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March 30, 2010 / ebretzel

Smile! You’re in Dominica!

We were pretty pumped to get out to Dominica and go on our first excursion through the rainforest to a secluded waterfall. Weird plants and birds, here we come! This particular excursion was described as being a strenuous hike and not an air conditioned bus that drops you off right at the destination, which was exactly why we chose it. Judging from the physical condition of most of the people on cruise ships, “strenuous” probably meant something more like “moderate” for us. But still, we were looking forward to our 4 hours in the wilderness.

We spotted our tour through the crowd and boarded a small bus that fit about 15 people. Our tour guide Cynthia was a friendly, smiling Dominican who could answer any question and assured us that our driver had a “Ph.D. in driving.” As we started our ascension up the mountain I began to question whether we might make it to the top alive… We were barreling straight up the mountainside around hairpin turns with sheer cliffs on one side. The driver didn’t seem to notice the potholes and wasn’t phased when the bus rocked precariously from side to side. Cynthia, however, did notice the fear in our eyes and soothed us by saying, “When you feel afraid, just smile. You’re in Dominica! It is a paradise!” Needless to say I was “smiling” the whole way up.

Our hike started next to a sign that depicted the wildlife of Dominica. Basically, they have bats, snakes, birds and little rodent things that look sort of like squirrels but also kind of like bunnies. Unfortunately, we would not see anything on the hike. There weren’t even bugs! I suppose we could have gone to the “Stinking Hole” (actual name) where all the bats live… somehow that didn’t sound like it would be as fun…

The hike was actually tougher than we thought it would be and the trail was not exactly well-groomed. We had to climb across slippery stream rocks and over piles of roots. There was an elderly couple at the end of the group who didn’t seem like they would make it, but according to our guide there was only one time that she had to go back and it was with someone who was very obese and could hardly walk.

Our tour guide pointed out banana trees and other types of plants, including one that had a sap oozing out of it that smelled like turpentine. We stopped at one spot where she pulled a vine from a tree and invited us to swing on it Tarzan-style. Ryan took the opportunity to swing back and forth and threw in a little twist in the middle, just to show off.

Finally we arrived at our destination, Middleham Falls. It looked like they were in the process of building a little viewing platform but we had to scramble our way down big, pointy rocks to get to the pool. “Jump in!” said Cynthia, “It’s refreshing!” So we did. It was so cold, it took our breath away! We swam around for a bit and Ryan went under the falls to get pounded by the water. Since it’s the dry season, the falls were not as big as they usually are, but it was still impressive and very beautiful. Definitely worth the hike. We sat for a while enjoying the cool forest air and listening to the rush of the water, before gearing up for the return trip.

When we arrived back at the trailhead, there were some guys waiting for us with complimentary pieces of sugarcane, coconut, locally baked scones and a small cooler of local beer, Kubuli. It was all quite tasty. Then we each got a sampling of local fruits, including mango, pineapple and something we couldn’t identify, but it was good! On our return down the mountainside, Cynthia filled us in on the local history of Dominica and informed us all that she did not vote. “I have a wonderful family, a job and I live in a paradise,” she reasoned, “Why would I vote?” Why, indeed?

There was still quite a bit of time left so we decided to walk into town to see the Carnival celebration and check out their botanical gardens. We passed lots of tiny bars with very loud music coming out of them. There were people all over the streets, and surprisingly no one bothered us either to beg or to get us to buy something from them. Maybe it was because of the street festival, or maybe it’s just dirty there, but people were throwing their garbage right into the gutters. We even saw a rat later, yuck.

The sidewalks are very small and abut right up to the buildings. As on the other islands, there will be very well-kept buildings and right next door is one that is practically falling down with plants growing out of its windows. It’s hard to say if it’s that way because of the climate/hurricanes, poverty or apathy.

After walking along the parade route, we found the botanical gardens which is actually like a big, grassy park with some trees in it – none of them labeled. One tree had fallen over in a hurricane and landed right onto a school bus. They couldn’t afford to clean it up so they just left it there and now the tree is growing around the bus. Luckily, no one was in the bus at the time!

On our walk back to the ship, we saw a man urinating in the river and then 20 yards up a man bathing in the river! Who knew it had multiple uses! We stopped in a brightly colored candy shop and I bought myself a BUSTA, which was like an orange Fanta, and the woman working there graciously showed us what the local currency looked like. As we continued to walk I started to notice signs everywhere that said BUSTA! I guess it’s a popular beverage!

BUSTA!!!

Next up… GRENADA!

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