On the enchanted island of Dominica there is a magical river heavily guarded by a people known as River Guides. They voraciously guard the mouth of this river and ward off all who might wander up it on their own. But, they do not keep this treasure all for themselves, but will share it, for a price.
We wished to see this magical river, so we enlisted the help of a river guide, one of the best and most knowledgeable around. As he propelled his clumsy vessel with heavy oars he proceeded to tell us the secrets of the Indian River. As we headed inland the river was quickly swallowed up on all sides by the forest. The titanic trees leaned over us in an almost protective manner, listening to our every word. The mighty roots of the trees dug into the earth and intertwined with each other like writhing snakes. In these gnarled, wriggling roots half falling into the river crabs nervously scuttled to and fro. Compared to the crystal clear water throughout the Caribbean the brown river looked especially murky, but we could still occasionally see a fish lazily swimming around.
The river steadily narrowed and we were well into the forest. Strange chattering and chirping noises were all around us. In a clear patch of sky unobstructed by tree tops, our guide pointed out two parrots soaring high about us, one red as the setting sun and the other blue as the sky they flew in.
We continued on through the eye-popping scenery until the river was so narrow we could go no further. We followed our guide into the jungle. Enormous, engorged bunches of bananas and plantains, a close relative of the banana, hung from the tall plants. A small rather inconspicuous tree with little round, green fruits was pointed out to us as guava. Our guide also showed us a cayenne pepper plant, something I knew previously as that ground up red stuff on my mom’s spice rack. But the most fascinating plant we saw was the sensitive plant. At first glance this tiny weed-like plant did not look very interesting, but at the slightest touch, the leaves all folded up. It was an alien, almost robotic motion the way it recoiled, it was utterly mystifying.
Throughout our entire Caribbean cruise we have done an ungodly amount of hiking, and often I’m less than enthused about traipsing off into the forest. But this time I could not wait to go, for this time it was different, we would be hiking in the rainforest. We had only briefly gone into the rainforest a few days before, but I have been entranced ever since. Although, we would not be blindly wandering into the forest, we were headed to Middlehelm Falls. Also, we had recently become friends with a young Canadian couple whom we had met on our bus tour around the island, and they were accompanying us on our hike. Apparently, there are so many waterfalls on Dominica that even the locals have lost track of them all. We decided to hike to Middlehelm Falls because it sounded like it wouldn’t be that long or difficult a hike compared to many others. After an hour-plus bus ride, a long time of walking down a searing asphalt road, and a bit of hitchhiking, we made it to the start of the trail. Here on Dominica hitchhiking is a safe, regularly practiced, common institution, and if we had not accepted the ride we would have been too exhausted to hike very far.
After just a short while I began to feel the energy of the forest flow through me. Senses utterly overwhelmed, I wished I had at least three more eyes, my two just weren’t enough. Everything was a million shades of green with bright flowers carelessly splattered here and there. An aroma not unlike that of cut grass wafted amongst the trees. Tropical birds conversed with one another in the distance. I was light as a feather as I glided over fallen logs and across trickling streams. After a while we heard the rumble of falling water in the distance. But before we could see or even hear the fall we started to notice the increased amount of moisture on the plants and the trail was a bit more slippery and muddy. The terrain also was steeper and a bit more treacherous and we got closer and closer to the falls. From high above, a stream fell over a cliff that appeared to have a mass of green plants just pasted on, and plunged into a gleaming pool. Cooling mist sprayed everywhere and covered everything with dew drops. I looked down at my arms and saw that they were covered with glistening translucent pearls. Eternal rainbows were caught in a web of mist near the base of the fall. Light captured in water droplets shown brightly and the trees became gem-encrusted. I stood by the fall in wonder, fully in awe of nature.
On the hike out, I slipped on an algae-covered rock and got one of my sneakers wet. Then, later on, crossing a different stream I slip on another rock and get my other foot wet. I had to slosh along for the remainder of the hike, which turned out to be a lot longer than any of us had anticipated. Contrary to what Robert Frost might tell you, the road less traveled is not necessarily the way to go. Perhaps it was just the adventurous spirit in all of us, but for some odd reason we took a different road out than we did in. The six of us walked that searing, unshaded asphalt road for hours without passing a single vehicle. Although, we did come across a tethered donkey, but that hardly counts. One thing that was pretty neat was the sensitive plants really were like weeds, and were abundant on the side of the road, and I walked along tapping everyone I spotted and watched it recoil. The other neat thing was there were grapefruit trees growing wild along the side of the road, and after hours and hours of hiking we were out of food and water. Those grapefruits tasted wonderful to our parched lips and rumbling tummies.
At last, in the early evening, a car finally drove by and offered us a ride. There were even a few other hitchhikers in the back of the pick-up truck as well. If it hadn’t been for that lift we would have been hiking well into the night. We eventually got back to the bus stop and by the time we got back to the bay we were anchored off the sun had already set.
Even after we got back into town it was still a short ways to our dinghies.
All of a sudden we heard a lot of shouting and screaming and intelligible exclamations from a ways up the road. It sounded almost like a riot. We were all quite alarmed at this point, and were thankful that we were all in a group. But still we did not linger, and hurried back to our respective boats. It was not until the next day that we found out what all the commotion was about. It turned out that it was a friendly game of dominoes. Apparently, the game is quite popular and is taken very seriously. It is now quite funny to think that a bunch of tiles with dots on them had caused such a fuss, but at the time we were quite concerned.
Well, this is the end of the line. Our voyage south has essentially ended, and our next stop will be somewhere we’ve already been. Heading home wouldn’t have been quite so difficult if Dominica hadn’t been so fabulous. It was very hard to leave behind that island of breath-taking rainforest, eye-popping waterfalls, and mouth-watering fruit. But, in a sense, I never really left because it will always be a part of me.