Sharon had emigrated with her parents from Portsmouth, England in 1957 and we were about to visit Portsmouth, Dominica in the Caribbean. What a contrast!
We departed Grandbourg, Marie Galante just after midday on Saturday 19 May 2018 and set a course for the northern point of Dominica. It was a brisk sail with plenty of wind on the beam. As we rounded the northern point it was very obvious from the vegetation that this island had suffered badly in the hurricanes of 2017. The population pre hurricane was around 80,000 people and since the hurricane almost half the population had left the island.
The French call it ‘Arc en Ciel’ – a rainbow in Portsmouth
As we entered the bay circa 1700 hrs we were greeted by Anthony in his longboat ‘Seabird’ he helped us onto a mooring which is the only sensible option as the water is extremely deep close to the land. Anthony was an accredited guide with the local tourist department and we were happy to give him a gratuity. He asked us what we would like to see and do while we were there and I replied that we would like to visit the ‘Rum Shack’ up Indian River once we had completed formalities. There were perhaps 20 yachts moored in the bay.
Anthony was happy for us to take his picture
That night there was loud music coming from the Purple Turtle and next door was a marquee with a live band playing Blues and Jazz and a little hip hop just for good measure.
He said that he would come by the next morning at 0900 hrs and take me to the house of the Customs/Immigration Officer. We sped off in the long boat and in a few minutes I was sitting in front of the officer filling out the crew list and boat details on the front porch of the house and in triplicate sandwiched with carbon paper. It was very good to clear in on a Sunday morning in such an informal manner. Alone I would never have found the house.
This jetty and the hut behind was in Pirates of the Caribbean – no match for a hurricane.
I asked Anthony about “Ciguatera”, a toxic substance found in fish that have been eating coral and even fish who have been eating the fish that eat the coral. He said no problem as there are no coral reefs around Dominica and only deep water. The depth sounder told me that he was right. He said that Dominica was volcanic and had no coral. He also warned us not to go alone into the highlands of the north as it was populated by Caribes and he said ,”you may not come back”!
With Sharon and Blair on board Seabird we were ready to explore Indian River and the Rum Shack. Indian River is part of a National Park which meant two things;
1. We had to pay an entry fee to go up the river which was USD8 per person.
2. No outboard motors to be used on the river – only oars!
As Anthony rowed us upstream he talked a lot about the flora and the fauna and the effects of the hurricane. He pointed out all the palm trees that had fallen across the river and had to be cut free with chain saws. Previously the river enjoyed a complete tree canopy across it. A lot of the scenes from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, were filmed on Dominica and also up Indian River. He pointed out the remains of a jetty and cabin that had been part of the film set. It was slow going in a heavy boat but eventually we arrived at the Rum Shack. I was expecting a Boa Constricta to appear out of the jungle at any moment. Roy is the host and he was there to greet us. The bar selection is limited to Dynamite Rum, Coconut Rum and a couple of other concoctions with a rum base and all assembled by Roy. Be careful of the Dynamite Rum as it will blow your socks off!!
Sharon drinking some of Roy’s jungle juice – Coconut Rum.
We wandered through the jungle along tracks that had been cut and maintained by Roy. It was well worth the visit and the rum was special.
In the late afternoon we set off for the capital Roseau. Dominica was the last of the Caribbean Islands to be colonised by Europeans due mainly to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs. The Caribs who settled in the 14 th century called the island “Waitikubuli” which means, “tall is her body”. The Spanish were not interested in the island as it was not producing gold. The French were keen and laid claim to the land in 1635 and then wrestled with the British over the land for many years. In 1805 the French set the capital Roseau on fire and burned most of it.
We arrived in darkness. Anthony had said we should call on VHF Radio, channel 16 and talk to “SeaCat” as they all knew each other. After 4 attempts I gave up and then suddenly out of the darkness came a longboat with an outboard motor and two black smiling faces who said follow us. It was “Mr. Bean”who didn’t look at all like Rowan Atkinson but he said that was his nickname. Yes he had heard the calls but had been concreting that day and was about to jump in the shower but instead he jumped in his boat and guided us onto the mooring – 30 metres out from the shore it is 20 metres deep!
With Mr. Bean our agent in Roseau – capital of Dominica
We discussed the activities for the following day, when we wanted to visit the interior and the highlands. Armstrong otherwise known as Stu would be our guide.
Sharon though that the lights and the background looked lovely at night but the next morning looked less enchanting. Stu was there with the van and off we went along the Main Street where a large tuna was being dismantled on the footpath.
Dismantling the large tuna on the footpath
We stopped at a vantage point above the town overlooking the “new” sports stadium which had been built by the Chinese using their own prison labour. They kept the prisoners in locked shipping containers and brought in the materials by sea.
Stu was very knowledgeable on plants and pointed out a number of natural remedies including antiseptics and various herbs. Watercress was abundant.
We saw the high hanging lakes which supplied energy to the turbines via pen stocks.
Blair Larkin with his back to the high hanging lake at over 2,000 ft above sea level.
We swam in the gorge in rather cold water. Sharon who was rather nervous swam up the gorge which was only three metres wide with a 10 metre cut into the rock. The waterfall and the current underneath of it was too strong to enter on the day.
Sharon having swam in the gorge, which was way outside of her comfort zone, looking like a character out of, “Romancing the Stone”.
Further down the track was came upon thermal pools and enjoyed the warmth of volcanic activity. The roads were shocking and Stu described himself as a PPHD -Professional Pot Hole Dodger!! When we returned to the Main Street one House was a smouldering ruin – it had been burned overnight. Stu said the people who lived in the house had drug connections and hence the reason for the fire.
The visit was brief but we learned quite a lot about the island of “Domineeka”.