Tag: Dominica

Dominica and Hurricane Erika: Help Needed

Scott's Head (c) AB Raschke

Scott’s Head (c) AB Raschke

I just want to pause the normal programming here, and alert everyone to the fact that Dominica was hit very hard by Hurricane Erika at the end of August. This would be a tragedy anywhere, but Dominica has a very small economy, and it will be quite a challenge for them to repair all of the damage that has been done. Besides the infrastructural destruction that has been done, at least 20 people are known to be dead from the storm as of September 7th, as I write this. More are missing. The people of Dominica are suffering from the sorrow of lost loved ones, the destruction of their homes, and changed landscapes that may never be the same again. It will be a lasting scar for this little country that so few American’s know about.

We can’t help heal the emotional trauma that this disaster has imparted on Dominicans, but we can help with the relief effort. If you have the means, please consider donating to a reputable organization like the Red Cross in Dominica (link here for donating). If you don’t have the means, please help raise awareness for Dominica- not only for the disaster itself, but for this island as a travel destination as well. As mentioned in one of my links below, it would be a very hard hit for Dominca’s tourism industry to collapse due to the storm. I have several blog entries about this little island paradise for anyone interested (Morne Trios Piton, Roseau). It would be great for us to support our neighbor in any way that we can.

Here are some links with information on the storm and the aftermath in Dominica for anyone interested in learning more:

Dominica Asks for Aid

Dominica is Down But Not Out After Erika

Dominica and Hurricane Erika

 

Culture Highlight: The Kalinago of Dominica

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Karina Cultural Group (c) kalinagoterritory.com

Culture: Kalinago

Other Names: Carib

Resident Area: Dominica (Current)

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Map of Kalinago Territory (c) kalinagoterritory.com

Population: ~2,208[3]

Language: Kalinago [4]

Religion: The historical Kalinago religion is believed to have stressed the importance of balancing good and evil in the world, as well as maintaining close, healthy relationships between people and the natural world. [5]

Volcanic Peaks: The Kalinago people once believed that the volcanic peaks of the Caribbean gave life to this islands. Beautifully carved conch shells and stone statues called “zemis” were made by the Kalinago to represent these peaks, and they represented the spirit of fertility. Some of the small zemis were buried in fields in order to help crops grow [5].

Yearly Cycle: Unlike the Western world view, which emphasizes four seasons, the ancestral Kalinago people, like many people living in tropical areas, followed a yearly cycle with only two seasons- the dry and wet seasons that characterize the tropical world. The wet season is represented by the Frog Woman, and the dry season was represented by the Bat Man [5].

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(c) Lennox Honychurch

Culture: Historically, the Carib people had standard gender roles, but the women of their society were highly revered, and held as much socio-economic power as males [1]. They had a fairly egalitarian society, and their government consisted of a chieftain who consulted with a tribal council [1]. They were skilled at fishing, hunting, and farming, and their ability to the navigate the Caribbean Ocean on their canoes allowed them to explore many of the islands in the Caribbean, long before the arrival of the Europeans [3].

Examples of Kalinago Myths

Government: The Kalinago Territory is governed by the Carib Council. This council is tasked with managing the territory, and settling disputes between residents. Currently, there are five members of the council, and elections are held every five years. [2]

History: The Carib people originated in the Orinoco River Basin of South America, and eventually explored and settled the southern Caribbean islands. During the process of colonizing, the Caribs fought with the Taino people, and eventually displaced many of the older Arawak communities [1].

The Caribs were well known for their skill in warfare, and when the European people invaded the Caribbean islands, the two fought eachother, although the Carib people were disadvantaged by the Smallpox infections that the European people brought with them [1]. Despite this, there were able to hold Dominica from both the French and British forces for nearly two centuries. Eventually, however, the island was taken by the British, and the Kalinago people were relegated to 232 acres of eastern Dominica. In 1903, this area was expanded to 3700 acres and would become the Carib Reserves that is still home to the Kalinago people today [3].

Experts on Kalinago Culture:

Karina Cultural Group 

Karifuna Cultural Group

Lennox Honychurch

Further Reading

Chances for Travelers to Learn More From the Kalinago People:

Kalinago Homestay Programme 

Experiential Learning

Living Village Experience at Touna Kalinago Heritage Village

References:

[1] http://www.avirtualdominica.com/caribs3.htm

[2] http://kalinagoterritory.com/the-territory/the-carib-council/

[3] http://kalinagoterritory.com/the-territory/history/

[4] http://kalinagoterritory.com/culture/language/

[5] http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=388

[Map] (c) Kalinago Territory Website (http://kalinagoterritory.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Dominica_Kalinago_Territory_Map.jpg)

[Seasonal Image] from Lennox Honychurch’s website (http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=388)

Disclaimer: One of the reasons that I love traveling is that I get to learn about other ways of life, and new ways of seeing the world. I feel that my spirituality and understanding of the Earth has much to gain from other cultures, and I definitely think that my own culture can only provide me with a very limited view of the universe around me. Due to this, I think it’s appropriate for my blog to not only showcase my travels, but some of the cultures that I come in contact with along the way. That being said, before I post the first of these, that I am no expert about any of the cultures that I am posting about. I will do my best to provide links and references to actual experts, and places to learn more. I am also hoping to promote any efforts that people from the cultures that I am discussing to preserve their way of life, as well as share it with others. In any case, I am open to suggestions for improving these highlights, as well as any concerns about misrepresentation.

What to do in Dominica: Cabrits and the Road to Scott’s Head

Many Americans are unfamiliar with the beautiful country of Dominica, and may not to know what there is to do there. Dominica is, I dare say, the hiking capital of the Caribbean (and if it isn’t, it should be). And there is far more to do here besides wandering about in nature, because the island also has some beautiful places to snorkel and learn about the history of the country and the Caribbean. Cabrits and Scott’s Head are two great places to do just that.

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Trail to Champagne Beach (c) AB Raschke

After a morning spent driving through Morne Trois, we headed down to Scott’s Head on the southern end of the island. Between there and Roseau, we stopped at Champagne Beach, which is named for the ribbons of bubbles that stream up from the sea floor here. These are a sign of Dominica’s active volcanic nature, as well as a good reason to snorkel in the bay.

You have to pay for a ticket to go down on the beach, regardless of whether or not you are snorkeling, and once you have your ticket there is a nice place to rent gear, change, or just relax. I was unprepared to swim when I visited, so while I think this would be a great place to visit based on other people’s experiences, it isn’t a great place to go if you aren’t going to get in the water. The beach is very narrow and rocky, and there are some better locations for relaxing near the water (here is a good resource for finding a beach that fits your needs if you are looking to lounge on the shore).

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Scott’s Head (c) AB Raschke

Scott’s Head is a colorful little town on the southern tip of Dominica. We weren’t able to spend a lot of time here, but it made for some beautiful pictures, due to the thin peninsula that arches off the main beach. If you take the time to hike the hill at the end of this peninsula there are some wonderful views of the town, and both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic. Interestingly enough, the difference between the two water bodies was apparent at a glance here. The Caribbean side being a calm, welcoming blue, while the Atlantic side was choppy and grey.

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Cabrit’s National Park (c) AB Raschke

Cabrits National Park in Portsmouth was the last major place that I was able to visit on my trip. The main attraction here is Fort Shirley, but the park actually protects a wide range of environments as well, including forests, wetlands, and some marine areas. I spent most of my time here exploring the old English fort, which has been beautifully restored by none other than Dominica’s resident historian, Lennox Honychurch (I would highly suggest looking up some of his books). The restored section of Fort Shirley looks out over the bay and Portsmouth. It really is an idyllic place, and significant in its representation of the Caribbean’s history.

For people looking to do some more exploring, there are also a variety of trails in the park, and a few of these showcase what the fort looked like before Honychurch revived the main portion. In disrepair, most of these remnants look more like ancient ruins than a strong gesture of English power. Juxtaposed with the forest, however, they were beautiful relics of the past, and certainly spoke to the knowledge and passion that went into restoring some of the buildings.

If you would like to learn more about what to do in Dominica, please visit Nightborn Travel’s Guide to Dominica.

Everything You Need to Know About Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

During my trip to Dominica, I visited the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (MTP) on several occasions, and I would have liked to have spent even more time there. The park has several main attractions- the Freshwater Lake, the Boiling Lake, the Valley of Desolation, the Emerald Pools, and Trafalgar Falls, among other things. There are things to do there for both the casual traveller, and the adventurous hiker, as it offered beautiful stops close the road, and more secluded areas down miles of trails.

My initial visit to Morne Trois Pitons National Park was on my first full day in Dominica, and it was a place that I have not been able to stop dreaming about since. Still tired from our day and a half of traveling, my dad and I opted for a relaxing tour of the park in which we drove from site to site, and our longest hike was probably half a mile long. The road up through the park from Dominica’s capital was steep and narrow, complete with sharp, blind turns, but it was well maintained and there seemed to be better signage here than anywhere else that I had seen, which hinted at the park’s importance to Dominica’s tourism.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Freshwater Lake (c) ABR

The Freshwater Lake

Many tourists, in fact, come to the island on a cruise ship, jump on a tour bus at the dock, and then spend the day seeing some of the most beautiful places that the island, and perhaps the world, has to offer. Oddly, however, less cruise passengers took this opportunity than I would have thought.

The first place that we visited in Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the Freshwater Lake, which is the largest of Dominica’s four freshwater lakes, and the second deepest- according to the UNESCO World Heritage website. When we got there, the area was deserted. There was a small museum and ticketing booth along the shore of the lake that no one had opened that day, suggesting that few visitors were expected. It made me a little sad to think that no one was out there to appreciate the beauty of this place, but it was nice to have the chance to drink in the lush landscape and enjoy the crisp air in peace. The lake itself was surrounded by intense, green forests and the steep mountains that characterize Dominica’s interior, and there were some short trails that weaved their way down to the lake’s edge. If this place had been in Arizona, the water would have been dotted with kayakers, and I would have enjoyed exploring Freshwater more, but we didn’t linger there long. We stayed just long enough to take a few pictures, regard the shuttered visitor center with some disappointment, and watch a few of the montane clouds drift over the tops of the mountains on the cool, tropical winds of the lake’s high elevation.

Ti Tou Gorge

After stopping at the lake, we drove down to Ti Tou Gorge (which I don’t think is technically part of the National Park). Here, we took a short hike up along a creek to a lean-to where there were several people selling souvenirs and snacks, along with a group of guides that were bringing people up through the gorge.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Ti Tou Gorge (c) ABR

As I would later find out, Ti Tou Gorge sits at the trailhead that leads to the Boiling Lake. Due to the fact that I was unwilling to get wet and cold in order to explore the gorge itself, I used the bottom of the trail to explore the upper edge of the formation, which was something like a massive crack in the stony ground of the forest. Looking down from the edge, I could make out several waterfalls and enjoy the sounds of the creek as it rushed through the narrow spaces below. For those who are less bothered by cold water, it was possible to pay a guide to take you into the gorge and up to one of those waterfalls.

Trafalgar Falls

Our last stop in the park during that first day was Trafalgar falls. Here the visitor center was open, and we were required to purchase our week-long national park ticket before we took the short trail down to the falls. For those visitors uninterested or unable to do some scrambling, there was a nice outlook point complete with benches for resting. The falls were off in the distance here, but I couldn’t imagine anything more pleasant than resting in the shade close to those waterfalls, surrounded by the living rainforest of Dominica. Not opposed to some scrambling myself, my father and I hiked down from the viewing point where we followed the trail between some massive boulders, and across a warm, volcanic stream. On the other side of the murky, volcanic waters the forest opened up to a sunny hill of grey boulders, which were crowned by the twin Trafalgar falls. We climbed up far enough to get a clear view of the falls, and we could have worked our way further up to the base of either, if we had had the time. It was a somewhat difficult area to explore, however, due to the sheer size of the boulders here.

The Boiling Lake

The grandest adventure of Morne Trois Pitons National Park (at least that is widely advertised to tourists) is the trek to Boiling Lake. As I mentioned above, the trailhead for this volcanic attraction is at Ti Tou Gorge, where the trail begins a slow decent up into the tropical rainforest and continues on for about 7 miles, one way.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Trafalgar Falls (c) ABR

Due to the length of the trail, it generally takes about 8 hours to go to the lake and come back, and it is necessary to start the hike early. The first section of the trail, which climbs up and down the mountains, crosses the Breakfast River, and then descends into the Valley of Desolation is well maintained, and consistently lined with logs, which serve as steps for the nearly constantly incline (in one direction or another) of the journey. Once the trail drops down into the Valley of Desolation, however, it becomes hard to follow, and it weaves between steaming volcanic vents, which can be very dangerous. So, guides are needed for this journey for safety reasons, but they also provide good information and stories along the trail, and any money spent on a guide is good support for local people.

Desolation Valley

Much of the trek through the forest towards the lake looked much the same to me, although I enjoyed listening to songs of Dominica’s native birds, and learning about some of medicinal uses for the plants that we were passing along the way. The first major stop on the trail is the Breakfast River, which the trail crosses right over. We only stopped long enough for a short snack, and then began the long climb from the river up to the highest point of the trail. The steep climb was intense, but we were rewarded for our efforts by the cool air at the top of the mountain, and some spectacular views of the landscape of the island’s interior.

After this point, the trail arched down the mountain, and then all but disappeared into the multicolored, volcanic soil of Desolation Valley. Our guide led us safely down the this very steep (and slippery in the rain) part of the trail, and I found that both hands and feet needed to be firmly planted on the smooth surface of the cliff to avoid slipping. It was a somewhat frightening climb down, in my opinion, but our guide did a very good job getting us safely into the valley.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Valley of Desolation (c) ABR

Trekking Home

Once down from the cliff, we had to pick our way through a nearly lifeless valley dotted with steaming pools of grey mud. Many of these were hot enough to cause serious burns, but the guides knew of places were visitors could scoop up the mineral mud to coat parts of their skin in. I didn’t partake in this activity, but rumor had it, the mud was very good for the skin.

About a half-mile or a mile from the edge of the valley, and after following the trail along a creek, up and down a few more small cliffs, and through more of the desolate, volcanic landscape that makes up the valley, we tiredly made our way into the steamy mist that surrounds the Boiling Lake. We perched along a cliff there for lunch, where we could regard the natural feature that had drawn us through the forest for miles. It was an almost unbelievable sight- the flat grey form of the lake was constantly disturbed by bubbles. All my understanding of the world told me that these bubbles must be caused by air escaping up through the water, but in fact, the lake is so hot that it is actively boiling (as its name suggests). The cloud of steam that surrounds the pool of hot water is a testament to its heat, as are the stories that tell of guides lowering eggs into the water in little baskets, and then drawing them back up to the cliff, fully cooked.

After enjoying the lake for some time, and resting our exhausted bodies, it came time to return, all the way back where were had come from.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Boiling Lake (c) ABR

On the way, there were hot pools to enjoy and relax in, and then we had to brave the cliffs and mountains again to return home. It was well worth the trip, but perhaps one of the most difficult hikes that I have ever done.

Emerald Pool

Finally, on my dad’s last day on the island, we visited the Emerald Pool. This particular part of the park is easily accessible from one of the roads that run up from Roseau to the Melville Hall airport, and it is a good place to stop at before bidding the island farewell. There was a surprisingly large parking lot here, ringed by a large visitor center as well as venders selling souvenirs and socializing in the shade. Past the visitor’s center is a short loop trail, which guides travellers through the forest and down to the calm, brilliantly blue pool for which this area is named. The pool itself sits at the bottom of a rocky cliff, and is fed by a slender waterfall. The forest is mostly kept at bay by the rocky soil of the beach, but a few tall and twisted trees are perched along the edge of the pool- making for pleasant places to rest and enjoy the almost otherworldly beauty of the Emerald Pool. On the returning leg of the loop trail, there is one spot where visitors can look out at the forest and see the ocean on the other side of the island. For those visitors looking for a quick stop, the Emerald Pool is easy to pass through in a half an hour or so, but it is also a place where one could spend the afternoon, picnicking, swimming in the pool, and appreciating the hospitality of the Dominican landscape.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Emerald Pool (c) ABR

If you are looking into visiting Dominica, be sure to read our guide!

FOR MORE INFO!
MTP UNESCO Page
MTP Discover Dominica Page
MTP Tripadvisor Page

Exploring the City of Roseau, Dominica

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I stayed in Roseau, Dominica for the majority of my two-week visit to the island, and due to that I got to know the city fairly well. On my first foray into the downtown area, where the mix of modern and French colonial buildings press in on the small roads that crisscross through the city, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling very intimidated. The roads, which were narrow to begin with, usually had cars parked on either side, and despite the fact that they were one-lane and one-way, walking through the city was a game of trying to stay out of every drivers’ way.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Walking Roseau

The sidewalks in the city were wide enough for two people to pass in some areas, in other places they were just wide enough for one person, and in others, they were nonexistent; while walking down one street, I often encountered all three, and this often forced me, and the other people walking the city to weave in and out of the street. On top of dodging cars, almost every sidewalk was made of separate slabs of concrete, which usually weren’t level, and I had to keep my eyes on the ground to avoid tripping, especially since most of the streets and sidewalks were lined with open drainage ditches, which were at least a foot deep.

Despite my discomfort during the first few days of my stay, Roseau slowly grew on me, and once I got the hang of walking through the city, I found that there was a lot to explore and enjoy. The part of Roseau that is familiar to most of its visitors is the cruise dock, and the shops that line the ocean. When cruises are docked, tabletop sellers gather along the water’s edge and between the buildings nearest the cruise harbor. The Dominica Museum and visitor’s center are also in this area, and unfortunately, I was unable to visit the museum due to my schedule. The entrance fee is only $3 US, and the museum was put together by the famous Dominica/Caribbean historian Lennox Honychurch, so I think that the museum is most likely well worth the visit.

Besides the museum, this area is home to the Fort Young Hotel, a historic landmark that was once a fort built and rebuilt by the French and British as they struggled for control of the island. I stopped for lunch here, and kept to the dock-side bar to avoid the expensive food in the hotel’s restaurant, and it was well worth the visit. The hotel itself was beautiful, and few of us would complain about stopping to eat lunch right next the Caribbean Sea, in the shadow of one of the massive cruise ships that characterize tourism in this region. Another place that I frequented in this area during my stay was the Cartwheel Café.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Food and Gardens in Roseau

This little, blue roofed restaurant was recommended to me by the hotel manager of the inn where I stayed, and it did not disappoint. The restaurant itself was a small, stone building, with the a large window at one end, and a high, airy ceiling which was decorated with Kalinago baskets. It was a comfortable, quiet space, despite the bustling market just outside its doors, and their breakfast was both delicious and well-priced.

Another area that I ended up visiting more than once was Roseau’s Botanical Gardens. In terms of some of the other botanical gardens that I have seen, there wasn’t much to it. Mostly, the garden is just a large expanse of grass ringed by large trees with a few picnic tables tucked into the cool shadows of the foliage. It is a popular area for cricket games on the weekends, and plenty of locals used the area as a relaxing area to lunch during the work week.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Beautiful Views and Memorials

Besides this recreational area, there is an organic monument to Hurricane David of 1979- a massive downed tree that crushed an empty school bus during the violence of the storm. The tree itself continues to grow, despite its traumatic past, and it seemed someone symbolic to me of the bravery and persistence of the families that survived the storm. The botanical gardens are also home to the Parrot Conservation and Research Center as well as the Mountain Chicken Captive Breeding and Research Facility. As far as I could tell, these weren’t accessible to visitors, but I did get a glimpse of a Sisserou parrot from the trail towards Jack’s Walk.

Jack’s Walk is a short trail that leads up Morne Bruce to the east of the park, through a quiet wooded area. When I hiked up here, there were a variety of rather large lizards scampering through the underbrush, and this made the trek rather interesting, as I spent a good amount of time trying to snap off a photo of one of them- to no avail.

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(c) BJ Raschke

Life in Dominica

At the top of the trail is a flat grassy area with beautiful views of Roseau and the Caribbean sea, and centered by a large monument of a crucifix. Under the shade of one of the large trees here, I relaxed, enjoyed the ocean breeze, and stayed long enough for several anoles to feel comfortable revealing themselves to me.

In terms of my day-to-day life in Roseau, there were some things about the city that I greatly enjoyed. First, the city is a hub for the buses that run to all different parts of the island, and thus traveling out from here is fairly easy. It should be noted, however, that many buses run only in the morning and afternoon as locals move from their neighborhoods to get to work, so planning ahead is necessary. Second, Roseau has a massive open market where a vast variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish was available.

There were also some standard supermarkets which made it easy to avoid eating out three times a day. I have never been to a busier supermarket, however, and one Saturday when I visited the line to check out went from the front of the store, all the way to the back, and while waiting, there were a good number of people who tried to cut, which made getting to the register somewhat difficult. Finally, I was surprised to find that pretty much everything was closed on Sunday, besides the hotel restaurants.

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(c) BJ Raschke

While in Roseau, I stayed in a small inn in Riverside, called Narakiel’s Inn. The nightly rates were very reasonable, the room was small but comfortable and clean, and the area was just outside of downtown Roseau, and thus a nice place to seek some calm after braving the city. Besides this, the hotel manager here was very accommodating and proved to be a great source for local information.

Be sure to read our Guide to Dominica to learn more!

Want to learn EVEN more? Check out these great resources!
Discover Dominica

Fort Young Hotel

Tripadvisor: Cartwheel Cafe

Roseau Botanical Gardens

Narakiel’s Inn

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