"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Dominica, according to Rose

>> Sunday, February 16, 2014

     We wake early to meet a man named Sea Cat at the green-striped Island Pride Gasoil station in Rosseau. We drive up into the verdant, wet hills in a huge white van, its bench seats covered in eclectic red and gold palm tree print, its floor in ancient, coffee colored linoleum. We stop first at a fruit plantation to provision for the ship. Hiking up the slope past the occasional meandering goat, behind the squat white stucco house, we arrive at the orchard. Haphazard clumps of gnarled and lichen covered trees: grapefruit, lemon, sour orange. I scramble up a rough barked grapefruit tree, avoiding the spreading green bromeliads which cling to the curved branches like limpets to a rock, their thick waxy leaves forming still pools of water at the base.
All the way to the top, I pluck the smooth globe-shaped fruit.Tossing them underhand, they fall down through the dull olive leaves to be caught or dropped by shipmates below. One, a golden orb smattered with dirt, I gobble up, the tangy juice running down my face and arms.  When we climb down, we feast on pieces of sugar cane chopped up with a machete and drizzled with the juice of sour orange. Finally, we make our way back, careful not to step on the arrow-leafed Daschene growing like higgledy-piggledy elephants ears up and down the hill.  In the van once more, we speed up the narrow island roads, easing over potholed bridges so low the water practically runs over the wheels. Every so often we stop, and Sea Cat climbs out to bring us more island delicacies to taste, pulled off of vines or knocked out of trees with rocks.  Smooth round guava, with its pale green skin quickly turning to a vibrant salmon at the center.  Lady finger bananas, so small, and like vanilla, and cream, and banana all in one. Sweet mild papaya, the size of two fists, inside a shockingly orange flesh and a cavity filled with dark clumps of slippery seeds I barely notice as they slide down my throat. Nutmeg too, the fruit not edible, but inside, the silky brown pit wrapped in red lace with it comforting smell of kitchens and baking and home.
       Later, we stop at a fruit stand where we buy weighty green coconuts artfully pared for us by a man using a huge curved blade the length of his forearm. We pass them around, sucking out the sweet clear water, and when it was all gone, splitting them open and scraping out the pale, moon-colored flesh inside.  His wife, a baby on her hip, shows us how to weave baskets in the traditional way, her strong brown hands moving so smoothly and knowingly over and under the spokes of the bottom, making it look as simple as breathing.
       A front garden becomes our lunch table, and we are fed soft, succulent bread fruit, charred on the outside and drenched in rivers of golden butter, mouth searing jerk chicken, smoked in the backyard, so hot it feels like fireworks going off inside my mouth. Dark, sweet, velvety chocolate, roasted behind the house, ground up, and poured into a plain ceramic bowl for us to dip our grimy fingers into. Afterward, we walk behind the coruggated metal of the house where two scrawny puppies fight over a bone to smell the translucent and lumpy Noni fruit, a queer mixture of rot and parmesan that promises an eating experience I don't want.     And then it was time to leave. Back into the white van, sitting tiredly on its palm tree covered seats, down the hills, this time through fields of grass baked tawny under the tight dry sky, which ripple in a slight breeze, to the Island Pride Gasoil station. There we unload ourselves, heavy with memories, dusty knapsacks, and bags of grapefruit, to motor slowly back through the harbor where, swaying gently, the Gamage is waiting.


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