A Taste Of Dominica - May 2nd,2002
A short five hour sail south from Les Saintes brought us to Dominica, a lush green, mountainous Island. Dominica boasts waterfalls, sulfur springs, boiling lakes, and not one, but 8 active volcanoes!
As we are now headed home, which of course means north, the trip south to Dominica is out of our way. But, as we rushed by it both on the way down to Trinidad and on the way back to Les Saintes we decided to return for a closer look.
Five years ago my brother, his friend Eric, and I climbed, in a seven hour hike, up one of the high peaks to the boiling lake. Miranda and I had hoped to do this again. However, a nagging cold that zapped my energy plus the unforeseen high cost of a guide up the mountain conspired against us.
Instead we took a trip up the Indian River. Dominica has 365 rivers flowing down from her green peaks. The Indian river flows right into the anchorage at Portsmouth, near the north end of the Island. While we were still five miles out from the anchorage a guy named Macaroni approached in a skiff with an outboard and offered us a tour of the river. We had been warned by the guide book to only accept tours from official guides, and as Macaroni was wearing an official Indian River Guide tee shirt we took him up on his offer, arranging to meet him at 8am the next morning.
At 8 Macaroni picked us up in his boat and zoomed through the anchorage, past the hulking wrecks of tankers left on the shoreline after the last major hurricane. Up to the mouth of the Indian River we motored, but when we entered the river Macaroni cut the engine and pulled out his sculling oar. In the morning light the river was serene and peaceful. At the entrance the river was 20 meters across and on the banks fruiting mango trees spread their branches, and palm trees shot majestically into the blue sky. As we progressed Macaroni pointed out fish and birds in the foliage, and the river began to narrow. Soon Macaroni was no longer sculling the boat with the oar but was poling us along by pushing off the bottom. The Coconut Palms now formed a canopy over our heads, and we ducked to avoid the occasional low hanging branch. As we passed under one low tree we found ourselves almost eye to eye with a Green Egret and her baby as they sat together in a small twig nest.
A couple more bends in the river brought us to a spot where the boat could go no further. But, as luck would have it someone had conveniently built a small dock and a bar at precisely this spot. So we hopped out of the boat and greeted the three Rastafarians who sat around a picnic table contentedly sharing a joint and weaving small birds and fish out of palm fronds. The one running the place invited us to walk through the banana plantation behind the bar, and we did.... after he finished kissing Miranda's hand, while telling her she was a beautiful princess. After our walk we had time to enjoy a cold glass of freshly squeezed Guava juice and then we were back on the boat headed down the Indian River back towards the boat.
We hadn't been back aboard Baggywrinkle for maybe five minutes when another boat boy appeared to sell us fruits and veggies. We had no cash but couldn't resist his selection of Mangos, Bananas and Passion Fruit so we cut a deal and offered to buy some fruit if he took us in to the bank. He was happy to accommodate us, and dropped us ashore with instructions to pick us up in a couple hours.
This gave us some time to explore town. After the well manicured and fully financed French Islands the poverty in independent Dominica was quite a shock. The small stores stock next to nothing, the bread in the bakeries is horrendous, and everyone with a car becomes a taxi driver and/or tour guide as soon as they spot a white face. Everyone we met however was friendly and cheerful. When we walked up to the Catholic church, which doubled as a school, the young girls in their uniforms flocked up to us with broad grins on their faces. They giggled and continued eating their Strawberry Jam treats (most of which was finding its way onto their faces instead of into their mouths) as we made some small talk with them.
We continued walking and passed rows of ramshackle houses and shacks. It started to rain and we took shelter under the overhang of a closed up building. A friendly looking woman approached and introduced herself as Judif, which I only later realized must be Judith pronounced with a lisp. She began telling us about her home cooking. "I cook land crab, and breadfruit for people on boats and in hotels." She told us. "I serve them in my house, come let me show you." So, we followed Judif to what can only be described as a wooden hut standing a few feet off the ground on wooden legs. She led us inside where she had a couple of chairs, a small coffee table and a couch. Pictures of friends, family and old customers lined the walls, and on one wall there was a doorway to another small room. We talked for a while and when the rain stopped headed on our way.
A bit further down the road the rain started up again, and we again ducked under a roof to stay dry. This time we were passed by a man in his sixties who was walking down across the road to collect sea water for a bath. He introduced himself as Shipley and asked us our nationalities and if we liked grapefruit. We told him we did and he said he would return with some in a minute. He shuffled off and a few minutes later returned with a bag of at least 6 grapefruits. We offered him some change for the fruit, but he insisted he hadn't given them to us to get anything in return. He told us he had loost sight in his right eye in 1974, and only recently had begun losing sight in his other eye. This was making things difficult for him and he could no longer work building boats as he used to. He offered to show us one of the boats he was building so we followed him up a narrow path between a number of small shacks, and through a corrugated steel gate. His house was a small cement square he had built himself, and next to the neighbors places looked quite spacious. He showed us the fishing boat he had been working on before his sight had failed him, and the hand woven rope that he made for the fishing pots. It was masterful work, crafted with skills that I'm sure are quickly being forgotten as the generations pass. He wished us a safe journey on the sea, and asked us to stop by and see him the next time we returned. With promises that we would and a happy feeling of having made a deeper connection with the people of Dominica we walked back down the street to catch our ride back to the boat.