The morning after the beach BBQ started slowly for us with a gentle swim around the boat and a late breakfast. After lunch, we all met on the dock for the Indian River Tour. It was to be unlike anything else I’ve experienced in the Caribbean. After an exhilarating ride across the bay in his brightly painted wooden speedboat and a quick check of our Nature Reserve passes by the government officials, our guide Anthony swapped the din of the 40hp Yamaha 2-stroke for a pair of wooden oars.
With a clunk and a creak and a gentle splashing, he heaved us away from the lapping sea and up the olive green river towards the interior. Despite the regular downpours (this is meant to be the dry season but the weather in the whole Caribbean seems to be a bit messed up this year), our quiet creep up the winding and narrowing river yielded us a bounty of wildlife.
Green-backed herons stalked the muddy banks, moorhens (waterfowl) with their funny chicken-like feet nosed their way through the leaves and landed with a plop on the water, paddling away ahead of us. The occasional hummingbird flitted through the hot, damp foliage and Jaco parrots shrieked above us, out of sight. Large crabs peered at us curiously and scuttled sideways back into their holes. Thick buttress roots wound in mighty ribbons along the banks. It got darker and darker…
In a quiet tributary, Anthony showed us Calypso’s house from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, wrecked in hurricane Maria in 2017 and rebuilt since but still tumbledown. During breaks in the rain, the occasional mosquito whined around our heads and dined on our ankles. Johnny Depp liked to party, Anthony told us. He was a good guy but he had a stunt man who did most of the work for him. Johnny stayed on his own yacht in the anchorage. He had a good time here, apparently. It wasn’t hard for us to imagine…
As the wide river dwindled to a creek, the trees with their leaves in a hundred shapes and shades of green communed over our heads, forming a canopy that transformed the persistent shower into large plops of water that coursed down our already soaked bodies. I was wishing I had my offshore sailing gear on instead of my lightweight, shower-but-clearly-not-downpour-proof mac which was by now leaking like a confidential government briefing meeting.
Up another side creek, we disembarked on a rickety old wooden pontoon at the Bush Bar in the darkness of the jungle. We walked right through the bar (I’m sure the sun was over the yard arm somewhere, but there were other things to see) and took advantage of the brief break in the weather so that Anthony could show us the gardens and the path that the medical students used to take to the bar. When I say ‘used to take’ – Hurricane Maria did more damage than just blowing houses away and rooves off. There used to be Ross University here on Dominica – a medical school – but they left after Hurricane Maria, moved to Barbados and never returned. The campus has been partly repurposed but the accommodation blocks remain guarded and empty, like a ghost town. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Dominicans lost their livelihood as a result.
The path to the bar remains well-tended though, even if the traffic is not as high as it used to be. It’s the property of the man known as ‘Cobra’ – Andrew O’Brien, current president of P.A.Y.S., a broad-shouldered, street-smart, rough diamond with a sharp eye for business and opportunities of every kind. We met him several times during the week and heard his name everywhere.
It started to rain again but we persisted and Anthony showed us so many plants and flowers and trees that I lost count and track. We emerged at the end of the path to what looked like a lorry graveyard but is apparently a farm, as evidenced by the pig sties and rabbits and chickens in hutches. The Dominicans have a different approach to keeping their livestock, as seems to be the case throughout the Caribbean. I asked why the pigs had no straw bedding and was advised that it was because it was easier to keep the stalls clean that way. To be fair, it was all clean and well maintained. I’ve definitely seen worse, but it didn’t stop me wanting to break out a bale or two for those fat sows with their squeaking, hungry little piglets.
All the while it rained and rained. A muddy wander back to the bar revealed the arrival of other boat-fuls of appreciative yachties, and some familiar faces. We declined the offered weed, and weed rum, and every other kind of rum, and waited for the rain to let up a little. Another little break in the weather encouraged us to get back on board and we drifted slowly back downstream, amidst the occasional soaking, and gunned it back across the bay. For the first time in six months, I was properly cold and wet through by the time we got back to the boat, and homesick for an Aga and an open fire and a hot cup of tea to warm me up.
The next few days passed in a blur of sunshine and sweat and waterfalls and hikes and swims and incredible jungle and big rocks and slippery paths and amazing views and wonderful food. I really want to condense this and talk about the highlights but it was like being in a David Attenborough documentary for most of the time.
We were guided by Martin (‘Providence’), a trained botanist, on a full day tour of the north of Dominica. We visited cold sulphur springs, stopped to sample Johnny Cakes (a lot like unsugared, unfilled doughnuts), saw one incredible view and white sand beach after another, had lunch overlooking a stunning beach at Calibishie, visited the Pointe Baptiste Estate chocolate factory (yumm!) and the Red Rock at sunset…
In the middle of the day, we hiked to Chaudiere Pool – a hike which could have taken probably 45 minutes except that there was so much to see on the way.
The jungle parted eventually to reveal the river with churning, crystal-clear water and a cliff to jump off. Errr… what? Somehow, they talked us both into leaping off a rock ledge twenty feet above the water – something I never expected I would ever do – into the surprisingly unbuoyant fresh water (we are so used to the sea!) with the fish swimming around us! Absolutely exhilarating.
Wegot back to our dinghies just before it got dark. I fell asleep like a child that night, elated and exhausted.
More adventures than we had had in the past month, but this wasn’t even the half of it! See the next instalment… 😀