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PERSONAL JOURNEYS

A Memorable Place

The spectacular beauty of Dominica

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By Karen Meyers

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

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Our weeklong visit to the Caribbean island of Dominica was a family compromise that turned into a memorable vacation.

Our teenage daughter wanted a week on a tropical beach, while my husband and I yearned to explore a new place.

We first heard of Dominica -- not to be confused with the Dominican Republic -- from a college student we know who was born there. She described a verdant and mountainous island bypassed by most tourists.

A tiny nation (population 70,000) that won independence from Great Britain in 1978, Dominica is known as the "Nature Island of the Caribbean" because of its volcanic peaks, rain forests, river gorges and coral reefs.

We flew, by way of Puerto Rico, into one of two small airports on the island. On approach, we could see the seven volcanic peaks that formed the island. It almost seemed we could reach out and pick coconuts from the plantations below as the plane skimmed the treetops.

In our rental car, we headed across the mountainous center of the island toward the capital, Roseau. After a mosquito-plagued night in a screenless cottage that I had rented over the Internet, we drove up the west coast until we found a small hotel run by a Belgian family.

Located on a boulder-strewn river that tumbled down from the mountains, the hotel included a dozen pleasant rooms, beautiful tropical gardens surrounding a swimming pool, an open-air restaurant overlooking the Caribbean, a resident dog and a friendly staff.

The rocky beach provided good snorkeling. When my husband and I felt the urge to explore but our daughter didn't, we left her behind in a beach chair and took off.

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Driving the narrow roads was a challenge -- many featured abrupt ditches on either side for drainage. Coastal roads had precipitous drops to the ocean. Add to that the British rule of driving on the left, and you can imagine the white-knuckle experience.

Yet, we were drawn by the opportunity to explore the rain forests, gorges, colorful villages and the spectacular coastline.

Dominica is a textbook example of the "rain-shadow effect" that occurs when ocean breezes blow toward mountain ranges. The air is swept upward, where it cools and forms clouds that unload on the windward side, making it very wet; in Dominica, this is the rain-forested east side.

The opposite side of the island is dry. The west side features a Mediterranean climate, with dry-adapted plants and animals like the large iguanas that frequented the hotel gardens.

If you love natural beauty, Caribbean culture and the unexpected, I highly recommend a Dominican vacation.

Karen Meyers lives in Baltimore.

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Let Us Hear From You

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We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you; about the nostalgia a certain place evokes; about a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. Include a photo. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

Because of the volume of responses, photos and manuscripts cannot be individually acknowledged or returned. Submissions from all categories may be used for Readers Recommend, and upon submission become the property of The Sun.

Send by fax to 410-783-2519, or write to: Travel Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278, or e-mail to Travel@balt sun.com. Be sure to include your name and phone number.


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