Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Work Hard, Play Hard

September is here, fall is not. Summer continues here on Dominica as we enter the last semester of med school island life. The last semester. It is hard to believe. And yet, the amount of crazy work we've put in, the hours of emotional stress, relational strain, exhaustion, and odd loneliness definitely adds up to more than these 9 months in my book. 

We've celebrated 2 breaks from school since January. Literally. There are no nights, no weekends. At the end of April/beginning of May, we flew to St. Vincent with Steve and Jenny (another med school island couple) and sailed around the Grenadines, learning how to sail and navigate the breezy Caribbean waters. Seeing these raw wild places from the sea almost seemed more natural than living on the islands. The Grenadines have a similar vibe to Dominica but a different history that makes up their own complicated social and cultural fabric. 

Sailing is not for the faint of heart and much more complicated than those peacefully billowing white sails suggest from the horizon. Our instructor, Bob, and his wife Sueno, patiently taught us the intricacies of the boat and the ways of boatmen. Local boats, painted bright reds, yellows, greens, blues, pinks, and purples, pulled up along side when we moored and offered us fish that hadn't even been to shore yet. We swam with sea turtles and sting rays and finally dug our toes in the famous white sands of the Caribbean. (Dominica only has black sand). We slept in tiny, hard cabins under the boat a few feet from our boat companions, cooked like we were camping, and ate family style meals around the small boat table. We pulled lines in, let lines out, and felt the wind push us from wave to wave. We jumped off of the boat and swam each day, an act which Andy and I counted as our shower... leading to my hair being almost naturally dreadlocked with salt water by the end of the week. 

This peaceful struggle to sail preceded the hardest semester here. I wonder if the sailing experience somehow added to our ability to calmly push through, to adapt, and loll with the waves of the semester.

Our second break, at the end of August /beginning of September was also full of colorful beauty, enthusiastic activity, and exploration together. This time we ventured back to America for a dose of culture shock with friends and family. Our people in Chicago and Minnesota reminded us of the love and comfort of home. It was nerve-wracking to drive on an incredibly fast highway with so many cars. There were so many things, just things, everywhere. Customer service shocked our socks off. My mom surprised us in Minnesota and I dropped all of my things and cried at the airport when I saw her. We talked and shared meals and walks and drives with people that looked at us with familiarity. I loved seeing leaves that weren't shiny and wet and bigger than me... only because thats what feels like home to me. Chicago and MN? Neither of those places are home to Andy and I. But the people there are. 

And there is nothing quite like home. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hiking, Climbing, Scrambling, Sliding

These four words sum up the majority of land activities in Dominica. This volcanic country is tiny but each excursion into the depths or outskirts of Dominica redefines those four words. This geological drama is breathtaking and humbling. Dominica is part of The Lesser Antilles (see map) which are volcanic islands dotting their way south to South America. Dominica is at the center of these islands and, while they all have one active volcano, Dominica has NINE. (Read here for more info on that.)

To showcase this volcanic wonder, Discover Dominica created The Waitukubuli National Trail, a trail that spans the island, south to north, covering 115 miles of the some of the most diverse hiking, climbing, scrambling, and sliding you can imagine. This trail is fairly new and yet to be discovered by world traveling hikers. The trail is made up of 14 segments, each with its own personality, as the path winds up, across, and around the volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, and 365 rivers of Dominica. While that trail is incredible, it doesn't even cover it. There are peaks, falls, volcanoes, springs, beaches, rivers, and valleys with jaw dropping hikes all their own. Since January, I've covered 10 of the 14 segments and a smattering of other hikes (which sometimes feel more like swims if its been raining...) and I'm not sure I've seen a quarter of the island yet.

Yesterday, we went to Aba Wavine, a short hike that packs a big punch, on the East side of the island near the Atlantic. It is hard to say this definitively but I think it is my favorite visual experience on Dominica to date. After the climb straight down a cliff to a black sand beach and a spout of a waterfall, we headed to Rosalie to see endangered sea turtles hatch and make their own epic scramble to the sea. I wish I had remembered to take more video but here is a little video compilation plus some photographs.

Nicodemus cutting bark off of a cinnamon tree. 
Starting the short but dramatic decent down to Aba Wavine.  

The Atlantic crashing on the black sands below us. 

Waterfall sighting!

Gorgeous black sand on the Eastern Shore of Dominica.  

Rosalie Bay Resort property.... 
We're going to see the Sea Turtles!!  
Simon digging up the nest of eggs... 
Recording the findings for Simon's turtle records.  
These are endangered species, these beautiful turtles, and Simon does all he can to help them hatch and make it to sea without being poached or eaten. He even sleeps here to keep an eye on the nests...  
One little gal dug her way out of the sand and we got to hold her before letting her make the epic shuffle to the ocean. 

Friday, June 27, 2014