Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Bamboo Tray

A bit ago I went beach exploring with my British friend, Naomi. While wading in a little alcove I found a bit of dried bamboo. Here it is on the beach as I found it, rough and broken.

I looked at it with excitement: a TRAY! Oh how cool, I thought naively, as I later realized. 

Why, you ask? Well, because those who carve know that DRIED bamboo is very HARD and green bamboo is what you choose to carve with because it is soft. 

Well, I went ahead with my plan. No stopping an idea over here. 
I took it home, cleaned it, and let it dry out.

Then, sitting on my roof, I whittled, cut, and sanded the stinkin' bamboo for a few hours until it was just as I wanted it. Other than a few blisters and sore hands, I was quite pleased. (And more knowledgable about choosing things to carve.) I might paint the exterior... but right now I'm enjoying the au natural look and might keep it. Now to find food safe wood oil on this island... 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nonhuman Neighbors

The weekly sightings of animals give a certain personality to where you live and even to how you see the world. Just their look, their way of moving and living, forms your impression of reality. Especially since they function according to the environment... paying attention to them can show you a lot about where you live.

Back home in Virginia I saw squirrels (my sister swears she sees one every day), pigeons, small bats at night, crows, little fluffy chickadees, dogs on leashes, and the occasional stray cat, cardinal or chipmunk on a weekly basis. Sometimes I would be excited to see a red headed woodpecker, a fox, or a skunk and going into more rural areas, I could catch sight of a deer, a groundhog, maybe even a black bear. But I was used to seeing these. And they informed my view of the world and how it looks, how it interacts, how it is... fur for cold weather, certain muted and almost colonial colors for blending into the Virginia surroundings, certain sounds I was used to...

The people here on Dominica are used to seeing all of the animals here. They pass them by without much thought. Their daily interactions with these animals have informed the way they view the world and how it looks, how it interacts, how it is. I can't imagine being used to some of these things (Oh, good morning Mr. Cow randomly on my road) and yet this is the Dominicans' reality. This is the way they understand the world working. With huge stinging centipedes, stray dogs, colorful destructive caterpillars, dinosaur looking lizards, parrots, and loads of fishes and turtles and pelicans...

This is reality too? This is the way the world works too? Yup. Everyday... everyday. But see, thats what travel does for you (or reading, if you don't have the money to travel.)! The world doesn't just operate in our little home bubble base.

What do you see everyday? How does it inform the way you see the world?

I've not been able to capture the pale gecko that lives in our bedroom or the one that lives on the screen by our stairs... the little black ant requires a blog post all its own since it tends to pervade all of life here (there is one crawling on my computer screen right now)... I've not seen a parrot yet... I know I have a lot of new friends yet to meet but until then, here are some of my neighbors I see:

Spot the little pigeon dove thing-a-ma-bird? 

So... whatcha doin there Mr. Cow? Just found a spot and stickin to it?

Almost ran into this cow while I was walking... 

I love this guy. Fabulous velvet coat, right?

I wonder if they get tired of being so alert?

What extravagantly fabulous worm life did this guy live? ... probably much more colorful. 

Ok, this is a little morbid since its just some crab's pincer but look how beautiful! Crabs are EVERYWHERE. Even up the hill from me (we live a few minutes from the beach) there is a little crab that crawls into a hole when I walk passed.

Staying with the dead-theme, this is a WHALE BONE. Yup.
You may recognize the picture from my beach tour... 

This crab should win an award posthumously.

"Just perching on the most awkward precipice I can find... See how Bob is envious... I got this."

He wants to blend in but his flamboyant side just can't be contained. 

A large red starfish. Thats a thing? Yup, and starfruit too.
Lots of stars and rainbows here. Its like a Lisa Frank pencil case.

Close up of the starfish.  
This goat lives up the hill from us. He cries like a baby human and its rather disturbing.
Sometimes I think, "Why isn't that person nursing their baby?!" And then I remember its a goat....
Then I wonder, "Why isn't that person nursing their goat?" GOSH. 
Tiny shrimps washed up and coated the shore line in the shape of waves the other morning... 

Seagulls. Ok, they are everywhere... 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Expats and Food

Dominica draws some interesting people from all over the world into an expat community that thrives on the rustic, wild nature of this island. Or maybe its how cheap it is. Or maybe its the anonymity. Are they hiding? Running away? Entrepreneurial? Whatever it is, I've met a number of people who now call Dominica their full time home or home for part of the year. 

A delightful Canadian woman, Carol, has been here for more than 20 years now. My British friend, Naomi, and I found her at her place, Buttercup Bakery, in Calibishi. She married a Dominican long ago and has been here ever since. Her bread, cake, cookies and jams, all locally sourced, are scrumptious... and given the style of bread made here (cardboard-esque but very cheap), her bread is almost worth the drive. 

I've befriended some other Canadians who live here half of the year, Danielle and Jack. I met them on the beach (they were tending the "bar") and they love it here. They seem to thrive on the forced simplicity, minimal attire, and wild natural living. In conversation we realized our shared love of mushrooms and are in the process of searching out mushroom farmers on Dominica. Danielle knows someone who used to work for the Agricultural Department of Dominica who is going to help us. I guess mushroom farmers don't spend much time online... Stay tuned for that adventure.
Another expat is a French man named Nicco. Being French, he brings with him, what else? Culinary beauty! His tiny bakery, Le Petit Paris, does big business here and is a favorite among the med student spouses. While the service and availability of offerings really follows the Dominican way (who knows, maybe not, nope we don't have it, not this time, oh sure...), the baking is decidedly FRENCH. 

Nicco serves up delightfully flakey fresh croissants: original, ham & cheese, and chocolate. He has french style pizza pies, wine tastings, chocolate swirly things, baguettes, and a friendly Bonjour to greet you.

The latest expat I've come across is a woman named Marie. She requires her own post... She is a painter living in Dominica and her studio was out of a storybook. I'm hoping to go back and paint with her so I'm going to wait until I have more to share beyond just my first visit. Here is a teaser though...


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Suspense Right Behind You

Have you ever walked on a suspension bridge? Not one of the big ones you drive on... a small bridge, suspended by cables, with wooden planks and rushing water below?

Its bouncy.

So, something seemingly insignificant happened in the last few days that will translate to any place. Probably not the suspension bridge specifically but its location.

I went on a hike, twice, up the hill behind one of the university's classroom buildings. Just off campus. There are so many hikes, waterfalls, pools, and hot springs that people travel to and its easy to see why: They are unbelievably gorgeous. But what was up this hill that is so close? First you walk through a diverse farm (owned by Cocoa the rasta farmer) full of bananas, cocoa, sorrel, lemongrass, grapefruit, breadfruit, and probably a billion other things I couldn't even recognize as edible yummies. There is also a beautiful suspension bridge, small clear pools, small rushing waterfalls, and a large old dam with water gushing over the road. Right up the street!

So here is the common scenario: You live somewhere. But you go other places to visit other things. What is in your own back yard? (Figuratively, of course... you probably know what is in your own backyard. Unless you don't. Then take that literally. And go there.)

Here is the hike... times 2.


Looking for tall rocky precipices to mount? You might be a goat. 
This looked very uncomfortable .... 

Part of the wilds... don't worry, they are just little prickly plants. 

Naomi trekking across the bridge. 


Left: Official exam post-exam shock.  Right: Taking Andy to the wilds. 

Med students post-exam. Andy and Jim. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Beach is a Beach.

Or is it?

Calibishie is on the northern coast of Dominica where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. Because of this the waves are larger and the swells are greater. Like most places on Dominica, the little town is rustic, colorful, and wild. Calibishie is a little different though. If you are paying close attention you will notice that the town has a lot of fresh paint...well, at least more than some of the other towns. Why?

Pirates of the Caribbean tourists.

Just down the road (kind of) you will find "Number One Beach." This is the beach where they filmed  Pirates 2 and 3. That said, don't start imagining white Caribbean beaches with lounge chairs, bars, and steel drums. Dominica and especially these little towns are extremely remote. The bits of tourism and fame that have touched the island only draw the most adventurous of travelers who don't mind the Nature Island's wild ways.

My lovely new British friend and I walked to the nearest town, caught a local van taxi thing, smashed into the 15-passenger vehicle with 22 others, and rode the eye-widening 45 minute drive to Calibishie. We stopped for a treat at the Buttercup Bakery and then proceeded on our beach touring adventure: Calibishie beach, Number One beach, a secluded no-name beach, and Batibou beach. Normally, when someone says "going to the beach" I have a general idea of what that means. I've been to various beaches from Ireland to Maine to Minnesota to California to Maryland. But here? Going to the beach is synonymous with going on a hike and going on an adventure. Carrying a chair, towel, sand castle tools, and a good book is NOT the general idea. There is no parking lot, the rains come in droves and leave just as quickly, and you have to watch for coconuts falling on your head. Cultural definition shift!

I'll let the visuals tell you the rest.

Not sure why I'm standing as though I conquered this pile of coconuts... I had nothing to do with their demise, unfortunately. 
Palm roots exposed. 

A drawn map... Not sure if we followed it.

We grabbed a coconut here and broke it open (along with our fingers) on the concrete. It was SOOO yummy and worth the pain! 

My new ride?
I found mushrooms! I did not smoke or eat them. 
Valley of dry bones... 

I think sprouted coconuts are some of the silliest looking things around. 
They have so much personality! 
Huge bone-looking drift wood. 
A low tunnel going through to the other side created a 'blow hole' of sorts. See video. 

A sperm whale bone from a whale that washed up on shore. 
The locals picked it apart pretty quickly and buried the rest. 

Even the crabs get in on the color. Not so crabby here. 

And then it was time to go home...