Dominica has many faces and I was fascinated to see several of them. The most memorable was the one I saw when I decided to take a short hike down to a river. What was supposed to be a hot and humid day quickly turned into immense downpours and chilly winds and wispy clouds from the Atlantic. Undeterred, I decided to make the best of it anyway and find my way down to the river for a quick bath.
Walking up the switchbacks from the river down in the valley, he looked like he had been laboring all day and was finally taking a break, or perhaps ending his day. He was drenched as was I. It had been raining for most of the drive up the muddy road with patches of tarmac and concrete here and there, which only made the drive more difficult. Getting to the river for a quick swim was the only thing on my mind at that time – one of those obsessions that get a hold of you. In my flip flops, I slid and skid down the switchbacks when I came across him. He was holding a machete, which I later guessed he had been using to chop branches and trees for his shelter. “The river is fast and rising right now”, he cautioned, pointing at the small springs and trickles along the path with his tool. “I was just going down to the river and quickly come back”, I said, heeding his caution. He described the path, probably because I looked like a tourist, explained that there’s a false river pool and that you have to go around it to see the pool I was looking for. He looked concerned as I was about to head off. “See the river is going to rise and get quicker from all the water flowing into it”. It had mostly stopped raining but what he said made sense: all the water from the rain was still trickling into the river. “Just go in and quickly come out. Don’t cross the river to the other side. You will get stuck on the other side”.
The small shelter he was building was just off the path I was hiking, made of freshly cut logs from small trees, not even dried. Rope, or some vines perhaps, were holding it together. It didn’t even have walls yet. But then again, I didn’t know what the shelter was for anyway. Remnants of a fire remained, a tin pot sat next to the ashes.
I took his advice to heart and hurried down the trail, over a wooden bridge stretched over a stream, down a hundred stone steps, around the bend that he told me about, found a slow part of the river pool, jumped in for a quick bath, and all the way back up the trail to the car.
It was isolating and liberating at the same time – the feeling of being on an island surrounded by the endless ocean always makes me uneasy – naked and exposed perhaps. The grey skies and dense clouds didn’t help either. But it felt liberating to be walking barefoot (one of my flip flops had broken) through mud, over wooden bridges, dodging mountain crabs, swimming through a fresh river, feeling the cool wispy clouds against my skin, seeing the beautiful tropical flora, watching the clouds and fog float through the lush green valley below.