Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Dominica (pronounced "doe-min-EEK-a") is not a very famous island.  It has relatively little tourism, not very many or exceptional beaches.  Few resorts.

But it is a fabulous place.  The eastern side of the island gets about 250 inches of rain per year -- enough to form true rainforests.  It is mountainous and rugged, with beautiful scenery everywhere.  Dominica is called "The Fruitbasket of the Caribbean," because they export so much fruit to other islands and vegetables as well.  There are said to be 365 rivers -- one for each day of the year.

We spent a week anchored off the town of Portsmouth.  This village is small, and has a very local flavor, despite the occasional cruise ship stop.  And there is a lot to do.  The area is famous for tours of the Indian River.  We really enjoyed it.  You go upriver in a rowboat for about an hour.  There is lush vegetation, numerous birds of all types, and schools of fish in the river.  At the top is a bush bar, where you can get a drink or have lunch.  We were there about 10:00 am, so we had fresh grapefruit juice.

An important reason for us to be here is to visit with Scott Freiburg.  Scott is the fiance of David's niece, Rachel Grodick.  He is on Dominica attending medical school.  Ross University has run a school here for many years.  It covers the first two years of medical school, which is primarily classroom education.  The students take only very short breaks, and actually complete the program in 20 months, and the final semester is often back in the States.  Once they finish this part of the program, they then go through almost two years of clinical experience in US teaching hospitals.  We were told that the 2000 med students and their professors made up 40% of the Gross Domestic Product of Dominica.

It was great to see Scott, and to meet his roommates.  We went out for a daysail, and had a nice conversation about life, the world, and everything.  We think Scott was happy to see some familiar faces.

Another tourist attraction is the peninsula known as Cabrits.  There is a very well restored fort from British Colonial times and numerous hiking trails climbing up a couple of hundred meters to the tops of twin peaks.  The area around the peninsula is famous for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well.

We arranged a guided tour of the Syndicate rainforest area.  There is a very well marked hiking trail, perhaps a couple of kilometers long through the rainforest.  Our guide, Winston, knew about every tree and bird.  He treated us to many tastes and aromas, from guava and banana to cinnamon and nutmeg.  Grapefruit right off the tree was wonderful.  The area also contains a fabulous waterfall, called Milton Falls, or sometimes Syndicate Falls.  To reach it you have to ford the river twice.  Those of us with non-waterproof shoes had to carry them and go barefoot across the fords.  But the falls were really impressive.

While on Dominica, we volunteered some time through an organization called "Hands Across the Sea."  This is a labor of love by two cruisers, Harriet and TL Linskey.  They have adopted more than 50 schools in the English-speaking Caribbean, trying to help them improve literacy.  Each fall they use donations to purchase books for the schools, and have sent more than 50,000 over the past four years.  They also help create inviting spaces for children to read.  At the Isaiah Thomas Secondary School, where we worked with them, they had built a "Literacy Center" (basically a reading room) last year.  This year, our project was to build new bookshelves for the library.  We spent two days with them, sawing, drilling, assembling, and painting.  It was great to learn more about the educational system in the Caribbean, and to meet some of the students and teachers.  The school was a happy place, a credit to the principle and staff.

Through this project, we also met two other cruisers, Rod and Jill Hearne on Lookfar.  Rod helped with the bookshelf project.  Jill is a retired educational consultant, and she has donated many days of her time visiting schools on Dominica, advising principles and observing teachers, and is trying to design training programs for both principles and teachers that can improve effectiveness.

We have moved our base to the capital of Dominica, Roseau, and will be here for several days.  We are hoping to take some more hikes.  We also plan to meet up with Scott one more time.

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