Delectably Dominica

Before I share my thoughts on Dominica, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am referencing Dominica and the Dominican Republic.  Two totally different things and experiences.  I have been to the Dominican Republic in the past and can tell you that there is no comparison to be made with Dominica.  Dominica is located approximately a 1 hour ferry ride from Martinique in the eastern caribbean.  If taking the ferry from Martinique, you will enter into the town of Rousseau.  Be prepared to wait in line approximately 30 minutes to process through customs and immigration as there may only be one immigration officer processing individuals.

What can I say about this small tropical paradise?  It reminds me a little of  St. Thomas as there are so many shops and vendors in the town of Rousseau.  The locals are SOOOOOO nice, welcoming (even to the tune of actually thinking you are Dominican yourself — that happens to me a lot) and very informative.  Music can be heard everywhere you venture and the vibrancy of the colors is amazing.  And the gentle breeze is heavenly.  All of the ingredients that make for a great island experience.

But what about the food?  The food is amazing.  I had a grand opportunity at CocoRico Cafe which is not far from the ferry dock.  I ordered the creole codfish which was nothing short of amazing.  I felt the chef’s love for cooking all through out that dish.  So much flavor and soul in that dish.  And the portion was huge; I could only consume half of my meal while in the restaurant. It doesn’t hurt that the meal was roughly $13Us.  So, if you happen to visit this lovely island, please look this place up.  It is rather small inside, but the food is worth the visit.

Okay, I know I know.  Yes, I am a connoisseur of the finer things in life and I am well known for procuring some of the finest local artifacts that money can buy.  So, of course I brought back 4 bottles of the local rum.  Haven’t had a chance to imbibe yet, but looking forward to it.

Things to know before visiting Dominica:

  1. Dominica local currency is the eastern caribbean dollar (EC) which is valued at $2.70EC to $1US.
  2. If you take the ferry over to the island, please know that there is a $59EC or $23US departure tax that must be paid prior to processing to immigration and boarding the vessel.
  3. One other note regarding the ferry.  If you decide to purchase the finer things in life (i.e. rum), please know that you must clear magnetometer and X-ray machine when departing Dominica.  As such the large bottles of rum will not be allowed through.  So make sure you bring a small suitcase or book bag with a towel or something to cushion your purchases and check the bag in. Thankfully I always carry my beach bag and beach towel with me, so I was good to go.
  4. Taxi’s are readily available as soon as you disembark; however, I love to walk and didn’t find it too difficult to navigate the terrain and explore.
  5. If visiting on a Saturday, you will find that many of the restaurants have very limited offerings as they do not cook on Saturdays.  While I found this rather odd, I also found it very reassuring.  At least I know that people weren’t going to serve me any spoiled or three-day old food just to make a buck.
  6. As with all tropical spots, be prepared for the sun.  I am a summer baby, so I love the sun.  But for some, 86+ degree temps in February proved to be a bit too much.
  7. Support the local economy.  I visited a few of the local craft tables where I was able to pick up my obligatory shot glass and some other souvenir items for very little money.  Please do not be like the ugly tourists who put their hands up, twist up their noses and rudely say “No, I don’t want any.”  It hurts nothing to give a look and a simple thank you before moving on will do the trick if you decide not to purchase anything.
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Guadeloupe – The Island of Awe

I am sure when most people first see the name of this caribbean destination the eyes squint, there is a quizzical look on the face and the question that comes to mind is – “Where’s that?”  Well, that’s why I am here for you.  To introduce you to an island you may have never thought existed.  La Guadeloupe is located in the eastern caribbean region and its nearest neighboring islands are Martinique, Dominica and St. Lucia.  The island is composed of Basse Terre (think mountains, waterfalls, and country side) and Grand Terre (think city, suburban, and urban areas complete with nightlife, arts and craft markets and museums).  Perhaps one of the things that visitors should be aware of prior to visiting is the fact that Guadeloupe is an insular region of France (i.e. french territory) and therefore the primary language is french.

Now that you have the basics covered, what is really important to know?  From the east cost, Guadeloupe is roughly 4.5 hours from the mid-Atlantic east coast and direct flights are available (this means more rum to bring back, but I digress).  High season for the country starts in November and runs until March.  As such, it is highly (did I say HIGHLY) recommended that car rental reservations be made well in advance.  Trust me, I have first hand knowledge of this.  This is not a location where you can just walk into a rental agency, wave your credit card, and say that you want a car for the weekend.  If you are staying in the more developed areas, you definitely need a vehicle.  Taxis are pretty expensive, so be forewarned.

Where to stay?  There are a ton of options; however, I chose to stay in Le Gosier which is centrally located and not far from the beach.  Le Gosier is located approximately 20 minutes or so from the capital Pointe-a-Pitre and area where is the airport is located.  Every budget type can be accommodated in Le Gosier, from thrifty airbnb to higher end hotels, so there is no problem finding lodging to suit your needs.  There is a visitors center in Le Gosier that can provide you with a wealth of information about La Guadeloupe and they also have free wifi available for use, just ask for the code.

What to eat?  Actually, it is more like “what not to eat”.  As with any other caribbean destination, you have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and fish.  But, there is also a creole influence with respect to the food which takes things up a notch.  The food is very well seasoned and the portions are ample enough so that you can take home leftovers (especially important if you are traveling on a budget).  I can pretty much guarantee that whatever you are in the mood for, you can find it in Guadeloupe.

What to do?  It is almost standard protocol to visit the beach as the caribbean is known for having some of the best beaches in the world.  However, there is more to Guadeloupe than the beach.  Visitors to the island can find a lot of things to do that will give them a feel for the culture.  Two of the highlights of my trip were visiting a waterfall in Basse Terre and visiting Memorial ACTe.  It should be known that there is a lot of walking to get to the waterfall, but when you finally reach it, it is a gorgeous sight.  Remember to pack your bug spray.  The Memorial ACTe is perhaps one of the most well put together museums dedicated to telling the history of slavery in Guadeloupe and the caribbean.  Please note that the information presented in this museum is not a regurgitation of the water-downed history lessons you learn in school.  It is factual, in your face, well researched history.  Be prepared to be amazed and to also have your emotions stirred.

What to know before you visit?

  1. As mentioned earlier, Guadeloupe is a french territory and therefore the euro rules the land.  Therefore, it is important that you research exchange rates prior to your trip and understand how far your money will stretch.
  2. Although Guadeloupe is a french speaking territory, people are very cordial and patient with those who are non-french speaking individuals.
  3. Most of the hotels offer european plans.  Therefore, don’t expect to find a lot of places where free breakfast is included.
  4. With respect to lodging in some hotels, note that the rooms are very basic (not in a bad way) and you will have a bed, bathroom and tv.
  5. If you decide to stay in an airbnb, be sure to confirm the exact location of the rental.  Some people list their properties are very “creative” with the descriptions.  Their definition of “beach nearby” may be 5 miles away.  Research, research, research!
  6. If you choose to rent a vehicle, please realize that most rentals are standard shift vehicles.  If you are lucky enough to acquire an automatic, please know that you are going to pay appropriately 30-50% more for the rental.  As I stated earlier, book your rental months in advance if you will be visiting during high season.
  7. The local drink is Ti Punch.  If you are not a drinker, you might want to just stick with a coke or something else.  The drink doesn’t seem like much, but it can literary make someone’s head do a 180… but it is good!

Winter Weather Woes – Air Travel

So, in the last post I discussed how to prepare for the lovely winter weather that so many people endure.  By winter weather I am speaking of snow, ice, and sleet.  Elements like these can really disrupt your way of life.  Of course they cannot be any more disruptive than when you are flying to, from or through some of the areas that tend to be impacted the most by winter weather – Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and Detroit.  Coincidentally, these locations are often major connection points for most air carriers.  So, what can you do to avoid a disruption to your travels?

  1. When booking travel, try to avoid the areas that a notoriously impacted by winter weather and prone to flight cancellations or delays.
  2. Make sure your travel plans are flexible.  Therefore, in the event that your flight is delayed or canceled, you can move to plan B (and C if necessary).  When serious inclement weather is in the forecast, most air carriers will allow you to change your flight or cancel it in its entirety.
    – Check the airline’s website and airport website for the latest updates.
  3. Consider purchasing travel insurance to cover any unexpected additional costs associated with the delay or cancellation.  Check your credit cards as this could possibly be included as benefit afforded to you as part of the terms of use.
  4. Websites like flightaware.com can provide you with useful information and statistics to help you plan the trip and determine which regions and airports are most likely to be impacted by winter weather.
  5. If you are flying during the winter, consider putting a change or two of clothing in your carry-on bag, especially if you will not be able to re-schedule your flight for a few days and are unable to book a hotel.  While sleeping in the airport over night might now be something that you wish to do, you need to plan for the worse case scenario.
  6. When weather related delays and cancellations occur, they will probably be a run on food in the airport.  Pack snacks that will help keep you full.

Although you cannot determine when the worse of the weather will strike and how it will impact your travel plans, you can take the necessary precautions to try to avoid it or at least mitigate the hardships associated with it.  Stay safe and be aware!