Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2017

© Erin MacLeod

Bookmark and Share

Dominica’s real deal

Kick back on the Caribbean’s Nature Island for wild sights and a laidback Carnival

As the plane neared the island of Dominica located between Martinique, Guadeloupe and St Lucia in the eastern Caribbean, I looked out the window to see green mountains rising out of the navy blue water. This is the place nicknamed the “nature island” for its untouched tropical beauty. But I’m here to experience more than just the flora and fauna. I was here for Carnival.

Like many other islands in the Caribbean — the most famous, of course, being Trinidad and Tobago — Dominica hosts their carnival, “Mas Dominik” or the “Real Mas,” every February. Though held at the same time, Dominica’s celebration is hardly the blockbuster affair that is T&T’s carnival. It’s local, it’s cultural, and it invites any and all to take part.

First, however, I had to get where the main events are held. It took over an hour to get from the Melville Hall Airport to the capital city of Roseau, but along the way we stopped at the Barana Aute village (Salybia; tel: 767-445-7979; kalinagobaranaaute.com), a Kalinago village and cultural centre right in the middle of the Kalinago territory, so named for the first people of the island.

My guide Sirena Frederick said “Mabrika” in greeting. She explained that Columbus called the indigenous people Caribs, and the island Dominica (pronounced Doh-me-nee-ca), but Kalinago is the proper name for the people, and the island’s original designation was Waitukubuli.

Yet the Kalinago resisted colonialism, laid claim to the territory they now hold in Dominica, and are known for their durable traditional canoes made from the local gommier tree. Their delicious sweet cassava bread is also a well-known local delight.

After a quick but informative tour, I headed to my traditional guesthouse in Roseau, the lovely Castle Comfort Lodge (Roseau; tel: 767-448-2188; castlecomfortdivelodge.com), in time to get ready for the Carnival Queen pageant that would be taking place in the evening. Six of Dominica’s best and brightest were set to take the stage in competition. Yes, it’s a beauty pageant, but this one has some of the most spectacular costumes I’ve ever seen. The eventual winner was a proud Kalinago girl whose dress featured enormous portraits of historic luminaries from the indigenous community.

Rainforest and cuisine

The next couple of days provided a break before the real Carnival action began, so I decided to take a peek at the nature on this nature island. My first stop was the Rainforest Aerial Tram (Titou Gorge; natureisland.com/aerialtram.html; service currently suspended), which is popular among cruise-ship stop-over passengers for good reason: it’s only a half-hour drive from Roseau. The gorgeous green scenery and softly falling rain was incredibly relaxing — you can take a look at any of the 180 different species of birds while zipping through the treetops at a leisurely 60 metres per minute.

Next up, I decided to sit down for a meal of traditional Dominican food. It’s called “broth,” but there’s a whole lot more in it than the broth I’m used to. This one-pot meal starts with smoked chicken or pork or fish (or sometimes all three). Dumplings, green plantains and bananas, cabbage, celery, yam and another tuber called dasheen are added, and the whole thing is seasoned with garlic, fresh parsley, onion, salt, pepper, lime and vinegar. It’s a delicious and hearty meal that tastes even better with a dash of local hot sauce made from scotch bonnet peppers. Thank goodness my plan was to hike to the Emerald Pool — I need to walk off this food!

The Emerald Pool is also close to Roseau; only a short walk through the green rainforest towards this crystal clear green pool. As I got closer, I could hear the rushing sound of a waterfall. I walked up steps covered in soft moss. And then I saw the truly green water of the pool. There were some tourists swimming in the clear, cool water. It was incredibly inviting, but there was so much more for me to do.

I wanted to sneak in a drink at the bar at the central Fort Young Hotel (Roseau; tel: 767-448-5000; fortyounghotel.com) — once a British military installation, but which has become Roseau’s landmark lodgings. The stone bar is cosy, but it’s also possible to check out the view of the coastline, see the enormous cruise ships depart and enjoy the sunset.

Calypso showdown

As soon as the sun went down, I was off to the annual Calypso Monarch competition in Roseau. Competing calypso singers had been duking it out in a number of run-up shows, but this was the main event. The field has been narrowed to 10, and each would have the opportunity to sing two calypsos. Not only was the music fantastic, but listening to the energetic (and theatrical) performances provided insight into life in Dominica.

From commentary on politics, to discussion of a Dominican brain drain, to complaints about corruption, to relationship issues, the calypsonians covered all the bases — and all with a sense of humour, keeping the crowd dancing and cheering. The eventual winner was a man called Dice, whose song “Back to Country” celebrates the countryside and farm living.

The next day, I took Dice’s advice and went off to the country to experience a couple of segments of the island’s 185-kilometre-long Waitikubuli Trail (waitukubulitrail.dm). Though I only tackled four hours of hiking, the full deal is a trek that takes about two weeks, bringing hikers from one end of the island to the other. There are no dangerous animals or poisonous plants to be concerned about, and there are camping areas available.

We drove to the starting point at one end of the island, about 25 minutes from Roseau. There were some amazing views on the trail, and though it was a little challenging, I made it to the first plateau where I could see across the turquoise water all the way to neighbouring Martinique.

Caribbean whales

It was about time to get out on that incredible coloured water, so my next outing was a whale-watching excursion that left directly from my hotel. Sure, I’d been whale watching in Canada, but it was always been a little more of a chilly experience. It’s a whole different thing with the Caribbean heat and a rum punch in hand.

The sperm whales around Dominica have been studied by Dalhousie University researchers from Nova Scotia, and each whale has a name. In true Canadian form, there’s an Atwood group of whales containing animals named Oryx, Crake and Handmaid, among others. I lost count of the number of whales we saw. Each one sat at the top of the water and then plunged downward, showing us his or her unique tail. The whale watching tour ended in the late afternoon, and I decided to take it easy afterwards, as I knew that the next day was going to be non-stop-carnival! Full-on carnival

I was told that I’d miss the best part of Jouvert (pronounced ju-vay) if I didn’t get out on the streets of Roseau before sunrise. As much as I appreciated the comfort of my bed, after getting downtown and seeing the streets filled with costumed revellers, I had to admit that they were right.

A large group, what carnival-goers call a “band,” marched past wearing ridiculous, high-waisted, fluorescent pants and carrying briefcases, enormous cellphones, laptops and noisemakers. Some carried a sign reading “The New Executives,” explaining the theme of their silly outfits and faux-serious expressions. Observing the parade was great, and I was asked by each passing “band” to join in their particular brand of fun.

Hot soaks

I snuck away for breakfast by the water in Roseau and then got back on the road, recognizing on the radio the calypsos I heard a couple of nights before. The most recent cruise ship had docked, and confused and bemused tourists exited the berth into the crowd of revellers. It was impossible not to join in the infectious fun.

Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and I was eating some delicious Dominican barbeque. Unlike other Caribbean islands, Dominica’s street-side chicken is not spicy (like Jamaican jerk, for instance), but rather sweet and sour. Grilled plantains were also on the menu, alongside cold Kabuli beer.

The afternoon was full of colourful costumes, and I saw the contestants from the Carnival Queen competition moseying down the road with dance troupes and marchers on stilts. There were also bands of “sensay” men, wearing traditional costumes of long ropey fur and large horns on their heads — part of the Real Mas. There was so much to look at, and the party kept going long after sundown. I, however, didn’t stay. After a day of Carnival watching, my body was tired and I needed to take a load off.

The best place for relaxation in Dominica is Screw’s SulFur Spa (Wotton Waven; tel: 767-440-4478; screwsspa.com). Only 15 minutes’ drive from Roseau and surrounded by wilderness, this amazing establishment, owned by local Rastafarian Mr. Screw, provides a seemingly endless series of natural, sulphur, hot-spring pools.

Reggae music plays constantly — yet softly — and you can move between varying temperatures. As I eased my tired muscles into the hottest pool, I closed my eyes and thought about the experience I’d had in Dominica. I already wanted to plan a return trip.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments

Showing 1 comments

  1. On February 5, 2013, Jennifer said:
    Where can one learn about camping along the Waitikubuli Trail? Everything I've read prior to this suggests that camping is discouraged. I don't see any mention of camping on the trail website you included in your blog post, although it does mention staying at B&Bs, guest houses, etc. Thanks for the enticing post! I can't wait to visit Dominica.

Post a comment