Adventures with Dr. Birdy*: Emerald Pool After Hurricane Maria

 

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An exposed Emerald Pool in multiple shades of green on March 15, 2018.

After my more challenging hikes of the past two weeks, to Freshwater Lake and Middleham Falls, I didn’t even bother with boots during my next adventure with Dr. Birdy. This time, we were heading to the Emerald Pool, another renowned eco-site in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, in the heart of Dominica. I anticipated that my all-terrain sandals would be suitable for our shorter “walk”on this popular track

Although not a challenging trek in my estimation, our day would be a full one.  We were going to visit with longtime friend Mark Steele of Castle Bruce on the east coast. He is the proprietor of the former Beau Rive Boutique Hotel which had sadly been destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

As we were heading up the Imperial Road to cross the interior of the island, I chose to meet Dr. Birdy  at the  convenient location of the National Bank of Dominica “on the flat” at Canefield. He is the most punctual person I know on Dominica, so I left my apartment extra early to make sure that I would be on-time for our rendez-vous.  I caught a bus to Canefield from Roseau and was at our meeting point well ahead of schedule.  Or so I thought. I had no sooner left the bus and situated myself in the shade of the bank’s entrance than who should drive up but the man himself!  As I entered Birdy’s vehicle, we  laughed openly about being early as we didn’t want the other to wait!

We were still chuckling when we commenced our climb in to the mountains along the Imperial Road.  Birdy explained that he had found a nail in his tire and had taken it  to a shop first thing  for the repair.  It was fixed right away. Hence, his reason for the early arrival. I told him that I  feared lateness, and could never do that to my friend who has always been ready to roll right on time for all adventures in Dominica over the past 21 years!

As we continued in to the higher elevations, I noted that the road was good in most places, with the exception of the Antrim area (below Springfield), which had become increasingly problematic over the years. The rest was relatively smooth and the views of mountains both north and south were simply gorgeous.

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Northerly view from the Imperial Road, near Pond Casse. Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak is in the distance. There is a Jaco Parrot in the tree on the left.  Can you spot it?

It was a perfect day in paradise, and  there were occasional moments when it was almost possible to forget that a category 5 hurricane had demolished the entire country six months earlier.  But there were constant reminders: scenes of my beloved Springfield Plantation in a now dilapidated state; broken bridges; bent guard rails; eroded pavement; and ubiquitous landslides in the higher elevations brought it all home to me.  Nevertheless, I was thankful to be on the Nature Island once again, and to appreciate Birdy’s repetitive affirmation that: “Nature is resilient.”

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Morne Trois Pitons from the Pond Casse round-about on March 15, 2018. Dr. Birdy chats with a man  who is waiting for a ride . Birdy’s tour bus is parked on the left.

As we headed in a southeasterly direction from Pond Cassé and then turned east (left) at the junction of the Castle Bruce Road, we noted once again the extreme destruction of the forest caused by Hurricane Maria.  Some areas looked to be “burnt” but it was more likely that the trees were stripped and the ground was very exposed without dense tree coverage.  As well, it was evident that Maria’s catastrophic winds wiped out some ridges and valleys, while on the opposite hills, the devastation was not quite as extreme.

When we arrived at the Emerald Pool parking lot and Visitor Centre, it seemed that no one else was there yet.    After a little snack, we proceeded on the trail, noting portions that were stilled closed as they had either not yet been cleared of debris or fallen trees or had experienced landslides.

In the stillness of the morning, Birdy did hear Jacos but we did not actually see any at this time. In this portion of Dominica’s wilderness, the extensive damage caused by Maria was clearly evident.  Massive trees, especially stately Chatannayé (sha-tan-ney) with expansive buttresses but shallow roots felled, broken branches everywhere, spindly saplings, plentiful vines,  lack of canopy, regrowth at ground level, varying shades of green at the now-exposed Emerald Pool made it hard to believe that I was at the same site that I had visited dozens of times over my almost 20 years on Dominica.

Magical View
Emerald Pool’s open exposure from the Viewing Platform offers more than one shade of green for the visitor’s pleasure six months after Hurricane Maria.

As we neared the viewpoint for the cascade, Birdy spotted a Rufus Throated Solitaire and I actually saw a Plumbeous Warbler, once he had pointed it out to me.  These sightings prompted Birdy to go  back to his vehicle to get his binoculars. Meanwhile, I sat on a bench overlooking the Emerald Pool, and poked around the area nearby.  The distant view of Morne Neg Mawon (aka Laurent) took my breath away, as I had never seen it so clearly from this vantage point.  But at the same time, I was saddened by the stripped foliage and barren tree trunks wrapped in climbing vines, even though their altered appearance offered a changed beauty.

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Morne Neg Mawon, aka Laurent as seen from the Emerald Pool Trail on March 15, 2018.

When Birdy returned, we paused for a while directly in front of the Emerald Pool on the well-worn stone path nearby.  For about 20 minutes, we watched a Purple-Throated

Purple Throated Carib Humming bird Photo Credit
Purple Throated Carib Hummingbird. Photo Credit:  Charles J Sharp.

Carib Hummingbird flit about the rocky “wall” to the left and just above the pretty cascade.  Birdy said that it was foraging for food for its fledgling (juvenile), that must have been nestled in a crevice on the ledge.

Then we continued on the section of the trail that is known as an ancient “Carib Trace.”  It also intersects there with Segment 5 of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT), which was not cleared at that time. There had been landslides and rock slides along this section, so we proceeded carefully, admiring the distant vistas as we gently ascended the damaged pathway.  After a few minutes, we stopped at a covered picnic table to have a snack.  While there, Birdy pointed out a huge ‘Day-Flying Moth’ that was not readily visible in the shadow of the wooden beams of the shelter’s roof.  It took me a few minutes to see it, with Birdy laughingly and patiently waiting for me to spot it.  He definitely has the visual acuity of a bird!

The trees in the Emerald Pool area were no match for Hurricane Maria. Photos taken about six months after the catastrophic storm:

After our refreshments in the forest, we carried on to the second look-off: it took in the Belle Fille River Valley and opposite slope from our vantage point.  Hurricane Maria had certainly wreaked havoc there.  The trees were broken and seemingly leafless, but according to Birdy, in time, the exposed saplings beneath the dead wood would certainly rise and the verdant forest would be born again.

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The upper Belle Fille valley, as seen from the look-off at the Emerald Pool on March 15, 2018.

A short distance further along the trail, we arrived at the third look-off and my favourite view of the area: in the distance, to the east, St. David’s Bay on the Atlantic and the Castle Bruce environs were waiting to welcome us!

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The distant Atlantic, St. David’s Bay and the Castle Bruce area as seen from the look-off at the Emerald Pool on March 15, 2018.

As we drove away to reunite with our mutual friend Mark Steele and spend an afternoon in his  congenial company on the east coast, I felt so grateful to experience another of Dominica’s stunning sites.  Not even a hurricane could destroy my passion for the extraordinary Nature Island!

*Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

 

 

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Roseau in Recovery: the Celebration of Carnival 2018

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Not even a hurricane could stop the magical, fun-filled Carnival in Dominica!

To look at photos of Roseau in the days immediately

following Hurricane Maria and to see it five months later, one would definitely become a believer in

miracles. A massive clean-up campaign resulted in clearance of gigantic trees, upturned vehicles, dislodged hydro poles, mountains of galvanized roofing metal, and other debris. You can see some ‘after Maria’ photos of the capital city here.

 

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Despite post-Maria devastation, upper level porches provided shelter from sun and rain during Carnival 2018.

Despite the ongoing repairs and clean-up of Roseau five months after the catastrophic cyclone, Carnival celebrations in mid-February offered residents and relief workers a temporary respite from the stress of the recovery process. Of course, visitors were also very welcome to join in the fun, as some lodging was by then available in the city, particularly at the Fort Young Hotel.

J’ouvert (pronounced joo-vay) celebrations did not start until 6 a.m. this year, as a curfew was in place during the festivities for security and safety reasons following the hurricane. Normally, the Carnival Monday streets would come alive in the pre-dawn darkness with revelers and traditional lapo-kabwit (goat-skin drum) bands from 4 a.m, waking up the whole city to join in the fun. This year, a smattering of enthusiasts braved the early morning rain (including me!) but there were relatively few people (compared to other years) on the streets until the hi-fi trucks came out around 9 a.m.  As the skies cleared, the popular ‘Signal Band’ had the crowd hopping, chipping and jumping on the damp streets!

 

 

The weather finally cleared up later that Carnival Monday morning.  Although the crowds further diminished for a brief time (likely to have some breakfast like me!), I was there to catch the first round of the  parade of ‘Traditional Groups’.  While the overall festivity was a scaled-down version of other Carnivals, it was still a thrill to watch the colour, pageantry and spectacle on the streets of Roseau.

For the duration of Carnival Monday morning, I situated myself under an overhead veranda (typical of Tropical Victorian Architecture).  From my shelter from sun and

 

 

 

rain, I watched the parade unfold. Plentiful, traditional Sensay,  certainly created a sensationally scary mood, in keeping with the authentic Carnival Spirit. To read more about the origins of Mas Domnik, please refer to a post that is found in my Ti Domnik Tales blog by clicking here.

I also enjoyed the school bands, but did empathize with them when they occasionally ran for cover during very heavy showers. But that didn’t end the parade.  As soon as the rain stopped, they were back ‘pon de road‘ again!

 

Other groups on the road on Carnival Monday added immensely to the colour and spectacle, while placing smiles on the faces of those of us who waited out the wet weather!

Rain or shine, participating in Mas Domnik is very fine!

 

 

By the time lunch break came around,I headed back to my apartment for a good rest.  But that was not the case with most people.  The T-shirt bands came out on the road and hundreds of people enjoyed the festivities until 6 p.m., as per the curfew order due to post-hurricane conditions in Roseau.

On Carnival Tuesday morning, I took my time getting up, got a ride down to the main road from my neighbour so that I could walk the lovely dogs that I fostered at the Pointe Michel Quarry.  Then I took a bus from there in to Roseau for the Costume Parade.

Again, the weather was damp to start, but I didn’t mind as I chatted with others who patiently  waited for the parade to start with eager anticipation.  Given the extraordinary circumstances following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, it was commonly understood that all events would be somewhat different this year.  It really didn’t matter to participants or spectators, as we all knew that whatever we experienced during this annual celebration would be well worth it!

I took great delight in being able to run up to Parade participants, take their photos and wish them well. It was a huge thrill to actually greet and hug this year’s Calypso Monarch, Daryl ‘De Bobb‘ Bobb. He is a very talented calypsonian, who has placed in the finals for many years and finally captured his well-deserved crown!  You can hear one of his winning songs at the Calypso Monarch Finals 2018 here.

Although there was no Miss Dominica pageant following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, last year’s Carnival Queen, Jade Romaine (Miss Dominica and Miss Caribbean Culture 2017) graciously and enthusiastically accompanied Carnival King  2018,’De Bobb’ on the parade circuit for this year’s festivities.

King and Queen
Carnival King, Calypso Monarch 2018, Daryl ‘De Bobb’ Bobb and Carnival Queen, Miss Dominica 2017, Jade Romaine led the Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade around the streets of Roseau.

The Bwa Bwa (Stiltwalkers)are one of my  perennial Carnival highlights. I am always amazed by their rhythmical agility and uncanny balance. I am aware that it does take considerable hours of practice to perfect this talent, as I used to watch the AfriKulture Stiltwalkers working at their amazing balancing and dancing acts in the Botanical Gardens for weeks before this annual event.

 

As the day heated up after its cool start, the costume bands definitely became hotter and hotter.  While I did not stay for the whole day, there were hoards who preferred  to fête (party) later that afternoon for the last lap. However, I did get a good taste of the bacchanal!

 

Even though Dominica’s Carnival 2018 is now a sweet memory, I will not despair.  It is definitely in my plans to be on-island for the 2019 edition, God-willing and weather-permitting.  If I were you, I would do the same!

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‘Amnesia’ provided plenty of distraction to forget about the stresses of Maria, at least for a little while.

For further information about Mas Domnik,  the ‘Real Mas’, contact the Dominica Festivals Committee by clicking here.