When researching Dominica, it is all about hot springs, rainforest and wildlife. We even read that it is one of the safest islands in the Caribbean, a real role model for all the other islands. But of the two terrible hurricanes that past the area last year, one hit Dominica directly. Maria was the most devastating hurricane that ever hit the island with sustained wind speeds of 280 km/h. 95% of all buildings on the island have been damaged, the trees were stripped bare and many tourist attractions were damaged (even the hot springs). So.. we didn’t quite know what to expect. We reckoned that the best thing we could do was to spend some decent tourist money.
Approaching the island, the bare trees are an odd sight. The houses seemed in quite a good state, until we came closer and realised that almost all roofs were missing. After a confusing arrival with loads of whistling and shouting (come here, come to my mooring!) and even someone via VHF (hey! Turn back! Where are you going?) we just grabbed a nearby and maintained looking mooring. It turned out to be of a company we had been warned about, but somehow felt obligated to stay. We were in luck and our mooring was fine, but we were always worried when we were away from the boat.
It was quite difficult to get into the city of Roseau as all the little docks marked on the map were gone. That means that we can’t easily lock and leave our dinghy anywhere. We were not going to stay on the boat because of that so we rowed ashore and left our dinghy on the rocks in someones backyard. The guys from our mooring organisation promised to keep half an eye on it while they played dominoes and fixed scooters.
A ten minute walk down the road was the capital of Dominica: Roseau. A little village with a small market square and a few bars. Everyone in town seemed to be in a hurry to fix roofs and docks. Later we heard that the first cruise ship since the hurricane was about arrive in two days and the cruise dock as well as everything else in town still needed to be fixed. There was a very positive vibe, things were being fixed and everyone we spoke was so happy that tourists were finally about to visit Dominica again. People were very talkative and everyone had their own stories to share about the hurricane. I can’t imagine having your roof ripped off of your house and seeing all your belongings on the street and in the rain for weeks or even months.. And just half a year later the next hurricane season starts!
The weather was very tropical: we stayed for five days and during that time it probably rained as much as it rains in a whole year in the Netherlands. And it rains a lot there. But in Dominica, it pours. Every six minutes, almost exactly, it starts bucketing down and after 3 minutes it abruptly ends. Then you have three minutes to get to a next shelter as it will pour again.
We were in luck, as we arrived just in time for carnaval. A big part of carnaval is the Dominican calypso competition, which is a song competition (like smartlappen, or schlager). The contestants write and record a song of 6 minutes, which is judged by lyrics and presentation during several rounds and events. We heard the songs on the radio and loved all of them – just hear for yourself – so we bought tickets for the semi finals. The event took all evening and a big part of the night, as all of the twenty contestants made sure to use their full 6 minutes and also got half an hour or so to set up.
The songs this year were almost all about Maria (Roofless, My Country Still Nice, Looters..). The positive overall message was that Dominica is going to come out stronger is everyone sticks together. A critical note was made to the government: not taking enough or timely action against looters.
We got our fifteen minutes of fame as well, conspicuously being the only white people around and Thomas was of course blocking everyones view. We got interviewed for the radio and were mentioned on stage (‘there are people from GERMANY here!’). Luckily this all happened within the first hour or so of the event as we called it quits after the twentieth rain shower. The field had already resembled Glastonbury even before everyone arrived..
After a few days we sailed north through some of the worst weather we have ever had (not counting Gibraltar). With the high mountains of Dominica, the wind accelerated from the 15-20 knots it was supposed to be to well over 35. The wind hit the boat like a cannon, but she handled it like a champ and we were so happy to drop the hook after this unexpectedly exhausting day. We did encounter a big pod of dolphins, of which we managed to make some underwater shots at a rare calm moment. It did cost Thomas his sun glasses.. We also had some issues with our fuel, so we couldn’t rely on our engine while making our way to windward into the bay of Portsmouth. We were tired but so proud.
Portsmouth is a small village with a nice little fish and vegetable market, and felt even more friendly than Roseau. There were a lot more boats here, which were mostly American. Lots of the boats were here to help out with local projects and brought supplies of stuff the people needed (clothes, fishing hooks etc). We felt kind of bad as we only found out about this as we were leaving the bay already, after only taking a boat tour up the Indian River.
The Indian River is a small slice of Amazone just around the corner of Portsmouth Bay. There are many birds and trees to see, and even a little hut which was built to film a part of Pirates of the Caribbean (the hut was partly destroyed, but there are plans to restore it to its old glory).
We left Dominica after a week with a bit of a sad, depressed aftertaste. On the one hand, everyone seems to be making the best out of it and people don’t really have a choice but to start rebuilding. On the other hand, how often would you rebuild your roof and clean up the gardens and streets before getting demotivated?