Champagne Beach and Screw Spa

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Mon 7 Mar 2011 02:46
Jungle Bay, Dominca, Sunday night

I couldn't write a blog last night as I was fast asleep almost as soon as we finished eating our dinner.

It took me ages to finish posting the blog the night before as my usual email program wouldn't work correctly. That meant that I tried using Demon web mail and that was successful but I discovered that I haven't been getting all of my emails redirected and I'd missed out on receiving the reminders to pay for Andrea's website which had consequently been deleted. It took me ages to sort all that out and discover what bits had gone so I was up very late and went to bed extremely frustrated in that special way that only computers know how. Luckily, we'd arranged our days activities for yesterday to start slightly later but I still didn't feel very rested when we started out.

Andrea and I were woken up yesterday by loud tapping sounds from inside our cabin. After a bit of puzzlement, Andrea realised that it was a tiny bird which had taken a sachet of coffee creamer from on top of the fridge, dropped it onto the floor and was then pecking a hole in it. Having got a nice neat hole, he picked the sachet up, turned it over and shook it so the powder fell out onto the floor where he could eat it. We had a good discussion about how smart birds really are. They're certainly incredible opportunists. Andrea put the sachet into the bin and, the next time the bird flew in, he went straight there and picked it out again. What with them and the lizards, we've had a plenty of animal entertainment here.

After breakfast, we went up to meet our driver for the day - a very freindly guy called Jepson who we both took an instant liking to. We got our snorkel gear from reception - pretty rubbish compared to what we're used to but useable - and set off in the opposite direction to the one we'd been in previously. The road was narrow and downright precipitous in places as we ground upwards into the hills. We passed the village where Jepson lived and had a small bar. We drove along chatting about the island while he beeped his horn around every bend, at every passing minibus and at people he knew which was almost everyone. I don't know if it's the shocks or the horns that wear out first on vehicles out here.

As we got nearer to Roseau, the capital, the roads got much busier until we were in a proper traffic jam. There's an extended suburb along the coast south of the city with yachts anchored along it. It looks OK for an anchorage but nowhere near as protected as Portsmouth so I was glad we'd left Saxon Blue up there. Once we got to the centre of town, marked by a large cruise-ship dock, we found a parking spot and set off in search of Jean Rhys' residence. We had to ask a lot of different people but we found it in the end. The historic sign had been covered up with an advertising banner which didn't make our task any easier. We couldn't tour around it but Andrea was pleased that we'd found it. We then tried to find a copy of the Wide Sargasso Sea but neither of the two bookshops had a copy, nor did the museum. Andrea has since borrowed a copy from one of the other guests here and has just discovered that it's not very sympathetic to the black people of the island so I suspect th
at's why they don't sell it.

By the time we'd done all that, we'd explored a fair bit of the centre of town. It's typical of the cities here with a mix of dilapidated old buildings and ugly new ones. All the roads are a constant traffic jam and the pavements are crowded with stalls and shoppers. Roseau is certainly busier than anywhere we've been outside St Martin, though. We asked Jepson where he recommended for lunch and he took us to a place full of white people by the cruise ship dock. Hmmm... Not quite what we had in mind. His next try was much better. We walked up to a place called Pearl's which was on the first floor so we could sit on the balcony looking down at all the activity below. We were early so they only had two dishes ready to go, one of which was fish soup. That didn't sound very big to me but, when it arrived, I was proven very wrong.

Not only was the soup large, it was made up of all the vegetables we'd seen growing by the side of the road. Jepson's lunch was puntuated by us asking "what's this?" so we found out what Dasheen and Yams look like cooked. I thought yam was pretty good but Dasheen is a bit like bready potato so I'm not going to rush out for any more of that. I stupidly ate all my huge lunch so I was far too full afterwards. We walked (waddled in my case) back to the van and then headed out of town towards Champagne Beach where we intended to go snorkelling.

When we arrived, I was too full to swim so we had a drink at the little dive bar there. A young and incredibly good-looking lad offered to be our snorkelling guide for 5 USD each which we thought was a bargain so we agreed with a suitable pause for digestion first. Half and hour later, we headed down to the beach with Donny and a large life-ring for Andrea to use as a float. As we walked along, a series of Iguanas shot off up the crumbling cliffs away from us. They really are extraordinary creatures with their crests and brilliant green bodies. At the far end of the beach, we left our shoes and lurched into the water over the rocks. Once we got off the shore, though, it was the usual gin-clear water with brightly coloured fish swimming around. Andrea had a few problems with her borrowed mask so Donny swapped his with her and she got herself sorted out.

Almost immediately, we saw the reason why it's called Champagne Beach. Streams of tiny bubbles emerge from holes in the rocks, forming swaying columns as they're pushed around by the swell. With our heads under the water, we could hear the fizzing and popping of the escaping gas, like the rocks talking to us. Donny swam down and collected some water from near one of the vents which felt hot. I dived down to see what it was like where it emerged and discovered that it's mostly water coming out of the rocks with some bubbles mixed in. The water is scalding and the rock too hot to touch. The effect of swimming in the streams of bubbles was magical - certainly our most memorable underwater experience.

From the bubbles, we swam on out to the main reef which is on top of a lava flow. It was covered in coral, sponges and fish but the best bit was when we swam on a bit further and passed over the edge of the lava and were suddenly looking down into the deep sea around the island. The blue was intense and gave a perfect background to watch the other fish that were swimming around in their hundreds. I was surrounded by striped Sergeant Major fish and neon blue Creole Wrasse. Donny told us the names and something about everything we saw while towing Andrea along as she held onto the lifering. Without flippers it would have been impossible for her to make progress against the tide so it was just as well that we'd brought all the gear along.

We swam back over the lava-flow reef and Donny dived down to point out some cannons, an anchor and chain from a Spanish ship hundreds of years ago. He was really getting into his stride now and he brought us up a Sea Cucumber which was about a foot long and felt like a velvet-covered baguette. We saw a sea-slug, sea-pearls which are the largest single-celled organism on the planet, spagetti worms which have tentacles like ribbon lying over the seabed but retract slowly when you touch them and other worms with fan-like tentacles which disappear instantly as soon as your shadow passes over them. By the time we got back out of the water, we'd had the most amazing hour and it was clear that deciding to go out with Donny had made it really special. I don't think we'd even have found the bubbles on our own and we rewarded him with a hefty tip. Lovely lad, he'll go far.

We woke Jepson up and loaded ourselves back into the bus for our last visit of the day. We had to head back into Roseau and then out into the hills behind it to the home of Screw Spa. When we arrived at the village after some really appalling roads, there were a few other vehicles there already. We walked down to the reception and met Screw himself. He's probably the coolest person in the world. Wearing a floor-length skirt and massive Rasta hat with a golden shirt-type thing that showed of his ripped muscles, he looked like an Egyptian Pharoah. He gave Andrea a complex handshake, welcomed us warmly and totally genuinely, charged us a small amount of money and then guided us down the steps into the spa itself.

Down in the bottom of the tiny valley, there were a series of pools, mostly around 5 feet deep and filled with a mixture of fresh stream water and piping hot, sulphur-impregnated, bright orange volcanic water. There are pools at all temperatures so you can warm up or cool off as you wish. The jungle is all around over your head and the walls are made from pebbles set into cement. Every few meters, there's a loudspeaker with some geniune reggae coming out at significant volume. Now, as you'll know, I'm not usually much of a reggae fan but, in this place, it was perfect. We swapped from pool to pool, chatted to each other and then to some Canadians, floated about looking up at the trees and generally chilled out while it got slowly dark. All too soon, we realised that we were getting a bit late for Jepson so we put our shirts back on and climbed reluctantly out of Screw's magic kingdom.

He was waiting at the top of the steps with a platter of fruit for us. Thanking us again for coming he gave us the fruit while telling us how much he enjoyed sharing his spa with us. I'm sure he really meant it. On a wall outside were the words "Irie Man Screw". Indeed. It was like being in the middle of something from Lord of the Rings. Definitely one of the most wonderful places and certainly the most charismatic person we've met.

We set off back down the mountains with Jepson. It was dark almost straight away and I certainly didn't envy him the job of driving along the winding roads and dodging all the potholes. We stopped at his bar to meet his wife and baby son. The boy is only 9 months old but he's a solid little guy, standing up already and giving Andrea a proper cuddle. I think he was a bit puzzled by her white (or at least brown) face, though. We got back to Jungle Bay about half an hour later than we'd arranged so that wasn't too bad after such a long day. Jepson had been marvellous and great company so he got a big tip as well and then we were straight into the restaurant for dinner. I could hardly keep my eyes open and fell asleep the moment we got back to our cabin and didn't wake up until after 9am this morning so I was out solid for about 12 hours.

After a late breakfast this morning, we walked down the road to the nearby White River to have a swim. Being Saturday, though, the swimming pool was choc-full of all the local kids cooling off and having a great time. All around the pool were various parents keeping an eye on proceedings and constantly admonishing their offspring to keep to the shallow areas. The water in the river is, as the name implies, white so it's hard to see the bottom and there's a strong current. I'm convinced that none of the adults and, I suspect, very few of the kids can actually swim. Everyone smiled and said "Hello" as we made our way through the throng and swam against the current for a while before just sitting around on rocks and enjoying the cool water and the shade of the trees which shelter the whole river.

When we got back to Jungle Bay, we met Sam the owner who suggested that we go out on a trip to the Victoria Falls in the afternoon. Andrea wasn't that keen as she was feeling pretty tired but we got talked into it so had our lunch and then got ready again. It was a short ride in the truck with about 10 other guests and Justin the guide from our last waterfall adventure. The walk was up the river through the jungle again but it was a bit harder than the last one and the boulders were even more slippery. The waterfall was about the same height as Sari Sari but with more flow and the pool beneath was just foaming and roaring. It was exhilerating swimming in there as it was hard to see where the water ended and the air began. There was so much spray that it was impossible to look at the waterfall itself. It was a bit easier coming back down but we were all muddy, wet and stretched by the time we got back to the trucks. We were both glad we'd gone - we can always sit around anothe
r day.

Then back to Jungle Bay again and just time for a shower in our cabin before heading down for another delicious dinner. We had to get going early as I had two day's of blog to write and that after I'd reloaded Andrea's website. That's always a nightmare, even though she luckily had a copy of it on this laptop so I could FTP it back up. So, she's back online again, I'm up to date with my blog and we've got some more walking and stuff planned for tomorrow. Blimey, it's all go.