Dominica is all mountain. The villages crouch in the dips between the hills. Everything is green and savage like the set of Jurassic Park. We arrive via ferry at the port of Roseau, the capital of Dominica. We are here because Dominica is just one island over from Martinique. My main destination for this trip was Martinique. However, the plane tickets from San Francisco to Martinique were outrageously expensive. In my research, I discover that Martinique is connected to several islands by a ferry service, L’Express des Iles. I also discover that we can fly from San Francisco to St. Lucia for half the price of a ticket to Martinique. St. Lucia is just one island from Martinique and Dominica is one island over on the other side. We are island hopping via ferry. Each ferry trip is about an hour long and cost about $75.
To the average traveler, Dominica is a stop on a cruise ship. They stay on the safe confines of the ship, only to venture onto the island with a guided tour. For us, I want a more authentic experience. I have rented a house for us through VRBO. My first mistake is that I have not reserved the rental car in advance. Clara and her husband meet us at the ferry to help us find the house. Clara looks distressed when I tell her I have not yet rented a car. It is not as easy as I thought. Clara’s husband drives me to a garage in the outskirts of Roseau to find the owner of the rental car company who then meets us at the shop in another location. An hour later, I have a car and we head to our house.
Our house Villa Etoli is on the main road halfway between Scott’s Head and Soufrière. It has a large deck that overlooks the ocean. Within a few minutes of unpacking, we hear a knock at the door. I did not lock the gate leading to the door. I am a little worried because we are in the middle of two towns with no one around us. It is a young man with a very large fish. “Would you like to buy a fish. I just caught it.” Second mistake, I say “no thank you.” I assume that I can run to town and buy fish at the market. I soon discover that it is not that easy.
The next morning, Claudia, my seventeen year old daughter, and I jump on the bikes that come with the house and ride to Scott’s Head. At the rocky beach at the base of Scott’s Head we meet a local named Wespe. He offers to escort us to the to the top of the hill to see the divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Ocean. Wespe is a tall black man somewhere in his forties. Anywhere else, I would be nervous to wander off up a deserted hill with a strange man alone with just myself and my daughter. However, there is something about the people in this community that causes me to surrender my trust to him. He knows Antoinette. She is the woman who owns Villa Etoli. Just a few weeks before our arrival on Dominca, Antoinette’s husband of 20 years died suddenly of a heart attack. When we tell Wespe where we are staying, he tells us of Antoinette and her husband. He takes us under his wing, embracing us as long lost member of their community.
We dump our bikes unlocked on the rocky beach and climb to the top of the hill. To our right is the white surf of the Atlantic. To our left is the smooth lake-like surface of the Caribbean. The dividing line of the two oceans is a narrow ribbon of sand that leads up to rocky head-shaped hill upon which we stand.
After our ride we pick up my husband Frank and Max who is five. Wespe has arranged for us to have lunch at Diane’s by reserving for us four chicken lunches. Diane’s Restaurant is a house with a large porch. The porch has an open counter with tables and chairs on one side and a kitchen on the other. Diane has a limited amount of lunches each day, so it is important to reserve a plate in advance. We feast on chicken, rice, lentils, plantains and salad. They call the salad “provisions.”
After lunch we head to the cove at the end of Scott’s Head for some amazing snorkeling. Wespe breaks small sea snails on the rocks at the shore. We watch as the rocks come alive with dozens of slithering eels wiggling up between the rocks to eat the snail meat. As quickly as they appear, the eels disappear as if it were a magic trick. We break more sea snails and conjure the eels again. A local teenager Claudia’s age takes her snorkeling over the reef. At the very edge, the reef suddenly plunges deep into the ocean. Claudia retreats from the edge, feeling eerily frightened by the abyss.
Our Mysterious Intruder
That night, back at Villa Etoli, we sit in the living room watching television. The doors are open to take advantage of the evening breeze that flows from the ocean across the road and into the house. Suddenly the screen door opens. Claudia, Max and I nearly jump out of our skins in fright at the noise. Thinking that we are about to be attacked by a fierce intruder, we turn to look at the door. I curse my naivety for telling the whole town where we are staying.
In scampers a large red crab moving sideways with his claws extended upward. Max takes one look at the crab, runs into my bedroom and slams the door. As quickly as the crab enters, he exits as it to say “excuse me wrong house.” Changing his mind, the crab starts to come back in again. This time Claudia tries to slam the door on him. I am laughing so hard I am crying, but I jump up to rescue the crab from a crushing death. I open the door and free our crab intruder who quickly scrambles sideways down the back stairs. I look at the outside wall and see that it is covered with a dozen large red crabs. The next morning, Claudia points out a sign in the house that reads “crabs gather here.”
Grocery Shopping Turned Scavenger Hunt
In the morning, we are completely out of supplies. In our rush to get to Villa Etoli, we did not stop at the grocery store in Roseau, the capital of Dominca. I assumed we could grocery shop in either Soufrière or Scott’s Head. This was mistake number three. Claudia and I jump on the bikes and head to Scott’s Head for the Saturday market. Apparently we have gotten a very late start because by the time we arrive the market consists of a woman with a pile of vegetables at her feet. We buy everything she has left: lettuce, green onions, a cucumber and thyme. Next we head to the store which looks more like a bar. Inside the store, the customers stand on one side of the bar and point to what they want from the shelves on the other side of the bar. It is strange to buy milk from the shelf. Next we find another small house up the street that sells bread. We buy their last bag of rolls. We are still missing coffee, fruit, meat and fish. I think regretfully about the fresh fish I declined to buy on our first day.
We drop off the food at Villa Etoli and head to Soufrière to try our luck there. Again no luck. Apparently their market starts at 6 a.m. we are about 5 hours too late. A nice woman tells us of a place up the hill where we can buy fruit. We go on another scavenger hunt to find the fruit house. The woman at this house sells us the last of her supplies; apples and grapes. At least now we have enough for a good breakfast.
Refreshing Champagne Served Dominican Style
The following day the breeze off the ocean is very strong and refreshing. For our first few days the temperature has been an oppressive 90 degrees. We head to Champagne Reef for snorkeling. We bring our own gear. Champagne Reef is filled with fish. I see parrot fish, moray eels and dogfish. I also see new varieties of fish I have never seen before. As I am snorkeling, I reach the part of the reef that gives it its name. I see little bubbles rising from the bottom of the sea like Swarovski crystals. For a few minutes I just float weightless watching the necklace of crystals rise from the ocean floor and drift in spirals to the surface. It is like swimming in a giant glass of champagne. Everywhere I look, the crystal necklaces form and rise, form and rise, form and rise.
Wespe Our Hero
We eat dinner that night on another porch restaurant named Rodger’s Restaurant after its owner, Rodger. We watch the sea gobble up the sun just to the right of the point. Wespe comes by with a bag of fresh mangoes. As the people of Scott’s Head learn we are staying at Antoinette’s house, they stop by to express their condolences for the loss of her husband. They tell us how much they love and miss Antoinette’s husband. We are temporarily part of a loving and warm community. The kind and genuine nature of the people of Dominica is truly inspiring. We sip on rum and cokes and watch the fishermen pull in their boats onto the beach. We are the only tourists eating on Rodger’s porch. All the other tourist have retreated to the decks of their cruise ship, I imagine. After a quick trip to the bar store, we have mangoes, coffee, cereal and milk for breakfast.
Outdoor Jacuzzi Designed by Mother Nature
The next day we explore Trafalgar Falls. The road to the falls is directly up from the port of Roseau. The drive up is surprisingly easy on a well-maintained road compared to the impossibly narrow road that connects Scott’s Head to Roseau. The road to Trafalgar Falls winds through beautiful hills lined with brightly painted houses with gardens of tropical plants. The path to the viewing platform is an easy walk. However, from the viewing platform to the pools, we have to cross giant slippery boulders. The Trafalgar Falls are twin falls. One waterfall has cold water and fills the interconnecting series of pools with cool refreshing water. The other waterfall is hot and fills brown streaked pools with warm water to create a natural jacuzzi. We alternate between the two types, soaking in the cool waters and then enjoying the warm natural spa.
Best Swimming Pool in Dominica
On our fourth day, we again head into the interior of Dominica in search of the Emerald Pool. The Emerald Pool is located in the Morne Trois Pitons Nation Park. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1997. The Emerald Pool is unbelievably beautiful. The round pool is surrounded on three fourths of its side by tall cliffs draped with ferns and long dangling vines. At the far end a waterfall pours down like a shower. The water is bone chilling cold but very refreshing in the 90 degree heat. I am starting to realize that the secret beauty of Dominica is in its interior. We swim in the pool at the base of the water fall. Max puts on his mask and snorkel. Suddenly, I hear a muted squeal and he quickly scrambles out of the pool. “Mommy,” his eyes large with fright, “I saw a lobster.” “Max,” I reassure him, “this is a fresh water pool. There are no lobsters.” Frank and I go to take a look. Crouching under a rock at the bottom of the pool it the biggest lobster-size crayfish I have ever seen.
Dominica is rough. It is third world. Its roads are narrow. Its towns are small. Its water and electric service unpredictable. It lacks many modern conveniences. But, its people have a sincerity beyond compare. Its natural beauty is unique from the bubbling reef to the warm water waterfalls. Sometimes the most beautiful places and people are found outside of the protective walls of the resorts and beyond the decks of the cruise ships. The beauty of Dominica lies within the hearts of its people, inside the interior of its island and under the waters of its oceans. Life is an adventure, not a destination. Live it beyond the confines of the guided tour.