The Marvellous Tastes, Sights and Sounds of Creole Day 2014 around Roseau Dominica

This prety Chapeau Paille (straw hat) is symbolic of Dominic`s Creole culture.  It was displayed on the stone wall of Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront in Roseau.

This pretty Chapeau Paille (straw hat), adorned with madras fabric is symbolic of Dominica`s Creole culture. It was displayed on the thick interior stone wall of Cartwheel Cafe (448-5353) on the Bayfront in Roseau.

Every year, I look forward to the last Friday in October in Dominica.  That’s when Creole Day is celebrated, in recognition and honour of the

The Kai K Boutique adjoining the Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront in Roseau displayed a simple and elegant dress with a Creole accent!

The Kai K Boutique (440-6922) adjoining the Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront in Roseau displayed a casually elegant dress  with a Creole accent  by the door for all to admire!

Nature Island`s traditional culture, comprising food, language and fashion.  This year, I decided to focus on a Creole Breakfast and  a Creole Lunch – both near the seaside – but at two different locations.

I was a little early for Creole fashions on the street that morning and I did not stay in Roseau for too long because I would be savoring Creole Lunch closer to home.  But I did enjoy the glimpses of colour and design that I observed on others  around me who proudly dressed in Creole wear.

When I arrived at Cartwheel Cafe at around 8:30 a.m., I was one of the first diners on that special occasion.  It’s a familiar place for me: I know that staff and they know my meal preferences without even asking.  I always enjoy its congenial, comfortable and casual atmosphere and the historic architectural setting close to the Cruise Ship Pier in downtown Roseau.

Flavian is one of the friendly servers at Cartwheel Cafe who always welcomes me with a warm smile.

Flavian is one of the friendly servers at Cartwheel Cafe who always welcomes me with a warm smile.

As usual, I devoured the generous serving of codfish, seasoned with herbs, which was accompanied by breadfruit (a starchy ‘provision’ that grows on a tree of that same name), a boiled egg and garden fresh salad fixings.  A cup of coffee complemented the large meal perfectly.

My Creole Breakfast at Cartwheel Cafe included boiled egg, breadfruit, salad fixings (including avocado) and seasoned codfish.  Coffee complements the meal perfectly.

My Creole Breakfast at Cartwheel Cafe included boiled egg, breadfruit, salad fixings (including avocado) and seasoned cod (salt fish). Coffee complements the meal perfectly.

This traditional meal is still a favourite in the Caribbean.  Of course, the salt fish (cod) is imported from countries where it is plentiful and  it has to be ‘unsalted’ by soaking it  overnight in cold water.  Then it is shredded and stewed or fried with various seasonings, including onion and peppers.  For me, it was an acquired taste and now I must have it at least twice a week! This filling food combination gives one energy and following this hearty dish, there is no need for a mid-morning snack.  (But if tempted, or in need of  a take-away to enjoy later in the day, I highly recommend Cartwheel mini-quiches (meat and/or vegetarian) and a slice of their incredibly moist  homemade chocolate cake).  And the price is right too!  You don’t have to wait for Creole Day to eat at Cartwheel Cafe.  At this dining

Simone at Kai K Boutique has a flare for fashion.  She is adorned in a vibrant and sexy outfit for Creole Day.  Find her at this shop and she''ll help find something new that is just right for you in quality natural fabrics for a fabulous price!

Simone at Kai K Boutique has a flare for fashion. She is adorned in a vibrant and sexy outfit for Creole Day.Go say hello and she’ll help you  find something new in quality natural fabrics at a fabulous price!

On Creole Day, it's always possible to buy a hand-made creation at varoius shops or from vendors right on the street.

On Creole Day, it’s always possible to buy at the last-minute a hand-made creation  from vendors  on the sidewalk.

establishment, you will always get a taste of Dominican-style fare.  Try it and you’ll see what I mean!

The only other item on my Creole agenda this morning was a ‘sitting’ for my annual Christmas photograph to insert in greeting cards for my Canadian relatives.  As with the last couple of years, I walked over to Lasting Images Photo Studio on King’s Lane.  It was still early in the day, and I had not worked up too much of a sweat yet.  The pleasant photographer arranged me in a few ‘standing’ poses, took the shots and then showed me each one.  I was pleased with his results, which serve as  souvenirs of  my dress-up for Creole Day every year.  While my outfit was not new, I felt like a different person in my mix of madras coördinates that I had gathered over the years.  Someday, I will look back at my participation in this important local event and smile even more broadly than I  did in the photos!

Gwendominica dressed the part for Creole Day, October31, 2014.  She is wearing a plaid (madras) jip (jupe = skirt),  a white blouse (bluse), a slightly different patterned head piece and wrist-wrap, matching necklace, earrings

Gwendominica dressed the part for Creole Day, October 31, 2014. She is wearing a plaid (madras) jip (jupe = skirt), a white lace-fringed blouse (bluse),  a different patterned head piece and wrist-wrap, coordinating necklace, bracelet and earrings. The shoulder bag is made from madras material too! Photo credit: Lasting Images, Roseau Dominica

After this pleasant start to my Creole Friday, I drove back home to write for a while before my next gastronomic outing: a long-awaited dining experience at the Westport Tavern (276-9513), a quaint seaside restaurant and bar in Citronnier, a short drive south of Roseau.

Westport Tavern is conveniently located on the seaside by the main road just south of Roseau

Westport Tavern is conveniently located on the seaside by the main road just south of Roseau

Just after midday, I left the car at home, and was quickly picked up  by one of the buses that frequents my neighbourhood.  The main road from the south of the island to Roseau was getting very busy, as  school had finished for the day and everyone made their way to their chosen Creole lunch destination.  Fortunately, I didn’t have far to go, although my friend Nancy from Springfield did got stuck in the city traffic for a while.  Eventually, she made it through, and by that time, we were both more than ready for our festive meal!

Creole Lunch at Westport Tavern in Citronnier, just south of Roseau was a delicious repast for celebrating a  very special annual event.

Creole Lunch at Westport Tavern in Citronnier, just south of Roseau was ideal for celebrating a very special annual event. There were a number of traditional dishes from which to choose on the menu.

I was craving a Crab Back, and Nancy had kindly pre-ordered this popular Creole treat when she made the reservation. This

There's my crab back. Yum!  This delicacy was prepared by Chef Sandra from Springfield. She has a knack for doing up this seasonal dish.

There’s my stuffed crab back. Yum! This delicacy was prepared by Chef Sandra from Springfield for distribution at various venues. She has a  unique knack for doing up this particular seasonal dish.

delicacy is only available during the Independence season, as hunting of this crustacean is permitted for a few months each year.  I also ordered all the side dishes on the menu. How could I resist!?! Nancy enjoyed Lionfish Couboullion ( a type of traditional stew with herbs and other seasonings).  This particular fish has a bad reputation as it eats other types of marine life. There are concerted efforts to harvest it in an attempt to control it in Dominica, as it is very tasty to eat.  Westport Tavern often serves other dishes with Lionfish to great acclaim.  You can read more about this predator here.

The expansive bar at Westport Tavern offers all kind of tempting beverages.  I had unsweetened ginger beer (no alcohol).  Its strong taste perfectly complemented my Creole meal.

The expansive bar at Westport Tavern offers all kinds of tempting beverages. I had unsweetened ginger beer (no alcohol). Its strong taste perfectly complemented my Creole meal.

Chef Jessica knows how to dish up very delicious dinners.  You should go to Westport Tavern of an evening, and find out for yourself!

Chef Jessica knows how to dish up very delicious dinners. You should go to Westport Tavern of an evening, and find out for yourself!

The lovely covered dining room offers lovely seaside views and refreshing breezes. Boaters can anchor nearby too!

The covered dining room offers lovely seaside views and refreshing breezes. Boaters can anchor nearby too! There’s a wharf that leads directly to the dining room.

DJ David Sorhaindo played wonderful tunes in keeping with the Creole season, which complemented the cheery atmosphere at Westport Tavern.

DJ David Sorhaindo played plentiful  local and regional tunes in keeping with the Creole season, which complemented the cheery atmosphere at Westport Tavern.

As we gazed out on the serene Caribbean Sea, we savored every morsel of our delectable lunches. Fortunately, we were there a bit before  other eager diners filled the spacious restaurant.  I lingered over every bite of my Creole lunch, and especially enjoyed the Plantain Madras Pie.

My Creole Lunch at Westport Tavern: from upper right: mixed provisins;  stuffed crab back; plantain pie; salad; pumpkin rice. Yum!

My Creole Lunch at Westport Tavern: from upper right (clockwise): mixed provisions; stuffed crab back; plantain pie; avocado/farine ball; salad; pumpkin rice; red beans in coconut milk. What a feast!

Award-winning Chef Jessica knows how to put a wonderful meal together – and I was fortunate to be one of the beneficiaries!

It might not surprise you that I had no interest in supper that evening.  With two wonderful Creole meals ‘under my belt’, I would say that my 2014 celebration of this aspect of Dominica’s culture was complete!

 

 

 

 

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Daytripping Along Dominica`s Eastern Shore: Pagua Bay, Richmond Bay and Rosalie Bay

Sunrise Farm Cottages are nestled on a slope above the Atlantic close to an organic  farm on the property.

Sunrise Farm Cottages are nestled on a slope above the Atlantic close to fields of organic produce.

After my nutritious and  filling breakfast at Beau Rive on Sunday morning, I decided to take a little walk uphill from the hotel along the main road.  My intention was to

Sunrise Farm Cottages are located a short distance from an entrance to Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail and the Kalinago Territory.

Sunrise Farm Cottages are located a short distance from an entrance to  Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail and the Kalinago Territory.

explore the setting of  a different type of accommodation. I tackled  another steep climb of about 10 minutes and came upon Sunrise Farm Cottages, which is situated on an organic farm.  It is aptly named, and one can easily watch the sunrise from any vantage point!  The wood constructed self-catering cottages scattered discreetly around the acreage certainly appealed to me.  I may give them a try for a longer stay in the Castle Bruce area sometime!

Also nearby was the trail head to the  interior part of Waitukubuli National Trail, Segment 6. I had taken this track some years earlier, but had picked it up in Salibia in the Kalinago Territory, a few kilometers further north.

This trail marker takes hikers into the rugged. coastal part of WNT 6.  Until this point, the track is on the road leading from Castle Bruce.  The whole trek takes 6 - 7 hours - and it`s worth it!

This trail marker takes hikers into the rugged. coastal interior  of WNT 6. Until this point, the track is on the road leading from Castle Bruce. The whole trek takes 6 – 7 hours and passes through several Kalinago villages.

I`ll have to complete it from this point on my next trip to the east coast!  However, this was not a day for any big `walks`.

Shortly after I returned to Beau Rive, I freshened up and then drove away for the day`s planned adventure: Pagua Bay House and its renowned lunch menu.  Before I departed, Mark, the proprietor suggested that I take a slightly different route to reach my destination.  As I drove through the Kalinago Territory,  I followed his instructions and turned left onto Horseback Ridge Road when I saw the  sign for it.  I drove up the concrete roadway for a distance and then looked for a point where the road forked.  There, I turned left again instead of right, which continued as the Horseback Ridge trail and is part of WNT Segment 6.   I continued along on the roughened concrete, making several steep descents while glancing briefly at valley vistas in the direction of the Concord Valley. (I did not stop to take pictures as the incline was a little scary for me).  After about 10 minutes, I arrived at the Touna Kalinago Heritage Village on the south side of the Pagua River . (This Kalinago Village is well worth a stop to observe the traditional ways of these indigenous people.  I had visited there many years ago.)  I  crossed the river and made a right hand turn back towards the ocean, while passing through the village of Concord, then Hatton Garden and finally Pagua Bay! I quickly turned left (away from the ocean) and I was there!

Pagua Bay Bar and Grill and Guest House is conveniently located near the airport and is across the road from Pagua Beach.

Pagua Bay House is conveniently located near the airport and is across the road from Pagua Beach.

Pagua Bay  House ,Bar and Grill  is conveniently located directly across the road from the beach, and is only about 10 minutes away

Pagua Bay is the perfect place for a beach walk.  However, I would be cautious about a swim as undertow can be strong here.

Pagua Bay is the perfect place for a beach walk. However, I would be cautious about a swim as undertow can be strong here.

from Douglas-Charles  (formerly Melville Hall) Airport. Of course, I took my walk along the beach first so that my appetite would be adequate for a large lunch. The day was fair and a blustery breeze blew in off of the ocean.  I could taste the salt – or perhaps it was sweat!  In any case, it did the trick and after half an hour I felt as if I were ready to try out their tempting menu!

Golden apple juice appealed to me again (it is in season) and I started off with a large glass.  Jenny, the welcoming waitress reviewed the selections with me and I chose a vegetarian bean burger with the toppings.  I was careful to only eat half of the bun because it was necessary to satisfy my sweet tooth.  It was completely satiated with a moist melt-in-my-mouth generous slice of New York style cheesecake, complemented with a cup of coffee made to my specifications (mild, not strong!).

Afterwards, I succumbed to a little lie-down in a comfy lounge chair set in the cool blue pool overlooking the ocean.

The bar at Pagua serves refreshing and uncommon alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

The bar at Pagua Bay  House serves refreshing and uncommon alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Lovely Sarafina was a pleasant lunch companion. She rested quietly near my table and was as good as gold.  No, she did not beg, and no, I did not tempt her. Those eyes are something else!

Lovely Seraphina was a pleasant lunch companion. She rested quietly near my table and was as good as gold. No, she did not beg, and no, I did not tempt her. Those eyes are something else, though!

Eyes open or closed, the pool at Pagua Bay invites one to have a dip before or a rest after a delicious lunch!

Eyes open or closed, the pool at Pagua Bay House invites one to have a dip before or a rest after a delicious lunch!

Jenny, the gracious server and Sheldon the charming GM made me feel right at home at Pagua Bay Restaurant and Bar.

Jenny, the gracious server and Sheldon the charming GM made me feel right at home at the Pagua Bay House Restaurant and Bar.

I gazed around me at the lovely scene for a few moments, but I did feel drowsy and I gave in to that sensation for about half an hour.  Before I departed, I chatted amiably with Sheldon Bruno, the engaging General Manager.   We discussed his review of the first two nights of the  World Creole Music Festival, as he had attended both and would go for the final night after work.  I shouldn`t have been surprised when he told me that he lived in Roseau and drove across the island to work – in about 45 minutes.  The newly refurbished road through the Central Forest Reserve (named after former President Nicholas Liverpool) certainly makes it easier and quicker to go from one side of the island to the other. I expect this daily trek  doesn`t phase Sheldon – he is a very high energy guy with a ready smile and a positive attitude firmly in place. He definitely is an invaluable member of the team at Pagua Bay!

This view of Pagua Bay from its south side near the village of Atkinson also includes the two large rocks  (far right) that are situated near the bigger village of Marigot.

This view of Pagua Bay from its south side near the village of Atkinson also includes the two large rocks (far right) that are situated near the bigger village of Marigot.

A few raindrops chased me away from this enchanting site.  It was now mid-afternoon so I thanked my hosts and leisurely drove  for half an hour through the Kalinago Territory back to Beau Rive.  It was time to rest for dinner and make plans for my next and last day on the east coast.

Next morning, I tripped along the main road from Beau Rive in the opposite direction of the previous day.  I was curious to walk down to Richmond Bay, with its rocky shoreline and river mouth.  It had been about 10 years since I had spent part of day lounging in cool river pools with some Dominican friends who have since moved overseas.

I  slowly walked through the coastal forest on the public access road. When I reached the end of this right-of-way, a hand-made sign pointed the way to the beach so that no one would accidentally trespass on private property where a hotel is under construction. It was a bit tricky from here-on and I slid through slick mud and  stumbled over slippery rocks, but after a few minutes, I was ocean-side.

This river that flows into Richmond  Bay has some inviting pools in which one can cool off and revitalize!

This river that flows into Richmond Bay has some inviting shallow pools in which one can cool off and revitalize!

Richmond Bay`s remoteness gives it a wild, completely natural feel.

Richmond Bay`s remoteness gives it a wild, completely isolated feel.

I admired the views, but did not linger as I would be checking out of Beau Rive shortly and had to head back up the steep slope straight-away. I was in awe of this rugged shoreline and its secluded setting.  A great place to meditate!

My time at Beau Rive had passed too quickly as usual.  With the knowledge that I would be back sometime soon, I drove away with an idea that I should go down the coast to briefly revisit Rosalie Bay on this lovely day before returning to Roseau and home.

Rosalie Bay Resort is nestled just above the beach and the ocean.

Rosalie Bay Resort is nestled just above the beach and the ocean.

When I reached the T- junction of roads to the west of the Emerald Pool, I turned left and headed south to Rosalie. Road repairs were

Rosalie Bay Resort also abuts the mouth of the Rosalie River.

Rosalie Bay Resort also abuts the mouth of the Rosalie River.

underway and I travelled cautiously around broken pavement and potholes.  I arrived at Rosalie Bay Resort about 20 minutes later and noticed dark blue-black clouds approaching from the east.  I got out of the car and could feel the wind gaining strength. I really just wanted to walk along Rosalie Beach, which is renowned for sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs at certain times of the year. I was just at the end of this season, but I wanted to revisit this area and recall a time when I had watched sea turtle hatchlings run to the ocean to begin their lives underwater. I admire the ongoing dedication of volunteers and staff of the Rosalie Sea Turtle Initiative for their education and conservation efforts about three types of endangered sea turtles who come to this beach to lay their eggs.

The inviting patio at the Rosalie Bay Resort Restaurant is very inviting - except during a rain squall! (This photo was taken 5 minutes before it hit!).

The patio at the Rosalie Bay Resort Restaurant is very inviting – except during a rain squall! (This photo was taken 5 minutes before it hit!)

Rosalie Beach is a protected turtle nesting site.  It`s a great place for a brisk beach walk too.

Rosalie Beach is a protected turtle nesting site. It`s a great place for a brisk beach walk too.

That early afternoon, the dark clouds moved in quickly, carrying an intense rain squall which would be unleashed on Rosalie moments later!

That early afternoon, the dark clouds moved in quickly, carrying an intense rain squall which would be unleashed on Rosalie moments later!

I watched those menacing clouds draw near, and I ran back to the restaurant to order a simple take-out meal for the road: hummus, plantain chips and veggies.  While I waited, I became increasingly nervous as the wind blasted the building and table settings on the porch flew off in every direction.  I picked a few pieces up and then rushed inside as the rain pounded down.  I sipped on sorrel juice and when my lunch package arrived, I hurried out to the parking lot in a torrential downpour.

Suffice to say that the squall diminished as I headed north. The sun shone as I climbed the mountainous road and entered the Pond Cassé round-about in the middle of the island en route to Roseau.  Half an hour later, I was back in the capital and the rain was about to begin!  I wasted no time in driving the additional ten minutes to my home where I unloaded my light luggage and snacked on my take-out from Rosalie Bay Resort. I would have to meet friends Victoria and Neil, who live near Rosalie on another day when the weather promised to be fine. You can read about our previous get together and gastronomic experience at this eco-resort here.

As I reflected on my east coast sojourn, I felt grateful for the pleasant conversations, dramatic scenery, delicious meals and serene settings that I had experienced over the past few days.

Without a doubt, I look forward to my next adventure on the Nature Island with great anticipation!

 

A Birthday “Dine and Lime*” by the Beach at Calibishie, on Dominica’s Northeast Coast

Hell's Gates welcome travellers to the northern edge of the quaint village of Calibishie on Dominica's northeast coast.

Hell’s Gate welcomes travellers to the northern edge of the quaint village of Calibishie on Dominica’s northeast coast.

After I left Fort Shirley and the Cabrits National Park , I drove along one of Dominica’s well-travelled  winding roads in an easterly direction.  Despite the brightness of the day, giant palm trees shadowed the route, which skirts the south side of Morne Aux Diables and other smaller peaks.

The pretty village of Calibishie sits at the water's edge and a stretch of sandy beach

The pretty village of Calibishie sits at the water’s edge along a sheltered stretch of sandy beach

After about half an hour, I reached the northernmost entrance to the quaint ocean-side village called Calibishie (Cal-i-BI-she).   This is a Kalinago word which means “a net of reefs.”

This unassuming little hamlet is unique on the Nature Island in that it is sheltered by a mile long barrier reef that protects the shoreline from the persistent Atlantic surf.  Historically, this area is known to have had the earliest settlement on Dominica – back to the pre-Columbian era!  Renowned local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, PhD, has written a fascinating article about this pretty place.  You can read it here.

I had a couple of restaurants in mind for lunch: they had been recommended to me by various people over the past several months.  Lo and behold, despite being off-season, I happily  and immediately discovered that the Rainbow Restaurant (767-245-9995) was open on this perfect birthday afternoon!

The Rainbow Restaurant (767) 245-9995 is located on the north end of the village of Calibishie - right beside the ocean!

The Rainbow Restaurant (767) 245-9995 is located on the north end of the village of Calibishie – right beside the ocean!

The waiter greeted me warmly. When I enquired about the delectable ”French” cooking that people were raving about, he modestly professed, “Oh yes, that is my wife.  We prepare French-Caribbean-style recipes.”  I scanned the menu, and while I was not ravenously hungry due to my big brunch at The Champs Restaurant a few hours earlier, I took the recommendation of a couple who were visiting from Catalonia: they were enthused about the octopus salad!  In terms of seafood, it was an unusual choice for me.  However, it could not have been any fresher.  The octopi are harvested in the sheltered cove right in front of the restaurant!

The octopus salad at the Rainbow Restaurant in Calibishie was appealing in its colorful presentation and well-blended complementary ingredients!

The octopus salad at the Rainbow Restaurant in Calibishie was appealing in its colorful presentation and well-blended healthful ingredients!

This hand-made ocean-side rocker at the Rainbow Restaurant offered an opportunity to digest a good meal and savour the gorgeous views.

This hand-made ocean-side bamboo rocker at the Rainbow Restaurant offered an opportunity to digest a good meal and savour the gorgeous views. The waves are breaking on the reef, as short distance away.

The dish was well seasoned with local herbs, and the potatoes offset the stronger flavour of the octopus.  The generous serving filled me up quickly.  After I had finished the whole bowl, I felt in need of a little rest on this scorching Caribbean summer afternoon. The bamboo’ rocking chair’ set ocean-side in the sand was there waiting for me! I lounged for a seemingly long time – distracted by a  clear view of Marie-galante, a nearby French West Indian island.  Closer to shore, Frigate birds steeply dove into the shallow waters to pick up their fresh fish lunches.  I watched a boy in flippers  and mask bob up and down in his search for octopus, perhaps, not far from the nearby reef.  I also caught

The northerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant includes Hell's Gate, just offshore.

The northerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant includes Hell’s Gate, just offshore.

occasional glimpses of the couple from Catalonia, who frolicked in the gentle surf for  a brief time before their scheduled departure from Dominica at Melville Hall Airport, a short drive away.

The southerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant provides a glimpse of the famous Red Rocks - a great place for a walk above the ocean shoreline.

The southerly view from the Rainbow Restaurant provides a glimpse of the famous Red Rocks outcrop – a great place for a walk, high above the ocean shoreline.

A view of Morne Diablotin, Dominica's highest peak from the Calbishie area, near Poz Restaurant and Bar.

A view of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak from the Calibishie area on the east coast, near Poz Restaurant and Bar.

After another half hour, I did feel more refreshed.  I paid my reasonably priced bill, and headed further south, en route to another popular place called Poz Restaurant and Bar. Unfortunately the friendly owner, a Canadian from Toronto, was not there, as he would be opening later that day due to it being the quiet time of year for tourists.  We spoke by phone for a few minutes and I assured ‘Poz’ that I would be back to spend time at his well-received establishment on my next trip to Calibishie!

At this juncture, I had not eaten any cake for my ‘big day’.  As many places were closed for the summer low season, I decided to check out a newly opened hotel along the main road near the fishing village of Anse de Mé (Mai).  This new development, called Atlantique View Resort and Spa is roughly half-way between Calibishie and Portsmouth, right at the sharp bend where the road dramatically turns inland, away from the ocean.

When I drove up the steep lane, I was not sure if it was open at first.  But almost right away, a man appeared on a distant balcony and motioned me in.  I parked at a lower level (my choice), walked up the paved drive and followed the signs until I reached the restaurant area.  I walked in and gasped – the spacious dining room was tastefully decorated  with  a dark solid wood interior, plentiful natural light and white linen tablecloths.  It was lovely!  However, it was mid-afternoon and I was not dressed for sitting in such an elegant setting.  I asked the servers on this quiet day if I might have some cake and ice cream, with coffee.  A young lady ushered me  onto a spacious covered veranda, with a gorgeous view of a giant coconut grove and the mighty Atlantic just beyond it.

The northerly view of the Atlantic coastline over the coconut grove in front of Atlantique View resort and Spa is delightful!

The northerly view of the Atlantic coastline over the coconut grove below Atlantique View Resort and Spa is delightful!

While the coconut cake was more like a pastry, the coconut ice cream

My coconut pastry also came with coconut ice cream, which came in a separate bowl.  It was yummy!

My coconut pastry also came with coconut ice cream, which arrived in a separate bowl. It was yummy!

complemented it well.  I relaxed there for a while and enjoyed the lovely surroundings of this 35 room hotel. By now, it was late afternoon and I was feeling slightly sleepy and very full, so I took my leave and wished the staff of this new venture well.  They have not been open for a year at this writing and the spa is still under construction.  However, I think it would be a wonderful place for any kind of retreat (personal or professional).  They  do have a huge conference room too!

I headed back to The Champs Hotel in Picard, Portsmouth for the last night of my birthday weekend before heading back to Roseau the next morning.

The birthday cake prepared by Nancy and Brendan was lovely to look at and delicious to eat!

‘ The birthday cake prepared by Nancy and Brendan was lovely to look at and delicious to eat!

Post script: Little did I know that I would be in for a big birthday surprise (or two!) the following weekend.  When three late-August born friends met at the former Springfield Plantation for a little get-together and a river ‘bath’, I had no idea that Nancy, the manager of this  international education and research-based centre  would offer presents and a big cake to Liz and me, as part of our celebration.

Liz (l), Nancy and Gwendominica pose for a moment before breaking the cake!  Photo taken by Brendan.

Liz (l), Nancy and Gwendominica pose for a moment before breaking into their birthday cake! Photo taken by Brendan.

I did not take too many photos, as I was very much enjoying the ‘moment’, but I assure you it was a most fitting finale for my birthday festivities on the Nature Isle in 2014!

* ‘Lime’ is a West Indian expression for hanging out and having fun.

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!

 

 

 

 

Good Company, Great Food, the Best Music: A Special Sunday Afternoon in Dominica!

Lise and Hans are the owners/managers of the award-winning Champs Hotel, Restaurant & Bar in Picard Dominica.  They first opened their doors in 2008.

Lise and Hans are the owners/managers of the award-winning Champs Hotel, Restaurant & Bar in Picard Dominica. They first opened their doors in 2008.

I had looked forward to enjoying a special outing to The Champs Hotel, Restaurant and Bar in Picard (near Portsmouth) Dominica to DSCF0301partake of their monthly Sunday Live Jazz Lunch for some time.  Part of the appeal was The Champs perfect venue – set high on a hill overlooking  pretty Prince Rupert Bay with the scenic Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley in the distance and the expansive Ross University Medical School directly below.

Morne Aux Diables is a prominent massif of almost 3000' which is north of De Champs.

Morne Aux Diables is a prominent massif of almost 3000′ which is north of De Champs and towers over the town of Portsmouth (far left).

Prince Rupert Bay and the Cabrits National Park (centre left) feature promoinently from The Champs.  Ross University Medical School Buildings and Housing in Picard are in the foreground.

Lovely Prince Rupert Bay and the Cabrits National Park (centre left)  as seen from The Champs. Ross University Medical School Buildings and Housing in Picard are in the foreground.

Michele's back-up band consists of  very fine musicians.  Her husband' Junior' is on the  front right of the photo.

Michele’s back-up band consists of  the finest  Dominican musicians. Her husband’ Junior’ Delsol (right) is on the bass guitar.

The  afternoon’s exceptional entertainment would be provided by none other than  acclaimed  singing sensation Dominican chanteuse Michele Henderson and her Band.  And of course, the food! A delectable dinner menu was being prepared by American chef Eric Subin, who has definitely  made a name for himself on Dominica.

Chef Eric Subin  concentrates while his  cheerful assistants await his instructions. preparing the delcious menu selections for De Champs' Sunday Live Jazz Lunch.

Chef Eric Subin concentrates while his cheerful assistants await his instructions as they prepare the creative menu selections for De Champs’ Sunday Live Jazz Lunch.

My Canadian friend Nancy offered to drive, so I was able to put my feet up and enjoy the seaside sights on the hour plus drive up the west coast from Roseau to Picard.  I had not been at The Champs for over a year, and I was excited to renew old acquaintances, revisit a lovely property and partake of some of the best food and music that Dominica has to offer!

When we arrived around 12:30 p.m., we were cheerily welcomed by Hans & Lise and directed to our table for two with a lush coconut palm tree-lined southerly view of the Picard area  and the sparkling Caribbean Sea beyond it.  As we sipped refreshments and perused the menu, Michele (pronounced Mi-kel) came over to say ‘hello’ and hugged me warmly.  Although she was due to start her show at 1 p.m., we had a few moments to catch up on news and have a chuckle or two.  Her spontaneous outburst of merriment was prompted when I produced a photo of her with me and Marilyn Smith as the singers in the Beau Bois Ensemble back in 2003!  We reminisced and I gave her recent greetings from Marilyn, who now lives in Canada.

The Beau Bois Ensemble in April 2003, just before Marilyn returned to Canada.  Those were the days.  We had a great time, that's for sure!

The Beau Bois Ensemble in April 2003, just before Marilyn returned to Canada. Those were the days. We had a great time, that’s for sure!

As well, I asked the Dominican singer about her latest international and local performances.  Delightedly, she informed me that she was received extremely well at the recently opened Crescendo Jazz Lounge in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia by large crowds  for three nights in a row.  In Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), she and the Band headlined an event called “Jazz on the Hill’ to great reviews.  Her feature at Dominica’s annual Jazz ‘n Creole pleased the huge audience tremendously.  Then she mentioned that she would be traveling to Sydney Australia  in the near future to participate in a church event to raise funds for some social programs.  As usual, she left me nothing short of impressed and she hadn’t even started to sing yet!

All of a sudden, it was 1 p.m.: time for Michele to start the show and for Nancy and me to make our lunch selections from the detailed menu.  Our helpful server answered our questions about ingredients and dietary concerns. Nancy chose the tuna dish and I opted for a vegetarian Indian specialty.  While we waited for the meals, we listened pleasurably to Michele on flute as she warmed up the diners for the afternoon’s  entertainment.  Her superb musicality was clearly evident in a funky Chick Corea rendition that had me tapping the

Michele is an accomplished trained flautist, as well as a superb soprano vocalist.

Michele is an accomplished trained flautist, as well as a superb  and versatile soprano vocalist.

table to the beat.

Nancy delights in the visual presentation of her main course: Sesame-Seared Tuna wiht Sweet Soy Glaze, Wasabi, Jasmine Rice and Temoura Onion.  She thoroughly enjoyed it too!

Nancy delighted in the visual presentation of her main course: Sesame-Seared Tuna with Sweet Soy Glaze, Wasabi, Jasmine Rice and Tempura Onion. She thoroughly enjoyed it!

Then our lunches arrived.

I was amzed a teh generous serving of Chana Masala with Mango-Apple Salad and Jasmine Rice. I really savoured all the Indian inspired flavours!

I was amazed at the generous serving of Chana Masala with Mango-Apple Salad and Jasmine Rice. I really savoured all the Indian inspired flavours!

We gazed at them open-mouthed: yes, we were hungry and the huge plates were filled up with our appealing orders.

By now, the room was packed.  Large contingents of faculty and students from Ross University Medical School were seated at long tables. Other Dominicans and expatriates filled all the remaining available space.  I was thankful that I had made a reservation, as I could see that late-comers could be disappointed or at least have to wait for a while to eat!

Lise and Hans take a little break while the rest of us take to the dance floor.  Sarah (centre) is a well-known restauranteur and food services consultant.

Hosts Lise and Hans took a little break while the rest of us took to the dance floor. Sarah (centre) is a well-known local restauranteur and food services consultant.

Michele doesn't just sing a song: she puts her heart and soul into it too!

Michele doesn’t just sing a song: she puts her heart and soul into it too!

We tried our best to finish everything on our plates.  I felt badly about leaving a bit – but I had already enjoyed some smooth and mildly piquant hummus with pita bread as an appetizer, for which Chef Eric is famous.  And there was no way I was going to pass up dessert.  While we let our dinners digest, we leaned back in our chairs to take in the mellow sounds emanating from the front of the room.  I was touched that Michele publicly acknowledged me from our earlier singing days. Then she belted out many well-known classical and contemporary jazz and jazzed-up favourites:  ‘Favourite Things’ (Sound of Music); ‘Livin’ my Life Like It’s Golden’; ‘Give Me One Reason to Stay Here’;’The Beat Goes On’ (her own composition at my request!); some popular reggae  tunes and many more over two enjoyable hours.

Michele's brilliant and expressive voice always please her audiences, whether she performs in a small room, a large stadium or on a concert stage! her husband Junior is on the bass guitar.

Michele’s brilliant and expressive voice always pleases her audiences, whether she performs in a small intimate room, a large outdoor stadium or on an international concert stage! Her husband Junior Delsol is on the bass guitar.

After that substantial meal, I knew what I wanted  to satisfy my sweet tooth with only the slightest glance at the menu.  I have previously tasted Chef Eric’s chocolate concoctions elsewhere so it is no surprise that the ‘dark chocolate cake’ was my choice.  It was only one mouthful before I exclaimed to Nancy that it was the BEST CAKE EVER!  It’s a good thing that I live a distance from Portsmouth or I might be found sneaking daily into the kitchen to ask for possible leftover slices!

However, I did savour it slowly, and endeavored to work off a few calories by hitting the dance floor with some of the ladies from Ross University. Wow!  Can they move it!  I also met

After my divine dessert (Dark Chocolate Almond Truffle Tart with Coconut-Cashew Crust), I had to work it off to the cool beats of Michele and her Band!

After my divine dessert (Dark Chocolate Almond Truffle Tart with Coconut-Cashew Crust), I had to work it off to the cool beats of Michele and her Band! Orla has her back to camera.  She was definitely groovin’ to the tunes!

up with Orla, a faculty member who had me laughing and singing on the trails during Hike Fest.  It was great to see her again – although at first we didn’t recognize each other without t-shirts, caps and boots!

Just after 3 p.m., the music wound down and we reluctantly dragged ourselves off of the dance floor.  I still had some cake to finish and then it was time to go!

It is such a pleasure and honour to know Michele Henderson. It's also a thrill to watch her career grow locally, regionally and internationally.  I wish her continued and endless success!

It is such a pleasure and honour to know Michele Henderson. It’s also a thrill to watch her career grow locally, regionally and internationally. I wish her continued and endless success!

It was such a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Chef Eric’s culinary creations, Michele’s magical musicianship, the warm hospitality of Hans and Lise and the fantastic atmosphere at The Champs  guarantee that I will return for Sunday Live Jazz Lunch again very soon!

A Feast for Canada Day – Dominican style

The Canadian flag complements the lovely red and white anthurium lillies - a perfect blend of my two favourite countries: Canada and Dominica!

While overlooking Roseau, the Canadian flag complements the lovely red and white anthurium lilies – a perfect blend of my two favourite countries: Canada and Dominica!

Although I have lived far away from “my home and native land”  for a long time, I always make a point of celebrating Canada Day  in Dominica.

This year, I decided to treat myself and a Canadian friend to a meal at a Roseau restaurant that was unfamiliar to me.  But I didn’t just splurge, I had a gift – yes, another one (!) from Hike Fest 2013 – a certificate that would cover both our meals quite well.  I was very excited about this other prize, and David, the Administrative Officer at the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA) was equally pleased for me.  That only added to the anticipation of an unfamiliar dining experience.  But I should have known – as the DHTA office is right next door to 15 Castle Street, I am sure that David frequents the Old Stone Grill and Bar.

Amooir is a charming bartender who has a knack for mixing  delectable and memorable drinks.

Amooir is a charming bartender who has a knack for mixing delectable and memorable drinks.

And

The Old Stone Grill and Bar is situated at 15 Castle Street, Roseau (on the eastern side of the street, opposite the DOMLEC building.

The Old Stone Grill and Bar is situated at 15 Castle Street, Roseau (on the eastern side of the street, opposite the DOMLEC building. Phone: (767) 440-7549.

now I know why!

When I arrived around 4 p.m., I was greeted warmly and offered help by Marlene, who was our main server that afternoon.  While I waited for Nancy, I admired the tasteful artwork on the walls, warm red table settings and lush green plants surrounding the dining room.

The cheery red tablecloths perfectly complemented my Canada Day attire!

The cheery red tablecloths perfectly complemented my Canada Day attire!

Soon Nancy appeared, looking very refreshed and `Canadian` after her recent trip to Canada for her sister“s wedding.  We did joke about my affinity for celebrating Canada Day, which I honoured by wearing red and white and tacking a maple leaf pin on my lapel.  As my friend teased me, Marlene brought us our menus and asked if we would like something to drink.  Before we made a selection, I spouted out: `Do you know what day this is.` `Why, it`s Canada Day, of course,`she replied confidently.  `How did you know,`I queried.  The pleasant young lady just smiled. No doubt, I had given it away somehow, or maybe she has Canadian connections.  It`s entirely possible on the Nature Island!

When our drinks arrived, I savored the delicious mix of tropical  fruits (mangoes, bananas and others) in my non-alcoholic cocktail.  It was divine. Nancy sipped on a sweet chardonnay wine while she recounted her sister`s wonderful wedding (congratulations Heather and Chris!), described some of the rides at Canada`s Wonderland and impressed me with her attendance at a Toronto Bluejay`s Baseball Game (go Jays go!)

Then Nancy queried Marlene about possible menu choices.  She graciously described several of the items and assured us of their freshness.  There were so many options.  Marlene made this monumental task easier, although there are a number of offerings I want to try next visit!

I chose a cozy corner with a table for two and made myself at home!

I chose a cozy corner with a table for two and made myself at home!

Grilled Mahi-Mahi fish, covered in an herb sauce, with breadfruit croquettes and slightly steamed vegetables satiated my taste buds.

Grilled Mahi-Mahi fish, covered in a herb sauce, with breadfruit croquettes and slightly steamed vegetables satiated my taste buds.

It seemed like no time at all when our dinners arrived and we oohed and aahed over their exquisite presentation before we even

Nancy`s grilled chicken salad and a sprinkling of cheese had definite appeal!

Nancy`s grilled chicken salad and a sprinkling of cheese had definite appeal!

took a bite!  While soft jazz music played in the background, Nancy relished a tasteful chicken salad extraordinaire.  I practically inhaled my grilled Mahi-Mahi  fish  with a herb sauce, lightly fried breadfruit croquettes and delicately steamed vegetables.  Of course, we cleaned our plates! (to use a Canadian expression)

And what would a Canada Day feast be like without a bit of sweetness to round off the meal!  Nancy didn`t waste any time as she spooned up a delectable  slice of cheesecake with strawberry topping.  There were no regrets about my choice either: a springy and light Alsatian cake with home-made coconut ice cream on the side.

It does look like two desserts - and why not! It was Canada Day, after all!

It does look like two desserts – and why not! It was Canada Day, after all!

As we lingered a little longer over the last crumbs, the tables around us filled with eager diners.  Now I could easily understand why this restaurant is so popular.  When the bill arrived, I was very pleased that the gift certificate practically covered everything and we ate a lot, I confess (but with no regrets!).

I would like to thank Leonard Lewis, proprietor of  Old Stone Grill and Bar for his generous support of Hike Fest through this wonderful donation of a complimentary dinner for two. As well, I am very grateful to the Hike Fest Committee of the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association for awarding me with this delectable prize.  It was worth every step!

This flavourful  and substantial meal was the perfect way to celebrate Canada Day – in Dominica!

Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 3

Gwendominica hams it up for the camera on one of several crossings of the Layou River during Hike Fest's 3rd and final Saturday adventure in 2013.  Photo taken by Simon Walsh, professional photographer at Images Dominica.

Gwendominica hams it up for the camera on one of several crossings of the Layou River during Hike Fest’s 3rd and final Saturday adventure in 2013. Photo taken by Simon Walsh, professional photographer at Images Dominica.

When I arrived at the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association office to register Hike Fest participants at 7 a.m. on Saturday May 18th, I had no idea that all 77 of us would be spending more of this trek in the water than on land!  The “Maroon Heritage River Hike” would be the last of a number of outdoor adventures that were offered this year as part of  the annual Tourism Awareness Month   activities on the Nature Island.

The trail is well maintained and signs do point the way on land  - but the river is another matter!

The trail is well maintained and signs do point the way on land – but the river is another matter!

At about 9:30 a.m. on that dry day in paradise, we disembarked from four buses at the village of Bells, which is located in the  island’s interior, north of the Pond Cassé round-about.  Anticipation and expectations were high.  We listened to long-time Hike Fest organizer and professional photographer Simon Walsh , who outlined the details of this adventure and introduced our guides.

At the start of the hike, about 80 enthusiasts strolled down to the Layou River en route to Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats.

At the start of the hike, about 80 enthusiasts strolled down to the Layou River crossing en route to Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats.

We were in for a few surprises and a load of fun – but I won’t give it all away at the top of this post!  The main objective was to experience and observe a very significant, historic place deep in the forest and high above the Layou River.  Our foray would take us to  two nearby locales called Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats, which are named after a famous negre maron (maroon or escaped slave) chief named Jacko. He  hid there in an encampment with his supporters  in the late 1700’s, raided and plundered many plantations and avoided capture by the British for about 40 years!

What is quite ingenious about this maroon and his followers is that they cut over 100 steps into the stone so that they had a stairway down the 300 foot cliff to the river.  However, these cuttings are far from ordinary.  They are very narrow, extremely steep and excessively high, which would have made it very difficult for British troops to quickly and easily attack them. The maroons would have seen them first from their  high hiding places in the dense forest.  Furthermore, the remote location of Jacko’s camp  on a plateau (flat land) was far from accessible.  As we quickly found out, getting to and from this area involved crossing the powerful Layou River, not once, but several times, depending on the direction of one’s approach.   They were well protected on three sides, because of the winding river with its forceful current and the steep, heavily treed cliffs.  Jacko was  a brilliant strategist, in my humble opinion!

We soon found out how clever Jacko was as we forded the  river for the first (!) time

The first crossing of the Layou River was only knee-deep.  The worst (best?!?) was yet to come - for us, but my camera had already begun to fade out before it succumbed to the river...

The first crossing of the Layou River was only knee-deep. The worst (best?!?) was yet to come – for us, but my camera had already begun to fade out before it succumbed to the river…

Trudging through the plateau hig above the rive rwas relatively easy - until we met the  Jacko steps!

Trudging through the plateau high above the river was relatively easy – until we met the Jacko Steps!

We walked up a path which met the challenging steps. Then we cautiously climbed down them to meet the river again! It was increasingly easy to understand why Jacko’s band of maroons were relatively safe from capture for so long.  One would have had to have been very familiar with the terrain, accustomed to the climate and in top physical condition to safely and successfully negotiate those steps!

These hooks were put in place over a couple of centuries ago to assist with a cable mechanism to pull goods up and down the steep steps.

These hooks were put in place over a couple of centuries ago to help with a cable mechanism to haul goods up and down the steep incline at the steps.

David (r) is an incredible guide who moved with swiftness and strength and saved a number of us from trips or topples over treacherous terrain.

A section of the Jacko Steps. David (r) is an incredible guide who moved with swiftness and strength and saved a number of us from trips or topples over treacherous terrain – both on land and in the river!

The start of the descent seemed easy - but of course Jacko would have planned it that way!  It was the  bottom up that was almost impassable - with good reason!

The start of the descent seemed easy – but of course Jacko would have planned it that way! It was  from the bottom up that was almost impassable – with good reason!

We definitely treaded with caution on the treacherous descent to the river.

From there, we realized that although the sun was shining, this was not a day for dry clothes.  As we traversed the rushing river, we  slid over slippery rocks and were often caught off-balance by the thrust of the current as its waters coursed towards the sea. Even along the shorelines, large boulders and uneven ground put my weak ankles to the test.   I had switched to plastic sandals and was thinking about putting on my hiking boots again.   I had carried them over my shoulder until that point.  But when I traversed a powerful cascade,  I tipped over with the force of the water and my  boots fell into the turbulent waters and started to drift away.  Simon immediately came to my aid and quickly retrieved the boots.  “So much for your dry boots,” he chortled.  I laughed out loud in response. If it hadn’t been for his sharp reflexes, I would have lost a  good pair of  outdoor footwear.  Thanks Simon!!!

When I reached the shoreline after about the third crossing, I realized that while my boots had been saved, I had potentially lost some other possessions, thanks to Mother Nature.  Although I had tucked my loosely plastic-wrapped   camera and my cellphone into my sports bra, I had not fully anticipated that the fearsome Layou would be so high on a dry day.  But I did have a few moments in waters up to my neck, so you know what happened next.  The camera was already fading, after several years of good service.  And as for the cell phone, it is drying out in a container of rice (!) as recommended to me by several people.  We’ll see what happens… Now there is a lesson learned – for me  – and for you!

As further photos on my part were out of the question, we were fortunate that Simon brought along a sophisticated camera and managed to keep it dry.    To see his excellent photo journal of the day’s events, look at his business face book page for Images Dominica, of which he is a partner.

At about the midway point of the several river crossings, a powerful current and fairly high waters presented a major obstacle for many of us.  I credit our guides, particularly David and Roberta, for getting us safely across to the opposite shore.  I had a moment or two during that exercise when I felt  as if the river  were about to carry me away.  I was trying with all my might to resist it and I tensed every muscle.  Strong hands pulled me safely to the other side.  I sat down and trembled for a few moments.  It occurred to me that the challenging Boiling Lake trail was perhaps a better option for my style of hiking.  But after a while I changed my mind.  Some African drummers had brought their instruments and were restoring our energy through their rhythmic sounds.

The joy of hiking in Dominica is that each trek offers something different about the Nature Island.That is what makes every outing a memorable adventure!

By the time we had slogged to the sixth crossing, some of us opted to go overland, thereby eliminating at least one traverse before the grand finale.  We were more than waterlogged, to put it mildly  While a few people started ahead, I and a few others insisted that we wait for a guide.  As I have observed and heard, it is very easy to get lost in Dominica’s dense jungle and I was not going to be party to that!

Roberta guided us through scrub,  farmlands and a cow pasture. Suddenly, we were back at the river’s edge, where we waited for the water enthusiasts to catch up to us for that very last crossing.  Amazingly, a small puppy, picked up at the trail-head, finished the  entire journey with us.  I watched people  carry him safely through all the rough waters.  I was also astonished that a nine-year old boy and ten-year old girl made the trip with relative ease.  I was so delighted for them, although they acted as if it were nothing.  Next time, I hope they will bring all their friends!

During the last traverse across the Laurent River, which flows into the Layou ,I actually began to feel more at ease with the flow of these  forceful bodies of water.  I seemed to be able to make moves that matched their unpredictable rhythms.   As we walked down the main road through the village of Bells to relax at the nearby RiverStone Bar ‘n Grill, I thought about Jacko with the greatest of  admiration and respect.

My day was not quite over, as it was time to eat and then  listen to some cool’ jazz and creole’ music from live bands.  I’ll tell you all about it in the next post!

*Special thanks to the Hike Fest Organizing Committee, particularly Maxine, David and Simon.  A big up to the tourism and hospitality interns (Victoria and the other young lady) from the Dominica State College  who helped me with registration and provided much needed support.  The guides with whom I associated were very good and added to the quality of the experiences.  I had a blast and I think most others did too!

**  I am also grateful to those in my hiking ‘pod’, especially Liz, Christabel, Wendy and the faculty ladies from Ross University Medical School for their congenial company.  Didn’t we have fun!!!

*** DO NOT attempt the Jaco Flats/Steps Hike without a knowledgeable guide. The Layou River is well-known for its flash floods, so it is inadvisable to go there on a rainy day.  The river crossings are not obvious and the current can be very strong. Local guidance is essential.

REFERENCES:

Caribbean Sunseekers Dominica by Don Philpott.Chicago: Passport Books, 1995.

Dominica: Isle of Adventure by Lennox Honychurch. Second Edition. London: Macmillan, 1995.

The Dominica Story: A History of the Island by Lennox Honychurch. London: Macmillan, 1995.