Dominica is a small island in the Caribbean and it is a totally different country from the Dominican Republic. It is an absolutely stunning island, though if you’re a city bright-lights kinda person, you may disagree. As the plane flew over the island in 2008, my face squashed against the window, the only thing I could think of was Jurassic Park. The sheer abundance of green and mountains was incredible. Going to Dominica was pretty important for me because part of my family tree originates there. So you could imagine my excitement when I arrived at the airport and the customs guy asked me my purpose in the country. I said holiday and looking up my roots. He asked me my family name and when I said it, he and his nearby colleagues all said go to Roseau, the capital. Dominica is a small place.
Christopher Columbus named the island after the day of the week he first saw it, Sunday, despite the fact that its inhabitants already had a name for it – Wai‘tu kubuli (“Tall is her body”). Legend has it that when the King and Queen of Spain asked their pet explorer to describe Dominica, he crumpled up a piece of parchment and tossed it on to a table. It was supposed to represent the island and the fact that it was mountainous with nary a flat spot in sight. At first, the Europeans left Dominica alone as a neutral territory, agreeing to “let” the Kalinago people live there. But greed soon overcame them – by the early 18th century, France had a colony on the island. In 1763, France had to hand it over to Great Britain after its loss of the Seven Years’ War.
In 1838, Dominica was the first British colony in the Caribbean to have a legislature controlled by an ethnic African majority (slavery ended in 1834). This didn’t last all that long since the English planter class were none too happy about this. By 1896, the country was turned into a Crown colony which allowed for direct British rule, securing the fortunes of said English planter class. It wasn’t until 1978 that Dominica gained its independence. Another historic first for Dominica – it elected the Caribbean’s first female prime minister in 1980. Her government faced an attempted coup by mercenaries (American and Canadian) hired by a former Dominican prime minister who wanted power back. The plan failed as the FBI was tipped off and the ship of mercs never even left the USA.
A visit to Dominica could be divided into two parts. The first part is history and traditions. The historical part of my visit included a visit to Fort Shirley, the remains of the ubiquitous fort left behind by the European colonizers all across the Caribbean. It also meant checking out where my grandfather’s uncle (what would that be to me? Some sort of cousin? great-great uncle?) resided when he was president for ten years. And finally, it also included a visit to the Carib Territory. The Territory is a reserve of land where the Kalinago generally live today. It’s a similar system that exists in Canada and in the USA. What surprised me about my visit there was just how much I felt like it was looking into a mirror – I knew I have quite a bit of Kalinago ancestry but I didn’t realize to what extent I actually look it! A visit to the Territory included a guided tour that gave a glimpse into the traditions and history of the Kalinago people. There was also a performance of a cultural dance which was “interesting” as I was pulled up on stage to dance. No one really needed to have been subjected to seeing me dance…
Dominica really is ‘natural’ – if you want to live off the land, be one with nature, or be a hermit, this is a place to do it. The country is an extremely lush island and it seems that it will be so for a long time to come since a lot of it is protected by natural parks. Anything that you could dream of can be found in these parks – flora and fauna (over 600 species – and none of the animals are poisonous, supposedly!), tall trees, rivers, waterfalls, creeks, gorges, valleys, lava craters. There is even Boiling Lake, the second largest thermally active lake in the world – it actually boils! Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have enough time to visit it as it is pretty much a day hike there and back and I ran out of days. I did, though, visit Morne Trois Pitons National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There, I hiked to Boeri Lake. It is at an elevation of 2800ft and sits in a volcano crater. The hike apparently has panoramic views of the valleys and mountains – unfortunately, all I saw were clouds since it was rainy the day I went! Ah well – I guess all that green does require rain… Dominica’s focus is on eco-tourism so the country isn’t “Disneyfied” or golf-lawn-manicured as some of the other Caribbean islands are. To me, that is a good thing. So, if you want adventure and unique, Dominica is definitely an island you should check out!
To Do in Dominica
1. Wander around Roseau and Plymouth, the two cities of any size on the island.
2. Snorkel and dive – the volcanic nature of Dominica means the underwater views are just as amazing as the aboveground views.
3. Stop at a roadside cassava bread bakery – best bread you’ll ever eat. When fresh off the cooking pot, it requires absolutely nothing extra. Though I’m sure if I had added butter and cheese I’d have thought I’d died and gone to food heaven…however, none of the bread lasted long enough for me to find some butter and cheese…
4. Rent a car (4×4) and just drive.
5. Check out the 365 rivers that Dominica apparently has – one for each day of the year!
6. There is now the Caribbean’s first long distance trail called the Waitukubuli National Trail – it is 184km long and is supposed to take about 2 weeks to do. Now that I’ve been bitten by the long distance walks bug (Camino de Santiago 2013), I so SO want to do this!!