnight in the wonderful Pain de Sucre bay on our way to the English-speaking island of Dominica (pronounced Doe-man-eek-a).

Dominica gave us our first experience with "boat boys". We were motoring into Prince Rupert Bay in Portsmouth and were "greeted" by a young local who welcomed us and introduced himself as "David". If we needed anything, he assured us that he could help. We took him up on his offer and arranged for a tour on one of Dominica's 365 rivers. This was a lovely, quiet ride through a lush jungle of green.

The next day we lined up a guided 6-hour driving tour of the island. David picked us up at our anchorage and delivered us to Winston, who was to be our driver and guide for the day. This turned out to be a wonderful experience that actually lasted nine hours and included a walk along a beach; a visit to the Carib (Indian) reservation; stops along the way to sample fresh fruits and a walk to Emerald Falls, where Ellis and Chris both jumped in the water. We drove through this fertile island of abundant banana, papaya, guava, coconut, sour sop, breadfruit and mango trees.

All day long the boat boys come and go, trying to entice a sale of fruit or disposal of your garbage. These guys have sail boards (without the sails) which are essentially wide surf boards, with which they paddle a hand made plank of a wood. They sit, stand or kneel with their basket, bucket or bag of fruit paddling from boat to boat. We bought some oranges and a papaya from one fellow. Another young man stopped by with nothing on his board. He said his name was Reginald and asked if we wanted anything. I asked if he could get me a soursop. Soursop is a fruit with a sweet-tart taste that we discovered last year in St. Kitts. He said he'd try and he'd be back in the morning. Sure enough Reginald pulled through and we enjoyed soursop for dessert. The local produce here is amazing. I like to try the local fruit and vegetables, and have "discovered" christophene (a vegetable that can be eaten raw or steamed) and breadfruit (a vegetable that should be cooked and which tastes much like potatoes) as my two current favorites.

Our experience with boat boys has proven to be a mixed blessing. So far, with a friendly "yes" or a "no, thank you" and a smile, we've been left alone. However, our cruising guides have warned us about the potential piratical tendencies of these same boat boys. Sure enough, on day three of our visit, a young fellow paddled up, stating that he was from the "River Guide Association" and requested a donation for the security patrols that take place at night. With a smile and a thank you, we donated a reasonable sum to the young man. At the same time, we thought that was such a friendly way to extort money, since we hadn't had to pay for any such security patrols in any other islands we've visited.

The following day we met a Scottish cruising couple at a seaside restaurant who had said no thank you to the donation opportunity. Their tied, but unlocked dinghy went missing that night to be returned by a "fisherman" who wanted $400 as a reward. Their boat boy came to the rescue, though and accompanied the Scots and the fisherman to the local police station where the fisherman was given the riot act for harassing cruising sailors and the pilfered dinghy was returned immediately free of charge.

Ellis left us in Dominica after six weeks of wonderful fun. It was like a vacation for us to have someone else to visit and talk with. We headed south to the capital city of Roseau - a hot, crowded, messy place. We only spent a day there trudging from one end of town to the other to clear customs and immigration and then we continued our journey - to the next island, Martinique.

In fairness to the island and peoples of Dominica, we found them to be friendly, often answering our "hello" with a smile and "ok" - the island's equivalent of "hi". Dominica's main industry is agriculture, primarily bananas. Tourism has yet to take root in a significant way of Dominica, so the towns appear to be a bit more tired and run down with little convenience for the traveler. But that is part of its charm. Dominica is the opposite of the hustle and bustle and freeways of Guadeloupe, and we're certainly glad that we stopped to get to know it.
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