Monday, March 16, 2015

Dominica - Island Paradise and Johnny Depp

Dominica (pronounced Dom in eee ca, stress the eee) is the last island in the part of the Lessor Antilles that's know as the Leeward Islands. Tomorrow, Mar 17, 2015, when we leave here we'll cross the Dominica Channel and sail to Martinique, the first island of the Windwards. But back to Johnny Depp and Dominica right?

Rugged Coast of Dominica

Well for starters its where much of Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Dead Man's Chest, was filmed. All the parts that show lush jungle, mountains and chasms were here. The parts with the white sand beaches were filmed in the Exumas, part of the Bahamas. Movie's, being magic, manage to squash lots of that together and make it look like its on one island. But while Dominica has lush rain forests it also has five active volcanoes so there are absolutely no white sand beaches. The beaches are the brownish to black sands that are a result of volcanic action. This is the loveliest and lushest island we've been to. Greenery erupts everywhere – huge trees with buttress roots the size of a small house, two story tall tree ferns, hanging vines that Tarzan would have loved, 140 species of ferns plus birds and butterflies. The roads are lined with colourful plants like crotons, ginger, heliconia, hibiscus, red and pink dracaena. It's as if the tropical greenhouse at Banting's Nursery ran wild.

Swinging Bridge and river crossing

45° up AND 45° sideways!
(Is it called hiking if you're crawling?)

 In our desire to experience all we can, we've done stuff I would NEVER EVER have imagined doing. We've crossed swinging bridges over deep chasms, we've climbed the ridge of a mountain to an overlook high, high, high above the harbour. We've hiked up and down mountains to four of the 7 waterfalls and crossed rivers clinging to rocks and fallen logs. We're saving the sulphur springs and boiling lake until our return next year! But, visiting Ti Tu Gorge we swam in a slot cavern to a waterfall, climbed through that waterfall to visit another waterfall. (You saw Orlando Boom and crew fall into this gorge and swim in this river when breaking out of the bone cage). We also had the fun of being rowed up Indian River, just like Capt Jack Sparrow and the crew of the Black Pearl, and saw the house of the witch. In real life it's nearly as mysterious, magical and beautiful as in the movie.

Witch's House
Indian River

Columbus visited this island in 1493 on his 2nd voyage, his first landing of the voyage; and, as he landed on a Sunday, he named it "dies Dominica" for the day of the week. When Columbus explained this island to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain he took a sheet of paper and crumbled it up to show the rugged peaks, deep valleys and gorges of the island. It's history like much of the Caribbean is tied to the wars of the European nations. For 100 years after its discovery it became the last home of the Carib indians who held on to it with a ferocity that kept the Spanish at bay. They live here to this day. While the vast majority of Dominicans are of African descent this is the one place where there is a sizeable population (about 3,000) of the pre-columbian natives that we call Caribs. in 1903 a special Carib Territory was set up for them by the British crown. Today most of them live here in 8 villages.
Carib's still make dugouts from the Gommier Tree
Gommier Tree
It was French small landholders from Guadeloupe and Martinique who first settled the Northern part of the island and started growing coffee and sugar. Eventually slaves were imported and sugar was planted and Dominica became a French colony. During the 7 Years War (French and Indian War to us Americans) Dominica was fought over as the English tried to stop the French from owning the 3 islands in the middle of the island chain. In 1763 when hostilities ceased Dominica was ceded to England and they established their own plantations overlaying the French culture with British overtones including a legislative assembly. Today while English is the official language of the island and every one speaks it, the locals speak to each other in a French creole patois.

An hour hike got us to this waterfall in Syndicate Forest

When Britain passed the Brown Privilege Bill many slaves from the French neighbouring islands fled to Dominica and by 1838 Dominica had the only legislative assembly in the British colonies to have elected a majority of African legislators. The planter class was not happy with this situation and eventually Dominica became a Crown Colony with direct rule from England. In the 20th Century as England shed it's colonial nature Dominica became the Commonwealth of Dominica on Nov 3, 1978.
Today it is still recovering from the effects of hurricanes and the collapse of the banana market in the 1990s. But the small farmers, often Rastafarians, have become the vegetable source to all the other Leeward islands. We've been eating Dominica produce since we arrived in St. Martin.
Rastafarian Farms produce a plethora of organic fruits and vegetables
All locally grown!

 Dominica depends on tourism. It is not an easy island to visit, so more than most other islands, it has encouraged the cruising sailors to come. About 10 years ago Dominica decided to refurbish its image and make the island attractive to boaters by establishing a simplified clearance procedure and even more important, the boat boys organised!

Boat Boys of the Caribbean~
Titus, our "boat boy"
Unlike in the US this is not a tern of disrespect. In the poorer Caribbean islands it was and is difficult to find even the most basic necessities. Since cruisers need access to fresh water, fuel and food not to mention help with boat problems, the local men found ways to deliver these services. As you can imagine competition among the locals for these cruising dollars was fierce. They approach boats coming into a harbour vying for the chance to earn a few bucks. The idea was that the first boy to reach a boat would provide services and keep the others away. This didn't often work, as we saw in Ile a Vache, Haiti last year. The cruisers felt intimidated and as crime started it's awful rise in the Caribbean cruisers stopped coming to these islands. Crime, especially dinghy theft, is now prevalent and we cruisers know to "lock it or lose it". But in Dominica the Boat Boys organised PAYS, Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services. In the Northern harbour of Portsmouth it is better organised, but there is something similar in the southern anchorage of Roseau. They have full page ads with their pictures in the cruising guide. They have a system to allocate which "boy" gets which boat. By now each "boy" is often a small business with the guys on the water being your first contact but with vans and tour guides for your inland hikes. In Portsmouth as their boats, all brightly coloured with the name of the company in bold letters, whiz around the harbour any of them will look over, wave and make sure you don't need anything. They provide security, often going out at night to capture boats adrift who made the mistake of not getting a mooring. Their services are funded by the moorings and water buoy but mainly by a Sunday night BBQ held for the cruisers, $20 for a great dinner with music, dancing and lots of good times. After being on your own in each new island their attentions spoil you so that you never want to leave!

Roy's birthday March 6, celebrated in the PAYS Event Shed with Cruising Friends

Old French Plantation House

People of Dominica werewonderful but a real shout out to our guide Gordon who gave me a hand in the rivers, encouraged and cajoled me over log bridges and, when necessary, boasted me up rock inclines - can't believe I don't have his photo!

Now here's Ti Tu Gorge – a slot canyon with a river at the bottom fed by waterfalls

The Entrance from Above

Swimming against the current into the gorge.

Looking Up - This is where the bone cages came crashing down

 Getting to the first waterfall and coming through the second.