I’m going to start this blog by saying this. It’s been 27 hours since our last meal. In that span of time, the following has occurred:
-A flight from Antigua to Dominica
-A car wreck
-My tailbone injured
-Getting a new rental car
-Completely changing our plans so we can find wifi and food
-Being denied food, but getting wifi so we can call insurance about the wreck
-Going to a grocery store that was all “store” and no “grocery”- not even a loaf of bread
-Searching and not finding any food
-Driving through INSANELY gorgeous country with INSANE drivers
-Going on 3 hikes, totaling about about 2.5 miles
-Snorkeling off the beach
-My camera is still cursed from the man on the donkey in Antigua and only taking blurry pics. Any clear ones on this blog were taken by a phone.
-Finally finding food
So yeah, it’s been a busy 27 hours, and the day didn’t even end when we finally found food! Let’s discuss, shall we? But before we get started, pronunciation lesson. It’s Dah-mah-NEE-kuh. Not Doh-men-EE-kuh. Think dominos, not Dominican Republic. Having a hard time getting right? Don’t worry, I say it right maybe every 3rd time! 😂
So we woke up at 4:30am to leave Kerry and Charmaine’s house and headed for the airport. The street lights along the road were all red- so they wouldn’t disturb any nesting turtles or hatchlings! That’s so awesome! Dropped off the car in the parking lot, got our boarding passes, and left at 6am.
Landed in Dominica at 6:40am, ready for adventure!! Easy getting through immigration, headed for our rental car. They weren’t there yet, so we waited until about 7:20 (pick up time was 7am). Did all of the paperwork for the Suzuki 4 wheel drive, put our stuff in, and got ready to hit the road! First order of business, turn off the ac and roll down the windows. Except Brian’s window wouldn’t roll down….unacceptable. Went back in and the lady just took us to another car, without redoing the contract, and gave us a Rav 4. Not a 4 wheel drive, but the windows worked so we were good to go. Hit the road, take 2!! They drive on the left here, just like Antigua. This is not an issue for Brian, who has driven on the left in Malaysia, South Africa, Malta, and in Antigua all day yesterday. He’s driven on the left immediately after 20+ hour air travel. He’s driven on the left with a manual after 30+ hour air travel! In other words, he’s got this. We follow google maps out of the airport. The roads are narrow, pretty much exactly like in Antigua. The difference being that everyone here drives like their ass is on fire. Fast and erratic!! We came around a blind curve (there are lots of those in Dominica- way more than any other type of road), and a van was barreling toward us at mach speed in the middle of the road. Because that’s where they all drive- the middle. Not interested in the Dominican version of chicken, Brian eased over slightly more to the left to give the van more room. BAM!!!! The car jumped up in the air and somehow Brian managed to avoid us flipping over as he maneuvered to a stop on the grass. I poked my head out the open window. The tire and rim were mangled. What the hell had just happened?! We had no idea!! We looked back, and there was a god damned cement curb about 3 feet long on the side of the road behind some tall grass. We had hit it. We were in shock at what had just happened! What the hell do we do? Well, I guess we send the car rental lady a WhatsApp message, because literally we weren’t much more than a mile from the airport. But of course, I had zero signal. Let me stop here to give an announcement to all T-Mobile customers. You will rarely have a signal ANYWHERE in Dominica. It’s the worst of any country I’ve ever been to- including the depths of Borneo. So we’re standing there, dumb founded, with vans and trucks whizzing by us. The only thing to do was lock it all up and walk back.
About that time, here comes the rental car lady on her way home. She pulls over and asks if everything’s ok. Uh, wanna see? She was stunned. And this is where things just start to go sideways. She says the collision damage waiver we signed is only for colliding with another vehicle. This wouldn’t be covered. So I asked if it would have been better if we had just hit the van. Her answer? Yes. Jesus. So now we’re kind of freaking out as to what’s going to happen to us. She takes a bunch of pictures, tells us the tow truck will be on the way and we’ll be responsible for the towing fees, plus all of the damages. There’s fluid leaking from the thing as well as the fucked up tire and rim, and god only knows what else. Then she puts us and our stuff in her car to take us back. And as soon as I climb in, this is when I feel a very ouchy pain in my tailbone. The day before we had joked about me making up a new word- shituation. I said I really needed to figure out a way to work that into the blog. Thank you, Universe, for your prompt attention to that matter…
Back to the rental car lot, where she hands us the Suzuki we had refused earlier. We were in no mood or position to argue. From accident time to back on the road time, about 30 minutes. Original plan was to go to Cabrit’s National Park and hike around. What we needed though were two things: wifi to contact American Express and Geico for how to handle the insurance situation and FOOD. We decided to detour to Portsmouth instead. Drove through some AMAZINGLY GORGEOUS country. Rainforest and ocean- just magnificent. But the scenery couldn’t fix the sinking feeling in our guts, or the worsening pain in my tailbone. The hit was on my side of the car. I must have flown up in the seat as much as the seat belt would allow, and came back down hard on some piece of the metal frame in the seat. Got to Portsmouth and even though I was in a city, still barely had a signal. Tried to google “restaurant with wifi” and only came up with one- The Champs- which was also inside of a hotel. Perfect. We headed up narrow, crowded roads until we found the place. With a huge sign outside “Restaurant open to the public at 4pm”. THE FUCK?! We sat in their parking lot trying to eek out enough signal to find somewhere else to go when the owner came out and said our exhaust was filling up her bathroom. We explained the situation and she invited us into the cafe to use the wifi. No food, but Brian got a coffee and I got a juice, and we reported the accident to American Express. Geico only had 800 numbers which wouldn’t work. Of course, the lady never changed the rental contract from the Suzuki to the Rav 4 (which was the one that was wrecked) so trying to give information was interesting…. At least the view was good.
Time to go find FOOD!! It was about 11am, we’re in a city, shouldn’t be a problem. That’s lunchish time, right? WRONG. Not here. Nothing was open. NOTH-ING. Ok, we’ll go to the grocery store. Found an IGA Supermarket. Perfect!! Except there was nothing super about it. There was nothing even slightly super about it. They didn’t even have BREAD!! Which meant our peanut butter went back on the shelf. Seriously, about 40% of the shelves were empty space on every aisle. I grabbed a can of cheese Pringles, declared that I didn’t give a damn how much those imported crunchy saddle shaped pieces of love and stress relief cost, and those- along with a big jug of water and some bananas- concluded our shopping trip.
Dejected and starving, we decided to just skip Cabrits, find a beach restaurant along the way (google showed lots of them!!), and take the Northern Link Highway toward some kind of scenic overlook thing I found on Maps.me and some bat cave thing that popped up as well- as these were things in the general direction of our Airbnb. Came to the first restaurant- obviously closed. 2Nd, 3rd, 4th…closed, closed, closed. One had promise!! It showed as open on google!! It wasn’t right on the road, so we couldn’t see without driving back. Awesome looking little beachfront place! Yay food! Got out, walked around, and…..closed. Saw a sign- closed Thursdays and Sundays. Today was…Thursday. Fuck our luck. Found another restaurant a bit down the road, there was a guy outside!! We pulled in, got out- no food for about 45 minutes we were told. It was already noon. Screw it. Onward and outward toward the Northern Link Highway- munching on some beef jerky, pistachios (that Brian could not throw out his window because it didn’t roll down), and of course our Pringles.
We drove through more stunning scenery. The mountains, the jungle, the ocean- it was absolutely breathtaking. The other thing that was breathtaking was the pain in my tailbone every time we hit a bump, which was about every 3.8 inches of pavement on average. We stopped at a place called Cold Souffiere. There was smoke pouring out of the side of the hill a little ways out, which didn’t look like it was cold (#volcanicactivity), but we were here so let’s give it a whirl! Walking was MUCH BETTER on the old hiney than sitting, that’s for sure. A short hike (maybe ¼ of a mile) revealed a dead end into a platform thing and a serious odor of sulfur. The water here was grayish, and it was bubbling ferociously! Boiling, I’d say, from my experience with geothermal activity. But why did it say this was called COLD Soufriere?? Because Brian’s job description for traveling with me includes “touching and picking up anything I don’t want to touch or pick up myself, but am curious about”, I told him to touch it. He’s the “show” to my “tell”. 😁I was fairly positive he’d pull back a boiled finger, which would allow him to suffer along on this trip with me and my butt. But no! It was…COLD WATER!! Just bubbling from air seepage, not heat. Super interesting!
Back to the car and off to the next stop- Thibauld Bat Cave. We literally had no idea what this was other than a named icon on a map that sounded cool. Pulled into town, praying for food. What do atheists get when they pray? Probably the same thing as religious folk. And in this case, a solid helping of DENIED. Fine. Bats. Where the hell are they? Are they edible? We asked an official looking guy who was walking around the sleepy little town, and he told us to park over there, go up the hill, and find the path by the green house. Followed his instructions which lead to a very rocky, but gorgeous coastline. Followed the arrows around to an amazing cave that was full of bats!! HUNDREDS of them flying around! Then I saw this weird looking huge black mound thing toward the back of the cave. Zoomed in and holy crap, it was a mass of THOUSANDS of bats!! Super cool. We both agreed this was one of our most favorite stops of the day!
In every little village we passed through, we looked for a restaurant. None. We were STARVING!! But between us and the next largeish town was a place called Batibou Beach. One of our Airbnb hosts had messaged me and said not to miss it! There was a sign saying $5 US each, but we decided what the heck- you only live once. Parked the car on the highway and decided to walk a little over a half mile to the beach. Because that’s what people who haven’t had a real meal in over 24 hours do… Got down there and WOW!! This is literally a quintessential Caribbean beach!! Beautiful sand, gorgeous cove, palm trees leaning toward the water…just WOW!! Paid the guy $10 and it was worth it. There was a security guard there so you could leave your stuff on the beach while you snorkeled (because the whole 3 other people on the beach might be thieves!!). He said that during busy season, 300-400 people were here each day! So we felt rather fortunate to basically have it to ourselves. I say this is a Caribbean beach, but really, it’s on the Atlantic side, which means pretty rough water. There was a reef just a little ways offshore that we could snorkel too, so decided to do that. As we were walking out, we saw 2 juvenile sharks!! The guy said we might see them, as it’s baby shark season. I was happy that my marine biology knowledge tells me mama sharks could care less about their babies so weren’t hanging around being protective! The snorkeling was pretty eh. Tons of algae, just a couple of corals- although I did see a Ricordea mushroom that got me all excited! Plus, with the waves, the visibility was pretty poor, maybe 8 feet if that, and it was really difficult to swim over the reef. We turned back, took a stroll down the beach, then decided to go find FOOD!!
We had to pass back by this morning’s crime scene- the scene where my tailbone was traumatized! Car was gone. I seriously suggested maybe we just go to the airport and eat, because there HAD to be food there!! As we rounded the corner, we saw a little local restaurant. We didn’t care what they were serving. We didn’t care how much it cost. We stopped and went in. This was a VERY local place, right next to the airport. There were 3 choices- fish broth, lentil soup, or something I’d never heard of, peleau. She showed us each. The peleau looked the most like “stick to your ribs because who knows when you’ll ever eat again” food- rice and chicken. We took 2, plus one coconut water and one tamarind (maybe that’s how you spell it??) juice. There was so much food we could have easily shared one plate, even as hungry as we were!! Like $5.50 each- not bad! With full bellies, we headed off toward Kalinago territory for our airbnb!
So when I’m looking for an airbnb, I tend to look for three things- something unique, super cheap, and wifi. Usually the “unique” is the first causality of my searches. In this case, I was willing to go without wifi for 2 nights to stay in this crazy cool airbnb for an experience like no other- and for only $15 a night! It was called Floating Bed in the Trees…and it was owned by a Kalinago man named Denus. It was also across a river- with no bridge…just a zip line!! Normally zip lines are not my ideal mode of transportation, but from the pictures it looked pretty low to the ground (water), so I figured I could handle it. The directions were confusing (just for us- most likely because we were already so addled from the days events!!). We drove back and forth in the wrong place for a long time, because the GPS showed it in one place and we could not find the landmarks Denus described (literally a roots sign, a yellow container, a blue bin, and a parking sign- this is how addresses are done!). Finally, after driving back and forth in front of the same locals half a dozen times, we decided to stop and ask. Got directions, we hadn’t gone far enough and google maps had the wrong place pinned (shocking, but true story #eyeroll #lovehategooglemaps).
Of course, I had no signal to let them know I was there, so we kind of stood on the opposite side of the bank, hoping someone might see us. We then decided to walk down the little path. And that’s when I saw it. The zip line. Oh my god, it looked like something put together by 10 year old boys with no sense of mortality, using stuff they found in the trash. There was this blue piece of plastic that you were supposed to sit in- kind of like a piece of plastic tarp. And it looked like one false move and you would flip right out of it, plummeting to your death on the rocks about Let’s stop here a minute. There is plastic tarp all over this country. It was devastated by category 5 Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Tarp covers so many roofs still. Tarps that say “USAID” or “SAMARITAN’S PURSE”- organizations donating these tarps so people literally have some kind of roof over their head. Almost 2 years out, and that tarp is still their roof. It’s heartbreaking.
A woman appears on the other side and shouts, “Mary!”. And starts sending over the zip line. I’m telling Brian I just want to cross through the river. If you read this blog, you know I DON’T do heights (even though I always end up doing heights on every freaking vacation somehow…). I was trying to figure a way out of this situation (shituation? There’s 2), when the plastic tarp chair o’ death stopped in the middle of the river. The lady then disappears and reappears on our side. Something is wrong with the zip line (someTHING? Just from looking at it I could have named multiple someTHINGS!). Anyway, bullet dodged, we were crossed on foot. Her name was Nefertari, and she was beautiful and had this really cool peaceful vibe. We all held hands and crossed the swiftly flowing river without incident. She showed us to our hut- literally a wooden platform built into the side of a hill, surrounded by rainforest, covered with aforementioned relief tarps, with a mattress inside on the floor covered with mosquito net. She brought us some sugar cane to sample, and it was such a treat- especially since I had just visited the plantation yesterday and learned all about it! The sticks were SO juicy and refreshing! I did a little video for my students about it.
We were wiped from the day’s traumas and activities. We laid down at 6:30 and went to sleep for like an hour. Woke up, and promptly went back to sleep. The thin mattress was not very comfortable for my tail bone, and I woke up about every hour to adjust, then immediately starting worrying about Brian’s back, then would go back to sleep. It rained hard off and on during the night. What a day!!