9 July 2000, by Tom Waid
A knee-jerk reaction to the way the Dominicans say the name of their Island would be to say that they are mispronouncing it. Everyone knows that Dominica is pronounced Dom-EN-ee-ka yet they insist on saying Dom-en-EE-ka. Well, itís their Island and they can choose how to pronounce its name. The rest of the world will have to follow suit.
Dominica, now an independent country, was once part of the British Empire and retains some of the characteristics from that era. Primarily in its bureaucracy. Among its people live some of the only surviving Carib Indians. It's the most mountainous island in the Eastern Caribbean and as a result of forcing oceanic air upward to condense in the upper atmosphere it has the greatest amount of rainfall. Indeed it is said that the only difference between the wet and dry seasons is that during the dry season it only rains most of the time. The rain has created miles of dense rain forest that, because of limited development, has remained, for the most part, unspoiled. This has made Dominica a top destination for eco-tourism. There is a well-developed system of hiking trails, many of which are only recommended for seasoned hikers. An experienced eco-tourist would have no difficulty visiting Dominica since he or she would know what to expect when visiting an underdeveloped country but anyone else may have some difficulty adjusting to a land where there is still a noticeable amount of poverty. I must stress that there is a strong group of well-educated Dominicans that are the backbone of the working and professional classes but poverty is still more evident than on other islands. It is to be hoped that eco-tourism along with other endeavors compatible with environmental protection will one day create an acceptable standard of living for all Dominicans.
I will confess that, although we were anxious to experience Dominica there was one thing we were not necessarily looking forward to. On some of the English-speaking islands of the Eastern Caribbean there has developed a culture of "boat boys." These are boys and young men that swarm around your yacht in all kinds of small watercraft offering any number of goods and services. They will many times approach before youíre anchored and offer among other things to take your garbage, get ice, or sell you a t-shirt. While some of the services can be useful their numbers and aggressive selling techniques make them a real nuisance. Plus it is common to see your garbage floating in the anchorage after youíve paid a boat boy to dispose of it properly. I know a few yachtsmen that refuse to visit certain islands because of the boat boys. As annoying as it may be itís hard to blame these boys for trying to escape poverty. The situation just needs some control.
According to Chris Doyleís guide to the Leeward Islands control seems to have been established in Dominica. The government is now licensing boat boys and, indeed, they are more than just boat boys. They are also trained guides who can take you on tours of such places as the Indian River and enlighten you not only about the flora and fauna but also about the history of the island. Most importantly their training is reputed to include some lessons in public relations and how to treat people. As I was reading this I was hoping that it would indeed be the case.
As we approached Dominica our destination was Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay. We rounded the headland hoping for the best but expecting the worst and it wasnít too long before we were approached by single boat. That it was only one boat was an encouraging sign. The young man in the boat was wearing his Indian River Tour Guides t-shirt along with his Rasta dreadlocks. "Hello sir. Allow me to introduce myself." He said. "I am Eric Spaghetti." (I was to learn that most of these guides have a nickname. There was a pot of boiling spaghetti painted on the side of his rough hewn wooden boat.)
My first thought was, "Heís polite, thatís an improvement." I told him that I would be more than happy to talk with him about his services but only after we were anchored.
"Very fine. I will return when youíre anchored." And he sped off.
When he returned we established the rules. Eric was indeed licensed by the government of Dominica. We will do business only with him and he will inform the others not to bother us and if we were to pay him to dispose of our garbage he would dispose of it properly. Most important we established that he would not return until noon the next day and that neither he nor anyone else would bother us until then. Additionally Eric proved to be an accurate source of information about customs clearance, where to get money, and other details about Portsmouth. It was indeed useful to have Eric Spaghetti working for us.
I cannot say that all the hustling has disappeared. Anyone who even remotely looks like a tourist will be approached many times while walking about the town but at least for us, our yacht proved to be a refuge from it all. Eric appeared at the appointed time, fetched some ice for us, and took us on a tour of the Indian River. Only one unlicensed freelancer paddled out on a discarded sailboard and tried to sell us fruits and vegetables. I told him that we only work with Eric and he left not to bother us again.
The trip up the Indian River was a special treat. In spite of the mouth of the river being very close to the center of Portsmouth it immediately turned into a lush jungle river and if we didnít know better could have been miles from human habitation. As the river narrowed the trees from each bank joined their branches overhead to form a verdant tunnel. Eric rowed and educated us about the life of the river and its history. He possessed a wealth of information and was able to tell us the name of every bird, fish, and tree. It rained but it always rains on Dominica so we considered it part of the experience.
The next day we set out on our own and hiked to the Cabrits National Park where the old British fort had been partially restored. The Cabrits are two hills that form a distinct headland at the northern boundary of Prince Rupert Bay. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the British and French were constantly bickering over the islands of the Eastern Caribbean the Cabrits were a vital observation point to spy on the French to the north. In addition the height of the gun emplacements allowed good protection for the town of Portsmouth. Dominica had done a good job putting together the displays at the Cabrits and it was well worth the hike. In addition the view of Prince Rupert Bay from the fort is spectacular.
We didnít spend enough time on Dominica. Our press to get south for the tropical storm season denied us some of the better experiences. We particularly regret not doing any diving on Dominica, which is reputed to be very good. We promised each other to return to do some serious hiking and diving. When we do return weíll be sure to ask for Eric Spaghetti. In retrospect he was the best part of our visit to Dominica. His enterprising spirit is an inspiration. In regard to the boat boys Dominica is to be congratulated for turning a difficult situation into a very positive experience.
Joie de Vivre
19 July 2000, by Tom Waid
I was getting wet. As I sat in the dinghy holding on to the public dock at Grand Anse DíArlet on Martinique there were at least five or six small children swimming in the water around me. While they were trying to splash water on each other they got me in the process. Linda was on her way down the dock so for the moment I had no option but to wait for her and participate in the childrenís fun. One of the little girls surfaced from under the water, smiled at me, and said, "Bonjour."
I raised my hand and gave her a little half-wave with my fingers. "Bonjour," I said, returning her greeting. She effervesced with giggles and dove back under the water. She could not have been more than five or six but she was already a heart breaker, a Creole Water-Nymph.
We were in Martinique during the week of Bastille Day, the French National day. Everyone was having fun and I could not help but compare it to the Forth of July. In the past Linda and I started our Independence Days by going to work. Being in the Army Band meant that we had to march in a parade in downtown Washington. But, when that was done, the car was already packed so we could drive directly to the boat. We loaded on the goodies and had just enough time to sail over to the Rhode River, which was already packed with other boats. The fun had already begun, radios blaring, the smell of barbeque, and riotous carrying on. Indeed the Forth of July is a day to reminisce about our origins but it is also a wonderful excuse to have fun and Americans do know how to have fun.
The French also know how to have fun. As with the Rhode River, Grand Anse DíAlet on Bastille Day began filling up with boats early. People were swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and playing with all sorts of watercraft. There were kisses and hugs (discreet and indiscreet.) Zouk music drifted out over the anchorage from the beach and the smell of barbeque emanated from the shore. It was the Forth of July all over again but with a French ambience. The Stars and Stripes was replaced with the Tricolor and the barbeque had a smell unique to the French West Indies. And, interestingly enough, the ladies seemed to have an inclination to misplace their bikini tops. I can't ever recall seeing that in the Rhode River.