Islands – Trinidad and Dominica

First off, you could not find two islands so close to one another and yet so different. Dominica is untouched, wild, rugged and stunningly beautiful. It has virtually no crime and all in all it’s a pretty chilled out place and utterly charming. Trinidad is none of these things. It’s flat, heavily populated, has an outrageously high crime rate (there was a curfew last year), rubbish strewn beaches and everyone lives behind barred windows and doors.  It’s uninspiring landscape though supports a surprising amount of birdlife, thanks mainly to Trinidad’s proximity to the South American mainland which can easily be seen from the island. Some of the scarlet ibis even make the daily commute from the Orinocco Delta in Venezuela to Trinidad and back again. They come to eat the little pink  mangrove fiddler crabs which, if eaten in sufficient quantities give the ibis their incredible colour.  The other amazing thing to see in Trinidad, apart from Carnival of course, is the nesting leatherback turtles. More on that later. Back to Dominica.  I love this island so much I actually want to live there and I’m formulating a plan that may one day may make that happen, but in the meantime  here is one reason I adore this place. One morning we happened to drive past a tiny wooden shack. It couldn’t have measured more than 3m by 2m.  It was quite dilapidated and standing precariously on stilts next to a little river and just back from the beach. On the side of the shack the occupier had painted the words   “I AM BLESSED”.  I stared at the shack nestled amongst some coconut palms and I could perfectly see his point . My guide for the shoot, Clem Johnson was a Dominican who had grown up in Cambridge, but then as a young man had fallen in love with the island his grand parents called home and had gone to live there.  Clem told me that Dominica was somewhere in the top 10 poorest counties in the world but the third happiest!  There’s a lot said in politics about “Standard of Living” which is invariably mistaken for “Quality of Life” yet the two are very different.  Standard of Living” is measured by the number of cars you own, the number of TV’s you can watch at the same time and the amount of money you can borrow and then stress about. Nowadays, if you’re not connected to the internet in your own home then you are virtually destitute! Governments  naturally like to use these criteria because they can point at the figures and say, hand on heart, that people have a better standard of living than they did 5 years ago. In the eyes of the world these things may make you wealthy, but none of them bring happiness and they were pretty low on the list of priorities with the people I met in Dominica.

Dominica Jungle
 Pristine jungle, Dominica. © Richard Kirby
Clem started to list the reasons why Dominicans are so happy. Firstly and most important:
  • The trees are full of coconuts and tropical almonds. 
  • The vast numbers of rivers are full of crayfish (we caught about 30 in 10 minutes). 
  • The sea is full of fish (a very old man seemed to be pulling them out easily enough with a length of string and a hook.)
  • Almost anything grows  very fast in the island’s extremely fertile volcanic soil
  • Land is inexpensive and the population is low. 
I’m told that the health service isn’t bad and the standard of education is very high.  I may have taken a rather simplistic view here, but everyone we met seemed genuinely joyful with life as were we, during our brief visit. Our primary aim here was to film the world’s largest permanent boiling lake. This is high up on a forested mountainside accessed via a 4 hour hike along a very, very steep trail. We lingered on the way to film the stunning landscape and then descended into the ‘Valley of Desolation’.  It’s exactly as the name suggests; desolate! It’s pretty much devoid of vegetation, peppered instead with spitting hot springs, acrid steam and sulfurous fumeroles. The boiling lake is on the far side of this valley and sits in a shallow crater about 100m across. The water boils like a kettle. It’s also full of steam most  of the time so you have to wait for a little gust of wind to whisk away the steam for a quick glimpse of the boiling surface. Most of Dominica is steep and covered in dense rain forest. Walking the trails is like walking through a film set where each elegant plant is perfectly positioned, exactly the right colour and shape and beautifully frames another perfect scene beyond. I absolutely love this place.

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