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Dominica May 6 - 11, 2005   5 slideshows
Overview: We split our 5 nights on Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-ee-ka) between the rainforest near the capital of Roseau and the northern coast. The "nature island of the Caribbean," this is a small (pop: 71,000), quiet, mountainous rural island with few tourists (less than 70,000 per year). It is the only island that Christopher Columbus might still recognize today. It has lots of rainforest, waterfalls, rainbows, a Natural World Heritage Site, and a reserve for descendants of the original Caribs.
This is not the island if you want to laze the day away on white beaches.
While the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$) is the official currency, many tourist-oriented activities (hotels, car rentals) quote in US dollars, hence the mix of currencies in the mentioned prices. I try to include taxes and tips/service charges when mentioning prices.

Underlying map is from Turquoise Net
Airport Arrival: We flew in a cramped, tiny, hot and humid plane (operated by Air Carib) from Antigua via Guadeloupe (one of the French territories, with noticeably better roads). We had big windows but very little legroom in the back; pre-assigned seats had no meaning. We landed at Cane Field airport, a tiny jet-less one-short-runway airport, taking a tight quick drop along the hilly shoreline onto the runway, made scarier by dint of the cockpit door being open. Needless to say, immigration and customs went very quickly!
Car rental: A Budget Rent A Car representative met us at the airport and drove us to the nearby office for our 4WD vehicle; then back to the airport again so I could buy my Visitor's Temporary Driver's Licence (US$30), issued by a friendly bureaucrat drowning in paperwork, and to pick up a tourist map from the visitor's booth. Not like there are many roads -- in typical fashion for a hilly volcanic island, there is essentially one road ringing the island, and two roads crossing the island in the middle like an X.

Topographical map is from Skyviews

Click here for Dominica road maps from Skyviews
(note the links in the lower left corner of that page for more detailed maps).
Rainforest: We stayed at the delightful Papillote Wilderness Retreat in the rainforest uphill from Roseau. Twenty years ago the rainforest was flattened by a hurricane, down to bare rock and a handful of trees; today it's a lush rainforest with 20m tall trees, fantastic gardens , a waterfall and natural hot springs, including a bathing pool next to our spacious 2-room suite (#11). We had a nice bed with mosquito net, a necessity as there were no screens on the slatted windows. We also had one major bug each evening: a large cockroach two nights and a large spider one night. No big deal - it is a rainforest after all! We particularly enjoyed soaking in the hot springs pool each evening. Nearby to the hotel are a group of much-visited waterfalls including Trafalgar Falls. The retired owner Anne often eats in the restaurant, and was charming to chat with.
Southwest Coast: We drove into Roseau on Saturday morning for the weekly market, catching the tail end of it and only buying a bunch of bananas and a sweet pineapple. Then we drove down the southwest coast to explore. First stop: Champagne Beach, where volcanic vents constantly release steam bubbles into the sea, so it feels like you are swimming in champagne. We also saw up close a cool squid that was hanging around. We continued to Scotts Head on the tip of the island, where some locals gave us coconuts ("try it, free") and we tried to drive up to a viewpoint but the road was too steep and narrow for comfort. We ate dinner in the village; oddly the little waterfront restaurant was chock full when we passed 15 minutes earlier, but was now deserted and the kitchen had to be fired up again just to make our burger and fish plates. We drove above Soufrière to watch the sunset from a tiny hill town.
In each direction we passed a location site for the film Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3; the first time traffic was stopped during a scene take on a hillock just above the road, and the second time we saw Orlando Bloom getting into his car. Not to mention a few designated parking lots and large tents for crew meals.
On our last morning at this hotel, we finally visited the charming twin Trafalgar Falls just 5 minutes down the road from our hotel.
Island Centre: On Sunday we drove to Laudat, up in the hills above our hotel and the Roseau Valley, the gateway to the Morne Trois Pitons NP (a World Heritage Site). Due to the cloudy weather and being short on time, we only visited the Fresh Water Lake (reachable by car on a new road) and skipped the long hike (2-4 hours each way) to the Boiling Lake. We stopped for lunch at Roxy's Mountain Resort in Laudat, eating a surprisingly tasty ham sandwich while a loud group of middle aged Dutch hikers chatted away. Susan used this opportunity roughly half way through the trip to check her work voicemail.
We descended back to Roseau before driving the big southern road loop clockwise. Cutting across the island we visited the lovely Emerald Falls for a late afternoon refreshing swim, requiring a delightfully green 20 minute walk from the car park, with a lovely scenic viewpoint of the Atlantic coast as a bonus. The road then winds down to the rugged windward Atlantic coast, past beaches and cute villages and yet more rivers, before steep winding roads take you up, down and over steep mountainsides along the rest of the way back to the west coast.
We stopped for a tasty dinner just south of Roseau at a waterside Taiwanese resto called Yacht Inn Restaurant & Bar (plus this industrious immigrant also owns Lin's Dryclean & Laundry in Roseau).
North Coast: After checkout and viewing the falls, we drove across the island via the southwest to northeast across-island road, stopping along the way for lunch, lured in by a roadside sign promising "Good Food & Drink!" The only things available were ham sandwiches and cola. Literally. Not a bad sandwich mind you, but given the paucity of locations on the cross-island route, we indulged in a sandwich and cola each while listening to our waiter's tale: he was married to the bourgeois owner's daughter and had spent the past 18 months partying in London, yearning to leave the island again.
The scenic northeast coast has more cliffs than beaches; the Carib Territory and larger airport are here too. Our studio cottage at the aptly named Sea Cliff Cottages, near the village of Calibishie, had a Queen bed, kitchenette and large covered balcony, with a terrific view of the beach and coast at the foot of the cliffs. They had a free clothes washer we could use, but it was difficult to hang dry our clothes due to the rain, which at night was driven across the entire 3m wide balcony into the room window by the strong Atlantic winds. Gweneth, the local manager, was very nice and helpful.
For dinner we ate on the outdoor deck at the Bamboo Restaurant at the Calibishie Lodge, where I had also considered booking a room but they were full due to Pirates of the Caribbean crew and actors staying there for an extended period. In fact there was a group of them at the table next to us, the most memorable of whom was a British actor I recognized from the first movie, a main English soldier character with a wide beard (sorry, I forget his character's name). In any case, he told a few acting stories which were either sufficiently interesting, or loud, to keep us eavesdropping. Dinner itself was very tasty, especially the pumpkin soup and the fruit-laden dessert pancake! For added entertainment, our waiter/bartender Nigel squashed a centipede at the edge of the deck near the top of the resto's stairs.
On the way back to our cottage, we picked up some groceries (coffee, snack, juice and beer) in a little village store.
A bat flopped onto our deck, and these harmless stupid little brown flying beetles seemed to be everywhere.
On our final full day in Dominica, we spent the morning shuffling our wet clean clothes due to the aforementioned rain, skipping breakfast for some coffee and snacks in our cottage. Still raining, we drove to Portsmouth in the northwest corner of the island and ate lunch (beef/chicken burgers! fries! again! ;-) at a hotel restaurant on the beach just south of Portsmouth. There were more Pirates of the Caribbean actors and crew in the restaurant, which was not surprising considering the movie's pirate ship, the "Black Pearl," was anchored just offshore. Interestingly, Portsmouth has a university and medical school which attract international students. We visited the 18th Century Fort Shirley ruins in the Cabrits National Park, on a peninsula just north of Portsmouth.
We returned to our cottage and walked down the stairs and rock-strewn steep path to the beach for a quick dusk-time swim on the beach's shallow sandy bay and climbed back up in the dark with our little keychain flashlights. Susan tripped on the way down the slippery path resulting in a face plant and some minor bruising, but recovered quickly with a little assistance!
We mostly packed up before going out to dinner, as the power was scheduled to go off later in the evening. For dinner we returned to Calibishie Lodge; one of the crayfish was spoiled so we scored a free dessert. The same actors were there again at the next table, and "recognizing" us from the night before they said hello. This time the loud stories were more memorable, including an ant that disarmed his popsicle, and standing for 5 hours without lunch in a cold river to shoot some scenes in the upcoming movies. The power never did go out that evening, and we gave one of the female kitchen staff a ride up the hill as it was late and dark.
Departure: We had an early morning flight (6:30 alarm on vacation, it's so unfair!) to BVI with plane change in Antigua. The rain was pouring down in buckets when we arrived at Melville Hall airport, a handy 15 minutes away from our cottage. We ended up leaving the rental car keys with the LIAT check-in agent after calling the Budget person who wasn't at her desk. A fried egg sandwich at this small airport settled our grumbling stomachs.
On the next island we would discover I had left my twisty travel laundry line at the cottage (strung up between the deck posts at eye level, no less), which I'm sure the next guests appreciated.
Next stop: BVI.

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