Saturday, September 5, 2015

ERIKA 2 - Getting to Portsmouth

Having spent 3 long lonely days in lovely St. Lucia it was finally time to catch the ferry over to Dominica and then wend my way somehow up to Portsmouth.  Five AM and the ferry terminal is packed, the boat leaves at 7.  I met up with several other Dominicans whom I had encountered along the way also anxious to get home.  We settled in, the boat was comfortable, the sea calm and we promptly fell asleep.  I woke up to a strange nautical sound, looked out the window and was amazed to see the ferry terminal in St. Lucia.  Yes, we were an hour out to sea when the boat broke down and we had turned around and headed back to port.  What little information we were given was in rapid, muffled French, which no one understood.

We were herded back into the terminal and were instructed not to leave.  An hour later we re-boarded the same boat and away we went.  Two hours out with one stop at Martinique, then 2.5 hours to Dominica.  We disembarked into typical Dominican chaos and heat.  The terminal is tiny, the crowd tired, hungry, worried and frazzled.  Immigration was easy, but customs a disaster.  Everyone had multiple bags and boxes; all loaded with goods they were bringing to the ravaged Island.  Only 2 customs officers and 300 people.  I figured NO, and left the building by the side door with my one way too heavy bag and went right into the street.   I had planned to take a fishing boat and get to Portsmouth by sea, but it was already 4:30 PM and all the Portsmouth vessels had gone for the day.  I stood there, looked around and flagged the first 4 wheel vehicle I saw. There were a couple of them waiting to see if there were any people going north. I knew that the road was all but impassable, but I also knew that a 4x could get through.  I negotiated a price threw my luggage in and set off.  By now I had spoken to McDowell who was more worried than I.

 What I saw on my way up brought me to tears and is beyond words.  Cars and trucks piled on top of each other, huge chunks of mountain now on the road, a house that was on a hillside now in the sea, a jumble of broken trees, rocks, cars.  The bridge at Salisbury had been ripped from its foundation and tossed aside leaving a gaping hole, in several places you could see where the road was undermined by the rushing water.  The little sweet Macoucherie River had become a raging torrent and completely flooded the rum factory, the cricket field, the cane fields and had moved sheds and buildings.  There are many photos on the internet, but it has to be seen to be believed. Sister Caribbean Islands have been quick to respond with their limited resources.  Where are the Canadians?  the Americans? The UK is evident, but barely.

 Anyhow we bounced over rocks, plunged through makeshift by-passes, splashed across muddy divides and made it home before dark. The driver took me right to my door.  McDowell was waiting.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


On Wednesday, August 26, 2015, I happily set out to return to Dominica.   I arrived in Barbados to get the connecting flight to be told that the connecting flight is cancelled and the airport in Dominica was closed. Tropical storm Erika was battering Dominica.  I was stranded with several other Dominicans trying to get home. I need a bed for the night.  I looked around for a Help Desk, Tourist Booth, something to assist transient visitors.  I saw nothing.  Later I was told that there is such a thing hidden away in the vastness of the airport.  What to do? So I went to the taxi stand and looked for the most grandfatherly driver (no Rasta, no hot shot) I could find and threw myself on his mercy.   
                Me: What do you do with stranded visitors?  I would like a bed in a guest house and a meal.
                Grandfather: I will look after you Darlin'. Get in, make yourself comfortable
And he opened the door to his dilapidated van and I climbed in.  Off we went through the Bajan heat and haze ending up at the Croton Inn.  Cheap, clean, tiny, cool and friendly.  Perfect.  He said he would come and get me in the morning to go back to the airport. I dumped my heavy bags and went out to find a bar.  Came back and had curried chicken for dinner.

So Thursday morning, after a nice breakfast at "Butterfly", I lugged the bags back onto Joseph's (grandfather) van.  At the Liat counter the Dominican refugees found each other and formed a support group on a bench.  We waited quietly sensing the worst.  Eventually a woman came and told us that the airport in Dominica was awash, nothing going in, nothing coming out.  Call them in the morning.  Back to Croton Inn with Joseph.   They had been watching the local TV and knew what was happening and were careful not to be discouraging but suggested I be prepared to stay for the weekend.  I took a local city bus and went to the end of the line, the Market area, turned around and came back on another route.   Had a couple more Heinekens, dinner, got caught up on Face Book, tried again to call Dominica. 

The frangipangi is in full bloom and the air is fragrant.

Friday morning I called the Liat number we had been given and they said, "Nothing in, nothing out, call again later."  I will call again, but I am not at all hopeful. The news keeps getting worse and the pictures are apocalyptic.  I have to find an ATM. 
Saturday August 29 Should I stay or should I go?  Had a very down start to the day.  Only bad news from LIAT and horror stories on the internet.  What to do, stay and tough it out?  Go back to Canada?  I put the call out to my wonderful friends on Face Book and got some encouragement and advice.   I pulled myself together and went to have something to eat (gluey fish cakes -belch) and then the Barbados Museum for the afternoon.

When I got back in the late afternoon, Tyrone, the owner of the Croton Inn, was holding court on the veranda.  Five or six of his male friends were there having a beer.  Apparently this is a regular Saturday afternoon gathering.  I was invited to join.  Much commiseration for my plight, much alcohol, a few laughs.  One of them has a Dominican wife and he offered to try to get in touch with McDowell, or anyone, for me.  He also said that LIAT was offering to get those of us who wanted to return to Dom to St. Lucia where we could then take the ferry to Dominica.  I called LIAT immediately and they had one seat left for Monday night.  I booked it.  Now I do know that Portsmouth itself is OK, but there is NO access, all bridges are down.  The only way to get from Roseau to Portsmouth is by boat.  How I am going to do that is a mystery at this point.  Anyhow I am going home to Dominica and McDowell on Monday. I'll figure it out as I go.  I have a super guardian angel and I am a resourceful woman.  All odds are against this venture I know.     l will arrive in St. Lucia in the dark; I will either go directly to the ferry terminal or find a place to sleep for the night.  I don't know the ferry schedule.  How will I get from Roseau to Portsmouth?  And I will be sea sick.  I must do it anyway. 

Spent a pleasant evening with Tyrone and the 'boys'.  One of them brought his steel pan and played some mellow music.  Tyrone is a jazz buff.

Sunday:   It is 35 degrees Celsius.  Spent the day suffering from the yo-yo syndrome and making the unknown known.  Pending at this point is a place to stay  (friend of  a friend IN St.Lucia), and a ticket on the ferry (when, is still unknown).  I love the Caribbeans.   They are so not-by-the-book.  Tyrone and Wendy have invited me to dinner.

The Eastern Caribbean is clogged with horrible saragasso weed.  Not a result of Erika.  The picturesque beaches of Barbados are covered with the smelly thick stuff.  This will certainly have an impact.  

Monday: So I put in the day OK.  Met a woman, Kathy, from Peterbourgh believe she will come to Dominica on her next visit to the Caribbean.  Did a little shopping for things to bring to Dom, (rice, dry soup, Advil, etc.). Can't take too much. I already can't handle my suitcase. 
Arrived St. Lucia and the woman who was to pick me up forgot.  I only had her first name and phone number.  St. L immigration gave me considerable grief and didn't want to grant me entry because I had no place to go.  What would have happened if I didn't have at least this phone number?   After they heard my story, they finally called her, unknown to me.  She was asked some questions, they came back to me and verified the contact we had in common and stamped my passport. She came to pick me up in minutes and took me home.  Beautiful Caribbean home, right out of a magazine.  I got installed in a studio apartment in the complex.  Fine
Tuesday: Up early, Jemma drove me to the city.  I bought my ferry ticket - Thursday at 7 AM.  I have to be there by 5 AM.  Topped up my phone, bought some groceries and a bottle of wine.  Now it is just to wait for Thursday.  The house is way outside the city, no one here, tired of going for a walk, can't get I'll sit it out.  I did alert Cobra at the Indian River and Hypo at the fisherman's cooperative to look for me Thursday morning at 11:30, off the ferry from St. L.  They have been carrying people back and forth from Roseau to Portsmouth.  The only access to the north is by sea.
Talked to McDowell tonight.  He sounds exhausted.  His house is  fine.  My apartment is fine.
Wednesday  2PM:  This time tomorrow I will be in Dominica. I have been comfortable this week of waiting, but fraught with anxiety.  So many people have been so good to me. 

I'll continue this when I arrive