Monday, April 21, 2014

South Caribbean Cruise Day 2 - Dominica! Champagne Reef, Titou Gorge & Trafalgar Falls

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     Mom and I had an awesome day on Dominica! It really made up for yesterday (St. Thomas USVI). We booked our day-long excursion through, who put us with a tour group called "Bumpiing Tours" and our awesome guide, Gary. We started our day snorkeling at Champagne Reef, which is rated really high on the scale for really good snorkeling and I could see why! Finally, some Caribbean waters that could stand up to the fabulous scuba and snorkeling we had on San Salvador when I lived there (San Salvador is a tiny and little-known island in the Bahamas. I lived there with Club Med for 6 months and was in the water every possible minute, so I got to be a bit of a scuba/snorkeling snob).

The name "Champagne Reef" is completely earned and appropriate! There are dozens of tiny volcanic vents on the bottom blowing up little bubbles and at one point, you swim right through a whole wall of them. It is literally like swimming through a glass of champagne! I was thrilled, but it came with a bit of a price. First off, my mom (Train Wreck #2) is not a snorkeler, or even much of a swimmer. I bought her her own mask and snorkel and she used flippers provided by our guide. I had all of my own gear to use. We have cootie-phobia, so we don't do shared snorkels. (TRAVELER WARNING! People have been known to get gum infections and such from snorkels that other people have used!). Secondly, the way you get to Champagne Reef is from a beach that is very rocky and extremely slick, not to mention you're fighting with the tide. It can actually be amusing to just watch people try to get in and out. All the snorkeling I've done has been in a river or spring, off a sand beach or in the ocean via a dive boat. Mom has only been a couple of times and just off a gentle, sand beach. Like everyone else, we were both struggling to get in and out, but of course since it's US, it's twice as challenging because we are CLUTZ's and we'll have the bruises to prove it tomorrow! She began to have some equipment issues after she'd been in for 20 minutes or so, so she didn't make it as far as the wall of bubbles, but I was so proud of her! My mom has serious anxiety issues, especially in places she's not comfortable and familiar with. But, I've mentioned it before...she is willing to try just about anything once when we travel! She gets it from her kid. LOL. She was out long enough and far enough from shore that she got to see more than she'd ever seen in the ocean before, especially because it is a reef. She really enjoyed all the colorful fish and different vegetation and can see now why I've always loved diving so much.

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Big annoying cluster-f**k of the day... NEW UNDERWATER CAMERA FAILED!!! It seemed to be fine yesterday, but when I went to take my first picture at the reef, nothing! And today, of all days on the cruise, was THE day to have a water-proof camera! Grrrrrrr!!!

     We didn't make it to all of the places we were thinking we were going to get to, because, while apparently drivers are slightly less insane here than on St. Thomas, the combination of construction and 'political' road closures was playing havoc with our sight-seeing plans and we had to keep turning back to try different routes out of Roseau. We did make it up to Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is where the Emerald Pools are (our geocache target for island credit), but we had lost too much time to see that. However, we went to other, way more interesting sites that I'm really glad we got to see.

     We went swimming at Titou Falls Gorge in the National Park. OMFG...amazing! The favorite highlight of the day for me. In the desert, we would have called this gorge a "slot canyon" with water in it. First of all, adrenaline-junkie that I still try to be in my broke-down, train wreck of a body, I was the only one of our group of 8 willing to jump the approx. 30 feet into the gorge below. Let me say, you have to jump in a VERY specific place because of the close proximity of the walls of the gorge (like 8 feet?), and the small area where it's deep enough to land safely from that height without hitting big rocks under the water. ONE other guy from our group decided to jump AFTER I told him how cool it was. Our guide didn't do it, and clearly he didn't think I was going to do it, 'til I did!  What a rush, too!  I would have preferred someone would have warned me for how much cooler it was after swimming in the ocean, but that made the heart beat even faster! It is possible to wade in gradually from the shallow pool and hot spring nearby... if you're chicken!

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(Falls in Titou Gorge)

     Our guide, myself and one other headed back into the gorge, away from all the people (there were a couple of small tour groups at that spot). As you swim along, you look up and at the top of the 50 foot canyon walls above you is the rain forest stretching up even higher. Those we left behind will never know what an amazing sight they missed! Unless, of course, they watch the second "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, that is. Part of it was filmed back there, so I got to hang out in the Johnny Depp zone for a bit. Once you get back in a ways, you come to two small, stacked waterfalls. I had my water-socks on, which do have tread, but it wasn't quite good enough to get me over the first set of falls to the second in the strong current, so they went ahead and I took pictures for the other group member coming back down. I could see the second set of falls just around the corner and above the first, and it wasn't big or anything, but there was just enough of a gap in cloud cover that the only ray of sunshine making it's way into the gorge was shining right on the falls! Awesome! The guy that I was taking pictures for felt bad about my stupid camera and promised to send his snorkel and gorge pics by email, so I'm really hoping he does. The following video is not mine, but does a great job showing this whole experience as I've explained it. Coincidentally, Levi, the tour guide in the video, was another of our Bumping Tours guides. (Thanks to "lereddick" on YouTube for giving me something to show my friends in lieu of my own pictures!)

Continuing on, we did get a little bit rained on, but really? It's a RAIN forest so I wasn't whining! It was a short duration and we were already wet anyway, so who cared? Our next stop, also in the National Park, was Trafalgar Falls. It was a bit of a hike (Yeah! Made up for the disappointment of yesterday's so-called hike!), up a nice trail to a beautiful spot with two, large waterfalls. Our thoughtful guide even produced a hiking staff for mom, who was missing her own at home. I thought these falls were actually way better than any I saw on all the Hawaiian islands. I DID get pics there with the trusty Smart-Phone, so at least there was that. The two falls are nicknamed "The Father" and "The Mother", the father being the highest. A little further down the path from the photo platform were the hot springs, which were tempting, but it was a bit of a steamy bottle-neck of people there and that meant negotiating more slippery rocks than my poor feet could handle. Mom wasn't interested in that either! She's pretty sure I gave her stress fractures on the beach earlier.

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Speaking of the beach at Champagne Reef again, me being my usual self, I almost fell twice and thought the required injury for the vacation was over (to quote my friends and family, vacation's not over until I've fallen or broken something. Sad, right?). Said fall was not on the beach (I fell for landscaping issues there! Namely big, slippery ROCKS!), but getting back on the boardwalk FROM the beach. The guide said, "Watch out for the top step. It's tricky.", because there was a bit of a gap between the boards at the top. Now, had he not said anything to make me actually think about the steps, I would have been fine. But, as usual, as soon as I started concentrating on the putting of one foot in front of the other, I got confused and almost went down. Our guide caught me once, and then when I got to the top step, I nearly fell through the same hole he was warning me about in the first place! He caught me again before I broke an ankle with a, "Ooh, la, la!" in the local Creole-French, and I chuckled and told him this was how I walked all the time. He may not have believed me at that point, but by the end of the day, he knew I was a danger to myself. I jump off, perfectly good canyon walls, you know!

Back on the ship, mom and I got showered and dressed in girl-clothes and headed to one of the sit-down restaurants for a change. After four days of dealing with the ship's buffet, we were both sore and tired and just didn't want to be pushed around by passengers fighting the line for crappy food. Good choice. We went in right after it opened, before the majority of loud people and children were back from shore and made ready. We got a quiet table at a window and ordered an excellent bottle of Muscato and discussed the adventures of the day. We really loved the whole day on Dominica. Gary, our tour guide, will be getting rave reviews from both of us. He was very knowledgeable about the island and helpful, and genuinely NICE. We couldn't have done better. So, after just two islands, Dominica is leading by a landslide as our favorite for this trip. Tomorrow we are on to Barbados. It is scheduled to be another long day so hopefully mom and I can hold out. Somehow, neither of us wrote down the specifics of our tour tomorrow, so basically it will all be a surprise! And hopefully, we'll have another day like today...and find a fix for the stupid underwater camera!

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