Tuesday, July 6, 2004
I didn't want to push my luck with the MSA (on the whole tour thing), so I decided to just walk off the ship and see where I could go. I wasn't exactly hopeful, as it had been raining quite a bit, but it wasn't raining at the moment.
We were parked at our "normal" pier (I put it in quotes because, while everyone calls it the normal pier, we have only used it twice in the past three months), which is right at the downtown. I ended up meeting one of the new pursers who wanted to find something to do also, so we walked to the end of the pier. When we are at this pier, there is a board with a number of private tours and where each goes. Really, you just pick a driver, give him an idea of where you want to go, and he gives you a price. We told him that we wanted to go to the Emerald Pool and to a black beach, and wherever else sounded good. He said that he would take us for $20 each, which is quite a bit cheaper than it is on the boat. We waited for ten minutes or so until he mostly filled the van and then we left.
I have to tell you, this guy was fantastic. He knows the island like the back of his hand (not really hard since it isn't that big), he was really friendly, and he did a fantastic job of giving us exactly what we wanted with very little information from us . . . and all in time to get back to the ship without a problem. If you are in Dominica and need a tour guide, his name is Jno Baptiste Laudat (AKA Butch), his number is (757) 500-5115 and his cell phone is (767) 614-1934.
Since we were the first on the bus, we pretty much decided where to go, and no one else objected. He first drove us to the Emerald Pool. I had been there before, but no one else had, and I really like it. This time I was going to have over an hour there, rather than the ten minutes I got last time. There were a lot of people, but since we were there so long they would come and go. The waterfall there is nice, but you can't stand under it as it comes right into rocks. On the walk there it was raining, but not very hard. The rain there isn't oppressive, as there isn't any wind at all, it comes straight down, and it is warm.
We went swimming for a bit, but since it was raining it really wasn't hot enough to stay in the water for very long. It is a lot warmer than mountain streams in TN, but still a bit chilly if isn't hot out. We just kind of sat on the rocks and watched people for an hour. About half of our tour stayed on the bus or shopped up above, I assume because of the rain.
When we got ready to head back, Blanca (the purser) carefully put a dress on, took off the swimsuit, and put dry clothes on. We didn't hike more than two minutes before a torrential downpour came down, pretty much negating the change of clothes. I was still wearing just my swimsuit, I had left my shirt in the bag (which has a waterproof cover for when it rains). She was soaked, as well as her backpack. When we finally got to the main building at the beginning of the trail, the guide took us into an area with pictures and described a number of things from the island that he thought would interest us. We were the last ones on the bus, so we left right as we got on.
He drove us a number of places around the mountain. Since it was really rainy I didn't get many pictures, but it was nice. At one point, he reached out the window and grabbed at some grass growing tall, and it was more lemongrass. It smells SO good when it is fresh like that.
He took us around several banana plantations, and then stopped at a small stand. These are pretty much scattered all over Dominica, and I don't normally take notice of them. Usually there are two or three close to each other every four or five miles, so if you want to stop and buy something or get a drink you can. This guy was a bit different. He was very funny, and very, well, "touristy" for lack of a better word. He had a really good patter, took pictures with the people, would get every one laughing or yelling. If you look at the picture, there is a small hallowed-out coconut hanging in his stand. He has lots of local food spread out on the table, and he encourages you (goads you, almost) to take as much of everything as you want. There were coca beans (you put a seed in your mouth and suck off the really sweet outside, kind of like a large pomegranate, the seed is ground up to make chocolate). He said (and tried to get a girl who was with her boyfriend to do it) that if you want to be "in the mood" you can chew the bean. It tastes terrible, but has the same narcotic effect as chocolate, but much stronger. There was dried coconut meat, he had green coconuts for people to drink and eat, mangoes, shredded coconut mixed with sugarcane juice (which they call coconut candy), watermelon, pineapple (the people who at it said that it was the best that they have ever had), smoked fish, and a number of things that I can't remember.
He calls himself the "Nice to be Nice" guy, and here is his sign. Everything is free, he only wants tips, and he puts the basket up high as he doesn't want to see how much (or if) you tip. He just says that it is nice to be nice, and he won't sell anything. People who wanted to take some with them tried to get him to sell them quantities, and he insisted that it was all free. It is a pretty good way to go about it. I mean, everything in his booth he not only gets free, but he can't charge much for (since everyone else sells it for next to nothing). My guess is that he ends up making as much or more per item than if he just sat with a table, he gets a LOT more business than anyone else, and seems to have fun at it. He has a small shack with a wood fire and a couple of skillets (the fire smelled great), and a wooden crusher to get sugar cane juice. He'd run through a piece of cane, and the juice would run off the rollers, through a strainer, and into a bucket (and of course, quite a bit of spray on him). He'd then take the limp cane, fold it in half, and run it through again. I imagine that he is pretty tasty by the time he gets home at night. I absolutely love old-fashioned/wood mechanical devices like this. :)
The driver asked if we were hungry. We had been, but several people were full after all of the fruit. He had promised to take us to someplace local (probably owned by friends) to eat near a black beach. There are only a couple of beaches in Dominica, and they are small. In most places, there is no beach at all. Where there is, it is black, as the sand is formed by crushed volcanic rock. It was still raining off and on, so we didn't hang out on the beach long. This is the first time that I have been here that it has rained the whole day, but we are in the rainy season. I think that I mentioned it before, but not only do they get 360 inches of rain a year, but they have gotten over 370 so far this year and are only half-way through the rainy season.
We got back to the boat with just enough time to grab something to eat at a tiny restaurant near the boat and then get back on. I figured that since it was close to dinner time on the boat, I'd just wait to get on to eat. I really didn't have much money at all after last week, the two tours pretty much wiped me out. :(
I was, of course, back on duty for Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday night was the crew movie. It was "Cold Mountain," which I wouldn't mind seeing but wasn't fanatical to see. It is somewhat long, and I have been really exhausted, so I just went to bed. Last night (Thursday night, as it is actually Friday that I am writing this on) I went with the pursers to a get-together in the disco, as one of them only has a week left. It was nice, but I'm really glad, in a way, that I couldn't take today's tour that I originally signed up for. I turned off the alarm, woke up at 9, and stayed in bed 'till 11.
Well, it is 4:30, and I have wasted most of the afternoon here, so I may head over to the beach, which is really nice here in Aruba. Au revoir until next week . . .