Friday, April 19, 2013

Adventures in Dominica -Part I

We sailed from Antigua to Deshaies, Guadeloupe in one long day, and on to Portsmouth the next, arriving on Sunday evening. We were met by boatman Titus, who escorted into the bay. We took a mooring, one of Martin “Providence” Carriere’s for $300 EC (~$90 USD) for two weeks.  When we arrived at the customs office Monday Morning, the assortment of unkempt, raggedy, smelly cruisers made me think of a homeless shelter. No need to be any of those things!

Randy and the local guys were neat and clean....not so much the others....
Walking around town, people were friendly and it reminded me of how Antigua and St. Lucia were 30 years ago.

In the past the boatmen of Dominica were known for their over-attentive and sometimes aggressive demeanor with incoming yachts, the work being quite competitive in this low per capita income country. About five years ago they organized themselves into the Portsmouth Area Yacht Security (PAYS), and now are more orderly and take turns receiving the incoming yachts.
They provide overnight yacht security between the cruise ship and the fishermans’ docks, and will take away garbage, fill jerry cans with water, deliver veggies, pick-up laundry, and even help yachties clear customs.  In addition, they organize Indian River tours, island tours, dive trips, and the popular Sunday evening BBQ party at the PAYS event house.  More on that later!

 Next day we went into Portsmouth and tried to buy prepaid  Digicel internet chips, the same as we did in Bonaire and Curacao.  We had to catch the bus to Roseau in order to do this, only to find out that Digicel doesn’t offer this option here.  So we went to Lime and purchased a new wifi hotspot device, which should work out cheaper in the long run since both computers can run off it, and it can be used on all other English islands.  Roseau is bustling old Caribbean town, with narrow streets with uneven walks and old wooden buildings.  Not much time to explore since we were on a mission and tired from the bus ride.  The bus trip was long and winding, speeding  along the dry, steep and rugged Caribbean coast of the island. Randy had a headache from clenching his teeth.  
Antonio "Banderas", our veggie connection
Around sunset, alongside came Antonio “Banderas”  the fruit vendor, who for $30EC gave us three papayas, a hand of bananas, 6 mangoes (early season), luscious tomatoes, four grapefruit and a red and yellow Heliconia flower.
Heliconia from Antonio; and ginger-lilies & heliconia from Martin!
He asked if perhaps we had any old clothes he might have for his girlfriend, and we said yes.  I gave him my bag of gently used clothes I’ve been carrying around since St.Thomas. A few days later Antonio brought his girlfriend Matilda to visit us on the boat.  She was so pleased with the clothes. It was a bit hard for us to understand her at first, with a strong accent and some missing teeth, but her cheerful goodwill and island insights made her visit enjoyable.
 Fort Shirley

We hiked to Fort Shirley on the hills called the Cabrits just north of the anchorage.  The fort is being reconstructed, and has a gift shop, snackette, and small but comprehensive museum, depicting the history of the fort, artifacts, tidbits of natural history, and a relief map of the Waitukubuli National Park trail system. We hiked up the West Cabrit hill, thru scrub forest of mahogany, teak trees, and the aromatic bay leaf known locally as ‘bwa den’, from which Bay Rum is made.

Randy and de Bwa Den tree...smell like de bay rum!

At the top is the West Battery of cannon overlooking the sea, with a lovely view.  Royal cedar trees blossoming with their pink flowers attracted lots of hummingbirds, and we also saw black land crabs and two kinds of snakes.
At West Cabrit battery.

The next day we walked to nearby Trailhead #12 for a woodland hike.  It was a short hike, cutting across the Cabrits peninsula through teak-mangrove woods, to the shore of the National Marine park, covered with tumbled boulders.  Following the trail along, we ended up on the main road leading back to Portsmouth, past the new location for the horseback riding farm.
On Waitukubuli National Forest Trail #12
The beach at Cabrits National Park

Martin stopped by one morning and suggested that we might like to volunteer at the CALLS school as tutors.  The CALLS program, started in 1995, provides remedial education and vocational skill training to ‘at risk” youth, ages 16-22, serving as a safety net and providing young people with a second chance to attain skills they need to obtain jobs.  The two year curriculum includes, English, math,  health, science, social studies, and communication skills, as well as nurturing spiritual growth, self-worth, and self- confidence.  We were each assigned a student to work with on reading and reading comprehension, and set to work for a one hour session the same morning.  We went back again on Monday, but since the term was ending for the Easter holidays, we didn’t have the chance to continue tutoring.  The school also has a day care center for neighborhood moms who need to work or attend the school, and laundry services for the neighborhood, which cruisers are welcome to use as well.  We dropped off a big load and it was only $36EC (~$10 USD) for wash, dry and folding.  And, we got to visit with our students again. 

We hiked uphill from the center of town, and entered the rainforest.  We walked upstream along the headwaters of the Indian River.  It was cool , quiet, and green.  We found a giant tree with massive buttress roots, cacao beans growing wild, and guava, which is tasty but very seedy.

Up the Indian River

Picking a cacao pod.

Buttress roots of the"Bwa mang" trees.

Titus took us around the headland into the National Marine park for a snorkel.  We enjoyed riding in his heavy wooden locally built boat.   There were lots of sponges, but was pretty devoid of fish. It was fun,but disappointing after Bonaire and all the good things we had heard about the diving here.  Later we met some Americans (Mike and Suzi of catamaran “Awakening”) who were big-time divers and they said the scuba diving here really is spectacular, and acknowledged that the snorkeling was not.  Said there were not many big fish but it is still some of the best in the Carib.  We will have to see about a dive trip next time.
Sponges in Cabrits National Marine Park
Local fishermen unloading their catch of fresh tuna.
Saturday is market day.  When you hear the conch horn sounding, you know the fishermen are selling their catch.  The tuna boat was in with some nice fish, but we didn’t get any….a scrum of local ladies edged us right out in the nicest possible way! (Not to worry; two days later we happened by when the conch horn was blowing and had first choice of prime mahi steaks!)

We bought a pineapple, luscious soft, juicy, red tomatoes, thumping-good watermelon, and local green coffee beans I roasted myself for our breakfast brew.   It was fun chatting with the local vendors and trying new fruits and vegetables for the first time.

Ladies selling us a bottle of egg-nog-like "sea moss" drink, a Caribbean love potion!
Randy picking the ripest watermelon.
We tried what the locals call “spinach”, which was dark green, leafy and fresh, but was very bitter (i.e. inedible) when cooked. We chatted with several other cruisers as well. The spectacle of all the vendors and shoppers was a cheerful way to spend Saturday morning.
Di with a load of "spinach", watching the fishermen cut tuna steaks.
 For general grocery shopping, the IGA store up by the Ross Medical School is an easy eight-minute walk if you tie up the dinghy at the customs dock .  They have a great variety of merchandise and reliable ATM machines too. 

Stay tuned.....the story continues in Adventures in Dominica-Part II.

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