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Dominica: A feast for the senses

Trafalgar Falls

Through my window on the tiny four- seater plane, I was captivated by the lushness and dense greens of the thick jungle of trees completely covering the tiny island. No jumbo planes are allowed, as planes have to slam to an abrupt stop on the very short runway.

When you have guests for dinner, you don’t blurt out the dishes you are serving as soon as they arrive. Dropped into the Lesser Antilles, this far-flung island plays the same way, teasing gently with appetizers in the form of something simple to whet your appetite. Unlike other Caribbean islands that flaunt their attributes, Dominica doesn’t reveal its personality immediately.

A dizzying drive through winding mountainous roads led us to the ocean side cottages we were staying in.  With 365 rivers, one for every day, navigating this small island of only 740 square kilometres takes time.

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The salad course provides more substance to a meal, and in Dominica seeing the huge array of waterfalls you slowly get an idea of what the untamed island is about. The natural rugged beauty of the island is the lure as is the simple way of life. Without distractions, the singing of the birds is emphasized, as is the gentle sound of the rivers burbling, and the rustling of the trees in the dense rainforest.

The other tourists with me are hikers, adventurers, bird watchers, divers and sailors. One Norwegian tourist who sailed from the British Virgin Islands said that he has travelled all over the world and returns to Dominica for the uniqueness, unusually huge number of water falls, the sulphur springs, and the boiling lake.

A silver domed lid comes off in a flourish of the main course, which for me was the Champagne Reef Snorkel Tour.

I have snorkelled in other locations, which seemed astounding at the time, but this was definitely a substantial main course. Our guide – wearing brilliant yellow shorts so we didn’t lose track of him– led us through the clear aquamarine water, pointing out fish we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Snorkelling near a live volcano created bubbles that were frequent attracting huge numbers of startlingly beautiful fish. After showering and changing we were lured towards the aroma of the onsite charcoal barbeque roasting local fish and vegetables.

Dessert, the grand finale, was getting totally immersed in the natural surroundings as part of island life.  Hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail is an ideal way to see the local trees and take in bird watching, an activity that brings tourists to the island from all over the world. The trail is a first of its kind – one of the longest hiking trails in the Caribbean, covering 185 kilometres, spanning and twisting the length of Dominica on unique and varied terrain.  We only hiked a portion of it, but it does continue through coastal villages, up woodland hills, into lush rainforests, past waterfalls, down to rivers, back up to the mountains and down to the sea again.  The islands unique and varied terrain and natural beauty earns its nickname, the Nature Island.

We visited Trafalgar Falls, a short distance from the trail and took a short 15-minute hike to get a close look at the unusual twin waterfalls.

As Sparrow, the local guide, rowed us up the Indian River near Portsmouth, he pointed out seaside hibiscus, whose flowers turn from yellow to orange as they age. Egrets, moor hens, kingfishers and different types of herons were interspersed with bolts of colourful flowers.  He told us the history of the island, settled originally by native people including the Arawaks.

We paddled past places used as sets in Pirates of the Caribbean film, including a dock shaded by mangrove-like trees that belongs to the Bush Bar, a favourite hangout of Johnny Depp’s during filming, according to Sparrow, a rustic open hut where you can order a number of homemade drinks, primarily made up of rum. Tall trees and elongated roots lined the wide river as we navigated our way through.

Indian River is the deepest river on the island, named after the Caribe Indians who went up the mountains.

Island hopping is common in this part of the Caribbean as ferries or chartered boats make it easy. As Dominica is so close to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, you can plan to visit all three or take the short flight from Antigua.

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When I think back to the authenticity of Dominica, my body relaxes and my mind almost meditates, summing up the island perfectly.  As a local said about Christopher Columbus landing there, he added, “It is one of the few Caribbean islands he would still recognize.”

Where to stay:

There are several options on the island depending on what you are looking for:

I stayed at Picard Cottages for two nights: plain, simple, rustic cottages with all the basics covered. The simplicity of the cottages fit perfectly with the surrounds standing on six acres of an old coconut plantation. The private cottages offer access to the beach and views over Prince Rupert Bay. www.picardbeachcottages.com

Rosalie Bay Resort:  I only had one night at this elegant, luxurious resort.  Nestled at the foothills of the More Trios Pitons on the southeast coast, it sits on 22 verdant acres at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean and the crystal clear Rosalie River. The heavenly setting has everything you need right on the premises, but if you want to get out and explore, the management has a list of island tours they will arrange.  Make sure you pick up soft cotton waffle weave robes, locally made soap dishes and carvings from the onsite shop. www.rosaliebay.com

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