Goodbye, Dominica!

Houses on the outskirts of Gallion, overlooking the Caribbean. Typically, even these remote small houses are tended with pride and care.

Houses on the outskirts of Gallion, overlooking the Caribbean. Typically, even these remote small houses are tended with pride and care.

As our time in Dominica has come to an end, we want to share some general reflections and specific tales of our last week plus. Overall, we had a wonderful time. Dominica is beautiful due to the topography and jungle cover. People appear happy and have a high quality of life regardless of the prevailing low income level. Public services are comprehensive (free potable water, free primary and secondary school, sanitation services, universal health is almost in place, and electricity is common). The crime rate is the lowest in the Caribbean. The real jewel of Dominica, as we see it, is that everyone is growing food. There is no agribusiness but there are hundreds and hundreds of small subsistence farms. Many families grow all their own produce. Eating local isn’t a fad, it is how you survive here and have for generations.

We hired KG to take us hiking one day. He had to clear the trail with his machete, he did the whole thing in slippers, and filled his little camelbak with the water of two green coconuts before we hit the trail.

We hired KJ to take us hiking one day. He had to clear the trail with his machete, he did the whole thing in slippers, he wore his knit hat the whole time despite it being 85 degrees, and filled his little camelbak with the water of two green coconuts before we hit the trail.

Dominicans have a complex creole heritage mixing cultures from Europe, particularly France, the indigenous Kalinago and West Africa. The result is a high Roman Catholic church attendance (80%) that coexists with myths and taboos that seem fantastic to the outsider…. The Soukouyan is a female witch. You can protect yourself from one by carrying garlic. A Loogawoo can turn itself into an animal. In human form, you can identify them on the street as they will not pass you on their left. When a Loogawoo dies, it rains all day. To ward off evil spirits and for healing potions you can seek out medicine from the nearest Obeah, a practitioner of folk magic and sorcery. My favorite is the Jumbies. They are evil forest spirits that attack after dark. To ward them off simply curse them or their mother. You can also take your shoes off, place them on the ground backwards and sit on them, wear you shirt backwards and place dirt on your head. I asked a 20-year-old local guide if he had encountered jumbies. He said a year ago, one flew up in front of him as he walked home in the dark. To make his escape he ran home.

The shallow ledge we were able to snorkel out to when the conditions where just right and where we saw an octopus.

The shallow ledge we were able to snorkel out to when the conditions where just right and where we saw an octopus.

One of the daily highlights of our time in Dominica was the snorkeling. As we gained more familiarity with the current and wave patterns (and talked to more locals about their experiences) ,we became bolder and explored farther. On calm mornings, we could swim out to where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet and view a large shallow shelf filled with coral and fish. It was stunning and one morning an octopus quietly revealed itself sunning in the shallows and let us watch for at least 10 minutes. We also snorkeled farther and farther distances, one day traversing over 2 miles along the coast (from Scott’s Head to Champagne Reef). In the middle of that swim, we came across a very large number of fish schooling. En masse, they created a solid wall blocking out all sunlight and filling the sea from the surface to the ocean floor, which was about 30 feet deep. We observed five 24-inch jacks preying upon them. We continued to watch this beautiful mass of silver bodies until they swarmed around and under us; our best estimate was that there were 1-2 million fish making up that school. Words are unable to do justice.

"La maison" at Bois Cotlette Estates. History buffs can read up more and see a picture of this building 100 years ago here: http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=386

“La maison” at Bois Cotlette Estates. History buffs can read up more and see a picture of this building 100 years ago here: http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=386

On an afternoon hike, we stumbled upon an information sign for an old estate, called Bois Cotlette. We followed our noses and ended up meeting an American couple that bought this estate two years ago. The land was first cultivated in the 1740s and was a plantation for sugar, coffee, cacao, and lime at various points in time. They have done a remarkable job of presenting (and preserving) the ruins that make up the various buildings associated with the plantation. It was quite beautiful and allowed us to learn more about the    history of the island.

Boiling Lake with a view of the erupting bubbles in the middle

Boiling Lake with a view of the erupting bubbles in the middle

Dominica proudly claims the second largest boiling lake in the world. However, few Dominicans have seen this lake because the trail is a physically challenging route with steep steps, slippery mud, spitting fumaroles, and numerous stream crossings. Guides advise you will travel at about one mile an hour between the leg workout and the views, which makes the 8 mile hike an all-day event. We got to walk through elfin woodlands, rainforest, sulphur deposits; we heard one of the native parrots; we saw both the Atlantic and Caribbean from the middle of the island; we rested our muscles in a trailside hot mineral stream; and we saw a boiling lake. The lake is about 200 feet across and in the center a rolling boil erupts in large bubbles constantly. At the viewpoint 100 feet above the lake, we were bathed in hot steam. It was awesome!

Kalinago Barana Aute where buildings are made using the traditional methods

Kalinago Barana Aute where buildings are made using the traditional methods

We previously mentioned that Dominica has a population of Carib Indians. They prefer to be called their self-given name “Kalinago.” We visited the Kalinago Territory (a bit like an Indian Reservation in the States, this is the tiny parcel of land the invading Europeans finally agreed to not take from them) and saw a model village that has traditional buildings, cooking implements, boats, etc. We learned that the word “Carib” means cannibal and the early European explorers believed they were cannibals due to their custom of keeping the skulls of ancestors on their front porch. Because it created fear in the oppressors, the Kalinago didn’t bother to correct the assumption and thus the Caribbean got its name. Our tour also included visiting the ruins of the first Roman Catholic church on the island, meeting an old Chief who is an artist, and seeing buildings abandoned due to earthquake damage. On the walk back, we saw land and freshwater crabs and dipped in a river. Tomorrow we fly to St. Lucia.

A delicious lunch we had at Bois Cotlette

A delicious lunch we had at Bois Cotlette

 

A typical house in the bush made of what materials are available

A typical house in the bush made of what materials are available

These lizards are all over the place here

These lizards are all over the place here

A nicer house in Roseau. The parked cars give a sense of how hard it is to get around as a pedestrian.

A nicer house in Roseau. The parked cars give a sense of how hard it is to get around as a pedestrian.

A simple raft built of scraps of wood. It doesn't have much speed but floats and is working for this fisherman.

A simple raft built of scraps of wood. It doesn’t have much speed but floats and is working for this fisherman.

The much rougher Atlantic side of Scotts Head. Ours is the long red roof closest to the edge.

The much rougher Atlantic side of Scotts Head. Ours is the long red roof closest to the edge.

A school in Roseau. Schools are commonly built this way to maximize airflow. Students always wear uniforms.

A school in Roseau. Schools are commonly built this way to maximize airflow. Students always wear uniforms.

The ruins of the first Catholic Church in Dominica. We appreciated this graveyard having an excellent view and cooling breeze. The church was abandoned after an earthquake made it unsafe.

The ruins of the first Catholic Church in Dominica. We appreciated this graveyard having an excellent view and cooling breeze. The church was abandoned after an earthquake made it unsafe.

We saw this same caption in multiple museums and had to remember that we all view history through our own lens. Dominicans see Columbus's greatest achievement is that he made it home alive.

We saw this same caption in multiple museums and had to remember that we all view history through our own lens. Dominicans see Columbus’s greatest achievement is that he made it home alive.

The rough Atlantic coast. Note how the plants are all shaped by the wind.

The rough Atlantic coast. Note how the plants are all shaped by the wind.

The trail to Boiling Lake. About half of the trail was steep steps like these.

The trail to Boiling Lake. About half of the trail was steep steps like these.

Taking a dip in a hot mineral stream on the side of the trail. The water was a blue white.

Taking a dip in a hot mineral stream on the side of the trail. The water was a blue white.

The trail to Boiling Lake. The peak in the distance (that is in the clouds) was the highest point we climbed to that day. We stood on top of that peak and could see both oceans on both sides of the island.

The trail to Boiling Lake. The peak in the distance (that is in the clouds) was the highest point we climbed to that day. We stood on top of that peak and could see both oceans on both sides of the island.

These land crabs are everywhere in Dominica. They are mostly nocturnal so this was a rare daylight sighting. This guy was about six inches across.

These land crabs are everywhere in Dominica. They are mostly nocturnal so this was a rare daylight sighting. This guy was about six inches across.

The bounty of the local farmer's market brought back home

The bounty of the local farmer’s market brought back home

Ruins of a windmill at Bois Cotlette. They harnessed the windmill to squeeze the juice out of sugarcane. Note the cacao tree on the right.

Ruins of a windmill at Bois Cotlette. They harnessed the windmill to squeeze the juice out of sugarcane. Note the cacao tree on the right.

Dominica has very little indications of large-scale industry. Despite having a jungle, there is no logging. Almost everything is done at a small neighborhood scale. Portable mills were common on the side of the trail in places far from roads or any vehicle access, and no sign of a fixed sawmill.

Dominica has very little indications of large-scale industry. Despite having a jungle, there is no logging. Almost everything is done at a small neighborhood scale. Portable mills were common on the side of the trail in places far from roads or any vehicle access, and no sign of a fixed sawmill.

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One thought on “Goodbye, Dominica!

  1. Another lovely post! “On calm mornings, we could swim out to where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet.” = paradise 🙂 I love the appreciation of culture and land that you all are providing. I feel like I’m there – thank you!!

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