Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dominica, the good… and the bad.

My original plan last summer was to spend 2 weeks exploring Dominica.  There is so much hiking and beauty to see on this island and I wanted to see it all.  But that was before I was pregnant and before we had a long delay of boat repairs which shortened our cruising time drastically.  So I was left with only a couple days to explore this beautiful island.  Let me just say upfront that I would totally love to return to Dominica one day and spend so much more time hiking and exploring.  The population here is only 67000 and the island is largely undeveloped. 


With that said, let me explain how it works to be on a boat in Dominica.  There is an anchorage at the capital of Roseau, but it is very open and swelly, so the only other option is Prince Rupert Bay at the town of Portsmouth.  Many of the Caribbean islands have “boat boys” which I have discussed before.  Here in Dominica they are supposedly organized into an organization that helps to patrol the bay to keep the boaters safe.  And in those regards there have not been any reports of theft or boardings in the area for the last couple years.  So the protocol when you arrive in Dominica is that you are met by 1or 2 boat boys as you try to anchor, and in our case they were hailing us on the radio as we approached the bay.  You can either choose to work with one of the boat boys that hails or approaches you, or maybe you have picked one out from a friend referral or by reading one of the boating guides.  So you would just let them know who you are going to use.  They will help you with a ride to customs or shore, or take your trash or whatever you might need.  But what they would really like to do is sell you a tour of the Indian River area, or a guided land tour- where ever you might like to go ashore, sightseeing, hiking, waterfall swimming.  So knowing this and our time constraints I had a list narrowed of what we would like to see.  From a referral last year, we picked to hire Cobra tours as our boat boy and guide.  After telling them what we would like to see and discussing a schedule of when to see these things in the next 3 days, it was time to talk money.  How much would it cost?  The honest truth is, I believe we motor into an anchorage in our motor yacht, and the boat boys see $$$.  But that is just not the case with us.  While I think our boat looks nice, it is 30 years old and we are a large family of small children.  We do not have a Captain or crew aboard as other motor vessels our size or larger would have.  So in trying to negotiate price, we just don’t see the value in paying the full price of an adult for my 1 year old, or 4 year old, or even my 6 year old.  This can make price negotiation difficult.  On other islands we just ask how much to hire a taxi van, typically they charge by the trip, not per person.  But these boat boys and tour guides here are use to grouping couples together off of 2 or more boats and charging per person, so they were viewing us as 9 individuals, rather than a family as we were hoping.


After some back and forth, David and Andrew, (owner of Cobra tours) came to an agreed price.  An hour later we were packed up and off for an afternoon of sightseeing on shore.  Kenny was our driver and tour guide for the day.  He was very friendly and told us lots of things about the areas we visited.  We drove to the northeast end of the island where our first stop was Hampstead beach #1.  We had assigned Savannah to research and report on Dominica a week ago for school and this was one of the places she had asked to see.  Here at Beach #1, part of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3 were filmed.  We had to make a short hike down a 4 wheel drive rode to reach the beach.  At the north end of the beach is a river that leads out to sea and the kids had a great time playing along the beach and in the river.  The beach along the ocean was just beautiful.  Remote, with nothing built on it, gorgeous soft black sand with palm trees all along.  Ocean waves crashing ashore, it was mesmerizing. 





There were coconuts everywhere on this beach.  Kenny said that coconut used to be one of Dominica’s top exports, till they switched to focusing on tourism.  Kenny showed us how to open a coconut with a rock.  Calvin thought it looked easy and wanted to try.  He quickly learned, it was not easy.  The security guard for the beach (yes a security guard, on a beautiful deserted beach… they insisted it was safe, they just want to keep track of people coming and going… hmmm).  The security guard, a nice older gentleman told us when he was younger he was in a show in Barbados and opened coconuts with his teeth.  He wondered if he could still do it, and then suggested if we gave him a donation he would try.  And sure enough…  he did it.  Don’t use your teeth for this.




Our next stop was a place called Red Rocks.  We could have been in Moab or anywhere in Southern Utah, it looked the same.  Well… except for the ocean crashing into the rocks. 




Our last stop for the day was in the Carib territory or the Kalinago village.  These are the original indians of the islands.  Here on Dominica they were granted an area of land as theirs.  They still live on it, much like the rest of the islanders, but they maintain a small village that shows what life was like before the Europeans came to take over the West Indies.  Those of true Kalinago descent have a fairer complexion, they also have Asian looking traits, since that is where they descended from many, many, many generations ago.  The black islander is a descendent of African slavery.   It was interesting to see the differences and learn about these original inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands.


Day 2



It did not start out well.  We had asked to start the day at 7am because our kids get up early and we’d like to get back before dinner time.  We knew it would be a long day, why not get an early start.  Andrew had agreed to have a guide and driver ready for us at 7am, but at 7am his employee- Monty (who’d been driving us to shore) showed up to say we couldn’t go till 8am.  We were not too happy to be an hour behind schedule.  So after a short conversation with their “office” they said they would get a guide and driver to meet us asap, so we loaded into Monty’s boat and headed to shore where we met Robert.  He was not quite as friendly or chatty as Kenny had been, but we were off early for our long day. We planned to hike and enjoy 3 sets of waterfalls.  It was over an hour drive to Roseau and then into the rainforest above the city where we would spend our day.





Our first stop was Middleham Falls.  It was an hour hike in to see the huge, tall waterfall.  I figured an hour each way was doable for the kids, but I didn’t take into account the unfit shape I was in.  The climb up was a good work out for me.  Being pregnant has definitely taken its toll on me.  Matthew with the little legs did a better job than me!  Robert hiked along with us, knew the way well, and offered a hand to the little ones when needed.  He just didn’t seem too thrilled to be with us.  After working up a sweat hiking there, the cold waterfall was quite refreshing.  And it was very cold!  Only David and I, Melinda, and Calvin braved the temperature to try out the water.  And only David was brave enough to swim close to the waterfall.  The water was coming over the fall with great force and the spray covered my camera lens so my pictures are all misted.




We all made the hour hike back, ready for the short drive to our next stop, Titou Gorge.  This spot was also used in Pirates of the Caribbean.  You swim up a short gorge into a powerful waterfall.  Robert insisted we all wear lifejackets, even the adults.  I hate swimming in a lifejacket and had to take it off and use it more as a floaty. The water was cold but we all braved it. It was crystal clear.  The gorge was beautiful and narrow.  The waterfall at the end was quite powerful.  You could climb up a few rocks to see where the waterfall comes into the gorge at, and then jump from the rocks into the pool you just swam thru.. 





Melinda had stayed behind with my 2 non swimmers—Alex and Matthew.  This was a short swim, so when we returned Robert took Melinda and Calvin, again, back thru the gorge and waterfall.


Our third stop of the day was a popular stop, Trafalgar falls.  There are 2 waterfalls nearby- the father falls, and the mother falls.  By this time, Alex had fallen asleep in the van, so after lunch Melinda hung out in the van with sleeping Alexander, while we made the short hike to see Mother falls.  One of the reasons it’s a popular stop is it’s easy access, and the rivers of both Mother and Father falls run close to each other. Mother falls is a cold waterfall, but Father falls is a hot waterfall.  We played mostly in the warm water where it pool up as it ran downstream.  Occasionally the kids would trek over to the cold pools to cool off, and then come back to the warm stream.  I hadn’t dressed Matthew in a swim suit as I didn’t expect him to swim at the other falls, but here with the stream pooling in areas, we stripped him down to his undies so he could get in and enjoy too.  He loved it!  Although when I took his wet undies off and dressed him in his dry clothes he was a bit unhappy.  The whole ride back he kept asking us when would we get back to the boat so he could put on undies.  He did not like going without!







Our last stop was in Roseau at the IGA Market.  We were able to pick up some much needed staples.  We stopped again in Portsmouth at the IGA there where David found Milk on sale. (soon to expire, but we would drink it up!)


Having had an enjoyable day hiking we returned to the boat ready for dinner.  However when we arrived we found that our back Aluminum stairs had been destroyed.  It appeared that one of our fenders had fallen down at some point during the day and the swell had caused our tender to knock repeatedly into the stairs.  This dented the stairs and caused the welded steps to all come off. The aft corner of the tender is all scuffed up as well.  Well that complicated getting back on the boat.  David was able to climb up and get our ladder hooked up so we could all get on board.  It was a very disappointing way to end our day. 

Day 3

Even earlier we left for a short trip.  Monty showed up to pick us up at 6am.  He would be our guide on the Indian River, where he would row us up the river in his boat.  No engines are allowed up this particular river in order to preserve its ecosystem.  It is beautiful, lined with mangroves and buttress trees with their large roots running everywhere.  Again, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3 was filmed here.  We were able to get out and hike a bit along the river, before heading back down the river and to our boat.







The Bad…

At this point it was time to settle our bill for our tours.  The agreed upon price was to include all necessary park fees.  However during our tours we ended up having to pay for the park fees as the tour guides had not been instructed to pick up the fees.  So we adjusted our payment price by the park fees and told Monty to pass that along to Andrew.  Monty took the payment and left.

David and I got the kids settle on board and then headed into town with Matthew to visit the Saturday morning fruit and veggie market stalls.  I had been waiting for the big Saturday Market.  As we approached the town dock and tied up our tender, Monty pulled up with the police on board his boat, and they asked to talk with us.  Apparently upset by our underpayment of $30 US for the park fees, Monty and Andrew had made a complaint to the police.  It was surprising and frustrating.  David was not happy at all about being approached and questioned in the this manner.  If they were not happy about the agreed upon payment they could have come and talked with us first.  I headed to town to grab the fruits and veggies we needed, while David spoke with the police on the dock.  In the end, it was their word against ours.  I suppose next time a signed piece of paper over the deal  and terms would have helped, probably both of us.  This was not a good way to end our stay in Dominica, and was very disappointing.

We had planned to stay until after church on Sunday, but after that encounter, we didn’t feel so safe at anchor there.  It was still early in the day so we decided to leave Dominica behind and make the short trek to Les Saintes in Guadeloupe.  It was a good afternoon crossing there, and we arrived in time to pick a good anchoring spot.  After us, several boats came into the anchorage and the surrounding waters are deep, so it was nice to be able to pick when there was lots of room open.

We enjoyed seeing Dominica.  It is a beautiful island.  I would love to return and hike much more of it.  I am not sure I would enjoy returning by boat.  Aside from the implications we might encounter because they would most likely remember us, being a motor boat full of kids in a sea of sailboats, I was not very fond of how they wanted to run the show.  I would have preferred just going into town and hiring our own taxi van to take us on our tours.  But because of the time they spend “securing” the anchorage, they really want you to use one of the boat boys for these services, and in order for us to spend more time seeing and doing, that is just not economical for our family.

IMG_7102Enjoying the sunset, resting easy in Les Saintes.

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