Muskoka Lakes Gardens

My Month in the Caribbean (Dominica: Day 10)

This December will mark 10 years since my spouse Davin and I travelled to the Caribbean for one month (staying in Barbados, Dominica, and St. Lucia) so that I could be in the lands of my maternal ancestors and trace my roots. For context, there’s a post here that I wrote before the trip that encapsulates why this trip was so meaningful to me, and another here that I wrote a few months after the trip that talks about some of the things I learned. I have also published several smaller posts with observations and experiences, particularly those of a botanical nature, that can be seen under tags for their respective countries.

In 2015, I decided to try and write the journey day-by-day, capturing all 30+ days of the trip. The first post is a good place to start and provides links to all of the previous posts.

Unfortunately, I was only able to get as far as day 9. This is because 2015 was the year that I became ill will a mysterious condition and that December was rough. Putting together image-heavy posts like this are a lot of work at the best of times — I’m not sure what made me think I could do 30 in as many days. Needless to say, I had to stop. Time is marching forward, and while I did take notes during the trip, many details were not recorded and are slowly fading from memory. A decade has passed and I would like to record this experience before more is lost. Moving forward, this time, I have a better understanding of my limitations and how to manage them, so I will NOT try to get through this in the span of 30 days! Instead, they will be spread out and made when I am able.

When I think back on the trip, it was a very intense immersive plant experience. Sure, I knew a healthy number of the plants that I saw, but there were also MANY, MANY more that were new to me and many still that were never identified. Some days were particularly botanically heavy, and I think those days may stand out for most of you reading here. However, because I am doing this in chronological order, you can expect some slow days. I thought Day 10 would be one of them, but when I looked at the image files, it turned out I had lots to pull from. Too much, in fact!

Day 10: Dominica — Tarantulas, Tillandsia, & Rainbows, Oh My!

December 16, 2009.

A quick recap: The first few days of our stay in Dominica were spent getting situated. My grandmother, Scylla Trail was born here just after the turn of the last century (my mother was born in Barbados). For various personal reasons this was the island I wanted to get to know most closely, so we’d be staying there for the bulk of the trip: 3 weeks. The pace of life is slower there than in North America, bureaucracy is messy, and the terrain is harder to navigate, so building in extra time for down days was critical. Never mind that we’d be staying during the Holiday season AND there was a big election going on that was occupying everyone’s attentions. There was a mixup with the owners of the little cottage we had booked, so the first few days were spent being moved from location-to-location. We did not have a car nor the ability to drive one even if we did, making travel around the island complicated and sometimes painfully slow. Dominica has very little in the way of public transportation and there were many days when the system in place felt as if it required a special decoder ring to make sense of it. I only just started to understand how things worked by the end of the third week! The terrain is intensely steep, and the weather is HOT and HUMID. I’m sure all of this will be mentioned repeatedly as I write the stories of my time there.

The view from our deck each morning, looking over the buildings of Roseau and out on the Caribbean Sea. Hard to imagine that in 2015, hurricane Maria swept through at a catestrophic category 5 and blew off all of those roof tops. ALL OF THEM.

By day 10 of the trip (nearing a week on the island) we were finally in the little cottage we had booked in Morne Bruce, an area that sits high above the capital city of Roseau. Now that we were sorted, we decided to walk down the mountain to see about purchasing passes that would allow us access to all of the national parks on the island. Of course, that was not as easy as it was supposed to be and turned out to be a day-long slog in the punishing midday heat, dragging our overheated bodies from one place to another only to be told again and again, “Not here, but maybe try this other place.” It seemed that since it was mostly cruise ships purchasing passes, they were no longer available for individuals where the guidebook said they were sold. Worse still, when people directed us to each new location, they did not know addresses or street names. Directions were vague, “Go to the bridge, then turn right at the street with the green fence and walk until you find a wooden building.” Eventually we found the wooden building that was to be our dead end. By the directions given I thought it was right around the corner. It turned out to be miles away! Asking for directions in Roseau often went down in the same way. Nobody knew street names and knew places by old landmarks that were no longer existence. Not that an exact address would have helped much since this was before I had a smartphone and the paper maps I had weren’t great. Another of our tasks for the day was to procure a local cellphone so that we could make arrangements for drivers or make other basic, necessary local calls. Thankfully we were successful in this venture, as this phone would prove to be essential and on more than one occasion I found unexpected uses such as calling my friend Celia to ask if it was safe to swim in a particular river (it always was) or if we were standing at the right place to catch the pubic bus/van (it never was). The phone was NOT useful when we got lost in the jungle without reception or when we needed a last minute ride anywhere. But those are stories for other days.

Needless to say, much of Day 10 felt like running in sweaty circles trying to find a place that didn’t exist to get passes that also didn’t seem to exist. Even still, despite the feeling that I was a sweaty mouse stuck in an illogical maze, I was able to take in some pretty amazing sights, food, and plants. Here’s what we ate for lunch at a little shop called Fish n Tings.

This is a fairly typical West Indian dish and I could devour those fried plantains whole right now. I was able to eat so many fantastic plantain and bananas in Dominica. Here in Toronto we are fortunate to have access to an array of interesting bananas, but none like the ones I had in Dominica.

After lunch, we pressed on, along Valley Road past the Bath Estate area. I kept hoping to find this magical place selling seedlings, but it didn’t happen. My other favourite thing about this sign are the wonderful village names. Wotten Waven sounds like somewhere in the Lord of the Rings universe.

See this garden larger here.

This garden had two of the only agaves I saw on the whole island. It rains a lot in Dominica and much of the island is rainforest, so this side of the island, which is in the dryer, rain shadow of the mountains, is one of the few places where they would do well.

Celosia and a type of small marigold (Tagetes).

There was forest in the distance behind the main road (look at those vines), and my friend told me about finding boas on the road fairly often. I was very disappointed to have not seen one on this trip. I love snakes and would have loved to have seen even one. I’m sure more than one saw me! Unfortunately, I have a bad record of looking for snakes on trips, even going so far as to hire a herpetologist guide, and never finding any.

Here’s a bus stop that I could have found. The question that remains is, When does the bus stop here?

Note that while on first glance this tree appears to be decorated for the Holiday season, it is actually decorated for the election and represents one of the parties. I forget now which one it was.

The supposed location of the national park site passes, which proved to be useless. At this point we turned around and walked back into the city for refreshments before braving the long trek hauling too much camera gear and tired bodies back up the mountain road.

On the way back, we passed through the Dominica Botanic Garden, which is more of an arboretum and public meeting space than a garden. But still, there was lots to see and I regret that we did not spend more time that first day. We were tired and promised to return, and while we did walk past several times, we were always coming or going somewhere, too hot and tired to make a thing of it. When we initial booked our stay, I believed our little cottage was situated directly across the street from the botanical garden. I fantasized about waking at dawn and following breakfast with a stroll in the garden at the start of most days. And then, on that first day, when we drove into the capital city of Roseau, passing the botanical garden and heading further and further up the mountain, I realized that I had not paid attention to topography! Our cottage wasn’t across the street; it was directly above. Way, way above! I’ve told this story once before, and will likely repeat it. My naiveté around topography was a running theme of this trip. The entire island is up, and when we finally left by ferry, three weeks later, I was able to see just how steep it actually is.

But I digress, we did not make it back to the garden, but when the entire island is an Eden, it hardly feels as though you are missing out. Happening upon these large, fallen tillandsias on the grounds of the garden was a highlight of the trip. As I picked up the plants I couldn’t help but think about how old these might be and how miraculous to be holding them in my hands. So many gorgeous plants just sitting there on the ground like they are no big deal. I have a long love affair with all epiphytes (plants that grow on trees), one that I am coincidentally rediscovering this year as I have been mounting tillandsia onto cork bark and attempting to grow them again in my dry home (with the aid of a well-placed humidifier). Seeing these photos again brings back such a wonderful and meaningful moment in my life. I had seen epiphytic plants in other countries on other trips, but nothing like what I saw in Dominica. That steamy, jungle environment created the perfect condition and I rarely saw a tree that didn’t have a little something extra growing on it.

Holding up a dead tillandsia flower spike/sceptre.

The first roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) plant spotted on the trip. I won’t waste tie with it here as I saw much better examples elsewhere.

Epiphytic ferns growing on the trunk of a palm (Attalea butyracea).

One of the things that stood out to me were the intense tree roots, some so expansive that they reminded me of flying buttresses.

We found a large bunch of bananas on the ground and Davin picked it up to judge the weight. It was SUPER heavy, which gave us a new respect for the work that banana growers do. Never mind the interesting insects they encounter. It is only now, a decade after the trip, that I learned about the Antilles Pinktoe (Caribena versicolor), an amazing tarantula species that lives arboreally (in trees), often in banana trees, on the island of Martinique, which is just one island over. I’ve done some research and while nothing absolutely confirms it, I am fairly certain that this species is on Dominica as well. If only I had been able to see one, it may have changed my opinion of big spiders a lot sooner. We did see a tarantula on this trip, although not in Dominica. It was brown and while I was as interested as much as I was fearful of this creature, I never could have imagined that nearly a decade later, at age 45, I would develop a sudden and rather obsessive interest in tarantulas of the world. Unlike the brown one our friend found in his pants in St. Lucia, Caribbean versicolor species is phenomenal to see and reminds me of a very strange, pink teddy bear! They have thick and wiry pink hair (called setae) and a greenish/blue carapace. They jump and prance in the most unusual way. And as the common name suggests, they have pink toes! If only I had know to check the crevices of the many banana trees I saw on the trip.

We did get to see this really cool Bumblebee Millipede (Anadenobolus monilicornis)! In fact, we saw quite a few large millipedes on this trip and on every island.

Heading back uphill toward the little cottage, we passed this Frangipani that eventually became a landmark on the trip.

And a double rainbow, bringing colour to the sad occasion of a funeral at the Government Cemetery. We saw rainbows and double rainbows EVERY SINGLE DAY in Dominica. It was magical.

Colourful crotons (Codiaeum spp.) were a common sight and often used as hedges.

A large swath of Tradescantia spathacea. I don’t even think this was connected to a house. I believe this was just at the side of the road.

And lots of sweet potato vine growing on the side of the road. I saw a lot of edibles in places just like this. The mineral-rich, volcanic soil is very giving.

Can you spot and identify the common tropical houseplants growing here? The Heliconia psittacorum (a tropical ginger seen to the right) were everywhere in Dominica, growing both cultivated and wild.

The view looking south as we approached the place where we were staying.

Sunset on the Caribbean Sea taken from the patio. A colourful event that we tried to catch as often as we could.

The last two images of the day, captured from the glassless windows of the cottage. Left: looking toward Scottshead and Right: turned outward to the Caribbean sea.

Goodnight day 10.

Read day 9 here.

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