We arrived painfully early in Dominica to find this waiting on the dock. I was not feeling so well.
Luckily, we only had to walk a block to meet Gary from Bumpiing Tours. We’d scheduled a tour of the island with the company based on the uniformly rave reviews online. We were also pleased to discover that there was only one other couple on our tour that day, though they seemed painfully shy.
As we set out, we noticed that most of the houses and businesses had colored flags and banners hanging everywhere. Gary explained that it was election day Friday, and the island turned the event into a huge party. There was a pre-election party with drinking, pot smoking, music and dancing. Then there was the election afterparty, with more of the same. As far as we could tell, the red, blue, and green parties seemed to represent similar things, all with labor-focused messages. Also, Gary told us that traffic would back up completely around the island when one of the party leaders would start a caravan and pick up followers in a giant parade along the way. Clearly, Dominica is awesome.
It’s called the Nature Island, known more for its rainforest, waterfalls, and volcanic features than its beaches. The roads are very narrow and winding, and you drive on the left. I was happy to be in the hands of a professional, though the couple in the backseat seemed afraid for their lives. (If we survived dune buggies and cabs in Mexico, there’s little else that can scare me, driving-wise.)
Gary stopped to pick Ylang Ylang on the side of the road. It’s used in perfumes.
There was a cooler of water, juice, and beer in the van, in which we gratefully indulged. I needed as much water as possible. After 45 minutes or so, we arrived at our first stop in the mountains: the Emerald Pool. It’s about a 15-minute hike into the rainforest, and the four of us seemed to be the only people there.
It’s impossible to capture in photos (just like most of the rainforest – all you see is green). The water is indeed emerald, and there are ferns and runners hanging down from above. It looked like a Hollywood version of the jungle. Even though the water was freezing, there was no way we weren’t getting in there. The other couple hesitated, but we finally convinced them to come in. Seriously, when you have the opportunity to swim in a waterfall in the rainforest in Dominica, you damn well better take it.
We climbed out, dried off, and squished our way along the rest of the trail. Though the port is on the Caribbean side, from the top of the mountain, you can see the Atlantic:
Gary tried to bring us to the Mr Nice fruit stand, but it wasn’t open yet. (Next time!) Matt and I cracked open a couple Kubulis, the beer of Dominica. We liked it especially because there was a map of the country on the front, and we could keep track of our location. We drove back down to the Roseau Valley (where the ship was docked), and Gary pointed out the houses on stilts along the way. People would buy the land and build the upper level of a house, while camping out underneath. When the top was done they’d move in, with the intention of building the lower level when they could afford it. We didn’t see many homes with a lower level, but they were all fairly new in the mountains.
We drove through town and back up into the mountains, headed toward Trafalgar Falls. It’s the most famous destination in Dominica. On the way, Gary stopped to show us an active volcano along the side of the road.
Trafalgar Falls was crowded, as expected. There were several excursions from the cruise ship, and the van driven by Levi from Bumpiing tours, with whom I’d booked the tour. Even the climb up from the parking lot was steep, and the humidity was killing me.
We hiked down to the pools formed by the stream from the waterfall, and Gary helped us get in. I recognized the other group there as the people whose recommendations about Bumpiing Tours I’d read in the first place, on the Cruise Critic message boards. Funny!
The pools were very warm, heated by the volcano. On the right, you can see a man standing in a hole; you can actually climb down there to the pools below. Of course when the Cruise Critic people left and the other couple got in there with us, they refused to go in the hole. We had to, though, even though it bruises the hell out of your knees. It was an awesome massage, with the water cascading from above.
We eventually climbed out, and Gary led us back up the hill. I was pretty sure I was going to die at that point, because I couldn’t stop shaking. I told Gary I had too much rum punch the night before, and he instantly understood. I love the Caribbean.
We finally reached the top, and I got some more water. On the way down from Trafalgar Falls, we stopped at a roadside bar called the River Rock. We got chairs at a table on the patio, where the papayas and passion fruit used in their drinks were growing from trees in the valley. Gary got us a round of rum punches, and then hung out at the next table smoking weed. The couple with us looked like they were going to die of uncomfortable. I really love the Caribbean.
We climbed back in the van and headed back towards Roseau. Our rum punches empty, we had another round of Kubulis and Quenchi (Dominican juice). Gary took us through the Botanical Gardens in Roseau, where we saw the most-photographed sight on the island. It’s a school bus flattened by a tree that fell on it in Hurricane David.
He showed us the sausage tree, too!
From there, we drove down to Champagne Reef to snorkel. He gave us our passes, and Matt and I headed off down the beach. The couple we were with decided not to snorkel. What the hell?
Champagne Reef is known as such because of the air bubbles coming up from below, caused by volcanic activity. The water was a little murky because the waves were high that day, but we still saw the vents with the bubbles erupting from them.
Levi swam up and said he’d seen an octopus nearby, but we couldn’t find it. I’m pretty sure Matt was really happy about that.
It was hard to get out of the water on the stony beach, but our water shoes helped a lot. Gary led us back to the van, pointing out an iguana along the way. He said that the males are grey, and the females are green and mostly hang out in the mountains.
We drove back into town, and he dropped us off near the ship. We asked him for a dining recommendation, and he pointed us in the direction of La Robe Creole around the corner. It’s well-known, and was excellent despite having the strangest rum punch yet.
I had the vegetarian plate: pumpkin puree with garlic, rice and beans, and spinach. Matt had flying fish. It was fantastic. While we ate, trucks kept driving by with giant soundsystems and bullhorns strapped in the back. They were all stumping for the various political candidates they’d be voting for that weekend.
We stopped in the duty-free shop in town to pick up more rum, including Havana Club (which is illegal in the US, obviously), then went back to the ship right before boarding time ended. They confiscated the rum this time, which was fine: they give it back to you right before debarkation, and we weren’t going to need it til we got home anyway. The Caribbean has plenty to go around.
I showered and took a nap while Matt took pictures of Dominica as we left. This, of course, was the start of my typical tropical-vacation sickness: something about the combination of heat, different foods (sometimes not enough food, because it makes me feel like not eating), hangover, humidity, sunburn, and dehydration always makes me sick. I just consider it an important part of the process, though. (What I didn’t realize til later was that I was also seasick!)
Once I rose again from the dead, we got dressed and went to see Velika in the coffee bar, then to play cribbage. The board was missing its pegs, but there were broken drink picks instead. Matt and I had some great ideas, including his new website: nakedmenblowingtheirnosesintowomensdresses.info (or .mobi). Yeah, I don’t remember where that came from, either. All we knew was that we were for sure getting a book deal out of it.
We stopped at the champagne bar to get cocktails to bring back to the room (and met the bartender Mehmet, who we’d be seeing more of later), then ordered room service. It took 45 minutes, and we ended up with bread and butter, lemon ricotta ravioli, a fruit cup, a crostini platter, and two entrees for Matt because they’d run out of one. We only ordered about half of that. Needless to say, there were leftovers.
We went to bed a little later, but I was completely unable to sleep. The wind and waves were really bad, and I was tossing around all night. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but I was absolutely miserable and my head was spinning. I probably should’ve realized what it was, but I’d never had trouble with seasickness before!