Friday, July 14, 2006

My Summer vacation

We headed East July 29 to celebrate Steve’s sister’s wedding and then take a week away to Dominica without Teresa. Thursday was purely a travel day though we spent the night at Steve’s Nana’s house rather than his mom’s – this gave us a chance to visit with Nana who is still recovering from bones broken in February. It was nice to visit with her – and our visit seemed to pick her spirits up with is needed for continued healing.

Friday I had an afternoon appt to get my nails done with the brides and maids of honor. That was fun – a Vietnamese run salon that churned though the ladies (and a few men, but not Steve, he opted for a beard trim at the barber’s shop next door). After nails we darted off to dinner at a Moroccan restaurant that provided belly-dancing entertainment while we ate our 7 course meal!! Teresa stayed home with Gramma.

Saturday was wedding day – we played around the house with Teresa, Gramma, and Gramp until Steve’s cousin Carol came over to watch Teresa. While Teresa was welcome at the wedding, we had decided that we’d enjoy the sailing wedding better without having to keep an eye on her. The wedding was wonderful, they had great winds for sailing – both brides got a turn at the helm. The sunset setting was beautiful, and they had arranged a lovely ceremony with just family and a few close friends; perfect. Sunday was a larger picnic celebration for more family and friends to celebrate the start of their new life as Mrs. and Mrs. Waters, a name change for both.

Monday we rose early and headed to the airport. Teresa rode along as we feared if we just left her in bed with quick kisses at 4:30AM (1:30 AM California time!) that she might not remember our leave-taking and really feel abandoned. She still felt abandoned, I think, at 6AM at the airport once she realized we were both kissing her goodbye and she was staying. I steeled my heart not wanting to prolong the goodbyes.

Our flights were uneventful, as travelers like! We arrived into Dominica at ~2PM with a death-defying landing barreling in over the rainforest and mountains with a last minute quick plunge down to the short runway. The pilots got applause, well deserved, it’s known as a fairly technical landing. Our baggage was hand carried to the “claim area’ – not baggage carousels here. A quick stop at customs and we were out the door.

A representative from Jungle Bay Resort met us immediately. He fetched the van and loaded us up, handed us fresh squeezed passion fruit juice and bottles of island water (nutritional ingredients include magnesium, calcium, potassium, sulfates, and nitrates). Our coast side trek south commenced with hairpin turns on 2-way roads that were in most places only 1.25 lanes wide. Horn honking must be written into the vehicular code.

Our eyes were wide-eyed with the new land we had arrived in. Bananas, guavas, mangos, avocados, falling from the trees. Pastel cinderblock houses next to timber and sheet metal “shacks.” Pedestrians everywhere. Burnt out cars and fancy-painted cars. Crashing Atlantic Ocean. Steep cliffs. Incredible. Our driver is US-college-trained in information systems but was not able to gain employment in the US. He grew up in a village of ~700, reasonably large for an island of only 69K residents. Of course we quickly came to see that a “village” was not really visible from the road – maybe a “Topup here” (cell phone minutes) store that also sold Coke products signified a sufficient quantity of people to support a store. Then blink, the town was passed.

After ~90 minutes of twisty driving,, Jungle Bay provided a warm friendly greeting. We were shown to our cabin, 135 stair steps (some stairs, some tree roots, some rock steps) up the cliff side in the jungle above the Atlantic. Fortunately for us, the spa was up our cliff path so we could economize trips up/down throughout our stay with a stop of a massage. We had our first massage that afternoon. Then attended our cooking class where we met the head chef, a warm woman who took good care of us all week, JoAnne. She talked of the native plants and taught us to prepare Pumpkin Ginger soup and Coconut fried plantains. Yum. With that appetizer, we were ready for dinner.

All meals offered vegetarian, chicken, or fish. The menu changed daily. Fresh locally grown salad ingredients, root vegetable sides. Fresh squeezed fruit juices (pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, sorrel, tambrine, tamarind, mango). Local ginger wine and spiced rums.

Tuesday dawned bright and pretty over the Atlantic. We awoke to lizards and birds in our Cliffside cabin. Our activity for the day, after morning yoga (well I napped while Steve yoga-ed) and breakfast was to snorkel at Champagne Bay and enjoy the local sulphur hot springs.

Champagne Bay is a body of water over steam vents from the volcano that make the island – the rising bubbles resemble bubbly and create warmer patches of water. Coral doesn’t grow near the vents, but just a short distance away we spotted many varieties as well as incredible fish. Unfortunately we forgot our underwater camera this day. We returned to the beach and found our guide, Rafael (Thomas Francis?), “but call me ‘brodda’ because we’re all a family,” waiting with fresh cut pineapple, fresh mangoes, and bananas, as well as more of the island bottled water and fresh juice.

We shortly packed up and headed to the hot springs were we broke for lunch… with fresh squeezed fruit juices provided. I can get used to this!! The hot springs were sulphurus and delightful. Most took a shower under the tumbling water, there were also small pools for soaking.

Oh yes, we had been joined this day by 3 other couples who were also staying at Jungle Bay, they were about the same age and adventure level and we all fit in well together. After our soaks we headed up stream to see the source, or at least evidence of volcanic activity, steam vents. We were at this point introduced to a cashew nut – who knew the nut grows outside the fruit? Very interesting looking. The fruit is also edible, kind of a slightly sour apple taste. Back at the resort we had our massages and dinner and fell to sleep (after climbing our stairs).

Wednesday morning we went kayaking in Grande Bay, these were sit-on-top kayaks that gave us the initial adventure of dashing out a narrow opening into the incoming surf. Steve and I made it out fine, riding a couple good breaking waves, as did the next two couples. The 4th couple took three tries to get out, one try ending with them bashed against the rocks. Glad that wasn’t us! We returned to shore for more fresh fruit, juice and water and the returned to the resort for lunch.

The afternoon was the Victoria Falls hike that requires “three” river crossings. Three? Well I guess it depends on how you count – is rockhopping/walking up-river but remaining on the same side a “crossing?” Suffice to say, we had plenty of wet before reaching the pool at the base of the Falls. The hike was short ~45mins to reach the falls but with the river crossings and boulder scrambling, was a decent workout. The Falls were spectacular, pounding in to an emerald pool. We waded into the perfect water and battled the water thundering down to try to reach the base of the falls. Steve tried swimming and remained stationary. It was exhilarating.

Our trek back out returned us to the home of one of the guides. “Well we move house every 5 years or so, it’s easy when you build of wood [and sheetmetal]”. Moses gave us a tour of his family garden. His father had been a midwife and passed a lot of knowledge to his son; of course, most islanders know medicinal uses for the many plants that grow here in abundance. Later that evening, after our massages of course, he gave a presentation of many more plants and their uses. Don’t drink sage tea if you’re trying to nurse a baby, give your husband sage tea if you want to quiet his libido, drink bay leaf infusion if you are ready to give birth but no signs of contractions, but don’t drink early in pregnancy if you want to keep the baby! Rosemary infusion will help with your child’s memory, good for students!

Thursday was THE DAY that we all awaited… or dreaded… or just wondered what we were signing up for. A 6-8 hour ~20 mile hike to the Boiling Lake and back. Here is a good description, It was a hard, incredibly satisfying hike through, over, and to some gorgeous land. I took many breaks on the numerous upslopes, sustained at more than 45 degrees in many places, my heart rate just kept climbing beyond something manageable. For all the rests though, I only had minimal calf muscle soreness the following days, so my legs muscles were ready even if my heart muscle was found wanting!

Friday we had a more peaceful hike of about 45 mins to sea water lava pools – enough to get the muscles warm again but not so much as to fatigue anyone. There were local fishermen seeking a day’s catch – a few had commercial rods but most had cut poles from the forest and attached commercial or makeshift reels. They cast a net to catch minnows and then use them as bait in hopes of catching dinner. Friday afternoon we lolled at the resort pool and had our massages.

Saturday was another relatively quiet day. We headed into the capitol city, Roseau (ROSE-OH), to the market. We ate fish cakes and fat pudgy bananas, drank coconut milk cut open in front of us and sugar cane juice squeezed while we drooled. We headed into the mountains for a dip in another waterfall pool and then back to the city for lunch in town.

At this point Steve and I separated from our great hosts at Jungle Bay and started a 48-hour tour of the island on our own. Steve got to drive lefty-style, which he fortunately got the hang of quite quickly. We also learned to make the car skinny when wide loads barreled down at us from the other direction. We headed up the Caribbean coast to the city of Portsmouth where we had lodging reservations in Gore Verbinski’s cabin (The director of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, for those not in the know).

In general we found folks at the north end of the island to be less warm and friendly than those in the south (especially our wonderful hosts at Jungle Bay), but Portsmouth is also home to a US medical school so the locals are probably jaded by the influence of the medical students on their community. Despite that we had a lovely time exploring the Cabrits (1800’s fort), swimming and snorkeling in the Caribbean, trying out the 4-wheel drive capabilities of our rental (the Jeep is way better), seeking local dining options (had both our best and worst meals of the week in Portsmouth), and relaxing.

Not having our every minute planned as well as the end nearing made us more aware of Teresa’s absence in our lives. We both appreciated having a few snapshots left in the digital camera that we could browse on our trip!

Monday was departure day, so we headed around the top of the island to the Carib Indian Reservation to purchase some weavings from the artisans. We also got in one last, short, hike to the Emerald Pools. Then a return to the airport where we soon learned that most flights are overbooked so while we weren’t last in line… we might not have reason to even be in line! But the gods were smiling and we made it on the flight.

Throughout the island were many goats and cows staked at seemingly random locations left to eat their fill in the radius the stake allowed. The islanders are mostly vegetarian, with chicken (they roam free, how do you collect the eggs??) and fish being the common meats when eaten. Special occasions call for goat and beef consumption – most cows are fattened for Christmas, the island is ~65% Catholic.

Fruit falls off the tree and lays uneaten – of course a lot is also collected and eaten, sold, bartered. You can’t go hungry in Dominica, if you know what to look for. Lizards abound. Land crabs hide their stunning colors. Snakes slither quietly away. Birds call songs not heard before. Frogs chirp. Flowers bloom in abundance. Everything is green except the barren land/seascapes around volcanic vents. All plants have a purpose whether providing food, medicine, or tools.

The people are warm, welcoming, friendly. “OK, alright” is the greeting. Smiles are returned. There is joy. The homes are mostly “shacks” by our standards, but all that is needed is a roof from the rain – and the rains are warm so even they aren’t bothersome. A hammock or small bed, cook outside, wash in the stream. It’s a simple life maybe, but rich and warm for this country with a wealth of sustainable resources.

We had less than 24 hours in Maryland to repack and collect Teresa before we flew back to California. Since we arrived Monday night after she was asleep, she awoke a bit confused to find her parents back in her life. The confusion didn’t last too long and she was soon begging for stories to be read and asking for hugs. The flight home with Teresa found her clinging to me, not happy when I passed her to Steve so I could go potty – or just get a small break from the small sucker-fish she had become!

She started saying at least two new words in our absence – “no” and “down.” Prior to our trip she only signed these words. Gramma reported Teresa did really well without us – Teresa didn’t like meeting new people – probably uncertain that she’d lose Gramma in addition to Mama and Daddy, but in general she played well with Gramma, swimming, going to the zoo, visiting Great Grandmothers and Aunts, and napped quickly – much to Gramma’s pleasure!

She and we are now settling back into life at home.

Whoosh, does that fill in most of the story? Oh wait, yes, as predicted by a few friends, we did return from our trip pregnant! Good news, especially as when we left we were pregnant! Little “Walnut” stayed glued where s/he should through all our adventures and exotic foods. We expect Teresa’s sibling to arrive in late January, shortly after Teresa turns 2. Now aren’t you glad you stuck with me for the whole story? J


Unknown said...

Nice description of Dominica (and thanks for a link to my page!). The Boiling Lake hike is actually only 7 or 8 miles, it just feels like 20!

Kerriann said...

Fantastic! I can't believe to took me three months to read this!
Congrats you three!