Highs and Lows on the Nature Island of DominicaAuthor: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: December 2009
Everything I read about Dominica before SO and I went there talked about how it's a "nature island" with lots of waterfalls, mountains, and hiking trails -- and no big resorts. All of that was right up our alley! Add to that some snorkeling opportunities and the fact that this is one of the less traveled Caribbean islands, and we were all ready to go.
We planned a trip focused around outdoor activities, mostly hiking. Unfortunately, both of us fell ill the week we were scheduled to leave; SO was bedridden with a fever for several days, and I was just starting to come down with it too the day before we flew out. But we were determined to make our trip happen, so we packed our meds, drank glass after glass of orange juice and hoped for the best!
We left home at 4:45 a.m. to catch our flight from Philadelphia to San Juan and then on to Dominica. It was a gray, rainy morning in Philly and planes seemed to be pretty backed up; we ended up waiting on the tarmac for a good 40 minutes before we finally took up. I fretted a bit about our connection in San Juan (where it was a sunny 85 degrees), but we got there in time to grab a horrendously overpriced lunch at the airport: $21.20 for two mediocre plastic-wrapped sandwiches.
We boarded the plane more or less on time but then sat for a while in what had to be an 80-degree cabin. Turns out there was some problem with a cargo door lock, and we had to deplane. We finally left over an hour after we were supposed to. It was a good thing we weren't any later -- Dominica's Melville Hall airport isn't equipped to handle nighttime flights, but we made it just in time.
I had the window seat for our approach over Dominica and it was so cool! The whole island is covered in mountains and rain forest, and I could see a little mist enshrouding some of the higher peaks. There were very few towns or houses that I could see.
We went through a short customs line and then stepped outside to get to the other part of the airport where the car rental counters were. Outside we found an ATM (yay!) surrounded by taxi drivers and tour guides touting their services (boo!). Luckily no one was too terribly aggressive.
The guy at the rental counter checked us in in laconic fashion, reminding us to "drive on the left, use the horn frequently, and gear down when going downhill." With that we set off on our adventure ... and promptly made a wrong turn. Oops! Between the narrow roads and the left-sided driving, SO had an interesting time finding a good place to turn around, but we did eventually get ourselves onto the right road in the right direction (north to the beach town of Calibishie).
We found our lodging for the night, the Veranda View B&B, on the first try (it's right off the main road on the right). The location was a lovely surprise -- right on the beach with a huge veranda overlooking the sea. We enjoyed a nice outdoor dinner prepared for us by the innkeeper: tuna, rice, avocado, a green salad, and bread and butter. Delicious.
There are only two rooms at the Veranda View, both on the second floor with a door opening to the single shared veranda. None of the windows had screens, though the windows overlooking the veranda had iron bars. The innkeeper told us not to open our side windows because there was an overhanging roof underneath them that an intruder could climb. However, she told us we could leave our back windows open for some airflow, which we did -- which led to the worst moment of our trip.
I awakened at 4 a.m. to see a strange man climbing out the window right next to my side of the bed. I immediately started screaming, which woke SO up, and he started yelling too. The intruder made a flying leap out the window and escaped. When we turned on the lights, we discovered that he had stolen SO's wallet out of the pocket of his shorts (which were on the floor on the other side of the bed). We lost everything we'd just withdrawn from the airport ATM, as well as some U.S. cash, a credit card and ATM card, SO's driver's license and Dominican driving permit, and all his other cards (health insurance, etc.).
Luckily I was wearing a money belt under my clothes, so we didn't lose the cash or credit cards I was carrying ... or our passports (I had both).
The loss of the wallet was an annoyance, but the real impact of what happened was psychological; we both felt jumpy every night for the rest of the trip, and I had a really hard time getting past the feeling of violation, knowing that someone had been in a room with us rifling through our stuff while we were sleeping. Of course, we were lucky that nothing worse happened, that we weren't hurt and he got nothing more than a wallet. (Thank goodness he didn't get our camera!)
The innkeeper called the police, who showed up about two hours later. (Calibishie is a small town and only had one cop on duty, who couldn't leave the station until he was relieved.) Turns out the intruder used a 12-foot ladder to get into our room. So much for leaving the back window open at the B&B! It sounds like this kind of thing has happened before at the Veranda View; while it's a lovely place, I would not recommend staying there again until the owner has put bars on ALL the windows. In a concession to what happened to us, the owner didn't charge us for dinner, just the price of the room ($75 US), and let us make a number of calls to credit card companies etc. so we could get our cards canceled.
We left Calibishie as soon as we could, eager to move on from the incident and not let it color the rest of our trip. We headed west toward Portsmouth, which turned out to be a pretty (though winding) drive, lined with banana plantations and verdant rain forest, with occasional glimpses of the sea.
The Picard Beach Cottages are right near the Ross Medical School (which apparently gets a lot of American students who didn't get into a U.S. medical school for one reason or another). There are a lot of bars, restaurants, little shops, pharmacies, etc. in town.
The cottages are cute, set in a little garden area right near the sea. When we checked in, the first thing I asked the office was how secure they were, explaining what had happened to us at the Veranda View. The woman at the desk looked horrified and said that that would never happen here, that they have 24-hour security and all the windows have screens/locks, etc. We probably wouldn't have felt secure in anything less than a bunker after the night before, but our cottage did seem safe enough; there were four different locks on the door, and we saw security folks walking around on a regular basis.
Perhaps in response to my sob story, we were upgraded to a superior cottage instead of the standard we'd reserved. The cottage was on the basic side but pretty cute, with wooden furniture and a small kitchenette area. In the bedroom there was an AC unit so you could cool either that room or (less efficiently) the whole place. Our front door was literally just a few steps from the beach ... which is where we spent a good part of the day, chilling out in the shade of a tree, looking out onto the calm waters of the Caribbean and trying to soothe our ruffled feathers.
Neither of us were feeling that hot, so we took a nap before heading into town to take care of a few errands. First stop: what appeared to be Portsmouth's only ATM, which was -- of course -- out of order! Luckily it was a weekday and the bank was open, so we waited in a long, slow line and threw ourselves on the mercy of the teller, who was able to use my debit card for a cash advance. (Talk about fees, ugh! But we were desperate; ATM's are not particularly plentiful on Dominica, and of course we'd just lost a ton of cash.) We filled up the car at the Texaco next door and then drove a little way up the coast to the Purple Turtle Beach Club for lunch.
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