A walk in the woods, Dominica style.

It’s Tuesday and Pandora is back in the islands of Les Saintes, just south of Guadeloupe, making our way back to Antigua where Brenda will fly out for home on Sunday.

Yesterday we had a great sail back yesterday from Dominica, a beam reach with about 15kts of wind.  We moved along nicely, sometimes at over 9kts.   What a perfect dqy on the water.

Visiting Dominica was a real treat.  We had been told that Dominica was one of the most beautiful islands by a number of cruisers and they weren’t lying.   It’s very rural and quite different than the other islands that we have visited this winter.  I have to say that the variety is one of the best parts about this area as each island has it’s own unique personality and most all are within a day long sail.

For our rainforest tour we hired the same guide, Faustin Alexis, that we had used to do the river cruise.  He does a very good job.  He was busy that day so sent us with his nephew Fitzroy, a nice young man.  However, if you can, I recommend that you ask for Faustin himself as he is especially entertaining.  He can be reached on VHF channel 16 or at faustinalexis@gmail.com  His phone is 1-767-615-8821.

We were picked up at our boats by Faustin precicely at 08:00 and brought to the fisherman dock where we joined a van to take us up to the rainforest, a long and winding trek up into the mountains to the center of the island.   Some fisherman were cleaning their nets as we arrived at the dock. As we climbed the winding road you could feel the air get cooler as we rose in altitude.   The van seemed to work pretty hard to make it’s way along the increasingly narrow and steep roads, most of which were barely wide enough to pass.

Commercial farming has not found it’s way to this island which is a good thing.  They are still practicing “slash and burn” agriculture where a small plot of land is cleared in the forest and planted with a crop such as yams, coffee or perhaps bananas.  This “plot” is farmed for several years until yields decrease and than it is abandoned to be reclaimed by the forest.    This approach to farming is very gentle on the environment and can go o for hundreds or even thousands of years without destroying the forest.  This assumes, of course, that the clearing is done in moderation.  Unfortunately, in much of SE Asia, commercial farming, especially for palm oil and sugarcane, in part to fuel the ethanol/biofuel market is ravaging the tropical forests.  So much for “green” fuel.  Thanks Al Gore for helping to encourage such practices.   Think of him when you next fill up your SUV with gasoline that’s 10% ethanol.

Anyway, I digress.   Our trip took us by some beautifully tended farm plots as we drove up into the mountains.   Each tuber, probably yams or something, were planted in a perfect little mound of soil. Later a pole is inserted so the vine can grow up and mature.  Banana flowers are distinctive and lovely.   I understand that it takes many months for bananas to mature and then the plant itself dies.   However, little shoots come out of the base of the plant that flowered so they are removed and planted by themselves to begin the process all over again.  Bananas are not grown from seed, just from shoots off of those “mother” plants. When  Brenda and I were in highschool we purchased a banana plant that we had in our home for many years after we graduated from college.  That plant, or shoots from that plant, live on today in a friend’s garden in Florida, nearly five decades later.   Sorry, no bananas until “Bob” as the plant is known, found his way to Linda’s garden in Florida.   He’s doing very well now, thank you.

Actually, Brenda and I visited “Bob” last winter.  Here’s “Bob” with me and his “mom”, Linda who he lives with now.  Brenda and I no longer have many indoor plants now that we are away for such a long time in the winter. The locals also grow coffee up in the mountains.  The beans grow right on the branches and are harvested by carefully plucking off each ripe bean as it begins to turn red.  There were many birds in these garden plots carved out of the fores.  We spied a hawk looking to feast on something a little farther down on the food chain. Along the side of the road, plants so beautiful it was hard to remember that these are a “weed” of sorts here.   Nice weeds.  We spotted this beautiful amaryllis growing on the side of the road.  I don’t know for sure if this is endemic to the island or if it was planted.  Of course, you’d recognize this from the same bulbs that us northerners force for holiday bloom.  These flowers were the size of a large salad plate.   Beautiful. Not all the flowers were that showy.  Some were not much larger than a fingertip. I saw this beautiful vine growing on a dead branch.  The leaves are smaller than a pencil eraser. Everywhere you look something wonderful.  These ferns sported fronds that were only an inch or so long. It was hard to focus on them when faced by what might be called the “queen of all ferns” the tree fern.  They grow to great heights and look like something right out of Jurassic Park. Even big ferns start out little, but not that little.   No short jokes please.  There isn’t much more impressive than a stand of tree ferns in the distance. A mix of textures and shades of green.
As we entered the forest we were blown away by the majesty of it all.  Hard to take in the scale of these trees that lined the path. One view more magnificent than the last.
Just huge.Everything is competing for light.  The trees grow up and everything else uses the trees to climb up too. Some were hundreds of feet tall up in the canopy with roots that ran all the way to the forest floor.   Anything to reach the light.Some plants very small like this vine with leaves that were barely an inch long.  Vines of nearly every shape and size clinging to their host.
Once things drop to the forest floor don’t last long as there are plenty of fungi ready and willing to make short work of them like these beauties. We nearly stepped on this tiny frog who was hopping in the middle of the path. He blended in perfectly, well almost perfectly, into the ground litter. Along the way we stopped to do a short hike up a riverbed to an amazing waterfall.    As we made our way into the forest we spied the only orchid that we saw in bloom.  This one was growing on the side of the road.  The flower spike was several feet tall.  This African Tulip tree, with magnificent flowers was quite a stunner.  Each individual flower was perhaps 6″ wide.    Very showy and a stunning blaze of color in a sea of green. We hiked up the stream bed crossing first to one side and then the other as we made our way toward the falls. The trees towered over us. At one point we even did a “Tarzan” thing swinging from a vine across the river.   Not bad for a 61 year old guy.  Right?Made it. As we worked our way toward the waterfall we could hear it a long way off. I would have loved to go for a swim but there wasn’t time for that.  How about a photo op instead?This photo of our traveling companions, Dave and Chisholm of Plantina II and Bob and Carol of Oasis,  gives a better feel for the scale of the falls. That evening, as the sun set over the ocean to the west, we were treated to a real show, a wonderful way to cap off a great day.  We even saw the elusive “green flash” something that you rarely see except when the horizon is haze and cloud free.   The sun set like a giant fireball.And, just as it dropped down into the sea, a momentary flash of bright green. A closeup of the “flash”.  You can see it’s green on the edges.   I am told that it’s much easier to see when mixed with rum.  We have found that wine works well too.   However, too much wine somehow makes the horizon tip a bit.  How is that?Others have told us that Dominica is their favorite island for hiking and enjoying the natural wonders of a tropical paradise and if our experience is any indication, than they are right.

The opportunity to see such natural beauty, go for a walk in the woods and do so without seeing another soul all day long is one of the things that makes Dominica a real treasure.

So,there you have it, visit Dominica and go for a walk in the woods.  You won’t be disappointed.

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