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Experience Dominica – The Nature Island: Dominica Vacations | Exotic Vacations | Honeymoon Destination

Dominica weekly is a personal weblog about the nature island of Dominica.


My mom always told me “If you can’t say anything nice, it’s best to say nothing at all”. Following her advice, I won’t say much about Caribbean TV other than that it’s usually not the right cup of tea for American and UK expats. After a bit of experimentation, we believe we have found the best, most cost-effective solution. You need:

1.Internet access of at least 1MB/sec download speed. You can get that on phone-line ADSL nearly anywhere in Dominica from LIME (the telephone company) at EC$129.95 (US$48.50) per month. You’re required to take it with land-line phone service that you may never use. If you live in Roseau, Portsmouth or Marigot you can add MARPIN cable Internet to your cable TV service. I don’t know that price but believe it’s less.

2.A US or UK streaming private proxy server, available for US$20/month from www.trustedproxies.com. UK citizens must add15% VAT. A proxy allows you to download content as if you were in the US (or UK) – without the proxy, downloads are blocked because of digital rights management (DRM). The service will allow you enough data per month to watch 350 hours of HD movies or TV per month.

3.Netflix. For US$8/per month you can stream movies from the Netflix library. There is a Caribbean Netflix, but the movies are a library subset and all dubbed with Spanish audio.

4. A local cable TV provider. Of the two here, we prefer MARPIN (www.marpin2k4.com) based both on experience and the fact that only MARPIN gives you both HBO and Showtime and reliably PBS. MARPIN costs the equivalent of US$21/month.

5.Optionally, a way to get the content to your TV and stereo. We use an HDMI cable from the PC to TV and an audio cable from PC to stereo. Otherwise you must watch and listen on your PC screen and to your PC’s audio output.

6.Also optionally, a TV receiver card on your PC. That allows you to record TV content from MARPIN* that may conflict with your schedule (even while streaming something else), although often you can see recorded versions of popular programs by streaming them from the station Web sites or Netflix.

* But only from MARPIN, which brings everything to your TV on the cable. The other local TV provider cables into a box that outputs composite video to your TV. The PC’s TV card would need another box (and account with the provider), and that’s if the card accepts composite video and audio input.

That’s it. For only US$49/month (not counting high-speed Internet, which you’d probably get anyway) you get all the good movie channels and access to content you can stream from the Web sites of those channels and Netflix. And for music, you can stream any type you like and play it through your stereo.

We use the proxy server in the Firefox browser. You can also use it with Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) or Google Chrome to stream otherwise blocked content. We do other surfing and music streaming through our local Internet Service Provider by simply using either IE or Chrome. We like www.jazz.24.org for example.

I believe this is the model of the future for home entertainment. On the one hand, TV forces you to watch what the broadcaster wants to show when the broadcaster wants to show it, often with commercial interruptions, and in US or UK time, which may be inconvenient for those of us in Dominica on Atlantic Time. And one pays for lots of content one might never care to view.

On the other hand, streaming over the Internet lets us see only what we wish to, whenever we want it, and often without interruption (or the ability to fast-forward though commercials). We’ll take streaming any time. Last night we caught up with the PBS series Downton Abby, which the 2nd local TV provider caused us to miss because of problems it had presenting the PBS signal.

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deep thoughtsPhoto by Shayan (USA)

People discover our Web site (dan-ruth-tanner.com) and write saying “you’ve found Utopia” or words to that effect. That’s nonsense. There is no Utopia. People everywhere are the same; human nature is the only universal constant.

You will have to learn to do without many conveniences that you were used to. Don’t ever expect punctuality. Never, ever, pay for anything until all work is complete and to your satisfaction. Don’t buy a vehicle that had been used here – it probably won’t have been maintained properly and may have jury-rigged repairs; import your vehicle.

Expect frequent electric power and pipe water outages and have a surge suppressor on your circuit breaker box to protect your appliances. Get one at www.full-protection.com. Make sure they know that you need one for UK-style single-phase 220V. (One made for US-style split-phase 220V will not work – and will burn out right away.)

Many things that you’re used to may be impossible to find here or nearly prohibitively expensive. Many manufactured products available here are made for 3rd-world markets and while the lowest-priced are often shoddy; while 1st-quality goods tend to cost far more than in the US or Europe.

There are numerous Web sites that offer quality brand-name appliances set up to run at the 220-240VAC/50Hz UK-type electrical power available in Dominica. From personal experience, I recommend Kunst Electronics and Home Appliances. They explained why a US 220V dryer won’t work here (the US uses split-phase 110V and only the dryer’s heater is 220V; the motor is 110V and would burn out) and when a surge blew the control circuit board in our refrigerator Mr. Kunst personally phoned in response to our service-request e-mail in mere minutes, helped us locate the GE part; discounted it and expedited its delivery – what a hero!). Now we double-protect our refrigerator with an additional protector at the outlet. And we unplug it during outages and plug it in again after the returned power stabilizes.

You’ll need a transformer anyhow because many things can’t be bought in 220V versions, even here. Courts only offer 110V vacuum cleaners. LIME provided us with an 110V modem and cell-phone charger. Be aware that power (watts) simply adds up. Domlec claims that a 2000W transformer left plugged in uses over EC$100 per month, but that’s patent nonsense. We have an always-on 5000W transformer and our total bill has never reached as much as $EC90. And, a transformer also acts so as to smooth power surges. If you’re worried about power interruptions affecting your PC use, employ a laptop (which can run on 110V/60Hz or 220V/50Hz and is buffered from power failure by its battery. Or bring an UPS (uninterrupted power supply).

It can be difficult or expensive to get your US funds here and/or it can take a long time. We found a method that works well for us: You can get a free on-line FDIC insured account via the Charles Schwab web site. We use the on-line bill-pay feature of our Bank of America account to transfer money to the Schwab account. Schwab lets you withdraw funds in local currency at any ATM displaying the VISA logo, and that’s just about every ATM in Dominica. Schwab gives the full exchange rate and even refunds to your account any ATM or other charges. You don’t want to have too much of your savings here; keep them in the USA in an FDIC-insured institution.

This is the tropics, so expect more bugs. Ants are everywhere. Some species go after your food. Some are scavengers of dead insects, etc. “Wood ants” are actually termites – be on guard against them. We’ve experienced some gnat plagues of practically biblical proportions. Big yellow spiders like to hide under things in dark corners. Millipedes will crawl into your house. Centipedes, which have a dangerous bite, hide in damp dark places outside usually, but will come into houses. Large roaches also come inside.

Be on guard against mice and rats; leave nothing around that will attract them. “Regular” trash collection is anything but regular or dependable. We rinse all cans and bottles and foil, etc and keep that in a container for trash collection. We compost all vegetable matter. We burn all waste paper, plastic, wood etc. (Rinse or tie any plastic bags slated for burning to prevent drawing ants.) Waste animal matter (bones, fat, offal from cleaning fish, etc) must be disposed of promptly and properly. Otherwise you’ll have maggots, feral dogs and cats tearing up garbage bags, ants and rot odor all amazingly quickly. You can find a place to feed this stuff to scavenging dogs and/or cats. You can bury it – deep. You can toss waste from fish into the sea, where scavengers will do their job. If you’re making a fire, you can burn it and rake out the bones and ash to mix with compost.

Keep all your receipts. Even the government offices and some businesses “lose” records. We know of a number of people who have had to pay deposits and fees twice, or who can’t return items that are defective. Check the expiration date on anything you purchase. Test everything before leaving the store if possible.

Expect your plans to go awry. I was going to take regular long walks, but an arthritic hip ended that plan. I was going to help at a friend’s garden to get in better shape, but I realized that even the walk to it would be too much for me. The time, the heat of the sun, the humidity, eroding willpower all conspire against the planner.

Have a hobby. There’s only so much hiking, snorkeling, swimming and gardening you can do, and you don’t want to be fighting boredom.

You’ll need to have a US address in order to maintain a US bank account, have and renew credit cards, etc. Choose a reliable friend or relation to provide that address and to forward your mail to you – and expect forwarding to take an average of 3 weeks.

Make arrangements for your health (including dental) care and bring a supply of any prescription medications that you use. Pharmacies here can’t dispense to a foreign doctor’s prescription, and many medicines aren’t available here.

Get used to certain tropical conditions: high humidity, “blast” from the sea that corrodes nearly anything and has strange effects on many materials, huge raindrops driving in close to horizontally by squall gusts, and high clay content mud that has incredible adhesiveness and slipperiness when wet and is nearly concrete hard when dry.

But we’re not complaining – just being realistic. We love it here and wouldn’t change any of the choices we’ve made. If you decide on Dominica too, we can only hope you’re as pleased as we are.

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