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Dominica

Last day in Dominica

Today, I was supposed to go on a tour with the guide who took me out the other day, but he sent another guide instead. The guide and I worked out what I'd see for the day and took off.Stop #1 was the freshwater lake. It was cold and rainy the whole way up, but stopped raining about the time we got to the lake. However, it was still foggy. I took a little walk around one side of the lake, and fortunately, the fog lifted enough for me to see some of the lake before it settled back in. Since I wasn't going on an extended hike, there wasn't a whole lot to see/do, so we moved on. As we drove back to town, the guide pointed out all sorts of plants to me. There's the “David plant” named so because it didn't exist on the island until hurricane David hit. There were all sorts of shorter versions of normal plants that grow stunted in the one area (larger than bonsais, but still short). The coolest was this particular fern that responds to touch. When you tap it, it closes up for a while. In town, I grabbed lunch from an “Italian” restaurant. Basically, it had the same kinds of local foods that the places in St. Kitts have- macaroni pie, cookup, steamed veggies, grilled meats. I'm not sure there was anything actually Italian available. I also got a bottle of seamoss from the market. My Dominican friend had told me that I had to have seamoss when he was telling me about Dominican things to try. Basically, they take seaweed and spices and make them into a drink that tastes a lot like chai tea. I actually liked it a lot to the point where I picked some up later to bring back home.

Next, we headed to the Emerald Pool, another pretty place to go. There was a short hike I took to actually get to the place where people were in the (cold) water. The hike was pretty and the waterfall that fills the pool at the end was nice too. I went in up to my knees, but no more as I wasn't in a swimsuit and it wasn't exactly warm. On a warm day, this would be a lovely site to swim around in, but it was pretty chilly and wet when I was there. From there, we drove around the island, passing various mountains and villages on the way. The guide was doing a good job of telling me what everything was. The thing the annoyed me a little though is that we were driving everywhere and the guide kept saying, “oh, that's a great place to take pictures.” He'd stop for me to take the picture of something that looked more or less the same as everything else (so I didn't really feel I needed another picture of it), and wait until I took the picture. I wanted to go hike the areas and experience them, not just look at them through a camera lens. When I look back at my pictures, there's no way I'll be able to tell the pictures of the various towns apart because we didn't actually do anything there, we just passed by. Finally, we made it to the Kalinago territory, where I was able to actually do something. The Kalinago territory is marked by a line on the road that is labeled “start” the way a race starting line would be labeled. It is the Dominican version of a native American reservation. Here is the only place in the Caribbean where the people who were here before Columbus still have a thriving community. The tour through the community was a very good one and I highly recommend it. It starts with some background. Columbus came to Dominica, named it, left because he couldn't find a decent place to land, and then came back. The people who referred to themselves as Kalinago used to bury the dead, wait until the body rotted away, dig up the bones, bring them back to their homes, and worship their ancestors. Columbus saw the bones and decided in his ignorance that these people were cannibals, so he named them the Caribs. All over the Caribbean, the Caribs/Kalinago were pretty much wiped out by the European invaders, but not in Dominica. They now have their own land where they can practice their own culture, although most of them are now some sort of Christian and don't hold on to their old religion. Also, many of the children (like many children all over the world) don't care so much about their heritage and are more concerned with the latest youtube music video than their traditional music. However, there are still some who hold on to the old ways as they modernize. The tour goes through a village that is built with thatched roofs and is set up to show the way life was. They had some demos, like a guy who was making some sort of tamale-like food, and a hammock that you could climb into for a rest. The guide also showed me all sorts of plants that her people used for various things- noni plant that “cures cancer” and at least a dozen other things, bay leaf tree, candle tree that gave off an oily substance, a tree that was naturally rotten inside and made a great drum. I got to sit in a real dugout canoe. Every few feet she was giving me a really good explanation of what everything was and why it was used. She also told a great story that is a lot better when she tells it and you're actually at the rocks where it “occurred”- There was a guy who went down to a certain spot on the rocks to bathe. He saw a lady there combing her hair, but he frightened her, so she dropped her comb and fell into the water, but never came up. He looked and looked for he, but didn't find her, so he just bathed, picked up the comb, and went back to the village. That night, he had a dream where she came to him and told him to go put back her comb. The next day, he brought the comb back, put it in the spot where he picked it up, and waited. Nothing happened until he turned around to see something, and when he turned back, the comb was gone. The mermaid had taken it. The tour of course ended at the gift shop. Even the shop was interesting. They sold a lot of baskets that had been hand-woven by Kalinago women. They also sold actual snake oil. Overall, I think that the Kalinago tour was the highlight of the day. After the tour, I hopped back into the van and saw some more of the island. We passed the Dominica Club- a very nice-looking hotel that was never opened because the owner died before it was finished being built. We passed Hampstead Estate where some of the Pirates of the Caribbean scenes were filmed. We almost passed a boat tour place, but I asked for a stop so I could actually do something. Mangrove Boat Tours has a whole bunch of little paddle boats that you can rent for 20EC for the hour and take into the mangrove swamp. The guy said that it would take 40 minutes to go up the rive and back, but I think my grandma who uses a walker could probably do it in less time than that. It took me about 10 minutes of slow pedaling to get to the farthest end of the river. On the way back, I mostly didn't pedal and just let the boat flow, which took longer, but still got me back well within 40 minutes.The ride itself was very calming. Mostly, I heard tons of birds, although in a few choice spots I could hear the cars on the road nearby or the kids shouting from a nearby beach. The river was placid. I saw a few ducks up-close and spotted either a small crab/crawdad or a large spider. Other than that, I didn't see much wildlife. I'm sure if I had better birding eyes I would have been able to see more of the creatures that were making all of the chirping noises, but I'm not so good at that. After the boat ride, it was time to go to the airport. Dominica was a great island, but on to St. Lucia!

fog over freshwater lake

fog over freshwater lake


emerald pool waterfall

emerald pool waterfall


Kalinago village

Kalinago village


area Columbus saw and didn't land

area Columbus saw and didn't land


noni plant

noni plant


Kalinago basket weaver

Kalinago basket weaver


pretty view

pretty view


mangrove swamp

mangrove swamp

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Dominica Comments (0)

A wet day in Dominica

My second day in Dominica started much the same way in that I went to go take a bus into town. This time, I actually took the bus. I breakfasted at the Fort Young Hotel because it was early Saturday and there weren't a lot of other options on my walk. It had a decent continental breakfast buffet, but in general, the breakfast wasn't worth what I paid. The exception was the really good, thick, natural yogurt. From there, I just hopped downstairs to the dive shop to get fitted for gear. I haven't used a wetsuit to dive in ages, but the water was cold enough that I needed one. The boat left from the hotel with 3 guests and picked up 2 more at another hotel further from town. For the day, we had 2 dive masters, 5 divers, and a boat captain. It was a pretty good group. The divemasters and captain were all pretty funny and the other couples and I were all trading dive stories. We had a good time on the boat. We also had a good time diving in the marine preserve. The coral was amazing- possibly some of the best coral walls I've seen. There were a ton of fish, but they were pretty tiny. The highlight though, was being able to swim with the Hawksbill turtles. One of them let us get really close to it. After the dive, I grabbed a quick lunch at Cafe Desiderata, which is actually a windowless back room to a store that was lit and decorated to make it feel like it was outside. The food was ok, and the golden apple juice was really good. Then, it was back to the hotel for my afternoon tour pickup. This tour took us on an inland water adventure. It was ok that it was raining all afternoon because we were soaked anyways. We first drove through the botanical gardens that I had walked yesterday. This time, I had commentary, but it still wasn't that much greater than before. Our first actual stop was Titou Gorge, where we got to swim up the river that was used for some of the Pirates of the Caribbean scenes. The swim was short, but the current was pretty strong as it was raining and so the river was high. The gorge was gorgeous. Next, we went to see Trafalgar Falls (but didn't go in them). We stopped at some nearby hot springs, which we did go in. Unlike yesterday, these were more natural pools formed by rocks and not man-made. The pools were smaller and they were accessible via a short hike. It was wet, but flip-flop hiking was the way to go. Also, the tour guide shared a lot with us about Dominica's hydroelectric plants. Apparently, a significant portion of the island's power comes from hydro. There is a ton of water coming down the mountains anyway, so they put it in wooden pipes (the sulfuric content would mess up metal or other pipes) and send it to various hydro stations. The last stop on the tour was Screw Spa, which is actually very close to the hotel I'm staying at. These spas are very man-made. There are various pools that you can stand in or sit around the edges of. Each of the pools has different temperature mineral water. If you want to know what minerals are in there, they have an “ingredients list” at the front that you can check. Supposedly, these waters are good for curing all sorts of diseases.There's not much to “do” at the spa, but it is very relaxing. Calm reggae music was wafting through the air, the woods surrounding it made the place seem peaceful, and even the children there weren't making a ruckus. After a while though, it was time to go. The spa recommends taking a dip in the cold pool to “close your pores before leaving and the guide and other people on the tour did. I went in to do so, but it was way too cold for me, so I hopped right out and went under cover to dry off as it was still raining out side. Once we were out and dressed, we got some local fruit as a parting gift and were on our way. After a day of being wet (ocean, rain, pools), you'd think that the first thing I'd want is to get dry. Nope- I wanted a shower, badly. After the shower I did want to get dry.After I was cleaned and dried off, I headed back into town for dinner. When we got close and the bus driver asked where I wanted to be dropped, I said “by some good food.” Another passenger told him where he should drop me, and he did. I'm glad I relied on the locals. Really, that's the way to go as they know better than anybody. The place they had dropped me at- Old Stone Bar and Grill- was a nice restaurant with tropical décor and a tropical menu (breadfruit, plantains, dasheen...). I can say that the callalloo soup was delicious and the rest of the food I got was good, but could have used some sauce. After dinner, I headed to The calypso show. Each year, a new calypso king needs to be crowned to rule over carnival. Tonight happened to be the first round of the finals, and everybody had told me that I should go, so I did. Getting there wasn't easy though. First, somebody told me it was at the stadium. Then, somebody direct me out of town across some bridge. Next, there was a hill climb, and then there was the confused man who didn't think the show was tonight. Also, I met my first rude Dominican- there always has to be an exception to the rule. The lady at the gas station was closed and wouldn't even give me directions. Finally, I got directions the rest of the way and headed towards it. I also got my first on-island marriage proposal from some loon who decided that it was a good idea to tell me he wanted to marry me. Obviously, he hadn't met me and didn't know me very well. I finally reached the calypso show, and it was expensive- $70EC! However, after all that walk and hassle getting there, I paid it, got a ticket for about 30 seconds, and turned in my ticket for a wristband at the door. I think they're reusing the tickets or something the way they took it and wouldn't let me keep it.The show was supposed to start at 8, but in true Caribbean fashion, at 8:30 the band was still setting up. I walked around to check out the food vendors- popcorn, fried stuff, Jamaican patties, beverages- and found a spot near the front as the crowd was just starting to arrive.The show started with the junior champ. She was really good. She sounded much older than a junior and had a really good song. Next up were some soca and other artists. One of their bands has a female lead singer, which just caused me to realize that St. Kitts has all males in the bands. I wonder why. Anyway, between each act, the emcees were telling all sorts of jokes, many of which you had to be aware of Dominican politics to understand. When they weren't telling inside jokes, they were actually pretty funny. Finally, the calypsonians started. Overall they were pretty good. The songs had some interesting topics that were relatively universal- down with the drug dealers, why are the poor kids in jail but the rich kids not?, and one stand-out about women's equality. Actually, when the woman singing about that came on, a whole slew of ladies in the crown held up flags that said “I am a woman of worth.” I was jealous and wanted one.At some point early in the show though, I got tired. I had had a long day and it was getting late. By this time, the place was packed. It took a while for me to get out, at which point I asked somebody where I could pick up a bus or taxi. The guy looked at me like I was crazy and pointed the way to town, insisting that it's short and safe. Fine. I walked into town and up to the place I knew I could get a bus and took the bus from there back to the hotel. It was nice that the buses were still running and weren't charging more for night time.

wooden pipes

wooden pipes


Trafalgar Falls

Trafalgar Falls


Turtle on scuba dive

Turtle on scuba dive

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Dominica Comments (0)

Welcome to Dominica

I woke up this morning in Dominica. I'm staying at the Roseau Valley Hotel, which is almost like staying at grandma's house. It's decorated like a grandma's house. The owners are friendly and care about the guests like a grandma. The hotel is just outside of town, so you have to take the bus in order to get anywhere. To get to town for breakfast, I just started walking down the road, waiting for a bus to come get me. Before a bus got me though, some lady pulled over and asked if I needed a ride to town.In the states, I would never accept a ride from somebody I didn't know. In the states, nobody but a loon is likely to offer. One thing I've learned about Caribbean culture is that it's common to stop and offer rides like that. It's just normal. I'm not saying don't use caution or don't listen to your instincts. I also wouldn't intentionally hitchhike ever. But, when some nice old lady offers, I accept. I know my mom isn't happy about reading that, but it's just an accepted part of the culture here and not something odd like it is in the states these days. While the ride is only a few minutes, we had a lovely conversation. One of the things we talked about is how calypso music is so local. Each island has its own political situation and the calypso songs sing to it. However, that prevents a cross-island appeal as the folks on one island don't really know about or care about what is going on in the government of the other the same way they do about their own government. She was suggesting that if the calypsonians occasionally sang about carnival or bacchanal (like the soca bands do) they might have a better chance of getting heard elsewhere. In any case, she dropped me in town and pointed out to me which way to the various things to see. I grabbed a quick breakfast of a cheap guava turnover at Frans' Patisserie in town and headed towards the river and the ocean.They meet at the market. It was early and there was no cruise ship in, so the market was full of folks selling their vegetables and fruits. I even passed a fish stand where a lady was scaling the fish right in front of everybody. The souvenir vendors were just getting set up, but they were relatively sparse compared to the produce vendors.I strolled up the road that fronts the ocean. Since the cruise ships pull right up to it (and dwarf the town), that is also the hub for the touristy things. For example, the Dominica museum is right there. The museum is pretty good for the Caribbean. The pictures are bright and varied. The topics range from the geology that created the island to the creatures living in the reefs surrounding the island, to the history of the island itself. I found the displays to be fun and informative- much better than the St. Barth's museum. Also in that area of town is a craft market where the locals can sell home-made crafts, and trinkets imported from China that happen to say “Dominica” on them. There were plenty of carvings and woven items though, so you're not stuck with generic souvenirs. At the end of the road that fronts the ocean is the Fort Young Hotel. The hotel is the fancy place to stay in town, so it has a tour desk and a dive shop right in it. I booked tomorrow's activities there. From there, I walked around town a bit. The town itself reminds me of Basseterre in many ways- the street vendors, the style of music emanating from the various radios, the type of shops present, the people in the streets. It is very different in others though- a lot of the buildings are much taller than those in Basseterre, the streets are wider in a lot of places, and there are a lot more homes mixed in with the businesses. Roseau also has a “local” fast food chain- Patty Shack. I got a patty there, just to see what fast-food Jamaican patties would be like. It wasn't anything special. In my wanderings, I headed up towards the botanical gardens and passed a few of the churches and schools. Since it was Friday before Carnival, a lot of the schools were having celebrations. I heard Gangnam Style blaring from one school. Another was having a calypso competition. As I walked around the botanic gardens (and sat there to read), I listened to the various calypsonians. They were good. Not “good for kids,” but good. I was definitely impressed with the songs that were coming from the school.The music made the botanic gardens much more enjoyable. I suppose that if you're really into botany, the gardens might be better, but for those of us who don't really know plants that much, it seemed like a regular large park. There was a lot of grassy area, and it made a nice place to sit, but there weren't a lot of exciting flowers to look at. There were some caged parrots that weren't doing much, but that's about it for excitement in the gardens. There are paths that leave the gardens and go out onto trails which may be exciting, but I'm not sure that going hiking alone is a good idea anywhere, especially somewhere you're unfamiliar with the paths, so I didn't take them. I grabbed the bus back to the hotel (it's super-cheap and easy) and napped a bit. I called my tour company to confirm the afternoon tour, but was told it was cancelled. This is the only time viator has ever failed me. I booked and had confirmation that I was going, but because there was only 1 person, the tour was cancelled. I was disappointed, but more so because I wasn't notified until I called. Instead, I ended up with a surprise tour. The nephew of one of the hotel owners apparently does tours, and he offered me an afternoon tour. First though, I got a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant by the digicel building. The restaurant is upstairs, so got a nice view of the town AND I got the bonus of hearing some of the calypsonians sing because digicel was running some event right caddy-corner from the restaurant. The Chinese restaurant was a typical Caribbean restaurant. I specifically asked “do you have?” when I ordered, knowing that on any given day a typical Caribbean restaurant doesn't have half the items that the menu contains. I still had to re-order. The food tasted Chinese though, and not Indian-style Chinese, so I was happy with that. After lunch, I went on my tour. I was driven south to Soufriere and the end of the island. The end of the island juts out as a big rock that is climbable. As we hiked it to the area with the old canon, I learned some of the history of the island. Like most Caribbean islands, Dominica went back and forth between the French and the British many times. It was especially desirable as it has great farmland and abundant natural resources. While there is a strong French influence (Creole is spoken by the locals), it was in British hands when the battles were over. One interesting point my guide made was that most of the islands that ended in French hands are still part of France today, but most of the islands that ended in British hands are independent countries, or feel like they're closer to the USA than Great Britain. Apparently a lot of this has to do with treatment. He said that the citizens of the French “colonies” get full French rights, whereas the citizens of the British “colonies” don't get all the British rights. Therefore, many of them became independent countries, but they still remain within the commonwealth (like Canada and Australia). That's why they have their own money with The Queen on it. After viewing Soufriere from the rock, we went into the town. It is a small town, but it has a very unique and beautiful church. Right by the church was a fence and a hole in the ground that had a sign saying “Bubble Spa.” Soufriere is named for the French word for “sulfur” because there are lots of sulfur springs. Apparently, that one was turned into a spa. I was headed to a “real” one though. The government has a bunch of parks and natural sites that you can buy passes for and then go to, one of which is a sulfur “spa.” I bought my pass and went in. It was basically a rock-lined pool filled with sulfur-orange water that was coming in from who-knows-where and leaving down a little outlet that led to a creek. The pool is in the middle of the woods, so it's actually very relaxing. At this point, it started to drizzle, so the nice warm water felt really good. The pool was nice and relaxing- it was in the quiet woods, the tour guide and I were the only ones there, and the water was so very warm. If I had been stressed before, I certainly wasn't afterwards.It was a nice end to the tour and the day.

produce market

produce market


streets of Roseau

streets of Roseau


Streets of Roseau

Streets of Roseau


botanical gardens

botanical gardens


end of the island

end of the island


canon at end of island

canon at end of island


Soufriere Bay rainbow

Soufriere Bay rainbow


Soufriere church

Soufriere church


Soufriere sulfur springs

Soufriere sulfur springs

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Dominica Comments (0)

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