The island was originally populated by the native Caribs, whose descendants still live in part of the island. It was colonized by the French in the 1700’s and later taken over by the British. Since 1978 it’s been independent but with its history of slavery and colonization it’s a fascinating microcosm of cultures, with most locals being bilingual in French and English.
Because of its relative under-development there were issues in the past with petty crime and theft against visiting yachts. Thankfully this is now greatly improved with the efforts of the local ‘boat boys’ who’ve formed themselves into an organized group called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services). They each have their own boat with their name brightly painted on the side, and one of them will come out to greet you as you enter the anchorage in Portsmouth, helping you pick up a mooring if that’s want you want, or organizing tours, laundry, garbage and any other needs. They are all, without question, delightful and helpful, with wonderfully quirky names like Lawrence of Arabia, Eric Spaghetti, Uncle Sam and Andrew Cobra.
Our yacht helper was Jerome, working for the Cobra group. We decided to take a mooring to support the good work they do, and at US$10 per night it’s pretty reasonable. Jerome also offered to go to customs to clear us in – as the customs building was way down the end of the bay we gladly accepted his offer, expecting to have to pay for the service, but he never charged us. Maybe it was a good ploy, because we ended up doing two tours with them.
Our first tour was a day-long trip around the northern end of the island, with our tour guide Uncle Sam, and a young Englishwoman from another yacht. It became a bit of a botanical extravaganza, with Uncle Sam pointing out all the different fruit trees – grapefruit, papaya, breadfruit, soursop, plantain, guava. Everything and anything seems to grow here, including coffee beans and cocoa which are a major export item. Every now and then Sam would stop the car and disappear into the bushes, only to return with handfuls of wild herbs for us. It became a bit of a game of “guess what he’s collecting now” but we were all stumped when he started carving bits of bark off a tree. Turns out it was a cinnamon tree, so I now have two very handsome pieces of cinnamon bark, in addition to a big bunch of lemongrass (which has made delicious lemongrass tea), basil and two types of bay leaves.
We also hiked for a short way to have a refreshing swim at the Chaudiere Pool,
stopped for lunch on the Atlantic side of the island,
The next day we spent working on the boat, installing our booster wifi antenna at the top of the mast. Several long, hot hours later it was in place but it was hard work for Bruce being thrown around by the swell coming into the anchorage (and hard work for me winching him up to the top). So the following day we relaxed and went on the Indian River tour with Roy, our rower and guide.
This is an amazing, magical river with huge bloodwood trees making a canopy over the water, their intricate roots looking like something out of a film set.
In fact, this was the setting for one or more scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, and Calypso’s hut is still there adding to the spooky atmosphere.
At the end of the navigable part of the river (approximately 1 mile) the Cobra group have installed a bar where we stopped to sample the local rum cocktail Dynamite.
While we were enjoying our drinks, Roy constructed a little souvenir for the ladies on the boat, a beautiful little palm leaf weaving complete with hibiscus flower. How gorgeous!
That night we attended a beach barbeque put on for cruisers by PAYS, one of their regular fundraising ventures. It was a fun night with the rum punch flowing and the opportunity to meet other cruisers from around the world.
We loved our time in Dominica – the people were exceptionally friendly and laid back, even down to the fruit seller Christian who rowed his little boat around the anchorage with his greeting of “Welcome to Paradise”. It was indeed, and we would have loved to stay longer and see more of this beautiful Island, but we needed to press on. But there is a little bit of our hearts that will always remain in the Nature Island.