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

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

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

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

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

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

boat ride up the Indian River.  Admittedly, I had experienced the magic and mystery of this natural setting several times over the years.  But it is the kind of place that one can never tire of seeing again: the scenery, the history and the method of transport does hold tremendous appeal for a lover of Dominica’s culture and nature like me!

The driver from the hotel called ahead to confirm that ‘Sparrow’ was available to take me in his wooden fishing boat for the mile long journey up the river.  He met me by the side of the road, and  we walked down to the dock where he helped me settle on a front seat.  I did not need an eco-site pass, as I am a resident of Dominica.  Of course, I had to confirm this with the forestry officer on site, because I was definitely dressed like a tourist with a fair complexion!

‘Sparrow’ sat at the back of the boat, picked up the oars and we commenced to traverse the broad mouth of the river.  He immediately instructed me about the history of the area.

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

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

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

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

First, he explained that there had once been a Kalinago (Carib) settlement a little higher up the river.  While it no longer exists, and these indigenous people generally live in the Kalinago Territory on the northeast coast of Dominica now, the name stuck over the centuries.  He immediately pointed out various types of flora along the water’s edge.  I always wish I carried a notebook to recall them all.

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

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

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

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

But I do remember the fauna ‘Sparrow pointed out to me: plentiful mullets swimming near the surface of the deep, brackish waters; Ramyé pigeons cooing high in the tree-tops; ubiquitous land crabs scattered among the twisted Mang  tree roots near the river’s edge;

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

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

green herons squawking overhead;  a large male iguana sunning himself on a tree branch high above the river; gargantuan termite nests attached to dead trees.

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

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

I was completely taken by the scene that surrounded me.  In this pristine swamp-like environment,  the creatures thrived in its bio-diverse eco-system.

A sense of complete calmness came over me as I marvelled at this unique setting.  At one point, ‘Sparrow’ pulled the boat ashore and cut a few long strands of a reed called roseau (the capital city is named after this plant, which also grows along the Roseau River!), which was found at numerous points along the river.  “I will make something for you to take with you,’ he said.  I looked at him curiously, but did not reply.  Grasses and reeds are found in abundance on the Nature Island.  To this day, the Kalinago people fashion handcrafts from various plants, as I observed on my recent visit there, which is found here.

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

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

After about half an hour, we arrived at a dock upriver where a little bar is tucked into the natural setting.  There, I wandered along the well-marked trails and admired the dramatic setting of the Indian River from this inland vantage point.

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

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

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

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

When I returned from my stroll, it was time for a little refreshment.  Sparrow chose passion-fruit juice, while I asked the friendly bartender if she had any tea.  She offered me freshly made ginger-basilic (herbal), which she offered to warm up.  I declined the extra heat and sipped on the natural healthy beverage at ‘room temperature’. I was aware that they do offer guests alcoholic drinks as well. Sparrow told me that the ‘Dynamite’ concoction is still a popular brew.  Under its influence, visitors have been known to spontaneously cool off.  Good thing the waters are fairly deep and the  helpful guides are nearby!

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

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

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

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

After this additional commune with nature, we returned to Sparrow’s boat and spent the next half hour or so in contented silence.  This serene setting provoked a meditative mood in me and I was content just to take in the sights at this intriguing site.

I did smile when I observed other visitors caught up in the excitement of their boat ride on the Indian River.  I could completely understand why!

Whether you are a resident,  a prospective traveller or a current visitor, the Indian River Boat Ride is a compelling way to passively experience the essence of the Nature Isle!

 

 

 

A ‘Staycation’ in the North of Dominica at The Champs Hotel: Casual, Convenient and Comfortable!

Gwendominica takes a 'Staycation' for her birthday at Comfortel De Champ, a lovely little hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica.

Gwendominica takes a ‘Staycation’ for her birthday at The Champs Hotel, a lovely place in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica. Photo taken by a helpful staff member.

As a treat for my recent birthday, I decided to spend a weekend “up north” in Dominica.  It had been some time since I had enjoyed the area around Portsmouth and Calibishie,  with its dramatic and varied topography, as well as prominent historic sites and natural attractions. Although I had only recently returned from Canada, this little adventure was most affordable, due to an on-island promotion called a ‘Staycation’.  This initiative is the brainchild of the Discover Dominica Authority, and a number of tourism partners are participating  by offering  Nature Islanders reduced rates at certain accommodations and activities during the summer months.  Amazingly,  Dominica is very different from one locale to the next, and a Staycation offers residents opportunities to appreciate various parts of their beautiful country and save money by staying home for a holiday!

When I read about the incredible accommodation and meal specials available at The Champs Hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth, I didn’t

Lise and Hans are the warm and welcoming proprietors of Comfortel De Champ in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica. The Cabrits and Prince Rupert Bay are in the background,

Lise and Hans are the warm and welcoming proprietors of The Champs Hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth Dominica. Their hotel overlooks The Cabrits National Park and Prince Rupert Bay, which are in the background,

hesitate to book a room.  I am well acquainted with proprietors Hans and Lise, as I have previously stayed and/or dined there on other northern jaunts.  In fact, I am in the record books as their first guest when they opened in 2008!

It was an easy drive on the recently refurbished West Coast Road (E.O. LeBlanc Memorial Highway).  I was there in one hour and five minutes – record time for me – and that’s at 50-60 kms (not miles!) per hour from Roseau. Lise welcomed me warmly and then took me down two flights of stairs to my room.  I unpacked and headed upstairs for lunch.  Along the way, I met Hans and he suggested that if I could wait for a few minutes, the couple would join me, along with their marketing assistant.

I enjoyed a large ‘brunch-style’ lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and tasty home-made hash brown potatoes, prepared by renowned Chef Eric

Chef Eric has an excellent reputation on Dominica for his culinary techniques.  He and his assistant are preparing  tempting and tasteful Saturday lunch selections.

Chef Eric has an excellent reputation on Dominica for his culinary specialties. He and his assistant are preparing tempting and tasteful Saturday lunch selections.

and his assistants.  As we chatted, the energetic hoteliers brought me up-to-speed on all the latest developments and news of interest in the Portsmouth-Calibishie area.  I was amazed at some of the changes in the few years since I had spent any time “up north” on Dominica.  I was happy to hear that there was some progress in the tourism-related sector.  I would be seeing some of that for myself over the weekend!

My first plan was a boat ride along the famous Indian River, and I informed my hosts of this.  Lise immediately offered her driver to not only take me there, but to make an arrangement with a tour guide so that I would not have to choose  one once I arrived at the site.  More on that sensational trip in a subsequent post!

Upon my return a few hours later, I refreshed myself  in anticipation of The Champs  popular pizza night.  This hotel is in very close proximity to Ross University School of Medicine and many students frequent the dining room and bar area for a good meal and some refreshments after an intense day of study or exams.  Although many students were on a summer break, Lise informed me as soon as I arrived in the dining room that a take-out order for 20 pizzas had just  been placed by some  campus personnel, which might delay my order by half

The wood oven pizzas at The Champs are delicious, as they are completely home-made!

The wood oven pizzas at The Champs are delicious, as they are completely home-made!

an hour.  No problem for me – I had a sunset to watch  and a newspaper to read: I was on holiday, there was no rush!

The restful southerly scene from my garden-view room.

The restful southerly scene from my garden-view room.

A spectacular sunset from the  open air dining room at Comfortel De Champ.

A spectacular Caribbean sunset from the open air dining room at The Champs.

I could not eat all of my vegetarian pizza with extra goat cheese, so I put it in my room fridge for Sunday supper, as that is the one night of the week when meals are not served.  I would definitely not starve!

Early next morning, I awoke with joy to celebrate another birthday and gave thanks to God for this gift.  It was a beautiful day – and what better way to start it than with a ‘sea bath’. I walked down the steep hill from the hotel and then wended my way to nearby Picard Beach, Dominica’s longest stretch of sand.  I walked for about half an hour.  No one else was in sight.  It was only 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday!  I found an old wooden pallet near the seaside and dropped my backpack, T-shirt and shorts on it. Yes, I was already dressed for the water!  The soft sand under my feet made the entrance easy and I soon lifted them up and bounced around in the gentle surf.  The stunning scenery all around me provoked me to once again express gratitude to the Creator for His handiwork on the Nature Island.  I needn’t say any more about that.  Let me show you:

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

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

The sun is rising in the east, creating long shadows on Picard Beach, on Dominica's west coast.

The sun is rising in the east, creating long shadows on Picard Beach, on Dominica’s west coast.

The southerly view of Picard Beach, which merges with Coconut Beach.

The southerly view of Picard Beach, which merges with Coconut Beach.

Morne Aux Diables is the prominent northerly mountain which is clearly seen from Picard Beach.

Morne Aux Diables is the prominent northerly mountain which is clearly seen from Picard Beach. Portsmouth is located in the distance (middle lower left).

 

 

After the steep uphill walk back to the hotel, I was more than ready for a big Sunday brunch before heading out for the day.  I gorged on a fresh fruit bowl, pancakes and scrambled eggs on the side.  I knew I would need additional sustenance for walking around Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park before heading over to the village of Calibishie on the east coast.  (To be detailed in later posts).

That evening, Lise heated up my yummy left-over pizza.  Then she, Hans and I admired another stunning sunset.  It was their evening off, so I did not prolong my latest chat with them.  Instead, I excused myself and Lise set me up in the jacuzzi.

The delightful northerly view of The Cabrits, Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth and Picard from the Breakfast Room at Comfortel De Champ.

The delightful northerly view of The Cabrits (left), Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth (far right) and Picard (mid left) from the Breakfast Room at The Champs.

Comfortel De Champ is "Hospitality Assured" by the Caribbean Tourism Organization. It shows!

The Champs Hotel is “Hospitality Assured”  certified by the Caribbean Tourism Organization. It shows!

The jacuzzi/lounge area at Comfortel De Champ is like an outdoor living room - covered, of course!

The jacuzzi/lounge area at The Champs is like an outdoor living room – covered, of course!

There, I unwound for half an hour as I stared at the darkening sky  and the emergent twinkling stars.

Then I prepared a cup of tea in my room and sat out on the porch where I  watched the quiet evening turn into a restful night; tree frogs chirped and bats flitted to and fro. Shortly thereafter, I returned to my room, read for a while and then quickly fell asleep.

Next morning, I had to repeat my ‘sea bath’ experience, although the weather was a little more inclement.  It didn’t stop me though: wet is wet! Back at the hotel, my breakfast awaited me, but I didn’t feel as hungry as I had overindulged on the previous day (my birthday) and was feeling a bit queasy.  I explained my dilemma to Lise and Manuela, the cook.  I asked if there was any ‘bush tea’ (herbal) available and Manuela immediately offered to pick some fresh mint from the garden and steep it for me.  It had a soothing taste and settled my stomach quite quickly.  I was impressed with her thoughtfulness!

All of a sudden, my wonderful weekend was over and it was time to head back home.  Lise, Hans and I conversed for a while longer.  Although they would be taking a  holiday to Europe in the near future to celebrate Lise’s parents’ 60th (!) wedding anniversary, they first would play important roles in the organization of an upcoming Rotary Club  ‘Sweet Jazz’ fundraiser for the PortsmouthDSCF3111 Hospital Emergency Room.  This caring couple firmly believes in giving back to the community.  As I observed them once again in action, I could clearly see that they have what it takes to make The Champs Hotel-Restaurant-Bar a preferred choice for reasonably priced accommodation, dining and entertainment in the northern part of the Nature Island.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the glowing reviews on Trip Advisor!

Oh, I shouldn’t forget to mention the bill : I only paid for Saturday lunch, apart from my greatly reduced room rate for two nights.  Both big breakfasts and the large pizza (two suppers’ worth) and all my non-alcoholic drinks were included in the price.  This Staycation offer certainly was an ideal birthday present to myself!

I strongly encourage fellow residents to check out The Champs when in the Portsmouth area. Prospective visitors can view their web site for great deals too!  For my forays ‘up north’ on the Nature Island, there is no better place for me!