We saw where the road had been completely wiped away by the slip, and carefully stepped over several wide crevasses where the tarmac had been shredded by the force of the mass movement. We veered off the road to the left, across some slimy soil. I had no walking boots with me, my ordinary shoes were good but the huge wads of clay stuck to them now got rid of any grip I had. The soil was soft, sodden and gave way with every footstep we took. Since we had left directly from work, the pale cream trousers I wore were smeared with dark red soil and coated in a thousand sticky seeds. We eventually found our best vantage point, having clambered over several more stress cracks (several feet deep – we would have broken ankles if we had stumbled into one) that were covered in a thick mat of vines.
Despite this the vista was incredible. The mountain landscape of deep valleys and high narrow ridges was all around, still coated in that lush green veneer, except in one place. For half a mile, it was as if someone had taken a huge butterknife and sliced down into a hillside. A sheer cliff of brown soil, about two hundred feet high had been left exposed when the whole hillside had given way. A classic rotational slip, the remains of the hill had crumpled up in the foot of the valley. The landslide must have happened in one sweet movement as several fully grown trees survived on the pile in the valley bottom, their roots still in the original soil. The transported hillside had dammed one of the valleys below and a 2 mile lake had formed behind it. A milky lake had also formed on the other side, in our valley. The old shape of the hill could be seen in cross section from our vantage point, above it trees grew as if the land was whole. Over four years some moss had started to grow on the revealed cliff face, but it was far too unstable and severe to support much life, and there were examples where more recent mudslides had cleaned off another piece of hill. Indeed there seemed to be an active slide to our right, probably from the heavy rain of the past couple of days, which was obvious from the bright orange smear of soil down the side; it was probably this slide that had caused the smaller lake to turn milky.
Amazingly, we saw a herd of goats picking their way up the sides of the scar, with incredibly sure footedness they were nibbling at any scraps of greenery on the face. The whole scene was astounding, and Andrew told me how people down the Layou Valley, which was what this river fed in to, were worried that the land could fail again and instead of a pile of sediment, the broken dam would allow the lake to drain straight down to the sea, flooding everything in its path. But he thought the slip had wedged so firmly in the gorge that it was unlikely to fail in such a devastating way, instead the overflow would gradually erode the dam and control the release of water.
The sun was beginning to set, amongst the haze, curious vertical wisps of cloud played in the valleys and across the hills. The gathering dusk brought out some vociferous creatures, the noise of the crickets grew, and frogs started croaking everywhere. A strange gargle came from the mountain chicken, not a bird but a sort of tree frog, a crapaud, a delicacy in Dominica ( I had tasted its legs, coated in lime, a few days before). All our talk stopped and we listened to the voices of the night. Andrew whispered that he just loved to come up into the forest at this time and spend some time alone. He was a rather private man, and I felt incredibly privileged to share one of his most special places. The changing light, the fabulous scenery, including the powerful landslip scar across the way, showed me a new side to Dominica, one which made me think, I could live here.
The light was failing and we had to get back up under the forest canopy to the car. We made slow progress across the slippery soils until we reached the road, and then retrod the footsteps we had made on the way down. Well almost. At one point, Andrew jumped three feet backwards onto me, I had to catch him to avoid us both tumbling to the ground. I knew instinctively what it was but he didn’t say a word, he just lifted a large leaf with his stick. Below a medium sized boa constrictor was curled up. Andrew said he put his foot down and felt it wobble in the way it could only be skin. The boa, probably terrified that it had been trodden on, appeared unharmed and stayed rigid. I was quite glad when we reached the relative safety of his car.