Chasing waterfalls in Dominica

We met up with the incomparable Kish Richards to explore more of the beautiful island of Dominica. First, we joined Holiday for lunch at Kish’s place. When I asked what was in the thick spicy soup she made us, Kish gave us a sly grin and said “meat” and made a scrambling running gesture with her fingers. Hmmm…Later, she showed us a picture of the critter called an agouti which flavored our lunch – maybe something like a big tail-less rat?

Sanitas in Portsmouth Harbor

We set out on a full day tour of the southern part of Dominica with Kish and a van full of other sailors. As we drove, Kish told us about the dramatic effects Hurricane Maria had on Dominica back in 2017 and how the island’s economy has not yet recovered. Kish herself had a great job in security at the huge American medical school in Portsmouth before the hurricane hit and the school left the island for good, leaving a ghost town of empty buildings behind to be slowly reclaimed by jungle.

Our first stop was a short hike to Trafalgar Falls. Oh my gosh! If I thought the Bwa Nef waterfall was beautiful, this set of twin waterfalls blows it away in terms of beauty. We visited on a rainy day so the falls were simply raging. Not safe to get too close or to go for a swim, but we just soaked up the beauty.

After a coffee break, we sought out our next Dominican waterfall. This time, instead of an easy paved trail, we earned our views with a steep and slippery scramble. Middleham Falls is huge! I couldn’t even capture its full height in a single frame on my camera. Supposedly, you can swim there on lower flow days, but we didn’t have to swim to get completely soaked from the spray on the viewing platform. Thus the theme of the day was established – we were going to be wet!!! All..day..long.

Did I mention we were going to get wet? Our next stop kind of took me by surprise. Kish told us we were going to visit Titou Gorge and I envisioned another scenic nature hike up a scenic river bed. Not exactly. We we told to change into our swimsuits and pay 5ec to rent a life vest. Next thing you know, we were even told to kick off our water sandals and to jump one at a time into a pool of very cold water. After a few steps, the stream was too deep to touch bottom, and the line of us doggy paddled our way upstream. The gorge immediately narrowed to only a couple meters wide, and we craned our necks to look up at the undulating sone walls covered with moss and dripping ferns with a rim high above our heads. Again, because of all the rain, the force of the water was too strong for me to make it all the way upstream to the small waterfall, but Capt. Mike fought through it for the best view. Once he gave up on his grip of the rocky wall, the stream spun him around and spit him back out downstream like a water slide.

The thrilling conclusion of our island tour was a snorkel at Champagne Reef. Remember those seven volcanos? The geothermal activity at this point on the island manifests as a steady streams of bubbles making their way through the porous material of the coral reef. We swam along the reef in snorkel masks and fins, drifting through the streams of bubbles, catching the bubbles with our fingers. Colorful reef fish nibble at the coral and at the bubbles. I was surprised to find that I could hear the bubbles popping and fizzing. So peaceful, and a unique experience!

After a sunset rum punch on Champagne Beach and a fresh fish dinner at Sunset Bay Club, Kish dropped us off at the dinghy dock long after dark. We tumbled out of the van with armfuls of soggy clothing and dinghied back to our boats to rest up and dream of our next Dominican adventure.

My new Dominican friend Beverly

Dominica, the Nature Island

We’ve been trying to make it to Dominica since before COVID. Everyone told us we’d love it – the hikes, the rainforest, the waterfalls, the mountains! Finally, this April, Dominica eased their COVID entry requirements, and Sanitas pointed her bow toward Portsmouth harbor. From sea level, Dominica looks like Jurassic park. Verdant green mountains soar toward the sky with peaks wreathed in clouds, sparkling waterfalls flowing into one of the 365 rivers, crossing black sand beaches to rejoin the ocean. We dusted off our hiking shoes, and set out to explore.

To warm up, we hiked Cabrits National Park and historic 18th century Fort Shirley. Great views from both peaks, and we pretended the harbor was filled with tall ships and Buccaneers instead of cruising sailboats.

Curious about the gorgeous tropical vegetation all around us, we took a tour up Indian River with Titus, who knows the name and medicinal or cooking purpose of every plant or flower we passed. Titus taught us about the birds, snakes, and crabs that live along the river banks, and sent us home with a bouquet of tropical flowers and a big bag of cooking herbs.

Seven volcanos make up Dominica, and there are signs of geothermal activity everywhere. At Cold Soutrière, we dipped our fingers into the bubbly, sulphuric-smelling mud pools and got up close and personal with the first volcano. It was the first stop on a tour of the northern part of the island where our guide, Winston, told us every stop would be “a surprise.” Personally, I prefer the joy of anticipation…and knowing whether I need to wear hiking shoes or flip flops for each walk. 🤣 It was a easy walk to our first Dominican waterfall of Bwa Nef, but not all of them would be so easy to find no conquer!

Red Rock looks a bit like the Flinstone’s town of bedrock. The iron in this soft, crumbly rock turns it a distinctive orange-red and allows the rain to crumble and carve it away, constantly changing the shape of the coast over time.

Capt. Mike was in heaven when we finally stopped at Pointe Baptiste Chocolate Factory. This small family business produces gourmet chocolate from organic cacao beans and cane sugar and local spices into chocolate bars and rum truffles. Oh my gosh, delicious!

A hike where the sea meets the sand

We’ve made it a goal to hike as many trails as possible during our long stay here in Martinique. If you follow me on Instagram @jennbsmiles, you’ll know we ticked quite a few off our list when we shared a rental car with friends on SV Aphrodite. But with our engine problems and getting sick and all, we kind of fell off the fitness wagon. So, over the past ten days or so, we built up our strength with 3-mile road walks around the marina, and with climbs up the local viewpoint of Creve Coeur, and finally this weekend with a big adventure on the Sentier Trace des Caps (Trail of the Capes). We’d hiked the southern leg of this epic hike when we were anchored in Ste Anne. In fact, we hiked the three-mile section from town to gorgeous Plages des Salinas frequently. But, as you get farther north, it gets more complicated to get to the trail without a car. We persevered though!

We packed our bags the night before, and for the first time in ages, set an alarm for 6am. We dinghied to shore, walked three quarters of a mile to the bus stop, and crossed our fingers. The #27 bus arrived and for €1.50 per person, we were off! However…. I didn’t exactly know which stop we wanted on this winding rural loop. And I don’t know enough French to have a conversation along the lines of “We want to hike the Sentier Trace des Caps. I know the bus doesn’t go all the way to the start of the trail. But could you let me know when you stop as close as possible to the coast and we’ll walk from there?” Somehow we managed. I showed the young lady checking tickets my map and she and the driver had a long back and forth in French. I think he actually went out of his way and took us a bit off the official bus route to drop us off on a road that ends at the trail head. People are so nice!

French hiking trails are amazing! They are well maintained, with water bars, steps, and sometimes even boardwalks. They are marked with signposts about every half-kilometer and with very clear paint marks on trees and rocks. This trail isn’t very technically difficult. It follows the coastline closely, sometimes along sandy beaches and sometimes through mangrove forests. At the end of each beach, you climb a headland for wonderful views of where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Much of the hike is exposed and very hot (as you can tell by the photos of happy little cacti) We wore our broad-brimmed sun hats and even a long sleeved sun shirt at times and we drank A LOT of water. About halfway through the hike, we came upon an oasis. After a couple hours of seeing almost no one in the beautiful wilderness, we stepped out onto a beach with a road and a parking lot nearby. Being a Saturday, we were suddenly surrounded by sun bathers, selfie takers, wind surfers, and …. beach bars! I ordered “beaucoup de boissons”: a coffee for each of us for that caffeine boost, a planteur for each of us with its refreshing ice cubes and fruit juice sugar for energy, and a small Didier to share – because you can never have too much water! I had to force us to start walking again before we got too comfortable and started ordering ti punches and gave up on the hike all together.

A couple more hours of hiking and we reached massive Baie d’Anglais. I’ve read that you can bring your sail boat here in settled weather but, boy! I didn’t see a gap in the reef big enough that I’d feel comfortable sailing through. This is where we ended our hike on the southern segment of the Trace des Caps. Hooray! Mission accomplished! However, choosing to end your hike in a mangrove swamp far from civilization means there’s still a long road walk ahead of you to get back home. We continued on through green farm fields and past huge white cows until we finally reached the main road between Sainte Anne and Le Marin…and learned that we had missed the bus by about 15 minutes. Darn beach bar oasis!

We used the French version of a hitchhiking signal (one hand out, index finger pointing down toward the pavement) and hoped for the best. Wonder of wonders! An English speaking French woman from St Barts stopped to pick us up and dropped us off right at the marina. And she also gave a ride to a local Martinique man who had done the Camino de Santiago across Spain the year before we did! Crazy cooincidence. All in all, we walked about 12 miles with tired feet, but no blisters. Capt. Mike definitely earned his rhum raisin and almond ice cream sundae.

We’ve got visitors!

My goal for the winter of 2022 was to FINALLY sail to Martinique. It’s been very difficult for non-EU flagged boats to visit since the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year things have finally normalized enough that fully-vaccinated travelers are welcome again. And I can finally put my 675-day Duolingo French lesson streak to use.

In the last week of February, Sanitas had her first guests come to visit since 2020, before COVID. Micki and Nathan are her biggest fans – they even helped do some boat projects when we first bought her in St Pete, Florida. In fact, they are pretty much the only people other than our immediate family who we would invite to stay on board our teeny tiny boat. It’s tricky to plan to meet friends in the Carribean – weather is always an issue when planning if you can get to the right island in time to meet guests there. In fact, sailors usually say “You can plan when you want to visit, or where you want to visit, but you can’t plan both!”

Having guests aboard provides an excuse to live like we’re on vacation for a week too- we eat out more, we move the boat to new anchorages more often, and we do all the touristy stuff that y’all think we always do (when in reality, we’re usually just cooking on the boat and doing boat maintenance projects) 😜 In Martinique, one of the best tourist attractions is to visit the rhum agricole distilleries. Rhum agricole is a bit different than traditional rum you may be used to. It’s made directly from the juice of sugar cane, without first processing that cane juice into molasses. This means rhum can only be produced a few months each year when the sugar cane crop is mature. Martinique rhum has earned a French Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) just like it’s more famous French wine cousins, such as Champagne and Burgundy. While of course it’s fun to taste the rhum, a visit to a distilleries is also fascinating because of the links between sugar cane farming and the island’s colonial and slave-owning history. Many distilleries have ruins of old stone plantation buildings on their property, or host memorials to the successful uprisings of enslaved workers, or feature artwork that attempts to process and understand that history. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that a visit to a distillerie isn’t just a “seen one, seen them all” activity, but that each site is unique and interesting. Of course, the tour always ends in the gift shop, and we purchased quite a few bottles of rhum, punch, and liquor to enjoy at our leisure on Sanitas with our guests at sunset. Distillerie Depaz is unique, because it boasts a small chateau modeled after Versailles on the grounds. And Distillerie Neissen is filled with vibrant and colorful art, as well as being famous for its award winning white rhum and it’s rare organically produced rhum.

We didn’t only subject our guests to rhum tours (although I doubt they’d have complained) We also toured the Memorial de la Catastrophe in St Pierre, a touching and personal museum that attempts to capture the loss of life and culture caused by the eruption of the Mount Pelée volcano in 1902. At the time, St Pierre was considered “the Paris of the Caribbean” for its cosmopolitan society. Warnings of the volcano’s threat had been observed for over a week prior to its catastrophic eruption, but the governor didn’t want to damage the economy in case of false alarms. Not only did he not evacuate the city, he actively communicated that there was no threat and citizens should not leave. Finally, on the morning of May 8th, a volcanic explossion of extreme force and heat destroyed the city, killing all but two of the 28,000 inhabitants, sinking all of the ships in the harbor, and destroying most of the buildings in the city. It’s sobering to consider this when your own boat in sitting calmly on anchor so near her shipwrecked kin. Today, the town is an atmospheric blend of old and new, and well worth a visit.

We also celebrated Carnival in St Pierre. It’s the Caribbean version of Mardi Gras and, like everything else that’s fun in this world, it had been canceled during COVID. 2022 was the first year Carnival was officially allowed to take place again, although it’s *possible* some unofficial parades and parties took place last year without government permission. Big, fancy parades take place in the Martinique capital of Fort-de-France, but we enjoyed joining in with the smaller local celebration in St Pierre. Each night of Carnival has a theme, and we marched on the night when men dress in women’s clothing and women dress in men’s clothing.

We had to burn off all that rhum and French food somehow, so we headed inland and took our guests on a hike of the Canal de Beauregard. This canal (actually more of an aqauduct) was built to carry water to the distilleries in St Pierre and it’s a gorgeous walk through the mountain rain forest. For much of the hike, you carefully balance on the narrow stone wall that creates the canal, so it’s not for those with balance and vertigo issues! It really is a nice change of pace though to get away from the coast, and up into the vibrant green mountains.

I said that we eat out a lot when folks visit (and we certainly do) but we cooked some delicious meals as well! We bought fresh tuna from the market in St Pierre and made amazing poke bowls. I tackled my first huge can of confit duck legs, and turned it into pretty darn amazing duck nachos for dinner, and duck and potato hash for breakfast the next day.

Micki and Nathan even got the chance to experience the not so glamorous side of sailing life, when we attempted to anchor four or five times at Anse d’Arlet before the hook finally caught on a tricky, rocky bottom. We earned our ti punches and fish dinners there! All in all, I hope our guests had a nice time visiting the beautiful island of Martinique. But I’m exhausted, and ready for a vacation from my vacation!

Hiking our little legs off on Bequia

One of our favorite things to do on Bequia is to go on long walks, ending in beautiful vistas. On this trip, it was particularly attractive to get off the boat and go for a walk to escape the sawdust, smell of varnish, and chaos in the cockpit as our big brightwork project progressed. About every other day, we’d eat breakfast, welcome Winfield to the boat and get him all set up for the day’s work, put a couple of Hairoun beers in a cooler for him, and off we’d go!

The easiest hike is a road walk to Fort Hamilton on the northwest side of Admiralty Bay. I can do this one in flip flops with only the tiniest blisters ensuing. But it’s lovely to sit in the shade and the breeze and watch the water from the ruins of the fort. One unique feature of Fort Hamilton shows the strange colonial history of the island. Two of the five cannons in place are French, while the other three are English!

View from Fort Hamilton
Waving goodby to Bequia

Alternatively, you’d better wear comfy shoes and bring a lot of water for the hike to North Head. The daytime temperatures are usually around 85deg Fahrenheit in December, so the first time Capt. Mike and I did this 9-mile walk it felt like a death march. But the views of the big island of St Vincent are so gorgeous, and the final couple of miles of dirt trail through the forest so lovely, we had to try it again a week later. As an added bonus, you get to check out the sea state on the rougher ocean side of the island from a safe distance – it made us really appreciate the protection of Admiralty Bay where Sanitas floated safe and sound. Be warned, the trails turn into a confusing tangle at one point, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the flip flop in a tree that marks the left turn 😜

St Vincent in the distance
We made it!

I mentioned the walk to Spring View park in my last post about a magical Sunday. The views from the park are almost as good as those from North Head and it’s much shorter. We did this hike three times and highly recommend it for beginners. The walk is mostly on paved road with about a mile of gravel road, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’ll be easy! Island roads aren’t built to contend with snow and ice, so they pretty much build ‘em straight up… and straight down!

I’ve saved the best for last. The climb to Peggy’s Rock is short and sweet with a huge reward at the top. I do this one by myself just for a bit of exercise when the Captain is too busy with boat projects to join me. Even though I did this hike five or six times in the month we stayed on Bequia, I couldn’t resist snapping a pic or two of the majestic rock and the view of the bay each time. It’s fun to assess how crowded the anchorage is from this vantage point. We definitely saw a swell in numbers between Christmas and New Years, and then the crowds thinned a bit as cruisers went their separate ways. Capt. Mike dipped his toe into a second career as a tour guide on this one. A British family wanted to know how to find the trail to Peggy’s Rock so Mike offered to guide them if they’d pay for the taxi. He had to admit, “I don’t know the history of this walk, or the names of any of the trees or cactus you’ll pass, but I’ll get you up and back safely and you’ll love the views.” He received only positive reviews! Next time, I think he should just make stuff up, don’t you?

Our new hiking friends, aged 8 years to 75 years
I didn’t want to bore you with Peggy’s Rock photos, so here’s a collage!

By the way, if you enjoy finding new hikes and walks while on vacation, I highly recommend an app named Wikiloc. It allows you to search for walks, bike rides, and even sails or kayak routes near you. When you find a route you like, you can follow it on your phone. The app vibrates and beeps to let you know when you’ve wandered off the trail, and lets out a celebratory “Ta-Da!” when you’ve retraced your steps and found it again. Also, maps.me is a great compliment to Google maps. It shows many more walking trails and paths than you’ll find on Google maps, and it’s easy to download the maps for the area that you’re visiting so you’ll have access even when you’re off line. I hope you enjoy these tips to help you get outside and explore wherever you travel. Have a nice walk!