Having traveled to remote locations in the pacific where men wear penis sheaths, kids have no shoes but have cell phones, to islands in the Caribbean where the hair style is dreadlocks, homes are made of plywood and sheets of aluminum siding but inside are 40 inch television sets, I have learned that people are the same all over the world. The difference is our culture, environment and the creature comforts that are available.
Dominica should not be confused with the Dominican Republic, and is located not far from St. Marteen in the Caribbean. Getting there is not that much fun as their are not many options, and the airport is a 90 minute drive from the area where most tourism takes place.
I stayed at the Anchorage Hotel in Roseau. I arrived at 9:30 PM, having traveled 35 hours. At first look it seemed old but quaint. The room plan I had included breakfast and unlimited shore diving. It had its own dock making it easy for dive and whale watching boats to pick up and drop of guests.
I have to say the bed was firm and comfortable. The sound of the ocean lapping agains the sore was so soothing and relaxing that I never turned on the music in my I-pad. The room also had working a/c, a power adapter, t.v., and an internet cable to hook up your computer. That’s the good news.
Here is the bad. The the shower head sprayed water in a wide pattern that no matter where you pointed the thing, some water shot out over the top of the shower onto the floor . Thank goodness a towel was all that was needed to clean up after each shower. The toilet seat was at least 30 years old and seemed ready for replacement. On the second day, I requested a burnt out light bulb changed in my room. Perhaps it was ordered and a boat was bringing it from somewhere far away. I checked out 14 days later and the bulb was still out.
Breakfast was served at 7:15 Am each day. However, the staff did not actually take food orders until 7:45 with food not coming out of the kitchen till 8:00. As we had a boat charted and were leaving everyday at 8AM, we had no alternative but to enjoy cereal with bananas or pineapple each morning.
I was in Dominica not to critique the hotel but to do 8 days of whale watching and four days of scuba diving. However since I started it I might as well finish my critique of the hotel. The management needs to provide its staff the tools and equipment (proper dive gear and light bulbs) to do their jobs. I would stay their again for about 1/2 the price. I put value on a good bed and internet access. The staff was friendly and courteous.
Dominica is unique in that it has a resident population of Sperm Whales and some of the most colorful sponges in the world. I was on a permitted project that allowed us to snorkel with the whales. The goal was to photograph social behavior amongst the whales. The permit was for 2 weeks however I joined for just the second week. Of course the week before I arrived the group had encounters with five whales demonstrating social behavior.
The trip was organized by Clark Miller. He worked with Izzy who acted as a representative of from the fisheries dept in Dominica to secure the permit, boat, captain, guide, and hotel. With all the boat troubles that transpired, Clark worked very hard. Usually, I am the one that has to deal with engine & other problems. Not on this trip. Clark handled everything. So it seems fitting his efforts were rewarded with a few good encounters with the whales.
The Captain of the boat was Jerry. He is also known as Dominica’s whale whisperer. Indeed, Jerry seemed very capable,and knew what to do. Too bad his boat needed constant attention. As a result of engine issues, a few days of our whale watching time ended early in order to fix the boat. This is the typical stuff that happens on a remote island.
Izzy was on the boat to represent the Fisheries department. It was very clear to us that both Izzy and Jerry knew what they were doing, and were trying their best to find the behaviors we were looking for. A the same time as wild life photographer I understand there are three rules in define what we do. Rule #1 – no guarantee the whales will show up. Rule #2 – No guarantee the whales will hang out should they appear. Rule # 3- See Rule number # 1
I met Izzy back in 1998, when I was a dive master and photo pro on a liveaboard in Palau. It was good being on the same boat again. Izzy, has a great sense of humor that is sometimes masked in satire. He made me laugh, and on a few nights we had dinner together. Izzy is actually a good cook, too bad he is not a good whale herder.
By the end of our permit I created a few images but overall, was not satisfied. Wild life photographers always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. So, I focused on scuba diving. From everything I had been told Dominica, featured a variety of Sponges and the most colorful diving in the Caribbean.
Since the hotel had a dive boat I booked four days of boat diving. As it turns out the first day the boats dive master had worked 9 days in a row and was in need of a day to off gas nitrogen. So no boat dive. I ended up doing a shore dive which was not bad at all. I enjoyed seeing a lot of eels, crabs, shrimps, scorpion fish, and sponge.
Not wanting to miss another day of boat diving, I made arrangements to dive with Dive Dominica the next day. That night I went out for dinner and upon return the manager told me that she had arranged a special boat dive and asked me to cancel the dive with the other company. I said thanks for going to the trouble and canceled the dive next door.
The next morning, I showed up at the scheduled time and the captain had indeed set up the boat. The problem was no dive master showed up. We were told the dive master was on the way, but by lunch time I had enough and did another shore dive. The condition of the rental dive gear was such that in order to make one working regulator, I had to take parts from four. This was a great reminder to always travel with my regulator.
I saw a lot of moray eels on the dive and could not get the song we used to sing on the diveboat in Maui that we used to sing to tourists during the dive briefings. “If you put your hand in a crack and dont get it back – That’s a Morray!
That afternoon I told the manager what happened and she assured me that the next two days the boat would go out. And, it did. I have to say that it was good to dive. Just being underwater in a new place was exciting. True to Dominicas reputation the sponges were impressive, and ever-present. One of the sites had a cave and a swim through. Both had a fair amount of red soldier fish.
On the last day I went on a land tour with Izzy. We went to Sultoon, a place not yet on any tourist map. The trail was difficult but the views were worth it. The rain forrest and streams were impressive. Even though it dumped rain on us, the day was incredible.
Dominica is known as the Nature Island, and with so many beautiful hikes, scenic views, rivers, and waterfalls it deserves its reputation. I really enjoyed my time in the rain forrest. Rarely does a location live up to its hype. In terms of nature, Dominica exceeded my expectations.
In the image below Izzy is setting up to make a picture of new location we found by following a stream bed. It was a lot of fun trekking around with a tripod looking for scenic locations to make photographs.
In the end, I found Dominica to be a beautiful place with friendly people. I felt comfortable going around my myself with a lot of camera gear and found one incredible local restaurant called the Fish Pot. The place had no sign. It was a few sheets of 4 x 8 plywood put together. They only offered fish caught that day, and you could have only fried or seamed fish. It was affordable and tasty. So good, I went three times.
Businesses in Dominica for the most part deliver what they promise. Problems with charter companies, dive staff, equipment, & engines do occur. This is typical of developing countries and as long as people that travel there have patience, sense of humor, and trip insurance they will enjoy their time on this Caribbean island. I would return to Dominica to enjoy the nature. It really is a beautiful place.