This is the story of how I fell head over heels in love with a country, its people and its way of life. It’s the story of how something amazing can disappear in the space of a few hours. It’s also the story of memories and how they can last a lifetime even when tangible things are gone.
Back in April 2015 I went on a quick three-night, four-day trip to Dominica. Dominica is one of the cheapest destinations to fly to from Barbados and the flight cost around BDS$300. (I’ve seen lower fares this year.)
After tons of searching I found the place I wanted to stay: Jungle Bay Resort & Spa. It was an eco-friendly retreat with treehouse-like wooden cottages and the nightly rate included meals and activities like hiking, yoga, community tours and daily spa treatments. Needless to say, my expectations were high.
But before I go any further in talking about my experience, notice I said it WAS an eco-friendly retreat. About four months after my visit, the resort was destroyed in landslides caused by Tropical Storm Erika. Jungle Bay is no more but the memories I made and the lessons I learned aren’t going anywhere.
So let’s start with day one. I had this brilliant idea of doing a hike the same day I arrived. I thought I knew what to expect with the roads but the twists and turns and hills were a bit more… extreme than I imagined. By the time I got to Jungle Bay, there was no way I was going anywhere, especially when it required going back part of the way I came. No worries though, Nancy, the manager, bumped up my massage to a full hour instead of the usual 30 minutes when she heard I was too tired for the hike. The seeds of my love affair with this place were already being sown.
With all the walking and climbing I had to do just to get around the property, sleep came quickly that night (and the two subsequent ones.) There was no TV, wifi or cell service in the cottage so the only thing I had to keep me occupied was my Kindle app. The smell of the bay oil-treated cottage and the crashing sounds of the Atlantic Ocean had me out like a light.
On day two I woke up to the the birds chirping loudly in the cedar and gomier trees which surrounded my cottage. I’d had a good night’s rest and I envisaged a day of relaxation as I got things going with a yoga class. It was a nice change to be up early and active. When I’m home I try to sleep in for as long as possible and then my focus is on working or getting out the door. Morning yoga following by reading in the ocean cabana was a welcome switch.
That afternoon I took a “casual” stroll to get a view of the Atlantic Ocean and take a dip in White River. I put casual in quotation marks because even though it was a leisurely walk, I still felt myself using muscles that I don’t usually use, either walking up or downhill or climbing over boulders to get to the river.
By then I was beginning to learn one of the lessons that Jungle Bay would teach me: Slow down. Way too often we rush through our days (and lives) running from one thing to the next without enjoying and appreciating much of it. I quickly learnt to take my time. Even the steepest hill can be climbed if you go slowly. And there’s nothing wrong with stopping to take in the view along the way.
Another day, another lesson. I woke up a little sore all over on the morning of my first real hike but I still went to my yoga class before taking on the hike to Sari Sari Falls. I’d read that the hike involved three river crossings and scrambling over boulders and it was classified as “moderate”. What that meant didn’t really hit home until I was actually doing it. Once again I was doing something slightly crazy that I never do at home.
Sari Sari taught me that it’s OK to accept help sometimes. On a normal day asking for help is a last resort for me but I accepted many a helping hand that day when I had to get up, down or around a boulder or navigate a difficult part of the trail. On a normal day I also like to do my own thing but I quickly learned to follow in the footsteps of those who went before me if I didn’t want to make a wrong step and break my ankle or fall. I don’t feel any less independent because of it. All that in a total of about three hours.
After lunch I went on a heritage tour which gave me an opportunity to get a peek into the lives of Dominicans. They say Dominica is the only island Columbus would recognise if he visited it today and I can see why. Residents hold fast to the traditional way of doing things. We visited the village of Petit Savanne to see a backyard rum still. I noticed the wide range of crops grown on the land and how women came to the river to wash their clothes. In Delices we learnt about the production of toloman or arrowroot, cassava and bay oil. We met the husband and wife team who operate the largest arrowroot production business in the country. The crop is ground mechanically but every other step in the process is done manually and the flour is exported to the nearby French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.Coming from a country where the advice is always to speed up, deploy more technology and modernise, this way of doing things was intriguing.
So now we’re at my fourth and final day which was a Saturday. That’s market day in many Caribbean countries and we drove for about an hour from Jungle Bay to Roseau Market. After three days in the rainforest I was excited about going to the capital, although not for the market which is supposedly a big draw. I just wanted to get a feel for the city and maybe buy a piece of jewellery or two.
The fruit and vegetable market was pretty busy with Dominicans buying a wide variety of local produce. If you’re unfamiliar with Caribbean fruits, it would be an interesting experience but for me, there was nothing out of the ordinary. After a quick stop at the Botanical Garden it was on to Trafalgar Falls. By now you’ve probably realised you can’t do anything in Dominica without including water. It took about ten minutes walk and a little boulder scrambling to reach the hot and cold pools.
After lunch in the capital it was off to the airport. Needless to say I was not ready to leave but I comforted myself with the thought that I could easily go back. Then Erika happened. Just like that my plans for making Jungle Bay my annual island retreat were gone. The land was left too unstable for the proprietor to rebuild. Plans are in place to open a new hotel elsewhere on the island. Whenever it opens, I’ll be there. Dominica’s simplicity gave me a new perspective on travel and life that will stay with me. Jungle Bay’s staff taught me that family often has little to do with blood. Who else hugs you at breakfast but family? the whole experience reminded to take things just a little easier