A visit to Dominica is a step back in Time. The
island has not changed much in 50 years, there are more hotels, boutique
accommodation and of course Johnny Depp and the cast of Pirates of the
Caribbean have all been there, leaving in their path a few pirates vacation
packages and inspired pirate games and discoveries.
Dominica is about discovery. Much of its 360 rivers, rainforest and
mountains are still unexplored. Sightseeing, trekking, hiking, diving
is among the best in the Caribbean. But Dominica’s true nature is a
gentle peace; quiet in a land of towering mountains and cascading rivers.
Stepping back in time, you are miles away from the modern world and
its fast pace, time moves slowly in Dominica and that is the way Dominicans
Dominicans are generous and very hospitable. They respect the land that
gives them so much, and are quick to point out that you can get by with
very little in Dominica; grow your own vegetables, keep your own chickens
and fish off the banks. Vegetables and fruits grow everywhere. Two big
avocados cost me less that a dollar US.
Not driven by profit, Dominicans are inventive; they experiment and
just do things for the joy of it. This tiny population of 70,000 on 290 square miles, makes its own beer, rum and coffee,
was famous for the Dominica straw mats and exported grapefruit
and bananas to the world. In the valleys sugar-cane is grown, crushed
and processed into a high quality Dominica rum.
Dominica’s unique quality of life draws people to
it. Gilles, a French entrepreneur escaped to paradise, as he says, and
open the Sea Lounge with the “Best French cuisine in the Caribbean”
says Gilles. “I got to the point where I had taken care of my responsibilities,
got my daughter thought her education, and now it was time for myself.
Dominica appealed because I wanted to get away from the rat race and
do something worthwhile where it might matter. I like the spirit of
the people and the place”. Dinner at Sea lounge was a highlight. The
food was first rate and at the end of the meal Gilles served complementary
spiced rum. He says he like to exceed your expectations!
I came to Dominica to meet with tourism officials and see
how we might work with the tourism authority and supply technology
and marketing services to the Island. The first night we met up with Etta
Deschamps by accident – she was sitting beside us at La Maison while
we ate blackened fish and shrimp Creole. She and her husband have setup
their film company ZoomFilmCompany.com, in Dominica. “Its alternative
and authentic” she said of Dominica. It clearly has inspired their work.
The Travel writer, Paul Crask, also fell in love with it. American executives
are discovering it for the right reasons and escaping to their mountain
homes, “It will not be overdeveloped” says Colin Piper, Director of
the Dominica Tourism Board, “we prefer to keep things simple and preserve
the unique experience that is Dominica”.
I cant see Dominica going the way of Antigua, Barbados and St. Lucia
where hotels and condos are everywhere. It’s not your typical Caribbean
beach holiday destination. There are several white sand beaches in the
North but the land is private and the developers are not flocking in
because there is no international airport and no one wants to tear down
a mountain to build one.
The roads are narrow and often steep with many switchbacks. It takes
an hour and half to drive from the airport to Roseau the capital – 27
miles. It's not highway driving, you are driving thought the jungle,
sometimes a rainforest or a banana plantation, on the edge of a mountain
with a panoramic view of the ocean coastline.
You come to Dominica to escape and rejuvenate in nature.
Paddling up Indian River takes you to a new place of peace and quiet
and character. It is Dominica – The nature Island, a brief moment to
escape, take your foot of the accelerator and enjoy the calm of nature
as paddle you up the river. The steady rhythm of paddles dipping
in the water, is almost hypnotic, it is very soothing.
In this island you will sleep in comfort of a boutique hotel, elegant without being overstated,
or climb into your cottage in the treetops at Jungle Bay resort.
Sitting on your ocean front balcony at Calibishie
Cove, with the wind blowing in your face is the essence of relaxation.
I felt my mind physically let go of a mountain of thought and for the
first time in weeks I began to unwind. Hazel the caretaker was the perfect
host and cooked great peas and rice with coconut chicken using the provisions
we had brought. Calibishe Cove has both self catering apartments and
suites without kitchen. We had booked a deluxe suite with adjoining
rooms and wrap around balconies. It did not have a kitchen, which was
great, Hazel’s cooking was much better. Breakfast was delivered by van,
with wide smiles and fresh orange juice which we did not bring.
We took the opportunity to walk down the 200 steps to
the river estuary and the beach below our suite. Trevor and his son
joined us on the beach. Trevor, a boxing champ from the UK, moved to
Dominica a few years ago. The steps, the river, sea and natural obstacles
of logs and low hanging trees have become the perfect gym. He came
to Dominica to get away from the rush, he had wanted to setup a boxing
association but is now planning to train boxers on the Island.
“Had the best training in my life right here”, he said, “you know it’s
the conditioning of your mind that makes the difference, Dominica
unplugs you”. His agent got him a fight back in the UK with good
prize money. “I should not have taken it as I was completely out of
training” he tells us. But Dominica’s magic had made his mind sharp;
the runs on the beach and shadow boxing had toned him up. He scored
a knockout in round one.
We were traveling round the island by taxi. It seemed to be best so
that we could concentrate on taking pictures and notes, but in retrospect
I would hire a car. A 4x4 sidekick rents for $40.25 US a day. A taxi
is a lot more and you loose the ability to head off in your own direction
or stop for a snack on a whim, to just sit and stare and enjoy the scene.
Our taxi driver was a 27-year-old Dominican with a family of two girls
and a baby boy. He was looking forward to the Titiwi picnic and BBQ
We arranged to be picked up at 11 on Sunday and drove on to Fort Shirley
at Portsmoth. The fort has been beautifully restored by a project
headed by Dr. Lennox Honeychurch. Lennox is a poet and a historian.
I read his prose about the ocean some years ago and I still recall its
essence. It inspired something I wrote. “March on, Oh! Rolling sea,
with your messages of time”.
On the route back to Roseau we stopped off at the Titiwi festival at
Layou. The Titiwi are a sort
of tiny eal. They are fried, put in bakes, steamed, smoked or stewed in the creole cuisine style – very fishy rather like anchovies,
a tasty treat with boiled breadfruit, Bello’s hot sauce and Kabuli beer.
What most impressed me was the friendly people and their warm hospitality.
What you will notice in Dominica is colour, bright and vibrant but never gaudy.
Nature abounds with its colour. Along the roads wild flowers spread
a carpet of red, blue, white and yellow on a green tapestry. The towns
and villages are alive with bright greens, yellow, reds and all shade
of blue, and in the fishing villages the well cared for fishing boats
are painted with personality.
Pink fishing boats say as much about the owner as about
the boat! This is an island of individuals, about personal choice and
the determination to be different. It is for discerning travelers who
are not the typical tourist. It is, and I hope will always be, an undiscovered
treasure tucked away in time, where old-fashioned values last.