We weren’t sad about leaving Antigua. From sailors and people we had spoken to, a little island nation called Dominica, very often confused with the Dominican Republic, sounded much more like our kind of paradise.
As we were coming in to land, the sparsely populated mountainous island, smothered in green, gave a powerful feeling of natural beauty and an inner connection.
The plane came to a halt and people started disembarking on to the tarmac. It started raining, so they closed the door and we waited for it to pass – pretty funny. Outside the airport, taxi drivers hassled us. Dasha, Tina and I walked up the road in search of a bus, apparently only a few times a day. A car pulled over and offered us a free lift. We were blown away, this place was too good.
We found Mario in Roseau, the capital city. It’s not a big city, but with thousands of people arriving daily on the cruise ships, the harbour is chaotic and unpleasant. People are trying desperately to obtain a piece of the westerner’s wallets, mainly offering tours to the most popular destinations. We got out of there quickly. I found it ironic that as you drove away from the town, the harbour in particular, it was obvious that the wealth was decreasing, yet the natural beauty was increasing dramatically. We were driving through a huge valley, with steep mountains on both sides, trees clinging on to every surface. It was overwhelming.
It was only a 10 or 15 minute drive to Le Petit Paradis in Wotten Waven, but it felt like a different world. We got ourselves a bamboo shack with a gas cooker. The living space was open with a beautiful view over the trees. Humming birds often buzzed around the flowers. Other cheeky birds would fly in and start eating our bananas, telling us that they are ripe. Geckos jumped and ran around everywhere, catching flies and mosquitoes for us.
Our first couple of days we didn’t do a lot. It was such a friendly little village and just relaxing felt really good. We wandered down a street and found the local shop, with local guys playing dominoes. Dominoes in Dominica – gold. The guys play with serious intensity, slamming the dominoes on the table, the snake like chain bouncing all over the place. After about 20 minutes, when they finished their game, we got to play with a couple of guys. Although the rules seem incredibly simple, the guys have some tactics and a bloody good idea of what pieces everybody else has in their hand.
We went hiking to Trafalgar falls. It was crazy how busy it was with all of the cruise ship tourists. We waited a while and they left, leaving the big waterfall just for us, swimming into the flow of the water as close as we could to the turbulent water. It was funny climbing over the rocks in my undies. Just 100 metres downstream there was a hot spring feeding in from the side. We found a rock pool to ourselves and sat there in serenity, gazing out to the incredible mountains, feeling quite blissful for about half an hour.
We continued our hike to Laudat. Along the way we stopped to pick grapefruit, bananas, papayas and some flowers for making tea. This is a true paradise. In Laudat we were eyeing off someone’s orange tree, when an old guy came out mumbling croakily at us. Of course we thought he was yelling at us, but it was quite the opposite. He was very friendly, we just couldn’t understand him. After a good 5 minutes of some sort of conversation we left with another 4 grapefruit in our backpack.
At the end of the road after Laudat is Titou Gorge. This is a spectacular narrow river gorge that you can swim up in the super chilly water to the waterfall. It’s only a metre wide in some places, a couple of metres the rest, and about 10 metres high. Really cool. On the way out, we sat under a hot water fall spouting out from a piece of bamboo
On Sunday we hiked the opposite direction to Morne Prosper, with a few hundred metres higher elevation, it was hard going in the hot humidity with slippery ground under foot. We stopped to chat with a farmer, Elijah. He was 26 and started farming just a year or two ago. He showed us around his vegetables and big pigs. He picked some fresh coconuts for us using a 10 metre bamboo poking stick. Never did he ask for any money, just a genuine, friendly dude.
We wandered into the town. It was very quiet, apart from church, because it was Sunday. We asked people if there were any shops to buy lunch. They didn’t seem to think so. We walked down further and saw ‘variety shop’ so called in. They were selling clothes and stuff. I considered eating a delicious looking leather belt, until the lady next door overheard and offered us food, ‘Would you accept food if I offered?’
‘Ummmm, yes!’ She brought us out chicken and rice and yams and bits and pieces and an unopened bottle of sparkling grape juice. It went down very well. When we offered to contribute towards the cost of the food she declined. As we were taking our plates up to the house to say thankyou and goodbye, she brought out fruit cake! Brilliant. On the way home we visited another farm, Elijah’s neighbour. He was more of an opportunist, gave us a bag full of vegies which we gave a small contribution for. An excellent day.
Dominica is a geologically new volcanic island. It has steep rocky mountains which cause it to rain and being tropical, creates a rainforest. It rained at some stage every day we were there, even though we were told it was the dry season. Some mornings we had planned to go hiking, but woke to heavy rain and knew there was no point getting out of bed. We had a couple of days during which we hardly left the shack. That wasn’t a bad thing. We kept ourselves entertained. We also made lots of friends during our stay. People somehow gravitated towards our little shack. Kai from Holland became our local tour guide/tourist information. We bumped into Sebastian, a German dude we met in Antigua. He joined us in the shack for a few days. Others also joined us in the shack during our stay. Our most notable guest, however, was Joey “The King Courager” Magloire, a 68 year old Calypso singer. He has 6 children to 6 different women, possibly in 6 different countries from what I could gather. He also has 6 grandchildren. This seems to be a fairly typical attitude in Dominica. I met another man who was proud to have 9 children to 3 women, and 26 brothers and sisters from his father. The rumour that there are 7 women to every man helps explain this situation. But back to The King, he is one of the hustlers that greets the cruise ship tourists, trying to get them on to his mates buses for a set commission. He does well, especially with his sign that reads “Ich sprechen sie Deutch”, which gets a few smiles. But at the end of the day, the man that was born on the 6th day of the month is lonely. We met him when he was dropping off someone to stay at the guesthouse (and of course collecting his commission). He didn’t try to hustle us, or sell us anything, he wanted to be our friend. He came every night and we cooked him dinner and he told us stories and jokes:
Q. You’re in the jungle, you see a lion, a beer and a baby horse. You have a gun with one bullet. What do you do?
A. Shoot the lion, drink the beer and ride off on the horse.
Pretty simple, but he was so proud of it that he told it to everyone. It made us laugh. We never figured out why it was a baby horse.
A man was hitch hiking along the road. A truck with a cow in the back pulled over and gave him a lift. When the hitch hiker got out, the driver looked back and saw the cow wasn’t there. “What happened to the cow?” he asked. “It fell out when you stopped to pick me up,” replied the hitcher. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked the driver. To which the hitcher simply replied, “If I fell out the cow wouldn’t have said anything!”
Now again, not that funny, but the passion, repetitiveness and laughter that he told it with was hilarious – laughing to himself, “and it’s true, the cow wouldn’t have said anything!”
When The King didn’t work on one Sunday, he cooked duck neck soup and brought it up along with a fresh loaf of bread for all of us. He gave us a copy of a CD he recently recorded for the governments campaign. It had the same song on it 3 times. He really was a sweet old man. If anyone ever goes to visit, say hello to him from all of us.
We met a Canadian couple, Alex and Zoe (or A to Z for short) who had a hire car. I can tell you first hand that there is not much room for a suitcase in a RAV4. We went snorkelling at Champagne Bay, where bubbles come up from under the sea. We wanted to go to Victoria falls, but when we reached the Rasta shack at the start of the trail, it was raining too much, which would make the hike dangerous as well as uncomfortable. It was fun hanging out with the Rastas for a while anyway.
He recommended going to a point near Rosalie, so we did. I wasn’t expecting such a big hike, which meant we got stuck in one of the downpours, trying to keep dry with banana leaves, but the reward at the end was brilliant. There were rock cliffs facing directly on to the Atlantic Ocean, with big waves smashing in. A huge turtle was floating around to keep us company. There were a couple of rock pools. The water flowing in from the mountains was actually significantly colder than the ocean water splashing in. We sat in the furthest out pool, waves crashing and splashing around us, looking back up to the cliffs with Tarzan vines hanging down. A couple of bigger waves rumbled in, almost washing us out of the pool. Zoe made a run for it over the pointy rocks in between waves. Alex and I decided to duck under water in our rock pool as the waves pummelled the surface. Newspaper headlines were flashing through my mind, the most common and repeated words being “Australian”, “idiots”, “tourists” and “drown”. We kept our calm, knowing that a break in the set would come. Of course, it did. Really lovely place, I recommend it to everyone.
Another day we went hiking up a river. This is the first time I have ever done something like this and I loved it. We started off walking along the edge, jumping from rock to rock when needed to keep our feet dry, but soon this wasn’t possible. Once our feet were wet, there were no limits. We were waist deep, crossing through gushing water, climbing up small waterfalls. It really was quite challenging at times. Along the way we found some natural geothermal activity. The colours were amazing – red, orange, blue, yellow, green, brown – all coming from different minerals in the water.
A highlight of exploring Dominica and its natural beauty is the Waitukubuli trail (the easy way to remember the name is Way-To-Kubuli, Kubuli being the local beer). When completed, it will run from one end of the island to the other, divided into 14 segments, or days hiking. Although not yet completed, some sections are well signed and perfect for hiking. Other hikes on the island are less well sign posted. Some it is highly recommended that you take a guide, others it is compulsory. One such hike is to the Boiling Lake. A French dude got himself lost for three days up there. He called France to send a helicopter from Guadeloupe. Normally you think, ‘I won’t need a guide, I’ll be right’ but on this occasion, a 6 hour round trip, even with our local mate Kai, we decided to take it a bit more serious.
It was a great hike, through the forest, which was different to the fruit filled rainforests we had seen previously, then up to a peak for a magnificent view, looking out over the sea.
We continued down, up and down again into the Valley of Desolation. Here there is a whole heap of sulphur springs going on. Just a little further and we reached the Boiling Lake, the second largest of its kind in the world. I wasn’t expecting too much after reading other peoples comments, but I would like to take this opportunity to say it was brilliant. I believe it is often difficult to see due to clouds, but we were extremely lucky with the sunny weather. When the wind blew the steam away, we got a clear view of the lake, bubbling ferociously from the Earth’s core. The lake must have been about 100 metres across, while we stood about 30 or 40 metres above. Apparently the water temperature is 90 degrees on the edge of the lake and has caused a few injuries to people who have dropped a hat or something near the edge. The overall hike was moderately difficult, but not like what I have read from other people’s opinions. It is a must for anyone visiting the country with a small base level of fitness.
The other hike we did which was amazing was around Freshwater Lake. It was very steep in many parts as it followed the ridges surrounding it. From the highest point we could see the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, with the Lake directly in the foreground. It really does feel like a place that Columbus should be exploring. It was a long hike to get there. I think we ended up walking about 20 km that day, a lot of it up hill.
We met an American along the way at his house. His house was originally a bus, which was well passed its driving days, which he had decked out. After that he extended off the side of the bus to create a massive outdoor living area. He was also working hard in the driveway and garden. He had some logs from a tree trunk placed aesthetically around. They had started sprouting! Everything grows so well here. They say if you stand still long enough you’ll grow roots. I believe it. This place really was fantastic. The view he had looking down the valley all the way to Roseau was astonishing. We stayed for a drink to watch the sunset, then rode in the back of his ute at uncomfortably high speeds back to our guesthaven.
Dominica was the scene for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Of course this creates some nice tourist traps. One of them is the Indian River. The King had called ahead for us, locking in his commission of 25%. We were hoping for more nice people, but these dudes were full on hustlers, trying to sell us accommodation that we really weren’t interested in. The set fee of $15 was negotiated down to 12.50 , which really is a rip off. He rowed us up the river for about 10 minutes to a bar, where the price was higher than at Victoria falls (which is very remote). We wandered around for 20 or 30 minutes then went back downstream. The scenery was spectacular. I can see why it has become so popular, yet it’s popularity is what spoils it. The trees on the side of the river have amazing root systems that twist and turn everywhere. The branches hang right over the river, creating a dark, mysterious tunnel. It feels like a place where crocodiles or piranhas or some sort of mythical serpent would consume you if you merely touched the water. There is a hiking trail from the highway down the river to the bar. I would try to find it rather than paying for the boat ride if I had my time again.
What else did we do in Dominica? There was Bob the snake man. He makes his money by looking like a freak and lurking in the bushes with a large boa wrapped over his shoulders. When tourists drive past, they stop for a photo and give him a dollar. One day Dasha and I were hitching down the hill in to Roseau. A proper Rasta picked us up in his beat up old ute, smoking all the way. Playing in his car was ‘Sharon want a hotdog in her mouth,’ which we heard about 5 times a day. If anyone ever finds this song please let me know where I can purchase it. He also stopped to give Bob a lift in the back, minus the snake. This same Rasta called in at our little haven one evening to give us a sample of some kind of locally grown herb that can be smoked and makes you feel funny.
We didn’t know how long we were going to stay in Dominica, maybe 10 days we thought, which was what was stamped in our visa. When we finally left after 20 days of serenity, immigration didn’t even blink. So, where to next???
Rest of the pictures here.