‘Paradise Found’ in Dominica’s Papillote Tropical Gardens*

I was well in to Dominica’s 35th Independence celebrations when I decided that a morning away from the city would recharge my batteries and reconnect me with the healing wonders of the rainforest. My destination was another of my all time Nature Island favourites: Papillote Wilderness Retreat.  My foray was two-fold, in fact:  I had an appointment with German-trained physiotherapist Ariane Magloire and then I also wished to wander through the substantial four-acre tropical garden on the property.  The owner, Anne Jno Baptiste had recently upgraded the trails throughout the site and I was eager to check them out.

When I drove up the Roseau Valley and  arrived at Papillote (pronounced PAP-ee-yot) at  8:30 a.m., I realized that I even had enough time to revisit one of Dominica’s nearby magnificent wonders, the twin Trafalgar Falls. From the hotel, I walked up the steep ‘hill’ to the eco-site entrance in the pouring rain, without a soul in sight.  As I greeted the lone attendant at the Information Centre, she informed me that there would be no cruise ship in port that Friday, and at that time, no other visitors had arrived.  I had the place to myself!

As I trekked up the well-groomed trail, I was soaked to the skin and a little chilly .After about 15 minutes, I quickly forgot about my  mild discomfort as I stepped onto the sheltered viewing

The twin falls at Trafalgar are an incredible site to behold: the 'Father' is on the left and the 'Mother' is on the right.

The twin falls at Trafalgar are an incredible sight to behold, even in the rain! The ‘Father’ is on the left and the ‘Mother’ is on the right.

platform.  Before me was the most incredible portrait of nature: the twin Trafalgar Falls – two powerfully cascading torrents of clean water tumbling down the mountainside.  I lingered for a while and took photos through the mist as I inhaled the purest air found anywhere.  My dull headache immediately lifted and my spirits soared at this pristine place, which was all mine at that moment.  What a fabulous way to begin that restorative day!

I slowly walked away from this incredible view, and realized that I would have to return on a drier day to approach the Mother Fall (on the right) as the rocks beneath it would have been treacherous in very wet conditions.  After I informed the attendant of my safe return, I wandered back down the road to continue my stroll around the gardens at Papillote.

I still had some time before my ‘massage’ with Ariane, so I grabbed my camera and umbrella and headed  down some steps beside the dining room and directly entered into’ the garden’.  Despite the persistent inclement weather, it was obvious that all the plants were thriving in these highly humid conditions.  I forgot about my shivers as my gaze moved from one plant to the next.  Although I was not  able to readily identify all of them by name, I reveled in this appreciation for some of ‘God’s work’, enhanced with a little TLC from Anne!

Since the late 1960’s, Anne, the director of this establishment has toiled away at this ‘labour of love’ for the benefit of everyone.  Her efforts epitomize the Nature Island,  as she has assembled and tended an immense and diverse range of tropical plants in a protected area.  There are hundreds, some of which are endangered, rare, endemic to Dominica, indigenous to the Caribbean region or exotic transplants from other parts of the world.  You can find out more about this  amazing endeavor by clicking on the Papillote Tropical Gardens website.

It is easy to wander through Papillote's 4-acre garden on well constructed paths.

It is easy to wander through Papillote’s 4-acre garden on well constructed paths.

While I have no ‘green thumb’, I certainly acknowledge and pay tribute to her 45-year-old project, to date.  As I roamed and admired the ‘fruits’ of her labours,  I was now able to cover the terrain more quickly than before.  Anne had recently improved the walking trails on the premises, which will allow for easier meanders for people of any age or ability.  There are also plenty of tables, chairs  and benches scattered at scenic locations all over the property, which allow nature and garden enthusiasts plentiful opportunities to ‘smell the flowers’ and enjoy the views!

Here are some of the natural botanicals that I have had the pleasure to see at Papillote Tropical Gardens:

At the bottom of Papillote's Gardens, a lovely waterfall froms a backdrop for a hot and a cold mineral pool.

At the bottom of Papillote’s Gardens, a lovely waterfall forms a backdrop for both  a hot and a cold mineral pool.

This pretty flower is called  Solanaceae Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel's Trumpet.

This pretty flower is called Solanaceae Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet.

This pretty flower is a bromeliad called, a Tillandsia cyanea

This dainty plant is a bromeliad called Tillandsia cyanea. It is contained in a pot on table with chairs in the middle of the Gardens!

This plant  is in the ginger family and is a costus barbata.

This plant is in the ginger family and is named costus barbata.

The long strappy leaves are Bromeliad and the leaves below are Taccaceae Tacca chantrieri (black bat flower)

The long strappy leaves are Bromeliad and the leaves below are Taccaceae Tacca chantrieri (black bat flower).

This is a beautiful  begonia.  I remember when my mother used to grow them in pots - although they never got that big!

This is a beautiful begonia. I remember when my mother used to grow them in pots – although they never got that big!

This colourful flower is a hybrid  bromeliad (an aechmea.

This colourful flower is a hybrid bromeliad (an aechmea).

'Forbidden fruits' in the Gardens of Papillote!

This uncommon edible fruit  is called a naranjilla.  It is part of the solanaceae family, which includes peppers,  potatoes and  tomatoes

Frances holds a bunch of dandelion leaves from the Papillote Garden.They can be made into a tea ti help detoxify the body.

Frances holds a bunch of dandelion leaves from the eclectic Papillote Garden.They can be made into a tea to help detoxify the body.

My time was getting a little short before my physiotherapy, so I headed back to the dining room to pick up my backpack and walk up to the  sheltered Birdwatchers’ Hut, where Ariane and her massage table are situated.  En route, I met up with Frances, one of the wonderfully warm  and friendly staff at Papillote.   She was picking a plant near the dining room and I asked her about it.  “Those are dandelion leaves,” she told me, ” They are helpful for cleansing the body of toxins.’  I was intrigued, because although the plant looked different from the North American variety, it has the same function!  It is well-known that thousands of medicinal plants are found on Dominica.  The elders swear by their effectiveness – perhaps more of the younger people should consider taking  their sage advice to complement conventional treatments!

I hadn’t seen Ariane for a while and my session was long overdue!  She manipulated tight tendons and

Ariane Magloire is a German-trained physiotherapist who is available for treatment sessions most Friday mornings at Papillote by advance reservation.

Ariane Magloire is a German-trained physiotherapist who has a very busy practice, but is available for treatment sessions most Friday mornings at Papillote by advance reservation –  (767) 448-2287.

massaged muscle spasms in my  upper back and neck that were causing persistent headaches.  Then she worked on areas of my body where toxins were most likely trapped and she gave my overworked feet a good rub-down too!  She doesn’t know this as I write, but I felt very relaxed and calm and pain-free after one hour on her table.

This is called the iguana pool because the hot water flows through the mouth of a sculpture resembling that large lizard.

This is called the Iguana Pool because the hot water flows through the mouth of a sculpture resembling that large lizard.

In fact, when I dipped into the ‘Iguana’ hot mineral pool immediately afterwards, I propped myself on one side and almost fell asleep.  For me, that state of relaxation is all-too-rare.  Thank you Ariane for a super massage session!!!

I was so content to just lie there in the pool as the rain pattered on the leaves, the wind gently whooshed through the gardens and birds chirped high in the tree-tops.  As for the vistas -

From the vantage points of any of the four hot mineral pools on the premises, there is garden and froest all about - a true wilderness experience without having to do a back-country trek!

From the vantage points of any of the four hot mineral pools on the premises, there is garden and forest all about – a true wilderness experience without having to do a strenuous  back-country trek!

I sheltered while I soaked in this covered pool which is only a few steps from Ariane's massage table in the Birdwatchers' Hut.

I sheltered while I soaked in this covered pool which is only a few steps from Ariane’s massage table in the Birdwatchers’ Hut.

well I hope the photos give you an idea of this particular paradise!

An hour or so later, I was well ‘pruned’ and hunger pangs were setting in.  After changing into dry clothes, I sauntered down  the steps  to the dining room where I  ordered my favourite meal at Papillote:  the Flying Fish Platter, accompanied by my second glass of spiced sorrel juice.  As I sipped on the refreshing beverage, I glanced into the garden area that was very close to my indoor table.  All of a sudden, I was startled out of my reveries: a hummingbird was plopped on a fern in a very awkward-looking position. It looked as if it were dead!

This Purp;e Throated carib hummingbird looks as if it is bent in the wrong direction.  It is actually taking in some sun on its breast!

This Purple Throated Carib hummingbird looks as if its head is bent in the wrong direction. It is actually taking in some sun on its breast!

That same little hummingbird (I think) is contently perched on a branch.

That same little hummingbird (I think) is contentedly perched on a branch.

I thought that it had hit something and had broken its neck.  It did not move for a long  few moments and I feared the worst.  Just as quickly, it reversed its  head position, flitted its tiny wings and was off.  Shortly afterwards, I saw it perched in a nearby tree.  When I mentioned this to Anne, she suspected that it was likely a juvenile with its’ home’  nearby and that it was having a ‘sun bath’!  I was astonished that it felt so safe and comfortable within close proximity to human activities.  Obviously, the food sources were plentiful for that Purple-Throated Carib, one of four species of hummingbirds that are found in Dominica.  Anne tells me that all four types are often  seen in the Gardens.

I always enjoy the Creole-inspired Flying Fish Platter at Papillote. The fish is covered in a flavourful onion-tomato Creole sauce, the hearty natural and organic salad and the 'puffs' are made from dasheen, a local ground provision vegetable.

I always enjoy the Creole-inspired Flying Fish Platter at Papillote. The fish is covered in a flavourful onion-tomato Creole sauce, the hearty local salad  is topped with shredded beets and the ‘puffs’ are made from dasheen, a local ground provision vegetable.

It looks look like a vase of violets to me but Anne informed me that the lighter lavender are cuphea hyssopifolia and the darker purple are ground orchids..spathoglottis unguiculata

It looked like a vase of violets to me but Anne informed me that the lighter lavender  flowers are cuphea hyssopifolia and the darker purple are ground orchids-spathoglottis unguiculata.  My sorrel juice never stays long in the glass!

Once my lunch was served, I concentrated on savoring every morsel.  I ate everything on the plate, and then felt even more drowsy.  If I didn’t leave soon, I would have to ask for a bed!  I paid my reasonable bill and departed, with a promise that I would be back by Christmas.  Now that’s a plan that I wish to realize above most others!

*Many thanks to Anne Jno Baptiste, Founder and Director of Papillote Wilderness Retreat for creating this perfect paradise on the Nature Island, and for taking the time to help me with plant identification.  Her knowledge-base of tropical  horticulture is nothing short of amazing!

Living Eco-Consciously on the Nature Isle

This sign is found on Neil and Victoria's property , but its sentiment  is reflected  all around Rosalie.

This sign is found on Neil and Victoria’s property , but its sentiment is reflected all around Rosalie.

One of my favourite places in Dominica has always been the area called Rosalie  on the southeast coast. It has everything an environmentally aware nature lover could want: strong Atlantic surf; beautiful beaches; marine-life conservation; abundant healthy rivers; magnificent rainforest; plentiful hiking trails in close proximity;ecological accommodations; and  eco-conscious people who have built  environmentally sustainable private homes.

If   Rosalie  were not such a long, lonely, winding drive down (and up) rocky back-roads and then through the central mountains to Roseau,   I might consider a move there.  Who knows – I still might do it one day!

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Neil and Victoria’s home is tucked away on former farmland on the edge of a tropical forest near a rushing river.

I am presently inspired by an American couple that I recently met  who did just that.  Neil and Victoria are loving every minute of their environmentally sustainable lifestyle by a river deep in the forest near Rosalie.  While it’s only a mile by a rough (but motorable) track  to the main road, there are times when the plentiful rivers around them can overflow their banks.  Then they have to don rubber boots and slog their way out of the wilderness.  But it’s all worth it, they say!

The intrepid pair didn’t just land on the Nature Island and  impulsively decide to pursue ecological interests .  When Neil opted for early retirement from his position of events production coordinator at the University of Texas in Austin, he and Victoria, who was a stage manager, felt that they wanted to do something completely different from their urban way-of-life.

Neil and Victoria entertain on their expansive porch.  Neil enjoys a locally-produced Kubuli beer, which is made with pure spring water.

Neil and Victoria entertain on their expansive porch. Neil enjoys a locally produced Kubuli beer, which is made with pure spring water.

They carefully considered affordable  relocation expenses, reasonable cost-of-living, as well as the  type of terrain  for building and the friendliness of the people in several different tropical countries.  As it turned out, Dominica got top marks in every category!  And when they found their present property on Dominica’s southeast coast, the decision was instantaneous.  “We just fell in love with it!” exclaimed Victoria.  So they loaded a container with their most prized personal possessions, placed their  two adopted ‘rescue’ cats in airline kennel carriers, and they were off!

The kitchen is bright and airy.

The kitchen is bright and airy.

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The easterly view from Neil and Victoria’s sheltered porch.

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The porch overlooks the forest directly above the river.

For two years, they actually lived in a tent on a platform by the river. Meanwhile, Neil arranged the solar set-up for a pump for water and electricity, in addition to preparing proper drainage for waste water and the septic system.  Then they built a concrete foundation and took it step-by-step from there.  While Neil organized, planned and ordered the building materials, local trades-people and workers laboured hard to get the place up and running.  The sturdy wood and stone structure is carefully designed to let enough natural light and wind flow through the house. It is set well away from the river bank and has an expansive porch that permits spectacular views in three directions. An underground spring close-by provides them with pure drinking water.   Their only concession to conventional technology is  internet and phone connection. Fortunately, a neighbouring property had a line so it was not extremely difficult or expensive to extend the cable a bit further to their residence.  They considered this inclusion as a necessity, as mobile phones do not work in their secluded location and while they are very remote, some contact with the outside world could be helpful in many respects.

Neil and Victoria can also gaze into the inland mountains to their west.

Neil and Victoria can also gaze into the  mountains.

Of course, there is an organic garden in the making and plentiful fruit trees surround the property: mango; grapefruit;banana; and avocado.  Work is still ongoing as Neil continues to develop the lower level of the house with a guest en suite and Victoria applies her artistic talents to a beautiful tile mosaic  pattern in the upstairs bathroom.

I was completely taken with Neil and Victoria’s  determination to realize their dream and live in harmony with nature, as well as the surrounding communities.  Despite their somewhat isolated site, they do feel safe and Dominicans who live and farm in the area do watch out for them.  Their quiet, peaceful and warm demeanor seemed to me a perfect complement to  an ideal life on the Nature Island.

The stunning  views from their porch occasionally distracted me from conversation and I longed for a lie-down in their inviting hammock in these restful surroundings.  However, when I glanced at my watch, it was suddenly lunch-time.  We agreed that we would make the trip (with 4 wheel-drive vehicles!) across the rivers (there are bridges over some) and  out of the woods for an ocean-side meal at an award-winning environmentally sustainable hotel: the Rosalie Bay Resort.

My friend Sarah, who had previously introduced me to Neil in Roseau had kindly taken me in her “jeep” to this back-country locale and I was grateful for her generosity and enthusiasm.  My  little car could not have endured the rugged terrain!  While she drove us out of the forest, I admired the amazing scenery and the coursing rivers, which did  actually flow over  the road in a couple of places on this dry day in paradise.

Sometimes the powerful rivers around Rosalie can overflow their banks in the rainy season.

Sometimes the powerful rivers around Rosalie can overflow their banks in the rainy season.

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The Atlantic surf meets the Rosalie River near the restaurant at the Rosalie Bay Resort.

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Victoria and Sarah stroll along the path en route to the Zamaan Restaurant at Rosalie Bay Resort.

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The colours of the prettily decorated guest rooms easily complement the natural surroundings.

I had not been to Rosalie Bay Resort since I toured the premises just after they opened a couple of years ago.I was very excited about my first lunch in this environmentally friendly place by the Atlantic Ocean. When we arrived at the complex, we were directed to the parking lot.  Then we walked on well-marked pathways through the beautifully manicured grounds to the Zamaan Restaurant.  This big airy building is near the beach, with views of the pounding surf on its east side and the mouth of the Rosalie River  prominent in the northerly direction.

The restaurant was tastefully decorated for the Christmas season and soft music played in the background.  We all seemed to be in the mood for fish (I am sure I don’t know why!).  Neil and I selected the delectable local tuna burger, with a huge organic salad on the side.  Victoria chose blackened tuna on a mountainous bed of locally grown greens and Sarah opted for the mahi-mahi in an  exotic  home-made sauce.  I like to sample sorrel juice, which is a ubiquitous refreshment at dining establishments during the yule-tide season. While the bright red drink is usually heavily seasoned with spices and sweetened with lots of sugar, I enjoyed their version:  mildly spicy and not too sweet!

However, I made up for the healthy meal by indulging in a slice of lava-volcano cake with ice cream on the side.   I confess that I was the only one who gave in to temptation for dessert!  Be assured  that I do not regret it.  The chocolate concoction was divine!

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This carved sea turtle hangs over the ocean-side entrance to the restaurant. The hotel’s owners initiated conservation efforts for three types of endangered sea turtles which nest in this area about 10 years ago.

And yes, between mouthfuls, our conversation did continue on an environmental bent for some time, which then segued into exchanges about life as  expatriates on the Nature Island and various adventures  in our adopted country.

We did certainly linger over this delightful repast in such a tranquil setting. Around 3 p.m., we sensed that the staff wished to clean up the lunch tables in preparation for the supper hour.  Admittedly, they never rushed us, nor did they disturb us in any way.  I was impressed with their pleasant personalities, prompt service and willingness to help, if needed.

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This wind turbine generates energy for Rosalie Bay Resort.

As we wandered back to the parking lot, we admired the carefully constructed cottages, the natural swimming pool and the energy-generating wind turbine in the distance.  If I were on vacation, I would definitely want to spend some time here!

Sarah and I said our good-byes to Neil and Victoria, with assurances  that we would meet again soon.  It was certainly a pleasure to spend time with this lovely couple. I wish them well with their continued  sustainable living practices!

* Special thanks to friend Sarah for  sharing this adventure and taking me safely to and from Rosalie and  the back-country!