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Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Vermont
posts: 14
reviews: 28
Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Disclaimer: I am an older woman now and not as resilient as I used to be. I like independent travel, where I do all for myself. This island is just not "easy", and perhaps that what I'll need more of as I age. So those with a vested interest in Dominica, please note, I am truthful, even if some details are not the msot flattering.

It is the most lush, verdant island I have ever seen. Thickly draped in vegetation with mountains, oceanside cliffs and beautiful sea views. We remarked at how similar to Kauai it was. It is truly what I expected as far as an island untouched by the modern world.

It is what made it special and made it …. very challenging. I got what I asked for in spades: Old World Caribbean. Third World. No typical Americanized Disneyesque Caribbean. Wonderful but difficult as hell.

The tourism infrastructure was practically nonexistent. The majority of the island’s interest in tourism is huge armies of taxi drivers who want to drive you around the island as a tour guide. Most islanders have no idea what to do with a tourist except stare at them. Waitresses are almost shocked to receive a tip. The economy is almost fully based on agriculture and fishing. Very tough on independent travelers as finding ANYTHING takes time, patience and a sense of humor (my husband did MUCH better than me on that). I soon discovered that a smidge of modernity and ease goes a long way for a comfy vacation.

Highlights:

• We found two spectacular bays with snorkeling that blew our minds: the quantity and variety of juvenile schools of fish, the small life we saw, the tranquility of the bays and the lack of tourists

• A long mountainous canyon in the jungle called Titou Gorge: we did a full day of canyoning with Extreme Dominica full of rappels through waterfalls, huge jumps into deep, clear fresh pools and a glowing green canopy of jungle overhead. Absolutely spectacular.

• Waterfalls: huge, stunningly beautiful and COLD. Gorgeous jungle. Fern trees: Wow.

• Fresh tuna caught by fisherman who land their boats and blow conch shells to announce to the village that fish is for sale. Everyone comes out to buy until it is all gone. We bought many fresh pink tuna steaks! Average cost: $4 a pound.

• Ridiculously heavily-laden mango trees, bananas, tamarind, citrus, coffee, breadfruit, papaya, scotch bonnet peppers EVERYWHERE.

• Fishing with villagers: At our favorite bay, we saw the fishermen spreading a monumental gill net across the whole bay (almost trapping us inside!) to collect a giant portion of an unending school of bait fish, their predators ballyhoos as well as small tuna. Many members of the village ambled down to help pull in the huge, heavy net. We joined in. Very fun.

• Kubuli beer. I am not a beer drinker and it was good!

Downsides:

• Roads: You drive on the left, you veer around narrow hairpin turns, up and down steep mountains and dodge the maniacal local drivers who go 60-65 MPH, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the 18-inch wide, 2-foot deep concrete drainage sluiceways that are on either side of the road. Every day had this stress for me……relaxation? Not so much. More white-knuckles in ten days than a whole Vermont winter. So freaking tense.

• Supplies: We did not go out to eat for dinner because driving at night on those roads was NOT an option, especially not after a few umbrella drinks, so we ended up eating most of our big meals out at lunch and self-catered our dinners. Provisions are very hard to come by on that island. LOTS of expired canned goods. Fresh food can only be found on market days which means braving the abject disorder of either of the two big towns and the stark, relentless heat of the streets. We ate a LOT of beans and rice with some fruit, some fish and some chicken. Luckily there’s a lot you can do with coconut milk and spices! (The Bird in the Hand adage: Market stock was always so slim, if you saw something you wanted, BUY IT NOW, you may never see it again. We are so SPOILED with our mega-markets in the USA).

• Inefficiencies: Constant ATM failure thanks to ancient bank software and transaction timeouts. Renting a car on arrival only to be told that there are no more required temporary driver’s licenses. “Come back in a week.” WHAT???? Required site licenses for tourist attractions, but they have none to sell you and you really can’t go look at that waterfall until you have one. “We may have one tomorrow to sell you.” WHAT????

• We found a good portion of the local people tricky. Not real welcoming, some friendliness after quite an effort by us, but for the most part, we gave the populace a C for attitude towards tourists.

• Trash and island dogs: Trash everywhere. Island dogs everywhere, skinny and badly neglected. Sad.

• Cruise ship days clogged the roads, the towns and made everything difficult. But it’s good for the island.

Overall, an intriguing trip, plenty of wonder and beauty! Could have been more relaxing. Maybe next year we cave in and order up a smidge more luxury?

Victoria, Canada
posts: 4
reviews: 169
11. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Most of the island is an off-the-path adventure, except when the cruise ships come in and take tourists to Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald Pool. (We were on a local bus one day and, as we passed a tour bus full of tourists, some of the locals started laughing at them, calling them "retards".)

I would very much recommend your looking into the Waitukubuli National Trail. This is a national effort that would rehabilitate the original network of trails that connect the entire island from north to south.

calgary,ab
posts: 151
reviews: 49
12. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

I just reread your review that was posted last year as my family has just returned from Dominica and I had to laugh. Yes the driving is very stressful and it is hard to believe that it can take 45 minutes to drive from Calbishie to Portsmouth and it is something like 15 miles. It is also the only place that I have ever picked up a hitchhiker on the highway. He sat in the trunk of the SUV since my children were in the backseat and told us what it was like to be a fisherman.

Dominica is also the only place where I saw families washing their clothes in the river and spreading them to dry on rocks in the sun.

Before I went to Dominica I researched a few places to go to eat since I wanted to have at least a few meals covered and that worked well for us.

Accessing beaches at least in the north was difficult and required a bit of 4 wheel driving.

Once we got to those beaches they were beautiful and deserted.

Stray dogs ,goats, roosters are everywhere –I had to get out of my car at one point to lead a baby goat(kid) away from the small lane we were on .Also, there are no signs telling you where to go when you are driving so you need to get very explicit directions .

The scenery is gorgeous! We loved swimming in the freshwater pools and waterfalls that we had completely to ourselves when we were there.

Overall it was an adventure- not always comfortable or easy but what we were looking for in an island unlike any other.

Washington DC...
posts: 9
13. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Thanks for your candid assessment, Ember! I think I'm in roughly the same boat as you and appreciate your perspective.

Would you care to share which bays you snorkeled in?

London, United...
posts: 19
reviews: 13
14. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Remember with Dominca, it is a small island state that heas to import the majority of its goods (hence prices and supplies); small population so no real trade force to be reckoned with so they will get the cheap imports that the rest of the world doesn't want; relies heavily on foreign donations for development and infrastructure.

However, this is not to offer too much of an excuse, the Dominicans can be their own worst enemy (where *is* the real opposition to the corrupt, money-grabbing Skerrit right now?). And cruise liners ought to dock at Portsmouth, (a cleaner, all together more appealing town than murky, claustrophobic Roseau) which should, really, be the capital.

It is a beautiful island, however, and it stands alone in the Caribbean in its rural, off-the-beaten-track, raw, ruggeddness. Don't let the annoyances put you off - every country has its downers.

Edited: 9:20 am, May 19, 2011
London, United...
posts: 19
reviews: 13
15. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Oh, and I will say I concur - there is *no* such thing as good customer service in a lot of the shops. I've come out of some stores feeling angry. If they addressed this attitude problem it would really help DA's rep.

Winchester, Virginia
posts: 15
reviews: 7
16. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

Ember, I have to agree with much of what you wrote. The island is beautiful, steamy and hot and must be experienced with an open mind and lots of patience as you say. I stayed there 10 days and had a rental the entire time and explored most of the islands touristy hot spots. I also connected with two locals who took me around the island and introduced me to the locals.

Contrary to what you might do in the U.S. I picked up several hitchikers who were all very friendly and even would show me places on the island that made the trip especially memorable, such as the cold fumeroles. I was advised to do this by a couple who vacation in Dominica quite often and glad I did it. I was worried some and nervous about my newfound actions but they were all friendly and appreciated the lift. I found people on the east more friendly than on the west if that means anything. (probably see less tourists)

The roads are terrible and scarry as you say and though I drove everywhere, even at night, I must say it was the one thing that makes me glad my wife was not with me on this trip. I was rear ended by a car travelling on my bumper and when I stopped for people in the cross walk, they hit me. The rental car agency made me pay for the damage to the car eventhough I paid for "insurance" that is a joke. The roads on the west are highways compared to the interior and eastern sides. The foliage closed in so badly that there were times when facing another vehicle and drainage ditches on either side, neither knew where to back up to. Very stressful driving island.

Sorry, hate to admit it, but wished I would have stayed in a place with air-conditioning. The place I stayed had ceiling fans, but to open the windows was to invite the 3 am Rooster crowings and dogs barking. Sweating often, I found swimming in the rivers better than being in the ocean.

I think if the island improved it roads, it would increase tourism. Maybe that is why they don't do it???

Thanks for the honesty in your post.

London
posts: 18
reviews: 15
17. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

What an honest posting!

My wife is Dominican and we have been many times over the years.

I think I agree with every word you have said!

It is a beautiful island, and I should also say very safe to explore on your own.

The big BUT is that it certainly is not "tourist friendly".

To be clear though it is not "tourist hostile" either.

Probably "tourist indifferent" the most accurate way of putting it.

I agree that patience may be needed - believe you me if you had to deal with Dominican lawyers or Land Registry officials you would know what I mean!

On the driving also, I always rent a car - but I NEVER drive at night.

This is partly becasue there is nowhere to go, and partly becasue of the risk of running into a boulder or pothole that has appeared.

I have to say though that I have met some truly wonderful people there and that getting the balance right between being tourist friendly and authentic must be difficult.

Well worth a visit - but as you say, don't epect anyone to be falling over themselves to please you :-)

18. Re: Dominica: Patience and a Sense of Humor

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