Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dominica Land Tour

We recently spent a few days in Dominica, a beautiful and rugged island. These days were filled with three fascinating tours of different aspects of the island: a guided road tour, two scuba dives, and a guided river tour.

We arrived in Roseau, Dominica along with Randy and Susan on Windward Passage and their guests Ken and Dodi. Randy, a veteran cruiser here in the Caribbean, arranged for a land tour with a local who goes by the name Sea Cat.

Sea Cat's real name is Octavius, which earned him the nickname octopus, or Sea Cat as they call octopuses in Dominica. Anyway, Sea Cat is a local who has built a business around providing services for cruisers including moorings, water, arranging laundry, arranging parts shipments, and also providing guided tours of the island.

Sea Cat grew up on this island and is well known and well respected by others here. At 9:00AM all seven of us piled into Sea Cat's van and he began our whirlwind tour of the island. It was very much an insider's tour as Sea Cat seems to know everyone on the island. He frequently would stop and chat with someone on the street. While this might seem like it would be annoying for a tour guide to stop to chat during our tour, it actually made it more fun as he was so friendly with us as well.

There were several main attractions Sea Cat wanted us to see: two waterfalls, thermal springs, the rain forest and a Carib Indian settlement. While driving across the island to get us to these he would frequently abruptly stop the van, jump out and bring back fruits, spices and other goodies.

As there were three large cruise ships in port, Sea Cat did his best to time our visits at the big attractions so as to avoid the cruise ship crowds. He did an excellent job as we never did run into any of those crowds. Our tour started in Roseau and we headed northwards up the western coast.

The first stop was at his uncle's house, which was a very small shed of corrugated steel with no doors or windows located in the woods right off a side rode. His uncle provided us with some sugar cane, which Sea Cat chopped up with a machete. Quinn and I very much liked chewing on the sugar cane, especially after Sea Cat returned from the brush with some freshly picked limes and squirted lime juice on the cane. It was better than candy. Sea Cat also retrieved a papaya and an unripe coca bean pod for us to sample. The coco bean pod contained the coco beans embedded in a gooey and tart membrane that was very different, but yummy. Sea Cat called them Jungle M&M's. After the snack we all piled back in to the van with our sticky fingers.

From there we visited the Emerald Pool, which is a 50' waterfall in the rain forest, a Carib village where we purchased several hand woven baskets (superb work at very low prices) and Trafalgar Falls. While in the Carib village we stopped at one of their houses to drop off a small shark Sea Cat had picked up from some fishermen the day before. In exchange, the Carib woman shared some roasted breadfruit, smoked chicken and home made chocolate (from the local coco beans). All of this came from trees (and chickens) around her home. Her house was a one room wooden building on stilts. The kitchen was a 6'x8' shack of corrugated steel with no running water or electricity. The stove was a fire on a stone table. The delicious chicken we ate had been smoked as they have no refrigeration. The kitchen had one window and a doorway, but no glass or door.

At Trafalgar Falls we were hot and ready for a swim but had no swim suits. In spite of this technicality, Randy, Quinn and I stripped to our undershorts and climbed over the boulders and into the pool at the bottom of the 200' falls. With a little struggling, we made it to the base of the falls and enjoyed the cold water crashing down around us . Quinn was quite brave about the whole thing. After retiring from the falls, Sea Cat led us to a thermal spring about 50' from the falls. Randy, Quinn and I were still in our shorts so we decided to relax for a few minutes in the natural hot tub formed by the spring.

Refreshed, we hiked back to the van and Sea Cat sped away to the next stop, which was a thermal vent from a volcano. Sea Cat took a 3' stick, jammed it into a soft spot of the ground and pulled it back out in a couple of seconds. It came back out too hot to handle. It is really amazing to see all the active volcanic activity in these islands.

As I mentioned, Sea Cat would frequently slam on the breaks to chat with someone on the road, yell up to a house by the road, or to jump out and clamber through the brush to come back with neat stuff to taste, smell and or eat. As far as we can remember Sea Cat fetched us samples of the following: sage, peppermint, oregano, thyme, cinnamon bark, bay leaf, tarragon, basil, coco, coffee bean, lemon grass, grapefruit, passion fruit, crab apples, love apples, apricot, tamarind, guava, bananas, sour sop, almonds, cashews, nutmeg, mangoes, papaya, sugar cane, lime, green coconut, ripe coconut, and breadfruit. We didn't stop for lunch but no one was hungry with all the snacking we were doing along the way. We returned to Roseau after dark around 7pm. What a tour!

If chance brings you to Dominica, you should spend a day with Sea Cat. He loves his island and this comes through as he shows you what you would never see on a cruise ship tour.

In the next blogs I'll tell you about the scuba dives and the river tour.