Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dog Attack and Other Fun in Dominica

Antigua is the land of 365 beaches and Dominica is the land of 365 streams! Mentally, I have a hard time comprehending where all this water comes from on this small lush island. The windward side where all the rain clouds collect receives far more rain than the leeward or west side. The 1.5 lane wide paved roads lack any guardrails and are virtually untraveled. They are without question the steepest, curviest, white knuckle passages in the interior we have ever seen. In addition to the thrill factor, the limited road system brought us some of the most breath taking vistas and sights.

Over two days we hiked back into several waterfalls. Trafalger falls with the mama and the papa falls was absolutely breath taking. What made it even more interesting was the natural geothermal spring’s stream meandering down a staircase of natural pools to relax in. Our favorites were the ones under enormous boulders. Where the warm water met the river, you could wade across from cool to warm to very warm as they commingled. Dusk was settling about the land and so we started to make our way north to the boat.

Another we were trying to find the heated river pools and accidentally ended up on a squatter’s property. It’s getting dark, we are in the middle of no where, and Sabrina and I are walking up the path while Angie and Parker wait in the car. All of a sudden, dogs start barking and racing toward us in the shadows. She screams, grabs me, and unknowingly knocks the keys to the car out of my hands. I pick her up and start retreating to the car when we here a voice coming from a large tree overhead calling the dogs and asking, “are you OK?” Sydney, a Dominican and his Canadian wife, Lynn from Toronto had chucked the big city life after 20 years and were now back in his homeland living off the land in a tree house! Kewl! The keys were found right before dark.

Driving back late Friday night, all, and I mean all, the locals were “liming” in the streets, on steps, and on curbs as we passed. Conversations were lively, music was thumping, rum was flowing, and we just didn’t quite blend in in our rent-a-car trying to squeeze through. The medical college was our favorite eating, meeting a girl from Amsterdam NY during our last visit.
And so after about 8 days in Dominica we set sail for Martinique.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Trois Ilets (Three Toilets) and Anse Mitan (Ants in my Mitten)

Like Guadalupe, everyone speaks French and we are really struggling. We dinghyed around Pointe du Bout to see the charming town of Trois Illets (three toilets) which was not under construction. The old simple church was where Marie Anoinette was baptized and is the towns claim to fame. On the trip back, we watched the kite boarders “flying by” at incredible speeds. For a thrill and our entertainment one Frenchmen approached popped off a wave and went sailing right over our heads in the dinghy much to the kids delight. Do it again, they yelled! Say how do you say that in French?
Ashore, there are several restaurants, pubs, apartments, and small hotels. We enjoyed some excellent French dining and strolling through the shops of Pointe du Bout. The best find was a woman selling unique stamped aluminum bracelets from India in a rainbow of colors. The vendor picked out a fabulous collection of complementary ones to be worn together for both Sabrina and Angie.

What America calls a “compact” car, the French would consider a limo. Amazingly, once inside our Renault shoe box, it was quite spacious even if my feet were resting on the front bumper. With Angie my navigator, we headed out on the perfectly fashioned roads, the best in the Caribbean.

The north half of the island is peaked by spectacular lush mountains all part of Frances 6th largest nature preserve, Parc Regional de la Martinique.. The air was cool and damp as we climbed up into the rain forest. We hiked an interpretive trail (in French), saw waterfalls, and enjoyed breathtaking scenery. Along the Atlantic side we came across a local woman serving homemade ice cream out of the back of her truck. We could only understand 2 of the 8 flavors so she gave us samples of each. We would close our eyes and let the rich creamy creation melt over our taste buds in order to guess what it was.

Since we had the car until noon, why not do a Sunday morning rum tour instead of church! Rise and shine kids; we’re going to tie one on at the local rum factory! The Clements Rum Distilleryas that they had preserved and restored the original rum plantation with its old steam driven factory and gorgeous gardens. Old stories were also retold about life here back in the day. The aging areas were piled high with rum from their modern plant a short distance away. Best of all, it was self guided using multi lingual head sets including English and a childrens’ version! This ended up turning into an educational family field trip. We are all for furthering our kids’ education and sampling rum. Finally we ended up at the tasting room feeling rather parched. Clement Distillery produces several lines of prized rums that are to be sampled at room temperature to be appreciated. Ugh! No frozen Pina Colada machine, rum punch bowl or at least an ice cube! Before departing, we loaded up a bag of mangoes that would otherwise go to waste from the numerous trees along the driveway. Yumm!

Dominica, the Nature Island

I went to customs for a change, and tied up to the crumbling commercial port dock finding customs in a tin roofed shed with scrap building materials piled about. I was greeted with a smile and professionalism while cleared in AND out in 10 minutes! Nice.

Our days here were fantastic. The people were wonderful. Only 70,000 live people here. They are extremely poor; the poorest we have seen in the islands. As one of the community leaders shared with me, “Yes we lack money to buy material things, but we have everything else in life to keep a person happy. If we had more money, we could have some nice things but those things bring different problems. So overall, we are happy.” I assured him that he was absolutely right and what they have is very special. Having seen the other more developed (ie. exploited) islands the local people were not nearly as happy.

Martin took us on the “infamous” river tour and nature hike, and mountain stream swim. With great pride and knowledge he explained the uses and provided samples of a multitude of native plants. “Have you noticed how we don’t have pharmacies on the island”, he commented. “In addition to all the fruit bearing plants, the edible leafy greens, we are surrounded by natural remedies for any illness we may have.” He also proudly stated that Dominicans have one of the highest centinal rate (% that live to be 100) in the world. Shocking when you consider they have minimal health care. But perhaps not so shocking considering they have minimal industry or electrical devices and no manufactured building products, no pesticides, no preservatives or anything else that keeps us “safe”!

At 6:00 A.M. we went to the local market because by 8:00 it’s “all done”. We passed guys wielding machetes and whacking off chunks of fish, people selling beat up pails of coals for cooking and the best produce we’ve seen yet. Some men in a seasoned ’71 Chevy pickup piled high with coconuts were decapitating them to provide refreshments to the shoppers for a quarter. Sabrinas favorite was the bakery people selling “coconut breads”. Looking around the market, it’s true, the people were very healthy, fit and quite “buff” as Angie noted. I noticed they had a low incidence of periodontal disease and cavities, though the rest of the family didn’t seem to notice. No one begs and no one goes hungry thanks to the sustainable agricultural lifestyle they have. Hhhmmm.

Boat Boys, don't leave home without them

I have to admit we had some preconceived notions of Dominica based on bulletins and guidebooks purporting the crime and safety concerns here. They also warned of the “aggressive” boat boys who hung on your boat like wallpaper and were like a stray dog that just wouldn’t leave. Sure enough 5 miles from shore we meet Anthony in his wooden skiff powered by a 1950’s Johnson outboard belching blue smoke. Apparently everyone needs a “boat boy” as they are called. We graciously declined stating we were using Martin Carriere (per friends’ endorsements).

We joined about a dozen other boats in Prince Rupert Bay on the NW end of the island. And there they were, the boat boys of Dominica on everything from broken surfboards with fruit balanced on them to beautifully painted wooden boats. Well here we go.

We hailed Martin who welcomed us to his beautiful country, handed us each a “100% organic healthy banana, no pesticides, no fertilizers, all natural.” He described the river tour that all the boat boys provide, the best places to eat, the market, the other sites, and so on. Hey this is all right. To their credit, these boat boys have formed their own non-profit organization requiring hospitality training, security monitoring, and river guiding. We quickly met the “fruit man” man, the “ice man”, the “garbage man”, “laundry man”, and so on. All of them introduced themselves and were very gracious in leaving. Do you have a “home schooling” man or “child sitting” man floating around out here?