Daytripping Along Dominica`s Eastern Shore: The Village of Castle Bruce and Environs

Gwendominica enjoys a little rest stop at the Emerald Pool in Dominica`s interior. It`s a popular site, with good reason, due to its natural beauty.

Gwendominica enjoys a little rest stop at the Emerald Pool in Dominica`s interior. It`s a popular site, with good reason, due to its natural beauty.

DSCF3268

The Emerald Pool features a variety of pretty green hues.

Whenever I spend a little time at Beau Rive in the Castle Bruce area on Dominica`s east coast, I always make a stop at the Emerald Pool   on my way there. It`s an easy 20 minute loop trail and the waterfall is found about halfway along the path.  Although only 20 minutes from my destination, I enjoy stretching my legs and breathing in the pure air in this rainforest setting.

The view from a look-off on the east side of the Emerald Pool trail includes the mighty Atlantic in the distance.

The view from a look-off on the east side of the Emerald Pool trail includes the mighty Atlantic in the distance.

Segment 5 of the Waitukubuli National Trail passes near the Emerald Pool.  It begins at Pond Casse in the middle of the island and ends at Castle Bruce.

Segment 5 of the Waitukubuli National Trail passes near the Emerald Pool. It begins at Pond Casse in the middle of the island and ends at Castle Bruce (about 13 kms).

I had a little refreshment  at the on-site snack bar and  then I was on the road again. But not for long.  It was early afternoon by the time I arrived on the east coast and I`d worked up an appetite from my little outing in the forest. I headed straight to Islet View Restaurant, run by a Canadian-Dominican named Rudy.  He can really cook up a storm and this time was no different, confirmed by the fact that every seat in the dining room was filled with visitors, mainly from the neighbouring

Gwendominica is glistening and glowing from her Emerald Pool work-out.  She refreshes herself with a big glass of golden apple juice - the local variety of course!

Gwendominica  glistened and glowed from her Emerald Pool work-out. She refreshed herself at Islet View Restaurant with golden apple juice – the local variety of course!

French islands. They were in Dominica to enjoy the 18th annual World Creole Music Festival.  I found a little space at a back table where I enjoyed my overflowing plate of Mahi-mahi fish, ground provisions, stewed beans, rice and  green salad. I ate as much of it as I could.

I always enjoy the view of the islets of Castle Bruce from the restaurant of the same name!

I always enjoy the view of the islets of Castle Bruce from the restaurant of the same name!

The Castle Bruce beach beckoned me for a beach walk.  I did so the next day!

The Castle Bruce beach beckoned me for a beach walk. I did so the next day!

I felt it was enough for two people, and I was also holding back. I was well aware that I would receive another large meal at Beau Rive a few hours later.

The next morning, I set off from my quaint east coast home base to explore the village of Castle Bruce and its expansive beach.  The pretty little hamlet is situated near to the ocean.  Although there was no storm that day, the persistent surf made its presence known, whether one was at sea level or higher up the steep slope of this compact residential area. I admired the church and its serene setting and then drove along the road that skirted the ocean.

Villagers take pride in their beautiful beach and they respectfully request that you do the same!

Villagers take pride in their beautiful beach and they respectfully request that you do the same!

The Sea Breeze Inn as seen from Castle Bruce Beach.

The Sea Breeze Inn as seen from Castle Bruce Beach.

The pretty Catholic church is situated a short distance from the ocean in Castle Bruce.

The pretty Catholic church is situated a short distance from the ocean in Castle Bruce.

I stopped when I came upon a bright blue building set against the beach.  It was in fact a little hotel, called the Sea Breeze Inn and I was on time for a late morning snack!  But first, I took a leisurely stroll along the long stretch of sand.  Storm clouds were moving in, and I walked as quickly as I could to its far end, where I came upon the mouth of the Castle Bruce River.  There, I saw a man with a fishing net. I assumed he knew where he would make a catch. I waved at him and hastened back to the inn for my treat. Before I reached

The mouth of the Castle Bruce River offers shallow pools for wading and fishing.

The mouth of the Castle Bruce River offers shallow pools for wading and fishing.

the entrance way, a squall caught me off-guard.My umbrella was no help in the stiff breeze and driving rain.  Although a little damp, I dried off in no time, as it was actually a very warm day. Ms. Lockhart, the proprietor served me the freshest guava juice, along with a tuna bake and a special surprise: her homemade pumpkin fritters.

Fresh guava fruit juice, a tuna-stuffed bake (deep fried bread) and sweet spicy pumpkin fritters (bottom) sustained me for several hours.

Fresh guava fruit juice, a tuna-stuffed bake (deep-fried bread) and sweet spicy pumpkin fritters (bottom) sustained me for several hours.

This delicious local snack quelled my hunger pangs so that I was ready for the next part of the day`s adventure: a southerly drive along the coast to the well-known historic fishing village of San Sauveur.

As I drove along the steep and winding road, it was difficult to admire the gorgeous views of Grand Marigot Bay

and the surrounding quaint villages high above the ocean.  Therefore,

Grand Marigot Bay below with the village of Good Hope perched on the steep slope!

Grand Marigot Bay below with the village of Good Hope perched on the steep slope!

when I reached the hamlet of Good Hope, a friendly lady named Rachelle directed me to a safe parking spot so I could walk and admire the sights  instead.  I switched from sandals to walking shoes and headed `down`to the coastline. After 20 minutes, I stood in front of the historic Catholic church in San Sauveur.

The San Sauveur Catholic Church

The  sturdily built San Sauveur Catholic Church at sea level  has stood the test of time against the elements.

Despite hurricanes and occasional strong storms, it  offers regular worship services to faithful followers in this somewhat remote area.

I continued along behind the church for a few minutes until I came upon a number of fishing boats at their moorings.

Fishing boats rest quietly on the moorings at San Sauveur on a Saturday afternoon.

Fishing boats rested quietly on their moorings at San Sauveur on a Saturday afternoon.

A few had been out and had come in a short time earlier.  The fishermen rushed over to me to enquire about my interest in a purchase of fish.  I of course declined as I was being served meals at Beau Rive, which included such fare.  They were disappointed as it was a quiet afternoon.  As I turned to go, they asked where I had parked my vehicle.  When I replied that I had walked down from the neighbouring village of Good Hope, they were collectively shocked!

Outside of the breakwater fro the boats, the surf at San Sauveur was very strong that Saturday afternoon.

Outside of the breakwater for the boats, the surf at San Sauveur was very strong that Saturday afternoon.

As I commenced the steep ascent, I was glad that I had carried my umbrella, not for protection against rain though.  It was early afternoon and strong sunshine prevailed high above me. I didn`t mind the sweat and distracted myself with all the breathtaking vistas below me. After a short while, I was back in Good Hope.  The villagers who had watched me leave were surprised that I had been able to do the trek so quickly!  I proudly proclaimed that I had hiked over large parts of Dominica and was now getting back in shape after my bout of Chikungunya.  I purchased a cold bottle of spring water from  a tiny snackette and returned to the car.  After this lovely outing, I headed back to Beau Rive on the quiet road.  About half an hour later, I was sitting on my porch chair, looking forward to dinner and contemplating the routes for my excursions over the next couple of days.

You`ll read about  my visits to Pagua Bay, Richmond Bay and Rosalie Bay in the next post!

A Healing Weekend at Beau Rive, near Castle Bruce on the East Coast of Dominica

Welcome to Beau Rive! This inviting hammock, which is situated close to the library is one of a number of spots on the property for relaxation and solitude.

Welcome to Beau Rive! This inviting hammock, which  overlooks the ocean and is situated close to the library is one of a number of spots on the property for relaxation and solitude.

In a relaxed frame of mind after my invigorating walk at the Emerald Pool eco-site, which was followed by a fantastic lunch at Islet View Restaurant and Bar, I drove a short distance further to my destination that Saturday: Dominica`s renowned Beau Rive boutique hotel.

As soon as I arrived on the property, Florence and Maxim, the friendly house dogs barked excitedly as Mark Steele, proprietor of Beau Rive strode quickly to my car and warmly welcomed me with a firm handshake and  sincere smile. It was not my first time at this lovely hotel, and I felt instantly “at home” as I gazed around the beautifully manicured grounds. Right away, Mark took my bags and showed me to my room.

I am not a gardener but I do appreciate beautiful, well-tended plants and trees which adorn the property at Beau Rive!

I am not a gardener but I do appreciate the beautiful, well-tended plants and trees which adorn the property at Beau Rive!

There is something about Beau Rive - perhaps its simple  charm and inviting atmosphere that makes me what to return again and again!

There is something very special about Beau Rive –  its tasteful details, private setting and inviting atmosphere make me want to return again and again!

After some brief instructions about the room’s features and details about dinner, Mark left me to my own devices. I took a little time to unpack and then admired this sensational setting before a planned  nap.  Pretty anthurium lilies in a vase complemented the beautiful Nature Island painting by local artist Marie Frederick.  A quiet ceiling fan circulated cool ocean breezes around the room.  But  I was most enraptured with the expansive balcony and its captivating view: far below, a gentle, rhythmical surf pounded against ancient rocks that

At Beau Rive, every room and cottage has a spectacular ocean view.

At Beau Rive, every room and cottage has a spectacular ocean view.

formed a tiny promontory. As I gazed further out into the mighty Atlantic, several shades of blue blended into the cottony cloud-covered sky.  With the veranda doors wide open, I lay down on the bed, but resisted shutting my eyes.  I just couldn’t stop gazing at that magnificent scene right from my propped-up pillow!

When I arrived at the upstairs dining area just before 7 p.m., Mark met me there and asked if I had had a good rest.  I chuckled as I told him that I did feel more refreshed but that I had been unable to close my eyes because I was so entranced by the view!

Mark had already asked me about food preferences when I made the reservation.   He  and his staff had graciously prepared a delicately seasoned local tuna dish with fresh vegetables.  The appetizer did contain tomatoes, but I hadn’t mentioned that they can be problematic sometimes.  As it was only a starter, I did sample this popular fruit  which lightly topped a  delicate pastry crust – and  it was divine!  I had already requested smaller servings so that I could enjoy everything and let nothing go to waste.  Of course, I savored every morsel, including the rum-flavoured chocolate cake! (Unfortunately my camera could not capture the details of these appealing plates in the evening light).

In the background, a mix of  easy-listening tunes – R+B, jazz, opera arias and instrumental medleys complemented this superb dining experience.  In the foreground, the strong waves made their presence known and nearby  tree frogs greeted the evening with gusto. But the melodious blend of sounds did not interfere with an interesting conversation about books between me and Allison, another repeat guest at Beau Rive. We were enveloped in soft candlelight at our  adjacent table settings and our exchange flowed easily. She confessed that although she is Barbadian by birth  and now resides in the U.S., Dominica is always her first choice for a vacation – but not only that – in her mind it has to at Beau Rive, and nowhere else! When I queried this seasoned traveller further over the weekend about the essence of her attraction to this lovely hotel, she always responded with, ” There is nowhere else like it. It is so unique.  It is different from everywhere else.”   We both agreed that  one can get away from everything and quietly rejuvenate here in complete comfort.

Mark Steele obviously has a special gift and a magic touch that has enabled his quaint hotel to attract guests from all over the world.  Many return to repeat their exceptional experiences and some even invite him to visit them in their homelands!  It is obvious that careful thought, meticulous attention to details, consistent dedication to the highest standards possible as a hotelier, and of course, a love of, interest in and concern for his guests and his staff have resulted in regular  highly ranked recognition on Trip Advisor.   At this writing, Beau Rive is the  number one hotel in Dominica (June 2014). It’s not the only time he has placed first and he has also  previously received a number of other awards for his renowned hospitality endeavors.  If you stay at Beau Rive, you will quickly understand why!

Almost immediately after I ate, I returned to my room to read for a while.  It wasn’t long before I drifted off to sleep to the crash of  the distant surf and the pattering of a

Young Maxim welcomed me at the top of the stairs as I made my way to breakfast.

Young Maxim welcomed me at the top of the stairs and put a big smile on my face as I made my way to breakfast.

light rain on the roof. I awoke early to enjoy a muted sunrise amidst some gray clouds.  At about 7:45 a.m., I left the room for breakfast on the upstairs patio.  The dogs greeted me along the way and I also met Frederick the frisky ginger-coloured kitty.  These pets really gave me some extra cheer and lessened the pain of the loss of Tia-pet,     my cherished cat of 16 1/2 years.

This is the 'starter' to breakfast at Beau Rive.  Fruits of all kinds - in juice and salad, along with homemade yoghurt and local honey.  There was also a lime curd, if desired.  Then came toast and sweet rolls and home-made condiments including christophene jam!

This is the ‘starter’ to the healthy breakfast at Beau Rive: fruits of all kinds – in juice and salad, along with homemade yoghurt and local honey. There was also a lime curd, if desired. Then came toast and sweet bread and creatively concocted condiments including christophene jam!

As I took my seat overlooking that spectacular ocean scene, a huge bowl of mixed fruits was placed before me.  Mark enjoys growing his own fruits and vegetables and some of his labours were in the mix.  On the second morning, he proudly told me about his success at producing cantaloupe.  It’s very uncommon on the Nature Island and here I was enjoying it at that very moment!

My plan for a Sunday outing was a long overdue refresher tour of one of Dominica’s principle historic and cultural sites: Kalinago Barana Aute (Carib Model Village).  It was only a 20 minute drive through the Kalinago Territory from Beau Rive, and Mark felt this would be an opportune time to visit, as it would be quiet on the road on Sunday morning and it was also low season, meaning there would likely be fewer people there.

I left not long after breakfast.  I had already informed Mark that I would probably be a couple of hours.  I will report on that incredible experience in the next blog post, but suffice it to say that when I got there, I was informed that my tour would be delayed as the guides were waiting for a French group to arrive and I would go along with them.  Being familiar with Mark’s concern about his guests, I immediately called him and informed him that I would be later returning than I had earlier predicted.  He was very grateful for my message.  I knew that he would worry if I didn’t show up as planned.

When I arrived back at Beau Rive about four hours later, Mark was at his garden for the afternoon and it seemed that no one else was about. (The staff were in the kitchen quietly preparing dinner)> .  I lay down for a few minutes until I heard the sound of a familiar pick-up truck in the driveway.  Lo and behold, it was Dr. Ronnie and Dr. Nausima, my favourite veterinarians!  Mark mentioned earlier that they might be around to check on his

pets (including a cow tethered  near his garden).  I was surprised to see them and it was very meaningful to spend some time with the vets in a more relaxed setting since the cat had passed away.   After they attended Florence, mother of Maxim, they went to meet Mark and check on his cow.  I was supposed to go along, but after my lengthy morning tour and slow recovery from chikungunya, I opted for a little down time in my peaceful room.

Husband and wife veterinary team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul attend to Florence, beloved pet of Mark Steele at Beau Rive.    These wonderful vets can be contacted at their clinic (767) 440-8387 or by mobile at 277-4811/275-4935.

Husband and wife veterinary team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul attend to Florence, beloved pet of Mark Steele at Beau Rive. These wonderful vets can be contacted at their clinic (767) 440-8387 or by mobile at 277-4811/275-4935.

The timing was perfect, because when they returned about an hour later, they called me to join them for a drink on the patio. Mark prepared and served our preferred beverages. Then he joined us.  We discussed all manner of things, including, health, family, world affairs and of course, animals!  While Mark is usually reticent to disclose much about his earlier life (he is an accomplished professional pianist), the British expatriate told us about some other fascinating posts  and travels he had previously experienced in different countries.  He explained that all of his past endeavors contributed to  the realization of his dream of creating Beau Rive in Dominica.  I won’t give anything else away – you’ll have to ask him yourself!

Our conversation segued into the dinner hour.  The vets  took their leave and I sat down to the most delicious pumpkin-coconut milk soup imaginable.  That was followed by a big bowl of pasta topped with a  creamy goat cheese/sun-dried tomato sauce (made from scratch, naturally!), and then  ice-cream and cake for dessert.  I was full, but I ate it all – I could not resist it!  Allison and I chatted over tea for a while and again shared reasons for our enduring fascination with Beau Rive.  The conclusion was the same as before:  for our purposes of rest, relaxation, tranquility, character, charm, hospitality and price, it just doesn’t get any better than this!

Then Allison went to the library to watch a DVD and I stayed in the upstairs lounge for a little while longer to get better acquainted with Frederick the cat.  We played for a few minutes and then he was off  on a night-time prowl.  When I passed the library door, Mark asked me if I would like to see the movie, but I declined.  I was sleep-walking and could only just make it back to my room!

mark steele

Mark Steele, proprietor of Beau Rive has successfully created a casually elegant oasis that holds appeal for all those who have had (and will have!) the pleasure of spending time there. Photo contributed by Mark.

On my last morning, Mark departed after breakfast, taking along guest Allison to run  respective errands in Roseau.  I was told to take my time checking out and I did linger a little longer,spending half an hour doing mini-laps in the pristine pool.  In these peaceful surroundings, the swim in tepid water did ease the arthritis-like pain that persisted with chikungunya.

As I headed back to Roseau feeling very refreshed and revitalized, I reaffirmed that a little time spent at Beau Rive is definitely a healing tonic for body, mind and soul!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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.