Thursday, March 12, 2009

Back To Nature

Portsmouth, Dominica
15 34.9N 61 28.1W

Wow! Dominica is in the fortunate position of being so mountainous that there is only one place flat enough for an airport and that has a very short run way. As a consequence, no resorts, no development and lots of nature.

Visitors fall into 3 groups, Cruise ships tie up at the capital for 24 hours of shopping and touring a couple of the more accessible water falls, yachties and finally the eco tourists who brave the small planes.

We spent a superb week in Portsmouth, visiting a few of the sights and chatting to every Dominican we met, everyone is friendly and they all want us to tell our friends to come, but don't spoil the environment!

The first day of touring we hired a car with Jean Pierre and Michelle from Bleu Marie and drove a circuit of the north end of the island, the roads are steep, twisty and pot holed and keeping your eyes on them hard as you pass through stunning mountain scenery, lush rainforest and people going about their day.

Our first major stop was the village of Bense and a walk through the forest to a superb set of pools in the river.
The main pool is an outdoor spa, the water from the small falls tumbles into the pool and swirls around, causing bubbles and currents and making for an incredible swim. We had the whole place to ourselves for over an hour, parrots in the trees, and sunlight falling through the canopy - amazing!

We drove on from there through more wild forest and then miles of cultivated land, banana trees, oranges, grapefruit, avocados the smell wafting through the windows.
The drive took us to the only Carib Indian reserve in the world, where the remaining descendants of the original inhabitants live.
Not much to see really and the one place tourism seems to have had an effect as there was a lot of begging despite them being richer than the rest of the islanders!

Our next outing was trip up the Indian River. Portsmouth is home to a collection of locals with boats, the Boat Boys, that cater to your every need in the anchorage, they can arrange laundry, fresh bread, fruit etc all at prices much higher than if you just go ashore yourself! That said they also offer great security in the anchorage, lots of fun and tours of the Indian River.

Charlie our selected boat boy was fabulous, he picked us up and then rowed us slowly up river as we watched the birds and wildlife along the banks.
It's a narrow mangrove river and was used in Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 apparently (we're collecting set locations) the tree roots are astonishing, gnarled and clinging to the ever eroding banks. The trees themselves covered in parasitic plants like orchids and ferns - a very relaxing start to the day.
Sunday night is party night, as apparently are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, so the anchorage is bathed in very very loud music, so rather than not sleep we headed ashore for the BBQ and rum punch festival, a great night out and a chance to catch up with the locals on their day off.

Monday, a bit the worse for wear, we set off again in the car, first stop Emerald Pools, a more developed tourist spot, thankfully we were there when the cruise ships weren't, so we got a relatively unspoilt walk through the stunning forest to the pools.
Green sums up the forest - everything is green, and then the green things have other green things growing on them like moss, or lichens.
From here we went to Victoria Falls and another wow moment. The walk goes up a river bed and crosses the river 5 times, so it's bare feet and wading for a kilometre or two. The valley is great, but the end pont being the 78 foot high water fall is even better.
The day we saw it there had been relatively little rain, but still the force of the water put us off bathing there, settling instead for a more sedate rock pool. In the rainy season apparently you can't get within 200m of the foot of the falls!

The final leg of the grand tour came with a day out in the Cabrits national park that overlooks the anchorage at Portsmouth. It is basically 2 hills that were once home to a huge British Garrison and fort. Dominica is half way between Martinique (French) and Guadeloupe (French) so obviously the British were a bit concerned it may get invaded!

Today there is a restored fort, and perhaps more interestingly as you walk the trails you stumble of the parts that are unrestored, cannons, walls with trees entwined in them and all sorts of remains of days gone by.

Fascinating fact of the day, it is the British invention of the brass cannon that means we won the battles out here, plus Trafalgar, apparently. French could only get 2 shots off with their iron ones while we blasted merry hell out of them with our fancy new fangled brass ones. No doubt there was a huge argument over military funding in the budget and awarding the contract to Lord so and so's nephew but it all worked out in the end!

Dominica sadly marks the turn around point for us. We are heading back to the USA for summer, then a spell of w*rking in the UK to pay for more travels. So from here we will start the long journey north, but with plenty of time and the wind behind us it should be more pleasant than the original bash down the the Thorny Path.
We will upload more photo albums very soon, so check the link.
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