After a three day stay in Portsmouth, the next stop on our journey is Roseau, the capital city of Dominica. The clearance procedure in Dominica requires a visit to the local Customs and Immigration office at the commercial port prior to our departure. Here, we obtain a coastal cruising permit. Customs officials explain that we will need this permit should Cutter Loose be boarded by Dominican authorities. There is no cost for the permit, but it cannot be issued until our departure date from Portsmouth is imminent. No one has an explanation of the intended purpose of the permit. Since we have already cleared into Dominica, local officials already have a record of our arrival. We are simply told that it is an official requirement for cruising boats. For what it is worth, we are now in compliance with this requirement.
Today’s journey covers 18 miles along the dramatic western coastline of Dominica. With 20 knots of breeze on the port quarter, it appears that we will have favorable sailing conditions for the short trip to Roseau. However, the downdrafts on the lee side of a steep volcanic island are fickle. Constant change in wind speed and direction are the norm. Eventually, we abandon the headsail and motor sail under mainsail alone to the harbor in Roseau.
Just south of the cruise boat dock, we are intercepted by Pancho who comes alongside Cutter Loose in his skiff. Pancho owns several moorings south of town near the Anchorage Hotel where the roll from the southwest swell is minimal. His primary objective is to sell us a land-based tour to one or more of the island’s attractions.
Dominica is a hiker’s paradise. The interior of the island is filled with mountains, canyons, rainforests, rivers, waterfalls and hiking trails. Cruise boat passengers who have a limited amount of time in which to explore the island flock to nearby Trafalgar Falls. The real scenery of Dominica lies beyond Trafalgar and requires more time and effort. Based on the Hiking Guide to the Caribbean and the recommendation of cruising friends that have already visited here, we select Victoria Falls and Sari Sari Falls for our excursion. Both of these are rated “3” on a difficulty scale of 1 to 5. Fortunately, there are eight other cruisers in the harbor that are also interested in this all-day adventure. This reduces the cost to $75 EC (Eastern Caribbean dollars) or about $32 per person which includes transportation and a hiking guide.
Victoria Falls is probably the most impressive waterfall on the island. The trailhead is near the Village of Delices, which is an hour ride by excursion van from Roseau on the southeast coast of the island. Before commencing this hike, our tour guide reserves a table for lunch at the nearby dwelling and organic farmette of Moses, Jr., a gentle, relaxed Rastafarian mountain dweller in his late twenties. This entire valley has been owned by Moses’ family for generations.
The trail to Victoria Falls requires a one hour strenuous hike (one-way) through the rainforest along La Rivierie Blanche (White River). A total of five river crossings are required to reach the falls. At the very first crossing, we are immediately waist-deep in white water. The current is quite strong in places. Unfortunately, I neglect to remove the camera from my shorts pocket. It is soaked and inoperable. Between river crossings, the hike is an exercise in boulder climbing and negotiating tree roots. There is no defined path to the falls. We would never be able to find the river crossings or the falls on our own without a guide. The absence of trail signage contributes to the local economy by keeping guides employed. The rocks are wet and slippery from the abundant moisture in the rainforest, making the footing treacherous.
We are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the falls. Surrounded by volcanic rock outcroppings, a river of white water plummets 300 feet from a cliff above into an emerald pool at the base of the falls. It is windy and noisy here. The air is filled with mist. Our small group of rainforest trekkers admires the falls in silence before retracting our steps to the trailhead.
Lunch at Moses’ Rasta kitchen is a hearty meatless stew made from ingredients grown in his organic garden, including yams, plantain, dasheen, peas, carrots and lentils. Lunch is self-serve. Just pick up a calabash bowl and a coconut shell spoon from the counter and fill your bowl from the huge pot on the burner. Leftover stew from lunch will feed Moses’ family for the remainder of the day. Within the Rasta community, a vegetarian diet is thought to contribute to longevity. One recently deceased local Rasta woman lived to the age of 128.
After lunch, a thirty minute shuttle in the van takes us to the village of La Plaine and the trailhead for an afternoon hike to Sari Sari Falls. The hike begins with a steep descent to the floor of the Sari Sari River valley on steps carved from tree roots. From here, it is a gradual hike in the river, up, over and through boulders to the falls. Our guide is of the opinion that the hike to Sari Sari Falls is more difficult than the hike to Victoria Falls. We’re still not quite sure if he is correct. Although it is smaller in height, Sari Sari is equally as impressive as Victoria Falls. At 6 PM, we return to Roseau, tired but fulfilled. Stretched out in the cockpit of Cutter Loose in anticipation of sunset, we replay the events of this very special day in the tropical rainforest.
From our mooring south of town, it is a 30 minute walk to downtown along a busy, dusty street with few sidewalks. Roseau is the primary port in Dominica for cruise boats. The renovated waterfront dock is an expanse of open space with a few shops that cater to tourists. On a bluff at the end of the waterfront opposite the cruise boat dock and the ferry terminal is Historic Fort Young which has been converted to an impressive hotel with several restaurants and conference rooms. On cruise boat days, the waterfront is saturated with tourists, taxis and aggressive tour guides competing for business.
Inland from the waterfront is the public market where fishermen sell their catch and mom and pop farmers display their fruits and vegetables. The markets and grocery stores in downtown Roseau are crowded on Holy Thursday as Dominicans prepare for the Easter holiday. All shops are closed on Good Friday, but re-open on Saturday morning.
A contentious public policy debate is brewing in Dominica during our visit. Apparently, the Chinese government is financing a $27 million public works project in Roseau that involves the construction of a a new state house. When completed, this building will house many of the functions of Dominican government. One of the stipulations imposed by the Chinese is that the building will be constructed with Chinese contractors using Chinese employees. Many Dominicans are outraged that their government accepted these terms and conditions, since unemployment is such a major problem. Other Dominicans feel that the need for a new hospital and new roads transcends the need for a new state house. There is no shortage of strong opinions on this subject.
An increase in wave height and wind speed is forecasted for the period Sunday through Tuesday. The time has come to move on. Saturday’s weather appears to be ideal for a sail south to Martinique.