Archive for March, 2010

Dominica… Wow!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

You could use a lot of words to describe Dominica and none of them would be sufficient. The place is unlike any other that we’ve been to – on this trip or in our prior travels.

Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is an independent country sandwiched between the two French islands of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. From an economic perspective, it’s a far cry from our North American level, but from a pure nature perspective – it’s unreal.

It’s an island with tall mountains, mostly covered with lush rainforest, lots of freshwater rivers and waterfalls, and all kinds of edible things hanging from the trees. Everywhere you look you see food, in its raw form: grapefruit, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, bananas, cantaloupes, watermelons, yams, cocoas, breadfruit, coffee beans, cinnamon, turmeric, and hundreds of other fruits, vegetables and spices that we don’t normally see in North America. Below sea level, the volcanic island shore drops off rapidly to the deep, leaving bright and colourful coral encrusted walls brimming with all manner of sea creatures: the full gamut of reef fish of course, but also lots of eels, eagle rays, barracudas, and turtles.

We anchored in Portsmouth Harbour at the north end of the island and stayed for a week that could easily have become more. Portsmouth is a smallish town, but a huge harbour. During the battle of the Saintes (see previous blog entry) the British staged here prior to the battle and had 400 ships anchored in the bay. It must have been quite a sight, particularly when they pulled out under sail to head off to the Saintes.

During our week there, we took a guided tour by rowboat up the Indian River, which takes you beneath the canopy of the rainforest and offers spectacular views of the various plants and trees of the island. More so than the botanical aspect of this, it was just plain neat. So neat in fact that several of the scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean II were filmed here. (lots more Pirates II references to come)

We also met some local rastas, Vela, Nickon, and Kim, who took us under their wing and showed us their version of the island. While Kim and his wife live and work on the Carib Indian territory, Vela and Nickon are farming a couple of parcels of land inherited from their respective grandparents. We spent two weird and wonderful days with them – relaxing in natural hot springs, travelling to their farm in the mountains (a hike in affair as it was beyond the reach of any road), visiting their new home in the mountains (think corrugated metal roof beneath four posts – no walls) and sharing a roasted breadfruit with them. We also spent a day with them on a farm in Carib territory – making cocoa and coffee, in both cases starting with the fresh fruit and working through the process to turn it into a usable product. Overall, a very cool couple of days.

Also, Colin took a PADI Open Water Diver course and is now a certified open water SCUBA diver. I’ve been wanting to do this for many years and finally got around to doing it. The course was great, but doing the 4 certification dives in the Dominican waters was amazing. As much as Dominica is breathtaking above ground, it’s equally so under the water. The water is warm, crystal clear, and the coral and sea animals are amazing to see.

Also in Dominica, we were able to walk in the crater of a cold volcano. That is, a volcano that is still ‘bubbling’, but the effluent is cold rather than hot. It was quite cool walking down into the crater, smelling the sulphur, seeing the bubbling pools of water, and then realizing that they were cold.

We also went to Hampstead Beach, which is a beautiful remote beach with massive waves breaking and incredible wild coconut palms lining the beach. Also on this beach is a freshwater river that drains to the sea – however, there is a sandbar at the mouth that prevents the sea from heading upriver and making the river brackish. So, you can have a swim or body surf in the warm, salty, wavy sea and then walk across the beach and swim in the cool, fresh, calm river. Then lather, rinse, repeat. (Of course, in Dominica, one should always travel with shampoo and soap, because one never knows when a freshwater bathing opportunity will present itself)

Hampstead also has a large stand of bamboo with the coconut palms. The bamboo and palm fronds provided the core building materials for the kids to build a couple of rafts – whose seaworthiness was duly tested on the river – and also a Gilligan’s Island-style bamboo/palm hut.

Lastly, in Dominica, we met a bunch of nice folks. Helen, who runs the dive shop also operates a nice little wine bar near our anchorage and hers was a good place to hang out at day’s end. Cruisers would gather there to talk boat stuff, but I enjoyed chatting with the boat boys about EPL football, something I don’t get enough of down here.

There was also Big Papa, who runs a restaurant/bar of the same name. We didn’t spend a ton of time at his place, but it seemed like he made an effort to get to know all the cruisers and make you feel welcome.

Overall, our stay in Portsmouth Dominica was a great time. Amazing experiences coupled with friendly people. We hope to make it back there.


Hockey Night in Bequia!

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Like all Canadians at home, we were similarly glued to the TV set yesterday to watch the Men’s Gold Medal Hockey Game.

We arranged to have a local bar show the game and then invited as many Canadians as we could to come see it with us. As it turned out, we had a great group show up and, for a few hours yesterday, Mango’s Beach Bar in Bequia could have been a bar in any city in Canada. (Except of course, for the lack of walls and the ability to walk around barefoot)

Anyway, a good time was had by all