Sailing Cielo: Dominica

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dominica

This past Monday we sailed the 18 miles south from Ilet les Saintes, Guadeloupe, to Portsmouth, on Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica. Before sailing the Caribbean I knew very little about Dominica, and like many Americans, originally confused it with the Dominican Republic. As it turns out, it is a fantastic, wonderful, beautiful country.

Boat Boys

We knew that Dominica would be our first experien
ce with the infamous "Boat Boys". Boat Boys are local men (and generally not boys) who are reputed to hassle visiting yachts in the southern Caribbean islands, coming as far as a mile out to sea to sell you fruits, vegetables, or tour guide services. While we were indeed met more than a mile out by Alexis, we've been anything but hassled. Dominica is a poor country, and visiting yachts are a significant source of income for the people here, so they come around and aren't shy about asking you if you need something. But with few exceptions, they have all been wonderful. Alexis waited patiently and quietly for us to get anchored and settled before offering us his services. More than a few people cautioned us against coming to Dominica because of the boat boys. I now regard with suspicion the folks doing the cautioning.

Indian River

Alexis took us on an early morning tour up the Indian River. Dominica has, wisely I thin
k, recognized that its single biggest asset is the natural beauty of the island. They require that any and all guides be trained and certified, and they have cultivated one of the best eco-tourism industries in the hemisphere. The Indian River is among the more accessible of Dominica's sites, and all we had to do was sit as Alexis rowed us up the river, and then follow as he took us on a hike through a neighboring plantation. There he loaded us up with grapefruit, cocoa beans, bay leaves, lemon tree leaves, carrots, guava, and coconuts. As he rowed us up and then down the river he pointed out all kinds of wildlife and indicated that apparently Dominicans eat pretty much all of it; Iguanas (tastes like chicken), Mountain Chicken (really a frog, tastes like chicken), snakes (tastes like chicken), bat (tastes like chicken), and Pelican (which tastes like turkey).

The Boiling Lake


One of the more inaccessible of Dominica's wonders is the Boiling Lake in the Valley of Desolation in the south-central part of the island. Along with our new friends Joshua and Kelsey, the crew of Cielo rented a car and off we went to check it out. An hour later we arrived at the trailhead, lives foreshortened a few years after my first experience driving on the left side of some incredibly steep roads. The Boiling Lake is a three mile, two and a half hour hike each way through the jungle, and covers about 1500 vertical feet. An hour and a half in you reach the peak, at about 3200 feet, at which point you plunge down into the Valley of Desolation in one long, winding continuous descent, erasing all but a few hundred of the 1500 feet you just climbed. As you begin the descent into the Valley of Desolation the landscape begins to change from lush jungle to rocky and barren. As you get further down it becomes apparent you are hiking on top of a lava flow that is just under the surface. There are plumes of steam coming up from the ground, the air smells more and more of sulfer, and water bubbles up out of the ground and runs down in hot streams. As you near the bottom, you can feel the heat radiating, and the ground hisses under your feet as steam shoots out through small holes in the ground. About an hour beyond the peak and another couple hundred feet up, down, and up again you finally walk out on a ledge and the Boiling Lake sits about 75 feet below you. The Boiling Lake is something called a flooded fumarole - basically a volcanic vent that is filled with water. The temperature is within twenty degrees of boiling at the edges, and the center boils up furiously. The steam is so thick you can only see it clearly when the wind blows strongly and clears it away. The hike and the lake are among the coolest things we've witnessed so far on this trip. If you get the opportunity, it is not to be missed.

Market

The fresh fruits and vegetables are wonderful here, but we hadn't seen much in the way of meat. Tony, the local baker (who sells his excellent bread right on the street), told us that to get fresh meat we needed to go the market on Saturday morning. He said to get there early - 3AM - and that by 8AM everything would be gone. We made it to the market a little after 6AM, and sure enough, almost all the meat was gone. Nothing but joints, bones, and knuckles left. We did get lots of fresh fruits and veggies though.

Perspective

Aside from being the name of Joshua & Kelsey's Island Packet 35, perspective is something that has changed
significantly for us over the last six months. Since we've recently decided to sail Cielo back to the US for the summer, we have to decide where and when we'll turn around and start heading north. We can visit more islands but for less time, or vice versa. It was with some shock that we realized during this process that we consider a week the absolute bare minimum time to spend in even the smallest of islands. This is quite a change from our perspective in our previous lifestyle. When we were working our old jobs we would have been thrilled to have one whole week in a Caribbean island, just once a year, and would have endured a long plane right at the beginning and end of it. We don't know exactly what our future holds, but we know this - we don't ever want to go back to our lives the way they were before.

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