A Celebration of Flowers in Giraudel, Dominica: Nature’s Finest on Display Indoors and Out!*

The Giraudel Youth Group organized a Flower Festival for the first time this year.

The Giraudel Youth Group organized a Flower Festival for the first time this year.

It was a relief to wake up on Saturday May 9th, 2015 to intermittent rain showers after days of unrelenting heat and high winds in Dominica.  This slight change in the weather was good news for everyone. It brought some relief to parched plants and quelled bush fires that had recently erupted on the west coast of the Nature Island.

Although the higher elevations were not as adversely affected by this hot weather, I was glad of slightly cooler

I wish I could have taken this bowl of Dahlias home with me from the Flower Festival!

I wish I could have taken this bowl of Dahlias home with me from the Flower Festival!

temperatures for a planned walk from the village of Eggleston to its nearby neighbour, Giraudel.  There, the Giraudel Youth Group had organized a weekend-long Flower Festival, as the usual Flower Growers’ Show, a very grand and longstanding annual event, would not be taking place this year.

My mountain chicken (crapaud) research friend Jenny, a keen nature enthusiast, was eager and able to explore this mountainous area near Roseau with me.  As well, we have Dutch/Dominican friends, Gijs and Georgie, who live in this lovely region. We intended to drop in for tea on our way to the Flower Festival, a short distance away from their home.

This time, Jenny drove, and I had the pleasure of taking my eyes off of the road and gazing at the gorgeous views below us.  When we reached the hamlet of  Eggleston, we turned in to a long lane that lead to the beautiful and secluded Holy Redeemer Retreat Center, which is run by Redemptorist missionaries. We parked  nearby with permission from the priests on the site, as we intended to walk along some of the peaceful trails on the property after our foray to Giraudel.

These lovely anthuriums graced the entrance-way to a home on the road to the Retreat Center.

These lovely anthuriums graced the entrance-way to a home on the road to the Retreat Center.

The view across the Roseau Valley from Eggleston is one to be admired!

The northerly view across the Roseau Valley from Eggleston is one to be admired!

We trekked back up the lane we had just driven down, but this time, we both could enjoy views overlooking residential areas, the Caribbean Sea and mountains to the south of the island. Then we were back on the main road. This time, we looked over the distant Roseau Valley, to the villages of Morne Prosper on its south side and  across to Cochrane on the north side.  Jenny and I remarked to each other that we had appreciated this view from the opposite side only last weekend, when we hiked from Springfield to Middleham Falls!

As we continued along, we admired lovely hedges of flowers,fertile gardens and gave thanks for the tall shade trees on either side of the road.

Even the disco in Eggleston is named after a flower! (although I imagine it is associated with a lady's name...)

Even the disco in Eggleston is named after a flower! (although I imagine it is associated with a lady’s name…)

The main road between Eggleston and Giraudel is well-shaded.

The main road between Eggleston and Giraudel is well-shaded.

Jenny told me that this plant is Pride of Barbados.  We admired this hedge along the main road.

Jenny told me that this plant is Pride of Barbados. We admired this hedge along the main road.

After about an hour and a quarter, we arrived at Gijs and Georgie’s beautiful home.  While we were a little late for our appointment, our friends greeted us  warmly and bade us enter and rest awhile on their pleasant porch, facing the Caribbean Sea. Georgie served us mixed mint tea, picked moments earlier from her  herb garden.  Then she offered tempting sweets: tamarind balls, coconut ‘cheese’, and sweetened local gooseberries.  While we chatted and covered a broad range of topics, including mountain chickens, boa constrictors and lizards, Jenny and I cooled off from the first ‘leg’ of our walk.  After we were refreshed, we toured their  lush, fertile grounds, admired distant views across the Roseau Valley and became introduced to two of the most beautiful hens I have ever seen: Rosie and Blanche.  These tame free-range ‘layers’  roamed the property at large, cheerily clucking away as they foraged for plentiful bugs and favourite grasses.  They certainly stole my heart!

Gwendominica admires one of Gijs and Georgie's beautiful hens.

Gwendominica admired one of Gijs and Georgie’s beautiful hens. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Giraudel's history is explained here in a nutshell!

Giraudel Dominica’s  history is explained here in a nutshell!

When we heard loud music playing a short distance from our friends’ home,  probably signalling the start of the Flower Festival, we said our good-byes and continued along the main road. We passed the bandstand and stopped for a snack of tuna bakes (like a deep-fried biscuit).  Then we continued up the road until we noticed a tent, where we spied flower arrangements through its opening.  We crossed the street and discovered that we were indeed in the right place for the floral display.  We entered the site by paying $5.00 ECD, and took in the lovely arrangements.  We also admired a variety of paintings by renowned local artist, Caesar Catin. Then, one of his daughters engaged us in conversation and told us about the Giraudel Youth Group and their concerted efforts to organize this Flower Festival.  Jenny and I felt that  they had done a good job, on a small-scale, although I was concerned about the strength of the tent’s supports in the high winds! (Everything was still standing when we left about an hour later.)

Some images from the Giraudel Youth Group Flower Festival 2015:DSCF4967DSCF4976DSCF4980DSCF4968DSCF4987DSCF4982

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Jenny admired ginger lilies on the rack between Giraudel and Eggleston.

Jenny admired ginger lilies on the track between Giraudel and Eggleston.

From there, we walked back through the village and headed for a shortcut that Gijs had recommended that would take us through the forest, where we would exit just above the neighbouring village of Eggleston. It was a lovely

Heliconia plants grow prolifically in the rainforest -even when it's rather dry!

Heliconia plants grow prolifically in the rainforest – even when it’s rather dry!

downhill saunter, and we paused several times to admire wildflowers, tended plants and the occasional insect!  We exited the trail after about 30 minutes and continued along the main road, returning to our starting point at the Retreat Center. By now, the clouds had lifted and the afternoon was once again, very hot.  We looked up at Morne Anglais, towering over the village of Giraudel, and wished for a few moments that we were on its peak!  (It’s a two-hour trek to the summit of Morne Anglais.  Although it can be a very steep and muddy trip, the reward at the top is a 360 degree view of Dominica and beyond).

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

My legs were now feeling rather ‘wobbly’.  We wandered along a few of the trails, but we both gave in to hunger pangs so did not fully explore the lovely grounds of the Retreat Center that day.  We seated ourselves on a wooden bench, and would have appreciated the natural solitude of this meditative place, except that the Flower Festival was now in full swing, and their  music makers’ melodies carried long distances (including to my home far below, as I later discovered!).

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Poinsettias seem to be scarce right now, but we found this one along the Retreat Center road.

Poinsettias seem to be scarce now, but we found this one along the Retreat Center road.

The Retreat Center has plenty of places for quiet contemplation, prayer or meditation.

The Retreat Center has plenty of places for quiet contemplation, prayer or meditation.

The Retreat Center is adorned with beautiful plants and shrubs in this tranquil setting.

The Retreat Center is adorned with beautiful plants and shrubs in a tranquil setting.

These bright flowers captured our attention along the Giraudel main road.

These bright flowers captured our attention along the Giraudel main road.

Time to go home!  The drive out of the Retreat Center is peaceful and pastoral.

Time to go home! The drive out of the Retreat Center is peaceful and pastoral.

As we had been several hours ‘on the road’, Jenny and I felt content with our varied exposures to numerous

varieties of beautiful flowers that grow prolifically in the Giraudel-Eggleston area.  We also agreed that plentiful pure, clean mountain air, a good, long walk and  time well-spent with lovely  friends contributed to another wonderful day on the Nature Island!

*This piece is dedicated on Mother’s Day to my late mother, Vesta.  She truly loved nature and its beautiful offerings. She really liked hens too!

 

A Return to Middleham Falls: Hiking to One of Dominica`s Superb Natural Sensations

There she is!  Even through the trees, Dominica`s Middleham Falls is a treat to the eye and a gift to the soul.

There she is! Even  through the trees, Dominica`s Middleham Falls is a treat to the eye and a sight to behold.

Middleham Falls captured my imagination (and my heart) the first time I ever visited Dominica. That very first hike,  I walked all the way from Springfield on the Imperial Road, then traversed a steep secondary road above  Cochrane village before even reaching the trail head. It took me five hours return in those days.  It was exhausting but

Getting closer to Middleham Falls.  Still a little distance to go!

Getting closer to Middleham Falls. Still a little distance to go!

exhilarating.  You can read about my initial fascination and  impressions right here. I have returned to gaze at this marvel of nature several times since March 1997, but I `ve only taken the trail from the Laudat side in the Roseau Valley twice.  So when I proposed  revisiting this waterfall to my longstanding hiking pod friends, they enthusiastically grabbed their gear and off we went! Liz and I were putting ourselves to a test of strength and endurance about our bouts of Chikungunya.  We were curious (and I was a little anxious) to see how we would make out.

The morning skies were dark and drizzly when Nancy, Liz and I set off from Roseau.  By the time we arrived at the trail head and got out of Nancy`s SUV, buckets full of rain were falling on our heads.  Although Nancy suggested that we head north to the Cabrits in search of drier land,  we stayed put and waited it out. We also held back because the Walsh family (Simon and Wendy and their son Andrew) pulled in to the parking lot at about that time, so there was no turning back!

We chatted and snacked for a few minutes at the sheltered interpretive facility, and after a few minutes, the sun came out!  Andrew and his dad took off ahead of us (both are avid athletes and naturalists) while the ladies purposely lagged behind. We set off at a leisurely pace, and were  slowed down at the start when Nancy and I decided to take off our footwear to cross the one and only shallow river on this route.  I didn`t regret it though.  I was happy to have relatively dry boots and socks for the duration of the journey.  Liz sensibly wore all-terrain sandals and Wendy got a little `help“ from her family so that her feet remained dry!

Wendy and Liz patiently wait for Nancy and I to put our boots back on after the river crossing.

Wendy and Liz patiently wait for Nancy and me to put our boots back on after the river crossing.

We ascended some steep steps and then picked our way carefully around exposed tree roots extending  from massive chatanier trees and their impressive buttresses.  The moist rainforest environment did dampen the path considerably, and we watched out for slippery rocks and deep

The prolific tree roots add a bit of a challenge to the moderate hike to Middleham Falls.

The prolific tree roots add a bit of a challenge to the moderate hike to Middleham Falls.

mud  puddles.  Sometimes we engaged in conversation and other times we contented ourselves with listening to the sounds of the rainforest. We admired abundant epiphytes and bromeliads on  the tall ancient gommier trees when we often stopped to refresh from our water bottles. The tuneful call of  mountain whistlers hiding in the treetops accompanied our pleasant foray.

Nancy manoeuvers around  tteh buttresses of a massive Chatanier tree

Nancy maneuvers around the buttresses of a massive Chatanier tree

It would be hard to get lost on this well-marked and maintained trail.

It would be hard to get lost on this well-marked and maintained trail.

After about an hour, we reached a sign which clearly pointed the way to Middleham Falls.  Without delay, we carefully quickened our pace on  the steep and rocky descent, and after about 15 minutes, the distinct roar of the gigantic cascade could be heard in the distance.  We did pass by a couple of pretty mini-falls en route, but they were only teasers leading up to the real thing!

Simon and his son Andrew take a quick rest stop in the mist blowing at them from Middleham Falls.

Simon and his son Andrew take a quick rest stop in the mist blowing at them from Middleham Falls.

Gwendominica takes a moment to catch her breath at the sign pointing the way!

Gwendominica takes a moment to catch her breath at a sign pointing the way!

The rainforest is filled with pretty sights - the mini-waterfalls are cause for a pause along the route.

The rainforest is filled with pretty sights – the mini-waterfalls are cause for a pause along the route.

And then we saw Simon and Andrew,

comfortably propped on a huge rock facing the falls.  They were  soaked by the significant spray showering the area from the powerful force of water flowing down the precipice.  At 270 feet, (82 meters), Middleham Falls is one of Dominica`s tallest chutes, and it deserves special respect during the rainy season. If we had been there in the dry season, we might have been able to descend the rocky slope and have a cool `bath`in the cavernous pool below.  However, we all agreed that the excessive strength of the waterfall was only to be admired from a distance on this day.  Besides, we were already soaking wet! I was glad that I had experienced the chill of this “cold“ water setting before.  You can read about it here.

Nancy and Liz contemplate the beauty and strength of marvellous Middleham Falls.

Nancy and Liz contemplated the beauty and strength of marvellous Middleham Falls.

Wendy`s joyful gaze taken in the natural spendour of the setting.

Wendy`s joyful gaze took in the natural splendour of the setting.

It`s the real thing! Middleham Falls is so tall that it is impossible for me to capture it all on my camera!

It`s the real thing! Middleham Falls is so tall that it was impossible for me to capture it all on my camera!

There`s that cool pool at the base of the falls.  take a dip if you dare (but don`t dive!).

There`s that cool pool at the base of the falls. Take a dip if you dare (but don`t dive!).

Snacks were hauled out and“ inhaled“, as we all had worked up appetites from our mountain-rainforest adventure.  We settled ourselves on various rocks or leaned against substantial trees as we took in this natural beauty and her forceful voice. After about half an hour, Simon and Andrew set off, with Wendy close behind as they were going to finish their day with some fun at Mero Beach. Liz, Nancy and I paced ourselves carefully and kept to quiet conversation or solitary meditation on the return.

By the time we reached the shallow river, Nancy and I unhesitatingly walked right through it!  It was the perfect method for removing mud and dirt that had accumulated on the footwear over the two plus hour trek.

At the Interpretation Centre, we changed into dry clothes in the convenient washrooms, nibbled on some chocolate, and then set off in Nancy`s vehicle  for a light lunch  and a soak in a hot pool at Papillote Wilderness Retreat a few minutes`drive  away.

Liz, Nancy and Anne, the active octogenarian and owner of Papillote Wilderness Retreat  relax after a hoot pool soak.

Liz, Nancy and Anne, the active octogenarian and owner of Papillote Wilderness Retreat relax after a hot pool soak.

When we arrived, we were fortunate to catch up with proprietor and friend Anne Jno Baptiste.  After our quick meal (I had delicious vegetarian callaloo soup!), Anne took us on a little tour of the upper garden and then we settled into a lovely secluded and sheltered hot mineral pool.  We allowed the healing waters to soothe our sore muscles and we further unwound with  light-hearted chatter.

This secluded, shletered pool at Papillote Widerness Retreat is the ideal refuge for treating post-hike soreness.

This secluded, sheltered pool at Papillote Wilderness Retreat is the ideal refuge for treating post-hike soreness.

At the end of this sensational afternoon, Liz and I agreed that despite some soreness possibly due to the lingering effects of Chikungunya, we were ready to take on another moderate hike soon.  Our long-range goal is still set to tackle more of the Waitukubuli National Trail.  Without a doubt, we`ll get there, and Nancy and Wendy will come along for the fun too!

A Boat Ride up Dominica’s Indian River: Mystical, Magical, Completely Natural!

The unusal scenery along Dominica's Indian River near Portsmouth is completely captivating to me.

The unusual scenery along Dominica’s Indian River near Portsmouth is completely captivating to me.

One of the first items on my tourist agenda while staying near Portsmouth, Dominica at The Champs Hotel, was a long overdue refresher

Even Hollywood producers were captivated by the Indian River.  They filmed parts of Pirates of the Caribbean II right here in 2005.  This is the witches hut - perfect right here, I think!

Even Hollywood producers were spellbound by the Indian River. They filmed parts of Pirates of the Caribbean II right here in 2005. This is the witch’s hut –  completely believable, I think!

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.

The journey up the Indian River begins here, at its mouth, as  seen from the Indian River Bridge above it.

The journey up the Indian River begins here at its mouth, as seen from the Indian River Bridge.  It flows into the Caribbean Sea.

'Sparrow' a.k.a. 'Spaghetti' (his admission) is a Rastafarian from Portsmouth who has been guiding visitors on the Indian River for 35 years.  He told me that he loves his job, even after all this time - a very good sign!

‘Sparrow’ a.k.a. ‘Spaghetti’ (his admission) is a Rastafarian from Portsmouth who has guided visitors on the Indian River for 35 years. He told me that he loves his job, even after all this time – a very good sign!

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.

This unlikely building remnant was part of a railway bridge that carried timber from the Brandy Estate to the river, so that it cuold then be offloaded onto boats, taken to the sea coast and shipped overseas.  The island's only railraod only lasted a few years in the early 20th century!

This unlikely building remnant was part of a railway bridge that carried timber from the Brandy Estate to the river, so that it could then be offloaded onto boats, taken to the sea-coast where there was a sawmill. The island’s only railroad only ever lasted  just  a few years in the early 20th century!

Pretty yellow flowers flourished near the mouth of the Indian River.  Their name escapes me!

Pretty yellow flowers flourished near the mouth of the Indian River. Their name escapes me, but I think each blossom only lasts for a day!

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;

The land crabs moved quickly, but I was able to capture this shot before this one bolted!

The land crabs moved quickly, but I was able to capture this shot before this one bolted!

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 content to admire the termite nests from a distance!

I was content to admire the termite nests from a distance!

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.

It does say Croc, not Clock!  After a drink of 'Dynamite', you might not see the difference.  And no, there are not any crocodiles in the river!

It does say Croc, not Clock! After a drink of ‘Dynamite’, you might not see the difference. And no, there are not any crocodiles in the river!

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.

Plentiful plants are found along the trails by the river near the inland 'Bush Bar'.

Plentiful plants are found along the trails by the river near the inland ‘Bush Bar

 Look at these fascinating buttress roots!This mangrove is called a bloodwood tree because of its reddish sap.

Look at those fascinating buttress roots! This type of mangrove is called a bloodwood tree because of its reddish sap.

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!

These handcrafts were presented to me by Sparrow.  They were made from the roseau reed that he cut at the river's edge.

These handcrafts were presented to me by Sparrow. They were made from the roseau reed that he cut at the river’s edge.

Other visitors excitedly point at a natural feature that has captured their attention.

Other visitors excitedly point at a natural feature that has captured their attention.

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!