Monday, June 26, 2017

My Dominica

Dominica made me think. Dominica was such a mixture of things... our experiences there were so varied... that a lot of soul searching must be done to figure out how I really feel about the island, and our time there.

The second morning there, I awoke early.  I couldn't sleep.  My mind was struggling with something that happened the day before.

Soon after Alexis left us on our mooring... a VERY pushy Boat-Boy showed up...knocking on our hull.  We popped our heads up to find a man with short dreadlocks wearing ill-fitting, ragged clothing and paddling a white surfboard with a piece of palm leaf.  He had a sack of fruit on his lap and his voice was hoarse as he downright begged us to buy something from him.

He said he was a family man and needed "something"... anything!  He rinsed a soursop, a split, unripe avocado and a small pineapple in the salty bay and held them up for my inspection.  I took the avocado, looked it over and handed it back.  Alexis had warned us about this type of salesman.  He told us that these guys would say anything and that nobody goes hungry on this island.  Food from the land and sea are plentiful and giving these people our money goes straight to drugs.

It was hard deflecting the man's advances... every excuse was met with insistence that we must help him... It was heartbreaking but my desire to participate in no part with drug trade was stronger and we turned him away.  At the end, he became angry, casting a voodoo cursing glare our way as he paddled away... promising to return tomorrow with more avocados...  (We must learn to be more assertive in our dealings with vendors).  The encounter left me feeling very sorry for this human... and not a little afraid at what retaliation he might bring upon us for not buying his fruit...  I pushed those thoughts away... trust in the system... The PAYS people supposedly patrol the anchorage and have a firm hold on crime here... They will protect us!  But we can't afford to be naive..

We greeted Alexis later in the morning and I asked him about our experience with the man on the board.  He said we did the right thing and that he wouldn't bother us again.  Feeling better about it, we gave Alexis our list of things we wanted/needed... Outboard engine repair/parts, possibly parts and repair of our Generac generator with it's broken fuel primer bulb (what are the odds?), trash disposal, laundry service, a propane bottle filled, and maybe some shore tours, not the least of which would be a trip up the Indian River!  That'll get us started, and then maybe we can have Junior give us an estimate on revamping our horrible cockpit cushions!

Alexis was happy to accommodate us in all our needs... he would take us up the river tomorrow morning and afterwards he would work on getting Igna (the small engine repair guy) and Junior to come out and take a look at our cushions.  And for 10EC he would dispose of our big bag of trash... not bad.

It was at this point I levelled with him...  I told him that we are probably a little too candid when it comes to negotiations...  We want the PAYS organization to continue to thrive and while we realize (now) that it's low season and they don't have many boats to service... and they have to make a living... we can't afford to be the sole provider of that living!

We were disappointed to learn that the secure PAYS moorings we read about in the guide book were not there, but they are working to build new ones for next season. Therefore, we had been placed on a private mooring... equally secure... but the price break for a week or two weeks would not be extended to us... So, $10 per day US...  Still cheap but dang it... It seems like the "deals" are always gone by the time we arrive!

As for the tours?  The River tour everyone else got for $20 per person US would cost us $25... but we had a private tour and not the group of six or more that they normally have... But maybe it would have been fun to have other people to talk to and enjoy the experience with...  (See our river tour here)

Alexis told us that he couldn't provide the full-day tours to the other island attractions at the normal price for just the two of us so we told him to hold off scheduling that until maybe more cruisers arrived.  We wouldn't mind being paired with "random people"... it would be a nice way of making new friends!

So we busied ourselves with with the other things on our list.  We sent our laundry in with the promise that the price wouldn't be too bad... hmmm... trust the system...  We sent our propane bottle off for a fill... hmmm... trust the system... and we negotiated the cockpit cushions to be re-covered...

And by negotiating I mean we were given a price - we balked and acted like we would walk away - and then we caved and agreed to pay about $25 less than his full price... which is still not bad at $400 US for the three cushions... unless you consider the fact that I have a Sailrite machine sitting in the floor of my v-berth and the materials would cost far less than $400... but then I would have to wrangle the job myself... so shut up and pay the money!

To make myself feel better, we rationalised that we were spending similar amounts for services which would provide no tangible reward... and we remembered that we had spent more than $100 for Haitians to rub on our stainless for a couple of hours... Considering that we are contributing to the economy of this beautiful island with its welcoming and friendly people... and the fact that for many weeks we've spent very little money... we feel better about the cushions... And it will be nice to be able to invite friends to our cockpit without embarrassment over our horrendous-looking cushions...

Yes, so all these crazy thoughts are at war inside my brain... moving on.

See the bent shift lever?
We had a guy named Igna come out to the boat to look at repairing or replacing the bent shift lever on our Nissan 9.8 hp outboard... and to see if he could source parts for our Generac ix2000 generator... currently unusable due to a broken fuel primer bulb.  We've ordered the parts but they are sitting back in our condo in Texas... not helping us here.

Miraculously, Igna had a bulb that, although smaller and made for a weed-whacker (love the ingenuity), fit on our generator and he was able to get it going again for us.  The outboard, not so much.  But his cost at $40 per hour was a welcome surprise and we happily paid him for his services.  He was a super-nice guy and we highly recommend his services.

The next couple of days were rainy and periodically windy.  Tropical Storm Brett was bearing down on Trinidad while we breathed a sigh of relief that our sloth had caused us NOT to be in the path of this, the first storm to threaten our happiness this hurricane season.  All we got were some considerable rains and not much else.

By this time we had begun to feel more comfortable here... when once again our senses were dashed and demoralised upon receipt of our laundry...  For one bag (we normally wait until we have two very full duffel bags) the cost was $59 US.  That is more than twice what we've paid at the next most expensive place... But in that place we weren't paying anything for a mooring... and the clothes came back smelling lovely and folded impeccably...

This time our clothes had been line dried (on two rainy days) and came back damp, haphazardly folded and while the whites were clean, there were a couple of my shirts that still smelled faintly of body odour...  And one of my items was horribly wrinkled and damp enough to cause the colours to bleed when stuffed into the sack...  (first world problems)  Not happy!  We told Alexis this and suggested that he find a different person to do the laundry.

Maybe this was OUR laundry!!!
Alexis, of course, was not happy to hear this, surely we weren't the first Cruisers whose laundry he had taken in.  We felt really confused and alienated.  We kept hearing that it was low season and that services cost more at this time of year.

Alexis warned us that it would only be worse in Roseau and that we should stay here... there was more crime there and the anchorage was much less protected... We suspected that he was lying, but what if he wasn't?  We felt almost trapped!

Our dreams of Dominica being the lush paradise were fizzling with the falling rain...  A few other boats came and went... just a quick stop.  We were thinking of heading off on the next weather window when things began to improve!

Another river leading through town to the beach
We took a stroll through town - the "other way" - just to get off the boat and thinking that maybe lunch out would raise our spirits.   We wanted to find a place to have lunch and just see what else was here...  There are far fewer people milling about but we had one sweet little school-girl break off from her group of friends to come over and welcome us to Dominica.  I would have loved to have taken a picture of her and her friends, but I try to refrain from exploiting the people as much as possible.  The little girls are just so darned CUTE in their school uniforms...

A little in-home fruit stand!

And ANOTHER small river!
A small time banana growing operation right on the beach!

The Middle Class?
Poor but CLEAN!

The small sign for the restaurant we seek...  
Finding food was turning out to be a little more difficult than we thought it would be...  How can this be???  Trying new things is not my strong suit.  There were quite a few tiny businesses from which delectable food smells wafted... but when we popped in for a look, the warming cases were full of things we didn't recognise...

We were looking for a restaurant recommended by Alexis called Madiba Beach Cafe.  We almost missed the small sign leading us into an alley... Not sure we wanted to venture down there... but buoyed by the recommendation and the fact that it led toward the beach, we followed our hunger...

Thankfully the way opened out onto the beach, just as described, and we settled in as the only patrons for a while...

This little beach cafe is owned by a British couple, very nice people.  Their menu is basic but they serve daily specials during high season that are quite upscale!

We ordered big fat juicy Tuna burgers and drinks and relaxed to enjoy the ambiance... and by ambiance I mean shelter from the passing rain showers that were washing over us...

This part of town is a bit nicer than "the other way".  But then both ends are really such a mix of poor and not-as-poor... It's difficult to get an accurate feel for it...

This place for instance... very basic and humble, but really good mix of non-traditional and island food and great service!

Then, as we sipped our drinks and waited for our lunch... Alexis materialized from the trees.

He was glad we had taken his recommendation and told us that he lived "just there" as he half turned and pointed back to the way from which he had come.

We peered off that way and saw his home in the trees just back from the beach.  In the yard was a grill emitting a thin wisp of smoke... Alexis told us that he was grilling breadfruit to go with his fish for his dinner.

Again I was confounded by the privilege we enjoy... Here I was about to eat a huge sandwich that someone else prepared for me... sitting in luxury... while the man I secretly suspected of price gouging... was eating a fish he caught himself and a breadfruit he picked from a tree... cooked by himself over a fire that looked like his home's primary cooking method...

The disparity between our lives and those of these people was causing one of those shifts inside my head... The ones that have me pondering things that I'm more comfortable NOT pondering...

The weather reflected my brooding mood...
I felt so asinine for begrudging the people here for just trying to make a living... at our expense!  Many hours were spent in deep thought and discussion between Bruce and I...  Bruce is a seriously thrifty person and hates spending money unnecessarily.

But when we see the proud struggle of the people here in Dominica... the struggle to keep their homes clean and pleasant to the eye of the tourist so that we won't pass them by for more visually pleasing islands... It's just heart breaking.

Fishermen hung their nets to dry
These are some of the thoughts that whirl around in our heads as we try to interpret how we FEEL about Dominica.

The "Tree House" on the beach

Local's bar on the beach
We found a Laundromat - maybe we'll take ours there next time...
Using what Nature provides!
Bridge view from the beach...

Mouth of another river!
Bridge view from the bridge!
Eventually a few other boats arrived and several of them even wanted to do a land tour with Alexis... Our friends on Pura Vida were among them!  Hooray!

I told Kimberly and John-Michael about our dismal quote for the tour and that we had been waiting for others to fill the van and thus bring down the price per individual.  By this time we were not high on Alexis' favorites list... so we left the negotiations to them.  And it worked!  There would be eight of us and we would get the "normal" price!  We scheduled our full day Island Tour and had a "day off" from our normal activities and enjoyed being Tourists!

Cushions stacked on the porch railing to the right.
The thing that didn't make that story was the stop on our way home to pick up our cockpit cushions.  We had to make a trip to the ATM to get enough cash to pay for the job and we were really put on the spot in picking them up with a bus load of people watching the exchange.

One look at the cushions and I was once again deflated.  We had agreed to a price based mainly upon the fact that the materials were costly.  The type of materials we agreed upon were on hand and we accepted the recommendations of the vendor.   Imagine my disappointment when I saw that he had used mismatched pieces of material because he didn't have enough to do the whole job.  He also used a black zipper much shorter than needed on one of the cushions because it was what he had on hand...
Essentially we paid full price for something we did not receive.  My attempts to express my displeasure were thwarted by his multiple repetitions of "I did the best I could"...  and the new customer walking up to the conversation... and the bus load of tourists sweating in the van with eyes boring into my back...

We took the cushions, paid the man and left...  More mental struggles now heaped upon the pile for my mulling pleasure...  Eventually I was able to remind myself of visions of the inside of his home... I went over our conversation walking to the ATM for cash... about his having left the Dominican Republic to come here because there was less competition for business... and the general struggles of life here in Dominica... anchored by his statement that "at least here, the island provides food, so his family won't starve".

I convinced myself to appreciate the fact that my cushions are now presentable and that guests probably won't notice the flaws... and that I didn't have to do the work and ultimately, that we stimulated the local economy of an island we are fitfully growing to love.

Now that the job we we had been waiting for was completed, we turned our minds to plans to leave the island.  Weather would keep us here for a couple more days before we could hop to Roseau to stage for the passage to Martinique...

We had more sunshine, which is always good for my attitude... and did a bit more exploring...

We decided that we would check out the PAYS property, against Alexis' advice.  We are still perplexed by his attitude toward the PAYS organization and wonder if there has been a breach between them...

We dinghied over to the PAYS dock hoping that we could find a wifi access as the book promises... But we found the place deserted...

We asked one guy where everyone was and got a whole lot of bouncing around and pointing accompanied by gibberish.  OK thanks, sorry we asked!!!

We found the new mooring blocks in progress... happy that at least this part of the story was true.

Alexis had told us that the reason we were on a private mooring was that all of the PAYS moorings had been removed and would be replaced later this summer.

Gassing up the fuel jugs before we leave... Gotta feed that generator!

More new mooring blocks...
We enjoyed the company of John-Michael and Kimberly (Pura Vida) for another night ashore before we moved on...

Even HAPPIER hour with rainbows!
We met for happy hour and it sort of morphed into dinner...

Looks like a pot of gold will be waiting aboard Pura Vida

Ahhh THIS is how it's supposed to be...

Happy restaurant kitties

Market Day
We spent our last day here in Portsmouth provisioning and soaking in the local color.  We feel like we've been through a transformation with Dominica and have come through it with a better appreciation of the culture.

We feel more at home here and more accepting... like it's now normal. And that is a good thing.  It means that we're "growing" in the way that travellers do.
Free health screenings
Picking up some fresh baked goodies
Seemingly endless supply of coconuts!

Our haul... A little bit from each vendor and store!
The next morning we dinghied over to the REAL Customs & Immigration dock to obtain clearance to Roseau as directed upon checking in...

So tell me why we aren't surprised when we learn that the agent who cleared us in and told us that we could neither have a coastwise clearance, nor could we clear in and out both for a stay of less than two weeks... could have done both of those things.  Even more not-a-surprise... was the fact that they DO INDEED use SailClear and it would have been much easier for them and us had we been processed that way, instead of using sheets and sheets of carbon paper...

And furthermore, we had a bit of a run-around in trying to dispose of our trash... You never want to try to enter a new country with trash from the prior country on board.  We couldn't use any of the public trash containers... They wanted us to pay a PAYS boat boy... none of which could be found.  We had to dinghy back to the Fisherman's dock and pay the nice lady at the fuel dock to take our trash!  Nope, none of this seems strange to us in this, the life we chose to lead!

Eventually we did leave.  Oh, what about a tip for Alexis?  Since he was nowhere to be found, we left our cash in an envelope with Pura Vida as they would be seeing him later in the day for a tour.  We struggled with our conscience over what to tip him the entire week+ that we were here.  The only answer we could get out of anyone was to "follow your heart"... Give what you want to...  In the end, we left the per diem for the mooring ball plus $56 US for his tip.  I don't know if that was good or bad... but I do know that some Cruisers we asked were unaware that a tip would be in order!

The dreaded Roseau!
We slipped quietly down the coast and approached Roseau by mid afternoon.  We had been warned that Roseau was scary and dangerous, but it looked very peaceful... like many other Caribbean towns.

A friend told me that we could hail the chandlery on VHF to get a mooring but since we were already cleared out and only staying one night, we hunted around for a spot to drop anchor.


The Bay is full of moorings and boats and is a bit more deep than we like for anchoring, especially in a crowded spot.  But we were eventually able to find a spot very close to shore in about 15 ft with sand for good holding.

We relaxed and watched the sun go down on our time in Dominica.  We talked a lot about our experiences here.  Our expectations were so high when we arrived and they turned out to be completely wrong. Perhaps that was why we had a difficult transition...

The word is that Dominica is "untouched".  What that has come to mean to us is that she is less developed, less mature.  Like a teenager.  And like many teenagers, she is full of false bravado.  She desperately wants to be an adult so she goes over the top trying to convince everyone that she IS an adult.  She gives the illusion that she's mature, but in the end that's a promise she can't keep and she is still a loveable and incomparable teen...

How does this make me feel about Dominica??? There are good people and bad people everywhere.  And there is good and bad in everyone... Even though most people are basically good... we still have to be vigilant.  This is the real Caribbean, not the pretty resorts many travellers see... This is the dirty, gritty, mysterious, dangerous, wild, untamed, challenging, beautiful, glorious, majestic... Caribbean.  And it changed me.  In uncomfortable but necessary ways.  And we loved it.

Our time here was cut short by the advancing season... but we can't wait to return, much more wise and savvy... and explore the rest of MY Dominica!

No comments:

Post a Comment