With the arrival of June we left Dominica, Covid tests done, we checked out with customs and immigration, bid our farewells and then with a 1 night stopover at anchor in a Martinique bay followed by a 24 hour jump south, we picked up a mooring at the Southern end of St Vincent. Now, awaiting entry instructions, which it seems, with no phone credit, is a tad tricky, there is an opportunity to pause and reflect on our lovely 7 weeks on the nature isle.
Its hard to put our experiences of Dominica in a nutshell, we met many people from across the island from many walks of life.
It is financially the second poorest country in the Caribbean after Haiti, but we were told has the richest Prime minister, it is mountainous, the highest peak being over 1400m, largely forested, and claims a river for every day of the year, there is plenty of evidence of its volcanic activity with boiling lakes, sulphur vents and hot springs. Its rugged landscape meant it largely escaped the colonialists sugar plantations and their enslaved labour force, and the resilience of the native Caribs saw off many of the violent invaders. It lacks the picture postcard white beaches which has largely kept away the sprawl of tourist hotels so all in all has remained one of the least spoilt of the West Indies.
Day 1 (out of quarantine)
You may think after 24 days at sea, that another 7 stuck on board would be torture – it wasn’t! During a long passage like that, providing all has gone smoothly, one finds a very cool, calm, peaceful state of mind with life’s simple routines, and to prolong that a little isn’t so bad, plus it provided an opportunity to give Lilly some love and acclimatize to our new surroundings.
However, our first day of freedom ashore was a great one, with our newly decluttered senses on full alert, we ambled through Portsmouth, soaking up all the new sounds, smells and sights of this colourful wee Caribbean town, we were on a mission! Seren and Morla having not stepped foot on dry land for over a month, deserved a wish, their top request was for an ice-cream! This meant a 10 minute ride in a bus – usually a Toyota Hi-ace or similar and could be anything from a clapped out bonerattler with its squeaks and crunches, to a swish new leather upholstered beast, more often that not, pimped to the max with wide alloys, tinted windows, basebins blaring; Morla asked one day – “Why is it always a banging party in the buses here?”
Satisfied with ice cream we now went in search of a cool, fresh dip and found it on a short walk to the Picard river, a spot we remembered from previous visits. On the track we met Coco who Nono had met years before and he accompanied us to a perfect spot with tumbling waterfalls, deep pools and shaded by lush jungle, Coco was happy to stay and chat, lighting a little fire to roast some plantain, then disapearing only to reappear with Papaya for dessert, along with armfuls of leaves – of glory cedar, basil, and papaya leaf. These with help from Seren and Morla he mashed up on a rock and threw into a washing up bowl – this was our bathwater squeezing out the juices over our heads and bodies was heavenly, after so much sun, sea, salt, wind and blue, to be rubbing this subtly sweet fresh greenery into our bodies then rinsing in a cool bubbling natural jacuzzi was the perfect antidote and celebration of arrival to this lush isle.
Fully cleansed and refreshed, we went with Coco back to his simple dwelling where we helped to water his garden before grinding up some cacoa beans he’d grown and dried; on a later occasion we gave him some of our palm syrup from La Gomera which he mixed with the cocoa powder – you can guess the sweet chewy result…
Coco remained one of the nicest people we met in Dominica, a laid back, content rasta with plenty of garden, his son and family living next door, a vast knowledge of medicinal plants, a simple and beautiful home, with little but the essentials (including a drum kit someone had given him) an outdoor kitchen with just an open fire and the river tumbling by. He was happy to have our company and asked for nothing, which of course gave us the feeling to want to help – Nono had had the foresight to bring seeds from home and we were happy to plant out plenty at Coco’s.
We; Nono, Seren, Morla and I woke before 6 with the very inconsiderate cockerel just outside the window, we’d been sleeping on the hard wooden floor of Wilmers newly built, mostly fresh painted, relatively plush chapel. (shed agreed to have it on her land if she could keep the building after they moved on in a year or so) We weren’t the first awake though, as well as the villages large population of cockerels, Wilmers indoor/outdoor kitchen/washroom/dining room/verandah, was a buzz of activity – children’s hair being brushed, plantain being both roasted and fried on the open fire, chickens pecking over the washing up, water butts being refilled, toddlers being scrubbed behind the washroom curtain and then mugs of porridgey, sweet slightly spicy, delicious gruel.
We were staying with a family in the Carib or Karlinago territory, a region of Dominica reserved for the last few thousand native Caribbeans. A culture originating from S. America and more specifically, Venezuela, that inhabited all these islands before Europeans with their murderous ways and the slaves they brought with them, arrived. Sometimes I think it very kind and gracious that we Europeans with any links to our colonial past (like by being white for example) aren’t spat on in the streets, we sure have a lot to answer for round abouts!
It was great fun to walk the kids down the hill to their schools and buses with ‘Sister’ (funny name as we met only her children and her mother, Wilmer)and see all their impeccably dressed schoolmates, and fascinating for Seren and Morla to the witness the more common school kids morning routine, they must be intrigued by this school place! But show no desire to venture any closer than the gates.
Back in Wilmer’s garden we were commenting on how every tree and plant had a use and was usually edible, mango trees, avocado’s, papaya, breadfruit, passionfruit, sugarcane, kalalu, herbs, coconuts, bamboo, castor, cacoa, and in case we thought any plants were weeds Wilmer told us the masses of plants with medicinal qualities. The Karlinago people are known for their basket making , and the reeds used grew in abundance in the garden. I asked Wilmer about how they were made so she proceeded to show us and the next few hours, instead of finding a bus as planned, were spent making a beautiful basket. There was always someone doing something towards the baskets whether it was stripping the reeds into an even thickness, putting them out to try or dying them in huge vats of turmeric.
We were late trying to catch a bus and a couple of hours on the roadside was unfruitful so turned into a social round, visiting neighbours, only to return with a bag of gifts – passionfruit, plantain, calabash bowls…
A lovely aspect of this place and people was the community and family, which were hard to separate as 3 of Wilmer’s sisters and 2 brothers lived within a stones throw, not to mention cousins, nephews and nieces etc. Care for children, the elderly and each other was clearly shared, as was a lot else, whether it was time, help with day to day jobs, or garden produce, most meals we’d meet a new family member, just passing, often with a bag of something, one cousin brought us a handful of jelly coconuts just cos he’d heard we were staying! We were made to feel very welcome here and left with bags of herbs, fruit, a basket, clothes for the kids and warm hearts.
The smoking of Cannabis in Dominica is pretty prevalent, primarily amongst the rastas of course, to some degree, maybe its harmless, even positive, what could be wrong with a calm reflective, chillaxed, happy state of mind? Don’t many of the worlds problems come from an over zealous focus on efficiency, productivity, profit, exploitation etc., maybe swinging in a hammock with a joint is a healthy antidote to this… However, the quantity did seem excessive and a justification that the more stoned one was the closer you were to ‘Jah’ I found worrying, and whenever we raised the matter there seemed to be very little acknowledgement of its negative effects or the implications of a teenager smoking unlimited amounts, I found the division of smokers and non smokers noticeable in the population, moderation being a rare attribute, it was refreshing to stay with Wilmer’s family – she was aware of its negative sides and embraced good mind and body health.
Any account of Dominica wouldn’t be complete without mention of Kish, cafe/bar owner, minibus driver, sassy, funny Kish; she helped us heaps with transport, covid appointments, her bar became a base, she took us around the island with blaring music, introduced us to her family, took us night land crab hunting, took us to her fruit laden trees and was all in all a great laugh, she will remember us for the ‘Puckit’ board we made her!
There were others we met – having our large crew group, different people would go off on adventures and return with new stories, friends and contacts, and as visitors we came with no or at least pretty mild preconceived cultural judgements, so one day we’d be helping a group of rastas deconstruct a mashed up tin hanger, the next we’d be replanting 1500 cacoa pods for an entrepreneurial business minded farmer, (who also became a good friend and showered us with fruit and veg and whose lovely mountain farm we camped on) and then another day wondering around a permaculture plot of a young American, Dominican couple.
We couldn’t help but observe, analyze and ponder this culture, I’m sure Nick will expand on our deductions and how we saw their socio-economic aspects and aspirations, but for now I hope you’ve enjoyed this little window into Dominica.