Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chaudiere & the Indian River

I was a bit sceptical about the promise, but got ready at 8:00 o’clock, just in case. Well he did not disappoint us; his guidance was much more professional and informative. He showed us his knowledge of botany, made us taste some fruits which he harvested on the spot with his meshedi. It is a scary sight, these men with different sized meshedis running around in the forests, but it is part of their lives, they eat as they go along. From lemon grass to coconuts, papayas, mangoes and cocoa grow in the wild. Bananas, pineapples are grown by the villagers. Apparently Dominica’s main crop had been bananas lately, which are hard to tend. Cobra showed us the blue plastic bags covering each bundle of banana like a cocoon, which would take nine months to mature. Each banana plant (not tree as we were told many times) gives one crop, then it is cut so that a new shoot would take hold.

The most interesting plant for me was the pineapple; it grows on short stems with thin, long and gray leaves in the ground, like a vegetable. We saw some miniature pineapples that looked like pine cones with a crown, which were to mature in some time. For Al of course, the main attraction was the cocoa fruit. Cobra cut a yellow fruit from a tree, looking like an overgrown pine cone, rough and prickly on the outside. He cut it open, and exposed a bundle of stones thinly covered with a slimy white substance. He gave a stone to each, and instructed to suck on, not bite. The white substance is slightly sweet/sour, but tasty with a little aroma. The cocoa comes from the stone, after a long process of drying/roasting/grinding etc. Cobra confessed that he used to suck on a whole bunch everyday on the way to school. Cocoa is good all-around it seems.

We were also lucky to see two parrots flying in the canopy of the rain forest. Apparently two kinds of parrots were only found in Dominica, which is the reason for its being the insignia on their flag. Cobra indicated that the parrots were now protected by the state, since the poachers diminished their population selling them as pets around the world.

The way to Chaudiere was quite scary and bumpy, since most of it was wild country. After half an hour of driving us in the van, he made us walk down a path to the river rapids, which formed a small pool at a turn. It had heavily rained the night before, so the path was kind of muddy, but tolerable until we had to cross over some rocks in water to get to the pool. Al and I changed into our wet-shoes, which had better grip, and we managed with some caution, since the water was running really fast. It was also important to be careful on where to step on and what to hold on to, yellow/black fierce looking big crabs were everywhere, on land and water. After the hot ordeal of reaching the water, jumping from the cliff (only Cobra) or getting in on all fours by holding on to the boulders, was very refreshing. We spent half an hour in the water, half submerged because we were too scared to go to the deep area, which was whirling around like a washing machine among the rocks. Then it was time to climb back, the route of which was shorter than the ascent, but steeper, with natural steps formed out of some roots sticking out of the ground.

When we returned to Cobra’s office to pay, we were much happier than the day before. Cobra then arranged for us the Indian River tour, and left. While we were waiting in the office for the guide, a scary looking Rastafarian came in, who turned out to be only guide available. He mumbled his name as Ron or something like that. I guess I appeared to have shown some displeasure, since the secretary whispered if I would prefer someone else. I declined, and said that he was fine. The secretary gave me two free passes for drinks at the bar, at the only stop on the river, and off we went. Just the two us and Ron.

The vegetation on that slow moving and very shallow river was really different. It was lined with some incredibly tall trees, whose exposed roots turned into curving branches on the ground. According to Ron they were at least two hundred years old. Ron also pointed out the different species of birds and iguanas, as well as gave the names of some other trees. He kept us entertained until we reached the bar with no walls, at a clearing in dense vegetation. Some of the chairs were crudely caved from tree trunks, but very comfortable. I tried the drink “dynamite”, which was recommended by Cobra’s secretary. It turned out to be very sweet and spicy, not my usual thing, but fun.

It is such a pity to see the primitive state of the roads leading to the wonders of nature, so interesting for the visitors, but hardly accessible. Cobra blamed the politicians for the bad repairs of once better roads on the mountains, while highways being built by the Chinese (probably as a part of some foreign aid), all the equipment and labourers imported. The reason for not using local labour force; politics. Does not make sense, but probably true. Cobra explained that the guides got together to organize their business, bringing security to their area; and they would probably have to deal with the roads themselves, which were important for them. It seems that they are making enough money from the visiting yachts, by their professional yet warm and humorous service. However, Cobra hinted some complaints about the young generation, who were not taking things as seriously as themselves, giving Robert as an example. He said the young guys were usually concerned with their appearance, and would not jump into water to preserve their braided hair etc. Apparently he is keeping a tight leash on his staff, since he tries to get feedback from the customers. The impression I got from Cobra s that he is sleek, as the name implies. On the whole Dominica experience is very interesting and heartwarming.

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