Saturday, January 31, 2009

Travels in Dominica, 2005 - Keeping Busy

Pre Carnival Parade
The actual carnival doesn't start until next week, but today there was a parade planned, so along with the French couple, I went down to take a look. Lots of people milling around, but nothing started on time and the structure of the parade was distinctly casual.But nothing happened.Several bands and people with amazing costumes were standing around doing not much for about 45 minutes. People meandered into these groups from the sidelines, also dressed in costumes or carrying instruments. Meanwhile there was a battle of the bands happening from the three bands already congregated there. It was a cacophony of Caribbean rhythm as they all played at the same time, the huge drums being played by one big fellow dominated and overwhelmed. He passionately abused it with a drumstick duct taped to his hand and wrists. Sweat poured from his body, as he drummed non stop.

Cracks, almost sounding like gun shots, and there were the ‘whip snappers’ again, wielding long black whips, snapping them on the ground. Unlike the 'whip snappers' in Guadeloupe who were dressed in layers of banana leaves, these men were all dressed in black, covered from head to foot with lampblack or shoe polish, wearing nothing but a loin cloth. Groups of bizarrely masked creatures danced in the streets. They wore tall, conical hats and danced like dervishes. An amazing lady of massive girth appeared, wearing not much, but what little there was glittered and shook all over the place. Even her well worn sneakers were covered with sequins and glittering fake jewels.

After an hour of waiting around, the parade finally got under way. There were flag waving teams marching to the pounding beat of Caribbean rhythms. Gigantic sound trucks belted out ear shattering music, and there were endless princesses ensconced on convertibles or mopeds competing for various titles, including Queen of the Carnival. The beer companies had their own floats and the beer flowed freely. Everyone was very, very happy. My new French friends followed the parade to the end, and I doubt if I will see them tonight.

Once the costumed part of the parade was finished, there were only so much I could take of pubescent princesses sitting on the back of pickup tracks that I could take. It went on and on and on and I finally had to escape as I had a strong hunch that my eardrums would be permanently damaged. I retreated to a quiet boring night at the guesthouse -which I don’t mind. The days are full, I am quite happy to relax with my feet up, watch bad movies on tv, and finish a painting.

Champagne Beach
I joined the French couple for a day trip to Champagne Beach. Dominica does not have good sand beaches, but we were told there this was a good snorkelling beach. It's called Champagne Beach because of hot gasses from underground volcanic vents that cause the water to bubble like champagne. Flora made sandwiches, Matt bought fruit from the market, and I provided bread and cheese.

We walked to the centre of town to catch a mini van bus. We waited for more passengers, and then cruised around town picking up people until it was full. Generally, navigating around the town in a car is unnecessary because you can get anywhere faster by walking. The tiny one way lanes are very narrow and when two cars have to pass, clearance can often be measured in millimeters.

We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. We climbed down a path to a rock strewn beach that was being pounded by gigantic breakers. I guess different cultures have different ideas of what makes up a 'good' beach. This was not too promising from our point of view, however we found a spot clear of rocks, covered with fine black sand and settled in.

We were joined shortly by a group of French tourists. I put on my new snorkelling gear, and headed out to see what could be seen. The water was pleasant and warm, and I swam for a while, but because of the waves the water was too murky and visibility was poor. I didn't realize how difficult it would be getting out of the water. Every time I tried to climb out, I was knocked down by the waves and pulled back by the undertow. I was tiring when I was hit by a HUGE wave, pulled under and tossed onto the rocks.

I didn't panic, but when I came up for air, I saw the French coming to the rescue from all directions! I was grateful for the help, as the undertow was really strong. I didn't realize until I got back to the guesthouse that I had a black eye from where my goggles had been hit when i was being tossed about. The right side of my body was black and blue, and I lost a small silver ring.

That did it for the day. We had our picnic and headed back to the road, where we sat in the shade and ate large, sweet island grapefruits. We flagged down a bus, and returned to town. I showered, and pounds of sand fell out of my hair, ears, armpits and various other orifices. I dressed in fresh clothes and went out to find dinner.

Roseau really closes down after five pm. By six it is dark and the streets are deserted. It is sometimes difficult to find a restaurant open for dinner. The hotel restaurants are always open, but expensive. Staying in a guest house with kitchen privileges has definite advantages.

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