Monday, November 12, 2012

Caribbean - PART THREE


Dominica, Continued: The Hike to Sari Sari Falls

As I left off yesterday, our drive from Roseau took about an hour, through tight switchbacks, rain forest, mist-shrouded peaks, and past small clusters of beaten houses of cinder block and tin roofs, to a little stand made of wood, no more than 6 feet across, with a few bottles of liquor, beer and coffee.

Our guide was a Rastafarian named Jeremiah. He is a Dominican who has never been further than Antigua his entire life. With his infectious optimism, depth of knowledge, and sense of humor, he explained things along the way: the little memosa, that I remember seeing as a kid in elementary school, the ones that close up when you touch them. The bay tree over there. Fresh bay leaves, hanging in clusters. Breadfruit tree, about 50-feet tall: the food Captain Cook tried to keep alive in pots on the Bounty to feed slaves. A small fern that grows along the ground called tattoo fern. Jeremiah put it on his forearm and slapped it, and there was the impression of the fern, having deposited some whitish powder. I tried it: nothing. Jeremiah’s skin and mine are a fair bit different.

We passed an open area where a farmer’s cow was roped to a post, ducked under some foliage, and suddenly you could hear the sound of raging waters. It is a rain forest, of course, and true to its nature, it rained on and off the entire time we were in it. We descended down a steep twisting ravine, stepping over moss-covered rocks, tree roots, and pushing aside banyon leaves and vines. The going got steeper and some people, clearly not equipped for this kind of thing, began to hold up the group. 

We reached the river, and the section we were to cross was a boulder-lined rapids of fast-moving white water about 2-5 of feet in average depth. Jeremiah, barefoot, darted across the rocks , strung a rope, and we began crossing. Those of us in front, who were more agile, crossed easily. Some handled it better than others. It took a long while since nineteen people had to make the crossing. Older, heavier people had the hardest time. Finally everyone crossed, some falling and slipping on rocks but clinging to the rope. On the far side of the river, a couple of Jeremiah’s friends were cooking a stew over and open fire, for us on our return from the falls. 

Further down the river, we made more crossings, this time with no rope, but again, there were delays with people having different abilities. After the second crossing, some people dropped out, since reaching the far side meant scaling a steep vertical muddy path. After much of this climbing/walking/rapelling up and down sheer faces of jungle, some of it through waste-deep waters of the river, we reached Sari Sari falls after about 45 minutes. We were in the bottom of a roundish gorge that must have been 200 feet high. The falls spills out from the top of this vine-and-green-covered gorge like a tap into a bathtub, plunging down to the pool below. The depth, according to Jeremiah, is about 45 feet at the center, and gradually tapers off towards the edges of the 50-or-so foot wide pool. It seemed like a perfect swimming and diving spot, but our guide, reluctantly told those of who wanted a part of it that it was too dangerous. Oh well, his tour. But I’ll be back!

On the way back, the occasional rains that had come and gone, started getting heavier and heavier, and on the way back, it was clear the river had risen but about a foot. The final crossing, with the rope, was now a deluge of raging white water. In my mind I imagined the time it would take for all of us to cross now that the river had risen so much; if it was hard for some the first time, it would be nearly impossible now. But there was the mountain stew here instead, cooked by Jeremiah’s friends over the open fire in a big bubbling pot. 

We took a bowl, and got served a couple ladels of this wonderful mixture of pumpkin (which Jeremiah had bought from a stand on the way up the mountain pass while we waited), carrot, cabbage, herbs, flour dumplings in a coconut-cream-based broth. It was delicious. 

On the way back, we in front scaled the far bank, walked across the breadfruit and bay field, and waited for everyone else back at the little 6-foot stand. Since there were only two or three of us, plus a couple of people who had turned back earlier, we had time to kill. The stand was run by Donna, who offered locally grown hot coffee. I bought a cup, and it was very fragrant, with a hint of sweetness. I talked with Donna about where she lives, what she does, and the coffee and crops found here. Like all Domicans I met, Donna is a kind sweetheart.

One of the turn-around guests, who had the most time to wait at Donna’s stand, had been talking with three ganga-smoking locals carrying machetes. Farmers, just hanging out at Donna’s stand, sitting there talking, red eyes all cool. Machetes are the only real tool they need in place like this. The mixture of ganga and machetes seemed a bit disconcerting, but it was all good when one of the farmers brought back a fresh avocado from a tree, a piece of cinnaomon bark, a coconut with water in it, a cocao fruit. The beans are contained inside a whitish, grapefruit-tasting casing. As I said before, everything a human needs to eat and live healthy can be found in these forests, as long as you avoid the centipedes and wild boars.

Finally the rest of the group caught up and reached Donna’s hut. I was so happy that we had split up, because none of this was part of the “tour”: the farmers, the fruits of this land. The ride back brought us back down a different set of switchbacks and back-country roads, Jeremiah explaining all the while about herbs used for cancer, birth control, gastro problems. All of it found in the lush rain forest on Dominica. 

We stopped off at a turtle sanctuary on the way back, on the Atlantic side, and with the warning signs about the surf and the dangers of the beach, it made me wonder how the turtles chose a place like this to lay eggs. 

After an hour or so, we reached Roseau. The next day, I met Rihanna in Barbados. Who would have thunk.

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