This is a continuation (part 5) to the most ridiculous travel day in my history of travelling. You may wish to read the previous entries:
“Is the zipline the only way to the villas?” I asked, trying to be diplomatic and keep the tremor out of my voice.
By now I was terrified, not of the ziplines but because yet another thing had gone utterly wrong.
I had no idea Lewis hated ziplines. I had no idea we had to take a zipline here to reach our accommodation for the night. I had no idea about anything. I suddenly felt like I’d made a massive, terrible mistake – again.
I had promised Lewis a calm, relaxing holiday (y’know after we were attacked by men with machettes in The Gambia) but so far this trip had been anything but relaxing and it was all my fault because I couldn’t research a damn thing.
“Yes.” Melissa responded calmly. “We used to have a road leading up to the villas but Hurricane Maria destroyed the bridges over the rivers. Ziplining is the only way to cross the rivers now.”
My heart sank.
Well at least that explained some of my confusion. On Google maps it showed there was in fact a road which lead all the way to the villas. It made sense why it showed this now if – up until two years ago – there had truly been a road there.
I gazed at the intense current as the river passed fitfully below us. I watched the breaking waves and listened to its powerful roars. Nature could be so destructive.
“You have to zipline.” Melissa was growing insistent. “The river is too high and dangerous to walk through. Ziplining is the only way to the lodges.”
Lewis shook his head. “No way. I’m not going on that.”
He started backing up and for a moment I thought he was going to turn around and head towards the car. Thankfully he didn’t. Perhaps he knew there was nowhere else to go.
Then he turned to me. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I…ehh.” I couldn’t believe he was putting me on the spot like this in front of our hosts who were both smiling away.
How could I possibly confess in front of them that I didn’t know about the ziplining? That I’d been too stupid to read-up on their lodge? Even if I didn’t look silly, it could look like I was accusing them of hiding the information from me.
“Are you afraid of heights?” I asked, deliberately shifting the focus off me.
“How have we been together for 6 years and I’ve never known that about you?”
Just then a fat raindrop landed on my head. Then another. Before I knew it, the skies had opened up and rain was all around us.
Our things! I wanted to cry as I turned to look at our luggage.
Our smaller items such as my camera and mobile had been bundled into a wet-bag. But my backpack was far from waterproof and it was housing my laptop, drone and other electrical appliances. Rain was cascading down, turning the pale grey bag as dark as the clouds.
Melissa and Andy exchanged exasperated glances.
“OK.” Melissa made eye contact with Lewis. “I can take you through the river. But you may want to change into some different clothes.” She glanced at Lewis’ floor-length linin trousers and boots.
“I’ll show you how to use the zipline.” Andy told me. He sounded surprisingly upbeat considering we must have been the most difficult guests they had ever encountered.
“What happens to our bags?” I asked, risking a glance at my now-drenched rucksack.
“Ah,” Andy replied. “We have a pully system which will take them to the other side. Let me show you the zipline first.”
I followed Andy onto the platform which was growing slippery with rain. He handed me a harness and a thick oversized glove.
I’d used ziplines before. When I was in primary school we had gone on a week-long trip to an adventure park and one of the activities involved a zipline. However it had only been over a field, not a raging river like this.
As Andy explained how to use the zipline, I was only half paying attention. Every few seconds, my eyes would dart to see how Lewis was getting on. I was worried about him. He didn’t seem in a good way.
Whilst Lewis got changed into some swimming trunks and water shoes (thank goodness he’d convinced me to pack those!), Melissa began hauling our bags into a hanging plastic basket. I was glad that we’d travelled light as the basket was only just big enough to house my backpack, the wet-bag and Lewis’ hand-luggage-sized wheeled case.
The basket was hanging from a line which spanned the full width of the river.
As Melissa pulled on some ropes, the basket started to move along the zipline, further and further. It was a little nerve-wracking to see the basket half way across the river as large waves lapped ominously beneath it.
“I’ll go first.” Andy’s words rang in my ear and I turned to see him hanging from the zipline, leaning back in his harness with only his firmly-planted feet for support. “Remember, take it easy.”
He lifted his legs from the wooden platform and began to wiz down the line, over the river. The zipline squealed as his clip raced along the wire. Before I knew it, he had landed safely on the platform on the opposite side of the river and was waving me across.
I turned to see that our bags were now hovering on the other side of the river, out of harm’s way.
Melissa was walking Lewis down to the bank of the river, slightly further upstream, where a lower line stretched across the water. I was relieved to see that Lewis was wearing a harness and watched as he and Melissa clipped their harnesses onto the line. Thank goodness they’d have some protection as they tackled the furious current.
I couldn’t help but feel that Lewis had taken the most challenging route of all. He would have been better off taking the zipline. I’m certain the zipline was far safer. He never failed to surprise me.
It was my turn to cross the river.
I took a deep breath, recalling everything Andy had said. I was securely clipped into the zipline and rested my gloved hand on top of my clip. I leant back in my harness, allowing the zipline to take my weight and then finally lifted my feet off the ground.
Immediately I found myself zooming down the wire, the river coming ever closer in a bit of a blur. The rain lashed against my face and the humid air ruffled my hair. I allowed myself to feel a sensation of freedom as I dangled over the river. I wasn’t afraid at all. It was fun – so fun in fact.
The zipwire sang its high-pitched squeals into my ear and the opposite platform drew ever closer. Remembering Andy’s instructions, I moved my gloved hand backwards and pressed it gently on the line in rhythmic motions, gradually slowing myself down. Then I landed. I was almost sad it was over.
“Yes, you did it!” Andy cheered.
My cheeks glowed with pride.
I stepped down from the platform and felt my legs tremble slightly with adrenaline. In front of me I saw that our bags had been unloaded.
“Come on!” Andy chirped. “Let’s watch the others cross the river.”
He began to hastily along the river’s bank and I followed.
In the middle of the torrent of water were Lewis and Melissa. They were carefully making their way across the river, struggling against nearly waist-high currents. Each step looked challenging and occasionally they’d wobble as they stepped onto a loose rock. At one point Lewis nearly lost his footing entirely.
I held my breath.
Gradually the duo came closer and closer until finally they reached dry land. Was that a smile I saw on Lewis’ face? If it was, he did his best to hide it. Although I could tell by the gleam in his eyes that he had had some fun crossing the river.
I was just glad he had found a way of crossing.
We made our way towards our bags and I hoisted my soaking rucksack onto my back.
Melissa stepped in front of us. “Now we have to walk through a muddy field. Come on.”
A sheet of rain fell in front of my face.
I watched as Melissa took the lead and followed a well-worn path up the near-vertical riverbank. The rocks were slippery and I found myself having to grip onto damp grass beside the trail as I hoisted myself up the steep embankment.
I struggle with balance at the best of times so you can only imagine what I was like clambering up loose rocks in the rain with a heavy rucksack on my back.
I let out a sigh of relief when I made it to the top and allowed myself to look at the field that lay in front of us. The worn path snaked through the grass. Palm trees dotted the field along with a couple of small buildings. On either side of the field were huge mountains covered with thick jungle.
With each step I felt like I was venturing even deeper into the wilds. Civilisation was far behind us now. Only those who were brave enough (or had the equipment) to cross the zipline could reach this remote corner of Dominica. I smiled. It was a truly liberating thought.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I had found myself watching a BBC documentary on the TV. It had followed a group of wildlife photographers and researchers as they journeyed deep into an unexplored, remote rainforest. I remembered watching as they had to cross rivers with their equipment and journey deep into the forest before finally setting-up camp. I thought about what an incredible (albeit stressful) experience it seemed but doubted I’d ever get to experience anything like it.
Well, I can honestly say, this felt exactly like that. We were journeying by foot deep into the jungle, tackling rivers and whatever else lay in store for us, just to reach our camp (or, in this case, villas) for the night.
My black Converse sank into the thick mud with a squelch. I looked down at my mud-streaked shoes and with a bit of effort managed to lift one foot out of the mud and place another step. Melissa wasn’t kidding when she said this was a muddy field.
I became aware of the long grasses that enveloped the trail and which rubbed against my bare legs with their damp tips. I thought about the ticks that may be living in the grass, aware that I had always been warned to avoid long grass with bare legs in case ticks hopped on. Lyme disease from ticks is prevalent in the UK. I just hoped there were no ticks here.
The trail continued on through the field for some time. We walked in silence except for the constant splashing and squelching of our feet in the mud and the rhythmic sound of rain. In the distance I could make-out birdsong and the chirping of insects as evening started to set in.
The field ended beside a row of trees. Behind the trees was an embankment which dipped towards yet another river. I listened as the hum of the second river drowned out the gentle cascade of rain and began to ungracefully clamber down towards the river.
This river was a lot smaller than the first but still was not to be underestimated. To the right of the river I noticed it was considerably shallower with a smooth, unnatural surface only a few feet below the water. Although I didn’t realise right away, this was the old road that used to cross the river, now completely submerged by water.
On the other side of the submerged concrete was a waterfall as water cascaded down from the smooth surface.
The submerged road made the perfect river crossing for Lewis and Melissa who didn’t even need to strap themselves in for safety this time. They dipped their feet into the cold water and began to cross.
Andy led me to the zipline. It was a lot shorter than the last and wasn’t quite as high. I was confident I knew what to do now and didn’t need a briefing. Before I knew it, Andy was whizzing down the line to the platform on the opposite bank.
I clipped myself in and took a moment to soak up my surroundings. Upriver I could see the current charging over an array of boulders. On one side of the river was a steep wall of jungle which hugged the side of a mountain. Trees and vines hung lazily over the river before it rounded a bend and then widened out before us.
I sat back in my harness and began my journey across the torrent. The zipline screeched and before I knew it, I was slowing down to land on the platform. Success!
I could barely wipe the smile off my face as I landed on the slippery wooden platform. I was having a great time! All my worries from our ridiculously exhausting day of travel were melting away as I allowed myself to become immersed with the nature which surrounded us.
Beside the river the road appeared and perched upon the road was a silver Nissan Navara pickup truck with its open back to the river.
I watched as Melissa and Andy hauled our luggage into the truck’s open back. They weren’t quite safe from the rain yet and once again I felt a stab of concern for my electronics in the sodden rucksack.
“Hop in!” Andy called.
We all leapt inside the silver pickup. My head was swimming with questions. We had been journeying into the wilderness for quite some time. Since abandoning our car we had crossed two rivers and trekked through a muddy field. Now we were jumping into a car. What lay in store for us now?
The engine roared to life as Andy turned the key and we began to make our way down the bumpy road, not so dissimilar to the one we had journeyed down to get to the first river.
The thickets hugged the side of the truck, starting up their scratchy symphony against the metallic paintwork and the truck bumped over rocks and depressions in the road.
We passed a camping ground called ‘3 Rivers’. It was named 3 rivers as it was situated upon the point where 3 rivers came together, all feeding into a larger river named after one of the channels which fed into it: ‘Rosalie River’. The Rosalie River (made up of 3 river channels) was in fact the large river which we had to zipline across first.
The second river we ziplined across was at a point where two of the three rivers merged, just before the third river channel (Rosalie River) joined in. The two rivers which met here were known as ‘Stuarts River’ and ‘Sourischol River’. I know – this is getting so confusing now with so many rivers thrown into the mix.
As we journeyed deeper into the valley which stretched out before us, I noticed a river running parallel to the truck, just beside my window. This was Sourischol River.
The trail was long and winding but Andy was clearly used to tackling such challenging terrain and so we journeyed at a reasonably quick pace.
Suddenly, the trees opened up and we found ourselves in a beautiful valley. To the right of the vehicle was the sloping flank of a mountain, coated with deep layers creeper vines and a mixture of different trees including palms, orange and avocado trees.
To the left was an expanse of grass and creeper vines with palms dotting the grassland. The ground gently sloped downwards towards the Sourischol River which lay at the other side of the valley, beside another majestic mountain.
Up ahead I could make out the pointed silver roofs of houses and could barely suppress a squeal of excitement. This had to be it! I could feel it.
The road veered away from the edge of the valley, drawing ever closer to the cluster of wooden bungalows. We drew to a halt beside them and I let out a sign of relief. We were here!
The wooden eco-villas were everything as magical as I had hoped. Within seconds of leaping out of the pickup and gazing in wonder at our surroundings, I felt a wave of peace wash over me. It was so quiet here. The only sounds I could make out were the gentle gurgling of the river which ran in front of the villas and the beautiful chorus of birdsong echoing throughout the valley.
“Would you like some welcome drinks?” Melissa offered. “We have fruit punch, beer…”
“Beer!” I exclaimed, unable to hide my delight.
After the day we’d had, a beer was long overdue.
We were shown to our eco-villa, a large open-plan bungalow made of local redwood. Melissa designed all the villas herself as she came from a background in architecture.
There were no fans or air-conditioning in the villa. It was designed so you could be at one with nature. All of the villa’s doors were made from slatted wood with large gaps between each slat. This let a natural breeze through the villa as well as several lizards.
It had been surprising at first to spot three lizards relaxing near our mini-fridge but I was gradually getting used to their presence. Lizards don’t bother me all that much. Not like moths.
Soon Lewis and I were left alone in our villa as Melissa and Andy prepared dinner for us in the communal cottage.
I had been dreading this moment. I knew I would be in for an earful.
We stood on the balcony, a Kubuli beer in my hand (the local Dominican beer) and a bowl of cashews between us. A beautiful garden lay in front of us dotted with manicured hedges and vegetable trees and vines. Behind them I could just make out the river.
“I’m sorry.” I blurted out. “I cocked up again. I had no idea the only access was via zipline. I clearly can’t organise and shouldn’t organise trips by myself again.”
To my surprise, Lewis didn’t explode on me. Instead there was a moment of silence. A moment that seemed to last for an eternity.
“Thank you.” He replied calmly. “I’m just glad we’re here now.”
I felt a weight lift itself from my shoulders. Maybe now we could finally relax.
We journeyed in the dark down the stony path that lead from our villa to the communal building. The beautiful sound of crickets, frogs and other creatures of the night filled our ears and I allowed myself to become captivated under their tranquil spell.
Squares of yellow light illuminated from the communal building but otherwise we were engulfed in darkness. There was no light pollution here.
As we entered the communal lodge, we were greeted warmly by Melissa, Andy and their cat known as Kitty Cat. Kitty Cat was introduced as a former stray who one day turned up here but has called it home ever since. She was white with a black splodge on her head and a black tail, and didn’t seem to have any ears.
“Oh, she never listens anyway.” Andy replied comically.
I couldn’t help but smile.
“The villas are so beautiful.” Lewis gushed to Melissa, clearly over the scare with the ziplines. “I can’t believe this exists and you set this up all by yourselves.”
“Oh, you think so?” Melissa looked humbled by Lewis’ words.
“You know,” Lewis continued. “I do believe that the places that are the hardest to get to end up being the best places.”
“Well, I agree.” Melissa responded. “It feels more special. So it was worth the journey?” Lewis nodded. “Yes, worth the journey.”
The communal villa was a large open-plan room which consisted of a grand kitchen, a living-area, office and a balcony with a few tables and chairs. The décor was minimalist and modern with several paintings on the wall and wooden sculptures dotted around.
I watched as a lizard darted around on one of the white interior walls. I couldn’t suppress a gasp of horror when I realised what was getting the lizard so excited. The biggest moth I had ever seen was fluttering around on the wall. Every so often the lizard would try to catch it, despite the moth being at least twice its size. However, the moth was fast and continued to evade the lizard’s long sticky tongue.
I am terrified of moths. Terrified. So to see a huge black moth that was larger than my hand in the same room as me sent shudders down my spine.
I also couldn’t help but think of our villa whose doors consisted of slatted wood with large gaps. They were large enough to let reasonable-sized lizards in our room so no doubt a moth could get through. Thank god I turned all the lights off before coming to dinner.
I’m no moth expert but a quick bit of Googling tells me this moth was likely a Black Witch Moth (also known as the butterfly of death) which ranges from Brazil to the USA. It has a wingspan of 17cm and in Caribbean folklore a belief is that a Black Witch Moth flying into your house symbolises bad luck. But, don’t worry, a death in the house will only occur if the moth visits all four corners of your house.
Did I mention I am terrified of moths?
That night we would be eating alongside Melissa and Andy on the balcony. Melissa was cooking us a treat. Being a former chef working on superyachts, I had no doubts that her cooking would be exceptional. And it was.
We learnt a lot about the duo. Melissa was from Namibia and Andy from South Africa. The two worked on superyachts together, Melissa being a chef and Andy being a captain. They travelled the world by boat before finally settling down and creating this beautiful oasis in Dominica.
Our beautifully prepared mahi-mahi and vegetables grown in Melissa and Andy’s garden went down a treat. I felt spoilt to have such delicious food!
With our bellies full, we said farewell to our horsts and retreated to our villa for the evening. I turned the lights on, feeling a little nervous that this may attract moths which could be lurking just outside the villa. I decided we’d speedily prepare for bed.
I made my way over to our huge double-bed and grabbed our bags and piles of clothing which we had left there. I nearly squealed in shock when five or six large beetles scuttled out from underneath and began to crawl across our bed. Melissa had warned us about pesky ‘Christmas beetles’. But I was sure these weren’t Christmas beetles. They looked an awful lot like cockroaches.
I hastily tried to brush them onto the floor, determined not to let one escape and spend a night in bed with us. I looked around our room for the resident lizards. Food for you! I wanted to tell them. I had never been more grateful to have lizards sharing residence with me.
Certain all the cockroaches were now on our floor instead of in the bed, I started tucking our mosquito net under our mattress, resolute not to leave even the tiniest crack for them to scuttle into.
Once the bed was secured, I sauntered over to our huge freestanding bathtub. Now I could finally relax.
And that concludes the most ridiculous travel day I’ve ever had! What a saga. I can’t believe this ended up being 5 parts long and a combined total of 12,000 words! Anyway I hope you enjoyed it.
Have you ever experienced a travel day like this?