Traveling Cleverly Since 2001

on Sunday, February 20, 2011 | 1 comments

I was simultaneously dreading and anticipating our arrival in Dominica. Anticipating because I've read plenty about this garden isle: the high peaks, the verdant landscape, the friendly people. Dreading because I'd signed us up for an activity that was sure to push the boundaries of my comfort zone: Extreme Dominica Canyoning. This is the #1 rated activity on TripAdvisor in Dominica (and there are plenty to choose from), so I swallowed my fear and decided to go for it.

Our room service breakfast was brought to our room around 7:00am, and we used our lovely balcony to watch Dominica come into full view...

As usual, I should have spent less time worrying and more time embracing the fun headed my way. Provided you don't have a paralyzing fear of heights, this is a great activity for anyone in reasonably good shape.***

***Let me clarify what I mean by reasonably good shape. There was a woman in our group who was severely hungover from the day before (as in, passed out and carried back to the ship). She was not an athlete and she hung in with us. Painfully, but still. Apparently they took a group of 70+ year olds the week before. So, it's doable so long as you don't mind some moderate activity.

We met up at the Fort Young Hotel, just a few steps from the ship. We arrived early, so Dave and I sat on the curb and watched Dominica come to life early on a Tuesday morning. Literally, eight out of ten people who passed greeted us, and did so warmly. The Dominicans are a friendly, happy people. Part of me thinks this is because Dominica is extremely difficult to reach and thus sees less tourism than other islands. Part of me thinks it's just their culture. Either way, the friendliness was welcome after our day on St. Kitts.

Truthfully, downtown Roseau leaves a lot to be desired. This isn't the picturesque Caribbean waterfront like Marigot on St. Martin or Charlotte Amalie. Roseau is rough around the edges, a tad worn down, and bustling. But the real beauty of Dominica lies far outside downtown, in nature and the people, so if shopping is your only interest, you might want to stay on the boat. But know that you are missing out on what this island has to offer.

After the nine of us were collected by Richard, owner of Extreme Dominica, we were transported to the Cocoa Cottages where we suited up and practiced rappelling. In case you didn't click on the link above, let me explain: we were getting ready to head deep into a gorge and rappel down waterfalls with about a dozen strangers. I was still edgy at this point, but the practice rappel gave me a good feeling for how secure one is strapped in while rappelling. There is no slack on the rope, so you aren't dangling around; you are fully supported. Here is the rudimentary practice device...

After everyone had a go at the practice rappel, we jumped in the transport and headed about 25 minutes to the gorge. The drive took us through some of the densest foliage I have witnessed. This island rivals Costa Rica in its lushness. Fruit everywhere, flowers everywhere. Nature on steroids.

After we arrived at the gorge, we finished getting suited up. The gear included: a sleeveless wetsuit, an insulating jacket, a secure flotation vest, a helmet and a harness with an absurdly loose diaper over the fanny. At least we looked like we knew what we were doing!

As we lined up to rappel down the first waterfall, I realized I was standing knee-deep in a river in the middle of the Caribbean, letting two complete strangers hook me onto a rope so I could (hopefully) land without incident some thirty feet below. Oy vey.

The guides, Richard, Jeffrey and Natjie (I am sure I spelled that incorrectly) definitely instill confidence in the safety of the operation. There are three safety mechanisms: you, the guide at the top and the guide at the bottom.

There isn't a lot of babying or hand-holding, but consequently people just go with the flow. As Richard told me, "we're not trying to give you a ride, we're trying to get people hooked on canyoning." In my case, success.

We used the helmet cam available for rent in order to get video of our time in the canyon. Consequently, we don't have a ton of still shots from Dominica, but we do have many video clips. We've uploaded a few to You Tube, and I'll share those below.

The trip consists of 5 or 6 rappels, and three cliff jumps. The highest cliff jump is probably 12-15 feet, and is really not scary. After the first rappel and cliff jump, my fear had pretty much dissipated. This was fun. In between rappels, you have to climb and float through the river to get to the next waterfall. The gorge is absolutely beautiful: mist falling down, sun filtering through, green moss coating the canyon walls, and the occasional bat flying overhead. The water was clear and drinkable on most days, though not on our day. As one of our guides reminded me, "there are about 200 people from your ship bathing in the springs at the top of this river." I'll pass, thanks.

Here are videos of two cliff jumps and a rappel. Since lighting in the cavern is fairly dim, video doesn't come out great unless you have a camera with a light... the helmet cam is not equipped with a light, so we did the best we could.

After an awesome couple of hours in the canyon, I realized that what goes down must come... up. Yes, folks, when you descend into the depths of the earth to a place few humans get to see, you must ascend. No one warned me about this part and for some reason this never occurred to me. I'm a bright one. There is a 30-minute hike up, first through a small stream and falls, the over tree roots and muddy terrain. The through a private garden (which looks nothing like the manicured garden you expect) and finally, blessedly, you reach the starting point.

After we returned to Cocoa Cottages, we were provided a homemade lunch: a sandwich with chicken, hummus, cucumber, lettuce and tomato. All accompanied by the most delicious, locally-grown, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice I have ever tasted. Ah Dominica. I love you.

After we all settled our bills, we were driven back to Roseau by Jeffrey and Natjie. Some in our party needed sunglasses, and Dave and I needed to find an internet cafe to contact home and check on our son. Once we arrived in Roseau, Jeffrey and Natjie insisted on not just telling us where we were going, but showing us. Natjie walked us into the depths of town to show us the internet cafe before bidding us farewell. He is a lovely, hospitable person, and the grace and beauty of the Dominican people is with me still. After a very friendly encounter in the internet cafe ($2.50 for an hour of usage! The ship charges $0.65 a minute!), we slowly made our way back to the ship and to the aft bar to bid farewell to Dominica.

We'll be back. I cannot wait to share the beauty of this place with our son. I've heard the Chinese have some large interest in the island and are assisting in the major reconstruction project of the islands' main road. The Chinese government does nothing without ulterior motive, so I'm sure there are economic interests. I just hope this "assistance" doesn't destroy what is one of the Caribbean's best-kept and best-preserved secrets.


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