It was with excitement that we arrived into Dominica. The island most friends put at the top of their favourite list. Why? Well, according to Spirit of Argo, the first island that you can properly shop in the local markets and stock up for $10 a week with fruit and veg. To Ruffian, no corporate businesses. To Shian, the best environmentally protected of islands with fantastic rain forests. Downside, the first place we had to be careful in the selection of our boat boys and there are few beaches to enjoy.
We were met by Jerome (otherwise known as Cobra – the same Cobra who makes an appearance in the Doyle’s guide to the Windward Isles) a mile out from Plymouth Bay. A quick explanation –
Boat Boys are individuals who will run around anchorages and harbours in speed boats, offering services to you. They are common in the S of the Caribbean. Everything from the “best mooring ball” to tours of the island, work on the boat, fruit, fish, laundry, water, diesel…. You name it; they’ll get it for you – at a price. In most places they are unregulated and this can cause problems, fights even, as they tote or claim your future business. It is common (St Lucia and St Vincent are said to be the worst) for the boat boys to be uncomfortably and aggressively in your face.
In Plymouth Bay, after some external advice that they were becoming too aggressive, driving away yachties, the boat boys came together, sorted their ways and formed a small collective. The word got around quickly on the cruiser net that Plymouth was a good place to go again.
These days it is a very safe anchorage. The boat boys run a security boat during the night and have run off any trouble makers there may have been.
With the Thomas family due in to St Lucia in a few days, we decided that we would spend all our remaining time before that in Dominica. It proved to be a good decision.
Cobra was questioned closely and laundry was fired off with him. Lou was very happy to find that it had been line dried rather than being roasted in a machine and at a reasonable price. We also decided that we would take one of the tours he offered up the river at Plymouth. The rest of the activities, we chose to sort ourselves.
Our trip up the river was fascinating. Although Plymouth has by far and away the best anchorage on the island, the river and the swamp it runs out of, too big to drain, meant that the original capital based there, was moved to Roseau further down the coast. Yellow fever and mosquitos were a major killer in colonial days.
There are strict laws enforcing the preservation of the natural habitat of the island so the journey up the river (of not more than a mile) is done by oar. We had a good conversation with Cobra and going quietly means that you get to see a lot more fauna. We saw the local version of the Kingfisher and several Crowned Heron on our journey as well as lots of huge crabs and shoals of mullet; the mangroves being a wonderful nursery for young fish.
We went up a side river to visit the filming site for Calypso’s House, used in the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films. The locals from Plymouth made up a lot of the extras for the scenes filmed there. Johnny Depp was quite human and down to earth, according to Cobra.
We finished at a small plantation, walking out into a scene of tropical flowers and hummingbirds before wandering into a mix of mango, bay, pineapple, banana, passion fruit and cinnamon trees. It was absolute heaven and the passionfruit juice was extremely refreshing. We were presented with a bay sprig, now drying out in the girl’s bedroom.
To explore Dominica, you need a car. Taxis, as always, are fiercely expensive so we hired a 4×4, visited the local police station for my Dominican license, which proved to be a receipt for the money I paid for the privilege, and headed off to explore.
The island is mountainous and the roads are a collection of endless switchbacks through the rain forests. Thankfully there isn’t that much traffic and the locals, for once, actually drive carefully.
We visited a few of the sites the island had to offer including the Emerald Pool, Trafalgar Falls, the hot pools at Wotton Waven (great baths!) as well as the Fort which stands guarding the entrance of Plymouth Bay, walking up the hill to the top gun sights and a fantastic view N to S through W. Sadly we didn’t have time to stay to visit more nor stay for the Jazz concert due at the Fort on the following Saturday.
We also had a wander through Roseau. Small and chaotic, it also proved to be the site of one of the West Indies Test match cricket venues for the upcoming Australia tour. I bought tickets for the first four days of the match (in the best stand) for a total of just over £20. Try paying that at the Rose Bowl – you might get a couple of Pimms if you are lucky.
Note for future visitors – make sure you pay for the week Island visitor ticket rather than the single site ticket. We only found out about the option when we visited our second site and had to pay up again, feeling a bit mugged. Current cost per person? $5 for one; $8 for a week pass.
We left Dominica unsatisfied. Although beaches are rare, the island interior with its hot springs, spectacular waterfalls and rainforest is beautiful. The locals have done well to maintain its unique environment. Long may that policy set continue. We could have explored this island for weeks and the short period we have had has but wetted our appetite.