*Note- this post recalls our visit to Dominica in June 2017, before the devastation of hurricane Maria in September.
It’s hard to believe a place we discovered only a few months ago has been demolished. Dominica was the most undeveloped places we’d visited and because of that it was quite special. In Portsmouth, Dominica, the locals appeared to live simple, carefree lives in a tropical paradise. It was a sight to behold.
Fruit by the foot
We first arrived at Portsmouth, Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-eekah) in early June.
As soon as we rounded the corner to the anchorage, we were quickly met by a local in his skiff. He welcomed us to the island and introduced himself, telling us he was in charge of organizing tours and activities for cruisers. He offered us a mooring at a fair price, however being the cheapskates that we are, we politely declined so we could anchor instead (for free).
As soon as the hook was down, we had more company. Boat boys flocked to Alli Oop trying to sell us the local produce. We needed fresh fruit so we happily grabbed what they had to offer and snacked contently.
During the course of our stay in Dominica, we frequently succumbed to these daily visits, scooping up mangos, avocados and passionfruit by the armful. We got to the point where we had so much produce on board, we simply couldn’t eat it fast enough.
If we said we didn’t have any cash on hand, the boat boys wanted to barter or trade, a practice we were quite unaccustomed to. What could they possibly want for fruit that wasn’t cash? Anything that they could sell for money or enjoy for themselves: trinkets, cigarettes or even a shot of rum would suffice in some cases.
When we ventured into town, we were ready to explore like we normally do. Checking in and finding a grocery store were our top priorities. After less than an hour however, Dave and I were ready to leave.
Nearly every local approached us and asked if we wanted to take a tour of some kind.
“Take the river tour with me, I’m the best guide.”
“Hike the mountain with me, I know the trail well.”
“Need a taxi? I have a friend who will take you to Roseau.”
We even had a school age boy try to make a buck off of us. He saw us looking at a tree trying to figure out what type of fruit was hanging from it. Without hesitation, he walked right up to us and said, “Do you want me to climb the tree and get that for you?”
At this point, Dave and I looked at each other and unanimously agreed it was time to get back to the boat. We were overwhelmed with all of the attention and needed some peace. When we were back on board, I said something to the effect of, “Finally, some peace and quiet.” About a minute later we heard, “Captain! Captain!” right outside. It was a boat boy, waiting for us with fruit.
A walk in the woods
The highlight of our trip would have to be a magnificent hike we took on the Waitukabuli Trail. At that point in time, it was the longest walking trail in the Caribbean. We met up with our new friends Lukas and Teresa of SV Mila who planned our hike through the mountains of Dominica. I naively assumed we were going for a leisurely stroll in the wilderness, but instead embarked on an 6+ hour hike on steroids. I was grossly underprepared.
Rain had fallen earlier that morning, so the entire trail we followed was muddy and slick. The terrain was incredibly steep and rocks scattered under our feet as we walked, making the hike even trickier. We all slipped multiple times and I nearly fell down the side of a hill thanks to my wobbly legs. Thankfully, Dave grabbed the back of my shirt just before I rolled over the edge of oblivion.
There were several moments when I was ready to throw my hands up in the air and give up. I can’t remember the last time I had such a physical challenge. I was (and still am) way out of shape. When we finally came to a clearing and saw homes in the distance I nearly cried. Civilization!
Dave and I didn’t bring enough water, so not only was I exhausted, but dehydrated as well. I saw a water line along the side of the road and asked an approaching local if it was safe to drink. As soon as he gave me the green light, Dave was shoving our water bottles underneath and we were chugging ferociously.
We found a nearby bodega and fueled up on sugary sodas, beer and snacks. We caught a bus for several other locals and nearly 20 minutes later were back where we started.
Dominica was a curious place and we wonder if we’ll ever visit another island like it again. We never knew if the people longed for more or if they were content to live simply. In wake of the destruction from Hurricane Maria, we fondly remember the island we were able to see.
The farms, small homes and businesses we walked by are now flattened. With few residents and man power, it will surely take a long time for Dominica to bounce back.
If you’d like to donate to the effort to help those in need, here are some websites that can help: