Friday, June 3, 2016

Chocolate and Caribs

I love chocolate and on a little aberration of this theme, I love beer and chocolate together. The promise of Dominican chocolate and a cold Carib beer sounds wonderful, but in this case we were off to see the Kalinago (Carib) territory on the east coast of the island.

Once again we set off in the morning with Martin (Providence) for a tour to the north-east corner with our first stop at Anse Soldat.  It was still early in the morning so we weren't ready for a beer but we did take the time for a little dominos challenge.

The Sea Breeze bar at Anse Soldat - what a view and right on the beach.
George took the first round ...

... and I took the second.

A massive reef system protects this bay from the Atlantic waves -  we watched the fishermen bringing in some nets.
As we started to head south along the east coast of the island we passed through tidy little villages, each with their own cluster of brightly painted houses and each surrounded by delectable fruits and sturdy root vegetables.  The remains of old plantations still pop up occasionally but most places lie in ruin overgrown with vegetation.  The times of slavery on this island were particularly brutal so no-one is in a huge rush to dredge up reminders of the past.

Typical of the colour schemes of homes on this part of the island - each one different and creating a confectionary stand look as we drove through the villages.

The old church of what was once the huge Hamstead Estate.

Road stop for sweet island pineapple just above the town of Calibishie.

Tourist information kiosks and also signs reminding that tourism is a community responsibility show just how seriously Dominicans rely on the tourist trade.
Our next stop, and a real high point on this tour, is the Pointe Baptiste Chocolate Factory.  Well, it's hard to use the word factory when it is just one man who makes the chocolate, so we'll just say we visited his home and sampled his wares, and of course purchased some to take home.

Alan Napier, third generation descendent of Scottish settlers to the island, makes chocolate from cocoa grown and harvested right on his own property.  To say this is small-scale production may be understating it, but the results are incredibly delicious. 

A new building, beautifully painted, welcomes visitors.  Apparently the health department was not too happy with production taking place in the residential kitchen.

Harvested cocoa pods awaiting processing.  The pods are filled with dark brown bitter seeds and a white slimy pith.  You can suck out the pith but the seeds need lots of work to become delectable chocolate.  Who ever figured this out in the first place??

Alan explains how the seeds (removed from the pods) are packed tight into these wooden boxes and allowed to ferment for a few days.  The boxes were quite hot to touch.

Then, laid out in the sun to dry, the seeds have to be turned a couple of times a day.

We headed over to the building where the pods are roasted and then ground.  The machines Alan is using look almost like toys.  The roaster is on the table at the back (about the size of an Easy-Bake Oven) and the grinder is the little green machine in the foreground.

A box of nibs (ground roasted beans) ready to be added to another little machine that is like an automated mortar & pestle. The result after this stage is a smooth, creamy chocolate that is then poured into a chocolate bar mold.

There are about a dozen different flavours and Alan has labels and cellophane ready for the final product.

One of my favourites - Ginger chocolate.  We were handed a menu that included Lemongrass, Tangerine, Hot Pepper, Ginger, Candied Ginger and of course 60%, 70% and 80% cocoa.

The house built by Alan's grandparents stands amid tropical gardens with a beautiful view overlooking the Red Rocks, that we will see shortly.

Everywhere we turned in the garden, something was bursting into flower.  I love this time of year in the islands as everything is flowering and fruit is ripening on the trees all around us.

And creativity abounded everywhere - there is obviously some talent in this family!  Many of the murals were painted by Alan's daughter.
We couldn't resist so we came away from Pointe Baptiste with a good number of bars and flavours to sample.

Next on, we drove around to the Red Rocks, which are actually owned by Alan's family.  This area of outcroppings points north-east into the Atlantic but the topsoil has all eroded away leaving only the volcanic mud and clay base that has been carved into a curious landscape by wind and rain.

The view from Alan's veranda, looking down on The Red Rocks.

Martian landscape or Dominican oddity?

Have we now transported to the south-west of the US?  Arizona? Nevada?

Martin slapped a fern on his arm and asked us for the name.  You guessed it!  Yellow fern.

The wind was blowing and the guys believed they could fly - or at least just sing about it.
A lunchtime stop in Calibishie was just in time to prevent our tummies from rumbling too loudly and perfectly timed as a rain shower rumbled through.

We can certainly recommend the Coral Reef Restaurant - a bit of a hideaway that doesn't look much from the street, but this appears to be the norm in Dominica.

The water here behind the reef is so clear you can sit on the deck and watch fish as if in an acquarium.
One of the unique features of Dominica is that it is home to some of the last remaining Carib indigenous people - The Kalinago.  In 1931 a reserve was set aside on the east side of the island, much like Indian reserves in North America.  As with our experience in Canada, many of the same issues are forefront for this small population of about 3000 - poverty, alcoholism, church abuse, subsistence living, loss of rights and freedoms - all this leads to a movement that sounds oh so familiar having just gone through the Truth & Reconciliation Commission at home in Canada.  Old traditional ways clash with modern ideas and one wonders how long before either the old ways disappear or their voices are heard.  As in the rest of Dominica, local talents are put forth to provide wares for tourist stops, so we did our little bit and perused a woven basket stand.  The work is intricate and delicate, but at 20EC (about $8 USD) for a good-sized basket these people are definitely not making a lot of money here.

Woven fans and baskets, Calabash bowls and carved walking sticks were just some of the crafts available.
One of the highlights we came across, and an experience Martin was not certain he would find for us, was the building of a traditional dugout canoe.  We were driving up a secondary road when Martin suddenly stopped and put the van in reverse.  We knew he'd spotted something but rather than another interesting plant, this time he'd found two men building a canoe.

Quick eyes spotted this work-site at the side of the road.

The base of the canoe is made from a single Gommier tree.  Planks are then added at the sides, all cut from the same kind of tree and seams sealed with the tree's gum (resin).

The inside of the tree is hollowed out by hand with an adze and the boat is also steamed so it can be widened somewhat in the middle.

These two men very proudly displayed their almost finished product.
We were told that it takes about three to four weeks to build a canoe and they will charge about 3000 EC for the finished product (about $1200USD).  We later saw one on the back of a pickup truck being delivered to Portsmouth where it will go into service as a fishing boat.  Next time we pass a fisherman out off the coast, I will be looking closely to see if he is using one of these boats.

By now time was getting along and although we had not traveled a long way in miles, we had really taken in the industry that I find defines Dominica.  From the one-man chocolate production, to the farms and banana plantations around Marigot, to the fishing of Calibishie and then on to the Kalinago territory we had encapsulated a lot of daily ways of life here on the island.  Now when I look out at the lush green landscape my eye is beginning to discern cultivated plantation among the wilder habitat.  Looking up at the rugged mountains we can now see the 'population line' with farms below and rain forest above.  Martin continues to inform and educate us on the natural resources of the island and woven into every sentence is a combination of educated science and handed-down medicine lore.  

Our final stop however brought us back to modern day satisfaction and with a cold Kabuli (almost a Carib) in hand we limed away a few more minutes before finishing up back at the boats in Portsmouth.  Believe it or not, this is the local airport bar.

Seven thirsty explorers stepped up to the bar - probably more business than this bar owner had seen all day!

Henry in his happy spot?