Camp Sara Goes South

A lot of the best things to do in Dominica are clustered in the south of the island. But in the COVID era, the coast guard didn’t want visiting boats to move around, so Villa was stuck in Prince Rupert Bay. But it’s a long drive down to Roseau, so the crews of Villa and Due, collectively Camp Sara, decided to stay down south for a couple of days. We found an eager crew of young ladies to babysit for Captain, and set off to do some traveling. First stop, Trafalgar Falls, a double waterfall near Ti Tou Gorge that’s clearly set up to receive buses of cruise ship passengers, now absent.

Then down to Roseau for lunch at Cat5, a California-style taqueria named in honor of Hurricane Maria, which also serves cocktails and occasionally dabbles in sushi.

Lunch, now unsurprisingly, took a good long while, so we headed down to our first night’s stop in Scott’s Head. We arrived with a bit of time to kill, so we took the walk up the hill at the end of the island, which featured sweeping views of the bay and the occasional posted history lesson. Apparently the island changed hands many times between the English and French. On one notable occasion, French locals drank with the English guards on duty, leaving the defensive cannons unmanned and clearing the way for the French assault. Also, my series of “Jazz and Sara Take the Same Picture” continues.”

Our AirBnB, the Midway Cottage, featured a perilous-feeling driveway which I’m sure was actually quite safe, and what I thought was a pretty striking mural in which a lady shows her annoyance at being disturbed.

We caught a lovely sunset as we waited for takeout at Chez Wen, one of two restaurants currently open in town. We brought the food back to the house and had a pretty acceptable meal, accompanied by wine we chilled in a big cook-pot of ice water. (Our first choice of chilling vessel, a “crystal” vase which the men in the group decided to use over the ladies’ protests, proved to be unwise.)

Then we woke up in the morning and had a slow but veggie-laden breakfast at the other restaurant, Roger’s. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to shred carrots and cucumber for a breakfast salad, but you know, it actually worked. The Christmas mugs were also a charming touch.

Our real reason for coming down to Scott’s Head was that it’s right next to Soufriere, home of Nature Island Diving. Due had been in touch with them, and it looked like conditions were going to be good to dive Scotts Head. The southernmost tip boasts the best diving on the island, but is often inaccessible due to strong currents where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. We got lucky in the morning, and arrived at the Crater’s Edge site with great conditions, mostly flat seas and barely any current. And we had a wonderful dive, with big schools of fish and interesting corals wrapping around a set of pinnacles.

And then the current picked up pretty suddenly, and a set of simultaneous mishaps sent us back to the surface. I blew through most of my air fighting out of the current, Jazz knocked her mask off trying to switch to her Air2 to share air with me (so we could stay down longer), and Marc’s tank fell out of his BCD. The instructor sent me up to the line to start ascending and turned to help Marc, whereupon Jazz, newly restored to vision, proceeded to mistake a diver in the other group for our instructor and dive down to find him. Meanwhile the current is quickly building up… so that was a bit of a mess, but we all made it back to the line and then to the boat with air in our tanks and happy dive computers. We retreated to a more protected wall for our second dive, and then back to the dive shop, which served delicious Lionfish sandwiches in glorious (if unwise-in-retrospect) sunshine.

We met up with WyRow again at the somewhat nonplussing Bubble Beach Spa, which turns out to be a sandbagged-off beach-side pool. Hot gasses bubble up through the sand and heat the water, which at low tide can get borderline painful. But the guy who runs it makes decent rum punches for EC$5. We tried to stay in the shade, but ended up putting an extra layer on our sunburns anyway.

The pull of sunshine and rump punch delayed our lunch plans until almost dinner. We made it to Roseau, and had a nice sunset as we waited interminably at the Hi Rise Beach Bar for our food, forgettable aside from a truly impressive veggie-burger. (The restroom doors were also notable.)

Then the two parties parted ways, and Camp Sara drove up to Woten Waven along roads unknown to Google Maps, to find the Ti Kwen Glo Cho ecolodge. We’d visited for the sulfurous hot springs, which did not disappoint. The hottest pool is just on the pleasant side of scalding, and features a cold springwater shower just a few feet away, so you can dip back and forth for that confused-skin tingle. And they keep the pools unlit, so you can sit and look up at the stars.

The rooms are minimal, double-sized bunk beds with some of the thinnest walls we’ve experienced, but if you’re spending time in your room you’re at the wrong place. Also, the bar sports one of the more impressive collections of bush rum we’ve run across. (Have I talked about bush rum? Base, unflavored rum is cheap to buy in bulk in Dominica, so most bars buy in quantity and infuse it with any number of things. These can vary from single ingredients, like ginger or rosemary, to complex blends of spices and fruit juices, often with provocative names. Sometimes the ingredients get even more exotic; we’ve seen snakes, lizards, and plenty of marijuana.)

Jazz and I got up in the morning and took another dip in the baths, which turned out to be lovely by daylight as well. The bathtub is fun, though we didn’t stay long as it’s not as hot as the hot pool. Also amusing, the menagerie of assorted animals.

But we couldn’t linger long, because we had a reservation to go whale watching. So we roused the family that runs the hotel, which took a surprisingly long time, so we could pay up. And we headed back down the mountain towards Roseau for a quick breakfast at Le Petite Paris, a little hole-in-the-wall cafe serving the only decent croissants we’ve had on the island. (Though, as intimated previously, their chocolate is not tempered and melts at a stern glance.)

Dominica is famous for the pod of sperm whales that live on its leeward side year-round, so on any given day, you’ve got a good chance of seeing these animals. Apparently it’s easier when there are more tourists, because all the whale-watching boats can fan out to find the pod, and coordinate via radio. Today, it was just us and a team of scientists, and though both were armed with hydrophones, it took a couple of hours to pin them down. The captain refused to give up, though, so we sat in the sun with our sunburns, becoming increasingly delirious. Andrew may or may not have spent the whole time inserting whale lyrics into a groan-inducing series of pop songs. “Stacey’s whale.. has got a giant tail…”

Once we did (and of course Jazz was the first to spot them), we closed in, and found a female and youngster, who stayed on the surface and played with the boats for a good fifteen minutes. The scientists, studying the whales’ movements by attaching a 24-hour suction-on tracker, sent a lucky swimmer to snorkel with the playful baby and plant the (harmless) device.

Back at the fishing dock, we took a commemorative photo with a whale mural, and returned to Petite Paris for another excellent meal. (I’m not entirely clear on how lasagna and paella constitute French food, but I’m not complaining.)

We drove back to the boats to check in with the cat, and relax from all that adventuring. Then after a late morning, we took off to do it again. This time, we drove down to Zep Zeppis, which we had been told was the best food on the island. We confirm this assessment: I’m not sure whether to call it French-inspired Caribbean or vice versa, but the place would be packed in any major city I’ve lived in. The owner also makes a rum from sea grapes, which he offered in lieu of port, and which was both interesting and delicious. We had a long lunch, but for once it was in the good way where everything is worth savoring.

Right around the corner is Emerald Pool, which was a lovely twenty-minute way to walk off some of our excesses. Apparently it’s so named because there’s a time of day when the light hits just right and the water glows. We didn’t hit the timing, but it was still a lovely place.

We also remembered, after laughing about it on every pass, to take this picture on the way back to Portsmouth. There is just so much to love about this sign.

Eventually, Due would get antsy to move on to Statia, so our next trip ended up being the Camp Sara finale. We headed south again, and up into the mountains to hike to Boeri Lake. It’s a bit of a hike, especially on a wet day when the steps get a bit slippery. But the views into the valley are lovely, and on an overcast day, they had a slightly different magic than we were used to. And it was cool to see the clouds blowing across the lake at the top, alternately obscuring and revealing the small peak on the other side. (Apparently you can swim here, though I’d want very different weather.)

A short drive in the opposite direction takes you to Freshwater Lake, also pictured from above on the way down the trail (which added to Andrew’s favorite Jazz and Sara series). Apparently 1) you can swim and rent kayaks, and 2) you need to be careful not to get sucked into the (hydro?) power plant’s intake over the yellow line. I also continue to get a huge kick out of the wooden water pipes we occasionally see.

As it was Sunday, lunch options were limited, even in Roseau. But the Fort Young Hotel, with its automated temperature-screening terminal at the door, was open for business. We opted out of the brunch buffet, which would be populated by green-braceleted Safe in Nature guests, in favor of a table by the water in the deserted bar section. And we were treated to standard hotel-fare burgers, which was actually kind of a nice change, and pina coladas made from actual pineapples.

We drove back to Portsmouth, and gassed up the car for the last time as the sun set over someone’s beachside gym equipment. Another excellent green flash!