Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dominica: take 2---Pirates of the Caribbean

Dominica, West Indies---After a 14 hour sail from St. Lucia, we could tell right away that this island was going to show us another side of the Caribbean. We sailed along the coast of the town of Roseau, the capital, and just looking at the coastline from the boat, the area is very poor. Oceanfront homes are shacks. It is raw and natural. The mountains jet straight up overhead. The water is so deep close to shore that we must pick up a mooring and are still the closest I've yet been to the shoreline...a two minute swim.

We are only here overnight and have a lot to do in the morning.

Since we arrived in the afternoon, it was too late to get into offices to do OceansWatch work so we decided to dinghy to the dock and independently go for walks to feel out the town and do “research and development”. During this time I overheard a speech and went in to listen to a Kawanna’s club having a high school debate/speaking competition with the speakers subject to be: "Making our school go Green." I found the young people passionate and inspiring as they talked about the trash problem and acknowledged that they come from a culture that drops things on the ground instead of searching out a trash bin. They pleaded for public awareness and discipline in this area in their speeches. I determined there was an office of the environmental in town..and notice a radio station. This will be enough to fill my morning.

In the morning I went to speak to DBS Radio that I noticed along the street the night before when we did our late night scouting walk around. I stopped in with a press release brochure with hopes of talking them into doing a Public Service Announcement. But after talking to the receptionist, she took me right into the news room where I met Tyrella, a news reporter. After hearing me out she decided this would make a good news story and took me directly into the recording studio where she interviewed me for about 20 minutes! I reintegrated the idea that if there were local organizations that had similar visions as OW that they should contact us. I was able to give the web site address twice. Tyrella said they would be running it as a news story. Owned my Dominica Broadcasting System, this station is government funded and the largest radio station on the island, covering the entire island!

Next stop was trying to find the Government building the may house the Ministry of Environment. After a very long walk, I found it and was able to talk to the director himself who had several contacts that he wanted to set me up with. However, we were anchoring up at 1pm and it was 12:30 so I spoke to one contact on the phone in his office and got some other names to follow up with when we get internet. He said that his personal opinion of concerns for Dominica are 1. Reef destruction, 2. Overfishing, 3. Oil in the water.

This makes three Directors of the Ministry of Environment that I have met with: Grenada, St. Lucia and Dominica. Funny, I just never imagined myself doing this kind of work but it feels good.

Lifting anchor at 1pm, we sail on to Portsmouth, Dominica. This area has more cruisers anchored in the bay.  We all felt really burnt out by the fast and furious pace of the earlier islands and after a morning of writing reports, we all took the dinghy in to Big Papa's, a very local restaurant and bar with wifi...that was not working.  I talked to Big Papa, a big, boisterous and outgoing black man and found out he had a home in East Orlando as well as this complex of buildings here called Big Papas. I asked him about the island and he became very serious and thoughtful.

"These people own their land. They own their houses and lead a simple life. They fish or work in the area and make a life for themselves. You may look at these houses and feel sorry for them but don't. They are probably richer than many Americans. They have no debt and are happy," he said.

I silently wondered how long that would last. THIS island has captured my heart. There is something very special about it. I had the same feeling when I visited rural Alaska for the first time. It was a last frontier. It was raw and real, undisturbed by modern development. Dominica is this way...but it is evolving. KFC is already in the capital city. But for now, I soaked it up.

Frustrated with no internet, we gave up on sending our reports and decided to walk to a snorkeling area.  On our way we noticed a sign announcing an environmental complex to be built there along the ocean. We were taking pictures of the sign when a new SUV pulled up and a nicely dressed man welcomed us to the island and we started to talk. After parking and getting out of his vehicle I commented on how great the upcoming complex would be. He responded, "Oh no, that's been scrapped, we're building a resort! Clearing it now." And I watched the bulldozer roar past us.

Turned out, HE was the government of Dominica's international liaison to government affairs. Good grief. The lyrics: "They paved paradise, put up a parking lot..." starting ringing in my ears and then I could not get it out of my head. Within two hours, when we returned to walk past, everything was cleared...INCLUDING THE SIGN!

The next day we were not scheduled to leave until noon so we three of us decided to go on a river tour down the Indian River. Ah, time off!  Dominica prides itself with it's 365 rivers: "One for everyday of the year," they tell us.

Choosing a guide in itself can be comical. Many approach the sailboat pitching their abilities.We chose "Spaghetti" over  "Lawrence of Arabia" but in the morning found out that due to a street party, he had not been to bed yet. No problem mon.

After Hollywood moved out
 Pirate's of the Caribbeans second movie filmed the Calypso river hut scenes here and that was exactly what it looked like! The film hut was torn down but our guide was sure to point out the two areas used.

The river was magnificent named after the Indians that inhabited the island in history. We ended at a point where they had built several natural structures and...a bar. The gardens were magnificent and we enjoyed Mango juice and Spaghetti did banana leaf art for each of us: a fish and bird for Becky and me, and a grasshopper for Jake. He said he was taught the art when he was a little boy. The hostess of the area's daughter decided to make me a bracelet to trade for the silly band I had given her.

After more time than we had been told, we realized the captain wanted to leave in 30 minutes and tried to find our guide, Spaghetti. After 25 minutes and calling through the forest, he was found sound asleep in back of the complex!

No motors can run inside the river so Spaghetti rowed us to the ocean and started the motor, delivering us back to the boat. Another fast trip but I would like to return here before the high rises and chain stores replace the colorful tiny houses along the coast.


Jane O'Brien said...

It was great seeing pictuers of you. You look great !!!

Emily said...

Great writing... I feel as if I had been there!

Emily R.