Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I, Dominica

I remember in grad school that at the first brown bag lunch we had, a public official came from Dominica came to speak with us about the problems his country was facing.  They were a poor little remote island basically was subsisting on banana exports and aid money.  They wanted to develop a tourism industry but they have almost no beaches (rock coastline), somewhat of a downer in the Caribbean market.  And it is sandwiched between two French speaking islands (it is anglophone) with an airport is the size of a gum wrapper that can’t take jets.  Plus when you say “Dominica” most people think you are talking about the Dominica Republic.  As this was early in my development career, I thought recommendations needed to be grounded in statistics and hard evidence, so he came away empty-handed.  But the pictures on his powerpoint looked epic so, then and there, the selfless humanitarian in me decided that I would one day go and help bolster the nascent sector. 

This was now eight years ago, and there still isn’t anyone here.  And unlike Bangladesh, which has been using the slogan “come before the tourists get here” since the 1970s, eventually they will come.  This place is unreal.  There are two main types of activities here – hiking through unspoiled rainforest to swim in pristine waterfalls, or diving on incredible reef in crystal clear water.  Mac and I have indulged in copious amounts of both.  As to ration the material, I am going to stick to the non-diving adventures here first.

For the first week, we rented this tiny little cottage up on the hill overlooking the forest and rocky cove.  Our adventuring was a bit limited since we were still working, but I have to pass on to management that I am much more productive with a majestic sea view.  We managed to sneak in a few short hikes to secluded mountain waterfalls and lunch at one of the beaches where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.  (I think Johnny Depp personally may account for a measurable percentage of total tourism revenue.)  There is a woman selling cold beer, and fish with avocado and breadfruit.  (You very much could have left me there.)  Other than that – we were the only ones there.

And not that weekends in DC aren’t cool and all – but here you can snorkel on Champagne reef – which in its own right would have been a great site but due to the island’s ongoing geothermal weirdness, it bubbled like a glass of champagne.  It is tough to describe how decadent it feels to be snorkeling with swarms of tropical fish in champagne.

Then there was Boiling Lake.  Considered the “premier hike” in an island that is pretty stacked in that department, with was memorable.  You start by walking through the forest, then it is up and down and up and up and up and down and down some pretty fierce hillsides, until you reach the “Valley of Desolation.”  In the middle of the lush green hillside, the burbling sulfur gases mix with the mud and natural water to make its own little oasis of hell.  Which takes 45 minutes to slog across.  And the one piece of advice that the lady that sells cold beer at the trailhead gave us – other than “you be startin’ a bit late now ya?” was “nae step in the sulfur pools – melt you shoes.”  Sage advice as it turned out.

Once you get to the top there is – as advertised – a boiling lake – which appears to be made of mildly noxious skim milk.  (You may be interested to know that this is in fact the second largest boiling lake in the world – second to Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand.  This is interesting not that there is necessarily a bigger one but that there is a list of such things.) 

All in all, the trip was about ten rough miles roundtrip.  I was thoroughly coated in mud from the knees down – plus in a fit of primal ecstasy at actually reaching the top I used some volcanic mud to paint clipart tribal tattoos on my face and arms.  In summary – I was dirty.  Luckily in addition to the nice lady selling cold local beer – the Titou Gorge was at the base of the trail.  Straight out of Indiana Jones.  You swim about 100 feet through a very deep very cold very narrow very dark chasm to this ethereal sunlit double waterfall.  Then back as fast as you can because you just swam 100 feet against strong current in very deep very cold (fresh) water and you had already exhausted from hiking  10 grueling miles and god damn if you were going to drown before you got that beer.  But at least you were no longer dirty. 

I have attached a couple pictures of this and a few sundry waterfalls.  And this caterpillar (pseudosphinx tetrio if you are Elin Grimes) which ate (with a few friends) our entire frangipani tree in four days.  After which they became hawkmoths which are similar to very small very stupid bats without sonar.

I am going to have to whittle down the diving pictures from the few hundred that I have accumulated before I can write the next installment… 


Anonymous said...

I do not know anyone on this earth that has had the experiences that you have had. So interesting to read about (and not have to go there myself). gb in csh

Tammy Barlow said...
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