|Life-altering travels, part III
||[May. 2nd, 2004|08:20 pm]
Braced for a long day of battling LIAT, I was in for a shock: both my flight from Grenada to Barbados and my flight from Barbados to Dominica were on time, handled efficiently, and my luggage arrived wherever and whenever I did. After an exhilarating view of the lush green landscape, I found myself (still delirious with exhaustion) standing bewildered, luggage in hand, in the Melville Hall airport on Dominica, on time. Found the car rental place without trouble – however, the car was not actually the one I had reserved and confirmed (this was exactly what had happened on Grenada – automatics stink in the mountainous countries of the Caribbean). After all the work I had put into specifically ensuring I would get what I wanted, I was not willing to shrug it off; “you can either bring me the ‘jeep’ I did reserve, or you can discount the price, either is acceptable to me”, I told the owner of the business politely but firmly. He had to think about it for a while, but agreed he’d drive the standard transmission ‘jeep’ (all SUVs and 4-wheel drive vehicles in the Caribbean are referred to as‘ jeeps’) to me at the hotel. To his credit, he put me in a vehicle that had everything working (unlike David’s car rentals on Grenada), and with good tires (unlike David’s car rentals on Grenada). It had only a quarter tank of gas; I decided I would set out to fill the tank while waiting for my Dad’s flight (due in at 1:37; it was now about 10 a.m.). A gentleman named Odysseus, of whom I was never sure whether he was with the rental car company or operating independently, and who had possibly the most impenetrable West Indian accent I had ever heard (most West Indians, when speaking to foreigners, enunciate a bit more carefully...the same sort of loudly-slowly we Americans adopt when speaking to foreign travelers) accompanied me. The gas station wasn’t far away, in the village of Marigot – but I had spent all of my cash on taxi rides and the exit tax from Grenada, and that was all the gas station owner was willing to accept. Odysseus told me that there was a ScotiaBank (my bank down here in the Caribbean) “in town”, and pointed; I thought OK, we’ll drive to town, get cash, come back and fill up. Odysseus did NOT tell me that “town” was the capitol of Roseau, all the way across the island, diagonally, almost 2 hours away. As I was not thinking very clearly, I drove the whole way, got cash, filled up, then realized I was only about 15 minutes away from the hotel; I drove up to it, enjoying the scenery the whole drive and checked in. Drove back to the airport (working desperately to keep from falling asleep behind the wheel), just in time for Dad’s flight – except Dad’s flight was delayed due to malfunction in San Juan until 5 (he told me later that they’d flown almost the entire way to Dominica, then had to turn around when one of the gauges malfunctioned – had flown all the way back to San Juan). I hung out talking with a local cab driver – very cool person named Bennett – and some of the Ross Medical School students (same shit, different curriculum). Ate local fish from the airport bar, drank a coke, needing the caffeine. Was pleased when my heart did not start palpitating. The rental car agent swapped cars while I was waiting (I got a miniscule discount for having filled up the tank). At last, my Dad’s flight arrived, and my Dad stood in the doorway, looking as bewildered as I had on arrival. I swooped down on him, stuffed him in the car, and we were off!
Dominica is lush. Green. Jungly. The trip across the island is a journey into the heart of primeval forests of the Jurassic, tree ferns and heliconias and rainforest hardwoods broken by rushing cataracts, tranquil emerald pools, sheer escarpments with a lofty view of the sapphire sea – the topography of heavy volcanism, a violent past. Even now, the smell of chlorophyll and water periodically gives way to the surprise tang of sulfur – one of the many fumaroles or geysers or steaming pools, heated by the island’s fiery heart. Dad is as amazed as I am, and we point out feature after feature to each other, thrilled and delighted. The last of the light was fading as we finally began descending into Roseau; as a final gift to us, Dominica presented us with a truly spectacular Caribbean sunset (in a part of the world famous for its sunsets).
That evening, discovering the magic of Papillote Wilderness Retreat for the first time, sipping one of the world’s finest rum punches, listening to the rain and the tree frogs singing. Superlative food. Callaloo soup, wonderful crisp garlic bread (marvelous local brown bread), elegant Creole fish. The rum punch ranked as the second best in the entire Caribbean. Space, and silence, and good company, talking about important life lessons learned in the last few years. The tree ferns nodded in the night breeze. My eyelids drooped; I have no memory of the hike up the stairs to the room. Slept 10 hours, and woke in the morning still feeling the ship rocking, missing the steward’s call to breakfast.
The food was consistently exquisite. Sat watching bananaquits flitting through the heliconias, purple throated Carib hummingbirds feeding on the many ginger lilies, tremblers and mountain whistlers singing in the banana and papaya trees. Explored the extensive botanical gardens, to where they blended in with the native rainforest. Soaked in the mineral pools (with wonderful structures for spigots: iguanas, fish spouting hot steaming streams of sulfurous and iron-heavy water) – they were filled with precipitated iron oxides (my skin is still stained orange), and smelled of blood and semen, sacred union. Like being part of the creation of all life, the magical duality of yin and yang, the First Garden. Wandered down into the village of Trafalgar; met some of the local folks going about their work. My dear Dad, trying to emulate the Dominican accent, sounded European. (There were a couple of German guests that my Dad was still able to speak with in German, which surprised him and impressed me.) Sacrafet? Muy bien. The patois added complexity to the language, and was a delight to listen to.
The days begin running together. Dad and I watch the fireflies come out in the garden, soaking in the topmost pool at twilight, drinking good rum. Too much time in Roseau – fresh market yields fresh coconut, papaya, cocoa fruit, pineapple (the really sweet variety, which I love, and can only get for about 2 weeks in January in St. Kitts). Find a great little lunch place on the waterfront called Cocorico Café; find bliss in the local goat cheese and tomato sandwich on a homemade croissant. Enjoy the botanical gardens in Roseau; take lots of photos of the school bus crushed by the baobab tree, my Dad climbing the banyan tree. Notice some of the really old architecture beneath the modern facades, and appreciate it. Discover the local drinking cocoa – astoundingly good, and unlike any cocoa I’ve ever had. Introduce my Dad to the evening scent of Angel’s trumpet (formerly Datura, now Bergmansia). Meet some of the staff and start hanging out with them – in particular, Andy, the chef (who is also a guide) proves to be very fine company. A damn fine chef, too. Dad and I ride in the rainforest tram, enjoying the beautiful canopy, the breathtaking gorge below us. Our guide is extremely knowledgeable, both in botany and local history. He and I talk biology for a while; it’s fairly exciting to me to be able to do so. That night, Andy invites us down to the village to listen to a local band perform. The band cancels, but we hang out dancing, watching the folks from the village limin’, playing dominoes (as seriously as mah jongg players). Dad feels privileged to be welcomed; I am happy to be in the middle of all this community (but am hit on left and right, and finally start to feel tired, holding people at arm’s length). I have a sweet, swaying dance with a one-legged gentleman named Christopher, who, when dancing alone, really gets into it, crutches flying in beautiful rhythm, a steel arc of danger zone.
The next day, Andy accompanies my Dad and I (on his day off) to Titou Gorge, which was one of the places I really, really wanted to go. It is indescribable. A dark cleft in the volcanic rock which we swim into, in silence; dark water below, sun-dappled emerald foliage overhanging the narrow opening above. My jaw is dropped in wonder. At the back of the chasm, a waterfall rushes in from the light above, in a perfect cerulean arc. It is flawless. It resonates with power. Gods are born in such places. My soul felt small, insignificant. I will not forget the awe I felt, nor the majesty, the quiet power of the place. One of the wonders of the world.
On the final day I have with my Dad in Dominica, I take him snorkeling – after all, one cannot come to the Caribbean without seeing the beauty of the undersea world. He isn’t comfortable in the water, but he’s game anyhow, and keeps his patience with a leaking mask, a maladjusted snorkel, various other problems that make him feel like he’s drowning. We get it sorted out, and I delight in showing him the healthy reef community, a short-horned cowfish, an eel, giant sponges and corals. We find the drop-off – from 15 foot reef to aching blue emptiness, beyond where the eye can follow. Oddly enough, Dad isn’t frightened to swim over this…but I am. Maybe it’s just because I know too much about what comes up from the deeps. Big things. Then again, it’s not like old Death-from-Below, the Great White, inhabits these waters. Tiger sharks can be found anywhere, but usually in the open channel, following the fast swimmers. We swim through Champagne Springs – underwater volcanism, releasing millions of tiny bubbles (and warming the water significantly). Perhaps not a good place to be in an earthquake. (Flash steamed snorkeler.) The last afternoon, we rest in the gardens, trying to take it all in, take it all with us. Dad starts a conversation with Anne, the founder and proprietor, about horticulture, works of passion, and Papillote. He somehow ends up with a commission to help her create marketing items worthy of the spirit of the place – something my Dad is uniquely qualified to do. I hope it means he’ll be able to return there. I hope I can, someday.
Flight home uneventful (mercifully). Back on St. Kitts, I meet the nicest immigration officer I’ve ever met in St. Kitts; we chat a while. My love of the Caribbean is restored; my faith in life and the future, likewise. I’m happy to be home. The cats mob me; Lucien eats a rubber band. Little bastard. I watch him all night, and finally he throws it up (thank god). There are 5 messages on my phone machine – one from a schoolmate who’s been flirting with me since first semester, 4 from people I met on my travels – now that feels nice! Captain Ahab called twice, and I wasn’t expecting him to call at all. Oxford called, too – called later, and caught me at my desk, chatted a while. Sweet man. The one person I expected (hoped) to call didn’t. Damn. My horoscope, which my Dad read to me in the car, said to stop daydreaming and get to work. I suppose that’s probably good advice.
Registered for class today, and got my official grades – HOT DAMN! I have no idea how I pulled it off, but I did: straight A’s. Did a little victory dance in the hall. With all that hell behind me, perhaps I can pull it off again this semester. Perhaps. If I don’t let myself get too distracted with daydreaming. Still so much to think about… Met up with a bunch of friends, and was genuinely happy to see them. Went to a friend’s house to watch the sunset this evening; didn’t feel like going back home alone, just yet. He regaled me with tales of his adventures in the Amazon, and Machu Picchu. Things I have studied in classes he saw in person. Places I have dreamed of he has stood in. My fierce desire to see Amazonia, and the jungles of South America, are rekindled. Damn, I wish that ecotourism company had gotten in touch with me in time for me to get the yellow fever vaccinations, so I could have seen Guyana. I would still love to go; perhaps someday. Maybe during the last week of my break, the 28th of August through September 4th (Kara will have had to go home by then, to prepare for the teaching year). It just seems like such a good time to go, while it’s inexpensive to fly in the Caribbean…
The world is a big place, and I want to see all of it!