Despite the hurricane damage, we were still eager to tour Dominica, and set up a day-long island tour through Eddison. We arrived at the PAYS pavilion, where a van was ready and waiting. Peter and Nicki, a Swiss couple who were also moored in the anchorage, joined us for the day.
Just outside of town we saw piles of lumber, waiting for use in various reconstruction projects, and our first up close views of Dominica’s stripped landscape.
Ascending the hills, we saw many roof tarps, and houses still damaged in every direction, including one man who had set up house in a tent (I snapped photos like mad through the window of the van, so apologies for the occasional blur and reflection).
Our guide drove us down to a local fishing pier, where we stopped to snap photos and chat with some locals. They tried to coax Scott into staying for a beer at one of the small bars onsite, but he managed to hold firm and climb back into the van.
And who wouldn’t want to ride in this snazzy van?!
Our next top was the local chocolate factory, always a hit in my book. Unfortunately, they were still repairing damage from the storm, and weren’t yet open for tours. Luckily, we were invited in to purchase chocolate bars…so our stop wasn’t a total loss!
Leaving the factory with a chocolate fix, we traveled a bit further, before pulling off to the side of the road in a quite random location. A barefoot man with long dreadlocks approached the car, and we were told he’d be our guide to Red Rocks. O…kaaay. Like sheep, the four of us hopped out of the van, and followed Danny into the trees.
He was concerned about our footwear, and suggested that we go barefoot instead. We all chose to continue on with our shoes, and before we’d gone two steps, both men slipped almost immediately on the slick. soupy mud. Scott caught himself, but poor Peter ended up with mud covering his entire back.
After several more minutes of trekking gingerly along the mucky trail, we came out of the trees, and into this!…
This area of Dominica’s shoreline is referred to as Red Rocks. It’s like nothing we’ve seen anywhere in our travels, and I’m guessing it’s the only area like it in the Caribbean. The red, compacted mud appeared Mars-like (or what I imagine Mars is like), and we just wandered the rust-colored, mounded surface…taking it in.
Danny guided us down a slope, and into a small ravine. He showed us a small cave, which Scott immediately crawled into.
He also managed to squeeze himself into this crevasse.
We walked over to the north edge of the Red Rocks area, with views of Calibishie in the distance, before heading into the woods and back to the van.
Danny insisted on rinsing our shoes using a nearby water spigot, as they were completely caked in mud, and then we were off on our way in the van.
Our guide drove us along the western coast, where the beaches were lined with much storm debris. The van climbed up, up, up into the mountains, and as the steep winding road came to it’s highest point, and dropped off in front of us, I couldn’t look out the window. Scott took over photo duty, standing out of the large sun roof above the van’s passenger seats for a better view.
We were headed to the Carib Territory. Since signing a treaty with the Europeans, descendants of the original Carib Indians live on Dominica’s windward coast. The Caribs are lighter skinned than native Dominicans, with Asian features. They still build dugout canoes, and sell baskets and other crafts to tourists. We’d hoped to visit their museum, but it had been destroyed by Maria.
The road leading to the Carib Territory was in terrible shape after Maria’s flooding rains. So badly so, that the van got stuck in a mud rut along the way, and we all had to jump out and push!! Luckily, our efforts worked, and the van was able to get past the beat up section of road.
At the territory’s highest point, we stopped to buy some trinkets from two Carib women, who had tables full of handmade items for sale alongside the road. These ladies definitely had an office with a view.
Next, a stop for lunch, which was great timing, as we were all starved. The Islet View Restaurant was classic tiki/tropical, with amazing views.
And, a friendly greeter…
“Bush Rum” is very popular on Dominica. All combinations of herbs, plants and spices are added to rum for infused flavor. This homemade island libation comes in bottles of all shapes and sizes, and Scott enjoyed sampling the many different flavors during our visit. The Islet view had quite an extensive selection, making it hard for him to choose (although he tried more than one flavor on several occasions)!
Our lunch options were the typical local offerings of barbecue chicken, stewed chicken, or salted fish. I decided to finally try salted fish, and was not disappointed. All of our meals were delicious, but our hands-down favorite was an amazingly yummy sauce that the owner/chef made to go with our fried plantain chips (Sorry, but I rarely take photos of food, as I’m too busy shoving it into my face)!!
The four of us lingered for another cold beer after lunch, enjoying our surroundings, before boarding the van to continue on. As we came outside, the owner was purchasing fresh vegetables from a local truck.
With full bellies, our next stop would be a short walk to a waterfall. The drive through this area of the island was noticeably gray, and the trees much more visibly stripped.
Before Maria, the view may have looked something like this..
What we saw after the storm…
Our guide let us off alongside the road, where we followed an easy path to the waterfall. We walked past massive trees that had been completely uprooted, others that had been snapped off, and soaring knobby timbers that used to be coconut palms.
Even though the way had been recently cleared, we still had to side-step piles of debris, and climb over downed trees. It was a strange mix of destruction and lush, green regrowth.
A steep set of stairs lead down to the waterfall, which was just coming into view (Just for reference, the first photo is one I found online, pre-Maria).
The stairs led us past a beautiful “wet wall.” Moss, vines and various plants were constantly bathed in dripping water and mist, making for quite a cool “jungle” effect.
The four of us enjoyed the cool air coming from the falls. Our guide told us that before Maria, daylight was barely visible here, but we now stood in an area was awash in light. I’ve included another before-Maria photo.
It wasn’t the largest one in the world, but waterfalls are always cool.
Back in the van, we drove through areas that were much more green, as we made our way down to the island’s eastern coast. We passed an area where sand was being loaded onto trucks, for export to places like Florida (really….that’s a thing, exporting sand), and drove through several villages right down at sea level. Here, we saw houses, still abandoned, filled with sand.
Understandably, roads along the coast received significant damage from the storm. We came around a scary turn where half the road had slide away, leaving only one lane. As our van approached drop off, a truck coming the other way sped by us as if there was plenty of room, leaving himself only inches to spare. I was sure he’d slide down into the abyss, but he just sped on.
Just a bit further was evidence of how long storm recovery can take on an island. We detoured around a bridge that had been washed away by Tropical Storm Erika, in August of 2015, and had yet to be repaired.
We came into Portsmouth, passing Ross University, which offers both medical and veterinary schools of medicine. Since the hurricane, some students were currently living on a cruise ship docked in St. Kitts, and attending classes on board, while others had transferred to a temporary campus in Knoxville, Tennessee. At the time of our tour, the university hoped to have the campus open in March, for the 2018 spring semester, but we later learned that it was unlikely the university would be fully operational in Dominica before 2019.
The anchorage came into view as a full moon rose, and our long day was over.
Our guide presented both Niki and me with a colorful souvenir of our day, a beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers that he’d stopped along the road to cut for us. Sadly, I could only enjoy mine for a hour or so, before Howard found them and started munching, so overboard they went.
We’d gotten a great overview of the island, and seen both gorgeous and depressing sights. The forests of Dominica would take a dozen years to rebound from Maria’s beating, but luckily, our guide told us that most crops will produce next year. The island was truly beautiful, despite damage that was still very visible. I cannot imaging the lushness of Dominica before this powerful storm touched it. Maybe we’ll have to return in ten years or so…..
Here are many more photos of our island tour.
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”