Carnival and Rainforests
23 February 2012 | Iles De Saintes in the Caribbean
Tuatara and crew are slowly wandering our way north, we have put away the Windward island cruising guide and are now thumbing through the Leeward island guide. The sailing is easier as the Leeward Islands curve slightly north west so the NE wind now means slightly eased sheets. The days of banging into a head wind have gone for now. The blustery Christmas winds have eased slightly and 15 to 20 knot trades are more established(except for yesterday a 20 mile trip with around 30knots), the seas in the gaps are still lumpy but manageable. So sailing wise we are enjoying the Caribbean a little more.
As I write this we are in Petite Anse in the Iles de Saintes, the French flag is flying once again EC dollars have been put aside and left over Euros from Martinique retrieved from their hiding place. Changing flags is easy but the money is another story we just get our head around exchange rates then the currency changes plus we have to also know the US dollar rate as lots of things ashore, no matter the country , are quoted in $US. The reason being that the main tourists are from Cruise ships and they deal in US$. For us the ATM spits out Eastern Caribbean dollars or Euros, depending on the country so we are forever saying , "No no what is the price in EC/Euro we don't have dollars, we are not off the ship."
"we are not off the ship, we are off a yacht" are magic words to get rid of a persistent tout, they know we are not prepared to pay the high rates they quote the ship tourists. We have just spent a delightful 10 days in Dominica, the nature island covered in dense rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and winding scenic roads. At Roseau we wanted to go and see the Trafalgar falls just about 20 mins out of town, we walked into town noting it was a non cruise ship day so things should be a little cheaper. A taxi driver spotted us as potential customers and said he would take us for a bit of a tour including the Trafalgar falls at the small cost of $150 US. We said ridiculous and walked away to ask about buses at the tourist centre, the lady there was not helpful she just wanted us to take a taxi. Our man was hanging around waiting for us and eventually agreed to a price of 80EC/30US. At the Trafalgar falls we walked the few minutes in off the road to find water gushing down over rocks through the lush green rainforest. The water coming over the rocks is hot, Dominica has a lot of thermal activity. Fred took us down the road a bit further and we had a spa at the nearby sulphur springs. A hot spa on a hot steamy day seemed a bit of a strange thing to do but it was surprisingly enjoyable despite the tropical heat.
Dominica is a beautiful green island full of Eco tourist activities but what we had really come for was Carnival. After Trinidad the Dominican Carnival is supposedly the best in the Caribbean to see. Actually you don't watch a carnival you join in, the people and music surround you so the spectators and the official participants become one big moving, dancing, throbbing mass. Carnival lasted for 2 days in Dominica, but there had been events for weeks leading up to the big party. There were Calypso competitions, Miss Dominica in every form from Ms Plus Size to Miss Teen, Mr Dominica, a children's carnival and these all culminated in a wonderful 2 day party starting at 4am on a Monday morning. The pre carnival events had even reached out to us in the anchorage. Friday and Saturday the music from the street party boomed out over the bay, the problem was that the party started at 2am and on Saturday continued until 10pm at night. Thank goodness Sunday night was quiet, we got a good sleep so we could get up for the 4am start.
As with all things Caribbean the start time was island time, so we could have stayed in bed a little longer but it was fun walking around the streets seeing people dressed up ready for the party to start. We met up with Lofty a London based Dominican home for Carnival and he wandered the streets with us as well as insisting that pre breakfast rums were all part of the Carnival experience. Lofty had been swimming around our boat every morning so we had a local guide. We met lots of his local friends and many from abroad who had also returned for a family visit at Carnival time. Carnival is about fun, loud music, dancing and partying but is also about competition between bands, groups of people who choose a theme and a song. On the first day they parade around the streets in team tshirts bopping along to their music which is booming out of massive speakers on their following truck behind the music truck is the drinks truck which dispenses the sponsors product mainly Kubuli the local beer plus lots of rum and a little water. The team tshirts had been adapted by the ladies to suit their own style, slashes, sleeves cut off, sides and hems trimmed and tied , except for the wording many did not come close to resembling the original product. My whole body vibrated with the pumping music as the parade stalled while the huge music trucks slowed to negotiate corners, deep drains and crowds in the narrow streets of Roseau. The parade went around and around the circuit gathering more and more people each time. Eventually things slowed a bit by 8 am so we took a break and went home for a sleep.
There was more parading in the middle of the day but we went back late afternoon for the evening to see the early morning revelers start all over again. By the time we had watched the parade gyrate past on its third circuit, we were ready for a sit down so we retired to the nearby Ruins Rock café an oasis of relative quiet, a few metres further from the parade we could now just about hear ourselves talk. As the sun disappeared and the street lights came on the parade had grown into a mass of people moving together as one, when the maneuvering trucks stalled the mass still swayed together stopped but not stopping.
Day two, Tuesday, was a more respectable start 10 am. This last parade was more structured the bands were dressed in their themed costumes. Every Miss Dominica, winners and fellow contestants came out in their finery. THE Miss Dominica, beautiful in shimmering rainforest green, had a personal attendant to wipe her brow and give her water. Little girls and boys shimmered in sparkling costumes accompanied by a bevy of water bottle carrying parents. This was a more formal parade after all the bands were being judged so not just any one could join off the street, but it didn't stop the band members stopping and chatting with friends and wandering back to their accompanying drinks truck for a top up. The music trucks were still vibratingly loud, the steel band truck bounced and the stilt walkers danced around the streets. The bands were made up of old and young and the underlying theme of some was the controversial topic of Chinese investment in Dominica. No matter the theme the costumes were spectacular, colourful and well planned. Planning for next year starts straight after Carnival. The winning band, the Thunderbirds had 150 people in it including some of the visiting Chinese workers.
When the parade came around the second time mayhem was starting to take over, obviously the judging had finished. Parents had squeezed into their childrens costumes, the many Miss Dominicas were resting their high heeled feet, Mr Dominica in his African inspired zebra costume had found a lovely young lady to dance along with and the music still boomed out. Once again the Ruins Rock café came to our rescue and provided a welcoming resting place and a cold beer. The Carnival kept going and going, but for us it was over. We had eaten bbq chicken and plantain for two days, our bodies had vibrated with the music and we'd had early morning and late evening rum, it was time to go back to Tuatara for a swim and a rest. We just don't have the stamina of the people of Dominica. The whole population of Dominica is less than 100,000 and its one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean but boy do they know how to party.
The next day Roseau was back to normal, streets clean and swarming with touts selling tours of the island to the cruise ship crowds, the souvenir sellers had reclaimed the waterfront , the custom officer was back in his office. After 6 days the locals were beginning to recognize us it was time to leave. We got our cruising permit and motor sailed the 17 miles north to Prince Rupert Bay where we wanted to see more of the Eco side of Dominica.
The boat boys motor out to meet the yachts as they arrive in Prince Rupert and can arrange a mooring or show you where to anchor as well as suggesting tours they can arrange. The most popular being the boat trip up the Indian river into the rain forest and past another Pirate of the Caribbean film location. After some negotiation 9 yachties were rowed up the river deep into the mangroves, the boa constrictors were elsewhere thank goodness, I did spot a humming bird, a heron and an iguana. The next day we all got together again plus another 4 yachties and toured the northern half of Dominica. More rainforest, fantastic views of the Atlantic coast, the Emerald pool and water fall then back north along the west coast.
The weather forecast was for developing strong winds so we decided as beautiful as Dominica is we needed to move on up to Iles des Saintes. The Saintes are a small group of islands 20 miles north of Prince Rupert bay and just south of butterfly shaped Guadeloupe. The 30 knot wind had already developed but we reefed down and had a quick sail. We are now tucked into Petite Anse, it's a bit breezy , still it's a nice bay for a quiet Sunday, time to get out the Leeward Islands Cruising Guide and see what is ahead of us.