A Sensational Start to 2016 on Dominica, the Nature Island

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The 4 acre garden at Papillote Wilderness Retreat near Trafalgar Dominica is a place to really appreciate the splendour of the Nature Island.

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You know it’s the Christmas season when beautiful Poinsettias are in bloom in Dominica.

There are hundreds of tropical plants to admire and appreciate at Papilotte Wilderness Retreat.

There are hundreds of tropical plants to admire and appreciate at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

What better way to start the New Year in Dominica than to take day trip up the Roseau Valley to spend some time with friends at Papillote Wilderness Retreat. It seemed incredible that I had not been back to one of my

A therpaeutic soak in natural hot mineral waters is always a treat at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

A therapeutic soak in natural hot mineral waters is always a treat at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

favourite places on Dominica since April 2015!  Of course, Tropical Storm Erika had something to do with my delay, as I was  reluctant to venture into areas where her heavy rains had altered infrastructure and terrain.  Thankfully, four months after this significant weather event, the road was passable, with only a couple of tricky spots, and the countryside looked as lovely as ever.

January 1, 2016 was a fine day for this outing, and I started out well ahead of my lunchtime rendez-vous to check out the changes to the twin Trafalgar Falls.  These cascades are only a short distance from this award-winning eco-lodge, and I was more than curious to observe the ‘new’ landscape that was created by the intense and prolonged rainfall of August 27, 2015.

After I announced my presence to the friendly staff at Papillote, I headed up the steep hill to the eco-site, and sauntered along the groomed trail for about 10 minutes before catching my breath – not from being winded from slight exertion, but from the dramatic scene that greeted me at the sheltered viewing platform.

I had been told that one could only fully ‘appreciate’ the extent to which TS Erika ravaged the Nature Island after having seen it first-hand.  Now, I could completely comprehend that sentiment.  Before me, a very changed landscape helped me to understand the power and the force behind such a catastrophic weather event.

Unfortunately, I was not able to walk towards the Mother Fall as before because the walkway and track had been destroyed by the excessive torrents.  However, I did step just beyond the cautionary sign to take a few photos of the unfamiliar surroundings below the cascades.  As the flow of the water was ever strong, the two waterfalls were as always, awesome and awe-inspiring.  I recalled the most basic life lesson on this lovely New Year’s Day in Dominica, that NOTHING stays the same.  Life is always changing, and Mother Nature is definitely in control.

The twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform in April 2015.

The twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform in April 2015.

At the same time, I was reminded of how human beings have negatively affected the planet with pollution and

Th twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform on January 1 2016 (about 4 months after TS Erika).

Th twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform on January 1 2016 (about 4 months after TS Erika).

overall thoughtlessness about our precious environment. On Dominica, climate change is increasingly apparent, and the heavy prolonged rainfall produced by

The area below the waterfalls experienced a massive landslide during TS Erika in August 2015.

The area below the waterfalls experienced a massive landslide during TS Erika in August 2015.

Tropical Storm Erika which resulted in extensive flooding and destructive landslides is only one example in one country of the harm we have done to our dear earthly home.

The path towards the Mother Fall at Trafalgar was destroyed by these boulders during TS Erika in August 2015.

The path towards the Mother Fall at Trafalgar was destroyed by these boulders during TS Erika in August 2015.

The Father Fall at Trafalgaris even more remote following TS Erika on August 27, 2015.

The Father Fall at Trafalgar seems even more remote following TS Erika on August 27, 2015.

When I faced these natural wonders in mindful meditation for about half an hour, I resolved to be ever-conscious on a daily basis of how I can help to protect our precious environment every day in every way possible as an individual. Will you join with me in enacting this New Year’s resolution?  Please give it some serious thought!

The CHristmas tress in the dining room at Papillote gave it an especially homey ambiance on New Year's Day.

The Christmas tree in the dining room at Papillote gave it an especially homey ambiance on New Year’s Day.

Under light rainfall, typical of this rainforest setting, I returned to Papillote about 15 minutes later. There, I joined longtime friends Anne Jno Baptiste, who is the proprietor of this beautiful eco-hotel, and Nancy Osler, who is the managing director of ATREC, an international research and educational learning center based at Springfield for a delicious lunch in the airy dining room. We caught up on year-end news and toasted the New Year, with the collective hope that it would be a good one.

The staff at Papillote never have to ask me what I ould like for lunch. I am in love with their flying fish platter!

The staff at Papillote never have to ask me what I would like for lunch. I am in love with their flying fish platter (with dasheen puffs, fried plantains and salad)!

In this relaxing setting, I further unwound later that afternoon with a luxurious soak in a natural hot water pool.  As I gazed in ceaseless wonder at the sensational splendour all around me, I could only wish  for a better year than the one before and dream of playing my part to make it a reality.

A soak in a hot pool at Papillote is a heavenily experience on earth.

A soak in a hot pool at Papillote is a heavenly experience on earth.

Happy New Year to one and all!  Pray for peace and protect our precious planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

caused us to slowly savor every morsel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giraudel's history is explained here in a nutshell!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

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

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rainforest Revelry: A Wonder-Filled Trek from Springfield to Middleham Falls, Dominica

There's Dominica's Morne Micotrin (Macaque) again!  It welcomes eager hikers to the trailhead of Middleham Falls above Cochrane village.

There’s Dominica’s Morne Micotrin (Macaque) again! It welcomes eager hikers to the trail-head for Middleham Falls above Cochrane village.

With some lingering arthritic-like symptoms  and residual lower energy levels resulting from my bout of  Chikungunya in April 2014, I was unsure about my strength and stamina in terms of a day-long hike in Dominica’s interior. I had done well so far, with walks of up to four hours.  However, there was only one way to find out if I could do more – and  you will have to read on to see how I made out!

Sunday May 3rd, 2015 was a very significant day for me, as it marked the first anniversary of the passing of my dear kitty, Tia-pet into the next life.  Before hiking partner Jenny and I set off from Springfield Plantation to

Plants are flourishing at Tia's grave site at Springfield.  The little kitty is resting in spectacular natural surroundings.

Plants are flourishing at Tia’s grave site at Springfield Plantation. The little kitty is resting in spectacular natural surroundings.

commence our ambitious ‘walk’ to Middleham Falls, we visited Tia’s grave site and laid flowers there.  While I miss him dearly, I can still ‘feel the love’ and I will always be grateful to my friends who have helped me cope with this loss.

The dry, hot season had set in with a vengeance on Dominica.  Everyone was complaining about the oppressive heat.  But what better place to go than into the cool of the rainforest, and that was our primary objective!  We commenced just after 8:30 a.m. and immediately I huffed and puffed as my muscles warmed  to the steep climb up the Cochrane Back Road, the first leg of the journey.  Despite the initial breathlessness on my part, Jenny and I chatted away, and within half an hour, we arrived at the next uphill road that would take us to the trail-head to Middleham Falls. While the sun shone brilliantly overhead, we admired distant views of some of the mountains in Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). As we trekked along, we  stopped to chat with a couple who were cleaning the yard in front of their beautiful, secluded home.  The gentleman mentioned that hikers did pass by now and then, but I was well aware that most intrepids access the Middleham Falls eco-site from the Laudat side, as it is shorter, although a bit steeper in sections.  I had taken that track a few months earlier, and you can read about that fun-filled foray here.

from high above teh Cochrane Village, the views across the Roseau Valley are spectacular.  I believe this prominent massif is Morne Watt.

From high above the Cochrane Village, the views across the Roseau Valley are spectacular. I believe this prominent massif is Morne Watt in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

As we climbed higher into the rainforest, we were grateful for the cool breezes and shady trees that lined the overgrown through-way. When we came to a fork in the road, I couldn’t exactly recall which track to take, as it had been ten years since I had ventured this way.  At that moment, a friendly farmer drove by and stopped to answer my query.  Right away, he directed us to the right (hikers, take note), as the concreted lane to the left accesses private property.

Thereafter, our conversation kept us moving along, and after an hour or so of continuous incline, we arrived at a grassy plateau with an abandoned

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) provides a dramatic backdrop to the entrance to the Middleham Falls trail.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) provides a dramatic backdrop to the trail-head to the Middleham Falls track above Cochrane.

house, and we noticed the end of the road a short distance away. Right before us, was the entrance to the Middleham Falls Trail!

The enchanting entrance to Middleham Falls trail beckons visitors to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Aprk.

The enchanting entrance to Middleham Falls trail above Cochrane village beckons visitors to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

As we entered the dense forest, we were immediately entranced by sweet sounds of revelry emanating from the tree-tops high above us. Finches, thrushes, and particularly Mountain Whistlers (Siffleur Montagne) accompanied us for the

The start of the Middleham Falls trail from the Cochrane side is level and easy to walk on.

The start of the Middleham Falls trail from the Cochrane side is level and easy to walk on.

duration of our day in the ‘woods’.  Although we were a little fatigued from the challenging uphill climb on the back roads in the heat, we instantly felt refreshed under the cover of the canopy. A well-maintained track, with steps made from carapit, a sturdy, slip-proof local wood enabled us to move along very easily.

After a few minutes, we passed by a sign indicating that we were now officially inside the 17,000 acre Morne Trois Pitons National Park boundary.  A  number of steps  later,  we found ourselves beside the renowned ‘Stinking Hole’ (Tou Santi). While we were curious about this sulphurous crevice in the earth, which is home to thousands of bats, the foul-smelling fumes chased us away.  Jenny and I did agree though, that it would be fun to see these

The 'Stinking Hole' filled with thousands of bats during the day, lives up to its name!

The ‘Stinking Hole’ is  filled with thousands of bats and their ‘guano’, and lives up to its name!

Jenny stands at the boundary sign as we entered Morne Trois Pitons National Park en route to Middleham Falls.

Jenny stood at the boundary sign as we entered Morne Trois Pitons National Park en route to Middleham Falls.

nocturnal mammals fly out  en masse at dusk someday.

We continued from there in peaceful reverie as we listened to the cheery revelry of ubiquitous bird-songs above and around us. We forded several streams along the way,  of which the first two were bone dry due to the  lack of rainfall and intense heat. However, the next few did require some strategizing to avoid a slip on a slick rock or a wet boot. I generally let Jenny go first over these mini-challenges; she was more nimble in her agile attempts, however, I carefully (but successfully) picked my way to the other side.

Jenny considers the best approach for crossing slippery rocks in the river.

Jenny considered the best approach for crossing slippery rocks in the river.

Jenny manouevers over slippery rocks in a river bed.

Jenny manoeuvred over slippery rocks in a river bed.

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It is possible to hike right through from Cochrane to Laudat (and vice versa) on the Middleham Falls trail. It also intersects with Segment 4 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

As we neared the falls, the ravines on either side of the mini-rivers became steeper and more slippery.  Good thing it was the dry season or those areas would have required more effort to reach the top of the opposite bank.  The track also became narrower, a little greasy and uneven where there were above-ground streams and prominent tree  roots.  We had to keep our eyes to the ground so that we did not trip or twist an ankle.  Soon we came to a junction with a sign that indicated our close proximity to the destination.  At that point, we encountered a couple who had hiked from the Laudat side and we all more or less hiked the last several minutes together.

We could hear the roar first and then we caught a glimpse of the tall waterfall through the trees.  But suddenly, we came to a dead end, and realized that we had ‘overshot’ the eco-site.  Jenny scouted around while I explained to French visitors in their language about the situation.  Then my intrepid friend backtracked and we followed her until she found the main path, which we had all overlooked for some reason. (Perhaps a sign would be helpful at that junction).

In the hot sunny weather, this site was beyond beautiful.

In the hot sunny weather, this site was beyond beautiful.

The top of Middleham Falls is about 270' up.  It has less flow in this photo, as it was taken in the dry seaon, that is no or very little rainfall and intense heat.  This is usual during the month of May.

The top of Middleham Falls is about 270′ up. It has less flow in this photo, as it was taken in the dry season, that is, no or very little rainfall and intense heat. This is usual during the month of May in Dominica.

We took a few photos right away as we gawked at this dramatic cascade, which is one of the tallest on the island. (I cannot fit it all into my camera lens!)  Then we plopped down on some large boulders overlooking this lovely scene and its pretty pool below.  While we munched on our snacks, two young ladies came along and asked about swimming under the waterfall.  I enthusiastically encouraged them to go below and try it.  There were now six of us in the area, and I felt it was better to have a few people

Middleham Falls glistened in the dappled sunlight on Sunday May 3, 2015.

Middleham Falls glistened in the dappled sunlight on Sunday May 3, 2015.

A visitor enjoys a refreshing dip in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

A visitor enjoyed a refreshing dip in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

around when others were in the water. So on that day, Jenny and I became unofficial ‘lifeguards’ . I had indeed jumped in to the refreshing waters many years ago, but did not think my knees could take further challenge on the rocky descent to the pool, as this was my first long trek in two years.

The others truly enjoyed their ‘bath’, and they actually left the site just ahead of Jenny and me.  We had lingered for about 45 minutes, and the refreshing repose (without getting wet) was worth every second! On the return journey, I let Jenny lead, which I felt was good for me, as she helped me to quicken my pace slightly.  We were again enraptured by the music over our heads, and we heard an assortment of tunes from various mountain whistlers along the route.  It also intrigued us to listen to melodious tinkling sounds from unidentified insects.  The rainforest was truly full of music that day and I felt as if I were walking in a heaven on earth.

A pair of insects in this hole within an ancient gommier tree exchanged tuneful phrases (until they noticed that we were listening!)

A pair of insects in this hole within an ancient gommier tree exchanged tuneful phrases (until they noticed that we were listening!)

While we retraced our steps, we also admired the tall trees which shaded us and housed those harmonious creatures:  expansive chatanier, with huge buttresses and  stately gommier, with  aromatic sticky resin made us think that this forest must be very ancient indeed.

While the forest was relatively dry, fungi did still thrive in the dark, cool environment.

While the forest was relatively dry, fungi did still thrive in the dark, cool environment.

While we were looking around at all the beautiful plants in the rainforest, we heard a rustling in the dry leaves.  All of a sudden, a rodent-like agouti scooted across the path just behind us.  I had not seen one in the wild for many years, and it added to my delight with this day.

Many leaves have fallen from the trees in the rainforest, as a natural phenomenon during the dry season.

Many leaves had fallen from the trees in the rainforest, which is a natural phenomenon during the dry season.

As we moved out of the trail and onto the open  back road that would take us ‘down’ to Springfield, we also appreciated lovely wildflowers and the gorgeous views in every direction.

Lovely heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Lovely red heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

We quickened our steps, so that we could reward ourselves with a cool dip in the Springfield River.

The revitalizing Springfield River was a refreshing reward after a day-long trek to and through the rainforest.

The revitalizing Springfield River was a refreshing reward after a day-long trek to and through the rainforest.

When I looked at my watch once we were back at our base at Springfield, I remarked that we had taken about 6 1/2 hours to thoroughly enjoy a spectacular part of paradise.  As I slipped into the refreshing river, I reveled in the joy of a remarkable journey into  the essence of the Nature Island. And I was also thrilled to have accomplished my

An beautiful May sunset was another reward for a wonderful day on the Nature Island.

A beautiful May sunset  marked the conclusion of wonderful day on the Nature Island.

first day-long trek since having fallen ill just over a year ago.  Time spent in Dominica’s rainforest is definitely a healing tonic for  body, mind and soul.

 

 

 

 

‘Paradise Found’ in Dominica’s Papillote Tropical Gardens*

I was well in to Dominica’s 35th Independence celebrations when I decided that a morning away from the city would recharge my batteries and reconnect me with the healing wonders of the rainforest. My destination was another of my all time Nature Island favourites: Papillote Wilderness Retreat.  My foray was two-fold, in fact:  I had an appointment with German-trained physiotherapist Ariane Magloire and then I also wished to wander through the substantial four-acre tropical garden on the property.  The owner, Anne Jno Baptiste had recently upgraded the trails throughout the site and I was eager to check them out.

When I drove up the Roseau Valley and  arrived at Papillote (pronounced PAP-ee-yot) at  8:30 a.m., I realized that I even had enough time to revisit one of Dominica’s nearby magnificent wonders, the twin Trafalgar Falls. From the hotel, I walked up the steep ‘hill’ to the eco-site entrance in the pouring rain, without a soul in sight.  As I greeted the lone attendant at the Information Centre, she informed me that there would be no cruise ship in port that Friday, and at that time, no other visitors had arrived.  I had the place to myself!

As I trekked up the well-groomed trail, I was soaked to the skin and a little chilly .After about 15 minutes, I quickly forgot about my  mild discomfort as I stepped onto the sheltered viewing

The twin falls at Trafalgar are an incredible site to behold: the 'Father' is on the left and the 'Mother' is on the right.

The twin falls at Trafalgar are an incredible sight to behold, even in the rain! The ‘Father’ is on the left and the ‘Mother’ is on the right.

platform.  Before me was the most incredible portrait of nature: the twin Trafalgar Falls – two powerfully cascading torrents of clean water tumbling down the mountainside.  I lingered for a while and took photos through the mist as I inhaled the purest air found anywhere.  My dull headache immediately lifted and my spirits soared at this pristine place, which was all mine at that moment.  What a fabulous way to begin that restorative day!

I slowly walked away from this incredible view, and realized that I would have to return on a drier day to approach the Mother Fall (on the right) as the rocks beneath it would have been treacherous in very wet conditions.  After I informed the attendant of my safe return, I wandered back down the road to continue my stroll around the gardens at Papillote.

I still had some time before my ‘massage’ with Ariane, so I grabbed my camera and umbrella and headed  down some steps beside the dining room and directly entered into’ the garden’.  Despite the persistent inclement weather, it was obvious that all the plants were thriving in these highly humid conditions.  I forgot about my shivers as my gaze moved from one plant to the next.  Although I was not  able to readily identify all of them by name, I reveled in this appreciation for some of ‘God’s work’, enhanced with a little TLC from Anne!

Since the late 1960’s, Anne, the director of this establishment has toiled away at this ‘labour of love’ for the benefit of everyone.  Her efforts epitomize the Nature Island,  as she has assembled and tended an immense and diverse range of tropical plants in a protected area.  There are hundreds, some of which are endangered, rare, endemic to Dominica, indigenous to the Caribbean region or exotic transplants from other parts of the world.  You can find out more about this  amazing endeavor by clicking on the Papillote Tropical Gardens website.

It is easy to wander through Papillote's 4-acre garden on well constructed paths.

It is easy to wander through Papillote’s 4-acre garden on well constructed paths.

While I have no ‘green thumb’, I certainly acknowledge and pay tribute to her 45-year-old project, to date.  As I roamed and admired the ‘fruits’ of her labours,  I was now able to cover the terrain more quickly than before.  Anne had recently improved the walking trails on the premises, which will allow for easier meanders for people of any age or ability.  There are also plenty of tables, chairs  and benches scattered at scenic locations all over the property, which allow nature and garden enthusiasts plentiful opportunities to ‘smell the flowers’ and enjoy the views!

Here are some of the natural botanicals that I have had the pleasure to see at Papillote Tropical Gardens:

At the bottom of Papillote's Gardens, a lovely waterfall froms a backdrop for a hot and a cold mineral pool.

At the bottom of Papillote’s Gardens, a lovely waterfall forms a backdrop for both  a hot and a cold mineral pool.

This pretty flower is called  Solanaceae Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel's Trumpet.

This pretty flower is called Solanaceae Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet.

This pretty flower is a bromeliad called, a Tillandsia cyanea

This dainty plant is a bromeliad called Tillandsia cyanea. It is contained in a pot on table with chairs in the middle of the Gardens!

This plant  is in the ginger family and is a costus barbata.

This plant is in the ginger family and is named costus barbata.

The long strappy leaves are Bromeliad and the leaves below are Taccaceae Tacca chantrieri (black bat flower)

The long strappy leaves are Bromeliad and the leaves below are Taccaceae Tacca chantrieri (black bat flower).

This is a beautiful  begonia.  I remember when my mother used to grow them in pots - although they never got that big!

This is a beautiful begonia. I remember when my mother used to grow them in pots – although they never got that big!

This colourful flower is a hybrid  bromeliad (an aechmea.

This colourful flower is a hybrid bromeliad (an aechmea).

'Forbidden fruits' in the Gardens of Papillote!

This uncommon edible fruit  is called a naranjilla.  It is part of the solanaceae family, which includes peppers,  potatoes and  tomatoes

Frances holds a bunch of dandelion leaves from the Papillote Garden.They can be made into a tea ti help detoxify the body.

Frances holds a bunch of dandelion leaves from the eclectic Papillote Garden.They can be made into a tea to help detoxify the body.

My time was getting a little short before my physiotherapy, so I headed back to the dining room to pick up my backpack and walk up to the  sheltered Birdwatchers’ Hut, where Ariane and her massage table are situated.  En route, I met up with Frances, one of the wonderfully warm  and friendly staff at Papillote.   She was picking a plant near the dining room and I asked her about it.  “Those are dandelion leaves,” she told me, ” They are helpful for cleansing the body of toxins.’  I was intrigued, because although the plant looked different from the North American variety, it has the same function!  It is well-known that thousands of medicinal plants are found on Dominica.  The elders swear by their effectiveness – perhaps more of the younger people should consider taking  their sage advice to complement conventional treatments!

I hadn’t seen Ariane for a while and my session was long overdue!  She manipulated tight tendons and

Ariane Magloire is a German-trained physiotherapist who is available for treatment sessions most Friday mornings at Papillote by advance reservation.

Ariane Magloire is a German-trained physiotherapist who has a very busy practice, but is available for treatment sessions most Friday mornings at Papillote by advance reservation –  (767) 448-2287.

massaged muscle spasms in my  upper back and neck that were causing persistent headaches.  Then she worked on areas of my body where toxins were most likely trapped and she gave my overworked feet a good rub-down too!  She doesn’t know this as I write, but I felt very relaxed and calm and pain-free after one hour on her table.

This is called the iguana pool because the hot water flows through the mouth of a sculpture resembling that large lizard.

This is called the Iguana Pool because the hot water flows through the mouth of a sculpture resembling that large lizard.

In fact, when I dipped into the ‘Iguana’ hot mineral pool immediately afterwards, I propped myself on one side and almost fell asleep.  For me, that state of relaxation is all-too-rare.  Thank you Ariane for a super massage session!!!

I was so content to just lie there in the pool as the rain pattered on the leaves, the wind gently whooshed through the gardens and birds chirped high in the tree-tops.  As for the vistas –

From the vantage points of any of the four hot mineral pools on the premises, there is garden and froest all about - a true wilderness experience without having to do a back-country trek!

From the vantage points of any of the four hot mineral pools on the premises, there is garden and forest all about – a true wilderness experience without having to do a strenuous  back-country trek!

I sheltered while I soaked in this covered pool which is only a few steps from Ariane's massage table in the Birdwatchers' Hut.

I sheltered while I soaked in this covered pool which is only a few steps from Ariane’s massage table in the Birdwatchers’ Hut.

well I hope the photos give you an idea of this particular paradise!

An hour or so later, I was well ‘pruned’ and hunger pangs were setting in.  After changing into dry clothes, I sauntered down  the steps  to the dining room where I  ordered my favourite meal at Papillote:  the Flying Fish Platter, accompanied by my second glass of spiced sorrel juice.  As I sipped on the refreshing beverage, I glanced into the garden area that was very close to my indoor table.  All of a sudden, I was startled out of my reveries: a hummingbird was plopped on a fern in a very awkward-looking position. It looked as if it were dead!

This Purp;e Throated carib hummingbird looks as if it is bent in the wrong direction.  It is actually taking in some sun on its breast!

This Purple Throated Carib hummingbird looks as if its head is bent in the wrong direction. It is actually taking in some sun on its breast!

That same little hummingbird (I think) is contently perched on a branch.

That same little hummingbird (I think) is contentedly perched on a branch.

I thought that it had hit something and had broken its neck.  It did not move for a long  few moments and I feared the worst.  Just as quickly, it reversed its  head position, flitted its tiny wings and was off.  Shortly afterwards, I saw it perched in a nearby tree.  When I mentioned this to Anne, she suspected that it was likely a juvenile with its’ home’  nearby and that it was having a ‘sun bath’!  I was astonished that it felt so safe and comfortable within close proximity to human activities.  Obviously, the food sources were plentiful for that Purple-Throated Carib, one of four species of hummingbirds that are found in Dominica.  Anne tells me that all four types are often  seen in the Gardens.

I always enjoy the Creole-inspired Flying Fish Platter at Papillote. The fish is covered in a flavourful onion-tomato Creole sauce, the hearty natural and organic salad and the 'puffs' are made from dasheen, a local ground provision vegetable.

I always enjoy the Creole-inspired Flying Fish Platter at Papillote. The fish is covered in a flavourful onion-tomato Creole sauce, the hearty local salad  is topped with shredded beets and the ‘puffs’ are made from dasheen, a local ground provision vegetable.

It looks look like a vase of violets to me but Anne informed me that the lighter lavender are cuphea hyssopifolia and the darker purple are ground orchids..spathoglottis unguiculata

It looked like a vase of violets to me but Anne informed me that the lighter lavender  flowers are cuphea hyssopifolia and the darker purple are ground orchids-spathoglottis unguiculata.  My sorrel juice never stays long in the glass!

Once my lunch was served, I concentrated on savoring every morsel.  I ate everything on the plate, and then felt even more drowsy.  If I didn’t leave soon, I would have to ask for a bed!  I paid my reasonable bill and departed, with a promise that I would be back by Christmas.  Now that’s a plan that I wish to realize above most others!

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

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

*Many thanks to Anne Jno Baptiste, Founder and Director of Papillote Wilderness Retreat for creating this perfect paradise on the Nature Island, and for taking the time to help me with plant identification.  Her knowledge-base of tropical  horticulture is nothing short of amazing!

English Immersion on the Nature Island: French Students Learn about Dominica’s Flora and Fauna*

Students Carole (l), Victoria and Marie-Agnes from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

Students Carole (l), Victoria,Marie-Agnes and Charles from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to only Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

During a class held at the University of  the West Indies Open Campus in June, the English immersion students from Ludicademi in Martinique grasped the significance of  relevant and meaningful vocabulary  that could be directly applied to plants and animals on the Nature Island. Over the course of three hours, they began to understand  the meaning of biodiversity, the importance of wildlife conservation, as well as how, why  and what endemic, migratory,  endangered and vulnerable species are found here.

By the amount of questions that they posed, it was clear they were tremendously interested in the less common  and threatened species that exist on Dominica. That afternoon,  renowned author and  Forestry and Wildlife Officer Arlington James (retired) would be taking them on an interpretive tour of the Syndicate Forest Nature Trail (located above Dublanc on the west coast, in the foothills of Morne Diablotin). I was assured that they would come away from this day’s topic with a great appreciation for and understanding of Dominica’s flora and fauna.

The Fragile’ Mountain Chicken’ Frog

They were particularly fascinated by the ‘Mountain Chicken’ frog (aka Crapaud), which is critically endangered (almost extinct!) due to a persistent fungal infection. It is a regional endemic, as a very  are few found on Dominica and Montserrat. Those that manage  to survive are being closely monitored by Forestry and Wildlife Division officers, with much appreciated assistance from specialists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Birds, Birds, Birds!

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica.  This is a female.  Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica. This is a female. Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

I referred them to the classification system of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where they would discover the survival status of specific species. They had no idea that Dominica’s two parrots, the Sisserou which is endangered and the Jaco which is vulnerable are only found on Dominica.  That means that they are endemic to this country alone!  However, some of the students wondered if they might have seen Jaco parrots on Martinique.  I could not confirm this, of course.  I do hope that they queried Mr. James.  The Jaco’s numbers are increasing and the distance between Dominica and Martinique is not great, so I wonder if it is possible…I will certainly check with my friend, Forestry Officer/Bird Specialist Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste when I next see him!

Certainly, Dominica can be described as a bird enthusiast’s ‘heaven’.  Over 200 species of our feathered friends have been sighted here, although only about 50 are resident year-round (reference:birdlife.org).  Of course, the others are migratory.  The class was intrigued when I showed them a photo of a Blue-Headed Hummingbird, which is only found on Dominica and Martinique.  That means it is a ‘regional

The vibrant colouts of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique.

The vibrant colours of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

endemic’!  I was very surprised that no one in the class had ever seen one on our sister island to the south.  I could only hope that they might catch a glimpse of one in the Syndicate area, as I had with ‘Dr. Birdy’.

Snakes and Lizards

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called 'Tet-Chien' in Creole) on Canada day 2012.

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called ‘Tete-Chien’ in Creole) on Canada Day 2012.

I showed the class a number of other photographs of animals on Dominica – at least my favourites!  They were really astonished by the possible length of the endemic species of Boa Constrictor snake – which can reach 10 feet!  I assured them that it was not poisonous, nor were the other three species that are found here.  While the confirmed numbers of this reptile are not exactly known, it is felt by some experts that they might be vulnerable, especially due to habitat loss and hunting.  They do play a vital role in keeping down the rat population.  I am always thrilled to come across one in the forest, which is not that often!

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The endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana (called Leza in Creole) is the largest lizard on Dominica. Recently some other types have colonized here from other countries.

The other reptile that I enjoy watching up close is the Lesser Antillean Iguana.  

Amazingly, the class had seen a bright green juvenile in the Botanical Gardens the previous day but didn’t know what it was!  It is the largest of about nine species that thrive on the Nature Island. Again, it has been suggested that  their numbers are in decline and that they are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.  However, on Dominica, these creatures are protected by law, so I hope they fare better here than on other islands.  I have seen them  in various locales along the west coast, including Champagne Beach, Mero Beach and  seaside at Coulibistrie.

This 'stick insect' is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

This ‘stick insect’ is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

Whales and Dolphins  and Other Mammals

Of course, I told them a little about the sea creatures as well, including a resident year-round pod of Sperm Whales, and plentiful dolphins.  A number of other types of whales are migratory and pass through Dominica’s waters annually.  Dominica is known as the ‘Whale Watch Capital of the Caribbean’, as the likelihood of spotting some cetaceans  on an excursion is very high.

Then we talked about  a few of the other 16 mammals that exist on Dominica:, including 12 species of bats, the rodent-like agouti, and manicou (opossum).  They are similar to, if not the same varieties on Martinique, according to some of the students.

Sea Turtles

There was a very lively discussion when I showed the class some video clips about the three types of endangered sea turtles that regularly nest on Dominica’s beaches (Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Green).  To see the females come in to  dig a nest and lay many eggs, or to watch hatchlings run into the sea are awesome sights.  As these animals are protected by law on Dominica, some students queried the balance between tradition and conservation.  Historically, turtle meat and eggs have been eaten by some people here.  There was  some concern  in the class about being denied one’s rights to eat a traditional food or to protect an endangered species.  It can be a delicate subject, but I urged the students to consider that if they were plentiful, and if there were no other food sources, I could understand the need to hunt them.  Most definitely, that is not the case these days, and anyone caught interfering with the turtles is arrested.  I also told the group that a number of community associations, especially on the east coast, patrol the beaches at night when the turtles come in.  They also offer turtle  watching tours!

Flora/Plants

There was so much to say about the flora and fauna found on Dominica that I ran out of time.  It was important to point out that the Smithsonian Institute In Washington D.C. has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  I made sure to emphasize that there are over 1,000 flowering plants in Dominica, of which 11 species are only found here, and nowhere else!

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were originally introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the monocotyledons class, of which tere are 186 species on the Nature Island

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the class of ‘monocotyledons’, of which there are 186 species on the Nature Island

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the caribbean region.  There are about 200 forest trees in Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the Caribbean region. There are about 200 types of forest trees in Dominica.

I quickly showed them a few more photos of my favourites and then they were off for their excursion with retired forestry and wildlife expert Mr. Arlington James to learn more in the forest at the Syndicate Eco-site.

This "chicken of the forest' mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

This “chicken of the forest’ mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

I think they were truly amazed about the extraordinary amount of biodiversity on the tiny lush Nature Island!

* This mini English immersion programme was organized by Tina Alexander, Executive Director of Lifeline Ministries, Dominica.

Reference: Overview of the Flora and Fauna of Dominica [notes] prepared by Stephen Durand For Dominica State College Basic Skills Training Programme, October 2006.

Dominica`s Floral Splendor: The Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Show 2013

One of the most eye-catching floral arrangements was this map of Dominica, with its 10 parishes outlined in  yellow flowers.

One of the most eye-catching floral arrangements was this map of Dominica, with its 10 parishes outlined in yellow flowers.

It was such a delight to attend the recently resurrected Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Show, which formed  part of  Dominica`s Tourism Awareness

The annual Flower Show is held in May and is located in the heart of the village of Giraudel

The annual Flower Show is held in May and is located in the heart of the village of Giraudel.

Month. I am no gardener, but I do appreciate those who toil to grow plants for  both pleasure and purpose.  It appears that these two mountain villages (over 1,000 feet above sea level) have not only the right growing conditions, but also a dedicated group of people who make up the Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Growers Inc.  When I toured their site on the afternoon of Saturday May 25th, I was definitely impressed with their talents! About 1,000 others also took in the wonderful floral  exhibits during the previous week.  I hope that large numbers did attend the last two days  of the event after me ,before it closed on Sunday evening.

I did not expect a private guide, but as it was early in the afternoon and relatively quiet, Flower Grower member Susanne Blanc took me around the two and a half acre property.  Along with telling me something about almost every area on the site, she took the time to relay  its history and recent developments.

The Flower Show had not been around for the last nine years due to the destruction of the temporary building during heavy rains. But now they were overjoyed to have a permanent place, property, flower beds and a big greenhouse for cultivating their plants.  She noted that the Government of Dominica had played an integral role in assisting their organization to become fully operational.  As well, other international bodies such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the Community Management of Protected Areas (COMPACT) also came to their aid.

This corner of the Flower House paid tribute to the late Marvlyn Robinson, an active member of the Flower Growers`Group and staunch supporter of cultural activites in Dominica.  Portrait by Giraudel  artist Caesar Catin.

This corner of the Flower House paid tribute to the recently deceased Marvlyn Robinson, an active member of the Flower Growers`Group and staunch supporter of cultural activities in Dominica. Portrait by Giraudel artist Caesar Catin.

This joint community effort is certainly to be admired.  Both men and women from the two villages contributed to the success of the Flower Show in various ways.  Some people brought their flowers, others arranged them, administrative matters were managed, knowledgeable builders, farmers, tradespeople and home makers came together to proudly display their `claim to fame’`as the “Flower Basket“ of Dominica.

Giraudel`s new Flower Show building is beautifully adorned by village  artist Caesar Catin.

Giraudel`s new Flower Show building is beautifully adorned by village artist Caesar Catin.

Near the Flower Growers`Building, a wedding display portrays the potential of celebrating nuptials in such natural beauty!

Near the Flower Growers`Building, a wedding display portrays the potential of celebrating nuptials in such natural beauty!

While I am not proficient in recalling the names of most plants, Susanne did tell me about some of them more than once. She did kindly confirm some plant names for the pictures in this post.  However, any additional comments from knowledgeable gardeners or horticulturists are welcome!

There is nothing like a little garden appreciation time to lift one`s spirits. I felt rejuvenated after viewing these beautiful floral exhibits.

Susanne really did tell me the name of this pretty purple flower more than once.  If anyone can remind me via a comment, it would be very much appreciated!

This pretty purple flower is called Agapanthis or African Lily . Reference: Susanne Blanc.

I hope you will enjoy this sampling of some of the beautiful floral displays as much as I did!

Plentiful Nature Island bouquets welcomed me to the Giraudel-Eggleston Flower in May 2013.Show

Plentiful Nature Island bouquets welcomed me to the Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Show in May 2013.

Horticulturists and nature lovers should mark their calendars to come to Dominica for the annual Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Show, and partake of numerous other activities that are offered each May during Dominica`s Tourism Awareness Month, as well.  On this stunning island, nature, culture and adventure go hand in hand!

* Thanks to Susanne, for taking the time to tell me all about the Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Growers Inc. and for the detailed tour of the property.

** Giraudel is about a 20 minute drive south (and inland) from Roseau.  Ask your hotel for specific directions and information.

Anthurium lilies are my favourite flowers in Dominica.  I regularly buy bunches of them at the Roseau Market on Saturdays. they grow prolifically in the rainforest.

Anthurium lilies are my favourite flowers in Dominica. I regularly buy bunches of them at the Roseau Market on Saturdays. They grow prolifically in the rainforest.

Vibrant ginger lilies  are a common flower in Dominica.  They last well in a vase too!

Vibrant ginger lilies are a common flower in Dominica. They last well in a vase too!

Pretty Dahlias and other n`northern`flowers grow well in Giraudel`s cooler, moist climate.

Pretty Dahlias and other northern flowers grow well in Giraudel`s cooler, moist climate.

These flowers, called Alstromeria or Peruvian Lilies complement many arrangements.

These flowers, called Alstromeria or Peruvian Lilies complement many arrangements. Reference: Susanne Blanc.

Marvelous Heliconia - in reds, greens and yellows thrive in the rainforest.  Some of this species are endemic to Dominica.

Marvelous Heliconia – in reds, greens and yellows thrive in the rainforest. Some varieties of this species are endemic to Dominica.

Neat and tidy flowers beds were planted by Desmond`s Landscaping Plus of Eggleston : (767) 276-6774 or 614-2607.

Neat and tidy flower beds were planted by Desmond`s Landscaping Plus of Eggleston : (767) 276-6774 or 614-2607.

Queen Anee`s Lace grows very well around Giraudel.  It reminds of me of summer fields around my late parents`home in Canada.

Queen Anne`s Lace grows very well in Giraudel. It reminds of me of summer fields around my late parents`home in Canada.

Amazingly, cacti can thrive in the mountainous tropical climate, with proper tending and well drained soil.

Bromeliads  are at home in the rainforest, but the Flower Growers know how to care for  them too.

Delicate orchids are found in the rainforest.  They can be successfully cultivated with lots of TLC.

Delicate orchids are found in the rainforest. They can be successfully cultivated with lots of TLC.

Amazingly, cacti can thrive in the mountainous tropical climate, with proper tending and well drained soil.

Amazingly, cacti can thrive in the mountainous tropical climate, with proper tending and  soil with good drainage.

Another attractive flower bed by Desmond`s Landscaping Plus.

Another attractive flower bed by Desmond`s Landscaping Plus of Eggleston.

To lift one`s head above the flowers gives an appreciation for the mountainous terrain.  In this photo, a northerly view from Giraudel.

To lift one`s head above the flowers gives an appreciation for the mountainous terrain. In this photo, a northerly view from Giraudel.

So many different varieties of flowers thrive in the Giraudel-Eggleston area.

So many varieties of flowers thrive in the Giraudel-Eggleston area.

In my opinion, they all are!  Congratulations to the Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Growers Inc.  on a very successful show!

Yes indeed, Dominica is a natural beauty! Congratulations to the Giraudel-Eggleston Flower Growers Inc. on a very successful show!