Bois Cotlette Estate

Today we did some more snorkeling in some pretty intense water at Scotts Head. I finally saw my first wild sea turtle! 🙂 That was amazing. I also got stung a few times by some jellyfish, which obviously wasn’t so amazing. I got to see an adult stoplight parrotfish which was also incredible to see. Next we moved on to our second stop for the day.  

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There, we visited a plantation called the Bois Cotlette Estate in Soufriere Valley. The plantation got its name from the Bois Cotlette tree (Citharexylum spinosum), which is common in the area. Michael Didier owns the estate, which has been passed down through his family since the 18th century. They are believed to be related to Empress Josephine of Napoleon.  In its hay day (the 1820’s), the plantation grew coffee and sugar, was 300 acres and utilized 20 slaves. In the 1890s the production of sugar had been deserted and the economy was shifting toward growing cocoa, which along with limes was seen as recovery for the economy of Dominica. The old sugar boilers on the plantation were modified so that they could boil lime juice. 

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Didier’s own background is in agricultural science, and he spent a lot of career working for the Dominican Ministry of Agriculture, where he developed sustainable banana harvesting techniques.  Currently, he is using the plantation grounds to cultivate and produce compost for local farmers.

It was a very educational and fun day. 😉

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Food, Glorious Food

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One of the goals of our group was getting the chance to eat local food.  We thought, if we were lucky, we might be able to stop by a restaurant or stand on a non-research day to sample local delicacies like goat milk and breadfruit.  We hoped we might get to find out if a meal influenced by French, African, an Indian food might be as good as it sounds. What we didn’t know is that ITME has a phenomenal chef named Miss Connie, who would be cooking us local delicacies three meals a day. 

Breakfasts here will seem very familiar to readers in the U.S.: yogurt, granolas, eggs, and toast.  The local flavor comes from the special extras like papaya jelly, fresh pineapple, and passion fruit juice.  Most of our lunches have been on the road and have consisted of interesting sandwich combinations like tuna salad with ham, or cheese with garlic mayonnaise.

The real event of the day for many of us, though, is Miss Connie’s dinner.  Each night she creates truly incredible buffets consisting of a main dish such as slow-baked chicken legs or tuna steaks.  Accompanying them are Indian-influenced side dishes including curried lentils with fried dascheen (a root vegetable akin to potato), or chickpeas in tomato sauce served on saffron rice.  Side dishes span from traditional produce, such as plantains, and newly-cultivated crops including cabbage, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes.  Miss Connie has the ability to make these basic ingredients seems special each night by creating infinite varieties of salads ranging from plantain, fig, and corn, to cabbage dishes that seem a little like a coleslaw. 

As good as all this food is, many of us have picked a new entree as our favorite dish: Giraumon Soup.  This broth-based soup begins with chicken or vegetable stock.  Miss Connie purees it with roasted pumpkin, then adds cubed potatoes, green beans, and homemade dumplings.  Her secret ingredient for this and other dishes is what she calls “naturals”.   Each day, Miss Connie fills a large blender with chives, onion, garlic, celery tops, cilantro, and a few secret ingredients.  She purees this mixture until it forms a thick paste, then adds it to the soups or tops our fish with it.

Out of respect for limited natural resources and the island ecology, ITME has a “Clean Plate Club.”  Sascha, the director, warned us that there would be public shaming for anyone who took a greater portion than he or she could eat.  So far, that has most certainly not been a problem!

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History of Dominica Part II

During the time ownership changed hands the people were given some rights, including the right to vote. These rights came from lack of production for the island. Ability to vote was taken from the people of Dominica because limes became a cash crop around 1871. The lime production around this time was one of the main sources of commerce to the island. Agricultural diversification became important after the decline in the lime crop around 1932. Bananas, coconuts, vanilla, bay leaves, and citrus became important sources of income to Dominica. Statehood was granted in 1967 by the British and termination with Britain occurred in 1976. Independence came about in 1978 along with Hurricane David.

History of Dominica Part I

The first people to explore and settle the island of Dominica were hunter gathers. They were known as the Ortoiroid People and arrived around 3100 BCE. Groups of Arawakan-speaking people arrived from 400 AD to 500 AD. One of these groups called Callinago are now known as the Carib people. Exploration of the island began around 1490 and ownership changed hands several times between the British, French, and Spanish for almost 5 hundred years after. During this time many different groups of people inhabit and coexist on Dominica. These groups included the Carib people, slaves from Africa, and the Maroons who were escaped slaves.