Dominica:  May 2-15, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

The Nature Island

A little over a year ago, we went by Dominica on our way south, and didn't check in.   We flew our yellow quarantine flag off the coast at Mero, and only stayed the night.  Something we had read, or heard, gave us very negative vibes, and we just went right on by.   What a mistake.   Named by Christopher Columbus ("Domingo", since he visited on a Sunday) and often confused with The Dominican Republic, because of the similarity of names, the island features awe-inspiring landscapes, industrious mountain farmers, Rasta villages, friendly locals, spectacular diving with clean waters and healthy soft and hard corals teaming with turtles, frog fish, sea horses and lots of other creatures from the fish/diving books.  By now we have seen lots of mountainous islands, with lots of rain forests and quite a few waterfalls, but none are as spectacular and abundant as in Dominica.   And the best part is that, due to its having relatively few sparkling beaches compared to islands to the north and to the south, tourism is low-key, and largely centered around eco-tourism.

Indian River Trips

At the north end of the island, at Portsmouth, we took a number of tours with Martin, who runs the Providence tour group.  He also collected our trash each day, delivered free grapefruit and bananas every couple of days, and checked in with us regularly to see if we needed anything.  One of the local tours was up the Indian River, which flows right into the Prince Rupert Bay in Portsmouth.   With us on our second tour was Joy Reed, a friend and ex-colleague of Chucks from Armstrong Atlantic State University, who spent a week aboard with us and then moved over to a dive resort on the southern end of the island for a second week.

Our guide Martin rowing us up the Indian River (no motors are allowed)

Green heron



Only other boat we saw on the river

Bullfinch feasting on a banana

Another bullfinch

Beautiful flower

Female lizard admiring a male

Male lizard trying to attract the female

Bloodwood roots along the river

More bloodwood roots

Crabs abound along the shore

Immature heron

An iguana way up in the tree tops

Martin weaving a "bird" ...

... while Joy and Barb watch in rapture

One of the finished products

Wrecks from previous hurricanes right off the main street of Portsmouth.

Northern Dominica Tour

We took a 12-hour trip with Martin which covered the top sites in the northern part of Dominica, including a visit to one of the few remaining settlements of the Carib Indians that inhabited the Caribbean Islands before the arrival of Europeans.   We saw stills used to extract bay oil from the leaves of bay trees.   Martin showed us many of the local fruits and vegetables.   We saw many steep fields tended by industrious farmers taking advantage of the rich volcanic soil to grow produce, not only for local use, but also for export to neighboring islands.   We had a gazillion "Kodak moments".

Trail to Cold Soufriere

Cold Soufriere sulfur springs - not hot due to the gas being vented from so deep

Still for making oil from bay leaves

Still condenser

Old bay leaves

Butterflies mating

Typical farmer working on the slopes

Another sloped field

Calibash plant

Cashew fruit - notice only one cashew on the end of each fruit

Church in an abandoned town

Martin collecting a cocoa plant to show us the seeds

He has opened the plant and we all enjoy tasting the seed coating

Beautiful ferns

Martin gave Barb an orchid to pot

Mangoes everywhere, but not quite ripe

Martin caught a crab to show us

A closeup of the crab

A baby pineapple that can be replanted

Locals collecting seamoss

More seamoss workers

Martin is searching for a coconut for us to eat


Wild flowers

Another view

Red Rock

One of the standard stops for northern tours is Red Rock, an area of ancient volcanic outflow that is so high in iron as to largely prevent plant growth.   Hence, the red soil, and given the lack of plants, a beautiful pattern of erosion.   It kind of reminded us of the Badlands of the Dakotas


We were fortunate enough to happen upon a master Carib boatbuilder plying his trade along the road.   Of course we stopped and gawked and took pictures.   But Martin made sure that it was ok to take pictures, and it turned out that the two workers -- a master builder and his young assistant -- were extremely friendly and gracious.   Notice the face of the master builder.   The Caribs reminded us, in physique and physiognomy, of Peruvians.  They live in their own villages, and, at least until quite recently, have been extremely reluctant to intermarry with the non-Carib locals.

The canoes are made by cutting down a huge straight tree, and then splitting it length-wise.   One of the halves is hollowed out, and then, using the weight from stones and the pressure from spreaders, the sides of the hollowed-out portion are spread.   In order to soften the wood to facilitate the spreading, fires are burned along the outside of the hull.   In order to prevent scorching, the hollowed-out hull is filled with water, and calabash pitchers are used to scoop up the water and splash in against the inside and outside of the hull nearest the heat.   The workers also had a rake to use to move the embers around along the hull.   Off to the side, the apprentice proudly showed us the two long planks that had been cut from the other side of the original tree.   Those were fated to become the extension of the sides of the boat.   The remarkable thing is that those planks were cut entirely by hand, using only a chain saw.   To all appearances, they looked as straight and true and of such consistent thickness as to have been done at a mill.   The apprentice also retrieved the upright members of the bow and stern (and propped them in place) that had been cut from that top half, and that appear in some of the pictures below.   The apprentice also informed us that the master had been the builder of the "Gli gli" canoe that has been paddled and sailed up the Caribbean chain recently in historic re-creation of the migration of the Caribs up from South America.   Ann and John (Livin' the Dream) had seen that vessel, and later sent us copies of pictures they had taken.   (See below.)

Master boat builder

His apprentice

Heating and forming the sides of the boat

He moves the fire along the sides of the boat and splashes water on the sides to keep them from getting too hot/burned

Our group is admiring the boat

Chuck learning some details of the process

The other half of the log was used to cut planks (with a chainsaw) that will be the sides of the boat - look how straight they are!

A finished canoe, seen earlier in the tour along the roadside

Gli Gli canoe/sailboat (thanks to Ann -- Livin the Dream -- for the photos)

Gli Gli under sail

Chauiere Pool

On our northern trip with Martin we also hiked in to the Chauriere pool.   There, Steve,  John, and Ann demonstrated their cajones by jumping off the side of the cliff into the pool.   Ann slid down the chute, and later jumped off the cliff.   Steve did a somersault on his first jump, and then dove head-first on his second.   I took pictures.   :-)

Ann (Livin the Dream) sliding down the waterfall in Chauiere Pool

John (Livin the Dream) jumping into the pool

Martin (our tour guide) jumping

Steve (Seaman's Elixir) diving in the pool

Birthday Party

Ann (Living the Dream) had a birthday ending in a zero, and John invited everyone on the tour to join him at the Purple Turtle bar/restaurant for the celebration.   John (Sojourn) also arrived at the anchorage that day, and also joined us.   Martin and his wife were also invited.   A good time was had by all.   Happy Birthday, Ann -- you don't look a day over 30!

Ann (Livin the Dream) turned (something)0!!

John (Livin the Dream)

Barb enjoying the party

Ann, Barb & Linda having a good time at the party

Eric & Steve

Martin - the master tour guide

Martin's wife

John (Sojourn)


Nicky's husband Martin

Seaman's Elixir

We had not seen special friends Steve and Linda for ages.   They had hooked two sailfish (at the same time!) on the way down to Dominica, and released one but retained the other because it had been damaged.   So they had us -- and our guest Joy, and John and Ann (Livin' the Dream) -- over for a delicious meal featuring the sailfish.  Yummy.   Of course, Steve, being the new reigning "Minister of Rum", now that the original has moved to the Americas, brought out after dinner several of his top-grade rums.  We had a delightful time doing a little tasting/critiquing, enhanced for some of us by a few puffs on Steve's recently-acquired Cuban cigars.

Linda (Seaman's Elixir) was our hostess for a gourmet dinner

Ann is enjoying one of Steve's cigars

Barb is trying it too

Joy relaxing before dinner

Steve & Linda treated us to some fine rum at the end of the evening

Fort Shirley

One of the interesting, and easily accessible, sites near the Prince Rupert Bay anchorage is Fort Shirley.  Some portions of the fort are in the process of being restore/re-created.   Others are still in their picturesque overgrown state.   Both are well worth a visit.

One of the extensively (and expensively) restored buildings

The group herded together for a picture

One of many cannons abandoned in their original position -- not, as is so often the case, brought in afterwards to dress up the site for tourists

Another cannon up along a high wall to the north

Fireplace (?) in the commander's headquarters

A room filled with grapeshot

Joy in front of the grapeshot magazine

A closeup of a single grapeshot

Troop barracks

More overgrown barracks

View down the commander's building

A "sandbox" tree noticed at the fort site