Remembering Mona, My First Friend on Dominica

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Mona George-Dill was a beautiful, dynamic and gracious Dominican woman.

It is with profound sadness that I write this post as a tribute to Mona George-Dill, my first friend on Dominica.  She departed this earthly life and ascended to heavenly paradise on Sunday October 30, 2016.

It is she to whom I give credit for guiding me during my early days in Dominica and helping me to understand a culture very different from my own.

Perhaps it was serendipity that brought us together in 1997.  I was looking for a place to live that would give me an improved quality of life, as I had been suffering from severe environmental health challenges in Canada for several years.  When I started to research other countries that offered clean air, food and water, I rigorously quizzed Mona, who was at that time the Manager of Springfield Plantation Guest House and a research institute called SCEPTRE, under the auspices of Clemson University in the United States.  Before I even set foot on the Nature Island, she informed me of her pro-environmental approach to the maintenance of the entire estate. She assured me that she would do her best to ensure my comfort and well-being during my initial stay.

When I finally arrived at Springfield around the end of March 1997, after having spent several hours travelling from Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines by LIAT planes that were sprayed with insecticide at every stop, I could barely hold my head up and was extremely nauseous. As I stepped out of the taxi after a  winding 20 minute drive into the mountains from the Canefield Airport, Mona warmly greeted me and showed me to my room, which overlooked the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean Sea.  It was bright and breezy, and the air smelled  clean and fresh on the edge of the rainforest.  I’ll never forget the concerned look on her face when I told her that everything seemed to be fine, but that I would appreciate the removal of an area rug due to my allergies.  It was immediately taken out.

Later,  I had the first of many memorable meals, made from organic ingredients on the property.  The paw-paw (papaya) soup was divine, and I actually asked for a second helping, even though I was still recovering  from my travels!

When I finished eating that first evening, Mona came to sit with me and we began to get acquainted. I told her that I was a free-lance journalist, with a strong interest in environmental issues as a result of my health challenges.  She in turn informed me about a pressing issue in Dominica at that time, with respect to a proposed mining initiative.  I subsequently interviewed her about her concerns in that regard. The interview was then published in Alternatives, a Canadian environmental magazine.You can get a copy of that article by clicking Mining on Nature Island magazine article 1998. Immediately, I discovered that Mona was an outspoken conservationist who cared deeply for her country and had no hesitation in speaking out to voice her concerns.

At the same time, I learned that a mysterious fire had destroyed a student residence at Mount Joy,  located above the main plantation building, a couple of weeks before my arrival.  While thankfully no one was injured or killed as the students were on an outing at the time, she suffered tremendous losses and was not able to replace it.  Despite her worries and the shock of this event, she devoted considerable time to giving  me a ‘feel’ for life in Dominica, both the highlights and the challenges.  I listened attentively to everything she said and immediately fell in love with this pristine place as I willingly succumbed to the warm hospitality of this engaging lady and her caring staff.

As time went on, my admiration for Mona grew incessantly as I learned more about her.  For many years, her energy focused on environmental, conservation  and tourism initiatives through the Dominica Conservation Association (currently inactive), the International Whaling Commission and the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association, to name a few.

As well, she constantly demonstrated love and provided various forms of support to many young people, who still refer to her as ‘mother’, which is evidenced in the tributes on her Face Book Mona George-Dill page. She was certainly protective of me, and as we were about 15 years apart, I preferred to think of her as an older ‘sister’. We connected instantly and easily.  Our private exchanges covered all manner of topics and sometimes ended  in tears or laughter.  She was someone in whom I could confide in the strictest of confidence.

I also related well to her love of all animals.  She had a particular penchant for little dogs as pets.  One time, she’loaned’  me one of her local breed ‘Pot-Hound’ dogs named Mother so that I would have company while I lived in a little house above the main plantation.From time-to-time she had cats too, and became well-acquainted with my Tia-pet, who was originally a Springfield cat.

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Mona at Springfield in October 2001. She considered this beautiful locale to be ‘a garden’.

Mona was  such a loving person that it was impossible to be in her presence and not feel how much she genuinely cared about one’s situation.  She was also a strong ally, and defended me in a couple of instances when people tried to take advantage of a naive newcomer.  I also admired her convictions and deep loyalty to her country  when I observed her at a political meeting at Springfield. During the session, she challenged (now deceased) Rosie Douglas (before he became Prime Minister) on various social issues and the position of the Dominica Labour Party on those matters. Curiously, she had only moments before introduced me to Mr. Douglas and I could tell that they had a great respect for each other.

 

When I first applied for Citizenship in Dominica,  Mona’s letter of reference stated that my health had improved here, I had never ‘bad-mouthed’ anyone in Dominica despite some negative experiences and that she felt I was worthy  of Citizenship. As I am now a naturalized Citizen of the Nature Island, I am forever indebted to her for vouching for my character and having abiding faith in me.

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Mona  is seated to the right of Gwendominica at a Baha’i meeting in December 2007.  Her daughter Connie (in pink) is  beside me on the left .My brother Edwin, who is also a Baha’i is on the far right. I was welcomed as a special guest and friend by the Baha’i community in Dominica.

My late friend was also a devout and longtime member of the Baha’i faith.  From her, I learned a great deal about this particular religion.  Although I did not formally join this church, I was always made to feel welcome and could attend their activities and services whenever I wished. I could see that she truly embraced the principles of her faith and that may be why so many people were drawn to her – because of her accepting and fair outlook towards everyone in any situation. I understand now from her daughter Connie and other Baha’i friends that she was prepared to accept God’s will.

 

This lovely Dominican lady could also be fun-loving: she took me to my first play at the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. I didn’t understand Creole at that time and I didn’t get the jokes, but Mona good-naturedly explained everything to me.  She also took me along to Ballroom Dancing classes where I met a number of Dominicans with whom I am still acquainted years later.  She did introduce me to many people and helped me to find apartments after I left Springfield in search of a bigger space for my personal possessions from Canada.  When I lived at Springfield, she even included me on the insurance for her 4WD vehicle and let me borrow it when she wasn’t using it.   One time after I had moved out and bought my own car, I persuaded her to go to the beach.  That was a big deal, as she insisted that she was not fond of the seaside.

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An afternoon at Castaways on Mero Beach, ca. 2003. Mona is in the centre, with Dr. Pat Rodney from Ross University on the right and a guest from Springfield on the left.

As time went on, I made my way in Dominica and Mona retired from Springfield around 2005. She moved to the suburb of Goodwill, and although she was closer to me in terms of location, we saw less of each other.  However, we did occasionally chat on the phone or meet in Roseau for lunch.

Before I left Dominica to return to Canada this past June, I made a point of visiting with Mona at her home for an afternoon.Although she did seem more tired and frail than earlier times, her spirit was ever strong. We reminisced about many of my experiences that were connected to her during my almost 20 years in Dominica.  I expressed my appreciation to her in our conversation,and also gave her a card in which I had noted my extreme gratitude for all that she had done for me.  When I left her that day, the last thing I said was, “I love you,” to which she replied in kind.

Then, on my recent birthday in August,  Mona wrote on my Face Book timeline:”It’s hard to accept you are no longer on island. I miss knowing you are here. Enjoy your birthday, Virgoan. Hope it is the best.”

 

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Mona and Gwendominica ‘ham it up’ at Springfield in March 1999. Photo taken by my brother Edwin, who was visiting at the time.

Ironically, it is hard to accept that Mona is ‘no longer on island’.  And I do miss knowing that she is ‘there’. However, I rest assured knowing that we shall meet again in the heavenly paradise where she now resides with her Maker.

 

Mona, I hope you get this message – and yes I am repeating myself – but I will always love you and I thank you for being an important part of my life in Dominica. I do think you will be a spectacular angel. I can almost hear you modestly chuckling about that!

 

To Mona’s children Connie, Bobby, Randy and Richie, their families and everyone else who loved her, please accept my sincere condolences.

R.I.P. Mona George-Dill, September 3, 1942 – October 30, 2016.

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This plaque was erected by Mona while she lived and worked at Springfield.  It is also currently the banner on the Facebook page for the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center at Springfield as a tribute to Mona.

 

The Ghosts of Springfield

Voices in the night.

A light mist falls

and caresses the old plantation

like a lover in the night.

Stifling hot stillness is relieved

by soothing breezes.

The spirits speak kindly

to those who stay

and seek refuge

in a tranquility

rarely found elsewhere.

The garden of Springfield

blooms eternally

with a love

that will never die.

To Mona,

Love, Gwen

October 14, 1997

springfield-antrim-valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Nature Meditation at Springfield Dominica*

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It’s always restorative to occasionally return to Springfield, my first home in Dominica.

After having spent several days “under the weather” in the midst of planning my overseas “relocation” to Canada, I felt that a day spent in a nature meditation would put me “back on track.” What better place to go than my beloved Springfield, an old estate where I lived and became familiar with the beauty of Dominica and its people in 1997 and 1998.

Nowadays,  Springfield is actually a private international research and educational institution, called the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center (ATREC).  You can read more about it in an earlier article I wrote for Domnitjen Magazine by clicking here. I am fortunate to be well acquainted with its Managing Director, Nancy Osler, who is a longtime Canadian friend. On the day of my visit, there were no students or other researchers in-house, so I was able to freely roam the grounds for an afternoon and clear my mind of all things of immediate concern.

Although I had hiked part of the Fifi Road above the old estate with friend Jen about a year ago, I had never gone to its top viewpoint before.  I was certainly in the mood for a moderate workout and the slightly overcast conditions allowed for a very comfortable amble on a groomed trail through the rainforest.  As I strolled along, I admired the multitudinous shades of green, interspersed with colourful wild flowers and other tropical plants.  It was fairly easy going, with only a couple of felled trees to climb over or under.  As I looked into the distance, I observed obvious landslides and  recent gullies that reminded me of Tropical Storm Erika’s wrath upon the Nature Island only six months earlier.

But in the forest, with  background accompaniment of  intermittent calls  of warblers, finches, thrushes and parrots,  I could feel my mind quieting down.  In fact, I ceased to really think about anything at all, thanks to the distraction of the natural beauty that enveloped me on all sides. In this paradise-like setting, I was content to be “in the moment” – at least for the next hour or two.

After  a gradual uphill climb of about half an hour, I reached a clearing which faced east

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Prominent mountains such as Morne Anglais are part of the southerly view from Springfield esate.

and south of the Springfield property.  I gasped – in amazement, not shortness of breath! Before me was the most mystical and magical scene: low clouds shrouded the mighty Morne Microtin, situated at the top of the Roseau Valley, as I looked in a south-central direction.  As the skies cleared slightly, I also could see beyond this massif, as I looked further south. Morne Anglais prominently featured on the skyline, along with other mountains beyond her!  And when I turned my head to look at the densely forested ridge to the

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Peek-a-boo!  I think that’s a peak of Morne Trois Pitons  as seen in an easterly direction from the heights of Springfield Estate.

east of my vantage point, I observed a small section of a very high peak, which I guessed could only be Morne Trois Pitons,  the dominant feature in the centre of the island.  Forgive the cliché, but these “million dollar views” (as my brother Edwin would say about Dominica) were naturally breathtaking.

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The mountain village of Cochrane, as seen from the top of Springfield Estate.

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Morne Micotrin as seen from the heights of Springfield Estate.

I wandered around the small clearing for several minutes taking  in the views from slightly different angles.  Then I decided to let the scene soak in to my soul as I seated myself on an exposed tree root. It was impossible to think about anything troubling as I stared into the distance.  Euphoria seemed to be overtaking me and I didn’t even want to think why.  I just let it happen, as waves of tranquility washed over me.

When I had filled my mind (and camera) with plentiful images of the Nature Island at its

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Heliconia plants thrive in the lush terrain at Springfield.

 

finest, I  slowly wended my way back down this track.  Where it ended, I eagerly clamoured up  a few dozen concrete steps to an

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Some of the inviting steps up to the Mount Joy area of Springfield Estate.

area known as Mount Joy. This was originally an  independent estate but for many years has formed part of Springfield.  That detail is also found in my earlier article about this estate, which you may refer to here.   I did not linger long in this area, except to watch hummingbirds flit to and fro and admire the prolific heliconia plants and stately

coconut palms. I delighted in all the wildflowers along the way, such as these:

By this time, I had worked up an appetite, and as I was in close proximity to a popular eatery called Miranda’s

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Good food is always found at Miranda’s Corner, on the Imperial Road just above Springfield.

Corner, I followed the trail to the main road and walked a short distance further uphill.  Miranda is a woman who has a reputation for consistently good home-cooked Dominican-style food. And she always remembers me, even though I haven’t lived in the area for years.  Although she was not there at that time, her  welcoming daughter served me a deliciously seasoned meaty chicken leg and a huge serving of macaroni and cheese, accompanied by a small salad. Initially, I was afraid that I would waste some of the meal, as it was so large.  But that was not to be the case…I think I even surprised Miranda’s daughter when I showed her the empty plate!

It’s a good thing it was a downhill stroll back to Springfield, as my stomach was more than full.  By that time, it was mid-afternoon, and I was anxious to spend some quiet time at

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Santi is the sweet resident cat at Springfield who is always up for a few pats and a close chat.

the grave site of my dearly departed kitty, Tia-pet. He died in 2014 and you can read about his amazing life and our Springfield

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My dear Tia-pet rests in a beautiful natural setting that I adorn with flowers and rosemary whenever I visit Springfield.

connection here. I still miss him very much, as he was with me for 16 years. I like to pay tribute to my long-time companion by placing flowers on his resting place.  But before I continued to that site, I spent a little time with a lovely cat named Santi, who is the resident mouse-catcher and attention-seeker at Springfield.  She is very affectionate and I enjoyed a little down-time by benefiting from some  pet therapy too.

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“When angels are near, feathers appear.” I found this one not far from Tia-pet’s grave.  For what it is worth, I was comforted by that notion!

After a little while, I descended to the area of the estate where Tia is buried.  Whenever I am there, I always feel a tremendous sense of peace and calm. And this time, a little voice   in my head  encouraged me to go ahead with my relocation plans, while reassuring me that everything would work out fine.  Wherever it came from, I don’t know, but in this heavenly location, I reaffirm my belief in angels!

From there, I continued along a track  that leads to the Springfield River. It was all I could do to watch my step as I was constantly gazing around the forest as I visually absorbed copious shades of green!

When I arrived at the river bank, I gasped again – but this time it was in shock!  Tropical Storm Erika had definitely made her presence known here, as the scene was completely different than what it had been for the past almost 20 years that I had visited this spot .  Gone were the big boulders for sitting by the riverside, and the deep pools beside the track’s end had completely disappeared.  I was able to walk across the  now very shallow river in an area where it would have previously been impossible.  I did not linger long, nor did I take a river bath, as for numerous reasons, it just didn’t feel right.  When I return next time, I will take a ‘river walk’ in order to discover a new pool in a nearby location. There is no doubt that Mother Nature is in control.  As well, climate change has left an indelible mark on the Nature Island!

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Water once flowed freely in this section of the Springfield River below Springfield estate.

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The same area AFTER T.S.Erika

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The bathing pool below Springfield on the Springfield River BEFORE T.S. Erika.

However, I continued with my meditational reverie as I walked back up to the guest house section of the property.  There, I met Managing Director and friend Nancy, who enthusiastically showed me her growing garden. As I looked at the thriving plants, I felt very thankful for Dominica’s fertile volcanic soil, and of course, Nancy’s green thumb!

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Nancy’s garden is definitely thriving, thanks to her TLC and the fertile soil.

As the afternoon wore on, I felt tired but truly refreshed after having spent some time in this precious protected place and its pristene surroundings. In my mind, there is nothing more therapeutic than  being closely connected to nature and its offerings.

Why don’t you try it, and tell me what you think, no matter where you live on the planet!

* Special thanks to Nancy for the opportunity to have some  “downtime” at my favourite place on Dominica and for helping me identify the mountains and village in the photos.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Scenes from a (Tropical!) Winter Wonderland: Dominica’s Carnival 2015 Season*

Roseau is a busy port  in wintertime, filled with voyageurs from northern lands who have come in search of winter sunshine!

Roseau is a busy port in wintertime, filled with voyageurs from northern lands who have come in search of  warm winter sunshine and a lot of fun!

When I hear about how cold February 2015 is in eastern Canada, I thank God for the incredibly beautiful tropical weather that Dominica has experienced over the recent Carnival season.  No, I am not trying to ‘rub it in’; it is cooler here too (relatively speaking).  I did shiver at night during a recent sojourn at Springfield, my first home in Dominica. It is now a  private international research and study center for students, which  is located at about 1,200 feet above sea level, on the edge of the rainforest. I am sure the temperature dropped to below 20 Celsius (plus, that is) in the wee hours there.

When it rained heavily on Carnival Tuesday morning in Roseau, I feared that the grand

No, this is not a dream.  This is the Mercury Band tempting you to partake of a winter Carnival in Dominica sometime soon!

No, this is not a dream. This is the Mercury Band 2015, tempting you to partake of a winter Carnival in Dominica sometime soon!

Costume Parade might be delayed.  Evidently, it was slow to start, but the show was  ‘on the road’ by 11 a.m. – only one hour behind schedule! The streets of the capital dried up fast and the city quickly poured colour and spectacle on excited bystanders, who sought some shade under umbrellas or overhanging porches as the temperature soared!

 

I am sending you a little tropical sunshine, warmth and good cheer through the photos below.  I suggest that you look them over, and then dream of Dominica while you’re out shoveling snow or sheltering from the frigid winds! And maybe sometime, you’ll consider a wintertime visit to this tropical wonderland.

I started the Carnival long weekend at the place I love the most on Dominica: Springfield Plantation:

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am always reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am  reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

I always admire these stately royal palms, which typically mark the location of an estate in Dominica.

I always admire these stately royal palms, which typically mark the location of an estate in Dominica.

Cacao pods appear ready to burst with chocolatey flavour. They were once a prolific crop at Springfield.

Cacao pods seem ready to burst with chocolate flavour. They were once a prolific crop at Springfield.

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I spent many moments in meditation whenever I visit Springfield.

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I  have spent many moments in meditation  and relaxation when I visit Springfield.

I love to wander around the grounds of Springfield, which is an old estate that dates back to the 18th century.

I love to wander around the grounds of Springfield Plantation, which  dates back to the 18th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days of solitude and tranquility, it was time to immerse myself in the vibrant energy of Dominica’s traditional Carnival and its sensational Costume Parade:

This creative costume caught everyone's attention and was frequently photographed.  I think it is a dragon and Jenny thinks it is a crocodile.  What do you think?  Photo taken by Jenny.

This creative costume caught everyone’s attention and was often photographed. I think it is a dragon and Jenny thinks it is a crocodile. What do you think? Photo taken by Jenny.

Pretty little princesses in lovely gowns were admired by all.

A pretty little princess in a lovely gown was admired by all.

Some little girls displayed their athletic and rhythmic talents in choreographed routines as Flag Wavers.

Some little girls displayed their athletic and rhythmic talents in choreographed routines as Flag Wavers.

King Karessah, Calypso Monarch 2015 out-performed 7 time champion Dice to capture this year's crown.  Well done, Karessah!

King Karessah, Calypso Monarch 2015 out-performed 7 time champion Dice to capture this year’s crown. Well done, Karessah!

Carnival Queen contestants impressed thje corwds with their creative traditional costumes.

Carnival Queen contestants impressed the crowds with their creative traditional costumes.

This brilliant traditional costume quickly caught the attention of enthralled spectators.

This brilliant traditional costume quickly caught the attention of enthralled spectators.

The Carnival Princess and Miss Teen Dominica were tow of the most photographed celebreties on the parade route!

The Carnival Princess and a Miss Teen Dominica contestant were two of the most photographed celebrities on the parade route!

This traditional costume was my favourite: simple, yet colourful and cleverly constructed!

This traditional costume was my favourite: simple, yet colourful and cleverly constructed!

Ready to roll!  Gwendominica is set to take in the sights and sounds of Dominica's Carnival Costume parade in Roseau.  Photo taken by Jenny.

Ready to roll! Gwendominica is set to take in the sights and sounds of Dominica’s Carnival Costume Parade 2015 in Roseau. Photo taken by Jenny.

 

The members of the Thunderbirds Band are always a sight to behold!

The members of the Thunderbirds Band are always a sight to behold!

Hysteria was a new band on the Carnival road this year.  They made quite a splash with their sexy costumes and high energy music. Photo taken by Jenny.

Hysteria was a new band on the Carnival road this year. They made a splash with their sexy costumes and high energy music. Photo taken by Jenny.

The Old Time Sake Band was out in full force, as usual.  I 'jumped'  with them last year and had lots of fun!

The Old Time Sake Band was out in full force, as usual. I ‘jumped’ with them last year and had lots of fun!

Some ,e,bers of the Mercury Band adorned themselves in blue body paint.  Awesome!

Some members of the Mercury Band adorned themselves in blue body paint. Awesome!

They guys in the Hysteria Band looked very cool under the hot sun! Photo taken by Jenny.

The guys in the Hysteria Band looked very cool under the hot sun! Photo taken by Jenny.

The Afri-Culture Stiltwalkers are beyond spectacular!

The Afri-Culture Stiltwalkers are beyond spectacular!

Do you think you could do that?  This troupe practises for months on the stilts while their club also puts time and energy into impressive costumes.

Do you think you could do that? This troupe practises for months on the stilts while their club also puts time and energy into impressive costumes.

This lady is totally into the Carnival vibe as a member of the sensuous Mercury Band.

This lady is totally into the Carnival vibe as a member of the sensuous Mercury Band.

Jenny strolls along Mero Beach on a quiet Friday afternoon immediately following Carnival celebrations in Dominica.

Jenny strolls along Mero Beach on a quiet Friday afternoon immediately following Carnival celebrations in Dominica.

On the Friday immediately following Carnival, friend Jenny and I did  a ‘last lap’ at Mero Beach.  While it was a

A beautiful sunset perfectly complemented the completion of Dominica's Carnival 2015 season.

A beautiful ‘winter’ sunset perfectly complemented the conclusion of Dominica’s Carnival 2015 season.

drizzly day, we were not deterred by a little dampness.  After a hearty lunch  beach-side at the ever-popular Romance Cafe, a  walk along the surf and a sea bath on  this quiet afternoon was a fitting completion to the lively events of earlier in the week.  I thoroughly enjoyed the my time spent in nature before and after the vibrant and festive Carnival Costume Parade in the city of Roseau.

And to all of you in the frozen north, I hope that these photos will bring you a little warmth – straight from my heart!

* Many thanks to Jenny Spencer for some great photos. She is a volunteer with the Zoological Society of London who is in Dominica for the third time to assist with  collaborative efforts to save the critically endangered ‘Mountain Chicken’ (Crapaud) frog.  You can read my earlier blog post about this important initiative here.  For the latest information about the Dominican Mountain Chicken Project, click here.

 

Three Cheers for Canadian Olympians in Sochi, Russia and Fantastic Creole Food in Dominica!

Gwendominica toasts Team Canada with a cup of coffee (of course) as she followed the Winter 2014 Olympics in Sochi from the Nature Isle.

Gwendominica toasted Team Canada with a cup of coffee (like a good Canadian) as she enthused about the 2014 Olympics in Sochi from the Nature Isle.

A Canadian called Gwendominica surprised herself when she discovered that  she had not forgotten her zest for hockey, as  she succumbed to Olympic fever on a  beautiful  hot sunny afternoon in Dominica.  She perched on the edge of her sofa, riveted to the TV screen as the Canadian women’s hockey team battled it out with good neighbours to the south for the gold medal in that winter sport.  It was an incredible game – fast, tight goal-tending, a little rough but well monitored by tough referees. The American friends were  leading by 2 -0  at the end of the second period.  As she chanted “Canadian girls have got what it takes!” over and over, the far away countrywoman sensed that the young compatriots received the message telepathically.  After a two goal come-back in the third period, the Canadian winning goal  in sudden-death overtime could only be described as “sweet.”  The delighted expatriate resisted yelling and screaming; she didn’t want to frighten the cat.  Besides, what Dominican could possibly understand all the commotion if it wasn’t  the West Indies team winning a cricket match!

To all the Canadian athletes and their coaches in Sochi, Russia,  I want you to know that I sent you ‘good vibes’  daily from the Nature Isle.   I thank you for your dedication, team spirit and grace in both success and defeat.  I have fingers and toes crossed that the men’s hockey final against the determined Swedes  on Sunday February 23rd  will have  the same outcome as the women’s last  game. You go, Team Canada!  You have already made me very proud.

UPDATE: SUNDAY FEBRUARY 23rd: O CANADA!  I am wearing a smile that I am sure can be seen from one end of Dominica to the other.  Congratulations to the Canadian Men`s Olympic Hockey Team who shut out Sweden 3 – 0 for the Gold Medal!  I will be wearing red and white and my Canadian Flag lapel pin for the next few days. Way to go, CANADA!!! : )

It should  be obvious to readers of Ti Domnik Tales that I am a proud ‘Dominican by adoption’ too. I was thrilled to be asked by the good folks at the highly popular  Backpack ME  international  travel web site if I would prepare a guest post about a favourite Dominican meal, to be included in their feature, ‘Around the World in 80 Dishes’.  I accepted, with immense pleasure.  I definitely love Dominican food, almost as much as a great Canadian hockey game!

You can read about my delectable Creole Lunch here.  It’s #67 on the list of 80. More details about that memorable feast can also be found on this Ti Domnik Tales post.

Home-made Fruit Tarts followed my Creole Luncl plate at Springfield.

Home-made Fruit Tarts followed my Creole Lunch plate at Springfield on Creole Day 2013.

Spinach-like Callaloo Soup was my Creole Lunch starter.

Spinach-like Callaloo Soup was my Creole Lunch starter.

My Creole Lunch at Springfield Plantation last October was featured on the Backpack ME website, along with 79 other meals from around the world.

My Creole Lunch at Springfield Plantation last October is featured on the Backpack ME website, along with 79 other sensational meals from around the world.

And yes, a  Canadian specialty is highlighted too.  It’s found here at # 23.  I highly recommend that you devour the descriptions of  all 80 food offerings from numerous countries on the planet.  With so many appealing and well-prepared selections to vicariously challenge our taste buds, I like to think of it as a food Olympics.  Enjoy!

Congratulations  to all the Olympians from around the world who participated at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.  Like a good meal, you made people feel satisfied and your impressive performances went down really well.

Capturing Dominica’s Creole Spirit: Enjoying Memorable Meals made with the Nature Island’s Finest Recipes

My classic Creole breakfast at Cartwheel Cafe comprised boiled egg, fresh baked bread, seasoned codfish (saltfish), cucumber salad and coffee, of course!

My classic Creole breakfast at Cartwheel Cafe  (448-5353)  on the Roseau Bayfront consisted of boiled egg, fresh-baked bread, seasoned codfish (salt fish), breadfruit, cucumber salad with avocado slices and coffee, of course!

When Creole Day rolls around every October in Dominica, I tend to fast the day before to  be able to feast in the true sense of the word!

Of course, I do spend the morning running around Roseau so that I can take plentiful pictures of people in their gorgeous Creole garb.  Perhaps you’ve looked at my earlier post about fashions in madras fabric as seen on the streets on October 25, 2013.  You can take a(nother) peek here.

In order to have enough energy for my wanderings through ‘town’, I fortified myself with a hearty Creole breakfast at Cartwheel Café (448-5353) on the Bayfront.  For me, it was the perfect balance of protein, starch and greens.  The coffee  just added a little extra ‘umph’ for my ‘runnings’.

By midday, I was satisfied with my photographic pursuits and I had certainly greeted everyone I knew (and some strangers too) with ‘Bonne journée Créole‘.  (It’s not quite Creole – my French gets in the way – but it sounds similar!)  The streets were becoming increasingly congested as  out-of-towners drove in for the well advertised Creole lunches that were taking place at various establishments – both large and small.  But I was headed in the opposite direction – guess where!!

Like last year, Springfield Guest House was offering a grand buffet Creole lunch – with numerous main course  choices à la Créole: Codfish Sancoche; Fish Coubouillion; Creole Stewed Chicken; and Curried Goat!  I knew what to expect and that was exactly what I wanted, as I have always enjoyed Chef Sandra’s culinary creations – and the natural ambience at this lovely and historic establishment gives me a feeling of complete contentment.

I appreciated this display of some local fruits at Springfield Guest House.  It was created so that cruise ship visitors could view some of the Nature Island's produce up close.

I appreciated this display of some local fruits at Springfield Guest House. It was created so that cruise ship visitors could view some of the Nature Island’s produce up close.

It was an easy 15 minute drive from Pottersville (on the north side of Roseau) and the weather cooperated (no rain!) on the way there.  As soon as

This beautiful bouquet of rainforest plants and flowers complemented the splendor of Springfield Guest House.

This beautiful bouquet of rainforest plants and flowers complemented the splendor of Springfield Guest House.

I got out of the car, I gulped great breaths of pure  fresh air.  As I was a bit early,I walked around the stately ‘ Great House’  and admired the views and the well presented dining areas – both inside and outside.  I started off the meal with a glass of sweet fresh coconut’ water’ (its juice).  At about that time, Nancy the Managing Director and Susanne, a German expatriate joined me and remarked that I seemed to have quickly revived from that natural beverage.  It was truly refreshing!

Then it was time for a starter.  I chose a cup of  vegetarian callaloo soup with a home-made bun on the side.

A cup of all-natural vegetarian callaloo soup and a home-made bun by Chef Sandra served as the starter to my substantial Creole meal.

A cup of all-natural vegetarian callaloo soup and a home-made bun by Chef Sandra served as the starter to my substantial Creole meal.

This new ‘national dish’ of Dominica is made from the green leaves of the dasheen plant. It was divine!

May main course Creole lunch included Tuna Couboullion; Codfish Sancoche; Pigeon Peas and Rice in Cocnut Cream; Breadfruit Croquettes; Avocado-Farine Balls; Madras Plantains; Pumpkin Accras; Roasted Breadfruit; cabbage and Tomato Salad.

My main course Creole Lunch at Springfield Guest House included Tuna Couboullion; Codfish Sancoche; Pigeon Peas and Rice in Coconut Cream; Breadfruit Croquettes; Avocado-Farine Balls; Madras Plantains; Pumpkin Accras; Roasted Breadfruit; Cabbage and Tomato Salad.

Then I was warmed up for the main course  – well I actually had two…I did tell you it was a day of feasting.  I guess I was making up for

The westerly view from the dining porch of Springfield Guest House is a Dominican favourite of mine.

The westerly view from the dining porch of Springfield Guest House is a Dominican favourite of mine.

missing Canadian Thanksgiving dinners a couple of weeks earlier in October!   The plate on the left reveals what I consumed a few minutes after the photo.  As we savoured every morsel, we reminisced about other times we had enjoyed in this wonderful setting.  I am also always rejuvenated by spending some time gazing down the Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea. That sensational view always

restores me to a tranquil frame of mind.

We did pause for a few moments before dessert, but the selections were so tempting that we could not wait for very long.  I had hoped to take a walk around the property after the meal, but the weather was turning and my stomach was almost overloaded.  Therefore, I succumbed to the whims of the day and reminded myself that the objective was to feast – and it was just so!

The home-made smooth and mouth-watering  guava ice-cream, which was served with wholesome  fruit ‘tarts’  completed this dining extravaganza.  I don’t know how I managed to find room for all that food – but I have no regrets.  Only a hurricane would have kept me away from my delectable Creole Lunch at Springfield that day!

There wasn't any room in my stomach, but that didn't stop me from sampling these fruit 'tarts': coconut; guava and apricot.

There wasn’t any room in my stomach, but that didn’t stop me from sampling these fruit ‘tarts’: coconut; guava and apricot.

Chef Sandra outdid herself when she prepared rich and filling guava ice cream.

Chef Sandra outdid herself when she prepared rich and filling guava ice cream.

If you would like information about weekday lunches at Springfield (by reservation only) contact: springfield.dominica@gmail.com  You can also find out more about this Research Center here.

Many thanks to Nancy and Sandra and the entire team for organizing and preparing this wonderful repast on Creole Day. I can’t wait for my next lunch  at Springfield Guest House!

Dominica’s Middleham Falls: A Wondrous Site/Sight to Behold*

 

Springfield Plantation is my preferred starting point for the Middleham Falls hike.  However, the steep uphill climb from there on the Cochrane feeder road adds a good hour or more to the outing before you reach the actual trailhead.

Springfield Plantation is my preferred starting point for the Middleham Falls hike. However, the steep uphill climb from there on the Cochrane feeder road adds a good hour or more to the outing before you reach the actual trailhead.

Middleham Falls

It’s a long, arduous, painful trek from Springfield –

There are several small streams to cross on the way to Middleham Falls.  They may be dry or they may have flwoing water, depending on the weather conditions and-or the time of year!  Rocks can be slippery.

There are several small streams to cross on the way to Middleham Falls. They may be dry or they may have flowing water, depending on the weather conditions and-or the time of year! Rocks can be slippery.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

clambering over slippery rocks,

 fording shallow streams,

clinging to steep cliffs –

The feeder road en route to Middleham Falls from Springfield passes above the village of Cochrane (bottom right) with views in a southwesterly direction.

The feeder road en route to Middleham Falls from Springfield passes above the village of Cochrane (bottom right) with views in a southwesterly direction from this vantage point.

endlessly uphill.

 

There is no turning back, however.

Too much pride gets in the way.

My guide`s persistent encouragement

makes me more determined

to find my way.

 

My pace diminishes with perpetual distractions.

There is quite a bit of climbing and grappling onto rocks on the Middleham Falls trail - but it`s well worth it!

There is quite a bit of climbing and grappling onto rocks and roots on the Middleham Falls trail – but it`s well worth it! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

The wonders of the rainforest

enchant and intrigue

like a recurrent sensual fantasy,

except that this is not a dream.

 

The rainforest can be a distraction.  It is best to stop  walking and admire it in order to avoid a slip on tricky terrain!

The rainforest can be a distraction. It is best to stop walking and admire it in order to avoid a slip on tricky terrain! (even though it might add a little time to the journey)

Suddenly, I awake from my reveries:

“Don`t slow down  –

you`ll lose the momentum!

Take it in as you go.“

That voice drifts back to me from somewhere up ahead.

 

After seemingly endless hours,

bruised, weary and sore,

I am finally there.

Breathlessly, I admire the splendor of the site.

 

Before me is the most magnificent torrential cascade

Middleham Falls in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Middleham  Falls is found at about 2,500′ above sea level in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. This cascade is around 270′ high and is known as one of the tallest on the island. It can be difficult to photograph due to its exceptional height! It has  a strong flow year-round. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

towering far above

and showering me with a cold mist

that revitalizes and invigorates my entire being.

 

I gaze longingly at this Dominican wonder,

hoping that I can capture its mighty spirit

and carry it with me always.

 

On a dry day, a dip in the cool pôol belwo Middleham Falls can be very refreshing before the return journey.

On a hot, dry day, a dip in the cool pool below Middleham Falls can be very refreshing before the return journey.

A torrential rain begins to pour 

and it is time to turn back.

But I always long for the day

when I can return to Middleham Falls again.

 

-written near Lakefield, Ontario, Canada

March 1998

* Middleham Falls is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It can be approached from Springfield via the Cochrane Village Feeder Road  (4 – 5 hours return at a leisurely pace)  or from the trailhead near Laudat (a shorter trip) in the Roseau Valley.  It is also possible to reach it from Segment Four of the Waitukubuli National Trail. 

You can also hike right through from the Cochrane side to the Laudat side, or vice versa!  Allow the better part of a day to do that – and take some time to check out Tou Santi –  the `Stinking Hole` which is a huge bat cave.  You`ll likely smell it before you see it!

** References:

Dominica: Bradt Travel Guide by Paul Crask. Edition 2 (2011), pp. 127-128. Paul is a longtime island resident (British expatriate) who has provided very detailed background information and  descriptions of the hikes to Middleham Falls, as well particulars about flora and fauna in this area.

Dominica: Discover the Real Dominica: A Travel Guide Written by Former Peace Corps Volunteers by Anna McCanse. Other Places Publishing, 2011, pp. 255-257 A helpful detailed map and specific directions are contained therein.