On a tranquil Sunday morning in late June, I luxuriated in a dip in Champagne. It had been a long time since I’d taken time for such a ‘lime’ (meaning “hanging out” in West Indian slang). Somehow, a whole year had passed since I spent a pleasant hour or so at this lovely stoney Caribbean beach, which forms part of Dominica’s Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve (SSMR). This location is a protected underwater eco-site and regulations are strictly enforced to preserve it. From Roseau, it’s a short drive south of the city to just beyond Pointe Michel. To walk there along the road from this coastal village takes about 20 minutes. Buses pass frequently most days.
Champagne Beach rightly deserves its name, but not for reasons you might think. It’s not a seaside party place, although there is such a nightspot a short distance away (Melvina’s Champagne Bar and Restaurant, 440-5480, 448-3979). This lovely natural setting is well-known to snorkelers and swimmers who like to revel in the shallow waters just slightly south of the beach proper. They gaze down and swim along a pristine coral reef and then pass above an awesome variety of colourful sea life found amidst tiny bubbles. The ‘bubbly’ is actually indicative of geo-thermal activity, caused by volcanic gasses rising from tiny cracks in the floor of the sea. In Dominica, that’s a common occurrence, as seen in the Soufriere area, a little further south of this area and in the Roseau Valley in the interior of the country. After all, the Nature Island has nine potentially active volcanoes (presently dormant!): that’s more than any other country in the world!
My mission this day did not involve any underwater exploration, as you may have ascertained by now (recall the ‘lime’). I stationed myself at the most southerly end of the beach, by a protective cliff that leads to the actual Champagne area. I swam out only a short distance until I was over my head and not likely to bump into any slightly submerged rocks. With my head above water, I glanced down from the clear, shallow surface at the stones beneath my feet when in a vertical position. From there, I could gaze up into the green hued hills and watch the massive clouds overhead push away the shy sunshine. It was a little drizzly for a time, but then I was already wet! I also enjoyed daydreaming in a westerly direction and wondered how long it would take to swim to Central America!
A number of snorkelers passed beyond me on their way to the bubbles, located between two rocky outcrops a short distance away. One British man stayed back near my safe spot. He was a little fearful of venturing further for health reasons, he said. He queried me on life in Dominica instead. A Dive Dominica boat motored close-by and anchored at one of the official moorings, allowing its passengers to explore the area for a little while before heading south to Soufriere Bay. The surf was gentle and I allowed myself to submit to the warm waters as my muscles relaxed. I floated like a cork and felt as if I could stay like that forever (or at least until the mild surf conditions changed to something stronger)!
In the distance, I observed friends who were preparing for their snorkeling excursion further up the beach. They didn’t make out my bobbing head until I was standing on the shore after my hour-long submersion! I was waterlogged and a little chilled. I carefully picked my way around the pebbles, searching out additional photo opportunities. The persistent snap, crackle and pop of small pebbles against the shoreline added to my drowsy contentment.
After a short while, I made my way back along the boardwalk to the site entrance and chatted for a few moments with Dianne, the attendant at the Champagne Reef Dive and Snorkel Shop (440-5085). I enquired after the ubiquitous iguanas, but they were reclusive at the time because of the drizzle and overcast skies. She urged me to return on a hot sunny day to catch them in action, which generally means feeding on noni tree leaves. Iguana-watching and photo-shooting are definitely on my agenda for another day as there is much to be said about these spectacular lizards.
And then the day arrived – midday Sunday July 29 – hot and sunny. The iguanas were about. I did catch glimpses of plentiful leaf-green babies with Dianne’s help. They blend in perfectly with the noni leaves, so it took patience on Dianne’s part to point them out to me. The larger ones were on the ground so I was able to capture a few (by camera). They may look cumbersome, but they move like lightening. These Lesser Antillean Iguanas are endemic to the region. They are a protected species on the Nature Island as they are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List. I love to look at them. Their unusual, seemingly prehistoric features really make them a wondrous sight to behold!
As I headed to my car, I reminded myself that the naturally beautiful and beneficial effects of the Champagne dip with a’ lime’ must also be repeated very soon!