Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Taste of Dominica

This unplanned two day visit to only a small section of Dominica will remain one of my most memorable Caribbean experiences. Dominica allowed me a glimpse of what the Caribbean was like before mass tourism.

At 29 by 16 miles (46 by 25km), Dominica is one of the larger Lesser Antilles islands yet the poorest and least developed. Many of the 70,000 islanders live off the land.

My captain and I spent our first day walking the streets and entering the small shops in the town of Portsmouth. Although one of the island’s main towns it feels more like a rural village. The main streets were mostly lined with old small wooden buildings with corrugated tin roofs or newer concrete buildings with a commercial business on the bottom and living quarters above. Along the main road, just off the commercial area, I saw people washing clothes at a communal roadside water-pump. Outhouses are common. It reminded me of trips to the rural south (USA) during my youth, complete with the sweet sounds of Charlie Pride blaring from a one-room home.

The locals are friendly and open to conversation. They seem to know they live in a magical place and treasure its resources. I admire this wisdom as well as their adoration for this land they call home despite the lack of jobs and in general limited access to material things and opportunities. I hope I’ve learned a lesson here.
This lush volcanic island is ideal for nature lovers and people who seek simplicity. Although it has some beaches, I’ve learned Dominica is valued more for its interior filled with mountains, rain forests, rivers and waterfalls. I took an exciting trip up the Indian River (shown above and below) that is considered a mini-Amazon full of mangroves and exotic flora. I felt like the queen of the Nile on this river journey because it was just me and my guide (also a “boat boy” called Raymond or “Ravioli") who steadily rowed while proudly imparting information about our surroundings and fun facts about Dominica. I saw wildlife too; several humming birds hard at work, other birds I’d never seen before, a large male iguana sunning in a tree, schools of mullets in the river and several crabs along the shore. Part of this jungle was the setting for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3.
Portsmouth is authentic so it’s idea for tasting Caribbean food and experiencing island culture. The restaurants and roadside snack huts serve tasty “home-cooking”, including rotis which are a favorite of mine. One evening my captain and I had a delicious dinner at Big Papa's Restaurant where I watch them cut up the local catch of the day and it was serves with an assortment of traditional side dishes. For our last evening my new pal Raymond took us on a typical local’s Friday night out where we went from restaurants to snack bars enjoying Kubuli (Dominican brewed beer), reggae sounds and the people of Portsmouth.

See additional photos of Indian River & Portsmouth in the Commonwealth of Dominica.

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