Daytripping Along Dominica`s Eastern Shore: Pagua Bay, Richmond Bay and Rosalie Bay

Sunrise Farm Cottages are nestled on a slope above the Atlantic close to an organic  farm on the property.

Sunrise Farm Cottages are nestled on a slope above the Atlantic close to fields of organic produce.

After my nutritious and  filling breakfast at Beau Rive on Sunday morning, I decided to take a little walk uphill from the hotel along the main road.  My intention was to

Sunrise Farm Cottages are located a short distance from an entrance to Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail and the Kalinago Territory.

Sunrise Farm Cottages are located a short distance from an entrance to  Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail and the Kalinago Territory.

explore the setting of  a different type of accommodation. I tackled  another steep climb of about 10 minutes and came upon Sunrise Farm Cottages, which is situated on an organic farm.  It is aptly named, and one can easily watch the sunrise from any vantage point!  The wood constructed self-catering cottages scattered discreetly around the acreage certainly appealed to me.  I may give them a try for a longer stay in the Castle Bruce area sometime!

Also nearby was the trail head to the  interior part of Waitukubuli National Trail, Segment 6. I had taken this track some years earlier, but had picked it up in Salibia in the Kalinago Territory, a few kilometers further north.

This trail marker takes hikers into the rugged. coastal part of WNT 6.  Until this point, the track is on the road leading from Castle Bruce.  The whole trek takes 6 - 7 hours - and it`s worth it!

This trail marker takes hikers into the rugged. coastal interior  of WNT 6. Until this point, the track is on the road leading from Castle Bruce. The whole trek takes 6 – 7 hours and passes through several Kalinago villages.

I`ll have to complete it from this point on my next trip to the east coast!  However, this was not a day for any big `walks`.

Shortly after I returned to Beau Rive, I freshened up and then drove away for the day`s planned adventure: Pagua Bay House and its renowned lunch menu.  Before I departed, Mark, the proprietor suggested that I take a slightly different route to reach my destination.  As I drove through the Kalinago Territory,  I followed his instructions and turned left onto Horseback Ridge Road when I saw the  sign for it.  I drove up the concrete roadway for a distance and then looked for a point where the road forked.  There, I turned left again instead of right, which continued as the Horseback Ridge trail and is part of WNT Segment 6.   I continued along on the roughened concrete, making several steep descents while glancing briefly at valley vistas in the direction of the Concord Valley. (I did not stop to take pictures as the incline was a little scary for me).  After about 10 minutes, I arrived at the Touna Kalinago Heritage Village on the south side of the Pagua River . (This Kalinago Village is well worth a stop to observe the traditional ways of these indigenous people.  I had visited there many years ago.)  I  crossed the river and made a right hand turn back towards the ocean, while passing through the village of Concord, then Hatton Garden and finally Pagua Bay! I quickly turned left (away from the ocean) and I was there!

Pagua Bay Bar and Grill and Guest House is conveniently located near the airport and is across the road from Pagua Beach.

Pagua Bay House is conveniently located near the airport and is across the road from Pagua Beach.

Pagua Bay  House ,Bar and Grill  is conveniently located directly across the road from the beach, and is only about 10 minutes away

Pagua Bay is the perfect place for a beach walk.  However, I would be cautious about a swim as undertow can be strong here.

Pagua Bay is the perfect place for a beach walk. However, I would be cautious about a swim as undertow can be strong here.

from Douglas-Charles  (formerly Melville Hall) Airport. Of course, I took my walk along the beach first so that my appetite would be adequate for a large lunch. The day was fair and a blustery breeze blew in off of the ocean.  I could taste the salt – or perhaps it was sweat!  In any case, it did the trick and after half an hour I felt as if I were ready to try out their tempting menu!

Golden apple juice appealed to me again (it is in season) and I started off with a large glass.  Jenny, the welcoming waitress reviewed the selections with me and I chose a vegetarian bean burger with the toppings.  I was careful to only eat half of the bun because it was necessary to satisfy my sweet tooth.  It was completely satiated with a moist melt-in-my-mouth generous slice of New York style cheesecake, complemented with a cup of coffee made to my specifications (mild, not strong!).

Afterwards, I succumbed to a little lie-down in a comfy lounge chair set in the cool blue pool overlooking the ocean.

The bar at Pagua serves refreshing and uncommon alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

The bar at Pagua Bay  House serves refreshing and uncommon alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Lovely Sarafina was a pleasant lunch companion. She rested quietly near my table and was as good as gold.  No, she did not beg, and no, I did not tempt her. Those eyes are something else!

Lovely Seraphina was a pleasant lunch companion. She rested quietly near my table and was as good as gold. No, she did not beg, and no, I did not tempt her. Those eyes are something else, though!

Eyes open or closed, the pool at Pagua Bay invites one to have a dip before or a rest after a delicious lunch!

Eyes open or closed, the pool at Pagua Bay House invites one to have a dip before or a rest after a delicious lunch!

Jenny, the gracious server and Sheldon the charming GM made me feel right at home at Pagua Bay Restaurant and Bar.

Jenny, the gracious server and Sheldon the charming GM made me feel right at home at the Pagua Bay House Restaurant and Bar.

I gazed around me at the lovely scene for a few moments, but I did feel drowsy and I gave in to that sensation for about half an hour.  Before I departed, I chatted amiably with Sheldon Bruno, the engaging General Manager.   We discussed his review of the first two nights of the  World Creole Music Festival, as he had attended both and would go for the final night after work.  I shouldn`t have been surprised when he told me that he lived in Roseau and drove across the island to work – in about 45 minutes.  The newly refurbished road through the Central Forest Reserve (named after former President Nicholas Liverpool) certainly makes it easier and quicker to go from one side of the island to the other. I expect this daily trek  doesn`t phase Sheldon – he is a very high energy guy with a ready smile and a positive attitude firmly in place. He definitely is an invaluable member of the team at Pagua Bay!

This view of Pagua Bay from its south side near the village of Atkinson also includes the two large rocks  (far right) that are situated near the bigger village of Marigot.

This view of Pagua Bay from its south side near the village of Atkinson also includes the two large rocks (far right) that are situated near the bigger village of Marigot.

A few raindrops chased me away from this enchanting site.  It was now mid-afternoon so I thanked my hosts and leisurely drove  for half an hour through the Kalinago Territory back to Beau Rive.  It was time to rest for dinner and make plans for my next and last day on the east coast.

Next morning, I tripped along the main road from Beau Rive in the opposite direction of the previous day.  I was curious to walk down to Richmond Bay, with its rocky shoreline and river mouth.  It had been about 10 years since I had spent part of day lounging in cool river pools with some Dominican friends who have since moved overseas.

I  slowly walked through the coastal forest on the public access road. When I reached the end of this right-of-way, a hand-made sign pointed the way to the beach so that no one would accidentally trespass on private property where a hotel is under construction. It was a bit tricky from here-on and I slid through slick mud and  stumbled over slippery rocks, but after a few minutes, I was ocean-side.

This river that flows into Richmond  Bay has some inviting pools in which one can cool off and revitalize!

This river that flows into Richmond Bay has some inviting shallow pools in which one can cool off and revitalize!

Richmond Bay`s remoteness gives it a wild, completely natural feel.

Richmond Bay`s remoteness gives it a wild, completely isolated feel.

I admired the views, but did not linger as I would be checking out of Beau Rive shortly and had to head back up the steep slope straight-away. I was in awe of this rugged shoreline and its secluded setting.  A great place to meditate!

My time at Beau Rive had passed too quickly as usual.  With the knowledge that I would be back sometime soon, I drove away with an idea that I should go down the coast to briefly revisit Rosalie Bay on this lovely day before returning to Roseau and home.

Rosalie Bay Resort is nestled just above the beach and the ocean.

Rosalie Bay Resort is nestled just above the beach and the ocean.

When I reached the T- junction of roads to the west of the Emerald Pool, I turned left and headed south to Rosalie. Road repairs were

Rosalie Bay Resort also abuts the mouth of the Rosalie River.

Rosalie Bay Resort also abuts the mouth of the Rosalie River.

underway and I travelled cautiously around broken pavement and potholes.  I arrived at Rosalie Bay Resort about 20 minutes later and noticed dark blue-black clouds approaching from the east.  I got out of the car and could feel the wind gaining strength. I really just wanted to walk along Rosalie Beach, which is renowned for sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs at certain times of the year. I was just at the end of this season, but I wanted to revisit this area and recall a time when I had watched sea turtle hatchlings run to the ocean to begin their lives underwater. I admire the ongoing dedication of volunteers and staff of the Rosalie Sea Turtle Initiative for their education and conservation efforts about three types of endangered sea turtles who come to this beach to lay their eggs.

The inviting patio at the Rosalie Bay Resort Restaurant is very inviting - except during a rain squall! (This photo was taken 5 minutes before it hit!).

The patio at the Rosalie Bay Resort Restaurant is very inviting – except during a rain squall! (This photo was taken 5 minutes before it hit!)

Rosalie Beach is a protected turtle nesting site.  It`s a great place for a brisk beach walk too.

Rosalie Beach is a protected turtle nesting site. It`s a great place for a brisk beach walk too.

That early afternoon, the dark clouds moved in quickly, carrying an intense rain squall which would be unleashed on Rosalie moments later!

That early afternoon, the dark clouds moved in quickly, carrying an intense rain squall which would be unleashed on Rosalie moments later!

I watched those menacing clouds draw near, and I ran back to the restaurant to order a simple take-out meal for the road: hummus, plantain chips and veggies.  While I waited, I became increasingly nervous as the wind blasted the building and table settings on the porch flew off in every direction.  I picked a few pieces up and then rushed inside as the rain pounded down.  I sipped on sorrel juice and when my lunch package arrived, I hurried out to the parking lot in a torrential downpour.

Suffice to say that the squall diminished as I headed north. The sun shone as I climbed the mountainous road and entered the Pond Cassé round-about in the middle of the island en route to Roseau.  Half an hour later, I was back in the capital and the rain was about to begin!  I wasted no time in driving the additional ten minutes to my home where I unloaded my light luggage and snacked on my take-out from Rosalie Bay Resort. I would have to meet friends Victoria and Neil, who live near Rosalie on another day when the weather promised to be fine. You can read about our previous get together and gastronomic experience at this eco-resort here.

As I reflected on my east coast sojourn, I felt grateful for the pleasant conversations, dramatic scenery, delicious meals and serene settings that I had experienced over the past few days.

Without a doubt, I look forward to my next adventure on the Nature Island with great anticipation!

 

A Birthday “Dine and Lime*” by the Beach at Calibishie, on Dominica’s Northeast Coast

Hell's Gates welcome travellers to the northern edge of the quaint village of Calibishie on Dominica's northeast coast.

Hell’s Gate welcomes travellers to the northern edge of the quaint village of Calibishie on Dominica’s northeast coast.

After I left Fort Shirley and the Cabrits National Park , I drove along one of Dominica’s well-travelled  winding roads in an easterly direction.  Despite the brightness of the day, giant palm trees shadowed the route, which skirts the south side of Morne Aux Diables and other smaller peaks.

The pretty village of Calibishie sits at the water's edge and a stretch of sandy beach

The pretty village of Calibishie sits at the water’s edge along a sheltered stretch of sandy beach

After about half an hour, I reached the northernmost entrance to the quaint ocean-side village called Calibishie (Cal-i-BI-she).   This is a Kalinago word which means “a net of reefs.”

This unassuming little hamlet is unique on the Nature Island in that it is sheltered by a mile long barrier reef that protects the shoreline from the persistent Atlantic surf.  Historically, this area is known to have had the earliest settlement on Dominica – back to the pre-Columbian era!  Renowned local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, PhD, has written a fascinating article about this pretty place.  You can read it here.

I had a couple of restaurants in mind for lunch: they had been recommended to me by various people over the past several months.  Lo and behold, despite being off-season, I happily  and immediately discovered that the Rainbow Restaurant (767-245-9995) was open on this perfect birthday afternoon!

The Rainbow Restaurant (767) 245-9995 is located on the north end of the village of Calibishie - right beside the ocean!

The Rainbow Restaurant (767) 245-9995 is located on the north end of the village of Calibishie – right beside the ocean!

The waiter greeted me warmly. When I enquired about the delectable ”French” cooking that people were raving about, he modestly professed, “Oh yes, that is my wife.  We prepare French-Caribbean-style recipes.”  I scanned the menu, and while I was not ravenously hungry due to my big brunch at The Champs Restaurant a few hours earlier, I took the recommendation of a couple who were visiting from Catalonia: they were enthused about the octopus salad!  In terms of seafood, it was an unusual choice for me.  However, it could not have been any fresher.  The octopi are harvested in the sheltered cove right in front of the restaurant!

The octopus salad at the Rainbow Restaurant in Calibishie was appealing in its colorful presentation and well-blended complementary ingredients!

The octopus salad at the Rainbow Restaurant in Calibishie was appealing in its colorful presentation and well-blended healthful ingredients!

This hand-made ocean-side rocker at the Rainbow Restaurant offered an opportunity to digest a good meal and savour the gorgeous views.

This hand-made ocean-side bamboo rocker at the Rainbow Restaurant offered an opportunity to digest a good meal and savour the gorgeous views. The waves are breaking on the reef, as short distance away.

The dish was well seasoned with local herbs, and the potatoes offset the stronger flavour of the octopus.  The generous serving filled me up quickly.  After I had finished the whole bowl, I felt in need of a little rest on this scorching Caribbean summer afternoon. The bamboo’ rocking chair’ set ocean-side in the sand was there waiting for me! I lounged for a seemingly long time – distracted by a  clear view of Marie-galante, a nearby French West Indian island.  Closer to shore, Frigate birds steeply dove into the shallow waters to pick up their fresh fish lunches.  I watched a boy in flippers  and mask bob up and down in his search for octopus, perhaps, not far from the nearby reef.  I also caught

The northerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant includes Hell's Gate, just offshore.

The northerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant includes Hell’s Gate, just offshore.

occasional glimpses of the couple from Catalonia, who frolicked in the gentle surf for  a brief time before their scheduled departure from Dominica at Melville Hall Airport, a short drive away.

The southerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant provides a glimpse of the famous Red Rocks - a great place for a walk above the ocean shoreline.

The southerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant provides a glimpse of the famous Red Rocks outcrop – a great place for a walk, high above the ocean shoreline.

A view of Morne Diablotin, Dominica's highest peak from the Calbishie area, near Poz Restaurant and Bar.

A view of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak from the Calibishie area on the east coast, near Poz Restaurant and Bar.

After another half hour, I did feel more refreshed.  I paid my reasonably priced bill, and headed further south, en route to another popular place called Poz Restaurant and Bar. Unfortunately the friendly owner, a Canadian from Toronto, was not there, as he would be opening later that day due to it being the quiet time of year for tourists.  We spoke by phone for a few minutes and I assured ‘Poz’ that I would be back to spend time at his well-received establishment on my next trip to Calibishie!

At this juncture, I had not eaten any cake for my ‘big day’.  As many places were closed for the summer low season, I decided to check out a newly opened hotel along the main road near the fishing village of Anse de Mé (Mai).  This new development, called Atlantique View Resort and Spa is roughly half-way between Calibishie and Portsmouth, right at the sharp bend where the road dramatically turns inland, away from the ocean.

When I drove up the steep lane, I was not sure if it was open at first.  But almost right away, a man appeared on a distant balcony and motioned me in.  I parked at a lower level (my choice), walked up the paved drive and followed the signs until I reached the restaurant area.  I walked in and gasped – the spacious dining room was tastefully decorated  with  a dark solid wood interior, plentiful natural light and white linen tablecloths.  It was lovely!  However, it was mid-afternoon and I was not dressed for sitting in such an elegant setting.  I asked the servers on this quiet day if I might have some cake and ice cream, with coffee.  A young lady ushered me  onto a spacious covered veranda, with a gorgeous view of a giant coconut grove and the mighty Atlantic just beyond it.

The northerly view of the Atlantic coastline over the coconut grove in front of Atlantique View resort and Spa is delightful!

The northerly view of the Atlantic coastline over the coconut grove below Atlantique View Resort and Spa is delightful!

While the coconut cake was more like a pastry, the coconut ice cream

My coconut pastry also came with coconut ice cream, which came in a separate bowl.  It was yummy!

My coconut pastry also came with coconut ice cream, which arrived in a separate bowl. It was yummy!

complemented it well.  I relaxed there for a while and enjoyed the lovely surroundings of this 35 room hotel. By now, it was late afternoon and I was feeling slightly sleepy and very full, so I took my leave and wished the staff of this new venture well.  They have not been open for a year at this writing and the spa is still under construction.  However, I think it would be a wonderful place for any kind of retreat (personal or professional).  They  do have a huge conference room too!

I headed back to The Champs Hotel in Picard, Portsmouth for the last night of my birthday weekend before heading back to Roseau the next morning.

The birthday cake prepared by Nancy and Brendan was lovely to look at and delicious to eat!

‘ The birthday cake prepared by Nancy and Brendan was lovely to look at and delicious to eat!

Post script: Little did I know that I would be in for a big birthday surprise (or two!) the following weekend.  When three late-August born friends met at the former Springfield Plantation for a little get-together and a river ‘bath’, I had no idea that Nancy, the manager of this  international education and research-based centre  would offer presents and a big cake to Liz and me, as part of our celebration.

Liz (l), Nancy and Gwendominica pose for a moment before breaking the cake!  Photo taken by Brendan.

Liz (l), Nancy and Gwendominica pose for a moment before breaking into their birthday cake! Photo taken by Brendan.

I did not take too many photos, as I was very much enjoying the ‘moment’, but I assure you it was a most fitting finale for my birthday festivities on the Nature Isle in 2014!

* ‘Lime’ is a West Indian expression for hanging out and having fun.

Calling All Sailors: Drop Anchor at Dominica!*

Ships, Yachts, Sailboats and Cruisers drop anchor at Roseau

Ships, Yachts, Sailboats and Cruisers drop anchor at Roseau.

When sailing through the Caribbean, be sure to set your sights on Dominica, the English-speaking island located between Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Nature lovers and adventure seekers would be remiss if they did not drop anchor at Dominica!

Sailors approaching Dominica will easily understand why the Kalinago people called her 'Waitukubuli', which means "Tall is her body."

Sailors approaching Dominica will easily understand why the Kalinago people called her ‘Waitukubuli’, which means “Tall is her body.”

For centuries, Dominica has impressed many sailors with its lush green mountains rising right out of the sea.  When the Kalinago people (Carib Indians) first paddled up here from South America over a thousand years ago, they called her Waitukubuli, which means “tall is her body.” It was on a Sunday during Columbus’s second journey in 1493 that he named the island ‘Dominica’ for the day of his personal ‘discovery’. (Note: He did not set foot on the Nature Island, but it is said that he was in awe of her rugged terrain!)  And some people feel that if the great explorer  were return to the Caribbean today, Dominica would be the only island that would look familiar!

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L’Express des Iles ferry (red and white) frequently drops people from Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia on Dominica!

Within its terrain are four mountains rising above 4,000 feet.  Over 30 waterfalls nd gorges, innumerable rivers (some say one for every day of the year!) and a rainforest considered the finest in the region beckon the seafarer to step ashore and spend some time on this island paradise.  Of course, if diving is your delight, you won’t be disappointed either.  The Nature Island’s amazing underwater terrain ranks among the best in the world.

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These moorings are close to the Anchorage Hotel, a mile south of Roseau. They can organize your shore, dive and whale watch tours right from their dock!

Once ashore, go to Roseau, the capital city, and visit the Dominica Museum, as well as the Tourist Information Office  They are located on the Bay Front, directly opposite the cruise ship pier.  The museum will give you a very good overview of the country’s history, culture and anthropology through its wonderful exhibits and displays.  As the Tourist Information Office is downstairs, you can get information about various attractions and adventure activities, as well as securing names of certified taxi operators and tour guides.

In order to fully experience the magnificence of Dominica’s rainforest, a visit or two to Morne Trois Pitons National Park near Laudat would be most worthwhile.  In 1997, UNESCO proclaimed this 17,000 acre park as a World Heritage Site because of its biodiversity, natural features and uniqueness within the region.  There are four hiking trails within the park, including the challenging day-long return journey to the world-famous Boiling Lake.  This is the most arduous track, which requires assistance from a certified guide.  At the trail-head to the Boiling Lake, the Titou Gorge offers a refreshing but challenging swim into its interior and a natural hot shower at its mouth.  (You might want to save that for your reward when you finish this challenging hike). The other trails to Middleham Falls, Freshwater Lake and Boeri Lake also give the intrepid sailor plentiful opportunities for a good landlubber workout amidst pristine  wilderness surroundings.

The Freshwater Lake Trail in Morne Trois Pitons National Park has spectacular views of the east coast. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

The Freshwater Lake Trail in Morne Trois Pitons National Park has spectacular views of the east coast. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

If it’s your intention to stay on land for more than a day or so, then you should also experience a segment or two of the recently opened Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT).  One hundred and fifteen miles of track are broken up into 14 segments which traverse the island from Scott’s Head in the south to the Cabrits in the north.  The sections vary in length, difficulty and type of terrain but it is reasonable to estimate a full day of hiking on each segment in most cases.  If you take along a certified trail guide, your wilderness workout will be further enhanced.

Emerald Pool 2

I dare you to take a dip in the cool Emerald Pool in Morne Trois Pitons National Park!

There are many other ways to experience nature at its finest  in Dominica.  The Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar features a four-acre tropical garden which has a number of rare plants and some hot and cold mineral pools. Nearby are the stunning twin falls of Trafalgar, which can be  observed from a  sheltered viewing platform. Another easily accessible waterfall is the Emerald Pool, just off the road to Castle Bruce in the island’s interior.  The bountiful shades of green make it a photographer’s delight.  This and the Trafalgar Falls trail  are relatively short and well maintained, but if you don’t care for crowds, it is best to experience them on a day when there are no cruise ships in port.

After spending some time at and perhaps even swimming in the Emerald Pool, you should head in an easterly direction to Castle Bruce and then turn in a northerly direction so that you can visit the Carib Territory.  This area of Dominica is home to about 3,000 Kalinago people who live in eight villages scattered throughout this reserve.  These indigenous people are renowned for their wonderful  hand-woven baskets made from local grasses and they bake a very delicious bread from the root of the cassava plant. In order to further appreciate their history and culture, a stop at Kalinago Barana Aute (Carib Model Village) is a must.  Here, you can take a guided tour, watch traditional dances, observe the making of ancient crafts and carving of traditional dug-out canoes and sample some of that mouth-watering cassava bread! While in the area, you might  like to make another side-trip for an hour or so and take the  L’Escalier Tete Chien trail down to the Atlantic.  This natural stairway to the  ocean is said to resemble a boa constrictor. Ask your guide about the intriguing legend of this area.

The walk down (and then back up) L'Escalier Tete Chien in the Carib Reserve is not for the faint of heart!

The walk down (and then back up) L’Escalier Tete Chien in the Carib Territory is not for the faint of heart!

Prince Rupert's Bay at Portsmouth has numerous moorings.  It is the most popular anchorage in Dominica.

Prince Rupert’s Bay at Portsmouth has numerous secure moorings. It is a popular anchorage in Dominica.

On another day, you can also drop anchor at Portsmouth, or take an hour’s drive up the coast from Roseau to enjoy the interpretive path at Syndicate, located inland from Dublanc in the Northern Forest Reserve.  This one hour loop is popular for parrot watching.  The endangered Sisserou  and the vulnerable Jacquot (Jaco) are endemic to Dominica and thrive in this area. A knowledgeable guide and forestry officer, such as Bertrand (Dr. Birdy) Jno Baptiste (drbirdy2@cwdom.dm)  can tell you more about these and other birds, as well as the flora and fauna around the trail. More intrepid hikers might like to tackle Dominica’s highest peak, Morne Diablotin, as you are in near the trail-head.  You could also pick up the Waitukubuli National Trail Segments 10 and/or 11, which traverse this part of the Nature Island.

If you’d rather sit for a while after all that ‘walking’, you could take a scenic boat-ride up the Indian River, just south of Portsmouth.  Trained guides will row you up the bwa mang tree-lined river (which was featured in Pirates of the Caribbean – but I forget whether it was in # 2 or 3!)), while explaining the local history  and pointing out areas and creatures of interest in this enchanting locale.  The stop at the remote Bush Bar may (or may not!)  be memorable!

For those who choose not to hike up mighty Morne Diablotin, you could spend a restful day having a picnic and admiring it from a distance at Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park.  The fort is presently being restored and there are many interpretive signs, displays and well-marked meandering trails on the site.  Segment 14 of the Waitukubuli National Trail, which follows the rocky coastline from Capuchin in the north, also passes through the park and terminates near its entrance.  Then again, you could ride a horse  from a stable just east of Portsmouth and move through the rain forest on a saddle instead of your feet.

If you’d like to spend some down time on a beach, you’ll have plenty of choices.  While there are no five-mile long stretches filled with hundreds of tourists, you’ll find some quiet strips of sand or

Coconut Beach, just south of Portsmouth is a great place to relax and have aswim. The Cabrits National Park (the two humps) can be seen in teh distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Coconut Beach, just south of Portsmouth is a great place to relax and have a swim. The Cabrits National Park (the two humps) can be seen in the distance. Historic Fort Shirley is found there.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

pebbles all along the west and northeast coasts.  While a secluded cove may seem appealing, I would discourage anyone from venturing too far without a tour guide or taxi driver, just to be on the safe side (as you would anywhere in the world!).

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The Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve in the south of the island is a protected site. At Soufriere Bay,Scott’s Head is the promontory in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Water-sports enthusiasts can partake of their favourite pass-times in Dominica too.  Various companies offer kayaking, tubing, rafting, river hiking, windsurfing, fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, and of course, spectacular scuba diving for which Dominica is famous.  A number of licensed dive operators are located along the west coast of the island.  There are many sites from which to take the plunge, including L’Abym along the southwest coast which descends to 1,500 feet.  Snorkelers will delight in the variety of sea life found on the  abundant, healthy coral reefs.  Champagne Beach in the northern part of the Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve is exceptional for rising bubbles composed of volcanic gasses formed beneath the sea.

Dominica is renowned for its nature and adventure, but you would be missing out on a big part of it if you overlooked its unique culture.  Festivities, such as the annual World Creole Music Festival can really attract a huge crowd.  It takes place every October, just before the country’s Independence celebrations and draws thousands from around the world. Carnival season is a perennial favourite from January to March with its pageants, parades, calypso competitions and street jump-ups. On a weekly basis, a number of hotels, bars and clubs offer happy hours and special events. The tourist information office or a hotel can give you more details.

And don’t forget to sample some local fare!  Put your taste buds to the test – try some stuffed bakes, black pudding, souse,  goat-water, crab-backs (in season) or callaloo soup, to name a few.

Only slip-shod sailors would be content to admire Dominica’s topography from a distance.  So drop anchor and experience the sensational Nature Island, Dominica!DSCF5176

*Comprehensive information about Dominica is found on these web sites:  Discover Dominica Authority and A Virtual Dominica.

** This piece was originally published in Caribbean Compass January 2004 and has since been substantially modified.

A Day off Dominica: Sailing to Marie-Galante, French West Indies

Over the years, visits to the northeastern villages and beaches of Dominica  included moments when I would gaze longingly offshore at a tiny  pancake-shaped French island of 158 square kilometres (61 square miles) called  Marie-Galante.   I’d previously spent time on her bigger sister called Guadeloupe, a  bustling overseas Department of France, so I was very curious about this  petite et tranquille ile.

On a beautiful  December Saturday, I embarked on a journey by chartered sailboat,  with the expectation that I might discover something about this intriguing island . I was in good company, as  a friend who is a member of the Dominica Welfare and Hospital Aid Scheme invited me to take part in their pre-Christmas outing.  She was well aware of my lasting fascination with this little French island.

As the sun peeked over the mountain-tops, we departed from the Roseau Ferry Terminal  aboard the Anchorage Hotel’s 75′ catamaran,  Passion.  Although it was only 7 a.m., we would be on the water for about five hours before dropping anchor at  Grand-Bourg, Marie-Galante.  We cruised up the west coast in calm seas, with brilliant sunshine heating up the decks.  The crew hoisted the sails and we sheltered in their shadows.  After we rounded the Cabrits National Park at Portsmouth, we faced a brisk breeze as we crossed the Guadeloupe Channel.

The northern coastline of Dominica as seen en route to Marie-Galante.

Despite the midday heat, the  latter part of the journey was cool and comfortable, as we headed directly into the waves at an even keel.   I admired Dominica’s spectacular topography above its northern shoreline from the stern of the boat.  Then I struck up a conversation with the boat’s captain, Andrew Amour.  He is known as Dominica’s “whale whisperer” so of course we discussed the possibility of spotting one or more of those gentle giants on the voyage. (There were no sightings that day).  Captain Andrew gave me a quick overview of what to see and do during our short time onshore.  He also told me about a popular blues festival that draws large crowds every May.  I made a mental note about attending that event sometime.

Approaching Grand-Bourg, the main town on Marie-Galante.

By high noon,  we docked along a sturdy wharf situated near the Express des Iles  ferry terminal in Grand-Bourg.  A French immigration officer welcomed us en francais and urged us to enjoy the day.  With the aid of the boat’s crew, we jumped onto the dock and walked right into the town’s centre.  Cars choked the narrow streets. Miniscule sidewalks required skillful manoeuvering as we got our bearings and made our plans for the afternoon.

My study of the French language at the Alliance Francaise de la Dominique was really put to the test when I made enquiries about restaurants and grocery stores.  Friendly shopkeepers pointed us in the right direction and one even escorted us to the location of the only grocery in that part of town. To our dismay,  we also discovered that all shops and sites would be closing at 1:00 p.m., as Saturdays are only half-days for business.  With that new-found knowledge,  the  whole boatload of us raced to enter  a small storefront that spread out on several levels.  We scrambled to pick up purchases with less than an hour to spare.

My shopping list was easy.  I knew what I wanted and found everything without too much difficulty.  I cruised the crammed aisles which overflowed with French goods.  I picked up  some dark chocolate, coffee, candies, handmade soap, biscuits, croissants and mini-baguettes, as well as a bottle of Marie-Galante’s finest 50 proof rum (for guests of course!).  This locally made liquor is a reminder of days gone-by when sugar and rum production were the island’s mainstay.  At one time, there were over 100 sugar  windmills scattered around the country-side. A fair number of them are still standing, one of which serves as a museum.  But it was closed on Saturday afternoon!

As the Passion was only a few minutes down the street, we left our purchases onboard with the crew.  Thankfully, the restaurants were still open and it was definitely time for lunch!  There were two in close proximity to the wharf.  The group split into two so that we all dined at one or the other.  Once seated in the café slightly to the left of the ferry terminal (facing town),  I selected and devoured a lightly seasoned, pan-seared local variety of tuna, with steamed  vegetables and fried plantains on the side .  It was divine!  Everyone remarked on their delectable meals.  Now we wanted to fill a couple of on- land hours  before our departure.

A beautiful, shady white-sand beach near Capesterre, Marie-Galante

After some discussion, a number of use decided on a mini-bus tour of the island, as it would only take an hour or so to circumnavigate it.  While I was seated beside the driver, I acted as interpreter, even though some others in my party spoke Creole.  I did not mind the practice, but  unfortunately  our tour driver was not forthcoming with much information.  While I asked him a number of questions that the group had posed, he repeatedly mumbled that Saturday afternoon is a holiday,  it is not his usual working time and everything is closed! (Needless to say, we still paid him at the end of the trip!).

The sugar mills were once powered by oxen. They are still a common sight. A 'Pappy Show' wedding was taking place, which is a cultural tradition that involves a spoof wedding where all the participants dress up (some in drag) and pretend to be someone in the wedding ceremony in a comical way. It is very funny. They are sometimes seen in Dominica, especially during Carnival parades.

Because of his sullen silence, we entertained ourselves by admiring the scenery, taking a little time to enjoy a beautiful beach and briefly observing some French Creole cultural traditions that resembled those in Dominica. Unfortunately, our driver would not stop and let us out to take pictures, so we took quick snaps with the windows rolled down!

As well as the 'Pappy Show' wedding another form of entertainment was about to begin. A 'Sewenal' is a celebration where carolers sing in the streets and expect an invitation into people's homes for fruitcake and drinks. Dominica shares this Creole tradition. This might also be referred to as a 'Village Feast'.

Sunset at sea on the Guadeloupe Channel

We returned to Grand-Bourg during a downpour and raced back to the café for some unforgettable French ice cream.  After that  quick treat, we scampered down the dock to await our 5:00 p.m. departure.   As we sailed away from the shore-line into the sunset, a luminous full moon lighted our way across the channel.  Once we rounded the Cabrits, a chilly breeze blew down from the mountains and kept us wakeful until we arrived back in Roseau late that evening.

While I was only there for a few hours, I remain intrigued with Marie-Galante.  You will have noticed that tourism is still an emerging industry there, but that’s perfectly fine with me.  Its quaint, tranquil setting, generally friendly people, great food, lovely beaches,  and French-Creole traditions definitely call for further study.  Au revoir!

One more thing – you don’t have to charter a  boat to get there.  Ferry service via Express Des Iles makes scheduled stops between Roseau and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. From there, another boat continues to Grand-Bourg, Marie-Galante.