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Highs and Lows on the Nature Island of Dominica

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: November 2009

It was a little beach bar overlooking the sea and the Cabrits peninsula. Stunning setting, achingly slow service. (But then this is the Caribbean, after all.) We ordered the "chicken lunch," which is a pretty standard offering in Dominica: stewed chicken, rice, beans, "provision" (which is a local root vegetable), and coleslaw. The nice thing about Dominica was that we were able to drink the water and eat salads, etc. here. The total bill came to $56 ECD (the exchange rate is fixed at about $2.70 ECD to $1 USD).

portsmouth picard beach cottages sunset beach dominica caribbeanOn our way back to the cottage we stopped at a little mini-mart and bought a large jug of water, a pack of yogurt, several oranges and a box of muesli (about $40 ECD). Then it was back to the cottage, where I took a mini-nap on our porch while mosquitoes feasted on my legs. We finally mustered enough energy to walk back to the beach and watch the sunset, which was really lovely. The resort has a wooden jetty stretching out over the water; we sat there with legs dangling and watched the sailboats go by as the sun sank into the sea.

Back in the cottage, we dealt with a lighting issue (the office sent a security person to reset a tripped circuit), ate a little yogurt with muesli, and then went to bed ridiculously early (ie 7:30) in hopes of catching up on sleep and shaking off the last of our lingering fevers. It took both of us a very long time to fall asleep -- I was certainly keeping a keen eye on the window at the foot of the bed! We locked every possible door and had all of our valuables on us: I wore the money belt and had our camera strapped across my chest (made for comfortable sleeping, let me tell you!), while SO had his wallet in the pocket of the shorts he was wearing, and a few other valuables (copies of passports/credit cards, etc.) were in a backpack under our pillows.

Paranoid? Ridiculously so. But it made us feel safer after what had happened the night before.

November 14
After about 12 hours of fitful sleep, neither of us felt all that much better the next day. We stopped in a nearby pharmacy to get some pain relievers/decongestants and then headed south to the Syndiate Nature Trail in Morne Diablotins National Park. We were determined to do something fun and active instead of sitting around feeling sick. When we reached the turn-off for the park, there was a sign saying that we had to continue on the main road to a certain shop in Dublanc (the next town south) to purchase a site pass. We found the shop easily enough, though as with many things in the Caribbean, getting the actual passes was a slooooow process. (The lady behind the counter was having issues with her stamp or something, I don't know.) But eventually we were on our way.

syndicate nature trail national park dominicaAfter the turn-off to the park, the road got very narrow, winding and hilly. It took a lot longer to get to the trail than I expected. Luckily there weren't many other cars on the road, as passing was nearly impossible. We finally reached the visitor center and discovered a really nicely groomed trail that took us on a relatively flat loop through the rain forest. In theory this is a good place to spot several endangered species of parrots, though I'm not sure we actually did (some sort of bird went winging by the lookout point but we have no idea what it was!). We enjoyed the peace and quiet of the hike, though -- it took only an hour and was exactly the type of laid-back, scenic activity we needed on a day when we weren't feeling our best.

We drove back to the cottage to spend the late afternoon on the beach, where we also caught another sunset. It was a Saturday, so there were a lot more people around than the day before (though I still wouldn't call it crowded) -- and lots of dogs too! Wonder whether these folks were from the medical school; I can't imagine that our fellow tourists at the cottages would have brought their pets.

We had more issues back at the cottage when we tried to make a can of soup for dinner; first we had no can opener, so SO took a knife to the can, and then the stove wouldn't light. Sigh. Security to the rescue again!

November 15
We checked out of the Picard Beach Cottages and drove down the western coast of Dominica to Roseau, the capital and largest city on the island. I had expected the road between the island's two main towns (Portsmouth and Roseau) to be pretty good, but honestly it had just as many potholes and twists/turns as the rest of the loop road around the island; you really can't drive fast here, especially not in a Toyota Corolla.

roseau french quarter church cathedral dominicaOnce we got to Roseau, we wandered aimlessly around the one-way streets until we finally decided to just park on the street wherever we could find a space -- the place isn't big, so walking is certainly easier than driving. There was a cruise ship in town, Holland America's Noordam, and so there were all sorts of vendors and touts along the main waterfront drag. We hit an ATM there in the lovely air-conditioned lobby of the Royal Bank of Canada, and then walked around to see what there was to see.

The answer: not a ton, really. Roseau does have a small, slightly run-down French Quarter, as well as a few duty-free shops, the Dominica Museum (closed Sundays, alas), and a botanical garden that seemed to consist of an open lawn (where locals were playing soccer), a few random plots of flowers and an enormous tree that fell in 1979 during Hurricane David on top of a school bus. (Fortunately the bus was empty at the time.)

It began to rain while we were in the gardens, so we made our way back to the waterfront to look for a restaurant for lunch. We ended up at the Garraway Hotel for a lunch of chicken stuffed with plantains (me) and a chef salad (SO). The bill came to $93 ECD.

After lunch we headed out of town to Laudat, which a sign told us was six miles away. Well. I knew it would be a long, rough six miles, and it was. The roads ranged from passable to absolutely dreadful (potholes/craters, little gullies running across the way, gravel, mud, etc.) and weren't clearly marked with signs. (At one point a sign said "Road closed: Laudat" -- and that was the road we were supposed to take. It was not closed.) But we did finally reach Roxy's Mountain Lodge, a sturdy wood and stone place with a spectacular view of the nearby mountains and rain forest.

roxys mountain lodge laudat dominicaSpeaking of views, though ... the owner initially put us in room 16, which had a veranda overlooking a scenic pile of garbage (complete with a broken-down car and a toilet seat). Given that we seemed to be the only guests here, we asked if we could be moved to one of the (many) rooms with a view of the mountains, so the owner bumped us across the hall to 15, which had two single beds instead of a double but also an infinitely nicer view: mountains to the left, the lodge's pretty flower garden below, and a green tropical view all the way down to the sea in the distance.

ti tou gorge flowers tropical rain forest dominicaIt was about 2:30 when we arrived, so we asked if there was a short hike we could squeeze in before sunset. Turned out that Ti Tou Gorge was only about a 15-minute walk away from the lodge, though the directions sounded a little complicated -- pass the pool, follow the drainage ditch to the hydroelectric plant, etc etc. But we set off and didn't have any problems, following a muddy path through a field, crossing balance-beam style along water gutters and then making a right at the power plant to reach the gorge. We saw a few other people en route but largely had the gorge to ourselves. It started as a rushing stream surrounded by lovely tropical ferns, flowers and large green leaves dripping with rain. We crossed over a bridge and walked upstream a bit, where we could see the main waterfall tumbling powerfully into a narrow rock gorge. The area had lots of smaller waterfalls too, all incredibly lush and beautiful.

We returned to the lodge to watch the sunset from our veranda. I couldn't stop drinking in the view -- it was absolutely spectacular. Then in the evening the lodge prepared dinner for us: christophine soup, followed by what we'd come to recognize as a standard chicken meal (chicken leg, rice, beans, provision, platains, salad) and a dessert of bananas in some sort of honey sauce. It was delicious, though far too much food for us since we were still sick. We did our best!

We went to bed pretty early again, hoping for a long night of sleep, but once again we were thwarted. The owner had the large TV in the lounge on, and the way the lodge is designed makes the sound carry very effectively from the lounge up to the rooms. He seemed to be watching some sort of historical movie, and the noise of the fight scenes and the swelling music of the dramatic moments were so loud they may as well have been coming from the room next door. Ugh.

I tried putting in SO's earbuds to block the sound, but those have never fit me well and weren't particularly effective. After over an hour, I knew I'd never get to sleep like this, so I headed downstairs to throw myself on the guy's mercy -- only to discover that he was passed out on the sofa, not even watching the movie! I should have just smacked the off button and had done with it, but instead I coughed a little to wake him up and asked him to turn down the volume. He did so -- only a tiny bit -- but luckily he turned the TV off altogether about 20 minutes later, and I finally drifted off.

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