Most days at Seamester are awesome; today was epic. At 8 this morning we ferried ourselves across the small gap between Ocean Star and the dock with an improvised dinghy-ferry system that involved tow lines and counterweights. Though I felt a bit like a soul being transported across the River Styx, I knew that we were going to the land of fruit and waterfalls (tomorrow’s when we head to the sulphurous Underworld-like Valley of Desolation, but that’s a story for another day). Wearing swimsuits under their clothes, with provisioning bags in hand, and unsure what adventures the day would bring, shipmates climbed into the two taxis waiting for them at the road. Our drivers and guides for the day were Sea Cat, a longtime friend of Ocean Star and a well-known character on the island, and his buddy Gordon. Before we could leave colorful Roseau and head for the hills, we had to buy bread for snacks. “Hmm, I’ll see what I can do,” Gordon said. “It’s a holiday here, and you can’t get bread on a holiday.” As he took our money and headed into the bakery to work some magic, we were feeling a bit defeated. Having just left Martinique where All Saints Day seemed to drag on for days resulting in closed shops, deserted streets, and abandoned taxis, we were not thrilled about arriving in Dominica during a holiday. But Gordon returned with armfuls of warm, sweet-smelling baguettes, and explained. November 3 is Dominica’s Independence Day, an event that is celebrated for days…weeks even. Today was Community Service Day. Instead of quiet, empty streets, some of the island’s residents were beautifying the roadsides as others were enjoying each others’ company, and children were playing in front yards. Having obtained the elusive bread, we headed north along the coast, driving on wide, flat well-maintained roads built by Chinese workers (China has given gifts and loans to Dominica and several other Caribbean islands in exchange for diplomatic ties). Our guides took us inland, past old sugar plantations and over rivers, then pulled off the road and shouted for us to grab provisioning bags. We walked on a muddy track lined with old machinery and chicken and pig pens, wondering where we were headed. Gordon pulled out a machete, and the next thing we knew, two varieties of sugar cane were chopped down and peeled, covered in squeezed lime juice, and presented to us. Chewing the fibrous cane and sucking out the sugary juice…pure heaven. We were lead to a field of citrus trees, with goats wandering about. Sea Cat called for our best climbers, and up the trees they went, throwing down grapefruits, tangerines, and limes into our provisioning bags. Sea Cat wasn’t terribly impressed by our efficiency though, and scrambled up and started raining grapefruit down on us. Several provisioning bags later, we were on our way back down the track. Sea Cat and Gordon pulled over countless times on our nine hour tour, jumped out of the vans, and picked us fruits and nuts, leaves and bark, and thrust them through the windows at us. We tasted the sweet, white, mucilaginous pulp inside cacao pods and smelled nutmeg, admiring its lacy red mace coating. Handfuls of lemongrass and a piece of cinnamon tree bark were passed around. Stops were made for starfruit, passion-fruit, sweetsop, papaya, and jelly (green coconuts filled with water). We bought bread-nuts boiled in salt water from a woman selling them along the side of the road. On the east side of the island we entered the Carib territory–the area where Dominica’s native people now live. We stopped at a cassava bread bakery and watched the workers drying cassava in a huge metal bowl over a flame. In the bakery we sampled the warm cassava-coconut flat-breads, buying fresh ones wrapped in aluminum foil to take on the road. High above the sea, Carib women had souvenir stands and took delight in selling us handmade necklaces made of local seeds and household ornaments carved out of coconuts. We stopped for a late morning snack in the front yard of someones home where Sea Cat and Gordon served up tastes of fresh jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, and ripe avocado on giant leaves. For dessert, a batch of chocolate paste was mixed up and thrown onto the back of our hands for us to lick off. Most of us agreed that the second batch–which contained sugar–was more palatable than the pure roasted cacao. As if we needed more food, we stopped for lunch at an Atlantic black sand beach. Sea Cat’s van rolled up after ours, his shipmates running out like mythical savages with orange fruit-based warpaint on their faces. After stretching our legs and admiring the stunning scenery, it was time for the waterfalls. The first stop was Emerald Pool, a beautiful hidden cascade surrounded by deep green foliage. We climbed behind the waterfall and splashed in the icy pool at the base. Trafalgar Falls was the last stop. We could see the majestic twin falls from the road as we were driving in. An easy 15 minute walk later, we were looking up at the water cascading from the jungle above us. Several of the shipmates followed Sea Cat as he guided them, scrambling over boulders, to the base of the thundering falls. As they swam in the pool surrounded by tiny misty rainbows, the more languid members of our group found the natural hot springs tucked in the forest near the trail. We lay back in the warm water, looked up at the tree ferns outlined against the sky, and listened to the water gurgling around us. For those few minutes, we were at complete peace with no worries in the world. All too soon, it was time to depart. Back on board, Kris and Nick had started cooking us a delicious shrimp dinner, and then we ended the evening with an Oceanography class. Exhausted, full of fruit, and anticipating the long day ahead of them tomorrow, everyone is heading to bed early. Good night from Ocean Star, here in Roseau, Dominica.
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