We have been in Dominica for a little over a week. Dominica is a small island in the Windward Islands of the lesser Antilles and is locally called “the nature island”. Please note this is not the Dominican Republic and the name is pronounced Doh-min-EE-kuh. Part of what makes this a fascinating place is the history. Dominica is geologically one of the newest islands in the Caribbean and has the highest concentration of volcanoes anywhere. In its 290 square miles there are 9 volcanoes; each year the South American plate is subducted 2 centimeters under the Caribbean plate. None of the volcanoes are active but small earthquakes are common and the island is covered with hot springs, cold springs, and steaming fumaroles. (In our shared taxi from the airport we rode with a volcanologist who has been working in the Caribbean for decades and was on Monserrat when the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted.) The topography is quite steep and jagged and is covered with lush tropical jungle.
On the human front, Dominica is home to the only concentration of pre-Columbian people in the eastern Caribbean. The Kalinago people came here in canoes from the Orinoco River in South America. The story goes that they didn’t deny early colonialist’s claims that they were cannibals and fought fiercely to keep their land. Between the Kalinago “cannibals” and the intimidating landscape, Europeans were not too anxious to build massive settlements on the island. However, the French and British repeatedly fought for control through the 18th century. The culture today is influenced by French, British, West African (imported as slaves), and the Kalinago. Many slaves who were brought over escaped and set up camps deep in the interior mountains. Given all the resistance and the very small percentage of whites, British controlled Dominica was granted emancipation in 1834! Dominica became a fully independent country in 1978.
We have rented a little apartment for a month, complete with everything we need to pretend we live here. We are on the very southern tip of the island, which is quite narrow. The Atlantic is literally a stone’s throw and I can hear the waves against the rocky shore as I write this. By walking out to the road, you can see the Caribbean side, and the very tip of the island where the ocean meets the sea. (Being friendly neighbors they “wave” a constant greeting to each other.) Our hosts daily deliver a bottle of freshly squeezed juice and it is often accompanied by several pieces of fruit. Outside our door is a garden with fruit trees and tropical flowers. So far, we have enjoyed grapefruit, mango, papaya, passionfruit, bananas, tamarind, gooseberries, something called an “apricot” that is only like our apricots in that is has pits and orange flesh. Given that we are making the majority of our meals, we’ve had fun exploring the local market and seeing both familiar and unfamiliar produce. The soil here appears to be very fertile. Unlike in Puerto Rico, everything we’ve gotten is grown on the island.
The village we live in (Scott’s Head) is a small fishing village. It is a simple life. Fishermen go out to sea in 20-foot open boats that resemble a canoe more than most fishing boats. Every afternoon, you can see spear-fishers swimming back and forth. Most days, someone has strung a net up between trees or porch posts and is repairing it. They drop Z-traps made out of sticks and strung tight with homemade net onto the ocean’s floor. We have partaken in this by eating fresh fish and gone snorkeling. There seems to be a clear and amicable agreement of boundaries between the fishermen and a national marine reserve. We can walk to a snorkeling site in less than 10 minutes and multiple other sites are a short bus ride away. The southern part of the island is an old volcanic crater, which means that the Caribbean here is very deep close to the shore. We’ve swum out over coral reefs to the edge of the abyss, where all you can see is the deepest blue below you and shimmers of fish schools moving through it. It is beautiful! Some other highlights of our snorkeling have been seeing an electric ray, a spotted sea snake, very large brightly colored corals, and swimming in small schools of fish.
Hiking is another tourist attraction here. Two years ago, they completed a trail that runs from the south to the north of the island, a total of 115-miles. It is called the Waitukubuli National Trail and goes right by our house! Parts of the trail are on existing roads, parts follow Jeep tracks, parts follow trails built over 100 years ago, and parts were newly constructed as trails to link it all together. We hiked up the first four miles. Much of it is quite steep, climbing the steps built into the trail. Even on a hot day, you are shaded in the jungle and fruit trees are common along the trail. The first stretch is particularly rough because the trail was washed out in three places in December during a storm. The washouts are remarkable and look more like they were cut by a bulldozer than by rocks due to the near vertical edges and flat bottom. Local famers use the trail to get to their fields, so we found a make-shift trail at each wash out allowing us to get by. After our rocky climb, we were able to look down steeply onto Scott’s Head below us.