One of things that is so awesome about exploring the Caribbean is discovering the differences between the islands. Each island may be only 20 nautical miles apart, but each one has a different climate, topography, language, and people, if you look closely enough. Strangely, close to one of the richest islands in the Caribbean, Martinique, is one of the poorest ones, Dominica. This is despite the fact that they share a common history of the importation of African slaves, various exchanges between the British and French for dominance, and the struggle to survive on a mountainous, volcanic island prone to hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.
As poor as it is, pretty Dominica has a lot going for it. It is lush and wild, prompting daydreams of pirates and hidden gold dubloons, and many scenes of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie arc were shot here. “Johnny Depp slept here.” The level of poverty reminds us of Jamaica, but the attention to detail, service, and appearance does not. Dominica has apparently made a conscious decision to work on its tourism industry, and upon arrival we were given a slick map, earnest and yet ambitious, artfully advertising its copious natural beauties with the best writing we have encountered so far. Recognizing how rapidly information spreads in the sailing community, the previously ruthlessly competitive boat boys (a turn-off to us nervy Americans) have been organized into a more cooperative organization, improving the customer experience.
So PAYS is an organization that provides a concierge-type service to visiting yachts. At all hours someone is patrolling the moorings in their brightly-colored wooden boats, and we feel safe here. Our representative is Alexis, who, along with Cobra, came highly recommended from a number of friends. Smiley Alexis has coordinated tours for us and has given us insight into island life. You can call for him on VHF 16 when you come in; both he and Cobra come highly recommended, especially if you have kids.
On Saturday we took a whole-island tour with a lovely couple from another boat. In the morning, Alexis handed us off to his “land-crew”, which that day consisted of an older man named Winston and his trainee, a Mr. Burton. Based on the number of honks and shouted, incomprehensible greetings, we learned that half of the northern part of the island consisted of Winston’s cousins, and the other half were friends of Mr. Burton. Between the honks, slowdowns to let others pass a narrow mountain road, and greetings, it probably took us 3 hours to traverse 10 miles. The constant communication while traveling was an unusual experience for those with Minnesotan sensibilities, where a hand-wave to another driver to acknowledge that you’ve seen him before is the peak of friendliness. But it was a blast!
The tour was amazing. We visited a chocolate factory, an Indian reservation, a fantastic restaurant, a rainforest waterfall (the Emerald Pool), and much more in 10 hours. Mel has to admit, between the Creole and the thick Caribbean accent, she only understood about 50% of what Winston said. Nevertheless, we learned that Winston was about to turn 69 years old, and his energy overwhelmed us younger folks who still had to work up their touring endurance after an Atlantic crossing. After learning about the oldest resident living to the age of 128, Mel found herself mulling over some conflicting information after her trip to Greece: What is truly better for you: coconut oil, or olive oil?
During the tour, they encountered a family that intended to tour the Dominican Republic but accidentally booked their flight to Dominica instead. Mel sympathized, as her late grandmother once almost went to the more prominent Wichita, Kansas, for Christmas, instead of Wichita Falls, Texas, her childhood home. Mel was pleased the family was overjoyed with Dominica.
We spent the next couple of days discovering Syndicate Falls, walking through a rainforest, swimming through a crack in the earth in Titou Gorge, being unable to visit Trafalgar Falls because of post-Erika road construction, and bathing in sulfuric hot springs. We were shown lemongrass, bay leaves, pineapple, papaya, bananas, orange trees, breadfruit trees, and other plants growing wild and intermixed by the side of the road. We detoured around several washed-out bridges after the onslaught of rain caused by Hurricane Erika in 2015, and we saw the industrious Chinese working on repairing the roads, as per some sort of agreement. All over the island are works of civil engineering attributed to various contributors: primarily the EU and China. We have learned that in order to maintain independence, Caribbean islands prone to natural disasters need to rely on the help of others to get by. And that could be anyone. But Dominica is determined: it will get by.
Here are some pics, and if you don’t want to visit after seeing these, you are a crazy person.