Monday, June 19, 2017

Land That Time Forgot - Indian River

Dominica is well known as one of the last few islands boasting of nearly untouched beauty.  Also of note are her many rivers, reportedly 365 of them in total.

The realization has come to me that during the planning stages for our cruise through the Caribbean, Dominica was the vision in my mind's eye of what I expected to see on all of the islands.

I had no idea that there would be so much... civilization (for lack of a better word).  With the exception of maybe Île-à-Vache, Haiti, the islands of the Caribbean have been a lot more modern that I expected...  Until Dominica.

Approaching the unseen sandbar
The Indian River flows down from the island's interior to empty into Prince Rupert Bay just south of the center of Portsmouth, Dominica's second largest city (population 3,000).  The river is large enough to push through the sand bar that fills the mouths of smaller rivers, allowing boats to travel up the river for a distance... into a land that time has forgotten.
A crane used to dig silt from the river's mouth was toppled during hurricane Erika in 2015 and it hasn't moved since

Pushing our way through the moored boats 
Our singular status as the only cruising sailboat in the bay at the moment qualified us for essentially a private tour...  Sure we paid a little bit more for the priviledge, but it was a rare treat to have BOTH Alexis and his younger Nephew, also Alexis... all to ourselves.

Alexis is one of many official PAYS guides here in Dominica.  He told us at the beginning of our Indian River tour that he is training his Nephew to take over his business in preparation for his upcoming retirement...soon... We were happy to help facilitate young Alexis' training by asking a barrage of questions about the history of the island as well as more recent events.

Young Alexis came to fetch us from our boat in the early morning.  We were up and ready by 7am, watching the sun rise over the interior mountains as we motored the short distance to the mouth of the river.  The tour itself is rather short.  The reason for the early start was to increase our chances of sighting the Sisserou Parrot, the country's national bird, in the trees along the river.  They are evidently very shy and unfortunately, we never saw one.

No worries, the early start didn't bother us and we enjoyed the cooler morning temperatures, as I'm sure did young Alexis who was manning the oars.  Once past the bridge, no motorized conveyance is allowed so the engine went off, and the quiet of the looming jungle was broken only by the rhythmic sound made by the oars moving in the rudimentary oar-locks.

Alexis on the left doesn't look old enough to retire!
The river was swolen from the previous day's torrential rains.  I was actually worried that we would have to postpone our tour but the river handled the runoff with only an increased murkiness and maybe a little bit more current...

The river banks were muddy and riddled with holes made by the multitude of land crabs waiting patiently at the water's edge for food to drift by.  Alexis lamented that the youngsters these days never bothered to go out into the jungle to catch these delicious crabs.

A heron watches for his dinner
He told us about how, when he was young, he and his friends would paddle up this river at night to catch the crabs.  At night the crabs venture further from their holes, making catching them just a matter of walking around with a bag and flashlight and picking them up.  He said that kids today were lazy and all they wanted to do was play video games...  Sounds familiar!

Young Alexis diverted our little wooden boat into a smaller tributary off to our left without a word...  Soon, something unnatural appeared up ahead.  It was something obviously not of the jungle...

I hadn't really done much research about this river tour, other than the fact that it was one of the most popular things to do on the island and not to be missed.  What I had missed... was that this tour takes us right by one of the several movie sets built for one of my all time favorite movies...2006 Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest!

Wow what a treat that was!  Maybe I should add "Google - Movies made on X Island" to my research in future!

Alexis turned the boat around and we backtracked to the main river to continue onward.

The river narrowed progressively and the banks became more interesting as we saw many birds and a few flowers...

Roseau growing wild.
Alexis is very knowledgeable and pointed out the many different plants and trees to us.  Of course my memory is so bad, something has to make a connection before I can remember it.  The Roseau made that connection.  The capital city here on Dominica is called Roseau.  I had assumed that to be a French sir name, after some historical dignitary... but no.  It is the name of a plant that grows on this and many other Caribbean islands.

The plant looks similar to Sugar Cane and grows to heights far over our heads.  The Roseau plant was important in the history of the island as it was used to make many things, from homes to furniture... similar to the way bamboo is used.

We passed close by the amazing root structure of the trees... The canopy shaded our progress, allowing only a few dancing dollops of sunlight to reach us for most of the way.

Remains of an old bridge

The Banyan trees and Strangler Figs (ficus) grew tall with their roots clearly exposed by the eroded riverbank... Some looked like dancers lifting their skirts...  while others looked as if they were steadily taking over the forrest floor with their intricately woven masses.

Up ahead, another surprise!  We could see a dilapidated dock and were not expecting young Alexis to pull the boat alongside this creaking structure...

Little bit of mud slide from yesterday's heavy rains!
Still don't know where we're going... What IS this place???
Woo hoo!  A bar!  Who cares if its only 9 am???

Every part of this place is hand carved...

And a garden trail!!!
We disembarked with unanswered questions... Maybe we should have done a little more research!  Was this the end of the line???  We stepped through the mud, leaves and twigs left by what must have been a torrent of water gushing down the very steps we now climbed.  A small sign told us that this was a BAR!

Seriously!  A bar out here!  How could it possibly survive if the only customers were those who came on the river tours???

We were amazed as we stepped across the threshold of this place.  I can think of nothing to liken it to... It is a small, open air establishment with the bar, tables and chairs all made from hand hewn wood.

Just about everything here came from the land... Including the gorgeous centerpieces.

They were huge and provided elegant contrast to the rough furnishings...  Each was unique and looked more like what you would find in a fancy hotel... not here in the bush!

We ordered off of a menu posted on the wall.  Yes, it's 9 am... But we can't come here and not order anything!

The proprietor guided me to the coconut rum punch.  Sounds wonderful!  While he set about making our drinks we all relaxed.

Leaving the men to sit and talk, I slowly made my way through a wonderland of flowers growing in this subtly manicured oasis.  Everything was wet from recent rains and I just went wild with the camera!

Huge Torch Ginger blooms!

I followed the path until it came back to the river, now more of a stream.  Up ahead a short distance the banks crowded ever closer, squeezing the river into a wandering ribbon that no boat could navigate.

Stifling my disappointment that this must surely be the end of the tour for us... I returned to the little bush bar to see if my punch was ready.

It was.

It was NOT... anything like I was expecting in a rum punch.  It was coconutty and very thick.  But even though it was completely foreign to my palate... it was very delicious and maybe more fitting for a drink consumed at 9 am than the rum punch I had expected...

Our guides seemed to be in no hurry as they ordered a second drink... The proprietor bustled over with a big plate full of freshly fried plantain chips for us...  They were sweet/salty and warmly delicious.

Look closely. Center.  Black bird with green on his wing.
We enjoyed a lengthy conversation about what it's like to live and grow up on Dominica as compared to the US.  Remember, Bruce and I are always looking for a place to put down some roots... It is astoundingly beautiful here... Why not?  I daydreamed about how it would be while I watched the hummingbirds as they serviced the nearby flowers...

Ya know what?  Life is good.  And that's not just the Coconut Rum Punch talking!

Eventually it was time to go. Alexis, the senior said his goodbyes and left by land.

Evidently a portion of the Waitukubuli trail passes through this garden.  The trail covers 115 miles and is more of a challenge than we can handle.  There are portions that can be done in segments... still not something Bruce is interested in doing...  I'm glad we got our little glimpse of it today!

We loaded back onto our little boat with just Young Alexis for the return trip.  We put him through his paces with our questions... and although he did well.. his attention was distracted by keeping us off of the sand bars.

The current has picked up... Glad we're drifting downstream now!
Very soon we were back at the bridge, starting up the outboard...
The painting beneath the bridge
The river's mouth as it pours into the Bay

Young Alexis dropped us back at our boat with the rest of a sunny day for us to fill.

Even thinking about this in retrospect, my mind goes to someplace else.  The eerie silence and spooky ambiance of the river truly takes you to another time.

We wondered if there might be places on Dominica where no human foot has ever fallen.  If there is, it is surely somewhere along one of the many rivers secret to the eyes of mankind.

Perhaps that's not possible... but just maybe it is... here in the land that time forgot..

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