Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Falling in Love with (Wet) Dominica - Part II

Sunday, May 26 - Thursday, May 30, 2013

Yes, Dominica is still our favorite island in the Caribbean. Granted, it's been testing our patience this week thanks to four days of nonstop heavy rain...the kind you think twice about before even leaving the boat. Open the hatches...close the hatches...turn on the fan...open the hatches again...for about two minutes before the rain resumes and you have to close them again! Sunday was the worst of this, when we and our friends each managed to collect anywhere from 20-40 gallons of water in a few hours.
Fortunately we got a short break in the weather just in time to get ashore for the big cruisers' beach party, sponsored by the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security (PAYS). For 50 EC (about $20 US), we enjoyed grilled chicken and fish, coconut rice, salad, and unlimited rum punch made with fresh fruit juices.
We had a chance to hang out with old friends and meet some new ones, sing and dance to old disco music (come on, who can resist "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease"?), watch Shane from Moonshine do his fire dance, and enjoy the hospitality of the PAYS team. The rain began coming down in buckets soon after the rum punch arrived, but at that point, who cared?!

Surprisingly, Monday was NOT a hangover day. After the stories we'd heard from friends who'd attended previous Sunday BBQs, we figured the PAYS guys must've gotten a bit more conservative with the fresh juice-to-rum ratio...not that that was a bad thing.  :-) We woke to another washout - who am I kidding? It never stopped raining all night - and joined Anne Bonny for a wet walk to Portsmouth's university district. We enjoyed burgers at the Uptown Diner, a hang-out catering to students from the American medical school across the street.
Afterwards, we hiked up the hill to scope out future dining options: the Tomato Cafe, an eclectic restaurant featuring a huge menu plus imported deli meats and cheeses; Bob's Chinese Restaurant (we were all dying for a Chinese fix); and our true destination, De Champ, a hilltop restaurant with amazing views and nightly specials (Sunday Jazz brunch, Quesadilla Monday, Wings Wednesday, etc.) that's #1 on Trip Advisor.
We knew De Champ would be closed, but took a walk up the hill to learn more about the place. The owner, Lies (who turned out to be Dutch), met us outside and invited us in for a tour. We got to chat with Lies for a bit and enjoy her hospitality, and we were blown away by the views below us. We arranged to have the De Champ shuttle pick us up the next evening for "Taco Tuesday", and headed back to the boat to see who would be joining us.

With nine active volcanoes on Dominica, there were also plenty of opportunities to find heated pools on the island (for more info, click here). Tuesday we began the day with a tour to our first hot pool, courtesy of Andrew on Sea Bird. He'd warned us that the pool was small and good for about six people, but somehow we got more and more friends interested and ended up with nine. Andrew's as laid back as you can get, and took our larger group in stride. (And at 25 EC a head, the more, the merrier, right??)
After picking each of us up from our respective boats, Andrew loaded us into a taxi for the short ride up to the trail head. From there, it was an easy, albeit muddy, hike across two streams and dense rain forest to the pools. Fifteen minutes later, we reached our destination. We'd brought a cooler and snacks, and spent the next hour and a half enjoying first the hot pool, then the cool pool, and even the "massaging" waterfall upstream. What a day! Not that it was over...
Denise had mentioned to Andrew that the Indian River Bush Bar had been closed when we'd taken our river tour, so he agreed to show us a local bush bar not far from the hot pool. We hiked across a farm, chatting with its owner and sampling his papaya, until we reached another farm with a little wooden shack. The farmer sold us a bag-full of mangoes and sweetsop for 10 EC (about $4 US), and the ladies at the bar introduced us to their version of "Dynamite". For those of you who've been in the Dominican Republic, this is a more nutmeg-ey version of Mamajuana. The first one is tasty in an adventurous sort of way, but the second one will kill you!

We made it back to our boats in time for a quick shower and a dinghy ride to the beach. We'd asked Lies at De Champ to have her shuttle pick us up at 5pm, and her driver was right on time. We had a truck-full as we made our way up the hill, and got a table on the balcony overlooking the hillside and harbor below. It probably would've been a gorgeous sunset...if not for the RAIN. (Did I mention this went on for most of the week?) Anyway, we had a great time with Anne Bonny, Pa'la O'la, and ShaSha, and enjoyed experiencing another local hangout.

Wednesday was one of those days where frustration with one thing manages to taint the rest of your day. Rene's new (as in four-month-old) laptop got a few raindrops on the keyboard (Stacy's bad). At first it seemed fine, but over a few hours, the keyboard froze up. We weren't sure whether it was the water droplets or Stacy's key combos from drying the keyboard, but nothing was getting those keys to work. The laptop seemed fine - the hard drive seemed to be intact, the CD/DVD player worked - but we couldn't DO anything with no keyboard. Consequently, most of the morning was spent reading laptop forums and trouble-shooting. Grrrrr! Rene did manage to go ashore to reserve a rental car for Thursday, and we spent the rest of the day cleaning the boat for happy hour on Pipe. ShaSha had left the anchorage that morning, but Susie (S/V Spirited Lady) and her crewman, Richard, joined us along with Denise, Chris, and Christian (Anne Bonny) for a fun evening on our boat.

As for that rental car? It was tour time, baby! We got a good deal on a Honda CRV from Silver Lining in Portsmouth, and Denise and Stacy found a few hikes in the center of the island and nearer Roseau. We were looking for easier hikes - not so much out of laziness, mind you, but more out of a desire to cover as much ground as possible in one day. The only trick to our plan? Not all of the hikes mentioned in our cruising guide, online, or in the Frommer's guide were obvious from the road. Hmmm....the better to get you to hire a guide, we supposed. Our first stop was supposed to be Jaco Flats/Steps, an old camp for escaped slaves from the 1700s.
We drove into the mountains (thank god for 4-wheel drive!) to the general vicinity of the site according to our not-so-detailed road map. After 30 minutes of wandering along a pothole-strewn road (yes, in the rain), we finally reached a road construction team who said that Jaco Steps was behind us. "Go back to the school and ask there." Ohhh-kay. Rene managed to do a five-point turn without sending us over the edge of the cliff (he was such a trooper!), and we headed back the way we'd come. We stopped at a shack across from the school, where Denise jumped out and tried to get directions from the woman inside. "Yes, Jaco is near here, but you have to cross the river to get there. Not recommend it when it's been raining like this." Well, THAT hadn't occurred to us. Many of Dominica's rivers are prone to flash flooding - seriously, Dominica's rainstorms put Florida to shame - and it really wasn't a good idea to wade across them in the middle of a downpour. Next...

Our second (or technically first) stop was the Emerald Pool, one of Dominica's most easily accessible waterfalls and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chris and Denise had been here on their island tour, but we'd run out of time and had missed it. Being great sports and loving it themselves, Chris and Denise made sure we stopped in to see this gorgeous spot. We walked for 10-15 minutes along a well-maintained trail, through dense rain forest, until we reached a clearing. Like Spanny Falls, we were surrounded by lush ferns, moss-covered trees, and Tarzan-like vines. A 40-foot waterfall dropped into the pool below, where we could swim in the chilly waters. Other than a young couple who joined us as we were leaving, we had the whole place to ourselves.

From Emerald Pool, we drove down to Dominica's capital city of Roseau. We knew that both Spirited Lady and Catatude were supposed to be anchored there, and we wanted to see if the anchorage was as rolly as we'd been warned. We couldn't see many boats from the main part of town, and decided we'd try to get closer after coming back down the mountain from Trafalgar Falls. In the meantime, we found a Jamaican patty shop (our guilty pleasure we first discovered in Puerto Rico) for a quick lunch bite before heading out to the falls.

Given its beauty and proximity to Rouseau, Trafalgar Falls is supposed to be one of the most visited attractions (think "cruise ship passengers") in Dominica. Fortunately, it was late enough in the season that the cruise ships were all gone, and we had Trafalgar Falls entirely to ourselves. An easy 10-minute walk brought us to the viewing platform, where we first spotted the 75-foot falls to the right, followed by the 125-foot falls to the left. What a spectacular shot!
We were able to get even closer to the right-hand falls by following a path beyond the viewing platform that led over mossy boulders to twin hot and cold pools. The hot pools were fed by underground springs, while the cold pools were fed by the lower waterfall. The two pools came together to form a single warm pool...perfection! Do you see why we love this island so much?

Our last stop was at Titou Gorge, on the other side of the village of Laudat from Trafalgar Falls. To Seattle girl Stacy, who hears "gorge" and thinks "Columbia River Gorge", the mental picture was of a large canyon with beautiful vistas and Kodak moments. In reality, Titou Gorge (meaning "Little Throat" in the Carib language) was described by a tourism website as a place where we'd "swim from the base of a waterfall through a series of natural rooms and ponds formed by high cliff walls canopied by interlaced trees". Definitely a must-do on our list!
We were able to follow the park signs for most of the way... until we reached what seemed like a dead end. A park guide was nearby, and told us that we were "seconds" away from the parking lot. Expecting a welcome center like we'd seen at Emerald Pool and Trafalgar Falls, we were surprised to find...NOTHING. No structure, no people to look at our park passes, no ladies selling Dominican souvenirs. Nada. Our trusty park guide pointed us towards the path, which we followed until we came to the river. While the river may not have been "raging", the continuous rains had certainly increased its flow. Were we supposed to cross this? Would there be a path at the other side? How deep was the river?
Denise decided to do a little more exploring, and soon found a path that took us to a makeshift bridge - little more than boards and a wobbly handrail fastened to water pipe - that crossed about 30 feet over the river. We got to the other side, and met another tour guide at the entrance to the gorge who was waiting for his guests. It turns out that this was also the trail head to the "Boiling Lake", another Dominican attraction that involved a more vigorous 5-9 hour (round trip) hike. One of his guests told us that the swim through the gorge felt great after the trip to the boiling lake (his speed? 3.5 hours each way). Yes, the water probably would feel great after such a long hike. To us? It was freezing!
The water took our breath away as we got in, but the dim caverns of the gorge taunted us forward. Our Doyle cruising guide had warned that we might want to bring a floatation device to help us along (a Styrofoam "noodle" would've been perfect); we thought it was because of the deep water in the gorge - NOT because of the numbness creeping into our limbs! We soon got into can't-touch-the-bottom depths as we entered Titou Gorge, which was a series of open caves cut by lava flows. We swam against a strong current, thanks to the water that flowed from a source waterfall, through the gorge, and over the wall at the entrance. Rene and Denise made it to the source falls in the last cave for pictures, but Stacy was too numb to get there.
(A hint for future visitors: the water depths inside the gorge are dependent upon rainfall; for us, it was 15-feet deep. A swim noodle and fins would make the trip much easier, and a shortie or microprene wetsuit would be ideal.) On the plus side, the current took you back out into shallow water before you could blink, and there was a small spring with warmer water flowing from a pipe in the outer wall. Even Rene was covered with goosebumps by the time he got out of the water, but it was well worth it. Each place we visited was unique, each one breathtaking in its beauty. There are so many different hikes and attractions on this island...who knows what we'll go see next?  Cheers!

For more pictures of this beautiful island, click here

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