Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Travel Blog #9: Seeking Heaving Bosoms and Voodoo Priests in Dominca

"You're going to Dominica?" asked my friend.

"Yup," I said. "Dominica. Cool, huh?"

I am the only person I know who still says 'cool.' But I have to tell you, that going to Dominica for me eased into the "way cool" category a long time ago.

"Be careful there," said my friend. "There are a lot of pickpockets and the food can make you really sick."

I nodded and asked him what parts of Dominica he had been to.

"Well I haven't actually been there. But you hear stuff," he added with a significantly arched eyebrow.

I nodded and made a mental note to ignore every additional piece of advice he offered in the future. Still I would have been reluctant to give the real reason for why I was so looking forward to seeing Dominica. I suspect it would only make sense to me. But here it is anyway.

When I was a kid, I was a constant reader. And in one of the books that consumed my attention, there was a hero who had opened a sugar cane plantation there, only to have his lady love abducted by voodoo priests. There followed a wonderful narrative of guys skulking around in the dark, midnight rituals, hidden caves and lots of heaving bosoms. This book took place on Dominica and it instantly became a breathlessly exotic place in my mind. I have wanted to go there ever since and as we cruised into port, I could barely contain myself.

We ran into nary a single voodoo priest (or a heaving bosom for that matter) but my first impressions of Dominica were splendid. This is a rugged place and the aura of mystery could have been a part of my own expectant invention -- but it felt like a perfect setting for an adventure.

Enter Louis. We were casting about for a cab driver that looked like he would be able to give us a great look at this little island -- and along came Louis. He was an angular black man with an easy smile and a shirt loud enough to be seen from outer space.

"Welcome," he said. "Can I show you the island?"

It was done. We hit the highway for a day of great pictures, wonderful people encounters and lovely weather.

As we left the main city, the first thing I noticed is that the roads here are rutted, narrow and place unreasonable expectations on the skill levels of the drivers. Plus they drive on the left side of the street, a sensation I never quite got over. I often pumped my non-existant brakes (which provided the easy-going Louis with no end of entertainment) and came dangerously close to soiling myself on more than one occasion as we whipped around a mountain curve directly in the path of an ancient truck lumbering directly toward us.

The image at the top of this blog interested me.

"What's this?" I asked Louis.

"It's called 'Red Man,'" he responded with a mysterious smile.

My heart quickened. Red man? Could it be some arcane sign? Was some creepy old voodoo guy marking his territory? Memories of my book came back, washing over me.

"What's it about?" I asked as evenly as I could manage.

Louis shrugged. "Maybe some guy gets drunk and comes here with a paint brush."

That crashing sound you just heard was my imagination coming back down to earth. But it was a very cool (whoops there's that word again) image. Maybe the photo doesn't show you the scale: but the nose of the image is a jutting rock and all the additional writing looks Christian in nature. You see "Jah" all over the place in Dominica. It's the shortened familiar form of Jehovah, one of the names of God.
Louis took us to beaches and small villages. The image to the left was taken during a mini-trek into the jungle. You really can feel the rain forest here. It's like a humid presence pressing in around you. (See? I have not totally given up on the voodoo priest/heaving bosoms thing.)

What amazes me is the variety and intensity of life on Dominica. We're not even in the Amazon yet -- but there is so much life on Dominica. You can smell it. You can sense it. You can hear it -- the air hums with it.

Everything seems to coexist with everything else. The vine grows on the tree to the left. The tree feeds on the rich soil. Insects feed on the tree and birds spread the seeds. I stood there for a long moment in a place where the canopy of trees was so thick I could not see the sun, and really wondered at the perfect balance life has struck in this place.

The air is, very literally, sweet. There's green growing magic all around you. You take a deep breath and it's not unlike being in the mountains on a perfect morning. There's a sharpness to the air, like the air itself is an active part of the living forest.

The towns are a stark contrast to the jungle. They teem with people: little people in very english looking school uniforms, merchants, travellers -- men sitting together watching the people and the time pass with equal degrees of experienced disinterest.

There are merchants selling everything from beer to souvenirs. There is fresh fruit everywhere and juice and meat, covered with hungry flies.

Dominica was wonderful. Earthy and gritty and lovely enough that I decided to forgive it for failing to produce voodoo priests.

This was the third port day in a row. We were up early and onto the tender boat or the dock each time. We really put a lot into the ports. I am getting just a little tired. The world has taken on this etherial glow. We wake up, go to a place we've never been before and go back to the neverland of the ship for a meal and to cut pictures. The next morning we are in a new place where the whole drill repeats itself. It's wonderful...but I am not at all opposed to the sea days that come our way after tomorrow's port.

1 comment:

bathmate said...

As always an excellent posting.The
way you write is awesome.Thanks. Adding more information will be more useful.