Dominica: The Nature Island

Graham and I sailed overnight directly to Dominica from Antigua.  We sailed overnight so as to arrive around noon.  When we do this Graham takes the early watch and I take over around midnight or later.  It was generally a smooth sail down with the wind on the beam although sailing past Guadeloupe is unpredictable.  The wind shifted and died and then came back.  We arrived in Portsmouth around 11 AM and we were immediately contacted by the PAYS Yacht Helpers as we approached the Prince Rupert Bay.  Our friends on Patronus recommended we use Providence (Martin) and since we planned to take our tours with the Porters on Evenstar we decided to ask for the same helper.  The yacht helpers provide a range of services to visiting yachts.  They provide security, arrange tours, scuba dives, laundry, and more.  Martin even does a cooking class where you can learn about preparing native dishes using the local produce.

The Porters arrived after us for change and we worked with Martin to arrange a tour of the north part of the island.  It rained quite a bit over several days prior to the tour and there was some rain throughout our tour.  We drove up into the interior of the island and through a pass into the Morne Aux Diables.  We hiked to the Cold Soufriere: volcanic gas seeps through the water source but the water is cold not hot like most volcanic springs.  From there we went on to several of the sights on the Atlantic side of the island which included several of the on location sites where Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed.

One of the many locations from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

We had a fabulous lunch of local specialties on the beach in Calibishie and then went on to visit the Caribe Indian Reservation which is one of the few places where the native Caribe Indians still live in larger numbers.  Later that day we visited the Emerald Pool which is a beautiful waterfall and pool surrounded by rainforest.

Emerald Pool

The scenery in Dominica is some of the most stunning we have seen anywhere in the Caribbean.  The lush rainforest is a stark contrast to the BVIs and the Northern Leeward Islands which are very dry.  Fruits and vegetables are grown everywhere and many grow wild.  The farm fields here are nothing like in the midwest where I grew up.  Many of these fields look like you would need mountain climbing gear to harvest your crops.  Our guide, Dylan, showed us six different types of bay leaves.  These leaves are cooked and distilled into a variety of different flavorings and scents.  One is used to create the lemony citronella scent used in the candles and lamp oils that help to repel insects.

Tia Dalma’s Cottage form “Dead Man’s Chest”-notice the Bloodwood Mangrove trees

Another highlight of our visit was a trip up the Indian River in Portsmouth.  Martin, our Yacht Helper, conducted this tour himself.  At first the river was open and sunny.  Later it felt as though we were tunneling into the rain-forest.  One of the famous sights on the river is Tia Dalma’s aka Calypso Cottage, a site from the Pirates of the Caribbean.  It was used in the haunting scene at the end of “Dead Man’s Chest” where the surviving crew of the Black Pearl, minus Captain Jack, paddle up the river.  In this scene it is nighttime and there are hundreds of extras standing on the shore or waist deep in the water holding lamps and candles.

The river is a National Park so the use of engines is not permitted.  Martin paddled us his boat and at the same time gave us a lesson on the plants and wildlife we were seeing.  I really thought the Bloodwood Mangroves that you can see at the edge of the river are really cool.  They almost look as if they could walk on their roots.

Martin, our yacht helper shows us a freshwater crab

On our second auto tour we visited the Chaudiere Pool and the Red Rocks.  The Chaudiere pool was a bit of a hike as portions of the road had washed out.  The current at the pool was much stronger than normal due to the rains.  It took us a little while but we finally got up the nerve to jump off the cliffs into the pool.  The upwelling current pushes you to the surface and to the side so you have to be ready to grab on to the rocks.


We had a nice lunch with the Porters and then topped it off with a visit to the Red Rocks.  This rock formation looks a bit like Mars from one angle.  However, the dramatic views of the coast remind you that we are on planet earth.

Lunch on the beach with the Porters
Red rocks on the Atlantic coast of Dominica

Our final days in Dominica were pleasant yet bittersweet.  We have been traveling with the Porters on Evenstar since August of 2012.  We started hanging out while we were in Maine and we have spent lots of good times together.  Graham, Danielle, and Will have become good friends.  From here the Porters continue south toward Grenada and Panama, while we head north toward the BVIs and then home to Virginia.  We will miss them. Fair winds and following seas.





We have been in St. Martin for about a month, still travelling with our friends, the Porters whom we have been loosely with since Maine in August. They head toward Antigua this weekend so we will catch up with them there in a few weeks time. Graham is progressing in school at an accelerated rate and will be done way ahead of schedule. As such, his father drills him on probabilities and the like while they have lunch or walk and his mean old nasty old teacher is going to make him take a sample SAT when he finishes with school to assess his capabilities. To be fair, though, she has agreed to take the test herself.

We have become quite accustomed to life here in the Caribbean. In St. Martin, Mike from Shrimp’s Laundry etc. does a morning VHF radio chat to announce the weather, give people a chance to announce their arrivals and departures, swap items, make announcements about kids activities (treasure hunt on Saturday!) and other stuff. He also does our laundry about once a week. We are anchored in the Simpson Bay Lagoon near another Baba, and our friends on Evenstar, and Cyberman ,conveniently, because my computer died completely and at least we had him around to tell us the truth. We will not be replacing it and that feels very freeing. All I need is access to email and google so Matt and I are sharing a computer. Life is simple. I spend my days painting and teaching and reading like crazy. We officially have a teenager now as Graham turned 13 on Valentine’s Day. We went out to dinner at Café de Paris with the Porters and had real French food and everyone’s meal was perfect. The Porters have addicted us to a TV series called “Eureka” which they have on DVD. As our separation is imminent we have been having many Eurekathons over on Evenstar. It’s good fun.

A really neat museum of Star Wars and other movie memorabilia put together by a former creature effects and costumes wizard was one of the more surprising finds in the town of Phillipsburg!

Phillipsburg, on the Dutch Side of St. Maarten, has a very similar feel to a lot of Caribbean towns where the primary business is catering to Cruise ships. You’ve got the sidewalk hawkers for everything from taxis and T-shirts to beach chair rentals and happy hours. It’s not a bad place and I didn’t dislike it, but it is busy and crowded and you’d do well to wear a T-Shirt saying “No Thank you I don’t need a Taxi/New Hat/Massage/Beach Chair/Jewelry” so you may walk down the board walk unmolested for a stretch.

But a favorite part of the town of Phillipsburg was “That Yoda Guy”. Nick Maley became known as “That Yoda Guy” on the set of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back because if his instrumental role in the creation of the puppetry and animation to create the character of Yoda back in the days before digital animation and CGI . Though he was also involved in the other movies in the original Star Wars trilogy as a creature effects animator as well. He’s also got a list of other movie credits as long as your arm including Highlander, Superman, Krull, and many others.

Mr. Maley retired from the movie industry some time back and moved onto a sailboat with his wife, where they cruised for a time. Eventually they settled in the Caribbean, and this small but interesting museum was opened. What is novel about it is that although it contains many things from Mr. Maley’s private collection, Mr. Maley himself brings a lot of inside scoop on how the Star Wars movies came together. He was there, and knows a lot of the details – be it technical or anecdotal, that provides some fascinating insight into how these iconic movies came together the way they did.

Throughout the museum are original art works and memorabilia, some for display and some for sale.

Passing by on the sidewalk on Front Street, I heard the Star Wars theme paying quietly – looking around I saw the signs. Having no idea what to expect, we mounted up the stairs expecting something…tacky maybe? Instead spent a very pleasant hour or so talking and exploring and learning some very, very cool stuff about some of our favorite movies.

Well worth a visit!

We attended a Mardi Gras type parade on the French side on Shrove  (Fat) Tuesday.  The costumes were pretty impressive. All ages and genders were bedecked in spectacular arrays of flowers, feathers and glitter. There were troupes of young children, teenagers and adults. One thing that impressed me was that these were all regular, real people, and everyone was out there strutting their stuff and you could tell they all felt proud and beautiful. It’s hard to picture an event like this back in the states where we have such harsh standards of beauty and judge those outside those brackets so unkindly. Some of the most charismatic people in the parade were the winners of the “Miss Plus Size” beauty pageant – this wasn’t a joke or a gag like it might be in the states, these were beautiful, vibrant women; accepted for who they are and proud of it. And you could see the happiness and humor as they saw friends and family along the way and broke ranks for hugs, pictures and fun.