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!

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Taking Time for Champagne with a ‘Lime’

On  a tranquil Sunday morning  in late June, I luxuriated in a dip in Champagne.  It had been a long time since I’d taken time for such a ‘lime’ (meaning “hanging out” in West Indian slang). Somehow, a whole year had passed since I spent a pleasant hour or so  at this  lovely stoney Caribbean beach,  which forms part of Dominica’s Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve (SSMR) This location is a protected underwater eco-site and regulations are strictly enforced to preserve it.   From Roseau, it’s a short drive south of the city to just beyond Pointe Michel. To walk there along the road from this coastal village takes  about 20 minutes. Buses pass frequently most days.

Looking down at the beach from the entrance.

Champagne Beach  rightly deserves its name, but not for reasons you might think.  It’s not a seaside party place, although there is such a nightspot a short distance away (Melvina’s Champagne Bar and Restaurant, 440-5480, 448-3979).  This lovely natural setting is well-known to snorkelers  and swimmers who like to revel in the shallow waters just slightly south of the beach proper.  They gaze down and swim along a pristine coral reef and then pass above an awesome variety of colourful sea life found amidst tiny bubbles.  The ‘bubbly’ is actually indicative of geo-thermal activity, caused by volcanic gasses rising from tiny cracks in the floor of the sea.  In Dominica, that’s a common occurrence, as seen in the Soufriere area, a little further south of this area and in the Roseau Valley in the interior of the country.  After all, the Nature Island has nine potentially active volcanoes (presently dormant!):  that’s more than any other country in the world!

Most snorkelers enter the water at the southern end of the beach, seen here, and swim to the area between the two rocky outcrops at the right. Scott’s Head is in the distance.

My mission  this day did not involve any underwater exploration, as you may have ascertained by now (recall the ‘lime’).   I stationed myself at the most southerly end of the beach, by a protective cliff that leads to the actual Champagne area.  I swam out only a short distance until I was over my head and not likely to bump into any slightly submerged rocks. With my head above water, I glanced down from the clear, shallow surface  at the stones beneath my feet when in a vertical position. From there, I could gaze up into the green hued hills and watch the massive clouds overhead  push away the shy sunshine.  It was a little drizzly for a time, but then I was already wet!  I also enjoyed daydreaming in a westerly direction and wondered how long it would take to swim to Central America!

They’re not fish! Snorkelers check out the underwater scenery.

The Dive Dominica boat heads to Soufriere Bay after having moored a short while at Champagne.

A number of snorkelers passed beyond me on their way to the bubbles, located  between two rocky outcrops a short distance away.  One British man stayed back near my safe spot.  He was a   little fearful of venturing further for health reasons, he said. He queried me on life in Dominica instead. A Dive Dominica boat motored close-by and anchored at one of the official moorings, allowing its passengers to explore the area for a little while before heading south to Soufriere Bay.  The surf was gentle and I allowed myself to submit to the warm waters as my muscles relaxed.  I floated like a cork and felt as if I could stay like that forever (or at least until the mild surf conditions changed to something stronger)!

Liz snorkels in Champagne bubbles. Photo taken by Images Dominica.

Friends greeted me on their way to the reef. An official mooring is behind them.

The rocky shoreline can make a beach stroll challenging. There is a sturdy and smooth boardwalk in the distance.

The surf was gentle that Sunday.

In the distance, I observed friends who were preparing for their snorkeling excursion further up the beach.  They didn’t make out my bobbing head until I was standing on the shore after my hour-long submersion!  I was waterlogged and a little chilled.  I carefully picked my way around the pebbles, searching out additional photo opportunities.  The  persistent snap, crackle and pop of  small pebbles against the shoreline added to my drowsy contentment.

Iguanas feed on the leaves of the noni trees. The fruit, pictured here is supposed to have many beneficial effects when ingested by humans! Be advised – it is VERY sour.

After a short while, I made my way back along the boardwalk to the site entrance and chatted for a few moments with Dianne, the attendant at the Champagne Reef Dive and Snorkel Shop (440-5085).  I enquired after the ubiquitous iguanas, but they were reclusive at the time because of the drizzle and overcast skies.  She urged me to return on a hot sunny day to catch them in action, which generally means feeding on noni tree leaves.  Iguana-watching and photo-shooting are definitely on my agenda for another day as there is much to be said about these spectacular lizards.

What a cool critter! Don’t you agree???

And then the day arrived – midday Sunday July 29 – hot and sunny.  The iguanas were about.  I did catch glimpses of plentiful leaf-green babies with Dianne’s help.  They blend in perfectly with the noni leaves, so it took patience on Dianne’s part to point them out to me.  The larger ones were on the ground so I was able to capture a few (by camera).  They may look cumbersome, but they move like lightening.  These Lesser Antillean Iguanas are endemic to the region.  They are a protected species on the Nature Island as they are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List.  I love to look at them.  Their unusual, seemingly prehistoric features really make them a wondrous sight to behold!

The body language says it all!

As I headed to my  car, I   reminded myself  that  the naturally beautiful and beneficial effects of the Champagne dip with a’ lime’ must also be repeated very soon!