Saturday, January 31, 2009

Travels in Dominica, 2005 - Arrival in Roseau

Guadaloupe to Dominica
My luggage finally arrived, but too late to catch the ferry that afternoon. So I spent another night in Port au Prince. The ferry is a hovercraft catamaran, nothing like the ferries am accustomed to. Seating was like on an airplane, and there was very little room to sit outside. The speed of the hovercraft made being outside unpleasant, so I sat on an uncomfortable, preformed plastic chair for most of the two hour trip. The boat was full of French tourists and Dominicans returning home.

We disembarked in Roseau, and lined up for customs and immigration - but there were no officials at the desks to meet us, so we couldn't enter the country. They didn't show up for another 45 minutes. Standing in line with friendly locals, I had a lesson in current politics. There was an election coming up, and there was a very noisy rally last night, probably attended by the immigrations officers. The parties were: the 'blues' (socialists), the 'Reds' (communists of course), and the Greens (right wing conservatives). The customs and immigration officials probably slept in or decided to work to rule. No one seemed bothered by their absence.

The officials finally turned up, rather grumpy and sleepy eyed. I entered with no problem, and took a taxi to Ma Bass Guest House for what I knew would be a short ride that I would probably be overcharged for. It was, and I was, but the driver did carry my pack up three flights of stairs for me.

The town is a cluttered, crowded hodge podge of narrow streets better suited to horses and carriages than four wheel drives. They are lined with well preserved 19th century stone houses. Roseau has been lucky in escaping the fires, tornadoes and wars that have devastated most Caribbean cities.
Ma Bass is a friendly, garrulous Creole woman who runs the four story Guest House with an iron hand. The first two floors are a general store and meeting place for her family and church members. The church plays a big part in Ma's life. 'Bas', her husband is a retired cabinet maker who built the Guest House and much of the furniture. He smiles a lot, speaks little, and lets her rule the roost, but he opens up and loves to chat when she is not around. The crowded, small General Store on the ground level sells everything from groceries and brassieres to farming tools. I was welcomed with an ice cold home made sorrel drink and left to cool off on the balcony.

There are only 8 rooms, so you get to know the other guests quickly. My room was small, and very simple, but clean, had a fan, and a bathroom across the hall. When I arrived there were six other guests: a man from Florida, another from Texas, a Danish couple and a dread locked Frenchman with his girlfriend. There is a small living room on each floor with a tv, a communal kitchen and a balcony where you can sit and watch the world go by. The rooms were very reasonable at $25 a night.

A Day in Roseau
I wake every morning to the roosters crowing. It starts with one, and soon he is joined by dozens of others. This morning symphony is punctuated by barking dogs. It is pre festival time, and the boom boxes are going day and night, the same insidious song is played over and over again. I find out that it is one of the songs that is competing in the festival for the top award. Pretty soon, it is implanted in my brain, and I am humming it all day, and moving to its beat.

I spent the first two days wandering the streets and getting my bearings, finally settling on a door step of a doctor’s office to paint a complex shabby old house. As I sat there, an older woman stopped to see what I was doing, and told me the house was over a hundred years old. The house is still lived in, but was patched and pasted together with a gaudy mixture of styles and materials - linoleum, corrugated iron, boulders, and shingles.

This set a pattern for my days in Roseau - wandering the streets, stopping to paint and interesting building, shopping in the market or in one of the two ‘super markets’. I enjoy wandering the streets of this town. It is lively and friendly. I pass the same shops and vendors and sometimes get a smile of recognition since they recognize I am NOT from a visiting ship. By virtue of having been in Roseau for over a week, I ‘belong here’ and I am longer hassled by the touts.

The town has hair dressing salons and barbershops on every block. The hairdressers hang over the railings of the balconies and chat with each other. When a customer appears, she is often served by the hairdresser and five or six ‘assistants’. This is necessary in order to complete the complex braided hair creations in a working day. The barbers congregate with friends beside vibrating boom boxes. Music from loudspeakers, placed in front of nearly all the shops starts at about 10:30 and goes non stop for twelve hours. Occasionally a truck with a bullhorn passes by blaring political speeches. There will be an election in a week or two, and all the parties are out campaigning.

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