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January 31st 2012
Published: January 31st 2012
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Waiti-kubuli, “Tall is her body” in Carib (the indigenous peoples of the land), was renamed Dominica when “discovered” by Columbus… surprisingly enough, on a Sunday. Luckily its geography prevented it, for the most part, from the fate of many of the other islands in the Caribbean. With an active volcano and mountainous terrain, the conditions were not conducive to slave-dependent sugar cane crops. And while this island was not completely immune to the woes of colonization, the peoples of Waiti-kubuli were fortunate enough that the rugged mountainous terrain insulated them from many of the all too common woes faced by the tribes of the islands around them.

With areas of this small island averaging over 200 inches of rain a year, the landscape is peppered with tremendous waterfalls and 365 rivers winding their way across the island. A 40-minute drive up into the mountains brings one to the edge of a national forest named after the three peaks nestled together. A short walk into the forest brings you to the Emerald Pool, a spectacular waterfall cascading into a clear, green pool of “refreshing” water – as the locals say. Sprinkled throughout the short walk out of the forest are benches, recessed only slightly from the path. An opportunity to sit quietly and be with the trees, the sound of the rushing falls barely audible in the distance. The air is cool here, unlike by the shore. The always-present cloud layer provides shelter from the hot sun. A quick dip in the Layou River, the longest on the island, before heading back to the outer edge where there is no reprieve from the sun.

The walk from the ship to Roseau is short, but in the oppressive heat the 20 minutes feels like an eternity. Once in town the locals go out of their way to interact with the us, hungry to learn a little about the places we hail from. There isn’t much of a sidewalk. Patches of it, really, torn up by hurricanes past. Cars that pull over to park must pull one side of their car into the wide ditch that runs along the edge of the road and remain teetering a bit until the driver skillfully pulls out of their precarious spot.

Many of the buildings are run down, hallowed out, and in need of repair. Over the years since their independence from Britain in the 1970’s, countries far richer than Dominica have poured money into the Dominican economy and infrastructure in exchange for small slices of diplomacy. Most recently the Chinese who offered, among other things, the new cricket stadium which is the pride of the community in exchange for recognition of their government over that of Taiwan.

The people are friendly, excited to meet someone new. Asking where you are from and what brings you to Dominica, though they hardly need to ask for the visitors are either traveling with us on the Semester at Sea or the German vessel docked at the only other port in the area. With runways too small to accommodate most of today’s commercial airplanes, the island can cater only to the local puddle jumpers or cruise ships. With that huge chunk of money the Chinese recently gave them to improve their infrastructure, the prospect of an increase in tourism is likely on everyone’s minds.

Speaking with a local about the culture and life on Dominica, I discover that Macoushri rum is the local favorite among those distilled on the island. I decide that would make for a good souvenir of my short time on the island. I swing by the biggest grocery store in hopes of finding a bottle to take home with me. No luck. I try a souvenir shop – no luck. The shelves are generally pretty bare. I head to another store… the same. I ask the clerk where I can find the Macoushri rum and she directs me toward a store that is closing early. The German cruise ship has already left the port so there isn’t much sense in staying open. That merchant points me toward the store that should have it in stock. They are out. Ever the helpful and friendly bunch, they point me in the likely direction. From there another local walks with me for several blocks talking this and that, excited that I know of the rum that appears to not only be a local favorite but a source of pride. As the community comes together to pass me like a baton in a relay race, I make my way across this small community to the store that everyone is sure will have it: Francis Enterprises.

I find myself in front of said store. Upon entering, I notice that this store doesn’t really have many shelves to begin with. On the left of the entrance is a stack of huge, square plastic bins that are labeled vegetable oil. I have never seen such big vats of vegetable oil, not even at Costco. On the right, hanging from the ceiling, are rims for bicycle tires. There appear to be half a dozen sizes. In the far corner are two large, wooden barrels. One labeled Macoushri rum the other Belfast. The two young women who work at the store are sitting on a bench shooting the breeze and while polite, are slow to get up and help my friend and me.

I decide I want a liter. The younger of the two women walks over to a large box of bottles. She pulls out an empty, liter sized glass bottle that once held another liquor, the label still in tact. She fills it from the barrel on the left, striking up a conversation by asking about where I am from. She doesn’t mask her curiosity for my being in her store. I imagine she doesn’t get a lot of tourists as customers. Sure, they are all over this small community, but this store clearly caters to the locals. She uses a hairdryer to shrink-wrap the bottle closed. I can pay either in the local currency or US dollars.

While we are completing our transaction, several other patrons enter, bringing their own empty bottles to fill with either the Macoushri or Belfast rum. One man has a gallon size water bottle filled with what appears to be twigs and leaves. I ask what they are and are told that many people bring their own bottles with various spices and the like to create their own flavored rum. Happy with my purchase, what one dear friend refers to as “roadside hootch” I head back to the ship, looking forward to the night where we will crack this open and enjoy a taste of the Caribbean.

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9th February 2012

We are enjoying your trip and can't wait to read more. We were in Dominica for two weeks in 1998. Our nephew just attended med school there. Love the history you are weaving in.

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