Dominica is quite simply one of my favorite places in the world. Our cruising guidebook states that of all the islands in the Caribbean, Dominica is one of the few Columbus would still recognize. In my opinion, this island pretty much has it all—beaches, pristine rainforests, waterfalls, a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, unique geothermal attractions. This is probably why it was chosen as a filming location for several of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And everyone on Dominica seems to be quite proud of that fact, as all of the tourist maps point out the various filming locations. They must have been a welcome boon to what appears to be an otherwise flailing economy.
At least it rather seemed that way from the ramshackle town of Portsmouth amid the white sandy beaches of Prince Rupert Bay in northern Dominica. As soon as a cruising boat came close, while often still a couple miles out, it would be met by a one of the local wooden work boats, rushing out to offer tours, produce, laundry service, garbage disposal, Dominica flags, ect.
The first boat out to greet us was manned by Alexis, who is a member of PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Security), an organization that works to keep Prince Rupert Bay safe for cruisers. They patrol the harbor at night and keep watch for potential boat robbers. We decided to book a tour up the Indian River with Alexis, one of the main local attractions.
The following morning, Alexis came right out to our boat to pick us up for the tour. It was just four of us—Scott, Molly, Isaac, and me. At the mouth of the river, Alexis turned off his outboard and switched to oars. It’s quite impressive that these river guides can row these heavy boats full of people for long distances, sometimes multiple times a day.
As he rowed, Alexis told us all about the various flora and fauna around the river and the island at large. He mentioned that there is nothing poisonous on Dominica, and stated that if there was, he’d be dead by now. He especially liked to talk about all the different birds, fish, lizards, and amphibians he grew up eating but are now protected. He always followed with, “And you know what it tastes like… chicken.” Even with many species protected, there are still plenty of wild fruits, vegetables, and animals to feed just about anyone on Dominica willing to go and get it: mangoes, breadfruit, papaya, bananas, plantains, and grapefruits grow wild throughout the island, just to name a few.
Our first stop on our tour was a small shack with a dock along the river, which looked almost exactly like the voodoo lady’s from the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It turns out its actually a recreation of the same shack, in the same spot, for a different pirate movie, since the first was take down. This time, the Dominicans made them leave it up. Apparently many of the river guides had been involved in filming. Alexis puffed up a bit when he said he knew Jonny Depp and Keira Knightley.
As we proceeded on down the muddy brown river, the trees crowded overhead to form a bright green canopy. Crabs scuttled about in the roots of mangrove trees along the shore. The river gradually narrowed as Alexis rowed along. Where it became quite narrow, we rowed over to a small dock, which led to a bar covered in thatched roofing with rough-hewn wooden seats. We all ordered banana smoothies, most likely from bananas picked right around the corner. While we waited for our drinks, we watched as several fearless little birds munched on fruit specifically left out for them. At one point, when Scott had finished his smoothie and left it briefly unattended, a yellow-bellied bananaquit hopped up on his glass rim and stuck its beak in his straw.
As we relaxed and drank our smoothies, Alexis was hard at work making tiny birds out of palm fronds, which he artfully stuck into flowers and presented to us as souvenirs.
After our river tour, all six of us spent the afternoon ashore, exploring the city. The village is stretched along an expansive white sandy beatch. The town is made up of concrete buildings with flaking paint or grey weather worn wood. To get from the dingy dock inland, we had to walk down narrow alleyways and over wooden planks over drainage ditches. It was getting late by the time we were finished exploring, and decided to get a pizza for dinner. They had some unusual topping options—including corn on the veggie pizza. By the time we finished, it was almost sunset. We watched through a chain link fence next to a hardware store as the sun set, and we all saw the famous green flash. The four of us had seen it several times on our first trip, but it was a first for Isaac and Molly. It can be a bit of a let-down for some, as the small green dot at sunset would be a better name.
The next morning we sailed down the coast to Roseau, the capital of Dominica, on the southern coast of the island. We had now officially gone farther than we had on our first trip. Last time we didn’t make it past Prince Rupert Bay. We walked around the slightly less ramshackle city, and visited the nearby botanical gardens. It was unlike most botanical gardens, as it was more of a public park with a scattering of strange looking trees that may or may not be labeled. The highlight was a schoolbus that had been smashed under a tree in a hurricane. A large tree had fallen on the (thankfully) empty school bus and went right on growing.
We decided to postpone exploring the waterfalls and hiking trails of Dominica’s interior until we were heading back north, so after a short stay in Roseau we sailed off to Martinique.