Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | April 22, 2012

Dominica: An Island for Nature-Lovers

N 14° 44.46′   W 61° 10.66′

St. Pierre, Martinique

 

Approaching Dominica from the north, its mountain peaks hidden in the clouds

 

We couldn’t miss Dominica (DOE mih NEE kah) as we traveled between the French Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. We had visited Roseau and the rainforest area once during a cruise ship stop and had a favorable impression of the lush and friendly island. Our friend George on S/V Earthling recently wrote that Dominica was his very favorite island on his journey thus far. We love George’s fresh perspective and the Earthling Blog so absolutely had to spend a little time here.

Although Dominica’s French heritage shines through, including towns with French names and a Creole language spoken in addition to English, the more recent British ties prevail. That includes the stricter pet entry rules, which necessitated a short visit. The customs form here neatly gave us the option to declare the dogs without requesting landing permission, which required more red tape and the advance permits and paperwork we didn’t have. It is always nice to feel totally “legal”.

Dominica is not be confused with the Dominican Republic, the much larger Hispanic nation, over 400 miles to the north that borders Haiti. Both have fertile lands, rainforests, and plentiful local produce. With nine volcanoes, 365 streams and rivers, dozens of waterfalls and an abundance of greenery and wildlife, Dominica is truly a nature lover’s paradise. It does not have the huge cities nor the third-world feel of the Dominican Republic.

Occasional cruise ships call and a small airport has limited flights so land tourism is more of the eco-tourism type. We understand all forms of tourism including cruising boat visits have declined here over the past five years. Serious hikers would absolutely go nuts with many challenging trails promising spectacular sights. The caveat is that one must not mind getting wet and a little muddy, as to be expected in a rainforest climate.

 

Portsmouth and one of the many rain showers

 

Portsmouth is the harbor frequented by most cruisers. This was the first area since the Dominican Republic where we encountered any significant presence of “mobile yacht services providers” otherwise known throughout the Eastern Caribbean as “boat boys”. They make their living providing goods and services to visiting boats, and in some areas have a less than positive reputation. In Portsmouth, many of the services providers joined in a professional group called PAYS (Portsmouth Area Yacht Security), to improve the experience a visiting cruiser can expect. PAYS requires each member to be trained and certified and to follow set standards of conduct. The group also provides nighttime security patrols in the anchorage.

We were greeted by a PAYS member as we approached Prince Rupert Bay. Preferring to select our own person we asked for Martin (call sign “Providence”) since he got excellent marks from some of our cruising friends who had previously passed through the harbor. This was well received, and Martin quickly got the word and arrived to greet us and provide a brief orientation to the area. Our experience here was more positive than in Roseau, where we felt somewhat accosted by competing boat boys trying to escort us into the harbor that we simply wanted to check out for ourselves.

Martin (call sign “Providence”) was helpful,professional and an excellent tour guide

 

Being a rainforest island, the mountain tops here were often covered in rain clouds, and we had several days when steady showers overflowed into the harbor. We snuck in an Indian River Tour with Martin on a drier morning, accompanied by another boating family from Holland. The tour was very well done and covered some of the history and culture of the area and gave a close-up view of the river, its flora, fauna and wildlife.

The river tour required rowing – no motors allowed here

 

 

A stop to explore the natural plants included harvesting a coconut. Lots of skill required and in the interest of keeping our fingers intact we will not attempt this ourselves.

 

 

Tree-top iguana

 

Interesting bloodroot trees lined the river

 

Souvenirs harvested during the tour included ginger plant, coconut and bay leaves.

 

Saturday is the big market day in town and I always love the opportunity to get my hands on fresh produce. We were advised to get there early – by at least 7 am – to ensure we would have a good selection. We found an ATM to get some EC dollars, the local currency.

Several streets were blocked off and small vendors sold their harvests including coconuts, sugar cane sticks, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbages, various root vegetables, grapefruit, pineapples, plantains and fresh herbs. This was definitely a market run by locals for locals and there were few tourists to be seen. Since they spoke English I had a better market experience here, although honestly I still had a hard time understanding the dialect. My bag of the very freshest goodies for $33 EC, or about $12 US felt like a prize, with the aroma of fresh basil following us all the way back to the boat.

 

Portsmouth is a simple town. We saw no signs of great wealth, but no poverty either, and no one looked hungry in this fertile land. People are friendly and greet you on the streets. We were warned that Friday nights are thoroughly celebrated and the partying can be long and loud. Bob attested to hearing the finale as he got up at sunrise on Saturday.

A full day land trip with Martin on Sunday was appealing, but we had calm weather for travel on Saturday and Sunday so decided to keep moving while conditions were good. Saturday we headed for Roseau, intending to spend the night there and position for a Sunday crossing to Martinique. With southerly winds and swell, the anchorage there didn’t look appealing so we decided to make a long day of it and kept going.

Soufriere Bay, on the southernmost part of Dominica would have been a perfect anchorage. Regrettably for cruisers, that area is a park and off-limits for anchoring. We found it surprising that there were no moorings set up for easy cruising boat access since the geography offers what could arguably be the island’s best anchorage.

Leaving the rugged southern coast of Dominica in the clouds

We crossed south of the 15 degree latitude mark and arrived in our next destination, St. Pierre, Martinique.

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