Friday, 23 July 2010

Leaving St Lucia

It's hard to believe we have been in St Lucia for a week already. We had a great night in Gros Islet for the Friday night Jump Up, visiting our favourite rum shack there. Although it was Carnival we gave it a miss this year, the thought of listening to hours of soca music wasn't to appealing! Most of the time has been spent on chores and repairs including renewing one of our roller furling mechanisms (which turned into a 4 day job as these things can on a boat). We plan to check out today and sail overnight down to Bequia.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Back in Martinique

Our sail down to Martinique was far better than anticipated – hard on the wind but no tacking. We anchored overnight in Ste Pierre at the north of the island and made our way down the coast the next morning to Marin. We are here to stock up on wine, beer, cheese, pate etc and to renew one of our French-made roller furling systems which failed as we left St Martin.

We decided that this was the last chance to replace our fridge freezer. We have a European domestic appliance, now 7 years old, and if we keep to our current plans, this is the last island we will be able to purchase a 220 volt replacement. When our existing fridge breaks down we will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming re-build of the kitchen to install a boat fridge or an equally expensive import.

After a reconnoitre in Lamentin via bus and hitchhiking we found a suitable candidate for under 300 euros but the delivery was going to be 45 euros. We returned to Marin and rented a car (43 euros for a 5 door hatchback) so that we could collect the fridge freezer and also deliver our still-working old appliance to a new owner (the parents of our helpful and friendly car rental woman, Gladys). It all went very smoothly except for crunching into a lot of road closures due to the Tour de Martinique cycle races taking place this week. We definitely attracted some attention transporting fridge freezers back and forth to shore with our dinghy!

Now replete with booze and goodies, repairs done and new fridge freezer installed, we are on our way down to Rodney Bay, St Lucia in the next couple of days.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Decidedly Different Dominica

Dominica (pronounced Domineeka) has a very different character to other islands we have visited in the Eastern Caribbean. Covered in dark green rainforest, it has 9 potentially active volcanoes (one of the most highly concentrated areas on earth), tall mountain peaks rising to 4,700 feet, a reputed 365 rivers and over 30 waterfalls and gorges. One’s own transport is essential to explore its many attractions but the roads are terrible, pot-holed and often unpaved, so a 4x4 is definitely recommended. We used Island Car Rentals (Darren in the Portsmouth office was incredibly helpful).

We were delighted to find we could do a simultaneous check in/out with customs for a maximum 2 week stay. They also welcome the use of online ESea-Clear. Unfortunately, the ease of this was negated by the fact that a cruising permit is required to visit other anchorages and this can not be obtained at check in, only the day of moving! There is no charge for this, it’s just paperwork. When will officials get in touch with reality?

On arriving in ramshackle Portsmouth (a more protected anchorage than Roseau in the south), boats are greeted by numerous boat boys offering Indian River trips and other services. We were taken under the wing of “Lawrence of Arabia” who was honest and not overly pushy. He rowed us a mile up the river – picturesque with a canopy of overhanging trees, crabs scuttling amongst the tangled roots and herons on the mudflats – to a jungle bar. For us the experience paled in comparison to the Gambia; the island’s interior is far more rewarding, however it does provide local employment and all the licensed guides provide interesting information on wildlife, flora and fauna.

We walked to Cabrits National Park after torrential rains, along roads bordered by spontaneous water and rock falls. After exploring the partially restored, late 18th century Fort Shirley we enjoyed along a pretty hillside trail running with water like a stream. By car we explored north of this area, driving through the centre of a volcano with a stop at Cold Soufriere , bubbling pools of cold sulphurous waters. On the east coast we stopped to visit Chaudiere Pool, a beautiful and var

ied walk through both rainforest and farmland with a welcoming swim at the end in cool, clear waters. It was on this walk we saw the colourful native parrots flying across the valley. Along the way we gorged ourselves on fresh mangoes which carpeted the roadside and tracks.

The scenic east coast drive, devoid of many other vehicles, winds through charming villages, abundant with flowers and tropical plants, and into the Carib Territory, 3700 acre home to the only remaining tribe of native Indians in the Caribbean. We took the Horseback Ridge trail and, stopping to admire the spectacular views on each side, had the privilege of meeting Charles Williams, an ex Carib chief who has travelled all over the world campaigning for these indigenous people. It was an unexpected and interesting interlude in our day. Another stop and a short but steep walk took us to the Escalier Tete Chien, a lava formation that resembles steps coming out of the sea, awash with Atlantic rollers.

Dominica has a plethora of magnificent sites and we were very lucky to have most of them to ourselves since our visit was during hurricane season. We swam in the Emerald Pool, at the bottom of a 40 ft waterfall. Even more striking was the twin 200ft Trafalgar Falls, where a cool amongst enormous boulders is followed by a bath in hot sulphur pools which look like they have been landscaped they are so beautiful. Another memorable site was Titou Gorge, a long cleft of steep lava rock through which one can swim to a series of cascades.

The hikes on the island are extensive and some are quite arduous but very rewarding through verdant rainforest of tall hardwood trees engulfed in vines and creepers. Iguanas, lizards, snakes (non-venomous), birds and a variety of land crabs populate these areas. I was also lucky to catch what looked like a wild pig racing through the undergrowth on the Syndicate Falls Nature Trail, possibly a manicou (type of opossum). The rainy climate can make some of the steep trails and rock climbs hazardous and the gorges and riverbeds are subject to flash floods. A 2/3 hour round trip accesses 275 ft Middleham Falls, another breathtaking spot with the promise of a swim under cascading water.

Nic employed a guide (Graeme 276 2122) to visit the Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake, the Caribbean’s ultimate hike to a 270ft wide bubbling cauldron through a moonscape of white-hot sulphuric rocks. Regretfully I didn’t join him after a hiking guide described lots of steep, slippery climbing – my fear of heights getting the better of me – but this was not the reality Nic experienced. The highlight of his day was a hot bath with a natural jacuzzi from the warm waterfall, he made his guide wait half an hour over this indulgence! On the way home Nic gave a lift to Stanley, an ex-guide scarred with burns from falling into the Boiling Lake. We met him again the next day as we drove though the mountains and he sold us some vegetables. Our delicious fresh salad that night was spoiled by the hot chillis I chopped into it on Stanley’s promise they were mild seasoning peppers!

As a general rule, we didn’t find the Dominican people overtly friendly or welcoming but with some effort on our part they warmed up. Of the many locals we gave lifts to around the island only one woman offered a thank you. They are, for the most part, very impoverished and the island is the most noticeably poor of any we have visited with minimal signs of development or investment. There is little sense of national pride although one local we met boasted that Dominica recently ranked in the top 10 most beautiful natural sites in the world, the only listing for the Caribbean. Sad then, that for a country of such astonishing beauty, far more rubbish is evident than most other islands - the modern scourge of plastic. Sailing south we saw many illegal dumps visible along the coastline.

Fruits and vegetables are plentiful, spring water readily available and Dominica grows its own coffee. Eating out can be expensive for very basic local fare. We recommend the Tomato restaurant outside Portsmouth, run by a Canadian couple (wish we could recommend a local-run establishment), the food is superb.

The few negatives aside, Dominica is a fabulous island and a “must” stop on any Caribbean tour. We are only sad that we haven’t visited before but those hot sulphur pools are definitely calling us back sometime soon.