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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.