Sailing into Portsmouth, Dominica
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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…
Photos of the northern part of Dominica
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.
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.