One of the first items on my tourist agenda while staying near Portsmouth, Dominica at The Champs Hotel, was a long overdue refresher
boat ride up the Indian River. Admittedly, I had experienced the magic and mystery of this natural setting several times over the years. But it is the kind of place that one can never tire of seeing again: the scenery, the history and the method of transport does hold tremendous appeal for a lover of Dominica’s culture and nature like me!
The driver from the hotel called ahead to confirm that ‘Sparrow’ was available to take me in his wooden fishing boat for the mile long journey up the river. He met me by the side of the road, and we walked down to the dock where he helped me settle on a front seat. I did not need an eco-site pass, as I am a resident of Dominica. Of course, I had to confirm this with the forestry officer on site, because I was definitely dressed like a tourist with a fair complexion!
‘Sparrow’ sat at the back of the boat, picked up the oars and we commenced to traverse the broad mouth of the river. He immediately instructed me about the history of the area.
First, he explained that there had once been a Kalinago (Carib) settlement a little higher up the river. While it no longer exists, and these indigenous people generally live in the Kalinago Territory on the northeast coast of Dominica now, the name stuck over the centuries. He immediately pointed out various types of flora along the water’s edge. I always wish I carried a notebook to recall them all.
But I do remember the fauna ‘Sparrow pointed out to me: plentiful mullets swimming near the surface of the deep, brackish waters; Ramyé pigeons cooing high in the tree-tops; ubiquitous land crabs scattered among the twisted Mang tree roots near the river’s edge;
green herons squawking overhead; a large male iguana sunning himself on a tree branch high above the river; gargantuan termite nests attached to dead trees.
I was completely taken by the scene that surrounded me. In this pristine swamp-like environment, the creatures thrived in its bio-diverse eco-system.
A sense of complete calmness came over me as I marvelled at this unique setting. At one point, ‘Sparrow’ pulled the boat ashore and cut a few long strands of a reed called roseau (the capital city is named after this plant, which also grows along the Roseau River!), which was found at numerous points along the river. “I will make something for you to take with you,’ he said. I looked at him curiously, but did not reply. Grasses and reeds are found in abundance on the Nature Island. To this day, the Kalinago people fashion handcrafts from various plants, as I observed on my recent visit there, which is found here.
After about half an hour, we arrived at a dock upriver where a little bar is tucked into the natural setting. There, I wandered along the well-marked trails and admired the dramatic setting of the Indian River from this inland vantage point.
When I returned from my stroll, it was time for a little refreshment. Sparrow chose passion-fruit juice, while I asked the friendly bartender if she had any tea. She offered me freshly made ginger-basilic (herbal), which she offered to warm up. I declined the extra heat and sipped on the natural healthy beverage at ‘room temperature’. I was aware that they do offer guests alcoholic drinks as well. Sparrow told me that the ‘Dynamite’ concoction is still a popular brew. Under its influence, visitors have been known to spontaneously cool off. Good thing the waters are fairly deep and the helpful guides are nearby!
After this additional commune with nature, we returned to Sparrow’s boat and spent the next half hour or so in contented silence. This serene setting provoked a meditative mood in me and I was content just to take in the sights at this intriguing site.
I did smile when I observed other visitors caught up in the excitement of their boat ride on the Indian River. I could completely understand why!
Whether you are a resident, a prospective traveller or a current visitor, the Indian River Boat Ride is a compelling way to passively experience the essence of the Nature Isle!