Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's Heaven in Les Saintes!

It's been four years since we were last in Les Saintes but we've always thought of it as one of our favorites. And our good friends Benno & Marlena on "Diesel Duck" were joining us there - again! It's been several years since we saw them last (in Shelter Bay, Panama) and since then they've circumnavigated South America. They are one of the few trawlers to round Cape Horn with only a couple on board.

That's "Diesel Duck here with Marlena and Benno on the bow waving to us. This is a seaworthy vessel for sure, but terribly cute too! They completed a world circumnavigation in a sailboat many years ago and then went back to work in Canada for years. There they bought hull #1 of this design and completed the additional work themselves.

They were part of the group that left Georgetown, Bahamas together four years ago and most of whom have stayed friends since:"Dreamtime", "Casa del Mar", and "Neriera" were also part of that flotilla. Marlena & Benno had just spent time with Linda & Ed on "Dreamtime" and we were meeting up with them next in St. Martin.

It was a fast reach sailing from Dominica - a real pleasure! The charming red roofed town on the largest of the island group circles a well protected harbor. This is a real fisherman's town and hundreds of colorful boats line the beaches. Nets drying in the sun frame the view below. The bakery opens very early and Scott was off before 7 to pick up the morning's croissants.

It's hard not to pick up several other items there, at least a baguette! The grocery stores are small but between them we managed most of our needs. Walking through the small but charming town is fun with, during the day, lots of people over from Guadeloupe on the ferry. In the evenings it's quieter but still there are lots of different choices for a nice dinner.

Marlena joined us for a mornings walk over to NNN bay on the windward side. This small harbor is protected on almost all sides with a good entrance in past the reefs but is boats are prohibited from using it. There is a public beach and camping there and they want to keep it pristine. It is possible to walk around the narrow rocky beach at the end and swim the shallow inlet to the island that lies opposite the long sand beach. A prominent trail crosses both peaks and provides lovely views.

We changed out of our wet clothes after a fresh water shower (1 Euro) behind trees and then had a great lunch at the small restaurant up the hill to the right just before the entrance to the park. The 3 course "menu" is very reasonable at lunch with several choices of appetizer, main course and dessert.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Day with Martin Carriere

We called Martin Carriere "Providence" (carriere@hotmail.com, cell 767-245-2700, home 767-445-3008 or call him on VHF 16) as soon as we arrived to book a trip with him. He's featured promently in Chris Doyle's Guide to the Leeward Islands and we had a wonderful day with him last time we were in Dominica. That time we did the Indian River in the early morning and then switched to his van for a trip across the island and down the east coast. We saw the cold sulpher springs, the red rocks by the crashing sea and had a great swim between a river and a beach.

But our favorite part of being with Martin is learning about all the plants and birds that abound here. You're always munching or smelling something with Martin. The variety of herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables that grow everywhere is amazing!
Heather and Don of "Asseance" and Smitty, "The Mighty Yachtee", joined us for the trip. We stopped at the Saturday Market in Portsmouth first and then drove north on the west coast past the Medical School complex and Rollo Head. Then we turned inland and went straight up into the mountains with lovely views behind us over the sea. An artisan had set up shop at a viewing spot and was creating his bead and ceremic pieces. The beaded curtains were really lovely and we wished we had more room on the boat to purchase some.

Our destination was a beautiful waterfall at the end of a trail that meandered through a working farm and then along and through a small stream. All along the way we learned about the way of life here both of the people, the wildlife and the plants. Need a snack? Martin picked up grapefruit from the ground, peeled it and cut it up for us - sweet and juicy. How about some coconut milk? His machete is always with him.

The path was easy but crossing the streams was difficult if you didn't have waterproof shoes. Those who did helped those who didn't. The waterfall itself was very impressive but it now enclosed in a chain link fence to prevent people from swimming there. It is presently the water source for a downstream village. Martin told us this is being changed and the pool may be available in the future. Meanwhile our next destination was to a nearby river and a deep pool to swim in.

It was a fun day as always. The nicest part is being with Martin! He's a knowledgeable guide and has an engaging personality. We look forward to our next visit.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On to Dominica!

This is our second visit to Dominica and we remember the previous one very fondly. After the water parched islands we've been in recently this is a treat to the eye and nose - so green! The profile is much like St. Vincent's with steep mountains and valleys everywhere, but without the security concerns. Of course it's still important to "lift and lock" (your dinghy) at night, but there is a night watch run by the local guides and we didn't feel the need to lock ourselves in.
The town of Portsmouth isn't terribly prosperous but people generally have a lot of pride in their homes and however small, they are well kept. Flowers are in everyone's yard and people look happy and well fed. North of town is the large medical school

with over 1200 students. This is a much more developed area but still low key compared to most other islands. There are no huge hotels or resorts on Dominica although plenty of charming small ones. The beaches are lovely but not white. The unspoiled interior is a highlight here - many waterfalls, including a hot one and a boiling lake, sulfur springs and lots of trail for exploring.
Walking leisurely through the small town there is lots to see. Many of the homes have individual touches or are all out unusual. See the photo above of the pink shell
incrusted home! The small shack below it is so different but just as neat and obviously loved. Notice the pair of shoes sitting quietly on the steps!
The detail of another home shows the more restrained use of shells for design. The white tent visable in the trees is part of an elaborate tree house right on the beach whose owner is an artist.
There is some excellent diving here and we happily organized a two tank dive with Cabrits Dive Center for Sunday. Our first dive was off Toucari Point and included a swim through a narrow cave with two entrances. I was really nervous about this as I suffer from occasional claustrophobia. So I got right behind the dive master and followed him in quickly before I could think about it too much. As he had promised, once in I could see light up ahead and that really helped, because it was a tight fit.

The coral and rock formations were really beautiful on both dives. There were lots of fish, although not many larger ones as they still allow fishing here. We saw a sting ray and a moray eel. The second dive had another cave and a long narrow cleff in the rock that we swam through. This was different scenery underwater than we had experienced in Bonaire and Carriacou - very dramatic. Hopefully Dominica will create a Marine park here soon and completely protect the area. Cabrits is a very professional outfit and had a big comfortable dive boat (they have a smaller one as well). Several people we talked to on the boat come here every year for their vacation. They are a five star PADI facility (www.cabritsdive.com)

There are only a few small markets in Portsmouth although they have most of the basics. On Saturday morning however there's an excellent market with a large variety of fresh produce, bread and spices. Your coconut can be husked while you wait (only a minute).

Sunday, March 21, 2010


The only reason we stopped in Martinique was to go food shopping. Now that isn't an insult to the island. We've been there four times, rented cars and toured around the place. It's a lovely island and well worth spending time in. No, this time we wanted to get further north. But it's one of the best places to provision the boat. Visions of pates, cheeses and french bread danced in our heads as we crossed the twenty mile stretch of open sea between it and St. Lucia. Happily it was a beautiful day with comfortable seas.
We anchored in Anse Mitan, one of the oldest resort communities on the island and presently looking a bit worse for wear. They evidently sustained damage during the last hurricane as a good portion of the waterfront we remembered from past visits was gone, the Pontoon Restaurant and Marina for example. The big high rise hotel was dark at night but showed signs that it will be rebuilt.

After lunch we walked over to the charming "Creole Village" where small shops and cafes surround a small square to have a cup of coffee. That's Scott there in the photo at the top. Then we took the ferry from the Point over to Fort de France (the second photo shows us entering the harbor at Fort de France)and attempted to find the bus/publico which would take us to one of the huge Carrefour supermarkets (hypermarche), either in Dillon or at the Galleria. It wasn't easy as one taxi driver followed us trying to get us to go with him (for thirty euros). Finally we located the big bus that went to Dillon at the far west end of the huge parking lot in front of the ferry docks. Fifteen minutes later it dropped us off there (just after you pass under the highway). This is a cruising provisioners dream with a department store and pharmacy included.

We had a big list of groceries but were constrained by how much the two of us could carry back to the ferry - so no wine. First on the list were cheeses and pates, several kinds of each. Then long life bread in a variety of styles. In Bonaire and Curacao you can buy a huge variety particulary french and italian types, but here think ethnic. Clearly the boulangeries have legislated that people must buy fresh - so no french bread or rolls, or croissants. Instead we bought pita bread, Naan, panini with olives, Durum and M'Semmen (last two were flat breads for wraps), and guava filled rolls (photo above left). These had dates to be used by from 4/3 to 4/10.
We use UHT milk regularly but also love UHT heavy cream and cooking cream which isn't available everywhere. Here it's in every size - see the photo above right opposite the huge christophenes (so good raw in salads, steamed or gratineed). The fruits and vegetables looked very great although I had a trip to the open market planned for the following day so we only bought a few "foreign veggies/fruit" like brocolli and apples. I splurged on two rib eye steaks and some lovely pork chops as well as the two packages of lardons we find so useful. Why don't they have them in the States I've always wondered?

In the end we each had two heavy bags to carry but it shouldn't have been far. Unfortunately we took the wrong bus into Fort de France and ended up 10 blocks from the water. Then of course we missed our ferry for Anse Mitan (our dinghy was right on the other side of that dock so we didn't want to go to the Point). Still sitting on the bench waiting for forty minutes wasn't that miserable. Luckily we knew from a past trip that the ferry stops first at another harbor or we would have been more concerned at the route it was taking.

The next day I took the dinghy in and left on the ferry two seconds later, managing the lock up in record time. This time I wandered around downtown before doing my shopping. The third and fourth pictures above show the view right at the waterfront in front of the ferry - McDonald's front and center. The poster shown here displays what the french get on their burgers - real Parmesano Reggiano! Also above is the cathedral on the park not far away.
The market itself is mostly tourist souvenirs during the week, but there are at least four or five vegetable fruit stands with good supplies. There were also fresh flowers and enfusions of every kind of fruit with rum. I was able to buy fresh local eggs, potatoes, carrots, yams, pineapple, mangos, celery (in the Caribbean it's mostly leaves
but they are great for seasoning), christophenes, onions, lettace, tomatoes and spinach. Yum! The seasoning packet shown in here in the bucket of water looks like a bouquet, doesn't it? This time I had the ferry schedule figured out and had only a brief wait before my return.
And finally there was the enjoyment of our labors and the products of France. Scott shown with a lunch of two kinds of pate, lovely runny brie and french bread while I'm enjoying fresh croissants and grapes for breakfast.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jump Up , Gros Islet, St. Lucia

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Friday night and it's time for a Jump Up at Gros Islet, a tiny community just north of Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia. This small village successfully transforms itself into a outdoor

bar/restaurant/stage once a week and lots of people come, both local residents and many of the tourists on the island. There are several all inclusive big resorts that bus in guests and many come from the boats anchored in the harbor or at the marina. Our new friends Jim and Lara York on "Antipodes", a Yachtsmith 55' trawler built in Nova Scotia, invited us to join them.

Two other couples, both from Nova Scotia themselves, came along - Michelle & Alan on "Tarentela" and Evangeline & Alan on "Bon Chance". We walked over, only a half mile away, and after a few deserted dark blocks found a welcoming committe and blocked off streets. We were early, the party doesn't really start jumping until after 10 PM - it was 7. Frankly Scott and I aren't night owls any more and Jim & Lara felt the same. So we enjoyed the light crowds and talking to the street vendors, who were themselves cooking and setting up their bars.

Scott struck up an interesting conversation with one of the taxi drivers, see the photo. People were very friendly and the atmosphere felt really safe. Everyone sat together at the long tables and chatted.
Many homes just put a bar on a table out front, others had carts.

Many BBQs lined the streets with "meatcycles" (Jim's phrase) of beef or chicken. Several big buffet tables were lined with steam trays of pork, chicken, ribs, fish, rice, lentils, red beans, macaroni & cheese, lo mein, lasagna, potato salad, fish salad and ground provisions.

You grabbed a plate and asked for however much of whatever you wanted that would stay on one plate. This cost $35EC or about $12. Picnic tables lined the streets waiting for diners. We ate around 8 PM and it was delicious.

Down one street a little ways away from the hubbub the strains of hymns wafted out from the open doors. An arch of flowers welcomed church goers and a full mass was underway. Later I returned to get a picture of the painting over the alter. It was a young Jesus learning carpentry from St. Joseph, The Worker. This is the first time I've ever seen such a domestic theme for a church! It's really charming.

A number of the small homes and buildings had Victorian trimmings, all either now had or once were painted bright colors, and the faded signs made me think of pictures of old Havana. Craft artists also had set up stands and one small dress shop was open that intrigued Lara. She almost fit into a cool pair of plaid shorts! At a street stand I bought two dolls for my granddaughters.

One end of the main street was set up with a DJ and a stage for bands later. Up and down the street were bars all lit up and starting to be filled with people. Just beyond this was the dock and fishing boats. Out beyond that were the lights of anchored boats. There were many children around, a surprising number of men with their kids - maybe their wives were serving up the BBQs. I chatted with a fellow shown above in two photos at a makeshift wooden cart labeled "King's Mobile Bar". King was a good name for him. He had an amazing physique and two charming children.

Another father sat on the curb with his two kids, all eating nuts. I asked permission of anyone I photographed and they were happy to have me do it. Only three teenage girls said no.
This was early in the evening so we were surprised to meet at least one man who would have been charming if he wasn't so drunk and over the top. He assured us he had just come from church! He was dressed nicely and sure having a great time. He bummed a beer from Scott and then made me balance the beer bottle on my head. I'm not vain as you see - given I'm posting this shot of me with four chins! It's too much fun not to include. Jim could see this guy was starting to bother me so he gently suggested he leave. Not long after they saw him strong armed away from the party.

Scott and I had some dinner at the buffet and not long after the four of us walked back to the Marina. Scott has a long day tomorrow, hopefully finishing up the plumbing work on the boat. We'd like to leave on Sunday but it may be Monday before everything is completed (or even Tuesday).