On Wednesday, the 28th, we set sail for Roseau, the capital of Dominica around 8:00 pm. The route suggested in the chart was a bit confusing, since the several way points first take one away from the island, which we thought was necessary for getting the wind advantage, and bring very close to one of the points, then zig zag out again. We could not see the rationale behind it, but decided to set the course accordingly for a change.
After an hour of motor sailing, we realized the wind was constantly on the wrong side, we were going south, and wind was coming from starboard (west) or on the nose, so the sails became a hindrance. So we dropped them halfway on the three-hour trip, which improved our speed. Then we started to see fish traps on our starboard, in the incredibly deep waters much farther away from land. It appears that the route was set to keep the boats in the safe area from fishermen. You know, the biggest danger in these waters is people, mostly the nets that the fishermen drop in all kinds of unlikely places, over thousands feet of water. They are unpredictable, and sometimes unavoidable. I am always on the look-out for them, especially around the islands. At first I expected to see them close to shore, on shallow shelves or banks, but lately we found out that fish nets can be set on deep waters around the islands as well. What to do is not all that simple, and that fact makes me weary of night sailing close to shore.
Anyway, we motored down to Roseau in about three and half hours, and caught a mooring ball halfway across the bay, close to the Anchorage Hotel. When we got the mooring area, an islander in the telltale wooden boat approached us, but we shouted that we were looking for Pancho, who was recommended by Cobra (Andrew O’Brian) of Portsmouth. When he heard the name, he let us be. However, Pancho did not show up immediately, and we started to get worried, since the mooring balls were few and far between. We approached one, but got discouraged from the ball’s general condition. We turned around and started approaching some moorings which seemed to be available close to the Dominica Marine Centre; but Pancho came in a gray dinghy, and saluted us, as well as showed us a different kind of mooring made of blue and white jerry jugs. We were thankful, because fishing out the pennants would be an ordeal. We got tied up in no time with his help; we also gave him our empty cooking gas tank to be filled. He told us to get settled for the day, and he would arrange a sight-seeing tour for the next morning.
On Thursday, the 29th, at 9:00 am we were ready at the Drop Anchor Restaurant/Bar to be picked up by the driver, who turned out to be a nice middle-aged islander called Cornell. Two more couples joined us, a young couple, Dylan and Sally from London, England and two retirees like us; John and Anita. Dylan and Sally had bought their tartan boat in Grenada eight weeks before and started their trip from the other end; John and Anita had been living on their boat called Bright Eyes for the last eight years, and going in the same direction with us. We saw their boat in St Martin and other places, and had met John in Portsmouth.
Cornell showed us two places to swim in fresh water, and both were amazing. The road trips were not too long, we did some hiking and skipped over rocks and boulders, but the water falls we found and swam under were almost magical.
First we went to “The Gorge”, where we hiked through the dense forest, passed alongside a large water pipe made of wood, apparently by a Canadian company, walked through a narrow bridge over the canopy of the forest, and reached a narrow and shallow pool of water that did not look like anything.
Cornell showed us the concrete steps going into the pool, and said start swimming. He just stood there, looking into the wilderness. John and Anita did not have bathing suits on, so they sat around, while we, the young and young at heart, soldiered on. As soon as we got into the cold water (not as cold as the Canadian lakes, but much cooler than the Caribbean sea), we saw that it was a narrow but deep creek in a high cave, which almost got completely dark, save for the opening at the winding end. I was following the others and became out of breath to keep up. When we reached the light at the end of the tunnel, it was the river rapids, cascading into the cave. Swimming towards it was almost impossible; I got to the far side of water and got hold of stone wall to proceed towards it. Trying to stay in close proximity to the rapids was an amazing experience. When we returned, it was a free ride with the current, the strength of which I had not felt on the way.
Cornell also showed us another creek falling down to a lower level which was hot, and said that an American company had started to build a Geo-thermal power plant, the energy of which Dominica was getting ready to sell to Martinique and Guadeloupe. According to Cornell forty percent of Dominica’s energy consumption was from hydro generation, coming from some of the 365 rivers that mostly cascade down the mountains. Nobody talks about solar around here!
Anyway, next stop was at Trafalgar Falls, which is a major tourist attraction and part of a park system with user fees. At the gate we listened to a spiel from the official about the one week pass being US$12.00 dollars, as opposed to the entry fee for every part in the park being US$5.00 dollars etc. We asked Cornell if there were two more attractions in the park, and he mentioned the Freshwater Lake and Soufriere. We asked about the lake, and he said that it was a big lake, nothing special. So we paid our 5.00 dollars and headed towards Trafalgar.
When we reached the gates of the trail through a nice building, Cornell claimed that he was not allowed to proceed with us, and urged us to go alone. We took the trail, which was marked at the beginning. I was ahead of the group, and walked up to a look-out gazebo facing the two waterfalls, when I saw everybody turning to another trail going down, which seemed more logical if we wished to swim in the lake at the bottom. So we walked some minutes, while Al was reminding us that the voices of people having fun in the falls were getting weaker by the minute, and of course we came full circle back to the spot we had started (a good thing!).
When we went back to the gazebo, we saw that there were some steps going down to the real trail, and we reached the group of children jumping into the multiple shallow pools of cold water. While skipping on some boulders to get there, Al stepped into a small creek, and exclaimed that it was hot. The creek had whitish green water and some red patches on the surrounding round rocks, almost smooth but a little slippery from the constant flow of the water, containing some sulphur, over them. We checked the water at the pools full of children and it was cold. No need to go into them, not very appealing anyway with screaming children.
We followed the hot creek, and found the pools that we were looking for. It looked a bit murky and too hot to the touch; but once we got used to the heat, so relaxing! Almost like a hot-tub, completely belonging to us. I think we spent half an hour; then the others wished to check out the cold pools. I stood guard over our back-packs, while I tried to dry my bathing suit. Sitting in the car in wet clothes is not healthy, but there is never enough time or sun in the high altitudes in the forest. After some minutes Al came back, and urged me to go there, to at least look at the view. So I jumped over some boulders in all fours, and got to the side where the waterfall was seen with all its majesty. The view down on the other side was also amazing, we were somewhere in the middle of the canyon, between the mountain and the valley.
Unfortunately we had to go back, John and Anita were waiting, and it was almost 1:00 pm; we had ordered our lunch at the River Rock Café on the way, where we bought our park tickets. So we directly went to the restaurant and had a good meal, a couple of beers. The whole thing was exhausting, but felt so good!
The last stop was the Botanical Gardens, almost in the city of Roseau. It was sparsely built among interesting looking and ancient (huge) trees. The rubber tree was amazing, which looked like wooden pipes tied together for its trunk, at least ten meters long, then branches and leaves, with thin parasite branches coming down at all directions. The bark looks like rough leather; hence the islanders call it leather tree.
Another interesting plant was the different type of bamboo, which was planted around a large opening, and their tick branches were cut in such a way that the created a wall, which looked like straw from a distance, but very hard and sturdy.
Cornell showed us three parrots in a large cage, which are the insignia of Dominica, which we had seen around a forest near Portsmouth. It appears that they are extinct around the southern side of the island.
Tomorrow we will spend time around town, check out the awesome produce market, and get ready for the passage to Martinique. It seems that we finished the Leeward Islands, here we come Windwards!