Sunday, February 28, 2010

Too Rough for Snorkeling

There were swells coming in today which churned up the water, reducing visibility but we wanted to snorkel and so decided to head out to Scott's Head in hopes that the water would be calmer since it was better protected. At the risk of being repetitious, I wanted to cover Dominica roads one more time. They are challenging, not because they are so narrow - roads in Europe can be just as narrow. It's not because of the numerous potholes, I've seen roads with just as many in other Caribbean countries and even in parts of the US. It's not because of the steepness of the mountain roads, roads in Colorado can be just as steep (well, almost, we measured 30 to 40 degree upward angles on some of the roads!) The biggest difference is the total absence of a shoulder and the sheer drop offs where the side of the road ends. Put all of the above together and throw in the fact that they drive on the left like the British and the cars have the driver in the right seat - and you can have a very interesting experience. Despite all that, I never saw an accident except for the one I was involved in when I was hit from the rear. Still, the drivers were invariably polite and helpful. In fact, every Dominican I met was extremely polite, friendly and eager to provide help, it's a very friendly country.

Now, back to the roads. We've been out to Scott's Head about a dozen times, traveling over the same road. It is not for the faint of heart since several sections of the road is just wide enough for 1.5 cars and there are no guardrails. The sea side of the road is a sheer drop to the ocean about 10 feet below. There are no guard rails (did I say that before?) Since I was always the driver, I couldn't take photos and there's no place to stop! However, I did find this YouTube video of a couple driving the same road (click on unlined link). He filmed the chicken version, going on the land side of the road. The fun part is on the drive back where you are the car next to the ocean with the vertical drop and another car comes - and you have to squeeze over to the left to let him pass on the land side, the right. I got complaints from the passengers (who sit on the left side, next to the ocean) who had a very good view of the rocky beach just below them by looking down and out their window! According to passenger reports, the left wheels typically got within 6 inches (or choser!) of the drop off when I had to squeeze over for on oncoming car or to miss a pothole.
Another view of a different road in Dominica is in the photo. Note the absence of guard rails and the sheer drop off if your wheels wander too far to the left (as you keep to the left in either direction). The road in the photo is quite good, there are hardly any potholes! You will typically drive a slalom course as you go down a narrow road, avoiding potholes and oncoming cars. Seeing an approaching car, you note ahead where there's a wider section of the road and you continue, head-on, and duck to the left as the car passes. The other car will do the same if you're caught in a strictly one lane section and there's a wide (ha! - wide is a relative term) spot by him, he will stop and pull out as you pass. So the typical progression in Dominica is a pattern of slalom like driving, dodging potholes and other cars while keeping a comfortable 6 inches or so from the road's edge (which ends in either a sheer drop off or a two foot deep, concrete ditch - see photo)

Driving in the mountains presented a different experience. The curves were typically switchbacks with a change of direction of 180 degrees along with a very steep road. In this case, the road ends at the pavement and if you wander beyond it, you will simply depart the road sideways, finding out just how deep that ravine really is! Once again, here's another YouTube video of a road that we've been on but you don't get a good sense of the thrill since no buses were passed. By the way, a tour bus can take up more than one lane and you can't see that far ahead when navigating a switchback so the custom in Dominica is to honk your horn when entering a curve (you can hear it in the video) so an oncoming car or bus knows someone is coming. Unfortunately, some of the worse potholes are on the inside of a curve so the tendency is to swerve out into the middle of the road to miss them, not good!
I've included a section of the road in front of the condo we stayed at, The Titiwi Inn. Note the two foot deep, concrete drainage ditch, if you get a tire in that, it's not coming out anytime soon! Such ditches line most of the roads in Dominica to keep the roads from washing out during the rainy season.

After all the excitement of driving, we had our usual rum punch and watched the sunset for the night. It's excellent entertainment and always a good view, we never tired of it.