Old Friends, New Friends, and another tropical paradise…Dominica

 

 

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The squall has passed ahead of us as we motor into Portsmouth, the most northerly anchorage of Prince Rupert Bay of Dominica and the waters are now flat and calm as we enter. The island, being of volcanic origin, has green mountains and valleys that reach down to white sand beaches or rocky cliffs. The bay is nearly 4 miles wide and the anchorage we see is enormous. There are sailboats and catamarans peppered along the northern part of the bay.

SONY DSCIt was a last minute decision for us to arrive here this week (mid March). Meeting up with John Kretschmer on Quetzal and his crew in Il des Saintes 3 days previous, we had a great reunion with our sailing mentor and he invited us to head south for a few days to Dominica. Since we did not have definite plans that week, (as we were headed back to the US for a brief trip the next week) we decided it would be fun and agreed to accompany them.

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Quetzal sailing to Dominica

After obtaining our customs papers in Guadeloupe we headed out of the southern islands for Dominica. We had intended to find a good wind (promised by PredictWind and the GRIB download) and enjoy a 3-hour afternoon sail. We did. We had a great 15 knot ESE wind putting us on a great line for Dominica. The water depths between many of these volcanic island plunge and there are quite often weed–lines that make good fishing. What would be the harm in putting out the fishing rod for a few hours on a beautiful Caribbean afternoon??… we were caught off guard as the reel sent off it high pitched whirring and we had a FISH ON!!

GOPR0785_MomentWe had full sails up and the first task would be to furl in the genoa to slow our speed to retrieve the fish. Our speed dropped to nearly 3.5 knots and we initiated the autopilot to keep on our rhumb line. Mike cranked on the fishing rod as an efficient deep-sea fisherman would. I monitored our progress and watched out for other boats, and retrieved the gaff and other “fish-landing” equipment. The usual conversation ensued as the fish came closer…”aw it’s a barracuda’, “no, its not, it’s a skip jack”…” a mahi”…then wait …“its, big its…a wahoo!”. We had hooked into a 5 ft wahoo and desperately wanted to land it into the boat. The 6 ft long gaff was the key. We were 30 minutes from anchoring in Dominica and Mike quickly filleted the fish as we discussed how we would manage to eat all the fish during our trip.

SONY DSCWe are initially greeted about a mile out by one of the “boat boys” asking if we need help. We had been instructed by our friend on Quetzal, who has been here many times in the past, to ask for his friend Edison. We did get a look of consternation initially when we said we were going to work with him, but he let us pass without incident. The “boat boys” as they are known are a consortium who provide assistance to cruisers as part of their job. They travel through the anchorage assisting with mooring or anchoring, retrieving water, fuel, or even specialty foods if necessary and providing security. There was a time where individuals trafficking drugs were bothersome to cruisers but this group organized into a peaceful trade group called PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Security) to fight this. Yes we are still approached by individuals on paddleboards selling mangoes, but they are harmless. Edison would help us obtain a secure mooring for $10 /night and pick us up to get checked into customs and immigration the following morning.

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Greeting Edison, our “boat boy”.

The next morning he arrived at the back of Lost Loon to pick us up for the ride to Customs. This just made the whole process seem easier as the police and customs dock was nearly a mile from the anchorage and signage was somewhat lacking. With papers in order, fees paid, our passports stamped and we had clearance. We were thankful that this island would allow us to check in and out on the same visit, thus eliminating that task before leaving in 3 days. He had also arranged a tour to part of the inland rainforest.

 

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We were soon off in a large van with our new friends from Quetzal. We travelled higher and higher into the mountains winding along the palm tree and multicolored bougainvillea lined roads seeing one magnificent lookout after the next with views of the ocean below.

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Waters were turquoise blue even from this vantage. Our first stop was a waterfall hike. Our guide spent time showing us different plants along the way that his ancestors and now his family use for different ailments. There are leaves that form an emulsification and it is used for soap, there is a plant to cure what I believe by the description is prostatitis, another for nausea and vomiting, and several others for nervousness (anxiety?). As we ventured further on the walk into the forest, we passed thick green leafy and mossy walls that were literally raining with clear fresh water.

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Driving into the tropical rainforest of Dominica

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Priceless

 

We finally arrived at our destination and took a swim in a freshwater pool just at the base of the waterfall. Once we had our fill of cool fresh water and memorable photographs were taken, we left for our next stop at the island’s own chocolate factory.

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Raw Cacoa

 

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Drying the cacoa

 

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Separation system

We were introduced to the owner who is of Dutch descent. His father had started using the cocoa plant and it “nuts” to make chocolate here in the 40’s!  The owner and our personal guide took us through the whole process. Above the separation system takes dried cacoa and grinds it up into nibs. (This actually reminded me of a Destination Imagination project I supervised when the kids were in middle school!)

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We tasted the different chocolate combinations he produced and supported his efforts by purchasing our favorites as well. He has homesteaded here in the mountains and has built beautiful gardens. We were lucky to take a tour seeing all the colorful plants in the pinks, oranges, whites and incredible scents of his labor.

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We were returned to our anchorage mid-afternoon and deposited along the beach road by a different route, seeing more of the cosmopolitan part of the island. It was bustling like any American city, children coming and going on school buses, but unlike our country we passed several family food stands. We tasted something like a vegetable pasty as we made one stop. We were escorted back to our boats by Edison who had been waiting for our return.

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The Quetzal crew left that afternoon for their overnight sail to St. Lucia and we stayed to relax in the harbor.

The following day we were using the internet at a local beach bar and met another couple on a beautiful Amel sailboat. They told us of their travels from Europe and through the Caribbean. They showed us their boat that took them on their journey. Through our discussions that day we gained insights into future travels through the islands.

 

We also shared a great hike at Fort Shirley at Cabrits National Park (right in our harbor) at the entrance to Portsmouth. The famous ” Battle of the Saints,” between the British and the French could be observed from this site on 12th April 1782. We arrived at a huge dinghy dock at the fort and found our way through the near-abandoned cruise ship customs facility to the National Park entrance. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0733.

 

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We paid our fees and took a self-guided tour. We saw remnants of a self-sufficient military installation from years gone by, cannons still standing. We hiked to a great overlook out to the western ocean.

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Leaving many parts of the island yet to see, we departed after 3 days for an afternoon sail back to Guadeloupe.

 

Martinique is to come with more down-island travels!

 

 

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Guadeloupe!!!

(OK….so I am finally posting this…as we are leaving Lost Loon in Grenada 😦 tomorrow morning at 0600…but there are more blogs to come …with stops in Martinique, Dominica, Tobago Cays…..and Grenada!   Thanks for being patient!!!)

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The island of 2. This island takes on 2 characters… one of lowlands and one of mountainous volcanoes. We approached the west end of mountainous volcanoes. Our fist stop was in DeShaies (days-hay) to check into customs. However still a French holding it is under different control and immigration laws. We still found the easy computer check-in, but this time at the local t-shirt shop. Since our goal was to make another 10 miles by the end of the day we picked up a couple of croissants, a fresh baguette and were off for Riveria Sens in the southwest.

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Upon return to the vessel, which we had anchored on 35 ft of water, temporarily we found that after our scope had straightened out (that is the full length of chain we put out) we were within INCHES (or centimeters if your French) of the boat behind us. OOPS! As we landed the dinghy I jumped off, started the engine and put her in gear to avoid any potential interference. It was like a ballet. (ha ha) As Mike got aboard with dinghy safely secure, I flew to the bow to begin retrieving the anchor. It came up easily and we were off. In Mike’s words…”no harm, no foul” thank goodness! We were off for the southwest of Guadeloupe, another lesson learned.

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We sailed down the coast within a mile or 2, resting from our night passage, fishing and enjoying the scenery. We passed Pigeon Island, which is a noted Jacques Cousteau preserved marine land, making note to return when we had more time.

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We made arrival at Riveria Sens along the coast for anchoring in the late afternoon. We swam to refresh our energy and made way to shore for a walk. We found this location to be an amazing fitness area.

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It was like being transported into an Olympic Village. (no, I have never been to one, but I imagine fit muscular people who are seriously working on running, swimming, biking, and power walking) These were people of all types and sizes intent on getting exercise. We watched as the swimmers donned mask fins and snorkel to head out for 1-2 mile swim, bikers decked out in the latest Nike, Adidias and other top of the line clothing for their group rides, and then runners in THE best and brightest running shoes available to man (or woman). We exchanged “bonjours” and by the end of our afternoon walk “bonsoirs” to each one. Our walk was finished by sunset in the west looking over the calm waters of the Caribbean.

The next leg of our journey took us the following day to Il des Saintes, or “the Saintes” . This is a collection of small islands to the south of mainland Guadeloupe.

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Considered a vacation spot for mainland Guadeloupians it is truly a gem. The little village has an Caribbean feel with a French accent. The restaurants were excellent. We found we could cover most of the island by foot, careful to plan the time of day as midday it is sweltering! (mistake made day 2 when we made the 1 hr 20 minute hike to LeChameaux (the camel). A mountain on the island that has an old French look out fort. It has an elevation of 309 meters with steep switch backs on a nicely paved road. We met goats foraging for food and even named one “Bob Marley”. WE met folks of all shapes and sizes going up and down this challenging walk. We did this hike 3 times during our stay in these islands. The last venture to this beautiful look out was a challenging hike through the woods on a marked trail. It took us less time, because it was more verticle. The last few steps to the top we were literally balancing on a few outcropped rocks. Yours truly is a bit wary of heights and as I looked at the very teeny sailboats anchored below, my brain told my nerves to begin quivering. A brief moment of “what the heck am I doing here” and we were again looking at an unbelievable 360 view. My brain then questioned…..Do I really want to return the same way? Of course…why would I take the 1 hour and 20 minutes down when we could be at the bottom swimming in 30 minutes.

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Our hikes took us to several beaches on the island, mostly uninhabited during the week. On weekends we were there a few more people showed up, but they generally stayed at the resorts or in the village. It was here we found some terrific fois gras, baguettes and brie cheese. (The reason for the repeated hikes, yoga on the boat and swimming….we had calories to burn!!)

A little about baguettes. These are the traditional recipe from France. They are the long and narrow, crusty breads that come in their fresh paper bags. The people that are French living on these islands insist upon it!. The locals as well as the cruisers come to town early in the morning when the boulangeries open for the freshest of the bunch. Everyone has a baguette, and more than one! Some have several sticking out of the top of backpacks, grocery bags, and bike baskets. If one is lucky and times it right in the afternoon, some of the local grocers get a small supply of fresh baguettes to sell, and upon re-opening in the afternoon between 2 and 3 people are waiting to pick up their afternoon baguette!!

Back on mainland, Guadeloupe, with our friends Ric and Mimi from the states, we rented a car and took a tour of some of the island. Our first day too us to some rainforest waterfalls. Driving up the canyons the greenery became thicker and thicker. The tall bamboo towered into the forest canopy and the vines hung from everything as the road winded up into the mountainous region. We had our choice of walks and chose an easy hike to a beautiful clear running stream with small waterfall drops along its way. We passed a group heading down that took us to a warm volcanic pool where we took a brief rest.

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Once dressed and refreshed we decided to tackle the Premier falls. The signs said “difficile, 1 h 20 min” It was nearly noon and we felt we had plenty of time to get up and back before nightfall. We retraced our steps back to the main trail and headed vertical. We started over some crude wooden steps, then mostly rock and thick gnarly roots. As we continued it became increasingly wet, to the point that we were stepping over small little puddles and large mud slicks. There was a long stretch of relatively horizontal travel on a very nice boardwalk, however covered in chicken wire to prevent slippage. As the first hour continued we began to need hand holds on trees and roots to make a step. The air was thankfully cool, as we were getting a great workout. Walking along the trail we would get a glimpse of the mountain and seaside several miles away, and the contrast of the deep green against the turquoise blue was spectacular. We could hear the soft creaking of the little tree frogs and birds we could hear but not see. The last 15 minutes of the trail was challenging. We would take a 3 foot step up , then down 2-3 paces, then up again. By this time our feet were quite covered in mud and any clear pool of water we would try to rinse off. We were met by only 2 other parties who told us in French “C’est magnificent” and give us a thumbs-up! We got closer and could hear the rush of water. As the trail narrowed a bit it then led to a clearing alongside the mountain, and we were greeted by a nearly 1500 ft waterfall, that cascaded off the rock face off the volcanic mountain. We did not get close enough for a feel of the water, that was another 30 minute hike, but enjoyed the view from far atop a lot of the mountain canopy. What an amazing place. How incredible we thought to be able to go from our usual sea level viewpoint to above the clouds. We rested and took our obligatory “selfies” and realized we couldn’t tarry long as it was already 3:15 pm and we needed to get out of this forest by dark. We followed the same challenging path down, but this time really feeling it more in the legs as we made the vertical trek downward.

 

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Needless to say, the following day we decided to stay at sea level and investigate some of the south coast beaches. We stopped at a roadside market and had a bite to eat. When I mean roadside, I mean 5 ft from the road where cars, buses and trucks passed on their daily routes. The rotisserie chicken was delicious and the cold beers just perfect after an afternoon on the water.

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We sailed along the west coast of Guadeloupe to an anchorage near the dedicated Cousteau Underwater Park near Pigeon Island for snorkeling, beach-going and some more terrific French cuisine. The preserved park , however a bit stirred up was a beautiful snorkel. We found huge corals and fans, skates, grouper, lobster hiding in the crevices and schools of angelfish. Here we were treated to a most wonderful dinner at La Touna, a small French restaurant along the waterfront. What is most interesting was that there were top-rated restaurants at each anchorage. We were not disappointed by any meal we had in these French islands. Mike and I would return one last time to Il des Saintes for a few days before our brief trip back to the US.

We eventually left the boat in a marina near Basse-Terre on the west coast for a week to attend the wedding (described in the previous blog). Upon our return we leave Guadeloupe for Martinique!