Dominica - Waitukubuli

John & Susan Simpson
Mon 2 May 2022 22:08
I knew so little about Dominica before our visit to the island that I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce its name properly.  It’s Dom-in-EE-ka and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, which is 600 miles away to the north west.  Dominica became an independent country in 1978 and is now part of the British Commonwealth.  Like many Caribbean islands it was colonised by the British and the French at various times in its history and there are reminders of both in the place names and culture. English is the official language but you hear many people speaking Creole.  We anchored in the bay at Portsmouth, somewhat different to the place of the same name in the UK!  

Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth, Dominica

We have been in Dominica almost a week now and a number of things characterised the experience for us.  The island’s economy is not driven by tourism but by agriculture and trade in stone, gravel and sand.  There are a couple of upmarket resorts but otherwise tourists are either yachties like us or adventure seekers not looking for luxury on their travels.  This gives the island a different feel as visitors are more of a curiosity than a chance to make some cash.  There are still island tours and other bookable activities but it feels less commercial than other places we have been. We took a tour of the south of the island with a local guy named Martin (also the OCC Port Officer) who was keen to show us the sights and tell us about his island.

The local people are welcoming and happy to chat about the island and their lives here.  Every conversation is peppered with references to the hurricanes which have decimated the island in their living memory.  Particularly devastating was Hurricane Maria in 2017 and there is plenty of evidence of that event in broken buildings and infrastructure.  Wind speeds reached 240 miles an hour but the rain that came with it also contributed to the destruction.  Dominica’s terrain is mountainous - the first inhabitants of the island named it Waitukubuli (meaning ‘tall is her body’) - and many communities nestle in the valleys between the steep mountain sides.  During Hurricane Maria torrents of water cascaded through these settlements and washed everything out to sea.  On a tour of the island we passed a rum distillery which had been rebuilt after Hurricane Maria.  During the storm the entire site, including 12 barrels of rum in production, was cleared away into the Caribbean Sea.  What a waste of good rum!  We’ve been struck by the resilience of the people here.  Everything they have and rely upon for living can be taken away from them in an instant by the weather and yet they have a very optimistic (or fatalistic?) approach to life.  Communities are busy rebuilding and recreating in the knowledge that another violent storm will come; maybe not this year or next, but there will be another.  Martin our island tour guide, took the view that ’nature takes away and nature gives’, referring to beaches where all of the sand disappeared with one hurricane only to be returned in another.
Interior of Dominica

Looking north over the village of St Joseph, Dominica

Dominica has a total population of about 65,000 people, just about the same size as Canterbury, According to our tour guide that number has changed little in his lifetime and people tend not to leave the island for work elsewhere.  The capital of the island is Roseau and is home to 15,000 people (equivalent to that of Cottingham, East Yorkshire).  John and I are pictured here with Roseau behind us.  
Roseau, capital of Dominica

The stadium you can see to the right of us was constructed with funding from China and seats 10,000 people.  It seemed a little oversized for the population!  Chinese investment has also been used for construction of a new hospital and replacement homes for Dominicans left homeless after Hurricane Maria.

The island is volcanic and covered in lush green vegetation, living up to its reputation as the 'nature island’.  We have seen all manner of wildlife here, from crabs and humming birds to whales and a small possum called a Manicou.  Our tour of the south took us to a beach where hot water bubbles up from the earth and trickles into the sea.  An enterprising soul has created the ‘Bubble Beach Spa' which is basically a tin shack on the beach and a small ‘jacuzzi’ area where a sea wall made of rocks and sand bags holds back the hot volcanic water and mixes it with sea water to form a warm pool.  The sand was dark grey streaked with rust, a mix of volcanic lava dust and iron ore.  The hot water at the edge was almost too hot to walk through to get into the pool!  The spa was situated directly opposite the doors of a large church and a service was in full swing as we arrived.  The doors were wide open and inside sat a huge congregation filling every seat.  It felt a bit incongruous to be walking past armed with our towels and swimwear but we took care to abide by the strict instructions written large on the sign ‘NO DISROBING IN THE CHURCH CAR PARK’! We also visited another beach called ‘Champagne Beach’ which, sadly, didn’t involve a nice chilled bottle of bubbly but referred to the streams of bubbles coming up through the sea water from the sea bed.  The snorkelling there was fabulous, with fan corals and many tropical fish to see.  

Bubble Beach
Pelicans at Champagne Beach

We have loved the rainforest areas of Dominica, particularly our visit to the Trafalgar falls.  The falls consist of two parallel waterfalls, the larger known as ‘Papa’ and the other as ‘Mama’.  Even here the hurricane impact had been felt amongst the huge boulders.  Our guide explained that there used to be two pools for swimming at the bottom of the waterfalls and that one had been a hot spring.  The volume of water during Hurricane Maria had shifted the boulders so that there was now only one pool and the hot spring water no longer reached the surface in concentrated enough form to be felt amongst the cool river water.  He was confident that the next hurricane would change it again and maybe the hot spring would return.  John and the rest of the guys on our tour completed the climb to the base of the Mama waterfall and swam in the pool there.  ‘Invigorating’ was John’s verdict.  I think that was meant as a good thing!
Trafalgar falls - “Mama'