We left Martinique, not from the port of Fort-de-France where we arrived, but from St-Pierre, close to where we’d been staying. We were somewhat baffled though, as in our wanderings around St-Pierre we had seen only a small jetty, which did not look big enough for an inter-island ferry. And there was no sign of a terminal, like the one in Castries. Our ferry was being run by a subsidiary company called improbably ‘Jeans for Freedom’. (Don’t ask – we don’t know either.) We wondered nervously what kind of boat it would be!
But we needn’t have worried. The boat was identical to our previous ferry, except for the colour and logo. It did manage to moor at the jetty. And at the appropriate time, men arrived with portable check-in desks on trolleys! The crossing was uneventful, and we landed on time at Roseau, the capital of Dominica. Like St Lucia, Dominica is a former British colony, so it was back to speaking English, driving on the left and using EC (or US) dollars.
Dominica is similar to St Lucia in size, but has a much smaller population. Most people live on the coast, as much of the interior is impenetrable rainforest. Cruise ships come to Dominica practically every day, but there are no all-inclusive resorts as on St Lucia. There are a few fair-sized hotels, but most people stay in small guesthouses. We’d booked six nights at one in Roseau, just outside the town centre. This was a convenient base for exploring the island. Roseau is a tiny capital, so it was easy to walk into the centre (no steep hills to negotiate, as in Castries!). And we were delighted to find that, unlike Castries, there was a fair number of decent restaurants in the town – just as well, since we had no cooking facilities at the guesthouse.
Phil, the owner, was a mine of useful information (not always quite 100% accurate). As well as giving advice about buses, he took us to a small backstreet shop and introduced us to a computer genius who eventually managed to fix Sandie’s laptop. It was great to have it working again, though it took some time to download software and copy files. No luck with the camcorder though, but Ian did manage to find the adapter he needed. We got to know Roseau quite well while we were there
Outings by bus
We did three whole-day outings using local buses (and our feet). The first was to Portsmouth, the former capital, now just a large village. There we did the ‘Indian River Trip’, a rowboat ride along a peaceful tree-lined river. Then we walked round the bay to Cabrits National Park, and saw the restored remains of Fort Shirley. We had time for a short spell on a nearby beach before getting the bus back.
The next day we went to the hilltop village of Laudat, in the mountains not far from Roseau. There were a number of places we wanted to see, and Phil had assured us we would be able to reach all of them on foot from Laudat. We managed it, but only because we were given lifts by a park ranger twice on our travels. There were several showers during the day, some quite heavy, so we got soaked. We walked part of the way to Boeri Lake, but gave up because the footpath went over some slippery rocks, and we didn’t want to risk breaking a leg. Places that we did get to see – Freshwater Lake, TiTou Gorge and Trafalgar Falls – were rather disappointing.
Our third bus trip was to Scotts Head, in the far SW corner of the island. Scotts Head is a small landmass connected to the mainland by a narrow stretch of stony beach. We climbed up the Head, and Ian tried some snorkelling from the beach. Afterwards we walked round the bay to the village of Soufrière, and visited its picturesque church. We then got a bus back to Champagne Beach, so named because of the volcanic vents that puff steam into the sea. But we discovered that you have to swim out quite a way to experience this, and the beach itself has lots of stones and little sand. So we didn’t stay long, but walked the rest of the way back to Roseau.
On arriving in Roseau we were told that there would be a carnival on the following Saturday afternoon. This was something we didn’t want to miss. So on Saturday we did just a short morning trip to the nearby village of Wotton Waven, noted for its hot sulphur springs. We visited one area where the sun was shining through the rising steam – very atmospheric. Then we went to one of the village ‘spas’, with pools of varying depths and temperatures. We enjoyed a relaxing soak!
In the afternoon we found a good position to watch the carnival. It took an hour and a half for the parade to pass, and we speculated that most of the population must have been involved. In true Caribbean style, the carnival was full of noise, colour, laughter – and fun! Drink stalls had been set up all along the bayfront, so people could continue to party long after the parade had finished.
Driving on Dominica
We’d been warned that there were no buses on Sundays (although we discovered that this was not quite true). So, of the places we wanted to visit, we saved the least accessible for Sunday and hired a car for the day. We did a tour of the island, focusing on three places. Emerald Pool (with waterfall) is a very popular tourist site, but not spectacular compared with others we have seen. L’Escalier Tête Chien is a hardened lava formation which runs down into the Atlantic; it is an interesting place, and the walk out to it gives you great views along the coast. The beach at Pointe Baptiste does have some red-coloured rocks and cliffs, but is rather less ‘incredible’ than our guidebook implied.
However, the most ‘exciting’ part of the day was not visiting these sites but driving around the island to reach them. The main road up the west coast (between Roseau and Portsmouth) is not bad, but elsewhere… There are few roads that penetrate the centre of the island, and those that exist are narrow, winding, steep and full of potholes. The road up the east coast is scary, and the mountain roads frankly terrifying. We returned to Roseau feeling glad to be alive, and in desperate need of a stiff drink!