My crew and I (Alice, Aubrey, Katie, Bruce and I) left St. Kitt’s at 6:30 am on a 41′ catamaran and sailed through the night to Portsmouth, Dominica. Our original plan was to stop in Guadeloupe, but the weather was great, so we decided to keep going South. I’ve never worked on a sailing yacht before, so this was a great trip for me to learn the basics!
We arrived at our anchorage around 8 am the next day. We were greeted by many locals on wooden boats who were selling local tours… all from the same company called PAYS (abbreviated from Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services).
After we cleared customs, we went to shore with our bag of trash. A local greeted us again, told us it was “his job” to carry the trash away…but then insisted on a tip. I only had one $1 and the rest were $20’s. So I handed him the $1, and he told me everyone gives him $2. Confused, I said, “but it’s a tip…?” One of my other crew members found a dollar to give him to get him to go away. Then he tried to sell us some necklaces. This place is full of people hustling!
The five us met up at a bar (of course,) called Sandy’s, and luckily our Captain, Bruce, had some local currency from when he was here a year ago. 3 beers were 18 ECD (Eastern Caribbean Dollar), which is worth about $7. We could tell the bartender was struggling to try and convert the exchange rate when we asked what it would cost in US dollars. This was my first time even hearing about this currency! But apparently this bartender had lived here for about 20 years, so we will just blame it on the fact that he can’t do conversions because he’s French (I kid, I kid!!).
Once we sat down with our beers, yet another tour guide, Daniel, approached us. We were kind of trapped at this point, so we listened to his spiel. For a full day tour, starting at 9 am, is $60 per person. It didn’t seem like a bad deal, but we told him that we would meet up with him later that day to confirm.
We came back to Sandy’s, and sure enough, Daniel was there waiting for us. Our crew agreed that $50 (130 ECD) per person seemed fair, and Daniel said it was ok.
The next morning, a Saturday, two of my crew members, Alice and Aubrey, got up early and went to the market. They came back with some fresh produce and fresh coconut oil. The girls told us that the locals also struggled with the exchange rate when they tried to pay with US dollars, so they ended up getting a little bit ripped off.
A few minutes before 9 am, a boat came and picked us up from our boat and took us to shore.
We were greeted by another guide who we hadn’t met yet. We piled in his passenger van and we started on our journey. The tour was essentially like hiring a taxi for the day that knew all the best spots to take you.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, the history, the locals, you name it! He even showed us a few spots where they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean! Along our drive we even saw a donkey. Apparently his name is December. He really took a liking to me. (Watch the video here.)
Before we got back in the van, our guide grabbed a large coconut and put it in the trunk for later. He then showed us this cool plant that when it is touched, it closes up (watch the video here)! Every once in a while, we would pull over and he would tell us about the medicinal properties of certain plants that we could brew as tea, and he would grab some for us to take home. He showed us other leaves that produced a nice smelling oil, another plant that used to be used for toilet paper and another that could give you “tattoos”.
We then stopped and saw the infamous Red Rock. I’m still not sure what’s so great about it, but it is definitely a rock that is red. I guess the cool part was that volcanic sand ran through some of the cracks of it down into the ocean, and the black sand piled into one part of the beach nearby.
There was also a little cave carved out that you could climb in. When we left the Red Rock area, a very smelly local came out and requested a tip. He said his name was the Red Rock Ranger and he’s from Mars (haha, the red planet, get it??). He takes care of the trails and keeps them clean, unlike his armpits. It’s usually $2 per person, but since we were on a tour it was only $1.
The next stop was to see the “Chocolate Man.” I’m not really a fan of chocolate (I know, I know!!) so I wasn’t excited about this portion of the tour. IT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE TOUR. I’m glad I went. I was so pleasantly surprised that I actually bought some chocolate! A local man started making chocolate out of his house a while back. He showed us the whole process, from the cocoa plant all the way to putting it into the molds!
This is where the beans ferment for a few days.
Here is where they are spread out to dry for about a week.
It then goes into this machine to be further stripped of its outer shell.
Then it gets churned in this cool contraption, in an air conditioned room.
Then, other ingredients can be added in the final stage. Then they are added to molds, refrigerated and packaged.
Here’s all the different flavors he has to offer! He lets you sample any type you want (in hopes you’ll buy some).
I tried the hot pepper (delicious), 80% cocoa with salt, which was an experimental one he was trying (not bad), mint (I bought this one), ginger (also good), and a few others but I was already set on the mint so I didn’t really pay much attention to what he was giving to me at that point, because, like I said, not really a fan of chocolate anyway.
All five of us ended up buying one bar for $6 each. I think it’s a great bargain considering all the work it goes into making it by hand. One batch takes about a month from start to finish to make! We got back in the van, but the Chocolate Man told us he would show us around the rest of his property. He had so many different types of plants! If I ever buy a house, I want my yard to look like his.
We said our goodbyes and headed off in the van once more. We drove for a little bit and then stopped near the airport at a black sand beach. Our guide grabbed the coconut that we found earlier and demonstrated how to open it with some rocks!
Step 1: (watch video)
Step 2: (watch video)
Step 3: (watch video)
At this point it was about 1230 and we were starting to get a bit hungry. Apparently our guide already had an idea of where he was going to take us to eat, but never told us how far it was. He kept going off on side roads to show us more stuff and tiny Carib villages, which was cool, but no one likes a hangry crew member. We drove by a place that sold fresh bread made from cassava (yucca), so we bought some for 5 ECD to hold us over until we got to this mysterious lunch place (this is now at 1:30 pm).
When you walk in, there’s a wall of about 100 different bottles filled with different fruit, veggies, plants, herbs, spices and other mystery substances with funny labels. I guess they are all fermented, because you take them as a shot. The few I tried were disgusting.
We sat down and our server came over and told us our 6 options, 3 of which were chicken. I got the chicken curry. The food came our surprisingly quick considering it’s an island (you know, island time! It’s a real thing!). An appetizer came out of plantain fries and garlic aioli which was actually pretty good, but maybe because at this point my stomach was eating itself.
Our meals came out and our crew had the quietest dining experience thus far. Once we were past the point of being stuffed, our guide told us something else was coming out. Who can say “no” to free dessert? Not this American! I’m not exactly sure what it was, but it was like fried coconut chunks and some sort of cake with fruit in it. Whatever, I needed some sugar to combat my food coma so I could continue on this tour. We each paid about $15 which isn’t bad considering that an appetizer and dessert were included, and the main part of the dish was massive.
The nice thing about this kind of tour is that you can tell the guide what you want to do and what you want to skip. We were going to go to the Emerald pool, but we joked that we liked to swim naked. The guide didn’t really bat an eye, and told us about a different water fall we could go to that wouldn’t be as busy (aka, more private). We all agreed that this seemed like the better option.
It was a $5 entry fee per person (yay, another hidden fee!) It was only about a 10-minute walk to the first waterfall. I was already cold once we got deep into the rainforest, but now I had to get into the pool. I put one foot in and almost backed out immediately. I’m kind of a baby when it comes to cold water. I grew up in Florida, but I won’t get into the ocean until about July or August, you know, when it’s “warm enough.” This pool had to be about 65-70 degrees. I jumped in though because it’s one of those once in a lifetime moments and I didn’t want to regret it later.
There was a rope leading along another trail that would take you up to a second waterfall. I wanted to do it, but I was freezing, and by the looks of the trail, I was wishing I had real shoes with me and not just flip flops. I could have gotten up, but probably not back down.
By this point, we were all pretty exhausted and it was 4:30 pm. We told the guide we were pretty much done for the day. He told us where he was taking us next, which was further South, down to a town called Roseau. We said no, and asked if we could take a different road back that was a short cut. He told us the road wasn’t in good shape at the time (many roads have been destroyed by Hurricane Erika back in August 2015). All I wanted was some warm clothes and a hot shower, but we were in this for the long haul now. We went off on a few more detours, one of which was to Sunset Bay where a cute hotel and restaurant were situated (I’m sure the guide got a cut of whatever we spent in all of these places he brought us), but again, we said no and that we wanted to go home. After one more detour, we made it very clear that we wanted to get back to our boat. We stopped at an ATM, grabbed some cash, and went back to Portsmouth. We tipped our driver, found the boat that was going to drive us back to our boat and called it at night.