S/V Delilah

A Blog to track the wanderings of the S/V Delilah, a 37-foot Tayana sailboat.

Friday, June 02, 2006


(Out of order!)

Wednesday, May 24
Roseau, Dominica, West Indies
N 15 degrees, 17.272 minutes
W 061 degrees, 22.640 minutes

Anybody who's ever tried to take an island
tour outside the walls of most cozy Caribbean
resorts knows that the opulence ends at the
hotel gates, and grinding poverty begins.
This is much more true in some islands than
others. Like most cruisers, Dean and I spend
our time outside both worlds, not really
welcome on resort property unless we have
money to spend, yet still considered wealthy
American tourists by local standards. In
islands and in towns where the economy is
developing and where our standard of living
on a 37-foot sailboat is decidedly more
upscale than that of the residents, we
become very aware of what we are flaunting
out in the bay.

Dominica is a beautiful, mountainous island
made up mostly of farmers. The volcanic soil
is so rich and the land receives so much
rainfall that crops grow with relatively
little effort. Fifty percent of the economy
comes from produce. And another big chunk
comes from tourism, an industry that is still
experiencing some growing pains.

We had received plenty of warnings before we
arrived in Dominica regarding the "boat boys,"
men who paddle out on surfboards or in homemade
boats to offer their services to visiting
cruisers. This is a major industry in Portsmouth,
a town along the northwest coast, and the
government has taken some positive steps to
legitimize and improve the careers of most of
the boat boys, turning them into licensed tour
guides for the area who are professional,
welcoming, and friendly, and who know how to
take no for an answer if you don't choose to
take advantage of their services. Our book on
Dominica listed a number of reliable guides,
and we called one to take us on a local tour.
For $15 each, Martin rowed five of us up the
Indian River (no motors allowed to protect the
environment) on a birdwatching expedition.
Martin has been trained as a guide, and he
knows all the flora and fauna in the area,
in addition to the country's history,
geography, vulcanology, and the history and
culture of the native Carib Indians. He talked
nonstop for two hours, and Dean wrote down the
names of a dozen new birds with which he can
taunt his brother. Martin was a big proponent
of eco-tourism in Dominica, and I have heard
that the hiking opportunities are endless and
the trails are very well maintained.

Unfortunately, not everyone in town is like
Martin, so when we made our way to the dock,
bringing some clothes to the laundromat, we
found ourselves fending off men who were not
so professional. One man, Danny, offered us a
laundry service, but wanted about $25 US for
two small loads. When I told him I'd already
found myself a laundromat, he gave me a hard
time, explaining that his family needed to eat,
as if, by doing my own laundry, I was cheating
him out of his living. I would not relent on
the laundry, but I agreed to buy some fruit
from him later.

Danny left us alone after that, but another guy
we'll call Fred, who seemed like he'd been to a
few too many parties, followed us all the way to
the laundromat, trying to carry my bag, showing
me how we could get Chinese food from the Chinese
restaurant we'd passed, or bread from the bakery
we'd passed. I guess Fred thought he was being a
really great "guide," because he showed up with
impeccible timing as we were leaving the
laundromat, declaring he'd like a cold beer.

When we demurred, Fred began wheedling, claiming
he'd spent the day with us and that it would be
"a courtesy" for us to buy him a beer. Or at least
a Coke. We kept saying no, and I made it pretty
clear that I felt we owed him nothing for his
tour of the obvious. Then he made it clear that
he felt that, as Americans, we owed him a beer,
and that would be the American Way. When that
didn't work he started to get angry. Calling us
a few choice names, Fred put a kind of hex on us,
declaring that from here on out, all our expenses
would double, and we'd have a bad time. Then he
left us.

In the short term, Fred was right. I didn't even
try to haggle with Danny over the fruit he brought
me, but what I also bought from Danny was peace of
mind. People on the street in Harvard Square asked
me for money at least ten times a day when I worked
at Harvard, and a few people who did not get money
were pretty unhappy about it, but none of them knew
where I lived. When I told Danny what happened with
Fred, he assured us that Fred would do nothing
further, that he was addicted to crack, and that
he (Danny) was going to go find Fred and punch him
in the mouth for me.

I declined that favor, but Dean, who was never
thrilled with Dominica in the first place,
declared himself done with it altogether. We
left this morning for Roseau, and on the way down
the coast I gazed longingly at all the beautiful
mountains I won't get to climb (for now). Tomorrow
we will head for the beaches of Martinique.

But I have some homework for you financial types
who read this blog, and/or for those of you who
have an understanding of the economics of smuggling.
How does an island with only 70,000 inhabitants,
surrounded by other small islands and with no
centralized population, attract crack dealers?
How does that stuff get here? Who brings it in,
and how much does he or she need to sell to make
it worth the risk? You might dismiss what Danny
said to me as hyperbole, but his was the third
reference we had heard to "crack addicts" on
the island.


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