Friday morning we were up and about early to go diving. Today we were diving with the crew of Hooligan. The first site is a favourite of ours so we were very happy to return to it. Weather conditions were pretty good with a flat sea and sunny skies – hurrah! Very relaxed and chilled dive – spotting the usual suspects as we meandered around through the gulleys, the caverns, the tunnels and up on top of the boulders watching our bubbles come through the porous rock. Love diving through the bubbles – and the noise as they pass by is quite tinkly and surreal….. Beautiful colours to the pristine coral here and, of course, all the usual suspects were around in large numbers. About six lionfish came to an early demise on this dive too. My favourite critter this dive was a lovely giant puffer fish with his big cow-like black eyes. We had almost an hour in the water and enjoyed every minute of it.
The second dive of the day was to a new site – the Rose Garden – which was an amazing coral garden with fantastic sponges, fans and soft corals swaying in the current. This site, however, was absolutely rammed with lionfish – and way bigger than we have seen anywhere else. Beautiful fish but a menace to the indigenous fish population so they have to go….. oh yes, did I tell you they are really stupid? There are six of them under a ledge and Fabian spears the first one and puts him in a bucket. The others don’t even look around to work out where “Dave” went…. they just stay there hanging out. So the next one gets it…. and they still sit there hanging out, not wondering where “Dick” went…. and so it goes on until they are all dead in the bucket together. Very strange behaviour! Another relaxed dive – thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Sorry no photos again…. both sites too deep. Am starting to think we should invest in proper dive housing for the camera at some point!
Dive over – shame – and back on board to clean up. In the afternoon Martin, one of the boat boys, came over to pick us up. He had arranged for us to go to visit CALLS.
Basically this centre was set up by Roman Catholic nuns in 1995 to educate the youth of Dominica between the ages of 16 and 22 who, through no fault of their own, had not completed their education. It is open to students irrespective of religious background, although has a Catholic base. It is largely dependent upon volunteers and donations – as the Government funding is minimal. The two-year programme focuses on basic educational needs and life skills to enable them to enter employment and to learn to live responsibly, including work experience at the end. Amazingly they have a 60% success rate in students being employed at the end of the two year period. This is really the safety net for youths who are at risk of getting involved in the seedier side of life here in the Caribbean – eg drugs, prostitution, theft, gang-related violence – to name just a few. So we went to see the principal and had an interesting discussion. We made a small donation but also decided to volunteer to help out. Going back to the anchorage we enjoyed seeing Morphie looking good out there. Once we were safely back on board we had a quiet night and enjoyed the moody sunset.
Saturday morning and we were up bright and early as it was market day and I was after some fresh fruit and veg. Was quite an experience and I purchased a lot of stuff – but from as many vendors as I could to “spread the love”! We also came across a street medical clinic where doctors were giving jabs etc – we did wonder whether this was an initiative by the Ross medical school. Richard had, of course, to visit his favourite eatery again while we were out in town….
Back on board and we did a few boat jobs. The rain had stopped and we had a beautiful rainbow….
Later on we headed out for the evening BBQ. Oh yes, and it’s raining again – hard!!!!! We had a really nice evening and caught up again with Eric and Pat on Cutter Loose as they continue to head north along with quite a few other cruisers, some we had met before and others we hadn’t. As usual the food, the rum punch and the company was great. Even did some dancing myself this week. Back to dink – who was sloshing around in rainwater he had collected while we had been out – and so to bed.
Sunday morning and we were up pretty early and did a number of boat jobs. Then we chilled and got ready to go ashore – today is the start of Carnival here in Dominica. Oh yes, and the clouds are rolling in across the mountains again….. looks ominous. We left dink on the beach jetty rather than taking him into town and started to walk admiring the flowers that grow everywhere wild. And of course, the heavens opened….. So we ducked into the Bamboo Bar and tried to get a beer – oh no, sold out, rum punch it is then! I’m not really a rum drinker – honest – and this was so strong it wasn’t funny…. I had to ask him to water it down for me. Needless to say Richard managed to finish his without the need for any additional passion fruit juice. There was a guy on a guitar doing a live set – and we recognised him from last year. So that was a nice interlude while waiting for the rain to go away.
Eventually after about 45 minutes it looked safe to continue the walk. Arrived at the market area and bumped into Hooligan and Inspiration crews who had clearly been there for a while! So we enjoyed a few beers with them and then headed off to the other end of town to await the parade.
And it rained again. Oh well, never mind… just have to get wet. Of course, we don’t own an umbrella on the boat – although many cruisers do. Just never really felt the need – the rain here is WARM! Eventually the parade started with the large music lorry which actually had a live band playing… and then the dancing started…. and the motorcycle club came roaring in…. and then the rain came….and more dancing…. and more drinking….. and more dancing…. and more rain…. Eventually – somehow?!? – we ended up in the parade ourselves dancing along with everyone else and then I got grabbed by a guy in a Morphsuit. Gave me a fright until I realised that it was Fabian, our dive leader! Too funny and he now answers to the nickname Mr Sperm! The children were dressed up; the costumers were traditional; the stilt walkers were great and the music was LOUD. The whole place was rocking. We grabbed some BBQ chicken from the street vendors along our way and the heavens then absolutely opened and the torrential rain just kept on coming. We are all soaked through to the skin – literally – but hey, it’s Carnival, so we just carried on. Eventually the crowds started to get larger and rowdier – time to leave. And, oh yes, it’s only 7pm…. Back to dink exhausted and soaked – but had a great time and really enjoyed ourselves. Once back safely on board Morphie we had lovely hot showers and so to bed.
Monday morning and we went into CALLS for our first volunteering session. We had a good look around – they have an impressive nursery for the babies of some of the students – a wood machine shop, a couple of classrooms and a computer room. Richard and I were allocated students and we took them off to work with them 1:1. Richard’s lad was pretty clued up and smart – and I caught them doing some pretty advanced stuff by lunchtime. My lad was struggling and couldn’t really get his head around addition and subtraction – let alone multiplication and long division. Anyway – clearly we were both a hit – as the students asked if we could stay and do the post-lunch session with them too. Sure – why not? We both were humbled by some of the stories – abuse, violence, abject poverty, and illiteracy to name just a few. Felt really good to give something back to this beautiful island and its people. After lunch we did another hour lesson and then called it a day. It had been a very rewarding day which we celebrated by having a few sundowners at the Blue Bay before having an early night. The sunset was pretty moody again tonight…. and Alexis carried on working in the anchorage as the sun disappeared.
Tuesday and more rain. Torrential most of the day so we stayed put and did a few boat jobs and then got ready to go diving.
We had planned a sunset dive and a night dive – with the latter being at the cruise ship dock, and a promise of seahorses! Well Fabian and Don were late – and the cruise ship hadn’t left yet. So we went off to a new site – and dropped down into the gloom to explore sand which is thermally warmed. Very strange to put your hands into hot sand down at 75 feet! Anyway…. we were diving around and the light was fading…. and the currents were pretty strong. We realised that Fabian looked a bit uncertain about the direction he was going to take – and seemed to be swimming above the reef which is unlike him. Anyway, we followed him….. and then we realised that not only were we being pushed out to sea by the current but also that we were being dragged down too…. At 120 feet (36 metres) we alerted Fabian and told him we wanted to start our ascent. We slowly ascended and took our time as our dive alarms started to go off…. and then the current released us and we started to bob up too quickly…. Oh no… dive down…. We eventually ended up with an eight minute safety stop in the blue before we surfaced – a long way from where we should have been. Luckily Don had been watching our bubbles on the surface and realised that we had ‘missed’ our turn and so had been keeping an eye out for us and then drove the boat to pick us up. Not a great experience – but just one of those things. It reinforced our buddy skills, looking after each other, and makes you less complacent of the dangers of the sport next time you go in the water. Obviously we did not go ahead with the second dive as we would have needed too long a surface interval to get us back into the safe zone. Back on board quickly – cleaned up – and so to the bar where we had a good chat about what happened. Turned into a bit of a session along with the PAYS guys and we had a good time.
Wednesday morning back to CALLS and we were allocated the same students again as they had asked for us! How great was that? Made us feel really good. So did the first session with them and then got new students for the second session. Richard’s was, again, pretty clued up. Mine, on the other hand, didn’t know colours, shapes and could almost count up to 20 but really struggled to write them down. A real eye opener to me as he was 17. He was keen to learn and we worked really hard. What impressed me was that he could do basic maths in his head even though he struggled to write the numbers down. So a very long road for him ahead but I’m really hoping that he stays with the programme. Hopefully my little bit helped in building his confidence if nothing else and I would have loved to spend more time doing this – such a shame that we didn’t find out about it until relatively late in our visit here. But I’m determined to spread the word with cruisers that are heading north – so hopefully they will get more volunteers as a result. Fingers crossed.
Wednesday afternoon we rushed to the PAYS hut on the beach – the Minister of Tourism and his staff had asked to meet the cruisers and the PAYS guys to see how he can help them with additional initiatives to encourage more cruisers to come and to stay longer. This all came about, partly, due to Richard’s impromptu chat with him last week. It was a pretty impressive meeting and we all felt that we had contributed and been listened to. Whether that makes any difference in terms of getting the funding that the guys need is another thing – but he seemed to get it! Only time will tell….
Wednesday night – phew this is a busy day! – and we are back on the beach to the PAYS BBQ. We weren’t going to go – but we need to support this organisation, so we decided that one more rum punch wouldn’t hurt us. Well – it was a fantastic evening – and one of the ex-CALLS students 23rd birthday, so after the BBQ we decamped to the very loud local bar next door and danced the night away. Back on board around 1.45 am – oops.
This morning, Thursday morning and we got up late…. no surprise there then! We are staying on board today getting ourselves, and Morphie, ready to go back to sea. So a very quiet day planned and certainly not going ashore tonight! We said all our sad farewells last night. Tomorrow – Friday – we are running down the coast to visit Roseau, capital of Dominica. Hoping for whales and dolphins on the way…. It is the time of year for them…..so all things flexible crossed!
Bye for now