The last stop of the day was at Soufrière. The name is common in the eastern Caribbean as it is French for Volcano. Many of the islands I visited had been influenced by French at certain times and the Creole language, which was especially widely used in Dominica and St Lucia, derived many of its words from the French. This Soufrière was close to a bunch of sulphur springs which blew bad egg smells over the town from time to time. We were here because a marine protected area had been set up. It was managed mainly by Al Philbert, an old fisherman himself, and was guarding the finest dive sites and the only extensive snorkelling reef in Dominica.
Soufrière Bay, within which the reef sat, was protected from the rough waves from the channel by a small hill called Scott’s Head, connected to the rest of Dominca by an isthmus, the same isthmus I could see from my hotel room in Roseau. From a distance, I could see it was low and guarded by only a few palm trees, but I only got the sense of how thin it was when Jullan rumbled the truck over the cobbles to the foot of the hill. Looking back, the berm was less than thirty feet wide. To my left was a calm bay with myriad colours of reef and a number of snorkellers. To my right, the open sea was bashing against the pebbles and you could see nothing beneath the white surf. The whole isthmus was looking vulnerable from breaching by the first big storm. Indeed, Al had told me how it had got narrower over the years, the palm trees which had once protected its whole length had been reduced to a few at the town end only, and the vines had been cut back so now it was just bare rocks. But he also said that although they knew it was getting narrower, the evidence seemed to suggest that it was happening from the sheltered side, and not from the rough channel waves.
We climbed to the top of Scott’s Head. Jullan had insisted he could drive up half the hill, but the narrowness of the ridge we climbed and the lack of turning places at the top made me feel his driving skills were not up to it, so I got out the van while he was still arguing at the bottom of the hill. As with many coastline hills in the Caribbean, this was topped by a fort, Fort Cachacrou. It jutted out beyond the generally straight coastline of Dominica so you could get at least a 270 degree view of any French or English misdoings, depending on which of them had the island that week. Now it served as a fabulous viewpoint, a light beacon and liming joint.
The town of Soufrière below was remarkably similar to its namesake in St Lucia, nestled in amongst the green mountains, fringed with palm trees and with brightly coloured fishing boats on the beach. It poured with rain when we approached, the wonderful view of the head was obscured for ten minutes and all I could see was a solid sheet of water as it fell from the sky. Mud and gravel were washed from the backstreets out onto the beach and muddied the waters. We took shelter in the Marine Protected Area headquarters and chatted to some of the workers there. As quickly as the storm had started it dissipated and we were able to get some lunch. Jullan ate nothing but accepted a drink from me. I tried Seamoss for the first time. A curious plant clinging to rocks in the intertidal zone, the juices are extracted and sweetened with cane juice to make a syrupy, almost milk shake like drink. Like Mauby, it has a curious aftertaste, like a childhood medicine, but all in all it is very refreshing.