The tiny island of Dominica is a gem in the rough. Exploring its wonders by cruise ship was the highlight of our entire voyage. Surely a land vacation here would reveal many more delights, but a day- long visit was enough to intrigue and inspire.
Arrival early in the morning revealed a mountainous island shrouded in mist and surrounded by azure waters. A large white cross planted on the hillside above the port, barely visible through the mist, seemed otherworldly and mysterious. The cruise ship docked at a modern pier in deep water where passengers conveniently walked off the ship, no tender required. A small town of brightly painted buildings, none more than two or three stories high, beckoned to visitors.
We walked around the little town of Roseau, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). Dominica is a totally undeveloped island known for its rainforests, reefs, and natural beauty. There are no condos, malls, or other trappings of tourism so prevalent on the other islands. For us, we have all the shopping we need at home. We have more condos than we know what to do with. What we don’t have is real, natural, unspoiled beauty and interesting cultural differences.
We struck out into the town using a little map received from the Dominica tourist board before we left home. The streets are uneven cobblestone and probably very hard to maneuver for handicapped visitors. Watch your step! The shops are small and stark. But the attitudes are warm and welcoming. Everywhere we were met with “Good morning, madam,” and a smile. No conversation began without the requisite “Good morning,” or “Good day.” It was all so civilized, and we loved it.
Heady aromas wafted from a spice shop called the Ruins Rock Café . I wanted vanilla beans and tellicherry peppercorns grown on-island and sure enough, they had them. They also had an abundance of medicinal teas, one called “Horny Mix.”
I asked, “What is ‘Horny Mix’ tea?”
“Oh, madam,” this beautiful young lady with tawny skin and a voice that caressed the senses replied, “That is an aphrodisiac. You should try some.”
I laughed and said, “No, no, I don’t think so,” as my husband blushed.
Suddenly the elderly (really, elderly!) English lady in front of me said, “Oh I just bought some for my husband and my lover! Oh dear, I just let the cat out of the bag now, didn’t I?”
It was a priceless vacation moment. That same lady led the way to the handicraft market behind the Dominican Museum (red tin roof building you can see from port). There stood a wealth of local handicrafts, as well as some probably made in China. Good-natured haggling over beautiful woven baskets and a carved calabash melon remains a fond memory.
Later in the day we gathered at the end of the pier for our 1:00PM snorkel trip to Champagne Beach. Here geothermal vents open underwater (the island is volcanic) and create bubble streams in the water which make it look like you are swimming in a glass of champagne.
Friends on a previous cruise had done this trip unescorted, but we opted for the ship’s tour. We enjoyed having our snorkel guide, Big Dave, available. He pointed out a 400-year-old shipwreck with cannon, anchor, and rode which we never would have noticed without his guidance. Dave also collected some of the water from the vents in his snorkel for us to feel. It was scorching hot. Our most interesting sighting was a spotted moray eel. There were lots of tropical fish we had not seen before because we were farther south than usual.
Dave also pointed out the twin mountain peaks above our location. That is where they filmed one segment of Pirates of the Caribbean where Johnny Depp is suspended between the mountains in the spiked ball. That scene was shot above Champagne Beach on Dominica. The tours from the ships are more expensive than going out on your own, but information like that, which you recall later, may be worth the extra expense.
The beach at Champagne Beach is reddish volcanic rock. You must have Teva’s or sand shoes because it is painful trying to walk on it barefoot. Luckily there is a long boardwalk for most of the way to the snorkel site.
With the tour we received complimentary rum punch (potent!), or excellent Kabuli beer. Make sure you enjoy the Kabuli beer if you like a pale ale. It is excellent and you cannot find it anywhere else. The beer is locally made with spring water from the rainforest. The bottled water is also locally bottled at Soufiere Spring on Dominica. Make sure you buy this water rather than drinking water from your cruise ship. Again, you can only get it on Dominica and it is memorable because it is so delicious.
As the cruise ship prepared to leave for the next stop, we were stunned to see a rainbow arching over the mountain peaks and rainforest of Dominica. The beauty of that rainbow was a fitting ending to a beautiful day. At a later date we hope to find the end of that rainbow on the other side of the island as we further explore Dominica.