Friday, January 6, 2012

Detroit to Dominica

Trafalgar Falls

“I have seen you somewhere before.”
“Oh yeah?” I say. “Where?”
“Either Canada…or Detroit.” He says.

Let me preface my next response by saying that I really don’t like making statements about a place I’ve never been…

“Well, you have not met me in Detroit. Nor will you ever meet me in Detroit.”
“Too violent?” He says.
“No, not too violent, it’s just…its Detroit. It has never been on my list of places to go.”

And then I felt bad. I thought about all the times people from New England said, “Houston, TX? I don’t think I’ll ever visit there. If I visit Texas AT ALL, it will be Austin.” Grrrrrrrr.

He stared at me blankly and then smiled.

This was one of my first conversations with Gilbert of Dominica. I was in that familiar yet foreign and surreal state of arriving in a new country, alone, exhausted and at night. 

For those of you who know nothing of Dominica, here are some basics.  It claims to be one of the most rugged islands in the Caribbean. And just from what I have seen in the last 24 hours, I agree. This is not the white-sand limestone, beachy plains and blue holes of the Bahamas. It is not the Sandals resorts or country buses of Jamaica. It isn’t the lobster and conch fishing communities of the Turks & Caicos. It isn’t the Spanish-speaking, German tourist-flooded streets of Sosua in the Dominican Republic. These Dominicans are different from those Dominicans.
Emerald Pool

Dominica, in my opinion, is the supermodel of the Caribbean islands.
No, wait—that’s Eleuthera, Bahamas.
Dominica is more like the youthful Marilyn Monroe of the Caribbean islands.
She is breathtakingly gorgeous, politically tangled, beautifully rugged, hot, gushing with energy, welcoming, layered, moody, curvy (so curvy you get motion sickness just looking at her), and maybe just a wee bit volatile and deep.

From Capuchin in the North to Scotts Head in the South, and from Colihaut in the West to St. Cyr in the East, Dominica is about 25 miles x 12 miles at it’s longest and widest bits.

The population of Dominica is 71,000, with about 20% of the population residing in the southwestern capital of Roseau. Sperm whales hang out here all year along with 22 or so other cetaceans that come and go from the area. There is no golf course from what I can gather.  And even I know that this is a big deal in the Caribbean. Even Eleuthera has at least the carcass of a failed golf course. 

There is a lodge (Cocoa cottages) centered around…chocolate.  There is a guided organic mushroom farm tour. Hiking here is as essential as going to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park when in Boston. Mountains, 365 rivers, waterfalls, boiling lakes, sulfur hot springs, orchid and bromeliad-littered rainforests, and fantastic people. I might never leave.

And yet…

And yet, Dominica hosts very few extended-stay tourists (75,000 per year). What they do serve are over 500,000 cruise-ship tourists per year. But these 75,000 pack a bigger punch as they spend over 3 times as much money as the half a million “shippies”.

This island has so much to teach the world. I have no idea what all of these things are because I have only been here for 40 hours, but I just know there are piles of wisdom; in the people, in the landscape, in the ocean, along the endlessly winding roads…I feel it in my gut…along with the motion sickness.

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