Dominica is about discovery. Much of its 360 rivers, rainforest and mountains are still unexplored. Sightseeing, trekking, hiking, diving is among the best in the Caribbean. But Dominica’s true nature is a gentle peace; quiet in a land of towering mountains and cascading rivers. Stepping back in time, you are miles away from the modern world and its fast pace, time moves slowly in Dominica and that is the way Dominicans like it.
Dominicans are generous and very hospitable. They respect the land that gives them so much, and are quick to point out that you can get by with very little in Dominica; grow your own vegetables, keep your own chickens and fish off the banks. Vegetables and fruits grow everywhere. Two big avocados cost me less that a dollar US.
Not driven by profit, Dominicans are inventive; they experiment and just do things for the joy of it. This tiny population of 70,000 on 290 square miles, makes its own beer, rum and coffee, was famous for the Dominica straw mats and exported grapefruit and bananas to the world. In the valleys sugar-cane is grown, crushed and processed into a high quality Dominica rum.
Dominica’s unique quality of life draws people to it. Gilles, a French entrepreneur escaped to paradise, as he says, and open the Sea Lounge with the “Best French cuisine in the Caribbean” says Gilles. “I got to the point where I had taken care of my responsibilities, got my daughter thought her education, and now it was time for myself. Dominica appealed because I wanted to get away from the rat race and do something worthwhile where it might matter. I like the spirit of the people and the place”. Dinner at Sea lounge was a highlight. The food was excellent and at the end of the meal Gilles served complementary spiced rum. He says he likes to exceed your expectations!
I came to Dominica to meet with tourism officials and see how we could work with the tourism authority and supply technology and marketing services to the Island. The first night we met up with Etta Deschamps by accident – she was sitting beside us at La Maison while we ate blackened fish and shrimp Creole. She and her husband established their film company ZoomFilmCompany.com, in Dominica. “Its alternative and authentic” she said of Dominica. It clearly has inspired their work.
The Travel writer, Paul Crask, also fell in love with it. American executives are discovering it for the right reasons and escaping to their mountain homes, “It will not be overdeveloped” says Colin Piper, Director of the Dominica Tourism Board, “we prefer to keep things simple and preserve the unique experience that is Dominica”.
I hope that Dominica does not become another Antigua, Barbados and St. Lucia where hotels and condos are everywhere. It is not your typical Caribbean beach holiday destination. There are several white sand beaches in the North but the land is private and the developers are not flocking in because there is no international airport and no one wants to tear down a mountain to build one.
The roads are narrow and often steep with many switchbacks. It takes an hour and half to drive from the airport to Roseau the capital – 27 miles. It’s not highway driving, you are driving thought the jungle, sometimes a rainforest or a banana plantation, on the edge of a mountain with a panoramic view of the ocean coastline.
You come to Dominica to escape and rejuvenate in nature. Paddling up Indian River takes you to a new place of peace and quiet and character. It is Dominica – The nature Island, a brief moment to escape, take your foot of the accelerator and enjoy the calm of nature as paddle you up the river. The steady rhythm of paddles dipping in the water, is almost hypnotic, it is very soothing. In this island you will sleep in comfort of a boutique hotel, elegant without being overstated, or climb into your cottage in the treetops at Jungle Bay resort.
Sitting on your ocean front balcony at Calibishie Cove, with the wind blowing in your face is the essence of relaxation. I felt my mind physically let go of a mountain of thought and for the first time in weeks I began to unwind. Hazel the caretaker was the perfect host and cooked great peas and rice with coconut chicken using the provisions we had brought. Calibishe Cove has both self catering apartments and suites without kitchen. We had booked a deluxe suite with adjoining rooms and wrap around balconies. It did not have a kitchen, which was great, Hazel’s cooking was much better. Breakfast was delivered by van, with wide smiles and fresh orange juice courtesy of Helen.
We took the opportunity to walk down the 200 steps to the river estuary and the beach below our suite. Trevor and his son joined us on the beach. Trevor, a boxing champ from the UK, moved to Dominica a few years ago. The steps, the river, sea and natural obstacles of logs and low hanging trees have become the perfect gym. He came to Dominica to get away from the rush, he had wanted to start a boxing association but is now planning to train boxers on the Island. “Had the best training in my life right here”, he said, “you know it is the conditioning of your mind that makes the difference, Dominica unplugs you”. His agent got him a fight back in the UK with good prize money. “I should not have taken it as I was completely out of training” he tells us. But Dominica’s magic had made his mind sharp; the runs on the beach and shadow boxing had toned him up. He scored a knockout in round one.
We were traveling round the island by taxi. It seemed to be best so that we could concentrate on taking pictures and notes, but in retrospect I would hire a car. A 4×4 sidekick rents for $40.25 US a day. A taxi is a lot more and you don not have the freedom to head off in your own direction or stop for a snack on a whim, to just sit and stare and enjoy the scene. Our taxi driver was a 27-year-old Dominican with a family of two girls and a baby boy. He was looking forward to the Titiwi picnic and BBQ on Sunday. We did a round the island trip in two days, starting from Roseau, driving south to Scots Head, then up over the mountain to jungle bay and the Carib Territories, stopping for the night at Calibishie.
We arranged to be picked up at 11 on Sunday and drove on to Fort Shirley at Portsmoth. The fort has been beautifully restored by a project headed by Dr. Lennox Honeychurch. Lennox is a poet and a historian. I read his prose about the ocean some years ago and I still recall its essence. It inspired something I wrote. “March on, Oh! Rolling sea, with your messages of time”.
On the route back to Roseau we stopped off at the Titiwi festival at Layou. The Titiwi are a sort of tiny eel. They are fried, put in bakes, steamed, smoked or stewed in the creole cuisine style – very fishy rather like anchovies, a tasty treat with boiled breadfruit, Bello’s hot sauce and Kabuli beer. What most impressed me was the friendly people and their warm hospitality.
Dominica fish festival and Dominica fish bake and island creole cuisine
What you will notice in Dominica is colour, bright and vibrant but never gaudy. Nature abounds with its colour. Along the roads wild flowers spread a carpet of red, blue, white and yellow on a green tapestry. The towns and villages are alive with bright greens, yellow, reds and all shade of blue, and in the fishing villages the well cared for fishing boats are painted with personality.
Pink fishing boats say as much about the owner as about the boat! This is an island of individuals, about personal choice and the determination to be different. It is for discerning travelers who are not the typical tourist. It is, and I hope will always be, an undiscovered treasure tucked away in time, where old-fashioned values last.