Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dominica farewell

There are so many waterfalls and trails to see and hike here, but we knew we wanted to see Middleham Falls, which at 300 ft is the highest waterfall on the island. It's in the southern part of the island so we caught a bus to the capital, Roseau, a second bus from there toward the town of Laudat and asked the driver let us off at the trail head for the falls. Buses in Dominica are only a few dollars no matter where you go so travel is pretty affordable. Middleham Falls is about halfway along Segment 4 of the Waitukubuli trail but it's easily accessed from the road too.

Not too mysterious where the trail begins
The "you are here" sign is a little daunting
Like some of the other trails we took it was mostly vertical, with steps, roots, rocks and streams to climb up, over and through.

This is just one of the many smaller falls surrounding the steep walls at Middleham
In guidebooks and tourist info you see about Middleham Falls, it shows an beautiful high waterfall cascading gently into a lovely pool of water where you can swim and relax. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned (several times) in the previous blogs that it's been raining here a lot. Raining a lot. Here's a video of I took of Middleham Falls the day we were there.

We couldn't get anywhere near the falls. It was crashing into the pool, spraying the surrounding rocks and walls. It was incredible. Loud, powerful and really impressive. We climbed along the rocks away from the falls and through some streams... and then it started raining again. Tired of hiking in the rain, we made our way back out and caught a bus back to Portsmouth.

Martin (Providence) had given us directions to a few places not far from Portsmouth and one that turned out to be a favorite is also the closest... natural hot and cold pools that are only about a 20 minute walk from town, except for the first time we went. We took a wrong turn and hiked for over 4 hours before we found it. He said "turn left before the curve".... how were we to know he meant the second curve, not the first curve?! "It's magical!" Martin promised, "just magical!" He was right.

I took this photo of Skip in one of the cold pools, while I was standing in the hot pool. 
About 105 degrees.... perfect!
We were pretty happy here!
On the way to and from the hot pool
At the Saturday market the fishermen sell their catch if they don't take it around the island for sale. We lucked out this past weekend when they came back with lots of mahi. We had fish envy... but we also had some of this mahi for dinner for a few nights.

Before we left Dominica, we walked back to Fort Shirley to say goodbye to Earl, an older gentleman we'd befriended when we first arrived. Earl was born in Dominica but spent much of his life in England before moving back to the island and he now runs a little store by the fort. He tells great stories of visiting his family in England now and how he can't bear the cold. "I can't wait each time to return to Dominica where the weather suits my clothes!" he told us. 

When we visited Earl this time he was chatting with a man named John who works as a security guard at the fort. The season for visitors is pretty much over so they both had time to talk. John, like many other Dominicans who work regular jobs, is really a farmer at heart and spends all his extra time farming. He invited us up to see his farm the next day and we took him up on his offer. 

The directions to his farm were a little vague and we were hoping it wouldn't be a repeat of our search for the hot pool. "When you pass the pig pens, just call out my name and I'll hear you." Okay...

Well I'll be damned.... there were pig pens. With pigs!
John told us that at one time his mother lived on this land and there was one mango tree and a few coconut palms. Over the fifteen years since he bought the surrounding four acres he'd planted everything else. He walked us up the hill picking different fruits from trees for us to taste and whacking open coconuts for us to drink. 

John loaded us up with limes and mangos
The secret to getting coconuts from the tree is jabbing at them with the long bamboo pole you've stashed in the grass nearby.
When we told him we'd recently bought a machete, but hadn't brought it with us, John's eyes widened. "You didn't bring it with you?" he asked incredulously. "But, what if you meet with a fruit you want to eat?" Good point. From now on the machete comes with us.

He also showed us the source of a river. Though we've seen umpteen rivers here, we hadn't actually seen the source of any rivers. It's not much to look at, but the idea of it is pretty amazing. This water just springs from the ground. It's not rainwater so the amount that runs doesn't vary with the rainfall, it just comes out of the ground endlessly. 

John, never without his trusty machete.... stands by the river source
There it is.... the beginning of a river
Farmers here plant by the phases of the moon and the day we visited John on his farm was the day before the new moon and he had much to do. We didn't want to keep him from his planting so we said goodbye with a promise to visit again when we come back in the winter on our way south. 

We haven't had our fill of Dominica hiking trails but you may have by now, so I'll leave you with two last trail photos taken on Segment 11, which apparently has several segments of it's own (see previous blog) and on which we got sort of lost, and one last anole photo because I just can't get enough of these funny little lizards.

Steep steps
Overlooking Portsmouth and the Cabrits. Far in the distance (on the R) you can make out The Saints under the clouds

As we sail north from Dominica we're passing a lot of boats sailing south for hurricane season and we're missing all sailors we've met along the way who are headed south too. We'll see some of them again, but others are headed for the Pacific and if we see them again it won't be any time soon. 

So it's farewell to Dominica for now.... we're back in Guadeloupe and will spend a few days here waiting for the wind to become a little more southerly before we continue north.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Still in Dominica

We've been in Dominica now for almost a month and still feel like we've barely scratched the surface of this complex island. We hike or bus somewhere practically every day, taking a day off here and there to rest our tired legs. I'll pick up where I left off in the last post - with the tour we did around the island with some people we met in the anchorage.

Martin (aka Providence) picked us all up from our boats and we piled into his van and headed south toward Spanny Falls for a short walk and a swim in two of the waterfalls here. Martin stopped along the way to point out different things growing by the road and on the trails we tasted everything we came across.

Spanny Falls

Martin waits patiently for everyone to come back up the trail
Details and overviews from the drive
Martin cuts up a coconut for the group
The guides encourage groups to get together to do tours, and it makes sense to spread the cost of a tour among more people, but it's not Skip's or my favorite way to travel. We like to poke around on our own and chat with people we come  across to find out where we might explore. That said... some places are easier to visit with a guide and there's a lot to be said for local knowledge in Dominica. Good maps and public information can be hard to come by here, but the locals we've met have been happy to share information and give us directions to their favorite places.

Some fishermen take their catch up into the mountains to sell. That's a BIG mahi mahi.
This woman bought a big chunk of the mahi
Clockwise from top L: fishermen seining near the boat, passion fruit on the vine, Portsmouth street, cashew
Kids at home pick dandelions and buttercups... kids here pick porcelain roses and ginger lilies
Dominica's Waitukubuli Trail is a national trail system that's broken into fourteen segments and runs the length of the island through the rainforest, around fresh water lakes, along the coastline and through the towns. It's marked in places with blue and yellow blazes as well as segment numbers and some vague other markings. Parts of the trail aren't so well marked and we also found out that some of the segments have secondary segments that aren't really marked.... so at times we were a little hazy about where we actually were when we were hiking. Not a big deal usually - but here it could mean we end up in the middle of the rainforest at dusk when we intended to be coming off the far end of the trail by late afternoon. (Note to self: start hikes earlier, take along more water and tell someone where we're going.)

Waitukubuli Trail blazes
Bloodwood trees are everywhere
This tree does not want to be touched. Martin told me the name of it and I promptly forgot it....
Clockwise from top L: no ID on the spiky blossom, Dominica ground lizard, wild lemongrass grows everywhere, field of palms on ridgeline
We did finally make our way back to Chaudiere Pool, this time with new friends Dean, Kris and their son Derek from s/v "What If". We bused back up to Bense and came across the same people in the little village that we chatted with the last time we were there. "You're back?!" they said. Yep, we're back. We talked for a while and Jackson, a young man who turned out to be a local guide walked along with us. "The river is high, but I can take you there." he said. He was a quiet guy and we liked him... his charge of $5 US per person was more than reasonable and he was good company. 

Clouds hang in the mountains on the way to Chaudiere
Jackson picks a cocoa pod for us along the way
Kris and her son Derek check things out before jumping.... then Derek jumps.
Everyone jumped... Skip went first. Then Derek and Kris, who promised herself if Derek jumped she would too. It took me a while to work up the nerve to jump. I can go up the mast with no trouble, but for some reason I had a hard time talking myself into jumping into the churning murky water. Maybe it's not a fear of heights so much as a fear of flinging myself from heights? Regardless, I jumped.

Jackson, me and Skip, post jump.
Jackson helps Kris across the river
We've gotten to know Albert a bit, since he helped secure Saralane after her runaway incident during our first week here and he stops by once in a while for a chat. He had a scare a few years back when he was fishing by himself ten miles out (in the open boat in the photo) and his outboard conked out on him. With no other fishermen around and no means of communication he ended up having to row the entire way back. He said he cried like a baby when he finally got back to land. It put the fear of something worse in him and he saved up for a new outboard that he treats really, really well.

Albert and Skip talk outboards
We're not the only boat that wandered here.... and when a South African boat dragged her anchor everyone jumped in their dinghies to help bring her back. 

There's always a celebration when things end well and that night there was a barbeque on the beach with plenty of food and music.

Sailors from vessels; Cape, Out of Africa and Persephone
The musical family from s/v Cape
There's so much more to say about our time in Dominica and I have one more post in me that I'll do as soon as I can get a ^%*&^* movie to load from one of our hikes. 

There's immeasurable natural beauty here yet it's with the people that we feel we've most connected. We've had more strangers on the street call out to us "Welcome to Dominica!" and stop us to ask "How do you like our country?" When we tell them how much we love it and how welcome we feel they smile, pleased, but some say quietly that they know not all Dominicans are friendly... a nod to the problem they have with crack in the communities. 

To be honest, the crack addicts the hustlers and the beggars can wear you down. Each time you walk down the street you know to expect a hassle from someone. Someone following you looking for something "give me 5 EC" or "give me your sunglasses" or pushing us to hire them even though we've said "No thanks, really, we're just out for a walk today." "You can't walk there, only I can take you there in my taxi." 

All things being relative, we are the rich tourists and white visitors are definitely targets for anyone looking for a handout or to earn a quick buck "Buy my mangoes" (though mangoes are plentiful and rotting in the streets). Though it's annoying, it's mostly benign. There's the occasional more aggressive drug addict who accosts us out of the blue, follows us up the street until for whatever imagined reason, he's done hassling us and walks away. It leaves us wondering what's up ahead, should we not walk this direction? Walk back? 

Still, I should say, we feel safe here. On the water and on the land. We don't lock our dinghy at the docks or lift it out of the water at night. The boat boys are a well run group of guys that are always around and always keeping an eye on things. It comes down to the fact that every community has it's issues and troubled citizens and Portsmouth is no exception. 

But for now, I think we're ready for a change of pace.... a French island for a few days and then back up to Antigua to make arrangements for our haul out at the end of the summer. 

Stay tuned for one last Dominica blog.... video or not.