visits Dominica in the Caribbean


Rosemary Gemmell

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NORTH AMERICA > West Indies > Dominica

Dominica: God's Bountiful Island

Rosemary Gemmell

Article & Pictures © 2005 Rosemary Gemmell

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the view was picture-perfect: tiny, quiet bays gently washed with the clear turquoise sea and peaceful inlets with small colourful boats resting in the sun

Dominica beach - click to enlargeIt was apparent from our arrival at the wooden landing stage, specially built for visiting small cruise ships such as ours, that Dominica was unlike any other of the Caribbean islands on our voyage. Gently lapping turquoise water, a background of lush greenery and a neat wooden tourist area at the end of the landing stage was our introduction to this most idyllic of islands, often called the ‘Nature Island of the Caribbean’. Gone were the hordes of taxis, bustling tourist market stalls and cheap shops of other islands; there was merely a modest handful of friendly mini bus drivers waiting to show us their homeland.

Our small party of travellers was lucky to hire Patrick, a polite and friendly local who was determined to ensure we understood the culture of the island as well as enjoying its breathtaking beauty. He was quite happy to transport us, at reasonable cost for the day, to any of the sights we requested.

Dominica is the second largest of the Windward Islands, with around 72,000 inhabitants. It gained full independence from Britain in 1978. Patrick proudly told us the world’s oldest inhabitant was a woman of 128 years old who lived on Dominica, and whom it was possible to see by appointment, and that they had a female Prime Minister.

Our visit to the island was on a Sunday and one of the first things we remarked on was the number of people walking to church, all dressed in their best clothes, with many carrying a Bible. Evidently it is predominantly Roman Catholic and the majority of islanders are devout churchgoers; Patrick himself had a cross hanging above the dashboard. Perhaps this partly explains the lack of crime on this quietest of the Caribbean islands.

Dominica: a secluded bay - click to enlargeAs our mini bus negotiated the first of many steep and winding roads, we quickly became aware of the stunning coastline just visible between the thick forests of trees and plants. At the first photo-stop the view was picture-perfect: tiny, quiet bays gently washed with the clear turquoise sea and peaceful inlets with small colourful boats resting in the sun. However, as with all areas of such verdant beauty, Dominica has a high rainfall, with around 366 inches of rain a year, 365 rivers and stunning rain forests. The most mountainous island in the region, Morne Diablotin rises to 4,747 feet and plays host to the island’s famous parrots, the Sisserou and the Jaco.

It soon became clear why the world’s oldest person should have lived here when Patrick proudly explained that Dominica was self-sufficient and one of the healthiest of the islands. The economy is led by agriculture, with bananas the main crop. We could see the hundreds of individual bunches on our way round the island, many covered by a blue plastic bag to hasten ripening. Patrick told us with great humour that the bananas take nine months to be fully ready, like babies.

We also saw an abundance of papaya, oranges, coconuts, lemons, grapefruit and star fruit, cocoa beans and coffee beans as well as ginger tea from the ginger tea tree. There is a coconut factory on the island, providing jobs for about one hundred and fifty people, where they make coconut oil products, coconut shell souvenirs and mattresses from the coconut fibres. Now that cruise ships more frequently call at Dominica, tourism is becoming another welcome source of economy.

We were interested to hear of the island’s early history. The original Carib Indians fled into the dense forests to wage war against any of the early European settlers foolish enough to try and find them. There are approximately three thousand Caribs still living on the island, descendants of the original Carib Indians, and we were looking forward to visiting their Reserve which is owned by the entire tribe.

Dominica basket weaver - click to enlargeIt would be a pity if tourism ever spoils the relative innocence of Dominica. We were expecting a touristy Reserve full of mass-produced souvenirs but were pleasantly surprised. Patrick stopped the mini bus at a small, neat wooden shack where a woman and her son .served' behind the large open window and a ledge displaying some wares. We were free to wander inside and were delighted to find some of the local crafts such as coconut bird feeders and basket ware. The woman was shy but friendly, consulting her young son as to how much she should charge. When I chose a beautiful necklet and a matching bangle for my daughter, these items having been displayed at different parts of the room, she laughed uproariously that she had not thought to sell matching items together.

One of our party gave the young boy a dollar for himself as we were leaving and next minute, just as we boarding the mini bus, Patrick came hurrying over with a huge bunch of fresh bananas and some star fruit for us all as a gift from the woman and her family. We made short work of the huge, just ripe bananas; bananas had never tasted so good.

The capital and main town of Dominica is Roseau, a traditional small West Indian town still thankfully free of duty-free tourism. However, we decided we would rather explore more of the beautiful island and had one more essential place to visit: Trafalgar Falls, in part of the rain forest. It was a fairly long journey into the heart of the island and we were glad to find a small tourist shack offering drinks and toilet facilities at the beginning of the walk to the falls.

As we gathered at the start of the walk we experienced our first and only ‘pushy’ islander on Dominica; a young woman determined to lead us through rain forest paths who would not take no for an answer, obviously hoping to earn a few dollars. As one of our party was less able to manage the slightly hilly terrain, we let the young woman keep a friendly eye on her while the rest of us enjoyed the coolness of the forest as we forged ahead.

Dominica: Trafalgar Falls - click to enlargeIt was worth the walk; there were two amazing waterfalls, made the more stunning as they appeared right in the heart of the massive greenery. I was slightly disbelieving to find a young man with only one leg sitting on the viewing bench in such hilly isolation, carving some flutes. He said he used to be a guide until he had an accident; he was trying to earn enough money to fund some treatment. Gullible or not, I was so taken by him being there that, of course, I bought one of his flutes.

It was the end of a very special day as Patrick drove us back down past the ruins of the eighteenth century Fort Shirley to the harbour area. But as the ship departed that evening and we waved to the few locals who watched us sail, Dominica was etched on my mind as a little piece of heaven on earth. At home, when I bought some fair-trade bananas from the Windward Islands in our local supermarket, I was instantly transported to God’s most beautiful and bountiful island - and the soulful call of a flute.

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