Our Vacation in Dominica

From December 28, 1998 to January 11, 1999 we vacationed on the island Commonwealth of Dominica. It was our third visit to this lovely island. We had first visited Dominica in 1987 and again in 1993.

Why Dominica? Originally we saw a photograph of the islandís Emerald Pool in National Geographic. Any search engine will return pages with photos of Dominica.

On that first trip, we were so impressed by the islandís beauty that we resolved to return. Additionally, we had made friends with Alick Ferrol, first introduced to us as a driver. Alick had taken us to his village of Paix Bouche and introduced us to his wife Nathalie and three (at that time) sons, Mervin, Greg and Javan. We maintained a correspondence with Nathalie, who shortly had a fourth son, Shane and also became a schoolteacher. Meanwhile, Alick has built up a business. Should you go to Dominica and lodge in the north of the island and wish to rent a car, you can contact him through a web page weíve made for him: Alick's page.

In 1993 we not only visited Dominica but also spent some time as guests of the Ferrol family. Also that year Nathalie and Mervin came to visit at our home.

Each of our first two visits, though, lasted only a week. This time, we were able to stay for two weeks. Although we were invited to stay with our friends the entire time, we felt that we should not impose for so long. Also, we knew weíd want to travel around the island, and didnít think we should request transportation. Little did we know that we could have borrowed a car and only put gas in. But we had made arrangements, so we spent our first eight days as guests and then took three hotels for two nights each in different parts of Dominica.

Our arrival was delayed by the airline having problems in Boston. That caused us to miss our connection in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We were rerouted on standby via Antigua, and arrived only about three hours late, but without our luggage. We also had no way and no time to call ahead. A taxi driver friend of Nathalieís met us at the airport and brought us to her door, for a reduced charge.

Having no luggage wasnít too bad, the first day. Nathalie had to go to Roseau anyhow, so we went with her (Mervin drove). On the way back we drove by the airport to see if our bags had arrived, because we were supposed to unlock them for customs. They werenít there, and we did begin to worry. We shouldnít have. A customs official we met when we arrived (because when we said we were staying in Paix Bouche, heís asked us where, knowing thereís no hotel or guest house in the village; when we told him, he turned out to be a friend from Paix Bouche) had simply approved their entry without inspection and sent them on to the house! Just one of the joys of staying in a small, rustic place.

Anyhow, we got to poke around in Roseau for the day. Mervin took us to see his school and to the Botanical Gardens, where I photographed him and Ruth standing inside a banyan tree and Ruth took a photo of me standing atop a still living baobab tree that had fallen years ago during Hurricane David, crushing an empty school bus. The gardens also host some caged parrots, including several siserou parrots, native only to Dominica and a national symbol found on its flag. We also visited the rebuilt waterfront, now set up to receive visits from the largest cruise ships. A Carnival Line ship was in, dwarfing everything else in Roseau. These tourists are only day visitors, though.

Ruth and I enjoyed walking around Paix Bouche. Itís a mountain village with some breathtaking vistas. Shane showed us a plant with a small purple flower that has leaves that close when the plant is touched. We renewed acquaintances with folks weíd met five years before (as the only whites in this small place, we were easy to recall, we suspect).

During a power outage after a heavy rainstorm, I led a singalong with my harmonica. It was fun to adapt "Rolling Home to Caledonia" into "Rolling Home to Dominica". We watched and played some dominoes in a little table and four stools bar. We walked up a mountain path to the tinier, even more remote village where Nathalie had been raised, and even there were recognized Ė by name! Ė from five years before. From that village, you can even see the Atlantic coast.

During our strolls, we enjoyed the flowers. Hibiscus grows into blooming hedges on Dominica, and the poinsettias were in their January bloom. Also blooming at the season is a deep red flower called sorrel. This flower is crushed into juice for a traditional holiday drink.

We stopped to take photos in front of one house maintained in a particularly lovely state with a garden by a nice older lady. Ruth and I also took snapshots of each other holding a 3-day-old kid, which we found nursing from a nanny that was tied near the path to feed. We also stopped by the house of an elderly lady who had sold us some of her homegrown coffee on our prior visit. She, too, remembered us, and we bought some of her own coffee and cocoa.

Another neighbor remembered us and kept bring us gifts of bananas and papaya. He also had an old harmonica, so we played some duets. We went to church, a three-hour musical experience, with Mervin playing the drums in the churchís band. We watched a village rivalry basketball game, in which Mervin starred as a starting guard and Greg and Javan played capably off the bench. We walked Shane to school when his vacation ended and watched the outdoor opening exercises.

We went snorkeling at Douglas Bay, taking Shane and Desiree (Nathalieís niece, who lives with her). With Mervin, Greg, Javan and Desiree we went for a long hike partway up Morne Diabolatin. Along the way, we ate tropical fruits we found growing, and were able to drink from the streams. We also had a great snack packed by Desiree. We saw little black hummingbirds that have an iridescent green crest, which they flash. We saw parrots in flight. We took an 0.8-mile forest loop path in the national park, featuring labeled trees and lookout points over a chasm.

Ruth did some gift shopping in Portsmouth, during the rain. A nice elderly lady who ran the shop actually added up the prices and then voluntarily gave us a discount.

One day, Alick dropped us off at Toucari Bay, where we swam among coral and took a rowboat ride out to snorkel over some caves and an old wreck. We found an "elephant trunk" tree, which has a sweet-smelling pink flower from which, we were told, an illicit concoction called "joy juice" can be made. The rowboat also t ook up past sheet cliffs that run to the sea and some waterfalls that fall into the sea. It left us on the beach at Douglas Bay. Ruth and I a lso revisited Fort Young, on the Cabrits hill overlooking Prince Rupert Bay and the town of Portsmouth.

Besides enjoying the Paix Bouche New Year celebrations, Alick, Nathalie, Ruth and I had dinner together one night at the Purple Turtle Beach Club in Portsmouth. Twelve years earlier, the club was just a grass shack on the beach. Five years ago it was a small cinderblock building. Now itís a two-story building with restaurant and nightclub.

Another day, Mervin dropped us off at the beach of the Castaways Hotel, near the town of Saint Joseph. Ruth and I had always wanted to visit that town, because itís so picturesque. We swam and then walked to town along the beach. It was January 2nd, a business holiday, so there was no place to buy a snack. We enjoyed ourselves, nonetheless. A bus driver dropped us back at the hotel where Mervin was to meet us and refused to accept a fare.

Some evenings we just stayed home. We had brought along all the CDs, cassettes and VCR tapes we own of our cousin, Harry Connick Jr. They were a huge hit!

We must say also that Nathalieís cooking is the greatest! She made us many local treats. Twice, though, for breakfast, I had to make pancakes for everyone (at the childrenísí request), a consequence of having introduced them to genuine maple syrup.

After eight days, we left for the first of our hotel stays, at the Layou Valley Plaza. This hotel is in the islandís central valley of its greatest river, and features a view of Morne Trois Pitons, one of the national parks which also contains the Emerald Pool. Itís a remote location, peaceful but off the bus routes, making transportation a problem. The nights there are relatively cool and very windy. We took a walk one day and local farmers invited us to explore their land, on which we saw many beautiful flowers.

This hotel has a Chinese owner and manager, and features Chinese dinners. It also has a Zen meditation hall. It had hot water (but it wasnít on during our visit). Its electricity was "American" (110V) but 50-Hertz and wired with local style outlets. (You gotta be careful!)

Another day, we had the hotelís car take us to see the Floral Gardens, a hotel in the town of Concord. This place is really beautiful! Itís not too expensive to stay there, either. Ruth wants to try it some time. It'í right on the Concord River, and besides the gardens (which seem to pervade the entire town) features mountain hiking paths.

We were also dropped off at the Anchorage Hotel, in Castle Comfort, about a mile south of Roseau, to go on a whale-watch we had arranged. In a 3-hour jaunt not more than three miles offshore, we saw many sperm whales and one Bryceís whale. The few times there were lulls in whale sightings, I played my harmonica and the passengers sang. The music seemed to bring the whales back to near the boat! We also saw flying fish, white-sided dolphins surfing in the boatís bow wave, and spinner dolphins leaping in the distance. All the while, you could see up and down the coast, a vista that included Scottís Head (our next destination) to Saint Joseph. The whole time there was a bright double rainbow that spanned the two towns, with Roseau under its arc as well.

We had to wait an hour at the hotel for our ride. During that time I played my harmonica. A nice young woman at the hotel desk came to admire my playing and later let me use her computer to visit our home page and to send E-mail to Mathilda.

The following morning, we headed for Scottís Head, the southernmost town of Dominica and its premier snorkeling and diving spot. The Layou Valley Plaza manager dropped us off at an intersection. From there, we took a bus to Roseau. The driver was kind enough to take us to the southern terminus, so we could change to a bus for Scottís Head.

From the "head" of the bay one can view the town and Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic a few yards away across a narrow strand. The town itself is very pretty. We snorkeled from a small beach near the head, and also climbed up for a look around.

Although dining was available where we lodged, we preferred to dine on really great food at a much lower price at Roger's Place. If youíre ever in Scottís Head, by all means take your meals at Rogerís Place. Roger is super nice and a dynamite cook. Whatís more, his prices are low. It's a good idea to drop by the night or morning before to make your order, since he does not maintain an expensive inventory. But what you get will be fresh.

In our 2001-02 visit, Roger's was closed. We stayed at Ocenview Apartments a really wonderful place with sween and helpful owners Francis and Caroline Charles. (Note: The prior trip, we stayed at Herche's Place, and we were definitely not happy there. Also, at "Frank & Caroline's suggestion, we took our meals at Chez Wen, which is locally owned and run by a very nice young lady who is an excellent cook.

Because of Ruth being in our 1998-99 visit ill we couldnít go to Champagne, an underwater spot about three miles up the coast from Scottís head, between Soufriere and Point Michel, where volcanic gas bubbles rise from the sea floor amid the coral in about 15-foot depth.

We left the hotel by bus. Again, the driver took us to the second terminus in Roseau. We had about a two-hour wait for the departure to Calibishie, but that was desirable, since we wanted to shop for souvenirs. Ruth found some locally made batik and pottery that was not only made locally, but was also made of Dominican clay.

It turned out that the bus driver from Calibishie lived at the road going into Oceanview Cottage where we were renting for the last two days. He took us to our door. In our visit over New Year 2002, we stayed at Veranda View where Teddy Lawrence could not have been more pleasant and casual, yet helpful.

Calibishie is on the Atlantic coast. From our porch we could take in a vista that swept from small islands and reefs pounded by surf, over a bathing beach thatís refreshed by the Hodges River, and on to Morne Diabolatin. God! Was it ever beautiful!

The town of Calibishie lies below, on flat land at sea level but protected by a reef. We walked down for our meals. The town has two restaurants, both excellent. One is more American-style and features a lovely raised patio with lights for night dining. The other is French, and the menu is just great, running the gamut from callalou soup to crepes. Both are moderately priced, the French one a bit higher.

We walked around, photographed more flowers and swam at Hodges Beach (with a final cleansing dip in the river) and at the townís beach (just before departing).

One of my joys came when I was asked to teach "Rolling Home to Dominica" to a storeowner who wanted his church choir to learn it, and then playing some requests for a few folks whom had gathered. I also played "He'll Have To Go" for some men who had gathered and requested it. Their joyous reaction was fun!

The cottage had a small breakfast preparation area with electric coffeepot, sink and refrigerator. Its shower has an electric in-line water heater. It was all we needed. It also had a collection of four puppies which had lost their mother (donít worry, they were cared for) that gathered nearby to whine all night!

Nathalie visited us on Sunday, the day before we left, and sent us off with gifts of Dominican coffee, guava jelly, bay rum and hot sauce. Nathalie also sent a friend around with her car the next day to take us to the airport, because she was worried about us taking a bus and being late for our flight. What a good friend!

She neednít have worried. Our flight was an hour and a half late. Fortunately, our connection in San Juan was also late, and we arrived home just two hours behind schedule. With our luggage, for a change!

If you go to Dominica: Check it out on the Web. Be prepared for a vigorous, rustic experience. (American style and standards are approached only in Roseau, and only at high prices.) Get out and enjoy native foods and customs. Take the bus (if you rent a car, see if you can rent from Alick). Bring clothes and shoes for hiking and swimming. Make friends. See all the wonders you can that God had created in this paradise, and be thankful.

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