Kalinago territory, Dominica
10 May 2018
As we've travelled through the Caribbean islands we have come upon much information about the indigenous people before the European settlers arrived in 1493. It is believed that the islands were first inhabited as far back as 4000 BC. These first settlers came by sea from the region of the Orinoco River delta on the coast of South America. First came the Ciboney people or 'stone people' then came the peaceful Arawaks who were followed by the 'warlike Caribs' around 1000AD
When the Europeans colonised the islands they claimed huge areas of land for the production of sugar cane. The trees were cut down and the Arawaks and Caribs were callously removed from their villages and homeland. The Arawaks and Caribs were hunted down if they showed any form of resistance until they were completely wiped out on most of the islands.
Dominica's rugged terrain worked to the Caribs (or Kalinago as they call themselves) advantage as they held back European settlers for two centuries. When Europeans finally settled on Dominica the Kalinago were forced inland to a remote, inaccessible area on the east coast where they have lived ever since. The Dominican Kalinago are the only surviving indigenous people in the Caribbean.
In 1903 the British colonial authorities officially handed over the territory of 3,700 acres to the Kalinago people. The Kalinago have their own local government and a ceremonial Chief. The population have largely remained isolated until the last decades of the 20th century when modern utilities and roads were finally introduced.
The present population of around 3000 people share communal ownership of all land within the territory.
A model Kalinago village was established in 2006 within the territory (encouraged by the Dominica Tourist Authority) and this is where we visited. Unfortunately hurricane Maria made a direct hit in September 2017 causing considerable damage to the village but there was still an information centre, traditional crafts and buildings including the large community hall to be seen. We were shown around the village by a Kalinago guide and what was very apparent was the difference in his appearance. Our guide was very South American Indian looking rather than Afro-Caribbean.
I was slightly concerned that after being isolated for hundreds of years, everyone would be a distant cousin to each other and our guide agreed that this was probably true. Our guide explained that the future of the Kalinago colony as it exists now depends on the younger generation who are now exposed to the wider world through education, internet, television, smartphones etc. The Kalinago are very proud of their culture and heritage and there are still very few mixed marriages.
Hurricane torn Dominica
05 March 2018
When hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island of Dominica in September 2017 residents fled to the safest corners they could find. For eight hours the winds howled up to an astonishing 260 mph. The next morning the island was unrecognisable. No longer was the island a lush green but brown, the trees were stripped bare. Debris everywhere, telephone poles down and wires strewn across the streets. Tin roofing scattered the ground. Massive boats thrown onto the shores and torrential rains had swelled the rivers causing massive flood damage to homes and roads.
Bill and I had discussed many times what we could do as individuals to help the island. We had donated to the relief fund but should we fill the boat with much needed things and hand them out when we get there? Should we even go, we didn't know if Dominica could cope with tourists? In the end we decided the best thing to do was not to sail, by as many sailing yachts would do, but visit the island and spend our money where it was most needed. Our first anchorage was in Roseau where we were greated by Marcus in his boat. Marcus told us that he and his wife had a young baby but he no longer had a home, his house totally destroyed in the hurricane. Life was tough for them but he was grateful that all his family survived unlike others who had lost their lives. Marcus explained that some areas of the island still had no electricity. Many homes still had temporary blue tarpaulin covering the roofs despite it being more than six months after Maria hit. A lot has been done to clear up the debris but labour and materials are in short supply so rebuilding and recovery is slow. The government is now insisting on a strict policy of building regulations and will only reconnect the electricity supply to homes that have had their roofs repaired under the inspection of a building engineer. We were pleased to hear this but the problem arises if not insured and have not the money to pay for the cost of a proper roof repair. Dominica is one of the poorest Caribbean islands and many families have built their own homes. Marcus appreciated that we had taken the time to visit his island which is still called paradise
Dominica depends on tourism, and still has a massive recovery job on its hands if tourists are to be encouraged back onto the island. Despite this the people we met and talked to were resilient and optimistic.
We organised a tour with SeaCat (his real name was Octavia) who took us up into the mountains for a hike, to see the Trafalgar falls and the Tito Gorge. It was a fantastic day out. SeaCat was so knowledgeable about the rainforests and showed us how nature was fighting back. The trees were stripped down to just their trunks but only six months later the trunks had sprouted little branches which were covered in leaves and even fruits. Amazingly bird life still existed and we saw parrots sitting in the trees (normally you would only hear them as seeing would be almost impossible as they would be high up in the dense canopy of the rain forest). It will take 20 years for the rainforests to return to their full glory.
We moved further up the coast to Portsmouth and did a further two tours, a trip down the Indian river (at 7.30 in the morning!) and a tour out to the Kalinago Indian reserve (the only indigenous decendents left in the Caribbean).
We were so glad we didn't bypass Dominica, it is still a beautiful and interesting island. We wish the islanders all the best in their recovery and pray that they are spared from another direct hit come the next hurricane season June to October.
01 March 2018
Martinique Our first anchorage was in the south of the island off the small town of St Anne. I've never seen such a huge anchorage with at least a thousand boats anchored all the way from St Anne into Le Marin. Martinique is a large island still owned by the French. As soon as we stepped onto land it immediately looked and felt like we were in France itself. We were so excited to find the Boulangerie to buy a proper baguette and to sample the delicate little tartes, eclairs and my favourite a Mille Feuille. We also made a beeline for the local supermarket to buy some proper French cheeses. We've been denied these gastronomic delights since leaving mainland France last June. As Martinique is also part of the EU it is very evident that it's benefited financially having good roads (you could be driving in Europe), shopping malls, familiar housing, excellent health care and social benefits. Martinique has a beautiful sandy coastline and is a very popular winter destination for the French. The immigration and customs checking in/out is very easy, a do it yourself computer system, we just needed to find the cafe in St Anne that held the computer. We found the cafe only to discover it was closed on a Wednesday-aargh now what do we do? The closest checking in point was in Le Marin Marina 8km away. We had always intended to hire a car in Martinique so decided to walk to the nearest car hire place and just get a car. Now with car keys in hand we drove into Le Marin and checked in at the marina. It wasn't a wasted journey as we needed the chandlers (we needed three screws for the genoa drum, only in Martinique can we pick up metric) and it so happened friends Julian and Patricia (A Capella) were staying in the marina so managed to meet up with them for an hour. The next 4 days we spent exploring lovely Martinique - please look at the photo gallery for more detail. We then had two further anchorages moving north to Grande Anse d'Arlet and then St Pierre. St Pierre sits at the base of Mt Pelée and at the beginning of the 20thcentury was the capital of Martinique, very chic and known as the Paris of the Caribbean.
On the 8th May 1902, Mt Pelée exploded and it was so violent, after only 3 minutes the town was reduced to rubble and the population of nearly 30,000 were killed. The town today has many historic sites reminding people of the disaster and a museum where we watched a interesting film of the events leading up to the volcanic eruption. Have a look at the photo gallery for further info.
Apologies for lack of blogs and photos
28 February 2018
I'm so frustrated that for some time now i have been struggling with poor internet to post our photos and bring you up to date with where we are and what we've been doing.
Since St Vincent we have been to St Lucia and Martinique but probably due to remote anchorages the internet has been poor. This is very disappointing as Martinique is still part of France and hence part of the EU and we can use our normal Vodaphone data. If only it would work AARGH..........
We are moving onto Dominica in the morning. This island was severely damaged by last years hurricanes. We hope to be able to purchase a sim card and buy some data but it may not be possible. Don't panic if the blog is not updated.
20 February 2018
High swells due to the strong Atlantic winds continue to impede our speed, so much to our frustration we motor sailed all the way from St Vincent to St Lucia.
As we approached St Lucia's you can't fail to notice the twin Piton peaks that greet you from the distance but we had decided not to stop in the town of Soufreire (or rather I had a fear Bill would have me doing another mountainous hike) but continue along to Marigot Bay.
Marigot Bay Lagoon is a modern marina resort and Sylvester helped us onto one of the mooring buoys. We paid our money for two nights and were pleased to be told that we could use the Capella Hotel pool and facilities. We had to check in with immigration and customs first and then popped into the marina office for further information. The girl behind the reception desk asked us which buoy we were on only to tell us that we were on a private mooring not the resorts mooring and therefore could not use the swimming pool. Can you imagine my disappointment, I was by now looking forward to lazing on a sunbed around a luxurious pool. Sylvester had also charged us $20EC more plus we gave him a small tip! The receptionist went immediately to the Port Officer and explained our situation. The Port Officer wasn't happy with Sylvester. "Don't worry" he said " I'll find him and get your money back". We paid for a resort buoy and went back to our boat to move position. Sure enough half an hour later Sylvester came back with his tail between his legs and refunded our money. To be honest if he had charged the same price we probably wouldn't have bothered moving. Anyway I did get to lie on a sun bed and swim in the pool but only after we had walked up the Billy goat trail.
After two nights we moved further up the coast to Rodney Bay where we could anchor in the huge bay. We chose to tuck ourselves up close to Pigeon Fort which is now a historical site and we duly paid a small fee upon landing and had a lovely day walking around the fort and enjoying the views.
While at anchor we decided our poor boat was in need of a good clean, so we got up early two mornings while it was still cool to dust and shine the inside. Since being in the Caribbean we have only anchored or moored on a buoy. Without shore power we cannot use the vacuum cleaner and I have had to rely on the old fashioned dustpan and brush. Enough was enough we needed power so went into the huge Rodney Bay Lagoon marina to enjoy the luxury of using a vacuum cleaner. I think it must have been Bill's over zealous use of the machine that blew a fuse along the whole of D pontoon leaving us no power for the rest of the day. Ah well, what do they say ' best laid plans and all that!
What is nice about cruising is the people you meet and as time goes by it's not unusual to meet up again by chance. Rodney Bay marina was no exception, as soon as we arrived we were helped onto our finger pontoon by Sarah and Darryl who we met in Grenada and the next day we met Sue and Peter who we last saw in Tenerife. Of course we all had a sundowner together and exchanged stories before Krabat moved on the next day to Martinique.
12 February 2018
The winds in the Caribbean are currently blowing from the NE and have been stronger than we expected averaging a good 15 to 20 knots and gusting 25 knots (that's hold onto your hat and forget the brolly!). It seems to be a familiar scenario that wherever we want to go means the wind is on the nose and there is usually a long discussion about whether we can sail directly, sail by tacking or if we should motor? Of course it doesn't help that the winds have whipped the sea up and we will be sailing into a heavy swell. We lifted the anchor in Bequia to sail the 10 miles to St Vincent but reluctantly resorted to using the engine. Even with the engine our speed was slow, battling wind and current and it took over 3 hours before arriving at Young Island, on the south tip of St Vincent.
We were helped onto a mooring buoy by Sparrow and now sat next to the private island and hotel resort on Young Island but in equal distance to the small jetty on the mainland.
St Vincent is frequently by passed by many yachties as it has a bad reputation for aggressive boat boys and thefts. We were advised by locals on Bequia that this was mainly further north on the leeward side, particularly Walliabou Bay (where the pirates of the Caribbean was filmed). Bill was particularly keen to visit the island as he wanted to hike the active volcano, La Soufrière. For the record, I was not so keen as I knew it would be a challenging hike!
We made tour enquiries but felt $70US each was a bit expensive. Tourist Information office told us that we must go with a guide but couldn't really say why. What was the danger? Was it not a well defined track? Were we in danger from attack? Would we be walking into a marijuana plantation? No was the answer, it would just be safer with a guide. We did contact a guide and left several phone messages but they never got back to us. Time ticking on and getting frustrated we decided to hire a car and just get on with it ourselves. I had done some research on the internet and many reviews suggested a guide wasn't necessary.
Next day we got up early, packed lunch ready and drove along the windward side of the island heading for Rabacca where the La Soufrière trail begins. The road deteriorated the further we went and we noticed the communities were less prosperous the further away from the capital of Kingstown. The drive was beautiful and dramatic with the Atlantic Ocean pounding the coastline. After 40 minutes driving we spotted our turning which took us along a very rugged road through a banana plantation. After a couple of miles we came to the car park of the La Soufriere information centre. We were the only hikers there (it was still only 9am).
This was the beginning of a steep and steady 2 hour hike up to the craters edge. We walked through a bamboo grove on a narrow path with a sheer drop either side and then into the lush green but humid rainforest. If you stop and listen you can hear the tree frogs as well as the many birds but catching sight is almost impossible. About a third way up we crossed two lava flows where the rocks were smooth from the flowing river. Just over half way we had climbed high enough to be in cloud and the forest changed into a head height thicket allowing clear views of the mountains and the sea when the mist lifted. It was also very windy and we got soaked when a rain squall passed overhead. After two hours we finally reached the ash-strewn rim of the crater and tentatively peaked over the steep edge to view the bottom whilst all the time being buffeted by the strong ocean winds.
The floor is covered in lush green vegetation , there is a huge dome where fumaroles release volcanic vapour and a small lake. You can walk the edge of the crater and for the more energetic climb down to the floor with the aid of a rope. It was well worth the climb. La Soufrière last erupted in 1979 but its most violent was in 1902 killing 1,680 people mostly indigenous Caribs.
Feeling pleased with ourselves we took it carefully back down the loose path and stopped to enjoy our picnic and a well earned rest by the rainforest river. We only met one other hiker the whole day.
As we had the car for another two days we visited the Vermont Nature trail in search of the very rare St Vincent Parrot. We could hear them but it was very difficult to even catch a glimpse. There are only about a thousand in the wild and their biggest threat is still from poachers as a pair can fetch more than $50,000US. There is also the fear that a future hurricane would decimate the parrot population. We visited the botanical gardens in Kingstown to see the parrots close up. Here many parrots are kept in captivity as a part of a successful breeding programme. We talked to their keeper who was very passionate about his beautiful birds. The colours of the national flag are taken from the green, blue and yellow of the parrots but their tail feathers also have a wonderful orange colour.
The parrot keeper kindly knocked some coconuts out of a tree and with his large machete took the tops off and then offered us both a coconut to drink the milk from within.
We also ventured into the Mesopotamia valley, the agricultural heartland of St Vincent. The farming is very labour intensive due to the steep hills but every inch of the land is used. The volcanic soil is very fertile and the whole valley is actually a dormant crater. The roads (if you can call them that) are only accessible with a 4WD.
Whilst in the valley we visited the Montreal Gardens. The British owner greeted us with secateurs in hand and as we chatted he explained how he had created these amazing gardens from what used to be a an old grapefruit plantation.
Our final stop was to the Black Tunnel Caves. It was not really a cave but 360ft tunnel drilled through thick rock using slave labour in 1815 by the owner of the Grand Sable Estate to enable quicker transport from the estate factory to the wharf where ships were waiting for their cargo. The tunnel was also home to a colony of bats.
While paying our $5 entry fee, Bill asked the lady if there was anywhere we could get a cup of tea? "No sorry, we only sell beer". Bill's sad face must have put pity on her as she very kindly offered to have a cup of tea (free of charge) waiting for us on our return from the caves. Her name was Michelle, she was so lovely and her fresh ginger tea was really refreshing. Michelle's kindness was what really made our day.