By Laurie Heifetz and Richard C. Murray
In Manhattan, people talk about location, location, location. On the Caribbean island of Dominica, it’s all about nature, nature, nature -- which is why it is called “the nature island.” Its scenic landscape is so beautiful that you soon understand why the island was chosen for many scenes of “Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3: “Dead Men’s Chest” & “At World’s End.”
Our adventure on Dominica began with a one-hour-and-40-minute drive on the side of lush, green mountains from the Melville Hall Airport to the capital city of Roseau. Our private driver for our entire stay, Benjamin Joseph, took us on a back route about nine miles out of our way to avoid roads that were in poor condition. We wound along one-lane mountain roads in the midst of the dense forest, surrounded by high trees and foliage.
Along the way, Mr. Joseph pointed out items of interest such as dasheen, a root vegetable which is cooked like a potato. What immediately strikes a visitor is how much of this beautiful country has not been touched or developed. Besides the green water of the Atlantic Ocean and the clear water of the Caribbean Sea, many say there are 365 rivers, one for every day of the year.
Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, is a small island in the Caribbean, located in between Martinique and Guadeloupe. It is 29 miles long and 16 miles wide. English is the official language. Kweyol, a blend of French, Carib and West African languages, is also spoken.
At the lovely Fort Young Hotel, a former military building on a cliff, next to the public library and across from St. Thomas Anglican Church, we were greeted with a drink made from orange-and-passion-fruit juice and coconut milk. Twenty-four-hour police were on hand, due to governmental figures attending agricultural conferences at the Roseau hotel, whose boutique atmosphere consists of 33 rooms.
While eating our buffet breakfast, we overlooked the sea where the cruise ships arrive. We loved swinging in bird’s nest chairs in the lobby while sipping more of the “welcome drinks.”
The whole island feels like a big botanical garden, but we had the opportunity to go to the Botanical Gardens, also in Roseau. We marveled at seeing a palm tree shaped like a bottle that was called, of course, a bottle palm.
I asked our expert guide for the day, Bertrand Jno Baptiste, aka Birdy, if there were any poison ivy. He assured us, “No, this is paradise!”
A co-author of “Dominica’s Birds” (Forestry, Wildlife & Parks Division, Dominica, 2005), Birdy later took us into a former rain forest that was cut in order to grow crops, including coffee, bananas, and grapefruits.
Next to it is the Syndicate Rain Forest, part of Morne Diablotin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the Syndicate Nature Trail, we spotted a gray bird with white wing bars called a plumbeous warbler, found only in Dominica and Guadeloupe, and a rufus-throated solitaire.
We also heard a house wren and a forest thrush. The area is known for parrots. We also saw a plant called David’s orchid, which came all the way from the coast of Africa during Hurricane David in 1979. It’s proper name is spathoglottis plicate. We then bid goodbye to Birdy.
More adventures were to come. The Emerald Pool in the mountains beckoned. After walking down paths and stairs of the Emerald Pool Trail in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, we reached the Emerald Pool. After climbing over stones, some of which were sharp, the reward was swimming in refreshing water next to a waterfall. Morne Trois Pitons, the second highest peak on the island, is a dormant volcano.
Another day we swam in Titou Gorge, after walking in the rain on a desolate nature trail and over a high, suspension bridge. Workmen were sprucing up the area adjacent to the gorge. Hot springs gushed next to the cold water flowing from a waterfall. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” filmed here.
Culture awaited us at the Kalinago Barana Aute (The Kalinago Village by the Sea), in the Caribe Territory. At the museum, the tour guide told us that Kalinago is the name that the Native or Indian population call themselves.
The Spaniards noticed human bones in the homes and erroneously called them Caribes, or cannibals. (After their deceased relatives’ bodies decayed in the sand, the Kalinagos took the bones indoors, in order to worship their ancestors.) Approximately 3000 out of Dominica’s population of about 72,000 have Calinago heritage.
After a few days of walking, it was time to get on a boat -- for a whale watch! Before embarking, we viewed a huge, female sperm-whale skeleton on deck at the Anchorage Hotel, which sponsors the excursions.
We actually spotted ten sperm whales while we were out at sea. Everyone was really excited because there are no guarantees in nature. We learned that a sperm whale is the only whale with a blowhole on the left side of the head. It comes up out of the water to re-oxygenate itself and goes down for a feeding. We saw some mother-and-calf pairs.
On an island perfect for hikers and divers, we easily worked up an appetite every day. Nancy Osler, an environmental scientist who hails from Canada, served up curried goat at her Talipot Gallery & Restaurant in Roseau.
At PaguaBay Bar & Grille in Marigot, owned by Americans Rick and Alicia Davison, we had tasty green, callaloo soup made from the leaves of the dasheen plant. There were also great burgers made with imported chuck meat.
It was really relaxing to sit on the outdoor deck and look out at the beautiful ocean view. While driving in nearby Calibishie, we saw some more striking scenery.
In the final analysis, Dominica is an island of enchantment and excitement and I urge you to visit yourself. If you do, I know that you will leave with a smile on your face and memories that will last a lifetime.
“The Nature Island of Dominica,” a brochure from DiscoverDominica.com, presents an interesting reason why the country’s beauty has largely remained untouched: It’s because of “her terrain effectively preventing mass development.”
If you would like to go explore nature in a place that is not overly commercialized or developed, Dominica is the island for you!
RICHARD C. MURRAY
RCM IMAGES, INC