Into the ‘Heart of Dominica’: A Restorative Day at the Center of the Island

Morne Trois Pitons dominates the 'Heart of Dominica', as seen from the Pond Casse round-about in the center of the island.

Morne Trois Pitons dominates the ‘Heart of Dominica’, as seen from the Pond Casse round-about in the center of the island.

On a blistering hot day in early May 2015, with brush fires and choking smoke persisting near my neighbourhood, I high-tailed it out of Roseau and headed for the ‘Heart of Dominica’. Friend Jenny was game for a little ‘cool out’ as well, so I drove us out-of-town and up the Imperial Road, passing by Springfield en route to the Pond Cassé round-about, in the center of the island.  From there, we proceeded in an easterly direction  on the road to Marigot and the Melville Hall (Douglas-Charles) Airport. By the time we reached this central plateau in the island’s interior, the temperatures were lower by a few degrees and the air was sweet and pure. We gazed in awe at Morne Trois Pitons, Dominica’s second highest peak, which dominates prominently in this area, and we were glad to be in her soothing shadow!

My agenda was three-fold, and I was determined to realize a couple of leisurely activities outside of a pre-planned

Jenny 'cools out' by the Laurent River at the River Stone Bar & Grill in Bells, Dominica.

Jenny ‘cools out’ by the Laurent River at the River Stone Bar & Grill in Bells, Dominica.

lunch and ‘lime’ at the peaceful and popular River Stone Bar & Grill on the westerly outskirts of the village of Bells (Belles). Managing Director Maxine Alleyne-Esprit had told me only a few days earlier that she is now open for lunch from Wednesdays to Saturdays, as well as  on her usual Sunday afternoons.  Once I knew that, and the weather was more than fine, I couldn’t wait a moment longer to go there!  I was long overdue to spend a little time in this lovely setting, as  I had enjoyed other afternoons in this pristine locale.  You can read about them here and there.

The Penrice (Spanny) Falls is on private property, but one can access it by checking in at the bar next door.

The Penrice (Spanny) Falls is on private property, but one can access it by checking in at the bar next door.

Our first stop along the way before our lunch destination was at a popular little site located close to the Spanny Disco, just before Bells and about a 15 minute drive from Pond Cassé.  The original proprietor of this bar/snackette (now deceased) had developed a trail to take people to two pretty waterfalls about 15 -20 minutes by foot into the rainforest. The Penrice Falls, now commonly known as the Spanny Falls have been admired by thousands, but for me, it would be the first time  I went right to the viewing platform.  Fifteen years ago, I had taken a visitor there, and we had commenced the mini-hike.  However, it had been very rainy and we did not have on proper footwear to negotiate extra-large mud puddles, so I never actually got there! Better late than never.  I did explain this to the current proprietor, Spanny Junior, and I think he was amazed.  We paid him $10 ECD each to enter the private property to cover maintenance costs for the upkeep of the trail, as it is not a government eco-site.

The cleared path to Penrice (Spanny) Falls is well-kept and easy to access at its trail-head.

The cleared path to Penrice (Spanny) Falls is well-kept and easy to reach at its trail-head.

As  we walked along the cleared track, we admired flowers that had obviously been planted and well-tended by the owner.  Then we passed quickly through a bit of farmland and directly entered the forest.  Jenny examined some bright red insects and I too studied them with curiosity.  We descended stone steps, cut into the rock and home-made handrails ,which at times were  a bit loose, therefore, I grabbed onto them with care.  We descended further into the woods until we came upon a constructed platform and the first of the two falls directly in front of us .

I look to look at the different types of fungi that appear on tree trunks near the forest floor.

I like to look at the different types of fungi that appear on tree trunks near the forest floor.

The vegetation on this natural stone wall is lovely to look at.

The vegetation on this natural stone wall is lovely to look at.

Jenny gazed up at the top of the first Penrice (Spanny) waterfall in the bright sunlight.

Jenny gazed up at the top of the first Penrice (Spanny) waterfall in the bright sunlight.

Well constructed steps aid in the descent to the waterfall, although the railings are loose in spots.

Well constructed steps aid in the descent to the waterfall, although the railings are loose in spots.

The first Penrice (Spanny) Waterfall is a pretty sight with a shallow pool beneath it.

The first Penrice (Spanny) Waterfall is a pretty sight with a shallow pool beneath it. The pool beneath the second cascade is apparently deeper.

In the dappled sunlight, the tumbling waters took on  jewel-like colours at its base.  We noticed a rope attached to some trees to our right of the first waterfall, and assumed it led to the second cascade, apparently five minutes further.  We did not attempt it at that time, as we were not dressed to grapple and climb over rocks and loose soil.  We also remarked that the dry season was clearly evident, as the river below the falls was almost completely dry!

Depp in the rainforest by Penrice (Spanny) Falls, the river appeared to be almost dry, as is common in the month of May, normally the hottest month.

Deep in the rainforest by Penrice (Spanny) Falls, the river appeared to be almost dry, as is common in May, normally the hottest month.

I think this is Morne Couronne, which is located east of Penrice (Spanny) Falls.

I think this is Morne Couronne, which is located east of Penrice (Spanny) Falls.

After a short while, we headed back to the Spanny Bar (where I had parked the car) and spent some time looking at the pretty flowers, marvelling at distant mountain vistas and listening to some Jaco Parrots, which had been perched nearby and took flight when they saw/heard us!

A lovely mix of anthurium lilies is found at the trailhead to the Penrice (Spanny) Waterfalls.

A lovely mix of anthurium lilies is found at the trail-head to the Penrice (Spanny) Waterfalls.

Whatt a pleasure to see beautiful cultivated roses in the Heart of Dominica!

What a pleasure to see beautiful cultivated roses  by the Spanny Bar in the Heart of Dominica!

I thanked Spanny Jr. for the viewing opportunity and we drove further into the Bells area for the main event: lunch and ‘lime’ at River Stone!

When we arrived a few minutes later, we were warmly welcomed by wait-staffer Carlos and Chef Kevin Gregoire.  They had been expecting us as I had made a reservation the day before. We sat under a large umbrella on the cozy veranda overlooking the Laurent River.  I remarked once again that the dry season was clearly evident, as the water level was so low, as compared to how I had seen it at other times of the year. We first enjoyed some fresh pineapple and mango juice, delicious and sweet.  This generous drink held us well so that we could ‘bathe’ in the river before having a big lunch.

Jenny stuck her toe in, and decided that she would not go further.  Besides, she was entertained by little fishes that were fascinated by her feet, the only part of her body that she dipped into the cool rushing river. I, on the other hand, ventured further into the flow.  Even though the level of water was low, the powerful current forced me to proceed cautiously and hang on to nearby boulders. Otherwise, I would have definitely ended a little further down river.  Because it was more shallow than at other times of the year, I did not swim about, but contented myself in submerging between two big rocks!  In no time, I was definitely cooled off! We both focused on the upriver scene before us.  While butterflies and birds flitted about, we wondered about the power of nature and the strength of the waters rushing down Morne Trois Pitons, regardless of the season.

At River Stone, I appreciated this beautiful pure white anthurium lily.

At River Stone, I appreciated this beautiful pure white Peace Lily. (Thanks to Fae Martin for flower ID).

If this is a Bird of Paradise flower, the it is the perfect complement its lovely surruondings.

This Heliconia is the perfect complement to its lovely surroundings. (Thanks to Fae Martin for flower ID).

The flowers around River Stone Bar & Grill add to the peaceful ambiance of the place.

The flowers around River Stone Bar & Grill add to the peaceful ambiance of the place.

The River Stone Bar & Grill, as seen from the river bank below.

The River Stone Bar & Grill, as seen from the river bank below.

The Laurent River at Bells has a very powerful flow, even with lower water levels in the dry season.

The Laurent River at Bells has a very powerful flow, even with lower water levels in the dry season.

The River Stone Bar & Grill is situated right over the Laurent River.  What a view!

The River Stone Bar & Grill is situated over the Laurent River. What a view!

After this commune with the river, we wandered around the property. Once again, we admired the gorgeous flowers that grow prolifically on the grounds.  When we were satiated with the views  of the Nature Isle in this pristine locale, we returned to the cozy outdoor dining room to order lunch.

The cheery, expansive dining area evokes a feeling of oneness with nature.

The cheery, expansive dining area evokes a feeling of oneness with nature.

We both ordered a very tasty mahi-mahi fish wrap, with purple cabbage salad on the side. The delightful combination of herbs on the fish and in the dressing

Chef Kevin Gregoire serves up sumptuous lunches at the River Stone Bar & Grill in Bells, Dominica.

Chef Kevin Gregoire serves up sumptuous lunches at the River Stone Bar & Grill in Bells, Dominica.

caused us to slowly savor every morsel.

This delicious fish wrap with tangy cabbage salad on the side was prepared by Chef Kevin  Gregoire at the River Stone Bar & Grill in Bells Dominica.

This delicious fish wrap with tangy cabbage salad on the side was prepared by Chef Kevin Gregoire at the River Stone Bar & Grill in Bells Dominica.

While we had only ordered small portions instead of possible large ones, we were surprised to be filled up by the generous serving, and as such, had no room for dessert!

In the freshest  air imaginable, high in the mountains, surrounded by verdant rainforest and a rushing river, we both totally relaxed and forgot about our cares back in the city.

After almost four hours of ‘lime’ time, I suggested reluctantly that we move off and head back to our respective homes.  Otherwise, I might have been tempted to stay all night!  We said good-bye to Carlos and Chef Kevin, with assurances that we would return as soon as we could!

As we drove back to Pond Cassé, the third part of my plan was eventually realized.  It took me  two drive-by’s,

The entrance well-constructed steps down  to Jaco Falls actually refers to its as Hibiscus Falls!

The entrance has well-constructed steps down to Jaco Falls, but actually refers to it as Hibiscus Falls!

along with assurances from Jenny (and what she could read on the sign), as well as a query to a bus driver who had parked at Spanny’s Bar that we had actually passed the nature site that  is originally known as Jaco Falls.  I had been confused because the sign in a brightly coloured kiosk refers to the setting as Hibiscus Falls.  However, I now understand that the two names mean the same thing!  I pulled over by the side of the road and went to the attendant to make enquiries about entrance fees.  The charge in 2015 is $3 USD for visitors and $5 ECD for citizens of Dominica.  As I am the latter, I paid the lesser fee; however I felt unsure that the lady was convinced of my status. But I am what I said I am, and that’s the truth!

Jaco Falls is a pretty little site located close to the main road to Marigot and the airport.

Jaco Falls is a pretty little site located close to the main road to Marigot and the airport and is just minutes from the Pond Casse round-about.

I entered under a large sign announcing Hibiscus Falls, and immediately descended numerous steps before I arrived at the viewing area. All in all, it probably took me 5 minutes.  The stairs are well constructed with a strong railing, and one can even view the Jaco/Hibiscus Falls near the top of them.  Therefore, no need to exert energy to see another lovely waterfall, just minutes off of the main road.  I took a few photos in the late afternoon sunlight.  As Jenny had seen this site before and remained outside ,I did not linger, but I was glad to have finally ‘found’ this waterfall.

Jaco/Hibiscus Falls can be easily viewed without much effort from the top steps near the entrance to the site.

Jaco/Hibiscus Falls can be easily viewed without much effort from the top steps near the entrance to the site.

After many years of driving by the property, it had been right under my nose, with a different name than I had expected!

A few minutes closer to the round-about at the center of the island, we pulled in to the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT)office.  A friendly neighbour saw us drive up, and he quickly advised us that the staff had just left, as it was now 4:30 p.m.  We still got out and looked around, as we were curious about the building and its lay-out in this natural setting.  It is conveniently located near the trail-end of WNT Segment # 4 at Pond Cassé, and is very near to the trail-head of WNT Segment # 5.

Finally we stopped at Pond Cassé to admire majestic Morne Trois Pitons and to photograph her, even though her three peaks were slightly shrouded in clouds. I recalled a day many years ago when I had attempted the challenging climb to her summit.  While I didn’t quite reach the top, the views from my very high vantage point of the countryside below were unforgettable!

By now, the light in the mountains was fading, and we returned to the oppressive heat that lingered along the west coast and the Roseau area.  However, I managed to ‘stay cool’ that evening, as I fondly recalled the wonderful day spent at River Stone Bar & Grill and the ‘Heart of Dominica!

Strangers in Paradise: A Canadian Family Spends an Unforgettable Day in Dominica!*

A Family of Friendlly Maritime 'Strangers" enjoyed a recent visit to Dominica and a long chat with me!

A family of friendly  Canadian Maritime ‘Strangers” enjoyed a recent visit to Dominica and a long chat with me!

When my longtime Canadian friend, affectionately known as Jude advised me by email that “Company is Coming” to Dominica, I initially thought that I might finally see her after almost 18 years! However, that was not to be this time round, but the visitors who arrived on the Nature Island were definitely the next best thing to seeing my dear old Maritime buddy! Jude’s son Ben and his wife Raquel travelled with  her parents and a sister and brother-in-law to make up a group of six. They were ready to take in

I watched the Celebrity Summit mooring at the Roseau Cruise Ship Pier from my back porch.

From my back porch, I watched the Celebrity Summit mooring at the Roseau Cruise Ship Pier on Tuesday March 3, 2015.

some of the spectacular sites on the Nature Island as I had given these strangers a few suggestions in advance via correspondence with Jude.

When I watched the Celebrity Summit cruise ship dock along the pier on the Bayfront in Roseau, I knew that this lovely family would experience the verdant rainforest on a drizzly day in paradise.   As they were also cruising to other islands, I urged them to take to the mountains of Dominica, as they would not see anything like them anywhere else during their week-long voyage!

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Some of my favourite fruits: from top, clockwise: coconuts; guava cherries; cacao pods; avocado pear; pineapple.

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The Emerald Pool is a popular tourist attraction and is easily accessible.

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When my new-found friends took a dip in the Emerald Pool, they had it all to themselves!

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Even in the rain, the twin Trafalgar Falls are well worth some appreciative looks from the sheltered viewing platform.

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The mother fall of the Trafalgar Falls (on the right) is accessible and can be viewed close up in drier weather, although the rocks can be slippery.

When I met the friendly ‘strangers’ at 2 p.m., they had truly sampled the essence of the Nature Island: the rainforest.  I delighted to hear them recount their experiences in the mountainous interior of the Nature Island, as organized by Dominica’s Whitchurch Tours.  When they arrived at the renowned Emerald Pool, they were drawn to the cool basin at its base and were compelled to take a dip, despite the prevalent dampness of the day.  While the twisting and turning inland roads kept them on the edge of their seats, they seemed to be spellbound by the natural beauty all around them.  Trafalgar Falls was a bit of trek in the wet, but of course, one doesn’t get to admire twin waterfalls very often in the Maritimes! I could have learned a thing or two from my new friends, but the names of the inedible fruits they mentioned to me were unfamiliar.  There are so many natural sweet treats on the Nature Island that I guess I have ignored those that I cannot personally enjoy.

The 12,000 seat cricket stadium is a prominent site when looking over Roseau from Morne Bruce.

The 12,000 seat cricket stadium is a prominent site when looking over Roseau from Morne Bruce.

They also told me about their excursion to the look-off point at Morne Bruce over Roseau, but I got an impression

This ancient cannon on Morne Bruce is a reminder of earlier centuries when French and England were battling for possessino of the Nature Island!

This ancient cannon on Morne Bruce is a reminder of earlier centuries when French and England were battling for possession of the Nature Island!

that it was raining hard at that time, so some of the lovely view was lost in the mist. They were in awe of the 12,000 seat cricket stadium below then and they admired the cheery blue and yellow of the Astaphans Department Store. They also passed through the Botanical Gardens, but in the inclement weather and  with hunger pangs setting in, they did not  have energy to venture out of the bus.  Instead, they contented themselves with the lushness of the place and the reminder of the devastation of Hurricane David in 1979:  the squashed school bus under the baobab tree! 

The lush Botanical Gardens offer peace and tranquility to all who spend time there.

The lush Botanical Gardens offer peace and tranquility to all who spend time there.

No one was in this bus in the Botannical Gardens when it was crushed during Hurricane David in 1979

No one was in this bus in the Botanical Gardens when it was crushed during Hurricane David in 1979

The adventurous family  really did

A Reaerch Facility for the critically endangered Crapaud (mountain chicken) frog is located in the Botanical Gardens.  You can read an earlier post about it here.

A Research Facility for the critically endangered Crapaud (mountain chicken) frog is located in the Botanical Gardens. You can read an earlier post about it here.

enjoy their extensive rainforest tour . They were intrigued that Dominica, the Nature Island is noted for longevity and has one of the highest number of centenarians of any country in the world.  Of course, they heard about ‘Ma Pampo’, Dominica’s late grand lady who is reputed to have lived 128 years.  You can read about my findings here.

Then I had to gasp when  Gordon, the dad of the group remarked that they were told there were six women to every man on Dominica! I impulsively declared that this was a gross exaggeration.  They were puzzled  by that ‘fact’ because they noticed more men than women during their tour.  I will leave that part to speculation, however, I have confirmed on numerous  official sources online that there are in fact slightly more men than women in all age groups on the Nature Island, with the exception of those over 65.  Perhaps the guide’s comment was intended  to keep the visitors on their toes!!

These lovely cruise-shippers and I also conversed for a while about my life on Dominica and I did attempt to give them a quick overall picture as I sipped on a coffee with them gathered around me on the boardwalk terrace of the Fort Young Hotel.  As it has been 18 years since I first arrived here, I have  had many adventures, some of which are outlined throughout my Ti Domnik Tales blog.  I will not repeat what I’ve already posted, but if you are curious, you might wish to refer to this interview that I posted in 2014 on the popular global Expats Blog at their invitation.

The Roseau Public Library is a popular place for traditional bibliophiles!

The Roseau Public Library is a popular place for traditional bibliophiles!

As the afternoon wore on, I could see that the group’s rainforest meanderings had given way to a healthy

The Fort Young Hotel is a great place to meet friends, have a meal and/or spend the night!

The Fort Young Hotel is a great place to meet friends, have a meal and/or spend the night!

drowsiness.  They soon had to get back on the ship, so I proposed a little walk  around the front of the stately Fort Young Hotel, so that I could show them a couple of historic sites, as well as point to the hilly suburban area where I live just south of Roseau.  I delighted in showing them the Roseau Public Library, which was built with funds from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1906. My friend and fellow librarian Jude would have been thrilled to see this century+ building and its contents.  I am so glad that her family was able to have a peek.  It’s one of my favourite places to go in Roseau and I am a proud and faithful borrower of  books from its fascinating collection!

We walked slowly back to the cruise ship pier, and I wished my new

Gwendominica (centre) wore a Canadian Maritime T-shirt when she met momentary strangers during their day trip to Dominica. We poseted for this pic just before I said farewell and they boarded the ship!

Gwendominica (centre) wore a Canadian Maritime T-shirt when she met momentary strangers during their day trip to Dominica. We posed for this pic just before I said farewell and they boarded the ship on the Roseau Bayfront!

friends a wonderful continuation of their Caribbean cruise.  It was such a pleasure to meet them and I expect I’ll see them again. As mum Debra is from the Annapolis Valley, I really will smile if I see members of this group next summer when I venture to Nova Scotia to visit my own relations in that area.  Of course, I do hope they will come back to Dominica too.  I trust their day trip has left them with lasting impressions of paradise:the Nature Island!

* Hey Jude – this one’s for you!  One can never be a stranger when we live “under the same moon.” XO

Admiring the Remarkable Restoration of Fort Shirley: Dominica’s Premier Historic Site

The Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley (two dots on left hill) are an easy gaze across Prince Rupert Bay from Picard Beach.

The Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley (two dots on left hill) are an easy gaze across Prince Rupert Bay from Picard Beach.

Over my birthday weekend 2014, I decided that it was high time I had a good look around the restored site of Dominica’s Fort Shirley in

One of  the cannons at Fort Shirley that faces Prince Rupert Bay.  Portsmouth is in the middle distance and mighty Morne Diablotin, Dominica's tallest mountain hovers in the background.

One of the cannons at Fort Shirley that faces Prince Rupert Bay. Portsmouth is in the middle distance and mighty Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s tallest mountain hovers in the background.

the Cabrits National Park at Portsmouth. It would have been impossible to ignore it;  the brightly coloured authentic red roofs of the Officers’ Quarters and the Troops’ Barracks stood out as important reminders when I glanced at The Cabrits  across Prince Rupert Bay from either Picard Beach or The Champs Hotel.

Interestingly, this important historic site served as the base for one of my first forays with ‘Birdy’ (Bertrand Jno Baptiste), forestry officer, local bird authority and tour guide par excellence back in 1997!   While a few structures of the old fort were standing, much of the place was in ruins back then, although some work had been ongoing since the 1980’s. Birdy showed me around, but his main focus was on the natural history, botany and biology of the flora and fauna in the area. I can still remember looking for snakes (there a five types on Dominica) and observing puffed up gecko lizards in action!

In fact, the natural history museum, which is found below the entrance to the fort provides a wonderful overview of this eco-site and its environs.  I am proud to report that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) partnered with the Government of Dominica to open this Welcome Centre in 1996!  Once again, I made a point of briefly studying the  geological exhibits and admiring some of the  archeological relics that had been found in the area.

I had returned to this lovely park off and on over the past 17 plus years, but  it was only this time that I fully appreciated the significance of this important historic site, thanks to a careful and concise restoration of the property, commandeered by renowned local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, PhD.DSCF3118

This area, which was formed from an ancient volcanic crater has had residents since 3,000 BC and has continually attracted passersby, such as some of Christopher Columbus’s entourage on his second voyage in 1493!  More dates and details that chronicle the history and development of Fort Shirley at The Cabrits on Prince Rupert Bay can be reviewed on Dr. Honychurch’s web site, by clicking here.

I've been there ,I've done it!  This sign marks the spot where the Waitukubuli National Trail ends in the Cabrits National Park.

I’ve been there , I’ve done it! This sign marks the spot where the Waitukubuli National Trail ends in the Cabrits National Park.

The East Cabrits Trail leads to Douglas Bay and the ruins of  battery there.  It's also the last leg of the last segment (140 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

The East Cabrits Trail leads to Douglas Bay and   a former battery that is situated there. It’s also the last leg of the last segment (14) of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

It's hard to get lost on The Cabrits - unless you wander off of the well marked trails!

It’s hard to get lost on The Cabrits – unless you wander off of the well-marked trails!

As I strode up the pathway, passing through the  entrance in the  high stone wall, I stopped to look at the interpretive signs en route to the fortification.  I appreciated the directional signage as well as the descriptions of flora and fauna that are found in the area.  While it might be unusual to sight a goat on these two large ‘mounds’ nowadays, there was a time when sailors would leave such animals in this locale to graze so that they would have some fresh sustenance upon their return to this spot.  Hence the name “cabrits,” which means ‘goat’ in French, Spanish and Portuguese!

It's a bit of a climb from the entrance way to the restored buildings at Fort Shirley, but I can assure you that it is entirely worth it!

It’s a bit of a climb from the entrance way to the restored buildings at Fort Shirley, but I can assure you that it is entirely worth it!

I was not alone on this Sunday morning.   A church group lugged their picnic baskets and chairs up the taxing incline, and conducted a service in the covered lee side porch of the Officers’ Quarters while overlooking Prince Rupert Bay and mighty Morne Diablotin in the distance.  To me, their peaceful  and grateful celebration  of life  in such wondrous surroundings added to the serenity and solemnity of this intriguing site.

The day was heating up quickly so I did not take the hikes on the East or West Cabrits Trails.  That would wait for the next time.  However, I did stop to stare with awe at the carefully constructed stone walls and the tidy masonry, apparent on all the buildings.  I could see that there was still some work to be done, but knowing Dr. Honychurch, this labour of love will continue as much as possible.  There actually have been international supporters in this ambitious venture, such as the European Union (2006-07).  The Government of Dominica also recognizes the tremendous importance of this place, as it is a proud symbol of the country’s heritage.

Interestingly, no battles ever took place at the Fort, which was named after Governor Thomas Shirley in the mid 18th century, when the major construction began.  However, the famous” Battle of the Saints,” between the British and the French could be observed from this site on 12th April 1782.  Later, in 1802 there was in fact a revolt at this location by the 8th West India Regiment, comprised of former slaves. It is explained by Dr. Honychurch in this notation right here.

This ancient water pump is located in front of the Officers' Quarters. In the background, people trudge up the hill for a well-deserved picnic!

This ancient water pump is located in front of the Officers’ Quarters. In the background, people trudge up the hill for a well-deserved picnic!

The view of Morne Diablotin from the Lower Battery at Fort Shirley is a remarkable site to behold.

The view of Morne Diablotin from the wall of the Lower Battery at Fort Shirley is a remarkable site/sight to behold.

The Officers' Quarters is a majestic building that often hosts weddings and other special events.

The Officers’ Quarters is a majestic building that often hosts weddings and other special events.

The Troops' Barracks are set up to provide hostel-like accommodation with pre-arranged groups.

The Troops’ Barracks are set up to provide hostel-like accommodation for pre-arranged groups.

These cannons face the entrance to Prince Rupert Bay, as part of its defence system.

These cannons face the entrance to Prince Rupert Bay, as part of its defence system.

I appreciated the fine work that has been and continues to be done at Fort Shirley.  I could easily see that this restoration is of a very high standard (no surprise!). It reminded me of similar restored historic sites in eastern Canada that are known to me , such as the Halifax Citadel and Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia; Quebec City’s Citadelle;  and Fort Henry in Kingston Ontario.  They were all originally built and occupied for the same reason (territorial military defence!) during the 18th and 19th centuries.

While I followed and read the information on the abundant signage and referred to a helpful brochure, my only  wish would  have been a guided tour, with access to  the interior of the buildings.  However, it was a quiet Sunday morning in the off-season,  and neither Dr. Honychurch nor other restoration team members were on the property at that time.  No matter – I will  return again and continue my explorations of fascinating Fort Shirley in The Cabrits National Park.  Sincere thanks to Dr. Lennox Honychurch, for his exceptional efforts to preserve the essence of this exceptional  landmark and historic site, for the benefit of all!

 

En Route to a Healing Weekend on the East Coast of Dominica

As I recovered from chikungunya and reflected on the loss of my little  cat, Tia, I felt that a weekend away from my home might be a boost to body, mind and soul.  It had been a long time (six years!) since I ventured over to the central east coast of Dominica and I could not wait a moment longer.  When Mark Steele, proprietor of Beau Rive, a lovely boutique hotel near Castle Bruce replied to my query about  room availability with an affirmative,  I unhesitatingly booked it right away. I had stayed there a few times in previous years, so I already knew that I would highly enjoy my short stay there.

I headed out on a showery Saturday morning with some trepidation.  I knew that I would meet more rain as I passed through the  mountainous interior of the island and I was

The Emerald Pool is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Emerald Pool is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

anxious about road and weather conditions.  But the little voice in my head urged me on. While it was little scary and almost as dark as night  at midday when I passed in the shadow of majestic  Morne Trois Pitons, I took my time and carefully maneuvered around occasional potholes.

There was hardly any traffic on the road and  45 minutes after my departure , I arrived at the Emerald Pool Eco-Site.  By then, it was pouring, but I felt in need of a little outdoor ‘refreshment’.  Besides, it was  an easy walk  on a well-maintained track to this famous waterfall and I  carried my umbrella.

The track to the Emerald Pool passes through verdant rainforest in Dominica's interior.

The track to the Emerald Pool passes through verdant rainforest in Dominica’s interior.

Although my joints reminded me that  I was not ready for any big hike, I strode carefully and sometimes gingerly through the dripping rainforest to check out this popular cascade. I kept my head down as I sheltered under my umbrella.  After a few minutes, I heard the distinctive roar of a powerful torrent of water.

The Emerald Pool is magical, even from a distance.

The Emerald Pool is magical, even from a distance.

The Emerald Pool is so-named for the green hues reflected in the pool.  Although it was a gray day, she looked as pretty as always!

The Emerald Pool is so-named for the green hues reflected in the pool. Although it was a gray day, she looked as pretty as always!

Within 10 minutes, I glimpsed the beauty of the small but enchanting Emerald Pool.  Although the rain persisted, I felt invigorated in the fresh, pure mountain air.  And there was not a soul in sight!  It was the perfect day to take in this little gem of the Nature Island.  During the cruise ship season, this eco-site is a frequented attraction.  Over the years. I have only been here once with a crowd – and numerous other times on my own, with my brother, a few friends or a handful of visitors.  In those days-gone-by, I would even take a dip in the refreshing waters – but not today!  I’ve long acclimatised to the tropical climate and as a result, Dominica’s mountainous interior is too cold for me, unless I am on the move!

As I approached a view-point close to the waterfall, I was thankful for a handrail and constructed steps.  Normally, I would not have given rough terrain a second thought, but living with the arthritic after-effects of chikungunya has given me greater respect for accessibility issues. I did have my hiking pole with me as usual, which gave me extra support with occasional balance challenges (vertigo) since the mosquito-borne virus became part of my life.

By just gazing at the lovely work of nature, all alone in the rainforest and listening to its persistent, but gentle roar, I felt just “that much” better than I had the day before.  As I hobbled towards the exit from the site, I took the time to  look in an easterly direction towards the

The  easterly view from the Emerald Pool trail is breathtaking - no matter what the weather!

The easterly view from the Emerald Pool trail is breathtaking – no matter what the weather!

Atlantic where I was heading.  It seemed to me, that despite the pouring rain in my location, it was clearing on the coast.

I arrived in the parking lot a few minutes later and could feel hunger pangs returning that had been absent during my illness.   I was ahead of check-in time at Beau Rive so I decided to revisit an old favorite haunt for lunch, which overlooks the Castle Bruce Bay.  In only 15 minutes, I was there –  at Islet View Restaurant where proprietor and chef  ‘Rudy’, a Dominican-Canadian was in the house.

I’ve always enjoyed his home-cooked meals in the past, and this time was no different.

The exterior of Islet View is rustic and homey and the meals inside are unforgettable!

The exterior of Islet View is rustic and homey and the`home-cooked meals inside are unforgettable!

After reacquainting and reminding him of our Canadian connection, Rudy went in to the kitchen to prepare a fish lunch that would sustain me until dinner later at Beau Rive. I enjoyed sipping on sweetsop juice – not commonly served in restaurants and I really appreciated this treat.

My sweetsop juice was served in this colourful container - a hibiscus blossom in a coconut shell!

My sweetsop juice was served in this colourful container – a hibiscus blossom in a coconut shell!

 

The islets in Castle Bruce Bay easily captivate one`s attention.

The islets in Castle Bruce Bay easily captivate one`s attention.

The lovely view of the islets, the quaint village of Castle Bruce and its bay and beach distracted me from what ailed me. I was

The serene scene at Castle Bruce looks very inviting!

The serene scene at Castle Bruce looks very inviting!

quite amazed at how easily my spirits soared with such inspiring natural beauty before me.  Before much time had passed,

My lunch at islet View Restaurant: Mahi-mahi (aka dolphin - but not the Flipper variety!), provsions (sweet potatoes, green bananas, plantains, rice, lentils, salad.  It would be hard to go hungry on the Nature Island!

My lunch at Islet View Restaurant near Castle Bruce: Mahi-mahi (aka dolphin – but not the Flipper variety!), provisions (sweet potatoes, green bananas, plantains, dasheen) rice, lentils,cooked cabbage, salad fixings. It would be hard to go hungry if Rudy`s cooking!

Rudy appeared with a gigantic plate of food that caused me to worry and wonder (for a moment): `How will I eat dinner later!`

I did pretty well by all accounts – but I had to leave some on my plate.  It was impossible to eat it all as I had not been able to consume any large meals during my illness.  I was encouraged by the return of my appetite!

One of Rudy`s homemade `medicinal rums`is named after the current Prime Minister of Dominica.  It contains an herb called `long leaf`, which supports a `long life`!

One of Rudy`s homemade `medicinal rums`is named after the current Prime Minister of Dominica. It contains a herb called `long leaf`, which supports a `long life`!

Dessert was declined this

I don`t know where I put it, but I managed to find room for fresh fruit: watermelon; mango; and sugar cane.

I don`t know where I put it, but I managed to find room for fresh fruit: watermelon; mango; and sugar cane.

time, but I did have a chance to ask Rudy about his extensive `bush rum`collection. This simply means that various local herbs, purported to have medicinal properties for various ailments are `steeped`in a potent cask rum so that the ingredients are infused in the alcohol.  I was quite amazed by his knowledge of the various remedies“ that could be imbibed for longevity, virility and vitality, just to name a few common health concerns.  I was his first `case`of chikungunya.  Alcohol was out of the question, but he did take me to the roadside where he pulled out some lemon grass and advised me to steep it in hot water and then drink it as a `tea`.

Rudy is very knowledgeable about local herbs and probably has a bush rum to cure whatever ails you!!

Rudy is very knowledgeable about local herbs and probably has a bush rum to cure whatever ails you!!

As typical Canadians, we discussed a range of topics, including the weather but NOT Rob Ford, Toronto`s infamous mayor (sorry! 😉 ).  When I glanced at my watch, I saw that it was already almost 3 p.m.. Time to check in at Beau Rive and take a nap before dinner!

I wished Rudy a safe visit up north and promised to return for another wholesome meal when we both were back on-island!

My healing weekend was off to a great start, and I`d only been on the east coast for a few hours.  There was much more goodness to come!

 

 

 

 

Ti Domnik Tales is One Year Old!: the top 12 posts of the past 12 months

Gwendominica is abundantly thankful to her readers and supporters of Ti Domnik Tales.  Photo taken by Laasting Images Photo Studio, Roseau Dominica on Creole Day, October 26, 2012.

Gwendominica is abundantly thankful to her readers and supporters of Ti Domnik Tales. Photo taken by Lasting Images Photo Studio, Roseau Dominica on Creole Day, October 26, 2012.

March marks the first anniversary of my blog about Dominica, called Ti Domnik Tales. Coincidentally, this month also means that I am beginning the 16th year that I have lived on the Nature Isle. I am delighted to have published 50 posts and to have received more than 10,000 visits during the first year of this blog’s existence.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has referred to this website for information, curiosity or interest in some of my published experiences about Dominica. I am especially grateful to author Susan Toy for her encouragement, as well as website designers Carrie Mumford and Wendy Walsh for their technical assistance in getting the blog “up and running.”  My loyal family and friends, as well as faithful “followers” and those who “like” me make this literary experience even more rewarding and gratifying.

I will definitely “keep ’em coming,” with an aim for  a total of 100 posts over the next year.

Thanks again for checking into some of  the places, adventures and personalities that have enriched my life on the Nature Isle! I hope you will continue to enjoy Ti Domnik Tales.

Apart from a heavily consulted archives, here are the top twelve posts of the past year:

1. Spending a Spa Day at Papillote Wilderness Retreat

2. Dominica’s Antony Agar : Australian Ringer, Caribbean Sea-Captain, Schooner Builder, Author

3. Dominica’s Hike Fest: It’s “the best!”

4. Dominica’s Carnival Celebrations: Original, Traditional, Fun!

5. The Voice of Ti Domnik Tales

6. Roseau Dominica: Charming Caribbean Capital: Part 1

7. A Morning on Mero Beach

8. ‘Ma Pampo’ and the Centenarians of Dominica

9. Roseau Dominica: Charming Caribbean Capital; Part 2

10. Celebrating ‘Canada Day’ in Dominica with Yoga, Friends and Snakes!

11. Colour, Tradition and Spectacle: Dominica’s Carnival Monday ‘Ole Mas’ and Youth Parade 2013

12. The Voice of Ti Domnik Tales

If you have a moment and/or a thought to spare: PLEASE TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT TI DOMNIK TALES. 

Thanks for your interest in Ti Domnik Tales!

Thanks for your interest in Ti Domnik Tales!

My burning question is:

SHOULD I TURN TI DOMNIK TALES INTO AN E-BOOK AFTER I HAVE REACHED 100 POSTS?

Your input would be most appreciated, dear reader!  Please leave your comment in the reply box below.

Sincerely,

Gwendominica

Winter Solstice on Dominica: Experiencing the Essence of the Nature Island

Even in Dominica, the hype about December 21st and the hubbub of the approaching yule-tide were having less than desired effects on me. Fortunately, I had already decided that that particular Friday was a day to escape to “the country” (that is, away from Roseau, the capital!) if the world hadn’t ended by then.

I headed off to somewhat familiar territory, my destination being the wonderful Papillote Wilderness Retreat at Trafalgar in the Roseau Valley.  I ‘d already booked my massage with physiotherapist Ariane Magloire and was looking forward to soaking in the hot pools after my session with her. As there was no cruise ship in port, I decided to go early and explore the very popular Trafalgar Falls eco-site, which can be very crowded when hundreds of people are on-island for a few hours.

The trail to the viewing platform passes through dense forest that is filled with birdsong.

The trail to the viewing platform passes through dense forest that is filled with birdsong.

It was a beautiful day in paradise and that is no exaggeration! Brilliant sunshine, nary a cloud in sight and slightly cooler temperatures were ideal conditions for my little hike from Papillote up the hill to the twin falls at Trafalgar. As I approached the Visitor Centre, I was completely surprised that there were no visitors or tour buses in sight.  I spoke to the forestry officer and the attendant on duty and informed them of my plan to work my way up to what is called the “mother” fall which is more readily accessible than the “father” fall.  We chatted for a few moments and then I headed off on the well marked  and groomed trail to the viewing platform, about 15 minutes along the route.

So many shades of green on the approach to the "mother" fall at Trafalgar.

So many shades of green on the approach to the “mother” fall at Trafalgar.

A mountain whistler (rufus-throated solitaire) high up in the tree-tops  cheerily accompanied me with its melodious trills. Antillean bull finches and peewees flitted about the lower limbs of the trees, capturing my attention now and then as I paused to look at pretty plants along the path. I marvelled at so many shades of green all about me in the dense forest.  I could sense my breathing becoming deeper and more even as I steadily walked up a gradual incline.  After about 10 minutes, I arrived at the sturdy wooden platform and gasped with delight at the sights before me.

The higher  "father" fall at Trafalgar is more remote and inaccessible

The higher “father” fall at Trafalgar is more remote and inaccessible

To my left, the taller and slimmer “father” fall glistened in the shadowy sunlight.  Its seemingly remote location added to the intrigue.  I did recall a time many years ago when I did actually work my way over treacherous boulders and slippery stones (with the assistance of a guide).  But a landslide changed all that and I was content with the memory of soaking a bruised leg under a man-made bamboo shower of natural hot mineral water.  Now that area is off-limits to visitors.

My only choice was to head  further along the track to the majestic and stately “mother” fall. I was happy to snap shots of the twin cascades from different angles as I followed the trail to the right.  It had been many years since I ventured beyond the platform, mainly because there were always too many people on the trail for my tastes.  Admittedly, I did meet three young men just as I left the viewing point.  They were heading out and now I was completely alone!

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The cascade of the “mother” fall at Trafalgar is powerfully hypnotic!

The “mother” falls’ persistent roar drew me towards her base, over big rocks, a coursing stream of hot water and some huge tree roots. As I was on my own, I decided to stop a bit of a distance away from her as the boulders can be extremely slippery when wet.  I realized that with no-one else around, personal safety was a priority.  I sat on a damp boulder and gazed all around me.  By now, after only 10 minutes beyond the view-point, sweat trickled down my back and my face was wet from the mild exertion. A damp mist from the cascade blew over me and I breathed deeply and slowly for some time.  I stared at the tumbling waters as if in a trance, while recalling its pristine source higher in the mountains in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. 

After a short while, I glanced at my watch and realized that it was time to make my way back to Papillote for my appointment.  As I carefully turned myself around on the over-sized boulder, I cast a backward glance at the “mother.”  Although I had only spent a short time near her torrents, I felt completely invigorated, re-energized and refreshed.  Any stress that I had carried into this spectacular wilderness eco-site had quickly vanished. I was now ready to celebrate the holiday season in the best of spirits!

DSCF5145My few moments of solitude reminded me that nature is indeed a tonic for the mind, body and soul.  I highly recommend it, and urge you to spend a little time in the great outdoors, as well as with family and friends this holiday season –  where-ever you live.  Peace and goodwill to all!

Calling All Sailors: Drop Anchor at Dominica!*

Ships, Yachts, Sailboats and Cruisers drop anchor at Roseau

Ships, Yachts, Sailboats and Cruisers drop anchor at Roseau.

When sailing through the Caribbean, be sure to set your sights on Dominica, the English-speaking island located between Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Nature lovers and adventure seekers would be remiss if they did not drop anchor at Dominica!

Sailors approaching Dominica will easily understand why the Kalinago people called her 'Waitukubuli', which means "Tall is her body."

Sailors approaching Dominica will easily understand why the Kalinago people called her ‘Waitukubuli’, which means “Tall is her body.”

For centuries, Dominica has impressed many sailors with its lush green mountains rising right out of the sea.  When the Kalinago people (Carib Indians) first paddled up here from South America over a thousand years ago, they called her Waitukubuli, which means “tall is her body.” It was on a Sunday during Columbus’s second journey in 1493 that he named the island ‘Dominica’ for the day of his personal ‘discovery’. (Note: He did not set foot on the Nature Island, but it is said that he was in awe of her rugged terrain!)  And some people feel that if the great explorer  were return to the Caribbean today, Dominica would be the only island that would look familiar!

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L’Express des Iles ferry (red and white) frequently drops people from Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia on Dominica!

Within its terrain are four mountains rising above 4,000 feet.  Over 30 waterfalls nd gorges, innumerable rivers (some say one for every day of the year!) and a rainforest considered the finest in the region beckon the seafarer to step ashore and spend some time on this island paradise.  Of course, if diving is your delight, you won’t be disappointed either.  The Nature Island’s amazing underwater terrain ranks among the best in the world.

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These moorings are close to the Anchorage Hotel, a mile south of Roseau. They can organize your shore, dive and whale watch tours right from their dock!

Once ashore, go to Roseau, the capital city, and visit the Dominica Museum, as well as the Tourist Information Office  They are located on the Bay Front, directly opposite the cruise ship pier.  The museum will give you a very good overview of the country’s history, culture and anthropology through its wonderful exhibits and displays.  As the Tourist Information Office is downstairs, you can get information about various attractions and adventure activities, as well as securing names of certified taxi operators and tour guides.

In order to fully experience the magnificence of Dominica’s rainforest, a visit or two to Morne Trois Pitons National Park near Laudat would be most worthwhile.  In 1997, UNESCO proclaimed this 17,000 acre park as a World Heritage Site because of its biodiversity, natural features and uniqueness within the region.  There are four hiking trails within the park, including the challenging day-long return journey to the world-famous Boiling Lake.  This is the most arduous track, which requires assistance from a certified guide.  At the trail-head to the Boiling Lake, the Titou Gorge offers a refreshing but challenging swim into its interior and a natural hot shower at its mouth.  (You might want to save that for your reward when you finish this challenging hike). The other trails to Middleham Falls, Freshwater Lake and Boeri Lake also give the intrepid sailor plentiful opportunities for a good landlubber workout amidst pristine  wilderness surroundings.

The Freshwater Lake Trail in Morne Trois Pitons National Park has spectacular views of the east coast. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

The Freshwater Lake Trail in Morne Trois Pitons National Park has spectacular views of the east coast. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

If it’s your intention to stay on land for more than a day or so, then you should also experience a segment or two of the recently opened Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT).  One hundred and fifteen miles of track are broken up into 14 segments which traverse the island from Scott’s Head in the south to the Cabrits in the north.  The sections vary in length, difficulty and type of terrain but it is reasonable to estimate a full day of hiking on each segment in most cases.  If you take along a certified trail guide, your wilderness workout will be further enhanced.

Emerald Pool 2

I dare you to take a dip in the cool Emerald Pool in Morne Trois Pitons National Park!

There are many other ways to experience nature at its finest  in Dominica.  The Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar features a four-acre tropical garden which has a number of rare plants and some hot and cold mineral pools. Nearby are the stunning twin falls of Trafalgar, which can be  observed from a  sheltered viewing platform. Another easily accessible waterfall is the Emerald Pool, just off the road to Castle Bruce in the island’s interior.  The bountiful shades of green make it a photographer’s delight.  This and the Trafalgar Falls trail  are relatively short and well maintained, but if you don’t care for crowds, it is best to experience them on a day when there are no cruise ships in port.

After spending some time at and perhaps even swimming in the Emerald Pool, you should head in an easterly direction to Castle Bruce and then turn in a northerly direction so that you can visit the Carib Territory.  This area of Dominica is home to about 3,000 Kalinago people who live in eight villages scattered throughout this reserve.  These indigenous people are renowned for their wonderful  hand-woven baskets made from local grasses and they bake a very delicious bread from the root of the cassava plant. In order to further appreciate their history and culture, a stop at Kalinago Barana Aute (Carib Model Village) is a must.  Here, you can take a guided tour, watch traditional dances, observe the making of ancient crafts and carving of traditional dug-out canoes and sample some of that mouth-watering cassava bread! While in the area, you might  like to make another side-trip for an hour or so and take the  L’Escalier Tete Chien trail down to the Atlantic.  This natural stairway to the  ocean is said to resemble a boa constrictor. Ask your guide about the intriguing legend of this area.

The walk down (and then back up) L'Escalier Tete Chien in the Carib Reserve is not for the faint of heart!

The walk down (and then back up) L’Escalier Tete Chien in the Carib Territory is not for the faint of heart!

Prince Rupert's Bay at Portsmouth has numerous moorings.  It is the most popular anchorage in Dominica.

Prince Rupert’s Bay at Portsmouth has numerous secure moorings. It is a popular anchorage in Dominica.

On another day, you can also drop anchor at Portsmouth, or take an hour’s drive up the coast from Roseau to enjoy the interpretive path at Syndicate, located inland from Dublanc in the Northern Forest Reserve.  This one hour loop is popular for parrot watching.  The endangered Sisserou  and the vulnerable Jacquot (Jaco) are endemic to Dominica and thrive in this area. A knowledgeable guide and forestry officer, such as Bertrand (Dr. Birdy) Jno Baptiste (drbirdy2@cwdom.dm)  can tell you more about these and other birds, as well as the flora and fauna around the trail. More intrepid hikers might like to tackle Dominica’s highest peak, Morne Diablotin, as you are in near the trail-head.  You could also pick up the Waitukubuli National Trail Segments 10 and/or 11, which traverse this part of the Nature Island.

If you’d rather sit for a while after all that ‘walking’, you could take a scenic boat-ride up the Indian River, just south of Portsmouth.  Trained guides will row you up the bwa mang tree-lined river (which was featured in Pirates of the Caribbean – but I forget whether it was in # 2 or 3!)), while explaining the local history  and pointing out areas and creatures of interest in this enchanting locale.  The stop at the remote Bush Bar may (or may not!)  be memorable!

For those who choose not to hike up mighty Morne Diablotin, you could spend a restful day having a picnic and admiring it from a distance at Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park.  The fort is presently being restored and there are many interpretive signs, displays and well-marked meandering trails on the site.  Segment 14 of the Waitukubuli National Trail, which follows the rocky coastline from Capuchin in the north, also passes through the park and terminates near its entrance.  Then again, you could ride a horse  from a stable just east of Portsmouth and move through the rain forest on a saddle instead of your feet.

If you’d like to spend some down time on a beach, you’ll have plenty of choices.  While there are no five-mile long stretches filled with hundreds of tourists, you’ll find some quiet strips of sand or

Coconut Beach, just south of Portsmouth is a great place to relax and have aswim. The Cabrits National Park (the two humps) can be seen in teh distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Coconut Beach, just south of Portsmouth is a great place to relax and have a swim. The Cabrits National Park (the two humps) can be seen in the distance. Historic Fort Shirley is found there.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

pebbles all along the west and northeast coasts.  While a secluded cove may seem appealing, I would discourage anyone from venturing too far without a tour guide or taxi driver, just to be on the safe side (as you would anywhere in the world!).

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The Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve in the south of the island is a protected site. At Soufriere Bay,Scott’s Head is the promontory in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Water-sports enthusiasts can partake of their favourite pass-times in Dominica too.  Various companies offer kayaking, tubing, rafting, river hiking, windsurfing, fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, and of course, spectacular scuba diving for which Dominica is famous.  A number of licensed dive operators are located along the west coast of the island.  There are many sites from which to take the plunge, including L’Abym along the southwest coast which descends to 1,500 feet.  Snorkelers will delight in the variety of sea life found on the  abundant, healthy coral reefs.  Champagne Beach in the northern part of the Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve is exceptional for rising bubbles composed of volcanic gasses formed beneath the sea.

Dominica is renowned for its nature and adventure, but you would be missing out on a big part of it if you overlooked its unique culture.  Festivities, such as the annual World Creole Music Festival can really attract a huge crowd.  It takes place every October, just before the country’s Independence celebrations and draws thousands from around the world. Carnival season is a perennial favourite from January to March with its pageants, parades, calypso competitions and street jump-ups. On a weekly basis, a number of hotels, bars and clubs offer happy hours and special events. The tourist information office or a hotel can give you more details.

And don’t forget to sample some local fare!  Put your taste buds to the test – try some stuffed bakes, black pudding, souse,  goat-water, crab-backs (in season) or callaloo soup, to name a few.

Only slip-shod sailors would be content to admire Dominica’s topography from a distance.  So drop anchor and experience the sensational Nature Island, Dominica!DSCF5176

*Comprehensive information about Dominica is found on these web sites:  Discover Dominica Authority and A Virtual Dominica.

** This piece was originally published in Caribbean Compass January 2004 and has since been substantially modified.

Spending a ‘Spa Day’ at Dominica’s Papillote Wilderness Retreat

Some secluded and private  hot and cold  water pools are found within Papillote’s four-acre garden.

The female or ‘mother’ cascade(on the right when facing the falls from the viewing platform) of the twin Trafalgar Falls is a short, uphill hike from Papillote Wilderness Retreat. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Every now and then, I look forward to a day away from Roseau by escaping to Papillote Wilderness Retreat, which is located in the mountains around the Roseau Valley in Dominica’s interior.  It’s only a 20 minute drive from the city and is nestled in a four-acre tropical garden not far from the twin Trafalgar Falls, which is a popular tourist attraction and is easily accessible from this hotel by foot.

But for those seeking privacy and seclusion, there are many reasons( including  breathtaking waterfalls right  on  the site!) just to’ stay put’ on this lovely property, which has been in existence as various hospitality businesses since the  1960’s.  It now operates as an intimate hotel, restaurant and spa and is the recipient of numerous  travel and eco-tourism awards!

Proprietor Anne Jno Baptiste was awarded an honorary membership in the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association in November 2014.. Papillote is Dominica`s first true eco-inn and has followed ecological principles for several decades and is an international award-winning hotel! “She understood the magic of the product and stayed true to it…Papillote Wilderness Retreat is Dominica’s original ‘eco inn’ and remains one of the leading eco lodges in the region,” her citation reads.

Proprietor Anne Jno Baptiste was bestowed an honorary membership in the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association in November 2014. Papillote is Dominica`s first true eco-inn. It has followed ecological principles for several decades and is an international award-winning hotel!

Physiotherapist Ariane pauses for a moment between clients in the Birdwatchers’ Hut at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

I particularly like to spend the occasional TGIF (Friday) there because I can get a wonderful massage from Ariane Magloire, who is a  German-trained physiotherapist.  She has a very busy  ‘mobile’ practice, so I appreciate that she is available on Friday mornings at Papillote.  My recovery from a  persistent ‘flu  and cough had been very slow up to this time. But after Ariane worked on some tender points on my chest, face and arms and quelled the painful muscle spasms in my back, I felt an inch taller and could breathe  deeply without coughing!  It was impossible NOT to relax on the massage table in the serene setting of the Birdwatchers’ Hut, where hummingbirds flitted to and fro through the extensive garden and cheeky finches perched on my  covered feet in the hope of a taste of pure coconut massage oil.

After that sensational treatment, I felt on top of the world!  And my ‘spa day’ had only just begun!  While I waited for a friend to complete her massage, I wandered on trails through the tropical garden and admired the numerous plants that thrive in this rainforest setting.  There are actually hundreds of them and I realized that most of  those I had once recognized by name, I have since forgotten.  That will be rectified on my next visit by booking a proper ‘Garden Tour’ with one of the knowledgeable  staff members!  It had been a several years since my last one and it is time to refresh my memories of   Papillote’s prolific botanicals!

The calabash gourd thrives in this locale. The fruit can really get big and heavy. Its hard outer skin makes a great  container.

Anthurium lilies grow abundantly in the moist humid rainforest climate.

This plant looks like it might be a member of the ginger family, but I will confirm that after I take my garden tour!

I was surrounded by nature and had only the plentiful birds for company.  No other human was in sight!  I had my pick of a number of natural hot and cold mineral pools so I decided to move from one to another until it was time for lunch.  At the first one, I allowed the cleverly constructed cascade to pummel my back and neck to further loosen up stiff muscles and to take away some of the tenderness from the sore spots that Ariane had attended.  Then I flopped on my belly, propped myself up on the edge of the stone ‘bath’ and stared all around me at the magnificent greenery and colourful flowers.  This was definitely ‘paradise found’!

Reds, pinks and purples adorned my table – the sorrel juice, vase of anthuriums and hot pepper sauce complemented my meal.

The views of the Roseau Valley from the dining room area are simply stunning!

The dining room at Papillote is cozy, inviting and open to the natural surroundings.

I relaxed in another deeper pool for some minutes and then it was time for lunch! The friendly staff, many with whom I am acquainted from previous visits, warmly and cheerily welcomed me again.  We chuckled because invariably I always order the same thing – not because the menu lacks other temptations – but simply because I LOVE the flying fish platter so much that I must have it! I did savor every morsel  – tastefully seasoned in a mild peppery Creole sauce with lightly fried dasheen (a starchy root vegetable) puffs and a generous organic salad on the side.  I washed it down with a slightly sweet and spicy sorrel juice, which is made from the sepals of  hibiscus  flowers.  It was really delicious!

After lunch, there was time  for another soak or two on this perfect afternoon at Papillote.

It’s easy to refresh right under this waterfall or just admire it from the nearby naturally hot and cool pools.

Tim, a videographer who produces promotional material about Dominica ( See: ‘Are You Breathing?’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjrhQ7OdXZo) cools off near the waterfall while waiting for his visiting mother who has just enjoyed a hot pool massage with Ariane.

My friend and I chatted with other acquaintances as we lounged and luxuriated in the hot waters a few steps from the restaurant.  After a while, we descended a trail in the garden which led us to a hot pool and a cold pool in a sunny exposed area next to a lovely accessible waterfall.  I heated myself up a number of times and then squealed with trepidation as I hesitatingly  waded into the cooler pool.  My friend showered herself under the cascade’s cold torrent  but I was not so inclined on this day. In this pristine ecological environment,  I could feel my body and mind completely unwinding, and all my cares seemed to float away.

Unfortunately, I did have to face the reality of driving through Roseau’s Friday afternoon rush hour. I reluctantly pulled myself away from Papillote Wilderness Retreat  while maintaining  complete certainty that I will return again..and again…and again…

A Walk Around Freshwater Lake in Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Dominica’s Freshwater Lake is found in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. This protected area became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean in 1997. The Visitor Reception Centre and parking lot can be seen in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

There are several weeks to go this hurricane/rainy season, so my hiking forays throughout Dominica are still on hold. In the mean time, I do like to reflect on my favourite  hikes on the Nature Island.  One of them is the well maintained trail which goes completely around Freshwater Lake, and is located near the village of Laudat in Dominica’s interior. This body of water forms part of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s the largest lake on the island, and the second deepest after nearby Boeri Lake.  Of course, you can also trek to Boeri Lake from  the trail-head on the northeastern side of Freshwater Lake (look for the signs on the road). It takes about 45 minutes (one way) and  can be a bit challenging as it crosses a section of Morne Macaque, also called Micotrin, the highest mountain in the Roseau Valley.

However, the circuitous groomed track around Freshwater  Lake takes an hour on average, or more if you wish to admire the circumferential views and/or catch your breath!  I’ve been up there (meaning at the very top of the Roseau Valley!) a number of times over the past 15 years.  I could never be bored with this morning or afternoon outing because the weather conditions have been vastly different every time!  I do confess I only ever came upon Boeri Lake on a clear fine day one time many years ago. It’s the highest lake in the country at 2,800 feet.  I actually took a dip in the deep, cool, clear waters.  I hadn’t been in Dominica very long, so I could tolerate it.  I assure you that I couldn’t do it now!

Freshwater Lake seems to be shrouded in mystery as low clouds create an eerie aura. Maybe a monster really lurks in its depths! Photo by Edwin Whitford

 To get to these inland lakes, it’s an easy  half hour drive up the Roseau Valley on a newly rebuilt road from Roseau. After having left the intense heat of the town and arriving at the parking lot near the shore of Freshwater Lake, the change in climate, terrain and atmosphere can be very dramatic: low lying clouds; a chilly and penetrating mist; a bracing breeze; and poor visibility around the large lake make it easy to imagine why there is a myth about a monster  there!

Before I head off on the trail, I like to have a cup of cocoa tea in the snackette at the Reception Centre to energize and (sometimes) warm myself before the initial uphill climb.  The friendly staff at Caldera’s Dining and Aquatic Sports (tablatie@hotmail.com; 245-7061) offer hearty snacks and sandwiches most days (9 am – 5 pm) during the tourist season (October to April) and most weekends during the other months of the year.  You can also rent a kayak or rowboat from them if you’d like to spend a little time on the water searching for that monster!

Majestic Morne Watt can be seen by looking in a southerly direction a short distance from the Reception Centre. It is named after one of the men who trekked to the Boiling Lake in the late 19th century and then told the world about his experiences.

After my refreshment, I wend my way towards the path by the hydro-electric building (to the right of the Reception Centre when facing the lake).  I take a few moments to wander in a southerly direction to admire Majestic Morne Watt and realize that the famous Boiling Lake is over that way too.  A few minutes further along, I  plant my feet on carefully constructed steps as I make my way to the top of the ridge on the eastern side of the lake. I am usually soaking wet fairly soon – but whether it’s from my exertions or the persistent mist, I am never sure.  Most likely, it’s the result of both!

The track can be a bit slippery in the persistent moist conditions. I always recommend a walking stick and keeping close to the ground whenever necessary! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Gwendominica stops to catch her breath and patiently waits for a break in the clouds. Photo by Edwin Whitford

As I make my way along the ridge, I admire the views of the lake, abundant wildflowers, verdant precipices and the mighty Atlantic in the distance, whenever there is a break in the clouds.

When the clouds lift, the reward is this sensational view to Rosalie Bay on the Atlantic coast and the village of Grand Fond above it. The Chemin Letang trail passes through these mountains from Freshwater Lake to Grand Fond. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

I especially adore the vistas of Rosalie Bay and the village of Grand Fond.  There is a wonderful inland trail, called Chemin Letang which traverses the mountains between Freshwater Lake and Grand Fond.  It’s about 2 1/2 hours to hike it one way or five hours plus for a return trip.  There is a trailhead maker on the eastern side of the Freshwater Lake trail.  On the Grand Fond side, a villager, or  a certified guide can direct you to its starting point and give you some fascinating details about this historic track.  I’ve done it twice from both sides.  While I am slipping and sliding on the often slick track, I am in awe of the many Dominicans who used this well worn path before there were roads to the southeastern side of the island.  They would carry their produce and wares from the east coast to Laudat on one day, and then continue on to the Roseau market to sell their goods the next day, and then do the return journey after that!  No wonder there are so many centenarians and  physically fit seniors on this island!

Freshwater Lake as viewed from a northeasterly point above it. Morne Nicholls (left) and Morne Watt (right) feature in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

As I continue along in a northerly direction,  the path begins to descend and soon I am surrounded in forest before emerging along the western shoreline of the lake. In the pristine air and lush surroundings, I have definitely worked up an appetite during my hour-long vigorous foray on the Freshwater Lake track.  I head back to Caldera’s Dining kiosk and partake of a hearty cheese, tomato and lettuce sandwich on a whole wheat bun.  Of course, I can’t resist another cup of cocoa tea.  I deserve it, I think.

Stunning views of the Roseau Valley down to Roseau are plentiful on the road to/from Freshwater Lake, just beyond the junction to the village of Laudat. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Before departing this lovely locale, I take some time to view the room of exhibits of the geological formations in this area, which add greatly to my understanding of this abundantly volcanic Nature Island.  As  I drive out of the parking lot, I content myself with the knowledge that I’ll be exploring more of Dominica’s unique Morne Trois Pitons National Park  very soon.

Discovering Dominica’s Delights*

Northwestern Coastline of Dominica from Coconut Beach on Prince Rupert Bay (Picard area of Portsmouth in the distance, Morne au Diable in background). Photo by Edwin Whitford

When I first sailed along the west coast of Dominica and marveled at its green forests and majestic peaks, I understood how Columbus must have felt when he first glimpsed the island on his second voyage in 1493.  Dominicans proudly exclaim that if this great explorer were to return to the Caribbean today, this country would probably be the only one he would still recognize.

That is because the self-proclaimed “Nature Island,” located between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique is not overly developed.  Hotels are cozy  and intimate, people are friendly and there are no crowded beaches in this English-speaking land.

Above all, visitors will find  unique  natural attractions which can be seen either on a drive around the country or by taking a hike on any number of trails that crisscross the island.  The recently opened Waitukubuli National Trail  is  one-of-a-kind in the Caribbean.  It consists of 14 segments of varying degrees of difficulty and lengths that traverse the island from north to south over a total of 184 kilometers (115 miles).

Freshwater Lake. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Morne Trois Pitons National Park in the island’s interior became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Its unspoiled features will appeal to nature lovers and adventure seekers of all ages and abilities.  Within the park’s boundaries are five major mountains which are almost 5,000 feet high, one of which is named Morne Trois Pitons.  As well, the Boeri and Freshwater Lakes are found at higher elevations, as are some towering waterfalls, the spectacular Valley of Desolation, the second largest Boiling Lake in the world and other geothermal areas.  The Smithsonian Institute has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  You will understand why when you see the pristine forests and vegetation, uncommon wildlife and 360 degree breathtaking vistas.

Springfield is now a research centre which is nestled in the mountains on the edge of the rainforest.

It would take many days, perhaps even months (and possibly years!) to discover all of Dominica’s ecological delights.  During my first few years in Dominica, I explored the island by foot and transport from my home base at the serene Springfield Guest House, a former plantation  nestled on the edge of the rainforest.  Right away, I admired the fascinating terrain and gained insights into my adopted country’s culture.

Dominica is known for its underwater sites, as well as the above-ground ones and is know as a diver’s delight.  I do not dive, but I enjoy looking just beneath the surface of the sea.  For a bit of easy snorkeling, I traveled to Scott’s Head, a point of land on the southern coast of the island.  From only a few feet offshore, I floated above dozens of flashy tropical fishes.  As I was on my own in the water and not a deep-sea diver,  I did not venture out to the steep cliff, which drops off along the face of an eroded volcano.

Soufriere Bay, with Scott’s Head in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford

The taxi trip there and back along the southwest coast was also awesome. Between Pointe Michel and Champagne Beach, we drove between barren gray cliffs and the calm Caribbean Sea on a very narrow road.  The scenes constantly changed as we journeyed through seemingly mystical forests (where some episodes from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed in 2005).

Gwendominica soaking in the large pool at Soufriere Sulphur Springs. Photo by Edwin Whitford

While I was in the southwesterly part of Dominica, I totally relaxed myself by taking a long hot soak in the large mineral pool at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs Eco-Site.  The mild smell was not overwhelming.  I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in the taxi on the way back to Springfield!

Next morning, I awoke refreshed and enthusiastically donned my hiking boots for the lengthy trek to Middleham Falls in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  It would take about five leisurely hours (round trip) on foot from Springfield via the  Cochrane village route , but I was not in any rush. I was now on island time!

A certified guide told me much about the flora and fauna of the area as we moved deeper into the rainforest.  I saw a cuckoo and the elusive rodent called an agouti.  I also heard the plaintive call of the mountain whistler who hides high in the treetops. Gigantic tropical plants such as palms and ferns shaded the track.

Gwendominica crossing one of the rivulets en route to Middleham Falls. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Although I was in reasonably good shape,  the biggest challenge for me was fording several mountain streams while keeping my boots dry.  A little coaching from my guide and some new-found confidence on my part enabled me to cross the running rivers by hopping from rock to rock.  I was soaked with sweat and weary from exertion when I first glimpsed Middleham Falls.  It literally took my breath away! This powerful cascade plummeted several

Middleham Falls Pool. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

hundred feet into a sparkling pool at its base.  It was a shock to the system to plunge into that seemingly frigid water beneath the falls, but I soon warmed up on the surrounding rocks in the brilliant sunshine. In a short while, I was refreshed enough to begin the return journey.  Since that first expedition, my love affair with hiking in Dominica continues to thrive!

Another day trip took me inland through the Carib Territory where about three thousand Kalinagos live on 3,700 acres of land on the northeast side of the island.  These indigenous people are said to be the last of their kind in the world.  They continue to practise traditional skills such as farming, weaving and the building of ocean-going dug-out canoes for fishing.  (There is now a model village called Kalinago Barana Aute which offers tours, craft demonstrations and traditional performances to the public).  There were also many opportunities to buy beautifully crafted pieces, such as baskets from these friendly folks.

Northeastern coastline from the bottom of L’escalier Tete Chien, Sineku, Carib Territory

On the Atlantic coast, the view was spellbinding from the top of L’escalier Tete Chien (‘The Snake’s Staircase’ – there is a Kalinago legend about this site) at Sineku.  This hardened lava flow looks like a serpent’s head crawling up from the ocean. It looks like a natural staircase down to the sea.  I did not attempt it that day (I have a couple of times since), but I admired others who maneuvered the sometimes slippery steps.

As we headed back to home base, we passed through banana groves, flower gardens and endless panoramas in every direction. The small, winding road blended into the greenery, giving a sense of intimacy with nature.  My reward near the end of the day was a dip in the Emerald Pool, an easy 15 minute walk on a groomed trail from the parking lot.  In the slanting rays of the afternoon sun, the waters did glisten like a jewel.  As there was no one else by the pretty waterfall, I felt as if I had captured a piece of this pristine beauty for myself, at least for a few moments.

Emerald Pool

The Nature Island has many earthly treasures.  Dominica is definitely – and naturally – delightful!

* An earlier version of this article was published in Caribbean Compass, January 1999, page 19.

The adventures described here represent some of my very first impressions of Dominica.  I can assure you that they are definitely lasting! Many of the pictures here were taken on later excursions than the above-described.  My brother’s photos are much appreciated. He’s been to Dominica three times!

If you wish to visit any of the sites or go exploring while visiting Dominica, I strongly urge you to take a certified taxi or hire a qualified guide.  Not only will you be more secure, but you will gain tremendous knowledge and insights about the Nature Island from these informative professionals.