When Christopher Columbus was asked what the Caribbean Island Dominica was like, he tore off a piece of parchment paper, crumpled it up and placed it on the table. Dominica, unlike the other Caribbean Islands, is all about mountains and forests, rather than beaches and resorts. Little known and less visited, it is the ultimate secret gem. Our first long drive along the east coast had no traffic lights, signs or roundabouts. There were barely any people, just a mosaic of trees on the mountains, green canopy above us, a carnival of bright, tropical flowers all along and glimpses of the ocean every now and then. If Columbus and his men were to return, this is the only island they would recognise.
Dominicans wish their country was called by its original Carib Indian name, Waitukabuli, which means, 'Tall is her body'. They don't like being confused with the Dominican Republic. Independent from the British since 1978, and incredibly house proud, Dominicans keep their country so clean, I noticed that the only bits of rubbish were some fallen leaves. They're also proud of having the highest percentage of centenarians in the world. 26 centenarians out of 70,000 people make it one in 2,692. (Even better than the USA at one in every 4,000) Peter, our guide attributed the longevity to herbal remedies and fresh air. With millions of giant trees and practically no fumes from traffic or industry, they are enjoying some of the purest air on the planet.
Dominicans struggle with low wages and high unemployment. They also get hit by the occasional hurricane and have to import everything except fish, fruits and vegetables. Yet if they manage their country right, the future can be truly promising. Their riches are their unparalleled scenery with a river for each day of the year, coral reefs that bubble like champagne and coasts teeming with humpback and sperm whales for much of the year. The opening of a handful of atmospheric resorts and the extended 14-day walking trail all along the length of the island has piqued the interest of nature lovers, trekkers and divers.
When the Colonial powers began taking over the Caribbean Islands around the 1620s, the local Carib Indians ran away instead of slaving on the plantations. Some of them found shelter in Dominica's crevassed mountains. Anyone visiting the Americas is tinged by sadness at the decimation of the original inhabitants and I'd always hankered after traces of the first people. Here, we found them. The last of the Kalinago (their name for themselves) can be seen, around 3,000 of them, fishing, weaving, and baking cassava-coconut bread.
The trek to the 'Boiling Lake' via the 'Valley of Desolation' sounded more like an adventure in The Lord of the Rings than a Caribbean holiday, and it was. We climbed and descended on steps made of logs and rocks for eight hours through forested hills and valleys so beautiful it seemed the placement of the trees, gorges and rivers had to have been carefully fine-tuned and not random. The clouds snared by the peaks, the constant steam from the boiling lake and the fumaroles from the sulphur springs added drama to the landscape. At the end, my daughter, like a forest nymph, slipped onto a dark crevice at Titou Gorge and swam to the cool waterfall.
Peter Green for the trek to the Boiling Lake 767 235 2270; Marvin Philbert firstname.lastname@example.org 1 767 225 9801 for snorkelling and trekking
Eastern Caribbean dollar 2.5 EC=$1 (R51 approx)
English, French and Creole
There are hundreds of species of birds including the endemic Sisserou parrot. You can also find manicous, agoutis, hares, lizards and boa constrictors as well as a rich marine life.
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