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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Dominica...from seahorses to sperm whales

DOMINICA | Wednesday, 11 June 2014 | Views [792]

Seahorse

Seahorse

During our time in the Turks and Caicos, one destination kept cropping up by new found friends and visiting guests alike - Dominica.

Initially it was the macro diving that attracted my attentions (mainly my nemesis...the frogfish), then there was talk of how lush it was with a reputed river for every day of the year, rumours of sperm whales, natural thermal springs, boiling lakes....the list just went on and on. Sadly, its not the easiest destination to reach from our home, involving a journey to Miami (yuck), then flights to St Martin and onto Dominica - prices for the flights were well over a $1000 so it was kept on the backburner.  Then we could suddenly fly direct to Puerto Rico and from there the whole of the Caribbean was available to us......Dominica here we come !

It was about a 90 minute flight from Puerto Rico to Dominica, approaching the island we were greeted with sheer cliffs and lush green vegetation, descending between the mountains was a little daunting but the landing was thankfully uneventful.

Customs was easy, friendly and welcoming (Oh Turks and Caicos how you could learn lessons from these guys); exiting the airport we were greeted with a charming, quietly spoken taxi driver who whisked us off to our accomodation at Castle Comfort Dive lodge (www.castlecomfortdivelodge.com) located just outside the capital of Roseau at the other end of the island. When I say 'whisked us off', it should be taken with a pinch of salt ! The journey takes about another 90 minutes, stunning minutes mind you, but be prepared for both the time it takes and inevitably the cost of the journey (it cost us $80 for 2 people). The road goes from newly laid tarmac to potholes and back again, travelling up into the lush green mountains and then back down to the coast.

Again we were warmly greeted at the Dive Lodge, enjoyed the complementary rum punch and were shown to our room. Bags dumped we headed to the bar, ordered another round of drinks and a couple of very tasty fish burgers (fresh catch of the day - maui maui).

 

Next day for breakfast we were treated to coffee, fresh juice (mango), fruit and the legendary banana pancakes (which lived up to their reputation); all this while looking out over the bay. Breakfast finished we wandered the few feet to the onsite dive centre (www.divedominica.com) only to find we were the only 2 signed up for the days dive - private boat, captain and guide - well if you insist !

A short 25 minute boat ride and we had reached our dive destination, briefing completed and it was time to kit up and jump in.

Dive 1: Danglebens Pinnacles. Max Depth: 76ft. Dive Time: 62 mins. Temp: 81F

The dive site  comprised of a series of 5 pinnacles that were easily circumnavigated in a single dive. Almost immediatly we were blown away by the sheer volume of huge barrel sponges as well as the variety of other colourful sponges, whip corals and vivid crinoids. The health and vitality of the reef was stunning and was complemented with abundant fish life. There were schools of smaller reef fish, numerous smooth trunk fish and moray eels galore. Every nook and cranny seemed to reveal huge arrow crabs and banded coral shrimp. 

The dive time passed in the blink of an eye and set a high bar for our future dives.

 

Dive 2: L'Abym (the abyss). Max Depth: 57ft. Dive Time: 60 mins. Temp: 81F

The dive (as the name suggests) started off as a sheer wall dive, not as impressive as our first dive, but impressive none the less. Our guide continued to delight with his ability to hunt out macro life, an early highlight being a juvenile 'pea' trunk fish. Then the main reason that Dominica hit my radar - frogfish, not one, not two but three of them :). The remaining 15 minutes were spent cruising the top of the reef whilst incorporating our safety stop (bonus).

A great first day of diving and back on the dock at 12:30 ! 

We decided to walk into Roseau centre (with hindsight not the best thing to do in the mid day sun). The lodge is on the edge of town and the walk takes you through a poor neighbourhood which can initially feel a little intimidating.  Alot of the buildings are ramshackle in nature with metal corrugated roofs, homes are interspaced with businesses and small stores and bars, stalls selling locally grown fruits and vegetables line the roadside and traffic whizzes by as you step on and off the roadside. There is evidently alot of poverty and we encountered a number of beggars.  All that said the locals are friendly, engage them with a 'hello' and they break into a genuine smile, greet you in return and often welcome you to their country.  The area is poor but there is an obvious pride here, little rubbish lines the streets, there was an absense of stray dogs and animals I saw were not ill treated.   The shacks give way to more substantial buildings before finally reaching the town itself.

The town is a whole seperate experience, a heady mix of sights, sounds and smells; a hive of activity and daily life.  We wandered into a local eatery to get out the sun, had a fresh juice and fresh tuna and salad to fill a gap.  Whilst I was using the ATM someone queried another persons place in the queue. His response was 'behind the white guy'. I thought this was a very sensible way of identifying who he was behind (as I was the only white person there) and took no offense. With all our out of control political correctness can you imagine the outcry if the roles had been reverse back home ? Wandering completed we headed for home and chilled on the balcony with a rum punch or three.

The heat and rum punches conspired to leave us with no energy to walk back into town for food, so stayed at the lodge, and enjoyed a tasty carrot and ginger soup, followed by catch of the day  (red snapper).

 

Our second full day started off with another hearty breakfast, todays juice was tamarind which had a real tart/sweet taste (Juice became one of the highlights of our trip, so will be mentioned daily !).

It was time to dive again, shock, horror, we had to share the boat with one other diver !

Dive 3: Witches Point (La Sorciere). Max Depth: 66ft. Dive Time: 57 mins. Temp: 81F

Another beautiful wall dive with the same volumes of sponges. The highlight of the dive was a beautiful yellow frogfish, then the icing on the cake was when I spotted a small black seahorse. What a bonus.

Dive 4: Champagne Reef. Max Depth: 58ft. Dive Time: 62 mins. Temp: 81F.

The dive site gets its name from the bubbles within the shallows which are produced from underwater hot springs. A relaxing shallow dive. A nice shallow reef, the highlight though was the sea grass under the boat and subsequent sandpatch in which we found a huge mantis shrimp, several gold spotted eels and Josies best find of the trip a partially buried snake eel. 

Back on land and after a quick snack (creole fish wrap) we jumped aboard one of Anchorage dive centre boats for an afternoon of whale watching (www.anchoragehotel.dm). Dominica is well known for its resident sperm whales (largest toothed whale on the planet) with year round tours taking place, so we crossed our fingers.  The trip was 3 hours in total, they have a rough idea of where the whales are and once at that location they lower a hydrophone into the water to assist in the locating and listening to the whales.  They listen for a 'clicking' sound (imagine clicking your fingers and thats the sound), the direction and loudness then allows for better pinpointing where the whales are.  The sound of the whales sends a shiver down your spine (and was actually the highlight of the trip for me). Then its a case of looking for 'spouts' or 'whales breath' ( its actually a stream of warm air being forced out the whales lungs), at which point the Captain or crew theatrically shout 'there she blows' and head in the direction of the spout in the hope of catching a glimpse of the whale before in descends into the deep.

After a couple of spouts that were too far away to reach we came upon a mother and calf which we watched for a few minutes - sadly the boat was poorly positioned so the sun glare was directly in our eyes.  Another couple of whales were briefly seen, but that was our lot.  Having been spoilt by spending quality time with humpback whales both in the Turks and Caicos and Alaska we both came away a little dissappointed, having barely glimpsed there, I do appreciate that for some people its a real experience, for us its was a little boring (and expensive).

We ate the evil, villainous, invasive lion fish that evening and felt very sanctimonious about it ! 

 

It was already day 3; juice of the day was soursop. Today was a land based day with a guide who went by the name of 'Pepper' (www.sweetdominica.com). He had an impressive rating on tripadvisor, was very prompt with correspondance, even meeting up with us on the previous evening to introduce himself and talk about our plans and arrived dead on time !

We had agreed upon an introduction to the island day, with a mixture of sightseeing and walking - and we were off ! We drove through Roseau; a good place to get freshly made juices and local cuisines were duly pointed out, and then onto the Botanical gardens. The gardens are the largest green space within Roseau, covering 40 acres and to a degree reminded me of an English Park (well apart from the weather and more exotic flora and fauna !); it was beautifully laid out and maintained, complete with cricket pitch and a place of real serenity. The oddity of the gardens was a reminder of the catastrophic hurricane that hit the islands in 1979 - a yellow school bus that was crushed beneath a falling giant Baobab. The bus was brand new, had never been used and was totally flattened. It, along with the tree remained as a bizarre testimony to the destructiveness that was Hurricane David.

We continued up into the mountains towards 'freshwater lake', which is high in the rainforest and the basis for Dominicas hydro electric scheme. The higher we drove (eventually reaching the highest driveable point on the island) the cooler it became, and the mists started rolling in shrouding the views. Arriving at the lake we stretched our legs and took the hour long trail around the lake, enjoying both the sounds of the birdlife and the breathtaking views (as and when the mist cleared). We were grateful for the mist and cooler airs as there was no real protection during the walk and I am sure it would be hell on a cloudless/mist free day.

Back in the van and we were off to Middleham Falls, an hours roundtrip walk through pristine rainforest ending at a beautiful 200ft waterfall. Once again Pepper was a font of knowledge and information, pointing out every plant and tree along the way, talking about the history of the island and the Caribs, who originally (and still) inhabit the island. It was infact a little too much talking as everytime you started to enjoy the solitude of the rainforest (we met no other people during any of our walks) Peppers booming voice would interrupt, that and his constant answering of his phone - now I know why he was so prompt with his responses. It wasn't too bad and I know some people would love his approach, but it slightly took the edge off the day :(

Final stop for the day was Trafalgar Falls, an easy 10 minute paved walk (cruise ship suitable !) ending in twin waterfalls. Leading us off the trail we were taken to some natural hot springs where we jumped in and relaxed over a coconut rum punch (nice touch).

That evening we were feeling a little livelier and so headed back into town, eating a tasty (and cheap) ital stew (authentic rastafarian dish) at the Reggae Lounge.

 

The juice of the day - passionfruit ! The plan of the day - well that was meant to have been canyoning (rappelling down and jumping off waterfalls), but a fuck up at their end meant that was not going to happen. Whilst disappointed as we love to try out new stuff, it meant we could do an extra days diving and guess what - we were again the onlt two divers :)

Dive 5: Scotts Head  Drop-off. Max Depth: 66ft. Dive Time: 63 mins. Temp: 81F

A one way drift dive along a stunning wall, adorned with soft sponges and gorgonian fans. huge numbers of small fish, a beautiful orange frogfish and a turtle to round off the dive.  The last 15 mins or so were spend cruising in the shallows on top of the wall. Stuff you canyoning people !

Dive 6: Point Guignard. Max Depth: 52ft. Dive Time: 67 mins. Temp: 81F

A relaxing final dive, again a one way dive ending at Champagne. A gentle sloping reef with a swim through and cave (turtle resting inside) and our final seahorse of the trip.  A great way to end our diving in Dominica.

Back on the dock we headed into town, stopping off for a juice at the 'juiceman' - a local guy with boxes of fruit, a cooler of ice and a blender ! For the equivalent of $2 we had a juice comprising of carrot, banana, pineapple, mango and papaya. Truly tasty. With our thirst quenched we headed to a local eatery that Pepper had pointed out the previous day, where I tucked into a chicken roti, its essentially a flatbread stuffed with a curried mix of potato and chicken. Cheap, tasty and it seems to be the equivalent of fast food in this part of the world.

Another tough afternoon of chilling, then we went to a mexican restaurant called ZamZam which was just down the road from us, the food was suprisingly good !

 

It was already our final full day in Dominica and the final breakfast juice was a local cherry.  We had planned on Pepper taking us on the 7 hour hike to the boiling lake (Considered to be a must do hike provided you have the necessary fitness), unfortunately Josie had twisted her knee and so a long hike was out of the question. Instead Pepper put together a backup tour of the island, combined with a few easier walks.  Our day included some of the lesser visited waterfalls - Emerald Pool, Jacko falls and Spanny falls; a trip to mero black sand volcanic beach and a stop off at Scottshead (a strip of land with the Atlantic on one side and Caribbean sea on the other). The sights were all enjoyable, the highlight of the day though was the journey around the island; spectacular scenery and so much roadside produce - mangos were literaly falling off the trees and onto the roadside - a real reminder of natures abundance.

The evening was spent watching England once again fail to perform in the World Cup, losing to Italy. 

The following morning saw us heading back to the airport where we encountered a 2 hour delay, arriving in Puerto Rico with little time to spare it was onto the Dominican Republic and then onto the Turks and Caicos.

The trip has given us a small taste of what now lies on our doorstep, the question is not whether we will head back, but which of the 28 Caribbean countries (comprising of more than 700 islands) to visit next.

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