Monthly Archives: December 2015

Dominica with the Talberts

Sailing into Portsmouth, Dominica

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Passage to Dominica from Les Saintes was nice and short. It was windy, and once again, we were upwind, but we arrived into Portsmouth on the 17th in the afternoon, got anchored, and awaited Bill, Tinka, and Cora Talbert’s arrival. I was really looking forward to Dominica because I had heard the hiking was incredible, and it is not very touristy compared to other Caribbean Islands. The only negative was that we were now sandwiched between two French Islands and would have no chance of finding good baguettes!

Bill and Tinka Talbert

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The Talberts arrived and Dan and Bill went off to clear customs. I haven’t really discussed it much, but Dominica uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar as its currency, but the French Islands we had been to (Guadeloupe and Martinique—after Dominica) use Euros.

After the kids did some school, the Talberts dinghied over to our boat. It was so great to see them! We ended up drinking some wine/beer, having an easy dinner on our boat, and catching up. The next morning, the men went into town via dinghy to rent a van and we drove about an hour south to hike to Middleham Waterfall.

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It was perfect because Bill served as our very own tour guide. He drove us to our destinations on the island, and had to deal with a lot of detours because much of the bridge infrastructure was destroyed from the tropical storm that hit them recently.

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We stopped at a small restaurant in Roseau the Talberts had been to before, which served very large “rotis” to go. We ate them before our hike and they were very good but so filling.   It was a great hike (a good gauge of that is that Tinka’s and my calves hurt A LOT the next day), but we all ended up off of the not-so-well-marked trail and trying to make our way through a jungle. Tinka pioneered off a different way and discovered the main trail. Then we waited for our kids to backtrack and a very nice local man ensured we were headed in the right direction from then on (despite the fact he was there trying to be snuggly with his girlfriend!) Anyway, the falls were beautiful. The Talberts had been here previously and, at that time, they got to swim right next to and under the falls, but it was now rainy season, so the waterfall was much more intense and too dangerous to go sticking our heads into.

Middleham Falls with Bill, Tinka and Cora

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After our hike, Bill drove us back to our boats and we had a delicious pork curry stew on Proud Mary, the Talberts’ boat. It was a fun day.

The next day, we had grand visions of doing the boiling lake hike, which takes at least 6 hours and ends at a lake that is, well, boiling. So, this hike was not going to end in a cool dip in the water. We wouldn’t have wanted a cool swim anyway. It was cold up in the mountains! I really did wish I had a sweatshirt, and Cora was the only one who brought one. (Smart girl.) We had gotten up early to dinghy in to town and to drive more than an hour to get to the trailhead. With all of the planes, trains and automobiles, it wasn’t early in the day anymore. And the guidebook cautioned that you should not veer too far off the boiling lake hiking trail because some areas have a thin crust that may cause you to fall into molten lava. Geesh…given our track record the day before that found us completely off-trail in a thick jungle, maybe this wasn’t the best hike for us? That combined with the general consensus that a six-hour hike was a bit much after hiking the day before, and we were not too eager to go. It wasn’t too hard to be dissuaded when we asked a local man sitting in his car where the trailhead was, and he opined we were getting a late start for this hike.

Needless to say, we opted to find a more reasonable day hike, which Tinka found in her guidebook. It turned out to be a beautiful hike that seemed a bit magical and surreal at the beginning. Throughout, we had to make our way over slippery rocks and logs while inclining and declining. We warmed up throughout the hike, but the end was, in my opinion, not as beautiful as the hike itself. There was a lake (this one was not boiling!) that was foggy and chilly. We sat and had some snacks and two young men from the Jamaican Army in only shower shoes emerged from the trail. They were working in Dominica to rebuild the new bridges that we had been traveling over the last few days!

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Bill drove us around the north side of the island the next day. He was like a feral island man who had been living off the land for a while; he knew all of the fruits and vegetables, and hacked open a coconut that had turned foamy and spongy inside. We tried it (except for Ryan). I didn’t love it but it was certainly interesting! Another fun moment was when Bill suddenly pulled over the car and stopped off the side of the road. He had seen an avocado tree so we got out of the car and threw coconuts and rocks at the avocados to get them to fall. Yum. We were hungry and there were no restaurants in the area but we found a few women in a glorified hut cooking chicken on the grill and selling it to the neighborhood folks. They also had baked macaroni and cheese, beans and rice, and cold beer, so you really couldn’t ask for more than that.

Chicken on the side of the Road…

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Photos of the northern part of Dominica

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After our day exploring, we headed back to our boats in Portsmouth. Another cruising family with a kid came by and their son swam with our kids for a few hours off the back of the boat while I cooked some chicken piccata for dinner.

We had another day to spend together and we opted for mellow, which was great. We dinghied in to the local beach in Portsmouth and had a pretty boring rum punch at their newest bar so we went next door to “Chez Felix.” That place was fun as was Felix! His drinks were like art, which is not surprising given he is an artist. He told me he lived in Paris for 20 years. His bar/shack is filled with his artwork and his dog had a litter of adorable puppies. They were full of fleas and some were stronger in health than others, but they were so fun to have around. Tinka and Cora wanted to take one with them, but it was too early in their journey home to be able to take a pup. We swam and relaxed for several hours and headed back to our boats.

Chez Felix

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Felix

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It was fun seeing the Talberts. I laughed a few times until I cried, especially when a big truck came around the corner headed straight for us (they have very narrow roads) and Tinka’s reaction was to frantically pull her map in front of her face like that would protect her from experiencing a head-on collision! We also laughed so much playing Catch Phrase one night. Good times.

Dominica is a very different island from the others in the Caribbean. It is volcanic and does not have beautiful beaches, and it is not inviting with perfectly landscaped resorts or flashy storefronts. At the same time, there is something incredibly real and rustic about it. Driving the northern part of the island, the scenery over the water is beautiful, with the modest, colorful houses and the various fruit trees that dot the hilly roadside. Heading south, it is dramatically different with the bustling city of Rouseau that transforms into a lush, verdant, hiking wonderland once you escape its borders. I felt as if I were in Jurassic Park and I half-expected dinosaurs to emerge from these tropical hiking grounds. So, is Dominica the best island in the Caribbean? That all depends on what you like to do. If you’re a beach person, I would say definitely not. If you love hiking, and want a more authentic, non-touristy destination, this may well be your place.

The Crazy Americans on Mainland Guadeloupe and Ile des Saintes, Guadeloupe

The Crazy Americans

We needed groceries. I really wanted a decent-sized grocery store to buy a bunch of things we had run out of since leaving North Carolina. When we arrived on the mainland Guadeloupe, we saw on a map that there was a large grocery store in Basse-Terre. We walked to the center of town to the Digicel store to get a SIM card for our MiFi and asked the young man working there how to get to the supermarket (Super Marque Casino). (He actually knew a bit of English; most people here do not speak ANY English).   Altogether, the grocery store was about a three-mile walk. We figured we would walk there and ask them to call us a cab to take us back to our dinghy in the marina. We had seen a bunch of cars with these signs on the top that said: “Auto Ecole.” They were everywhere—around the marina, the center of town, and there was even an office for “Auto Ecole” in the center of town. A few times earlier in the day, we had tried to flag one down but they always had a passenger already.

Well, we had a great shopping experience. I was in my heaven. The store was huge and had so many things, and at really great prices compared to what we had seen previously. They had French wines, champagnes, cheeses, smoked salmon, baguettes, fresh fruits and vegetables, Special K with berries, and you name it, they (almost certainly) had it. They had Boursin cheese for $2.99 Euro, and with the pretty fantastic exchange rate right now (1 Euro equals $1.09 U.S. Dollars) we managed to stock up on quite a bit of food for a little over $200. When it came time to pay and leave, Dan approached the security guards to ask them to call a cab but only one guard (who was from Dominica) spoke English. At first, she conferred with her colleagues and said there were no taxi companies in Basse-Terre—but then someone knew of one. I thought that was very strange given all the cabs we had seen over the last few days, but whatever. Our car service arrived and it was obviously a different company because it had no sign, but the car was brand new and really nice. Ryan pointed out that he hadn’t been in a car since we left the States over a month ago and with the great air conditioning, we were happy. It was an expensive cab ride, but there is absolutely no way we would have been able to make it all the way back to the marina with our four computers in backpacks (we had from earlier) and all of our groceries.

Now, at this point in the story, if you know some French, you want to scream and tell us that we’re idiots. Auto Ecole is NOT a taxi service. Ecole means school, which days later, I found out by putting two and two together reading a sign and seeing a school. Apparently, we were the crazy Americans walking around Basse-Terre trying to hail rides from students learning to drive! At least that explains why they always had a passenger…

This is the sign that made me realize ecole was school…

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Ile Des Saintes, Guadeloupe

Fast forward a few days and we are now in Ile des Saintes, which are islands south of mainland Guadeloupe that are still part of Guadeloupe. It was only about 2 hours to get here (upwind again so we motored with just the jib), which was FANTASTIC in my book.  This place is absolutely breathtaking. I hope the photos capture how quaint and picturesque it really is.

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The church on the left and the doctor’s office on the right!

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Ariana’s photo:

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On the second day here, we rented two Mopeds for 24 hours and cruised around all of Terre-de-Haut with the kids—driving on pretty much every road they have here on this island. I had actually never driven a Moped before so that was a first, with Ryan as my (initially nervous) co-pilot. I don’t blame him. He asked me if I had ever driven one and I said: “nope, never.” It didn’t help that some of the roads on the island are very steep and the roads have “reverse curbs.” That is my own terminology. Instead of having elevated curbs on the side of the road, the roads had about a foot drop into a gutter (for rain water, I presume—or possibly to try to take down the tourists who can’t drive Mopeds). Initially, I had a difficult time with tight turns, but since I didn’t kill us or injure anyone else on the roads (okay, I did have ONE close call with a woman), I guess that makes my first Moped experience a success!  Oh, and one other important tidbit of information is that Mopeds are only allowed on the main road at certain times of the day, but there was really no other way around to the other side.  So, we got yelled at (or “educated” about the rules) a few times by some of the shop owners.  Beware!

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Something was on our camera lens in this one but at least we’re all in it!

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We packed a pasta salad and baguette lunch and ate in on a shaded picnic table at the beach.

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The next morning we took the Moped back up the large hill to Fort Napoleon. It has beautiful views and a museum inside that turned out to be quite nice.

Fort Napoleon:

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If you look closely, you will see that this man is the “gabier” for “Le Patriarche.”  Coincidentally, a gabier is a sailor who works on the rigging on a boat.  So very fitting for Dan…

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Part of the museum inside the fort:

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Dan and I also managed to have a date night. We are on a mooring here in The Saintes (rather than at anchor) so we don’t have to worry that our boat will drift away with our kids onboard! We went out for dinner on Saturday night and I had a poisson augratin followed by a whole spiny lobster with mixed mashed varieties of potatoes and root vegetables, and a chilled crème brulee. I also had a mixed drink that is made here that is essentially a coconut punch. We then went down the street to an indoor/outdoor bar that was packed, had a beer, and danced a little bit before heading back to our dinghy. It was a nice night!

Today, we Christmas-shopped while the kids did their school (it is challenging to shop here; this is definitely NOT the U.S.) and in the afternoon, we kayaked for a while before having some dinner. It was a fairly uneventful day. Tomorrow, I think we are going to dinghy over to the other habited island in the Saintes and see what it is like. Plus, I need to once again hit a grocery store and make sure I have enough French wine to get us through our time in Dominica! 😉

On Thursday morning, we leave for Portsmouth, Dominica where we will meet up with Bill, Tinka and Cora Talbert (on Proud Mary) from our home town in New Bern. That will be a lot of fun!

More photos from Ile Des Saintes, Guadeloupe:

Christmas in the Islands:

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We got the last small fake Christmas tree at the hardware store and spent part of the afternoon making decorations for our new Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  The lights are 240 volts (with a European plug) so we had to convert them to work for our boat.

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The cemetery:

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Typical Ile des Saintes houses:

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A field of goats and two “wild” bunnies and a chicken in the junkyard.  It’s like Easter!

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Carved wooden house detail and street/house scene:

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A woman working on her house and a political rally on the island.  Election time!  

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The recycling here is fantastic.  They have recycling bins throughout the island and they actually do something with it…

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The Last of the British Virgin Islands and the Short and Terrible Passage to Guadeloupe

British Virgin Islands

Ari finished her scuba diving certification successfully, so we finally got our go ahead to leave Sea Cow Bay in Nanny Cay.

Ariana doing scuba diving book work:

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Ariana sailing with the Nanny Cay yacht club kids:

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We headed for Norman Island (also part of the BVIs). The anchorage was nice and the water was VERY inviting. When we first got to Norman Island, we dinghied over to the Willy T’s. Luckily, we went early in the day when it was not so “rowdy.” I didn’t realize it was probably not the most appropriate place to take kids. The Willy T is an old boat that has a bar and restaurant. On a TV screen, they continuously play photos of all of the women who end up going topless and jumping off the second floor of the boat into the water. Even though it was only about 3 in the afternoon when we went for lunch, we ended up seeing a bit of that ourselves; two older women jumped topless and were only holding a towel up to them when they walked back through the restaurant to the second floor. Interesting place.

The Willy T

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Unfortunately, Dan got terribly sick while we were at Sea Cow Bay in Nanny Cay. We are pretty certain it was chikungunya, a mosquito-caused disease that came to the Caribbean Islands from Africa. (Why do they always seem to have the worst stuff over there?) They had A LOT of Chikungunya last year in the BVIs, but apparently, no real serious outbreak this year—but I guess that sole infected mosquito managed to find Dan. Anyway, it started with a high fever (103.2) and a rash, and then came the fairly severe joint and muscle pain, nausea, and a headache with shooting eye pain. Even after 11 days, Dan still has nausea, which is not a common malady for Dan. He REALLY doesn’t like it. We held off leaving for Guadeloupe for several more days so he could recuperate.

Back to Norman Island. The next day Dan was still not feeling well, so after the kids finished school, we kayaked over to the beach and then swam around the boat playing. The next day we decided to take Do Over around the corner to the caves where we snorkeled and swam into each of the three caves. That was pretty neat—not as good as The Baths, but still cool nonetheless! Dan lasted two caves and needed to go back to the boat. It is amazing what a mosquito can do to a person.

Dan at the bow off of Tortola, BVI and Ariana kayaking Ryan and me to shore…

 

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The next day, we took the boat over to Cooper Island where we ended up staying for three nights so Dan could try to get over his Chikungunya. The kids and I snorkeled and saw a ton of fish, including a Lionfish (a venomous fish that is not native to these waters but is unfortunately becoming quite commonplace).

Norman Island and the Caves (needlefish in the second photo):

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Cooper Island Beach Club and a full rainbow:

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On our second day there, another cruising family (Andy, Heidi and kids Drew and Evelyn from Tangent—and Heidi’s mom Joyce who was visiting them for the week) dinghied over to our boat to introduce themselves. Earlier, they saw Ryan helping us anchor, and families cruising with kids are still fairly rare. We ended up meeting them later at the beach and hanging out with them there, and joining them for happy hour 2X1 Painkillers at the restaurant later that evening. It was fun!  Poor Dan stuck to diet Coke. I sure do wish he felt better!

Ari and Ryan with Drew and Evelyn from Tangent drinking virgin cocktails:

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We were really hoping we could meet up again with Bob and Lori Brothers (on Barbara Jean) and Wendy and Lou Griffith (on Annabella) but they were all the way over in Jost Van Dyke and we were WAY behind our schedule. We had them over for a potluck dinner when we were over in Sea Cow Bay and we had a great time!

Bob and Lori Brothers:

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After yet one more night at Cooper Island, we decided to make the voyage to Guadeloupe…

The Short and Terrible Passage

Where to begin. This was the worst passage yet—even though it was the shortest (46 hours and 30 minutes—can you tell I’m scarred for life?).

I’m not sure what made it the worst, although it could be any number of the following things:

  • We ALL were seasick (well, Dan’s nausea was probably not seasickness but he felt sick the entire time too).
  • The seas were very rough.
  • We pounded into the wind the ENTIRE time.
  • The winds continued to strengthen throughout the second night and we only had one reef in the main (I would have preferred a double reef at this point)
  • It was squally.
  • We had no AIS because we shipped our brand new unit back to San Diego for replacement or repair (we were only able to receive information about other boats but we were not transmitting our information to the other ships)
  • Our radar that was only working for three-minute transmissions decided to quit altogether.

So, we were down to our pair of binoculars for locating ships and that good ‘ole technique of determining “constant bearing/decreasing range” with points on our boat while trying not to vomit. Good times.

How could you not love sitting at the helm of a boat at night and cringing every time you see a grey blur on your bow that you know is just a big deluge of water that is going to hit you in the face about 2 seconds later? What, that doesn’t sound appealing?

I’m pretty sure the rock-bottom moment for me was when I was trying to make us burritos (which I didn’t end up eating) and ended up sitting on the floor of our salon with my head against the cabinet throwing up into a one-gallon Ziplock bag. That pretty much sums up our passage to Guadeloupe.

Guadeloupe

We got into an anchorage at about 7 a.m. on Tuesday, the 9th. You would think we would be jumping for joy but we were so exhausted, our reaction was numbness. We had to go to sleep for a while, actually. But later, only somewhat reinvigorated, we headed for land.

The marina in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe:

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First, we were above the pretty bridge.  We walked back a different way and the bridge was closed so we had to wade through the water.  Ryan picked a bad day to wear sneakers!

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Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe

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Graffiti on a side road:

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The first day, we walked into the center of town, explored a little bit, had some pizza in a nice air conditioned restaurant, bought some fruits and vegetables at a store that had way more vegetables than anywhere in the BVIs, and headed back to the boat in the late afternoon.    I finally got Haricot Verts!  They were impossible to find in the BVIs but being in a mini-France here in Guadeloupe, I found fresh green beans!!   I can’t wait to buy pain (bread) today.  Yum.  We just ate mozzarella tomato paninis here in an outdoor cafe and I even got to have a small kitten on my lap after lunch.  This is MUCH better than being seasick on a boat.  I do wish, however, that I spoke more French.  Spanish-speaking countries are much easier for me!  Not a lot of people here speak English.  They may know a few words but that is about it.  So, it is fun to try to communicate back and forth!

Where we are anchored now, there is a small, volcanic beach at the shore.  The school kids come to the beach to learn to swim, kayak and sail.  It is interesting that this seems to be part of their curriculum.  There are also a lot of swimmers out by 7 in the morning, bicyclists, and some runners/walkers.

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