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.

springfield-plaque

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

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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.

 

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.

Celebrating Creole Day in Dominica

Gwendominica relaxes after a delicious Creole-inspired Dominican meal in Roseau on Creole Day 2011. The painting in the background is by Dominican artist Ellingsworth Moses and is entitled ‘Mama’s Yard’. Photo taken by Nancy Osler.

Every year around the end of October, the Nature Island gears up for its Independence season, which culminates on November 3rd.  This year marks Dominica’s 34th  anniversary as an independent nation.  Proud Dominicans return in great numbers from abroad to take part in numerous organized events, as well as reuniting with family and friends.

One of my favourite activities is the celebration of Creole Day, which is held on the last Friday of October.  At this time, Dominicans honour their heritage, which is a mix of African and European traditions that have endured over the centuries. The Creole language is a blend of French words and West African grammar and syntax,  as well as a smattering of other tongues.  On this special day, it is spoken everywhere, although the older generations who live in the countryside still converse in this language with each other, as well as English.  Traditional foods are served in restaurants and people dress up in what is referred to as ‘national dress’,which is made from brightly patterned madras fabric.  The whole day is a real feast for my senses and I love to take part in it as best I can!

I spent the morning wandering around Roseau and  admiring the beautiful Creole costumes. It was a brilliant, hot, sunny day and there was most definitely a festive feel in the air.  Express des Iles ferries were arriving at the Bayfront, where they offloaded hundreds of excited French West Indians (who share a similar Creole heritage) from Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Their weekend visit was prompted by the opening of the 16th World Creole Music Festival, which would start later that evening.

Madam Wob 2012 Annette Bates is wearing a ‘wob dwiyet’ (dress), which is a symbol of Dominica’s cultural heritage.

Almost everyone on the streets of town was adorned in beautiful madras fabric in an array of traditional and contemporary designs.  While I normally do not ask strangers for a photo, I did request one from a lady who was wearing a style of dress that harkened back to an earlier era in Dominica.  She in fact had just won a pageant called ‘Madam Wob’ where she and several other ladies competed for this title by wearing  the lovely ‘Wob Dwiyet‘, which is a traditional dress of tremendous elegance and contrasting colour. It is acknowledged internationally as a symbol of Dominica’s heritage.  Although she was rushing to take her place in the Creole Day parade, she graciously consented to pose for me.

The ladies at Cartwheel Cafe sported madras head-wear on Creole Day.

Simone from Kai K Boutique (440-6922) on the Bay Front wears a beautiful custom-made contemporary madras dress with matching necklace.

I stopped for breakfast at one of my favourite Roseau haunts on the Bayfront, the Cartwheel Cafe (448-5353).  There I feasted on breadfruit, codfish and salad, along with a strong cup of coffee. That would hold me for a while.  The place was packed and I met up with some friends who were stepping out in Creole style that special day. I was very impressed with young Andrew, who dressed up in the traditional wear worn by men – simple but elegant with white shirt, black pants and a red sash.

Wendy and her son Andrew were heading to a special event at Andrew’s school, Orion Academy (440-3233) in honour of Creole Day.

Dora and Dernelle at Dr. Green’s dental office really capture the spirit of Creole Day with their unique designer outfits.

On my Roseau rounds, I persuaded Arun Madisetti of Images Dominica (www.imagesdominica.com) to take a picture of me on the General Post Office porch. Thanks Izzy!

I even passed by Dr. Green’s dental office, where I knew that some of staff would be wearing smashing outfits created by their own Dora. I was amazed by their unique styles.

Woody’s cool Creole style combines contemporary with traditional. He is wearing a ‘chapeau paille’ (straw hat) which is a symbol of Dominica’s heritage.

After a  few more sweeps around Roseau, I saw that the parade was slightly delayed.  It was extremely hot, so I decided to head out-of-town for my next adventure.  I was going up to Springfield Plantation, my first home in Dominica, where I would have Creole lunch with friends.  Somehow or other, I had not been back there for a couple of years!  As I headed back to the car, I caught sight of Woody, a local tour operator who takes his guests Off the Beaten Trail (275-1317). We only spoke for a moment,  as he had a jeep full of visitors and would no doubt take them on a real Dominican adventure!

It was actually a relief to drive away from Roseau, as it appeared that just about  everyone was going “to town” for Creole lunch.  I didn’t mind the relentlessly winding ascent into mountains on that perfect day in paradise. The road was in good condition and there were no rain clouds in sight. I was very excited about reacquainting with my old home, eating great food prepared by Dominican Chef Sandra, and relaxing over the meal with friends Nancy and Sarah.

Gwendominica, Nancy and Sarah enjoyed a lovely Creole Day afternoon having a special lunch at Springfield Plantation.

Nancy, who is Managing Director of the Archbold  Research Center based at Springfield, warmly welcomed me.  I almost squealed with glee to be surrounded by Springfield’s stately splendor once again.  Here, on the edge of the rainforest, gentle breezes tempered the harsh heat of the midday sun.  As I looked down the Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea, I recalled numerous previous occasions where I had lingered on the porch of this mid-18th century great house, which is now a dining room on the ground level.  Sweet memories came rushing back to me about those halcyon days in Dominica, but Nancy quickly disturbed my daydreams.  Sarah had arrived and it was time to eat!

My Creole lunch at Springfield was divine. I left a little room on the plate so I could go back for more!

The stately dining room at Springfield. It dates back to the mid 18th century.

There are gorgeous vistas both near and far at Springfield.

The grounds around Springfield are simply stunning.

From the buffet table, I filled my plate with all kinds of Dominican delicacies: mildly seasoned codfish; perfectly prepared steamed tuna; dasheen (a starchy  root vegetable) puffs; sweet fried plantains; fawine balls (avocado and cassava flour);  avocado pear and  tangy watercress salad.  I sipped a glass of freshly pressed carambola (star fruit) juice as we savored the distinctive tastes of everything on our plates.  On this divine day on the Nature Isle, we took our time, had a few ‘seconds’ to fill any remaining empty spaces and finished off the meal with fresh fruit salad, guava tart and coconut cake.

Before I knew it,  almost four hours had passed and it was time to go back down the mountain to beat Roseau’s Friday afternoon rush hour though the congested town.

It is so pleasurable to gaze down the densely forested Antrim Valley to the Caribbean Sea from Springfield’s covered dining porch.

As I drove away, I felt especially privileged to have had such a memorable  Creole lunch in this spectacular place.  Thanks to Nancy and the  staff  at Springfield for  a superbly delicious meal in such sensational surroundings.  I promise I’ll be back again soon!

Discovering Dominica’s Delights*

Northwestern Coastline of Dominica from Coconut Beach on Prince Rupert Bay (Picard area of Portsmouth in the distance, Morne au Diable in background). Photo by Edwin Whitford

When I first sailed along the west coast of Dominica and marveled at its green forests and majestic peaks, I understood how Columbus must have felt when he first glimpsed the island on his second voyage in 1493.  Dominicans proudly exclaim that if this great explorer were to return to the Caribbean today, this country would probably be the only one he would still recognize.

That is because the self-proclaimed “Nature Island,” located between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique is not overly developed.  Hotels are cozy  and intimate, people are friendly and there are no crowded beaches in this English-speaking land.

Above all, visitors will find  unique  natural attractions which can be seen either on a drive around the country or by taking a hike on any number of trails that crisscross the island.  The recently opened Waitukubuli National Trail  is  one-of-a-kind in the Caribbean.  It consists of 14 segments of varying degrees of difficulty and lengths that traverse the island from north to south over a total of 184 kilometers (115 miles).

Freshwater Lake. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Morne Trois Pitons National Park in the island’s interior became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Its unspoiled features will appeal to nature lovers and adventure seekers of all ages and abilities.  Within the park’s boundaries are five major mountains which are almost 5,000 feet high, one of which is named Morne Trois Pitons.  As well, the Boeri and Freshwater Lakes are found at higher elevations, as are some towering waterfalls, the spectacular Valley of Desolation, the second largest Boiling Lake in the world and other geothermal areas.  The Smithsonian Institute has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  You will understand why when you see the pristine forests and vegetation, uncommon wildlife and 360 degree breathtaking vistas.

Springfield is now a research centre which is nestled in the mountains on the edge of the rainforest.

It would take many days, perhaps even months (and possibly years!) to discover all of Dominica’s ecological delights.  During my first few years in Dominica, I explored the island by foot and transport from my home base at the serene Springfield Guest House, a former plantation  nestled on the edge of the rainforest.  Right away, I admired the fascinating terrain and gained insights into my adopted country’s culture.

Dominica is known for its underwater sites, as well as the above-ground ones and is know as a diver’s delight.  I do not dive, but I enjoy looking just beneath the surface of the sea.  For a bit of easy snorkeling, I traveled to Scott’s Head, a point of land on the southern coast of the island.  From only a few feet offshore, I floated above dozens of flashy tropical fishes.  As I was on my own in the water and not a deep-sea diver,  I did not venture out to the steep cliff, which drops off along the face of an eroded volcano.

Soufriere Bay, with Scott’s Head in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford

The taxi trip there and back along the southwest coast was also awesome. Between Pointe Michel and Champagne Beach, we drove between barren gray cliffs and the calm Caribbean Sea on a very narrow road.  The scenes constantly changed as we journeyed through seemingly mystical forests (where some episodes from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed in 2005).

Gwendominica soaking in the large pool at Soufriere Sulphur Springs. Photo by Edwin Whitford

While I was in the southwesterly part of Dominica, I totally relaxed myself by taking a long hot soak in the large mineral pool at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs Eco-Site.  The mild smell was not overwhelming.  I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in the taxi on the way back to Springfield!

Next morning, I awoke refreshed and enthusiastically donned my hiking boots for the lengthy trek to Middleham Falls in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  It would take about five leisurely hours (round trip) on foot from Springfield via the  Cochrane village route , but I was not in any rush. I was now on island time!

A certified guide told me much about the flora and fauna of the area as we moved deeper into the rainforest.  I saw a cuckoo and the elusive rodent called an agouti.  I also heard the plaintive call of the mountain whistler who hides high in the treetops. Gigantic tropical plants such as palms and ferns shaded the track.

Gwendominica crossing one of the rivulets en route to Middleham Falls. Photo by Edwin Whitford

Although I was in reasonably good shape,  the biggest challenge for me was fording several mountain streams while keeping my boots dry.  A little coaching from my guide and some new-found confidence on my part enabled me to cross the running rivers by hopping from rock to rock.  I was soaked with sweat and weary from exertion when I first glimpsed Middleham Falls.  It literally took my breath away! This powerful cascade plummeted several

Middleham Falls Pool. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

hundred feet into a sparkling pool at its base.  It was a shock to the system to plunge into that seemingly frigid water beneath the falls, but I soon warmed up on the surrounding rocks in the brilliant sunshine. In a short while, I was refreshed enough to begin the return journey.  Since that first expedition, my love affair with hiking in Dominica continues to thrive!

Another day trip took me inland through the Carib Territory where about three thousand Kalinagos live on 3,700 acres of land on the northeast side of the island.  These indigenous people are said to be the last of their kind in the world.  They continue to practise traditional skills such as farming, weaving and the building of ocean-going dug-out canoes for fishing.  (There is now a model village called Kalinago Barana Aute which offers tours, craft demonstrations and traditional performances to the public).  There were also many opportunities to buy beautifully crafted pieces, such as baskets from these friendly folks.

Northeastern coastline from the bottom of L’escalier Tete Chien, Sineku, Carib Territory

On the Atlantic coast, the view was spellbinding from the top of L’escalier Tete Chien (‘The Snake’s Staircase’ – there is a Kalinago legend about this site) at Sineku.  This hardened lava flow looks like a serpent’s head crawling up from the ocean. It looks like a natural staircase down to the sea.  I did not attempt it that day (I have a couple of times since), but I admired others who maneuvered the sometimes slippery steps.

As we headed back to home base, we passed through banana groves, flower gardens and endless panoramas in every direction. The small, winding road blended into the greenery, giving a sense of intimacy with nature.  My reward near the end of the day was a dip in the Emerald Pool, an easy 15 minute walk on a groomed trail from the parking lot.  In the slanting rays of the afternoon sun, the waters did glisten like a jewel.  As there was no one else by the pretty waterfall, I felt as if I had captured a piece of this pristine beauty for myself, at least for a few moments.

Emerald Pool

The Nature Island has many earthly treasures.  Dominica is definitely – and naturally – delightful!

* An earlier version of this article was published in Caribbean Compass, January 1999, page 19.

The adventures described here represent some of my very first impressions of Dominica.  I can assure you that they are definitely lasting! Many of the pictures here were taken on later excursions than the above-described.  My brother’s photos are much appreciated. He’s been to Dominica three times!

If you wish to visit any of the sites or go exploring while visiting Dominica, I strongly urge you to take a certified taxi or hire a qualified guide.  Not only will you be more secure, but you will gain tremendous knowledge and insights about the Nature Island from these informative professionals.