Referred to as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, flying into Melville Hall Airport one can easily see why: Vaulting mountains covered in thick green vegetation before they disappear into rolling banks of white and grey clouds. A country whose vigorous topography shelters some wonderfully hidden surprises and where the impact of tourism thus far seems to be minimal, Dominica reminds one of what other Caribbean nations must have looked like 150 years ago, before rampant deforestation took its toll.
I began my stay with a drive from the airport to Portsmouth, on the northwest coast, where I stayed at the newly-opened Secret Bay villas. Secret Bay is run by the very charming and welcoming Gregor Nassief and Sandra Vivas, with a very personable and professional staff and a fantastic location above two sheltered and semi-hidden beaches. I found the rhythmic surf ideal for reading (at that moment Tahar Ben Jelloun’s A Palace in the Old Village, Aldous Huxley’s Beyond the Mexique Bay and Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder) and writing.
But I did not come to Dominica for work, and so I set about exploring a bit of the country, as well, venturing through Carib territory - which hosts the Caribbean's last surviving indigenous ethnic group, the Caribs, who speak their own language, Kalinago - and to the Emerald Pool, a lovely green waterfall set among the midst of jungle greenery in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
A boat trip up the Indian River and a hike through Cabrits National Park to Fort Shirley were also highly enjoyable. Lunches by the beach at the Purple Turtle in the company of two very friendly stray dogs and dips in the Caribbean rounded out the picture nicely.
As I love to do, I hailed a bus along the main road out of town and, traveling among local folk, headed south along the west coast of the island. Just outside of the capital city of Roseau, I stayed at my friend and fellow Haiti-enthusiast Robert Maguire’s vacant cottage in Gomier, nestled deep in the woods and with a commanding view of the Caribbean a mile below. There, a cacophony of insect and animal noise emanated from the tropical night, which some might find deafening but which I have always found very soothing.
Roseau itself proved to be an interesting, very colourful town with lots of brightly-coloured buildings and a pleasant Caribbean hustle and bustle about. I found Coco Rico a good place for breakfast and the Fort Young Hotel an enjoyable place for a later afternoon cocktail as the sun sank into the Caribbean. I was even able to meet my colleague from the Association of Caribbean Media, Thalia Remy, for breakfast.
An interesting cultural wrinkle: Though I was able to converse freely in Haitian Creole with two nice women from Haiti’s Artibonite Valley selling vegetables by the roadside in Roseau, I also found that the Dominican variation of Creole - though my no means an exact replica - was mutually comprehensible with the Creole I learned during the my years in Haiti. I can certainly see the cultural and linguistic connections that lead the Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot to do some of his earliest and most important work in Dominica.
Returning to New Orleans by way of San Juan, Puerto Rico, I even had the chance to explore a bit of Old San Juan and the vibrant neighborhood of Santurce during my overnight in the city.
I should do this vacation thing more often.