Friday, June 01, 2007

Antigua to Dominica with Visitors – May 2007
Bev’s sister and brother in law, Kathryn and Ron had visited us last year in the Virgin Islands. There we had a wonderful time, snorkeling and hiking with very little sailing. This visit was going to be different. We planned to sail with them from Antigua to Guadaloupe, the Saintes and Dominica…doing a lot of hiking and land travel on each island.
Right on schedule their taxi pulled up to the Mad Mongoose delivering two eager travelers. Of course, first on the agenda was an introduction to the local beer, Wadadahli. Then we took a quick tour through English Harbour, while Ross ferried their belongings out to RAFT, which was anchored off Freeman Beach. The following day we hiked to Fort Berkley and Shirley Heights. Between the two hikes we demonstrated how much fun it is dealing with the Antiguan authorities, we went to check out!! Of course the 8 part form had to be filled out, with everyone’s passport information. We were charged extra port charges because we had extra people on board, plus R&K were required to pay $100 EC departure tax. They should be able to use their newly acquired receipt to avoid paying it a second time when they fly home from Antigua at the end of their trip.

Picture: Kathryn and Ron, then all of us, overlooking English Harbour from Fort Berkley
Kathryn and Ron have limited sailing experience, so we do want to make the sailing parts as gentle as possible. That was one of the reasons we moved back to English Harbour, to make the wind angle less on the nose, since the darn south east winds would not back as we hoped they would. Bright and early Monday morning we raised anchor and set off heading basically south in southeast winds, 15-18 knots, heading for Deshaies. We went through a small squall, and the wind died and went more to the nose, so we ended up motor sailing a good part of the way. Despite some queasy stomachs, they did enjoy the pod of small dolphins that came to play in our bow wake. We were anchored in lots of time, for Ross to get us checked in, while K&R explored the small town, and walked over to one of our favourite beaches, Grande Ainse. As the sun was setting, we toasted our arrival to Guadaloupe with wine, and baguettes, love the French islands!!

Picture: Grande Ainse Beach, Guadaloupe

We were not aware that Tuesday was a national holiday, Armistice Day…meaning nothing in town was open except the boulangerie. Hurray, we were able to get baguettes. All we were really concerned about was the car rental office, because we hoped to rent one for the next day. So we snorkeled along the north side of the bay. There were the small red "dust" like biting stuff in the water, what Bev thought were baby jellyfish. The little stings annoy Bev and Ron, but Kathryn reacted badly to them, and by nightfall she was covered with very itchy bites. Fortunately calamine lotion with antihistamine reduced her suffering.
We had no difficulty arranging the car rental for the next morning, so we were off heading south. First stop: Leader Price, where we filled the trunk with wine, beer, fruit juice, rum, all the basic necessities of a good vacation. Then we headed up to St. Claude and the base of the trail to Soufriere. When we started it was sunny, but as we climbed our views were obscured by clouds and it started to rain. We could smell the sulfur venting from the fumeroles. At the cauldera we looked down and watched/smelled the sulfur rising. It was impressive despite the poor visibility. The trail was well marked, not too steep, but the rocks were rough and slippery. You had to be very carefully not to slip or twist an ankle. None of us had any difficulty with the hike, and the rain certainly cooled us down.

Pictures: Foggy, wet conditions at the top of Soufriere, Guadaloupe

Next we were off to the Carbet Falls. When we were there the last time, it was easy to see both the first and second falls from the parking area. But on this day, clouds covered the upper falls. We hiked to the base of the second Carbet, fully enjoying the hike through the rainforest, the huge trees and the beautiful flowers, especially the helicons (Birds of Paradise).
It was getting late as were crossed the island along the Rue de Traverse, but we still stopped at the Cascade des Esceaux, but no one bothered to swim. The sun was setting, and there was some fog as we continued west. At one point, Ron, who was driving, misjudged a curve and rubbed the curb. Ross, always observant, saw the hub cap roll off, so we stopped to retrieve it. Not sure what the cost would have been for this minor incident, but we were glad we didn’t have to find out!!
Even when you have guests on board, we always must be vigilant of the weather. But we were a little surprised when Tropical Storm Andrea developed off the coast of the US. Although not a threat to the Caribbean, it seemed way to early in the year (May 9th) for the hurricane season to be starting. We hope this is not an indication of what is ahead for us this summer.
Next we sailed down to Pigeon Island, home of Jacques Cousteau Marine Park. On previous trips to Guadaloupe we had bypassed this area, as we thought it was only for divers. Our cruising guide seemed to indicate that it was too deep for snorkeling. Other cruisers contradicted this, saying although it is deep, the water is so clear you don’t want to miss it. We grabbed an empty dive boat mooring on the west side of the island. Kathryn was still recovering from her "bites" so we provided her with leggings and long sleeved shirt to see if this would protect her. The size and number of fish, and the wonderful coral were wonderful.
We took time to have another snorkel the next morning before we headed off to the Saintes. We had a very pleasant sail, and were pleased to find very few boats in the anchorage off the town.

Pictures: Ron catches a Barracuda, Iguana on way to Fort Napoleon, Resting at Fort Napoleon overlooking Bourg de Sainte, Point Pierre Beach

After our tour of Fort Napoleon, we had a picnic lunch out at Pointpierre Beach. Connie, from Calaloo, had recommended we go here, citing it as one of the prettiest beaches she had seen. We were not disappointed, it is a lovely palm lined sand beach with several covered picnic areas. Being Saturday, there were many locals there, BBQing, live music and selling cold beer. Obviously we partook in the local fare and enjoyed our time here.
Kathryn and Ron had shared a cab from the airport (in Antigua) and the other couple had recommended La Saladerie restaurant in the Saintes, and in particular the fish fondue. K&R had located the restaurant, and made the necessary 24 hr reservation. It was excellent. A lovely waterfront restaurant, with its own dinghy dock, wonderful ambience and service and the tuna fondue was excellent!!
Next day we were off to Dominica. By now Kathryn and Ron seemed to have their sea legs, or at least the "meds" were working. The winds continued to be from the SE, but the seas were moderate and the trip was very comfortable. We arrived and anchored off the Coconut Resort, to take advantage of the free internet. It was Mothers Day, and we needed to skype our Mothers and our kids. For security reasons, once we finished with the internet, we moved over to the Purple Turtle for the night.

Pictures: Ron and Kathryn raising the Dominican flag, getting cooled off at Fort Shirley, nature grows big in Dominica!!

Checking into Dominica was easily taken care of, and then we were off to explore Fort Shirley. This was our third time there, and every time we approach the officers residence at Douglas Bay, we are still amazed with natures conquest over man.
Dominca is a wonderful island, and we wanted to do a lot of land travel. But the roads are precarious, they drive on the ‘wrong" side, so we don’t want to rent a car, we needed a driver. The boat boys want to arrange this for you, but as we knew the island fairly well and where we wanted to go, we were going to try to see what we could do ourselves. We had met "Short Fingers", last time we were through, he runs a small bar beside the bus stop and he is an interesting character. So we headed off to his bar to talk to "the man". He introduced us to Cesar, (his id says Julius) who agreed to take our group, (we had some extras by this time) out in his van for 2 days, basically taking us wherever we wanted to go.
Day 1: Cesar picks us up at the Purple Turtle at 8am and we head east, across the island. Peter and Maria (Mama Coucha) have joined our group. First stop was the Coconut Processing Plant, where they are harvesting, cracking, and drying the coconut over fires fueled by the coconut shells. The dried coconut is used in the cosmetics industry in the Colgate factory in Roseau and some is shipped to UK. Quite interesting. Next it was the coastal highway weaving up and down the valleys with beautiful Atlantic views. At the fruit stand in the Carib village, we watched the farmer harvest the largest pineapple we had seen and we bought it for $12EC!!
Pictures: Coconut Processing Factory, Windward views, Pineapples Growing, Kathryn with the Pineapple "slayer"
Back on the "bus" and we were off to Emerald Pool. Unfortunately, there was a cruise boat in Dominica (Carnival is always in on Tuesdays) so there were lots of people at the pool. Last time we had visited, we had it all to ourselves. But the crowds didn’t spoil our enjoyment. We swam in the fresh water, and played under the falls.
Pictures: Emerald Pool

Next stop: Lunch. We had asked Cesar to choose a local type venue. He was a little concerned that at this time (1pm) he could find something open and could serve us. But he did fine, a quite large bar, with pool tables, etc. They set up wooden tables in a spacious room and we were served a good chicken BBQ.
We continued on through the Layou Valley, which is very beautiful. The river has carved steep cliffs, on its way from the mountains to the ocean. On to Syndicate Estates. Here Cesar let us explore the falls and forests ourselves. (Last time Winston had shown us the way). We were the only people here, and we did enjoy having the park to ourselves. Unfortunately we didn’t see any parrots this time. After a full day we were back at the Purple Turtle by 5 pm.
Picture: Syndicate Falls

Next day we were off and running. Now we are 10, Judith and Harry (Durrus) and Kevin and Amanda (Soltice) had joined the tour. We headed south through Roseau to Sulfur Springs. Here there are about 4 small bubbling pools of very hot water. Next stop: Trafalgar Falls. There were a few people here, among them a couple being guided by Sea Cat. Sea Cat is an excellent guide, who Judith and Harry knew and have hired for their trip to Boiling Lake, the next day. Sea Cat showed us the way to the falls, and encouraged anyone who wished to swim under the falls and assisted some of the brave young people up to the jump off point. Neither Ross, Bev, Kathryn or Ron felt inclined to follow him. Ross and Bev had enough waterfall climbing and jumping thrills in the DR to last a lifetime. We all did enjoy a relaxing soak in the "hot tub" before returning to the "bus".
Pictures: Trafalgar Falls, Harry, Judith and Peter in the falls, Sea Cat, Hot tub time
We had planned to swim the Titou Gorge, so Cesar headed up the narrow, twisty road off to Laudat. Unfortunately the road was closed for road work. There was some confusion, as we had heard others had been able to get there yesterday, and Judith and Harry were booked for Boiling Lake, tomorrow, using the same road. Apparently, the road is only closed between 9am and 4 pm and had been open Tuesday for the cruise boat visitors. This is the only way into Titou, so there was no way we could get there today.
Pictures: Lunch stop, Cesar with out gang
Now we were disappointed and hungry. We had to return to Roseau to find a lunch spot, and Cesar did a great job, stopping at a small waterfront restaurant near the commercial dock. We had the choice of goat, chicken or fish, rice, provisions and beer for 15EC.
After lunch we headed south out of Roseau, to the Soufriere Hot Springs. Cesar had suggested this spot, since we couldn’t go to Titou. This one was not worth the walk. The hot pools looked cloudy and stagnant, not very appealing, and the hike to the top, (45 min) was not worth the trip. There were some sulfur vents, but nothing spectacular.
So off to the Champagne at Scotshead. This was worth the trip. Access was very easy, along a boardwalk, across a stony beach to the end, where there was a large rubber mat to assist getting in and out of the water. As soon as you get in, you can see the streams of bubbles, and as you get out a little further, there were lots of them, and some quite large. There you can actually hear the bubbly gas escaping and feel the heat. There were a good number of fish, and corals and we all had a good time. Judith had given Kathryn a European sunscreen product with "anti jelly fish sting" stuff, but she was still cautious. It did seem to work.
Pictures: Swimming in the Champagne, Ron and Kathryn, Amanda
We returned to Portsmouth, after another full day. Later we met on Mama Coucha to swap photos. Digital cameras and memory sticks makes this so easy. We all agreed that it was a great tour of the island.
The next day, Judith and Harry were going to Boiling Lake (with Sea Cat) and they had been trying all week to convince us to go along. Although Ross and Bev had done a lot of hiking, and Kathryn and Ron even more (Mount Robson in BC, Grand Morne in Nfld, and the Grand Canyon last fall), we were very hesitant, given the amount of elevation and the heat, so reluctantly declined. After all we were twenty years older than the younger couple.
Friday, K&R’s last day with us, and we let them have a day to themselves. We dropped them off at the Purple Turtle to return to Fort Shirley, swim, check out the town. etc. Bev and Ross relaxed. Later, Harry and Judith did stop by to give us a report of their trip – they absolutely loved it and said the reports exaggerated the "rigor", and Pete and Maria stopped by to say goodbye, they were heading south in the morning.
Kathryn and Ron had a flight booked out of Canefield airport to return them to Antigua. Dominica does have two airports, neither international size. Canefield is the smallest, but is very easy to get to. Taxis want $40 US for the trip, but the local bus will take you there for 6EC each and let you off at the airport gate. K&R opted for the bus and were off on another adventure. It all worked out fine and they were in the airport in ample time to get their flight off to Antigua and then home to Canada.
We had had a wonderful holiday, but it was great to get RAFT back to ourselves, and start planning our next few months.