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
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.
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:
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
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.
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 -
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!
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.
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!