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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org