The Little Island that Could
Article and photography by Michael Morcos
Dominicans are one tough people! They showed an incredible resilience in the face of the worst disaster to ever hit this island nation. This I can say after a trip that showed how the recovery from Hurricane Maria was taking shape right before us. Yes, there were signs of the destruction wreaked on the island, but in certain places you would have to look closely to find the evidence. In the months after the Category 5 storm, the Dominicans have reclaimed their beloved Island.
Dominica is one of the greenest islands in the Caribbean and an outdoor paradise to the active traveler. Mother Nature has a strong hold here, with a deep tropical forest, hidden coves, colonial forts and more. Although tourism has developed more slowly than on neighbouring islands, Dominica’s mountains, freshwater lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and diving spots make it attractive to adventurers and it is quickly becoming a popular eco-tourism destination.
With so many things to discover we were excited to start our journey.
Picard Beach Cottages
Our first stay would be at the fabulous Picard Beach Cottages. Located in the north – west and facing the gentler Caribbean side, the cottages are placed in the heart of the best beaches of Dominica. This is a destination on its own, where guests can relax in tranquility by the sea or in their own rooms.
The accommodations were ocean front, and I mean that literally. You just cannot get closer to the beach without being in the water. The all natural wood units have a separate bedroom, large washroom, a kitchen, and a living room, but the best part of the cottages is the large shaded patio where you can breathe in that beautiful ocean air and watch the waves roll in.
This property is best known as the temporary home of the crew, executives and movie stars during the filming ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean 2’ movie. Each cottage had a name that corresponded to the person that stayed there.
Indian River Experience
There is a special vibe that comes with the island life. During this escapade, we would be offered a chance to meet Cobra. A local Dominican, he would lead us into the jungle and discuss the flora and fauna with admiration and passion. It was amazing to watch him in action; he was a strong man and had to be. There were many times he had to row the boat with many passengers up stream to a bush bar.
Once there, we would be treated to wonderful, locally sourced rum and enjoy the superb setting by the river bank and the dense forest with reggae music playing in the background.
Cabrits National Park – Fort Shirley
Fort Shirley stands in the north of Dominica and is considered to be the island’s most historic site. In 1802, African slave soldiers took over the garrison and their action helped to put in motion a revolution that eventually resulted in all slave soldiers in the British Empire being made free in 1807.
This historical value was an added bonus to the spectacular views that it provided. Thanks to its strategic placement high on a mountain originally intended to spot invading navies, we were treated to a unique look at the bay below.
Visit to Kalinago Barana Aute
This is a local (first nation) tribe, and they are one of the only such people left in the West Indies. Sharing their history and traditions, the Kalinago people offer an interpretation center, snack bar, gift shop, and a tour that begins after crossing a footbridge and following a circular trail on the northern side. The trail leads to a series of small huts (ajoupas) that are located throughout the site, all featuring traditional activities such as canoe building, cassava root processing, basket weaving and herb collection and preparation. A central arrangement of small huts with the main Karbet (biggest hut) is used for cultural and theatrical performances.
It is a world of colour and pageantry, where the nation’s first people’s talent and pride are abundantly on display.
Islet View Restaurant
This was one of the best meals of the trip. The setting was perfect as it sits high on top of a hill overlooking the forest and built in a wooden structure. We feasted on barbecued chicken with vegetables and vast selection of local rum and lots of reggae music. A great island style meal and an experience to remember.
The hurricane’s rampage left this hidden cove damaged, but like the islanders, its resilience has helped it rebound. Most of the damaged trees have been cleared from the area and the Emerald Pool has returned to its former splendour.
After a short walk along a nature trail, we found this magnificent piece of paradise. A river flows fresh from the mountains and over the 50-foot Emerald Falls plunge into a swirling basin that collects the clear, inviting water. Though it is quite cold, it is also really refreshing.
The main languages in Dominica were English and some French as this island has changed hands many times in its history. And still, while tourism is such a major industry, there is a multitude of languages spoken. If you can imagine we even heard mandarin in a local eatery run by Taiwanese.
However, the most internationally recognised sound was the unmistakable Reggae beat. The music was found in every corner of the island and it was not pushed on to us as tourists, but it is a favourite of the Dominicans themselves. The dress and dreadlocks of many of the locals attested to the culture of the area as well.
Fort Young Hotel
This is the best the island has to offer. It is built in an old fort right in the heart of the capital and sits moments away from the main marina with the ferry port and markets just a few metres from its entrance. It has spacious rooms and wonderful balconies with ocean front views. The hotel underwent many renovations and now has all the modern amenities a traveller could want and has also been able to keep its old world charm. The luxury is coupled well with ideal exposure to Dominica’s vibrant culture and delicious cuisine.
As the capital and largest city of Dominica, Roseau is small and urban city surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Roseau River and Morne Bruce and is the oldest settlement on the island.
The city is filled with tourist eye candy, with its combination of modern and colonial French architecture, reggae music playing and the odors and scents of the exotic food wafting through the air.
It is a great base of operations, and is close to the second-largest hot lake in the world, Boiling Lake, as well as waterfalls, thermal springs, and scenic plateaus including Morne Bruce, which provides panoramic views of most of downtown Roseau and of the Botanic Gardens at its base. There are also magnificent views of the Caribbean Sea, particularly spectacular when cruise liners are in port.
The little island that could
Amazing welcoming people, world class hotels, fabulous local and international cuisine, warm climate, beaches, forests, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, hiking and horseback riding trials and wonderful diving makes this little island the perfect vacation destination. All this without the massive resorts, congestion and overcrowded touristic scenes. Dominica is a paradise island still to be discovered. But be forewarned, many have and come here for a visit and some have stayed and made it home.
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