Touring Soufriere and Scotts Head in Southwestern Dominica

Fishing boats silently bobbed in Soufriere Bay at midday on a Saturday. Scotts Head is in the background.

Fishing boats quietly bobbed in calm Soufriere Bay at midday on a Saturday. Scotts Head, the southernmost point of Dominica is in the background.

The mid-morning weather was a little dreary and drizzly when I convinced myself that I must go ahead with my long overdue plan to revisit Soufriere and Scotts Head, two lovely  Dominican villages about a half hour south of Roseau.  But I  had no idea of current road conditions beyond my frequented hang-out, Champagne Beach since the infamous Christmas Eve Storm.    Therefore, I decided to wait for a bus in the village of Loubiere, which is very close to my home.  I really had it in my mind that I would ‘play tourist’ on this mini holiday, so I dressed  for the part and hoped that no one would recognize me.

After about 20 minutes, a bus came along and I hopped on, while anticipating a rough ride.  Surprisingly, the road was not too bad, all things considered, and the only other passenger, a villager from Soufriere and I engaged in friendly conversation.  While we carefully avoided  local politics, I did mention Toronto’s mayor and his  recent antics when I declared myself a Canadian!  From there, we talked about the recent storm, where we were and what we doing at that time (Christmas Eve morning) and our personal feelings about pets.  While our views were quite divergent about domestic animals, I did tell them about Tia-pet, my 16-year-old cat who has been my long-time companion on the Nature Isle.

The pretty Catholic Church in the southern village of Soufriere.

The pretty Catholic Church in the southern village of Soufriere.

The driver dropped me and his other passenger near the Catholic Church in Soufriere and wished me a pleasant day in his neck-of-

The murals of village life and scenery on either side of the altar give teh Soufriere Catholic Church a unique beauty.

The murals of village life and scenery on either side of the altar give the Soufriere Catholic Church a unique beauty. (Left side: traditional Creole dancing; centre: Soufriere bay and Scotts Head; Right: fishermen).

the-woods.  This 19th century House of Worship, which was recently renovated, is certainly an attraction to behold, and a pride and joy of the parish of St. Mark.  Its sea-facing entrance and colourful external decor definitely complement the remarkable interior: beautiful murals of local life are found on either side of the altar. They were painted by renowned local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, who is currently coordinating the restoration of Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National park near Portsmouth.  I gazed in awe and reverence at  these splendid scenes of Dominican life and culture.

When I stepped outside of the church, I noticed that the skies had cleared and the temperature was rising.  Although I had brought along my bathing suit, I was not quite warmed up enough for a dip in the sea.  However, I did take a few moments to wander along ‘Bubbles Beach’,  which is located directly in front of the church.  This is where villagers have cordoned off an area with rocks so that hot waters rising from volcanic vents on the sea floor are contained for those who would like to have a warm and relaxing soak.  I did stick my hand in and it was quite hot!  However, I thought I would wait to do  that on my next visit, as I was determined to walk to Scotts Head before the sun climbed any higher.

As I walked along the seaside on a well constructed sidewalk, I admired to views of the promontory of Scotts Head before me and the village of Soufriere behind me.  About mid-way, I observed the entrance to the trail that goes up to the lovely little village of Gallion.

The trailhead of the 1/2 hour track to the village of Gallion is adorned with flowers.

The trailhead of the 1/2 hour track to the village of Gallion is adorned with flowers.

Northerly view from Gallion of Soufriere Bay and the village of Soufriere.

Northerly view from Gallion of Soufriere Bay and the village of Soufriere. Photo by Edwin.

The village of Scotts head as seen from the northern approach by road.

The village of Scotts Head as seen from the northern approach by road.

While I didn’t have time to take the half hour switch-back track on this day, I have enjoyed it on other occasions.  The view from the look-off at the top is spectacular, so it’s definitely worth the sweat!

I enjoyed the fresh breezes off Soufriere Bay as I continued along and before half an hour passed, the village of Scotts Head came into view.

It was a pleasant saunter through the village, as I made my way to its southern end.  It was my intention to climb Scotts Head, where a few ruins of an old British battery from the 18th century, Fort Cachacrou were still in place.

Although I was starting to get hungry, I knew that I should do the work-out first, because after a big meal at Chez Wen, I wouldn’t be able to move much.

Chez Wen in Scotts Head serves up delicious  fresh fish meals in a gorgeous seaside ambience with friendly service.

Chez Wen in Scotts Head serves up delicious fresh fish meals in a pleasant seaside atmosphere with friendly service.

I stopped in to the cheery café on the way through and informed the friendly waitress that I would be back for a  fresh-caught marlin fish lunch after my foray.

Fishermen hall in their nets at Scotts Head, one of Dominica's  renowned fishing villages.

Fishermen hall in their nets at Scotts Head, one of Dominica’s renowned fishing villages.

I chatted briefly with some villagers along the way – but at least two people weren’t fooled by my tourist outfit. “Hi Gwen!  How are you?” called out Casey, a former fellow teacher from Orion Academy.  “Look over there!  They’re hauling in nets,” he shouted as he and his friend drove away.  Another man who works in my neighbourhood also greeted me, to my surprise.  I guess after all this time, I can’t fool everyone…

The strong Atlantic surf is only a short distance from the calm Caribbean along the isthmus that connects Scotts Head to the village.

The strong Atlantic surf is only a short distance from the calm Caribbean along the isthmus that connects Scotts Head to the village.

As I crossed the narrow isthmus en route to the promontory, I admired the contrast between the wild Atlantic surf and the calm

Segment One of the Waitukubuli National Trail Begins at the isthmus at Scotts Head!

Segment One of the Waitukubuli National Trail begins at the isthmus at Scotts Head!

Caribbean Sea.  To be so close to both bodies of

The sheltered cove on the right side of the Scotts Head promontory is ideal for snorkelling. Its outer edge is known as an are where divers can go very deep.

The sheltered cove on the right side of the Scotts Head promontory is ideal for snorkelling. Its outer edge is known as an area where divers can go very deep.

water at one time is another special thrill for me when I visit this part of Dominica.  Then I took a little time to walk along the  promenade in the sheltered Caribbean-side cove which is a popular snorkelling spot due to its close coral reef.  A little farther along this outcrop, divers can drop very deep in a chasm called ‘L’Abym’ where they can see plentiful sea life.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that this area forms part of the Scotts Head Soufriere Marine Reserve (SSMR), which is a protected underwater site.

I walked  a little further along, and just before turning back to walk up the Scotts Head promontory, I met a man and a woman heading back to the isthmus (I thought): “Are you staying in the area? the lady asked. “No, but I live in Dominica,” I replied. “Oh, well, do you know this restaurant?” the man queried as he showed me two words that were written on a piece of paper. I laughed as I responded.  “Oh yes, that’s Chez Wen and I am going there when I finish my walk.  It’s very good.  My brother in Canada likes it too.”  In my usual chatty style, I probably said too much.  They didn’t seem to mind.  I gave them a general description of its seaside location in the village and mentioned that I would probably see them there later.

Rick and Cathy head down the hill at Scotts Head en route to Chez Wen, across the isthmus in the village.

Rick and Cathy head down the hill at Scotts Head en route to lunch at Chez Wen, across the isthmus in the village.

When I turned and walked out of the  sheltered cove, I ascended the steep hill towards the ruins of Fort Cachacrou.  It was very windy

A breathtaking view and blustery breeze ruffled hair while overlooking the village of Soufriere.

A breathtaking view and blustery breeze ruffled hair while overlooking Soufriere Bay. Photo taken by Cathy.

with the stiff breeze blowing in from the Atlantic.  I kept my head down and placed my feet carefully, as the stones on the path were loose and it was easy to slip.  When I finally reached a decrepid stone wall after several minutes, I glanced ahead of me, and there was the couple I had met down below in the cove! I took a few pictures and then continued towards their viewpoint, situated by a small cannon.They stood  there admiring the spectacular view of Scotts Head, Soufriere Bay and points north.  ‘Hi again.  Would you mind taking our picture?’ the lady asked.  “Sure, no problem and I hope you won’t mind taking mine,” I answered.  It is not often that I get a chance to ask a stranger to do the honours, so I was thrilled.  Even though the seemingly gale force wind was making it difficult to hold steady, we got a few pics with free-flowing hair-dos, thanks to the conditions.

Then they wandered ahead of me, and by the cell tower, they took a somewhat overgrown path that climbed up to the very top of Scotts Head.  I never would have attempted it on my own, but as they were a little ahead of me, I took the chance . It was very steep, uneven and unstable due to loose stones.  I grabbed on to scrubby bushes when I felt a little off-balance.  After only five minutes, I arrived at the blustery summit.  The view was stunning, despite a haze over the water.  “Look over there – that’s Martinique,” I informed the couple as we gazed southward.  I watched a huge ship that makes monthly deliveries of vehicles in Dominica churn steadily across the Martinique Channel.

A large vessel that carries newly purchased vehicles to various islands crosses the open Martinique Channel, south of Scotts Head.

A large vessel that carries newly purchased vehicles to various islands crosses the open Martinique Channel, south of Scotts Head.

On a clear day, one can see beyond Roseau from the top of Scotts Head.  The white smudge is Roseau!

On a clear day, one can see beyond Roseau from the top of Scotts Head. The white smudge on the far left is Roseau!

The wind was so strong that we didn’t stay long.  As we returned towards the village, we engaged in conversation – about island life and then about pets.  We quickly discovered that we shared a love of cats so we told stories about their long and fascinating lives!

When we arrived at Chez Wen, we finally introduced ourselves and ordered fish lunches, of course.  Cathy and I selected Marlin in Creole sauce.  Rick chose the Red Fish plate. I warned him that they were small and bony, but he was not deterred and I later discovered that he had eaten this type of seafood before.   While we waited  for our orders, we exchanged stories about Dominica – and the challenges involved in getting here.They also asked me a few questions about Roseau.    As it turned out, we were amazed to discover that they had referred to Dominica 100+ Things to Do!, a little guide-book that I had written annually from 2003-11.  I doubted that they had a copy that I had compiled a few years ago, but as it turns out, they did – the 2011 issue – a friend had given it to them.  We kept declaring that it was a small world!  I had even been to their home state, North Carolina once before and have a friend who has family ties there.  I guess one should never be surprised about connections in the global village of the 21st century!

I enjoyed meeting visitors Rick and Cathy from North Carolina USA. We enjoyed great meals and good conversation at Chez Wen in Scotts Head.

I enjoyed meeting visitors Rick and Cathy from North Carolina USA. We enjoyed great meals and good conversation at Chez Wen in Scotts Head.

After our congenial meal, Rick and Cathy dropped me off in Soufriere, where I caught a bus back home within a few minutes.  They were going to visit the Catholic Church, check out the Bubbles Beach and then head to Champagne , where they planned to do some snorkelling before driving back to the eastern side of the island. There, they would continue their stay on Dominica for a few more days.  I truly hope that they had a fabulous time on the Nature Isle!

I was so uplifted by my mini-holiday as a tourist in Soufriere and Scotts Head that I must plan a foray to another Dominican destination very soon!

Discovering Dominica’s Delights*

Northwestern Coastline of Dominica from Coconut Beach on Prince Rupert Bay (Picard area of Portsmouth in the distance, Morne au Diable in background). Photo by Edwin Whitford

When I first sailed along the west coast of Dominica and marveled at its green forests and majestic peaks, I understood how Columbus must have felt when he first glimpsed the island on his second voyage in 1493.  Dominicans proudly exclaim that if this great explorer were to return to the Caribbean today, this country would probably be the only one he would still recognize.

That is because the self-proclaimed “Nature Island,” located between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique is not overly developed.  Hotels are cozy  and intimate, people are friendly and there are no crowded beaches in this English-speaking land.

Above all, visitors will find  unique  natural attractions which can be seen either on a drive around the country or by taking a hike on any number of trails that crisscross the island.  The recently opened Waitukubuli National Trail  is  one-of-a-kind in the Caribbean.  It consists of 14 segments of varying degrees of difficulty and lengths that traverse the island from north to south over a total of 184 kilometers (115 miles).

Freshwater Lake. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Morne Trois Pitons National Park in the island’s interior became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Its unspoiled features will appeal to nature lovers and adventure seekers of all ages and abilities.  Within the park’s boundaries are five major mountains which are almost 5,000 feet high, one of which is named Morne Trois Pitons.  As well, the Boeri and Freshwater Lakes are found at higher elevations, as are some towering waterfalls, the spectacular Valley of Desolation, the second largest Boiling Lake in the world and other geothermal areas.  The Smithsonian Institute has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  You will understand why when you see the pristine forests and vegetation, uncommon wildlife and 360 degree breathtaking vistas.

Springfield is now a research centre which is nestled in the mountains on the edge of the rainforest.

It would take many days, perhaps even months (and possibly years!) to discover all of Dominica’s ecological delights.  During my first few years in Dominica, I explored the island by foot and transport from my home base at the serene Springfield Guest House, a former plantation  nestled on the edge of the rainforest.  Right away, I admired the fascinating terrain and gained insights into my adopted country’s culture.

Dominica is known for its underwater sites, as well as the above-ground ones and is know as a diver’s delight.  I do not dive, but I enjoy looking just beneath the surface of the sea.  For a bit of easy snorkeling, I traveled to Scott’s Head, a point of land on the southern coast of the island.  From only a few feet offshore, I floated above dozens of flashy tropical fishes.  As I was on my own in the water and not a deep-sea diver,  I did not venture out to the steep cliff, which drops off along the face of an eroded volcano.

Soufriere Bay, with Scott’s Head in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford

The taxi trip there and back along the southwest coast was also awesome. Between Pointe Michel and Champagne Beach, we drove between barren gray cliffs and the calm Caribbean Sea on a very narrow road.  The scenes constantly changed as we journeyed through seemingly mystical forests (where some episodes from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed in 2005).

Gwendominica soaking in the large pool at Soufriere Sulphur Springs. Photo by Edwin Whitford

While I was in the southwesterly part of Dominica, I totally relaxed myself by taking a long hot soak in the large mineral pool at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs Eco-Site.  The mild smell was not overwhelming.  I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in the taxi on the way back to Springfield!

Next morning, I awoke refreshed and enthusiastically donned my hiking boots for the lengthy trek to Middleham Falls in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  It would take about five leisurely hours (round trip) on foot from Springfield via the  Cochrane village route , but I was not in any rush. I was now on island time!

A certified guide told me much about the flora and fauna of the area as we moved deeper into the rainforest.  I saw a cuckoo and the elusive rodent called an agouti.  I also heard the plaintive call of the mountain whistler who hides high in the treetops. Gigantic tropical plants such as palms and ferns shaded the track.

Gwendominica crossing one of the rivulets en route to Middleham Falls. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Although I was in reasonably good shape,  the biggest challenge for me was fording several mountain streams while keeping my boots dry.  A little coaching from my guide and some new-found confidence on my part enabled me to cross the running rivers by hopping from rock to rock.  I was soaked with sweat and weary from exertion when I first glimpsed Middleham Falls.  It literally took my breath away! This powerful cascade plummeted several

Middleham Falls Pool. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

hundred feet into a sparkling pool at its base.  It was a shock to the system to plunge into that seemingly frigid water beneath the falls, but I soon warmed up on the surrounding rocks in the brilliant sunshine. In a short while, I was refreshed enough to begin the return journey.  Since that first expedition, my love affair with hiking in Dominica continues to thrive!

Another day trip took me inland through the Carib Territory where about three thousand Kalinagos live on 3,700 acres of land on the northeast side of the island.  These indigenous people are said to be the last of their kind in the world.  They continue to practise traditional skills such as farming, weaving and the building of ocean-going dug-out canoes for fishing.  (There is now a model village called Kalinago Barana Aute which offers tours, craft demonstrations and traditional performances to the public).  There were also many opportunities to buy beautifully crafted pieces, such as baskets from these friendly folks.

Northeastern coastline from the bottom of L’escalier Tete Chien, Sineku, Carib Territory

On the Atlantic coast, the view was spellbinding from the top of L’escalier Tete Chien (‘The Snake’s Staircase’ – there is a Kalinago legend about this site) at Sineku.  This hardened lava flow looks like a serpent’s head crawling up from the ocean. It looks like a natural staircase down to the sea.  I did not attempt it that day (I have a couple of times since), but I admired others who maneuvered the sometimes slippery steps.

As we headed back to home base, we passed through banana groves, flower gardens and endless panoramas in every direction. The small, winding road blended into the greenery, giving a sense of intimacy with nature.  My reward near the end of the day was a dip in the Emerald Pool, an easy 15 minute walk on a groomed trail from the parking lot.  In the slanting rays of the afternoon sun, the waters did glisten like a jewel.  As there was no one else by the pretty waterfall, I felt as if I had captured a piece of this pristine beauty for myself, at least for a few moments.

Emerald Pool

The Nature Island has many earthly treasures.  Dominica is definitely – and naturally – delightful!

* An earlier version of this article was published in Caribbean Compass, January 1999, page 19.

The adventures described here represent some of my very first impressions of Dominica.  I can assure you that they are definitely lasting! Many of the pictures here were taken on later excursions than the above-described.  My brother’s photos are much appreciated. He’s been to Dominica three times!

If you wish to visit any of the sites or go exploring while visiting Dominica, I strongly urge you to take a certified taxi or hire a qualified guide.  Not only will you be more secure, but you will gain tremendous knowledge and insights about the Nature Island from these informative professionals.