Out and about in Dominica
Fri 14th & Sat 15th Jan
On Friday morning Robin from Halsway Grace popped over to ask if we wanted to join them on Saturday on a trip around the island. We accepted the idea and persuaded David and Lyn on Moonbeam to join us to make up a full complement for the taxi/minibus.
Robin also enticed us to join him and Sue on a walk on Friday up to Fort Shirley which overlooks the bay and looked very impressive. The two hills that form this peninsular (the Cabrits) are actually two extinct volcanos.
So around 11am the four of us set off on foot and walked round the bay and up to the fort and after exploring this mainly British built stronghold and read all about its chequered history, we set off on the longest of the available walks to explore some of the outer defences. This took us up an ill-defined and rather unlikely path up the side of the hill through the woods and when we finally emerged at the top we found one very well preserved cannon and – well nothing else at all. Even the view out over the Caribbean Sea which should have provided such a fine place to spot whales from, was shrouded in trees and vegetation. So we had a rest and set off back down wondering all the while why we kept coming across crab shells. We found a large hermit crab along the way (photo at http:www.rhbell.com) and still are not too sure which predator eats them here.
As soon as we returned to the boats, David and Lyn issued an invitation for us all to come over for ‘sundowners’ which we did and after a chatty evening we made our way back to Serafina just as the wind started to rise to the forecast 30 knots. We managed to get the dinghy secure on the foredeck before the full blast began and we then had a night with the full 30 knots blasting through the bay although for a change there was no rain this time.
Things had quietened down in the morning and we were all prepared to leave our boats for the day as the forecast was for winds certainly no stronger than the previous night. Lawrence (of Arabia) picked us up, promising that the Boat Boys would keep an eye on all our yachts and ran us ashore where Sam (Dr Love) was waiting with his taxi.
Sam was a great guide and driver and we an absolute mine of information as we made our way firstly to the north east corner of the island and then down to the central belt of rain forest and finally back across the island to the west coast and back up to Portsmouth. However Sam was also keen to ensure we saw and experienced all the fruits that pretty much grow at random everywhere in this incredibly fertile and undiscovered island. During the trip he would stop without warning jump out of the cab and pick stuff for us all. He climbed a grapefruit tree to get us all superb grapefruits. He cut us sprigs of huge bay leaves and then he carved cinnamon from a tree, cut bunches of lemongrass and even cadged some oranges from some lads loading a truck. But the vegetation on the island is quite remarkable and we saw pineapples, wild coffee beans, cocoa pods, coconuts, bananas, plantains, passion fruit, breadfruit, guava, yams, lettuces grown on the land and on trestle tables, papaya, oranges, grapefruit, limes, star fruit, wild ginger, soursop, nutmeg and bayleaves. This list is not exhaustive but about as much as I can remember along with so much else we did and learnt! And all these fruits and veg grow seemingly totally at random side by side in the wild.
Like so many of the Caribbean islands the east coast was pretty spectacular and the strong winds did make the seas appear very impressive as they broke along the dramatic reefs. We visited a small fishing village and marvelled at how on earth they managed to get their fragile skiffs in and out of the bay through the tumbling surf and treacherous outlying rocks and reefs. Sadly, we also learnt that the Coastguard that we saw offshore was out looking for a fisherman who had been missing from the previous day.
We drove through the Carib Reservation which is the last remaining home of the Indians, originally from South America who inhabited the island prior to the arrival of the western powers. In fact Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonised by the Europeans due to the fierce resistance put up by the Caribs (who had themselves earlier driven out the native Arawaks). The Spanish discovered the island, but finding no gold, lost interest and like most of the other islands, it was left for the English and the French to squabble over. The British ended up as the dominant influence here and plantations of sugar were established but were not very successful and over time they failed and the crop was replaced by bananas and a host of other crops, but generally it seems that nothing was very well managed. [The Caribs called the island Waitikubuli, which means ‘Tall is her body’ but Columbus with rather less imagination named it after the day of the week that he ‘discovered’ it!]
We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant with a stunning view. The only options in most restaurants on this island are fish or chicken and this was no exception.
We then made our way up into the rain forest where we were dropped off and left to follow a rough and treacherous trail through the forest up to a fabulous waterfall. Sarah hardly hesitated before putting on her bikini and wading into the freezing water for a swim. David and Robin followed suit but dutifully I and the others remained to take the photos! One of the principal downsides to a rainforest is of course the rain, which then came down in bucketfuls but the swimmers remained too numb from the ice cold water to notice and we hardly felt we could complain! We then made our way back slowly to the mini-bus but not before we came across a ramshackle pig sty complete with pigs. Sarah had a small panic when one reared up to put its trotters on the top of the sty gate as the state of the woodwork did not give her any confidence that this was not about to break open.
The drive back took us over to the east (Caribbean) coast and we passed through a couple of fishing villages where it has to be said the standard of living was considerably lower than even the shanty town style houses we had experienced so far. The islanders had all seem unfailingly cheerful and welcoming, but these last two towns/villages were the first places where we had felt a bit threatened. Many of the buildings are painted with slogans: on the side of a school ‘aim for the moon, for if you miss you fall among the stars’, and on a bus stop ‘get hooked on fishing, not drugs’ – and all beautifully executed.
On our way across to the eastern side Sam drove us to the Layou River which was a scene of total devastation. It seems that 10 years ago there was a huge landslide in the mountains which had caused a massive dam of sand to be built across the river. Then 3 months ago this natural dam burst during heavy rains and the huge tidal wave swept down the valley removing bridges and houses. But it also brought with is unbelievable amounts off the sand which it deposited where the village near the mouth of the river used to flourish. We drove along only recently reopened roads awestruck by the mountains of sand and silt that had engulfed houses and the whole flood plain. Sam assured us that no lives were lost, but it seems remarkable that this was the case.
Finally around 5.30pm we returned to Portsmouth and after a quick drink ashore we were all ferried back to our boats and had time to reflect on a fascinating day out and certainly for us quite an eye-opener, causing us to review and upgrade our previous thoughts about this beautiful and unspoilt island.