Welcome to Dominica. Welcome to Paradise.

Well, we finally made it to one of the “islands that touch the clouds”, Dominica, pronounced “Domineeca”.  Most of the admittedly limited number of islands that we have visited on this trip have not been very tall and, as a result, are fairly dry with plenty of cactus and other drought tolerant plants.    However, there are other islands, especially as you get further south, that are 4,000 to 5,000 feet tall so that the winds, as they blow over the mountains, form clouds that drop their moisture on the island.

Dominica is such an island and it’s beautiful.  It was a short 4 hour sail on a terrific beam reach for us to make our way here from Les Saintes a few days ago. This is one of the most undeveloped island in the Eastern Caribbean so there aren’t many services.  I guess that crime has been a problem in the past so a number of locals got together and formed an informal security group, PAYS, to patrol the harbor, provide moorings and give tours of the island.  They are a group of independant operators, entrepreneurs, who are able and willing to help with whatever you might need.   As we approached the anchorage on the lee side of the island, Alexis roared up in his skiff to welcome us.  It seems that who ever connects with a yacht first as they enter the anchorage “owns” them for the duration.  Alexis was the first to reach us as we rounded the point and gave us his business card.   “Welcome to Dominca, Welcome to paradise.   Let me know what you need.  I’ll get it for you.”Alexis is a very charming guy and is happy to do whatever.  His specialty is tours of the island as he has a taxi as well as a nicely appointed skiff.   There were other cruisers in the harbor that we knew so once we anchored we began to make plans, of course, with the help of Alexis.

The anchorage is a busy, if bumpy, place with fisherman coming and going all the time.  This guy was very popular with the frigate birds. Before we could go ashore I had to clear in at customs.  It was a 2 mile dink run down the beach on a really nasty commercial shipping dock.  Unlike some of the other islands we have visited, there are no natural harbors in Dominica, just the “leeward” side of the island.  When storms hit there is no protection at all.

This was the “customs office”.  Pretty basic. The island is very mountainous with mountains that truly “touch the cl0uds” And, speaking of “touching the clouds” the view of the mountains from Pandora is spectacular.   And, you can clearly see the cloud forest at the top of the mountain. The next morning I decided to go for a hike with some of our cruising friends. Brenda stayed aboard to do the laundry and relax as we were told that the “hike” was going to involve a LOT of up and down.  We took at bus, a sort of minivan jammed with locals, up and over the mountain pass to the windward side of the mountain as that’s where the forest is more lush.    The bus dropped us off at the beginning of a well marked trail.  The national park service has laid out many trails on the island.

We passed this cow as we entered the forest.The view that greeted us as we entered the trailhead was amazing. And we spent the next four hours winding our way up and down through spectacular ravines.We would climb up impossibly steep hills and then go down again.   The switchback trails were muddy but passable.   These photos don’t begin to do justice to how amazing the views were. Everywhere we went there were beautiful flowers.   This vine was draped for hundreds of feet from tree to tree. I particularly loved these red flowers.  They were everywhere. I am always on the lookout for orchids and wasn’t disappointed.  However, I only say one in flower,  a “Lady of the night” Brassovola Nodosa.    They are very common and flower high up in the canopy.   They bloom more than once a year unlike most of the others that only bloom in the spring at the beginning of the rainy season in late spring.  They are very fragrant at night.   I saw plenty of other orchids but they weren’t in flower.   These are likely a member of the Cattleya or Laelia families.  All these plants look about the same when they are not blooming but their flowers are spectacular.  I wish they were in flower while I was there.   Here’s a sample of some Dominica stamps, including Brassavola Nodosa in the lower right. Orchids grow in the very top of trees, attached to branches so they can get lots of light.  However, fungus grow down low and don’t need so much light.   These tiny mushrooms were on a log.  Each one is only the size of a pea.Everywhere I turned there were beautiful leaves and flowers.  These were about 3′ across.   Impressive with the afternoon light streaming through the canopy. As we took the bus over the mountain pass to reach the windward side of the island the air was much cooler, the part of the island near the clouds.  Tree ferns, sometimes 15′ tall, were everywhere.   Hard to imagine a fern that large. Everything competes for light.  This bamboo stand was perhaps 60′ tall, perhaps taller.  When in active growth, this member of the grass family can grow several feet per day.   The “stalks”, actually individual “blades” of grass, were about 5-6″ wide.   Bamboo is known to be quite invasive and I can only imagine trying to control something like this in a home garden.   “Bob, the bamboo broke through the cement patio again last night. Would you get out the chainsaw and cut down that new growth.”  I know of such things from personal experience as we had bamboo in our garden for years but ours was only 1″ wide and perhaps 15″ tall.  Still a handful to control.
Every tree seemed to be bigger than the last.
As we came over each ridge the view was spectacular.
In some areas local farmers had cleared the woods to grow bananas or other crops.  After a few years, they let the forest reclaim the land.  It opens up the canopy and lets new plants take hold in a sort of sustainable agriculture approach.
As things grow back, begonias and other delicate plants take hold.
I am not used to seeing such flowers growing “wild”.  We saw plenty of birds like this hummingbird out for a morning snack.  There are many native varieties here with all the native flowers.
There are no poisonous snakes on the island but this lizard, about 3′ long looked plenty fearsome.  It doesn’t show but he had a decidedly blue hue.
The locals “farm” in the forest and pick the fruit when it is ready for market.  This is cocoa.   Interestingly, the “fruit”, about 6-8″ long grow right out of the trunk of the tree.
At the bottom of one of the ravines there was a beautiful babbling brook.   I was dying for a swim but everyone else seemed intent on pressing on.  Perhaps they were afraid that if they stopped they wouldn’t be able to get up again without a nap.  So, on we walked, up and down, and up and down again, through hill and dale, mostly hill for several hours.  After that, out on the road we stopped for a cold beer before we caught a bus back to town and “home”.
All and all, a wonderful “walk in the woods”.  Amazing.

This morning we went ashore early to the Saturday farmer’s market.  Unlike many of the more arid islands, agriculture is big here with a wonderful selection of fruits and vegetables.   Coconuts grow everywhere and MANY coconuts are opened up to fill bottles with “water”.   A big pile of “nuts”. We bought flowers from this lady.  I loved her outfit.  She was well put together to encourage sales. We probably bought more produce than we can eat but it all looked so inviting. So, back to Alexis.  Remember him, the guy who greeted us as we sailed into the anchorage a few days ago?  We, along with several other cruisers, hired him to give us a tour of the nearby Indian River.  As he rowed up the river, no motors allowed, he entertained us with a very enjoyable patter of local historic lore.  I expect that at least some of it was actually true. He sat up in the bow pulling the skiff against the gentle river current.    During the rainy season, think hurricanes, the water level is about 8′ higher and the river, impassable.
There was plenty of wildlife to take in.  This heron was busy looking for lunch, which he found.We passed another tour boat returning from their visit.  Cute kids. One of the “attractions” was an abandoned “set” from one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.   I can’t imagine where Johnny Depp stayed while they filmed the scene on the river as the roads are rough and I didn’t see any hotels nearby.It looked pretty convincing that a sorcerer would live here.  This is a scene from the movie filmed here.   I’d say that “you had to be there” and we were. The trees on the side of the river left plenty to the imagination. It would be easy for an overactive imagination to see these roots come to life at the stroke of midnight during a full moon. At the “head” of the river we visited a charming bar.  One of the “bar keeps” was cooking up some sort of fruit concoction that would be fortified with rum, what else?Bob and Carol, our fellow explorers.  They too are from the NYC area and have spent the winter cruising the same islands as me and Brenda. I can’t help it.  A picture of me and Brenda too.  We enjoyed meeting these two young couples who had sailed over from Europe, with their young children.  Both in their own boats.    Adventurous, for sure. River tour access is carefully controlled, which is good.  It’s a busy place but done in a way that ensures that it will remain a popular attraction for many more years.

When Alexis came out to welcome us to his country as we rounded the point the other day, he exclaimed “Welcome to paradise, welcome to Dominica”.  I agree.

We plan to spend a few more days here before we head back to Antigua later next week so there’s still plenty to do before we go.

Well, time for a swim so I’d better sign off for now.

Oh yeah, speaking of swimming.  Last evening just before sunset I took this photo of someone going for a swim, tarzan style.  I guess if you take enough photos, and I take plenty, you get lucky.   I guess that’s really it for now.  Stay tuned.

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