Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dominica... The Nature Isle of the Caribbean

After our passage bash from Sint Maarten, we were happy to arrive on the beautiful island of Dominica.  We had planned to visit this island on our trip north from Grenada, but after our rough trip from Sint Martin, this was a good mid-point to stop in for a rest.

Dominica (pronounced “dom-i-nee-ka”) is an island in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea with a population of about 72,000 people. It is 290 square miles in size and is the most mountainous of the Lesser Antilles, with the highest elevation of 4747 feet.  It is fast becoming a ecotourism destination due to its unspoiled natural beauty.  It is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, as evidenced by the second largest thermally- active lake in the world, Boiling Lake.  The island has lush mountainous rain forests and is the home of many plant, animal, and bird species. Dominica is the only country in the world with a count of 365 rivers. The islands have the most pristine wilderness in the Caribbean and are protected by an extensive national park system.

Columbus sighted the island in November 1493, but the island had been inhabited by the Carib Indians from around 1000 AD, giving the island the name Waitukubuli which meant “Tall is her body”.

We decided to limit our sightseeing to two areas.  We were anchored in Portsmouth near the Cabrits National Park and we wanted to hike there.  Another area we wanted to visit was the Indian River.

Cabrits National Park

Located on a scenic peninsula just north of Portsmouth, this national park is best known as the site of Fort Shirley, a large 18th-century British garrison which once housed 600 soldiers. The British fought the French over control of the island several times in the 1700’s before gaining control in the early 1800’s. Fort Shirley was the headquarters and the main defense post of the British army garrison . Construction began under the direction of Sir Thomas Shirley (1774-76) for whom it was named.  It was last used as a fort in 1854. Independence from Britain came in 1978.

The park encompasses the peninsula, the surrounding coast and coral reefs, and the island's largest swamp. 

The Officer's Quarters has undergone a major renovation by Dr. Lennox Honeychurch. 

The main building of the Fort is now used for various functions such as weddings, receptions, and concerts. 

Original cannons from 1775 overlook the beautiful bay.

We had a beautiful day for sightseeing and were rewarded with spectacular views of the island.

There were gorgeous views of Prince Rupert Bay from the Officer's Quarters. We could see our girl Genesis in the bay below. She is the boat directly under the "n" in Genesis in the photo. 

Hiking West Cabrits

The park is divided into two mountains... We paid a small entry fee and hiked the west side of the island.  It took us 4 and 1/2 hours to hike to the top of the mountain and back to the park visitor center.  We hiked the Waitukubuli mountain trail... the only long distance trail in a National Park in the Caribbean.

The trees in the forest were enormous! Sunlight filtered in through the tree branches and it was beautiful.

Thank goodness we had our walking sticks!  The trail was very steep and rocky and we had to look down at the ground a lot to keep from losing our footing.  Most of the time when we hike around the islands we wear Keen hiking sandles.  This time we wore our hiking boots and we were glad we did!

As we made our way up the mountain, the trail was harder to follow.  Sometimes we weren't sure we were still on the trail, but we kept going.

Finally, we saw blue sky and sea!

We knew we were in the right place when we saw the cannons overlooking the bay below. 

We were definitely ready for a rest!
What a great hike we had!  After 4 and 1/2 hours, we were definitely ready to take off our hiking boots and relax.  We headed back to Genesis and spent the rest of the day reading and napping. Perfect day!

Up a Lazy River

One of the popular tours in Dominica is the Indian River Tour.   A restricted area that allows no motorized boats, the Indian River is a winding river that goes about one and a half miles back into a mangrove swamp. Local guides row wooden boats through the swamp and give an interesting narrative about Dominican nature.  

Our guide, Alexis, picked us up at our boat at 8:00 a.m. for a two and one-half hour boat tour.  The trip for two cost us $50 US. 

We saw many colorful wooden tour boats at the entrance to the river. No private boats are allowed up the river. The trip is only available via a local guide.

Here we are at the entrance to the river. It was a beautiful day!  We were excited to get out and do some exploring!

We were accompanied by a young couple from France, Yann and Marie.  They had taken a one year sabbatical from their jobs (IT analyst and nurse) and sailed across the Atlantic in a 27ft. sailboat.  It is always interesting to meet other cruisers and find out their story.  They were going to return to France and get back to the working life in October. What a great life experience for this young couple!

As we meandered up the river, Alexis slowly rowed the boat and pointed out wildlife, birds, plants and trees. 

The scenery was beautiful and pristine. There were many large Bloodwood trees with interesting root systems.  

We saw big land crabs everywhere peeking out from holes in the mud and from around roots. 

Everything was lush and green with overhanging limbs and vines.  Birds were everywhere… Hummingbirds, Blue Herons, Little Green Herons, and Doves.  Sorry, no photos... they were very skittish!

There were a few man-made sights along the way as well.  Here is a set from the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

At the shallow end of the river was the Jungle Bar.  Although closed for the season, we ventured on shore to explore.

The bar was interesting with chairs carved from stumps, and tables made from big electrical spools.  

The bar is open during the high season during the winter and serves a very strong rum punch!

The bar was surrounded by all kinds of lush greenery and beautiful flowers… bird of paradise and heliconia.

Alexis made a little hummingbird from a piece of greenery and put it on a flower. Look closely... you can see the green hummingbird sticking out of the flower.

Alexis, age 28, was born in Dominica.  His family still farms the hillsides of Dominica, producing vegetables which they sell at the local market and they also raise goats.  He said that he enjoys the simple life in Dominica and has a good life.  He noted that the cell phone age has infiltrated his lovely little island and the younger kids have become enamored with the technology and stay glued to their cell phones.  Already he has noted a decline in the number of kids that get outside and play and value the old ways of making a living. They all want to leave the island and go to America.  He was sad to see this come.  He did say that although the younger people were leaving the island, the middle-aged islanders who had left the island to make a living were returning to the island for their retirement.  It is so interesting to meet people from other places and hear their perspective on the world we live in.  That is our favorite part of traveling!

We can't wait to return to Dominica and do some inland exploring!  

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