Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica (pr: dom-ih-knee-kah) whose pronunciation is such in order to distinguish it from the Dominican Republic. It’s a small, English-speaking (Creole is also spoken while the native Caribs have a settlement here as well as their own language), and independent island, sandwiched between the two French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It’s also the second poorest Caribbean island after Haiti. I previously blogged about Dominica while we were in Grenada when a group of cruisers united with locals and a fat tug called The Flying Buzzard to bring supplies to the island soon after Hurricane Maria hit this past September, 2017. Not quite 4 months after a devastating category 5 hurricane, you’d imagine it would not be the best time to go and visit, but that’s exactly when it is the island’s people need tourism the most. In fact sometime in December, while we were still anchored in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, a Dominican businessman by the name of Martin rode his boat down about 55 nautical miles to pass around his card and let people know things were getting up and running and they desperately wanted cruisers to return. I guess if you only have a week or two a year, you wouldn’t easily choose to go to Dominica for a visit, but Paul and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves natural beauty, rainbows, water falls, volcanic phenomenon, water sports, and/or hiking. And the architecture and gardens are some of most magnificent I’ve seen in the Caribbean thus far.
When we met Martin passing out his card we weren’t sure if at any point we would be traveling to Dominica at all, but we kept his contact. Since Paul’s friend Michael from Germany was down for a short time in the islands on his friend’s boat, s/v Intrepid Bear, as crew for a few weeks, we decided we too would sail up to where they were so we could have a visit together. Intrepid Bear had gone straight to Guadeloupe from Martinique, but we weren’t up for a long sail and broke it down by stopping off 37 nautical miles north, in Dominica, after sailing out of Martinique on February 2nd. We landed in the capital, Roseau, and grabbed a mooring ball. From our mooring we could see the devastation on shore all the way up to the tips of Dominica’s very mountainous highlands. The debris was everywhere, tall, bald trees looked like giant hands had pinched it’s forefingers and thumbs around them and pulled off the branches, stripping them bear from the middle, up.
Windows were blown out, tarps were in place of blown off roofs, nearly entire structures gone, and yet there were plenty of signs of rebuilding and recovery.
Fires burned along shore to deal with much of the drift wood that was piled high along the shore, fresh frames were being built awaiting completion, hammering and sawing could be heard in the distance and of course there was the soft bustle of island life in-between. About ten boats came and went in the mooring field while we were there three nights. The second morning after we arrived, we didn’t even notice one of those boats that moored right next to us was our special friends’ boat s/v Lovely Cruise with Kristopher, Fletcher and their amazing 13 year old daughter Ward. We met this seafaring family while we were still land-lubbers and chartering. We had chartered for 2 weeks in the BVIs in February of 2015, one of the trips that clinched our decision to explore this lifestyle, while Fletcher, Kris and Ward were doing the same, for the exact same reasons. Even more serendipitous yet, they bought their sail boat in the same month we did, weeks apart. So…. moored in Roseau a few years later and a few hundred nautical miles away, as we were enjoying our morning coffee in the cockpit, we see a dinghy approaching and who was it but Fletcher coming to invite us along on a tour his family and another boat’s crew had reserved.
“BUT OF COURSE!” as we learned to say while in Martinique (I’m sure you heard the French accent) and we prepped quickly for a day of adventure, without really knowing how spectacular it would be…! Fletcher kindly came back to dinghy us into shore where we met the owners of s/v Milvina, Helen and Neil and their friend/crew Diane. All Canadian and all amazing human beings. Neil and Helen built Milvina, yes, BUILT the boat they are cruising on themselves and have cruised to Norway, the Med, and Scotland…. just to name a few. It was outstanding to see their pictures, hear their stories, and to get a tour of their boat later on that night when they invited us over for ‘nibbles’ after our spectacular day. We had such an inspiring day of beauty and adventure we were lucky to continue it all together until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
When we arrived on shore we also met “SeaCat” and “Mr. Beans”, who run the tour company Sea Cat and loaded up in the van to begin this religious experience of an island tour with Armstrong our guide, at the wheel. All certified taxi drivers on this island are trained in history and horticulture. Along the way we stopped to pick lemon grass, cinnamon bark & leaves, bay leaves, watercress, and a root that Rastafarians use as a eucalyptus-type ointment. Armstrong is filled with history of the surrounding buildings, people, and landscape. He of course also told Hurricane Maria stories of survival and devastation along the way.
First we arrived to Waitukubuli National Trail, in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, many parts of which (the sites we saw) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after driving our way up through windy, steep, and narrow streets, again witnessing the beauty, devastation and rebuilding efforts all at once as we spiraled up and up and up.
The highest peak of the island is about 4000 feet and overall it is the most mountainous of the Caribbean islands. Many of the roads we were on had been covered in boulders and mudslides and you could see the path paved for cars to now drive through, which at times could be unnerving since you looked up the steep mountain on one side where other huge boulders and mountain slopes remained. While on the other side there were dramatic, sweeping views of valleys, where you looked past safety barriers and asphalt that had been swept away by the forces of Mother Nature… and did I mention that they were steep…?
We were told by our guide, Armstrong, that the hike in to Middleham Falls would be about an hour and a half and then we’d come to a pool at the base of the falls, our reward. Honestly, the trail was a reward in and of itself. It was emerald green and plush and though damage could be seen, it was a beautifully made, well designed trail of logs in a thick rainforest. Armstrong said normally, there would be no sunlight along the trail but since the trees were stripped, there was plenty coming through. This made the waterfall swim at the end, all that much more rewarding! We had to cross a small river and much of the climbing could be fairly steep at times, and a bit muddy but fabulous each step of the way. I was first man down on one of the declines but got away with rock-rash and some extra mud on me bum. Then we arrived to the falls and got ready for the plunge. The force of the falls was so overwhelming, it just took my breath away, literally, it was an incredible rush. I had to turn away from the crashing falls and turbulent air often just to catch my breath.
After the hike back out, I thought to myself “what could possibly top that???” But we had only scratched the surface of beauty that this island has to offer. Next up, Titou Gorge, part of the same national park and where a scene in Pirates of the Caribbean was shot. I think it’s so funny that it’s part of the tour’s stats (not just here but in other parts of the Caribbean, common as well) much like the filming of Superman in St. Lucia and one of the waterfalls we visited there. It doesn’t take away from the spectacular untouched beauty of this place. It just makes you realize how determined film makers are to find the perfect location. Though the road we drove on was paved thanks to Disney, so they could get their filming equipment in and out more easily, it was simply wider and less steep than the original road that at this time was still blocked by hurricane damage.
The water here was quite refreshing, but since you were swimming against a current, it warmed up very quickly and all you could do was enjoy the swim and steep, moss, green, vine-covered gorge that lead to the falls. At one point Armstrong snorkeled under the falls and picked up a crayfish. Thanks to Diane, who has a strong aversion to cold water even though she’s from Canada, we got these amazing shots as she stayed dry, above and took these with her fancy camera! We all had our turn walking under the falls and again, breathtaking, as I was gasping for sweet, cool air to refill my lungs to compliment the thrill I felt, bursting out with an occasional scream I shared with Ward. I had no problem feeling 13 again :).
At this point we were getting light headed with hunger and the clock was nearing 1500. We put in our order for food with the proprietor of a restaurant that had been so badly damaged that she had to cook it at home and then bring it to the cliff-side balcony which was still standing, so we could eat. Satiated and ready for more, we were off to the hot springs. These are boiling ponds (and Dominica is home to the second largest boiling lake in the world…next time!) that are in certain areas and scattered throughout the island. The town we were in had about 52 of them. There was a lifeless spa/resort, previously owned by an American who abandoned when a helicopter came to take all the Americans off the island before Maria hit. The Brits apparently did the same. Hard to imagine how it felt being and Dominican witnessing that while waiting for a category 5 hurricane to hit. I’d have to imagine pretty traumatic, even before the storm touching down. About 40 people died in the storm and about half that went “missing”. Our guide, Armstrong’s sister is one of the missing.
Our final destination was Trafalgar Falls. Twin falls that have two separate sources, though fall within feet of one another, and after bouldering up a ravine we were able to bathe in a hot spring that also flowed down. It had at one time flowed into a natural pool where you could have a jacuzzi a la fresco, but the hurricane broke open the pool and now you sit under a stream that flows freely into the cold falls to get your hot massage. That was a fine, relaxing soak after a long day… oh but now to climb down the ravine and over the boulders.
My legs were shaking and my heart still racing from a most memorable day. Absolutely a highlight thus far and I look forward to doing it again, and more, when we return to this island. When we do, it’ll be for more than 3 nights.