Wednesday, 20 February 2013

AT HOME ON DOMINICA - HOMESTAYS AND LUXURY STAYS




Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail is the first and only long distance hiking trail in the Caribbean traversing the entire island. I am here to walk the walk , or at least some if it, and I am braving the rain in the rainforest to do so.
In a region saturated by tourism, Dominica remains one of the hidden gems of the Caribbean. It is dubbed the “Nature Island” due to its abundance of natural splendours: 365 rivers, the second largest boiling lake in the world, a lush rainforest, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and black and white sand beaches. Much of the island is protected under national parks, one of which has been given UNESCO World Heritage status. Dominica is a paradise for divers, birdwatchers, nature-lovers  and hikers.

Named after the indigenous name for Dominica (meaning “tall is her body”), the Waitukubuli trail runs for 115 miles from the south to the north of the island and is divided into 14 sections. Hikers are able to complete one section per day so in theory it will take two weeks to cover the entire trail. It traverses forest reserves, national parks, old slave routes, ruins of plantations that once processed sugar, coffee and limes, small farms and country villages.
 With  tropical raindrops falling on my head, I’m completing section 10 and 11, Colihaut to Syndicate, which finish in a refreshing and fragrant walk through a banana plantation. The trail is the brainchild of Bernard Wiltshire, a passionate Dominican environmentalist who persuaded the British Development Division to fund studies the trail. He claims to have been inspired by walks across the Pennine Way when he was in the UK, although it is hard to see any similarities. Even the rain smells different.

As a reward to my tired legs,  I am spending the night at Secret Bay, a boutique eco-luxury development of just four villas and bungalows. The secluded accommodations are nestled within the lush rainforest canopy, surrounded by trees with the Cario River, the Caribbean sea, two swimming beaches and a sea cave below.

Secret Bay’s distinctive villas and bungalows were conceptualised by award-winning Latin American architect Fruto Vivas  to minimize the  impact on the environment and bring the outdoors in. Vivas is the father in law of owner Gregor Nassief who used to visit the eponymous Secret Beach as a child.
The one- and two-bedroom villas feature indoor/outdoor living rooms, bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, outdoor showers, a private pool or Jacuzzi and an expansive veranda with panoramic ocean views. Secret Bay’s two storey bungalows are luxurious tree houses perched in the canopy with floor-to-ceiling glass windows on both levels with stunning views

At Secret Bay, they say ‘the Villa is the Hotel’ and personal yet inconspicuous service is a speciality. There is no reception or restaurant but the  villas are fully-equipped with modern facilities  and staff are on hand if needed to organise massages and yoga classes, or even book a private one-man jazz concert in the villa

The town of Portsmouth is nearby and the capital of Roseau one  hour away.
My stroll around Roseau takes in  the old French quarter, Roseau cathedral and one of the best-preserved collections of 18th century Creole architecture in the Caribbean including former home of author Jean Rhys, whose atmospheric novel Wide Sargasso Sea and many of her other works draw reference from her early life on Dominica


Kalinago Territory
Dominica is the only Caribbean island with a population of indigenous Carib Indians (around 3,000); known locally as the Kalinago – and interested in finding out more about their lifestyle I opted to spend the last night of my visit experiencing the new home stay programme. Designed to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience the unique heritage of Dominica’s first settlers, the scheme also allows the residents of the community to benefit from the tourism sector.
My hostess Regina greets me at the  door of the traditional house she has built herself, where I shall be staying overnight. Farmer Regina  has travelled to London, Canada and the USA as a free trade ambassador for Dominica’s banana business. She tells me about the produce she grows; dasheen, cassava, yams and sweet potatoes and explains the way the Territory works. It is collectively owned with an elected chief and there is a strong sense of community here.
There is no flushing toilet in this house and the facilities are basic, but it is clean, the food is fresh and plentiful and Regina is a fascinating dinner companion.
In the middle of the night I can hear the rain battering on the galvanised roof and I awake at about 5a.m.  to the sounds of local workers chattering in Creole. Regina tells me  the Kalinago language died out because of colonization, but Creole is still widely spoken and even local news programmes are broadcast in the language


Nearby at the  Kalinago Barana Aute , a village built to showcase the Kalinago lifestyle, manager Kevin Dangleben tells me that given a choice of three levels of homestay accomoodation ;  traditional lodging in a hut, simple accommodation such as that at Regina’s, or a home with more modern facilities, few visitors select the modern option. People from other  parts of the Caribbean have been particularly keen to stay here, he explains, attracted perhaps by the simple, relaxed way of life that has largely died out on the islands

I complete my tour with a boat ride down the Indian River, black crabs scuttling along the river banks and iguanas watching me curiously from the trees. The sun comes out at last and a rainbow arches across the Dominican sky.


GETTING THERE
British Airways offer return flights from London Gatwick to Antigua from £615.76 return including taxes/fees/charges. This is for travel departing up to mid-July and from mid-August onwards.  Visit www. ba.com/antigua or call 0844 493 0787

LIAT www.liat.com operates a regular daily service to Dominica (Melville hall airport) from Antigua. Flights take about half an hour

STAYING
Secret bay
www.secretbay.dm
rates range from $378 to over $1,000 per night depending on the unit and season.

Homestays with local families and small guest houses are available as an accommodation option on the Waitukubuli trail
www.waitukubulitrail.com
For details of Homestay in Kalinago territory see www.kalinagoterritory.com
For information on the island visit www.discoverdominica.com

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