Dominica exposed me to new Caribbean experiences. Whereas other islands were heavily touristed, and offered beaches, yachting and other water activities to tourists, Dominica had little to offer in that way. The beaches were black and often rocky, you could sail to or away from the main port, but could not go dancing in amongst islets, and although there was a lot of challenging diving, there was little for the amateur snorkeller to get excited about. It meant that Dominica was for its inhabitants still, a richly agricultural and fish based society, and any tourists that did come in were still richly rewarded for searching out its gems. They lay in its interior, in the thick largely unbroken forests that clad the two main mountain ranges, split by the Layou River.
I visited one of these during a day trip from the hotel. Left much to my own devices during the last weekend, I was trying to go trekking with a local guide, but he had to work that weekend at his bar, so I hurriedly organised something through the Garraway. It all looked horrendously expensive for one person, but I managed to get in with a bunch of Guadeloupe weekend trippers, a family of four, and I set off with an old bearded gent in his minibus taxi. The route followed the west coast further than I had been before, to Dublanc, almost by the northerly town of Portsmouth. We turned inland and went through a similar garden environment that I had seen with Andrew. We walked down through one of these gardens, the guide telling us of all the names of the trees we passed by. We crossed a fresh stream, he placed new rocks across to act as stepping stones and took delight in steering the two nubile daughters and their equally shapely mother across, and leaving the father and me to our own devices. The light dappled in amongst the tree ferns and huge tropical hardwoods as we walked, and in the occasional breaks, soft fruit bushes such as strawberries and raspberries were growing. We entered a dark gorge which came to an abrupt end where the river toppled down a fifty foot fall. The spray played in the light and made rainbows in the sky, the rush of water filled our ears. Below us, yellow and white land crabs played hide and seek in the rocks, and numerous birds darted in the gaps between the canopy.
Our next stop was a reserve, where two of the rarest parrots in the world are being protected. The Sisserou, which appears on Dominica’s flag, and the Jaco were not particularly abundant since they only occurred on the island, but with plantations and forestry, their ranges have been severely curtailed. In the Northern Forest Reserve, near the curiously named Syndicate Estate, there is a special protection area. We walked along an easy trail through the rainforest to a point which dramatically looks out over a deep valley, thickly cloaked in trees. We stared for ages at the scene, and saw some eagles, a few smaller birds, a couple of inquisitive hummingbirds which got close up to us before darting back into the undergrowth, but no parrots. The guide tried to cheer us along, like the Magic Eye artist who knows you will see it in the end, but we were unlucky. At one point a noisy flock of Jacos could be heard as they flew over the canopy above us but we never got a glimpse of their bright plumage.
At a second viewpoint we were equally unlucky, but got an idea of how patient you had to be to see endangered species.
On an old dead tree in front of the view point, along a branch that stretched out over the gorge, were small planks of wood nailed in. A scientist from Jersey Zoo spent nearly half a year perched in a small hide at the end of these steps, day after day and night after night counting and observing the parrots in the valley. Below him a near sheer drop of three hundred feet followed by canopy, bush and hard ground. There is some devotion needed to get through that, but I was sure the sightings of the birds and particularly observing and increase in their numbers was the just reward.