Victoria Falls with Sea Cat

Wed 10 Apr 2013 15:25
What a day! :-)

Sea Cat provides moorings here in Roseau, but he also has a little minibus and is a guide for all sorts of tours around the Island. He had arranged a trip for us, a Danish family of four and two young biologists who were staying in the hotel just in front of our mooring (the orange and blue one, it's in the photo of Limbo in our last blog post). Other taxi drivers simply take you to the attraction, sit in the car and wait 'till you're done. Not Sea Cat. Unless he's driving you'd have trouble catching him sitting down for more than a few minutes at a time! As we drove up the valleys I started to wonder if we'd ever get to the river. We stopped so often, sometimes just a 100 yards on from where we last stopped. When ever Sea Cat saw something of interest, on would slam the brakes, he'd leap out and we'd be sat there wondering if he was simply grabbing a hand full of leaves, to thrust through the window at us - "smell!" or if he was going to greet someone he knew, or buy us some thing to eat, or if we were all expected to get out here. Then his head would pop back through the window "Why you all still in here??" and we'd know we should get out. 

We stopped for black pudding, made in the village just on Saturday mornings, for bread baked on a grill, for perfectly ripe bananas, for cashew apples and guavas straight from the tree.  We stopped to be given green coconuts, just pulled from the tree, sliced open with a machete and passed us to drink the water and scoop the soft flesh out, delicious. We stopped to smell bay leaf rum leaves, cinnamon bark and sorrel flowers, used to make the christmas drink of the Caribbean. We stopped to see an old bay leaf rum distillery too, they crush the leaves and distill oil in a big copper vat over a wood fire to make a fragrance for aftershave and soaps. One time Sea Cat pulled the bus off the road, climbed onto the roof and started picking small fruits, like hard cherries, which we had to roll between the palms of our hands to soften before we ate them. 


A highlight was entering a village with Sea Cat's head stuck out the window singing "Moooonshine! Moonshine, moonshine, moonshine!" at the top of his voice. We pulled to a halt outside a very respectable line of folks sitting on a bench waiting for the bus into town that Saturday morning, with Sea Cat still singing and hollering at full volume. We went into the rum shack behind the bus queue to find a very old, winkled smiling lady putting a line of bottles on the surface, Gordon's gin, Johnny Walker and label-less wine bottles. But they certainly didn't have their regular contents any longer. The clear liquid in each was filled with leaves or flowers or fruits: lemongrass, lime, cinnamon were a few I remember. We were welcome to try as many as we liked. I went for the lime one, a small sip making my lips and throat burn with the delicious liquid and I came back out the shack imitating a fire breathing dragon, sending the bus queue into fits of giggles. They had got over their fright and were chatting and smiling with us as we came out with bright eyes and grins. We went on, this time all nine of us joining in the song "Moooonshine! Moonshine, moonshine, moonshine!".

Finally, well fed and a little tiddly, we arrived at Zion Valley, where we were going to start our trek up the river. It is a beautiful fertile valley, home to a community of Rastafarians, led by Moses. They self-build their houses and farm the land, living simply in the knowledge that there's no better place to be on this earth. They have found their Zion, their homeland, here on Dominica. 


From there the White River tumbles over boulders and through the forest up to Victoria Falls and we set off along the path. A couple were also heading to the falls, but without a guide, and they set off ahead of us. We were glad Sea Cat was with us. We had to wade, waist deep at times, across the river about 5 times, and scramble up and around rocks many times. Always Sea Cat was there, with a hand to help us or telling us where the hand holds were, where to place our feet or how to get down "On your bum and slide down here!". It was so much fun and the kids with us, aged 10 and 12, were having the best day of their lives. Every kid wants to scramble on rocks and wade in rivers - they were doing it for real!


When we reached the waterfall we were not disappointed. It's massive, with a big pool below that the water swirls across. We swam to the far side, which I found a bit of a push - I must get stronger at swimming, and clambered out onto a rock next to the falls. At this point Sea Cat explained to us what we needed to do to get behind the falls. He'd go ahead, then, when he called, one by one, we should follow, first diving down under the stream of water, then when we came up swimming as hard as we could for him, reaching for his hand, and he'd pull us up. He warned us that when we came up we'd not be able to see anything, because the air is full of spray, and we'd just have to swim for his voice. Under I  went, feeling the force of the water around me, then up into a wet confusion where air is water and water is air, kicking hard and pull pull pulling with my arms, 'till I felt a hand grab me and heard an insistent "Get a foot up! get a foot up!" then, with a scramble I was on solid rock, behind me a wall of water cascading down with a roar. "Moooonshine! Moonshine Moonshine Moonshine!" we yelled in triumph.


As you can see, Spike made the trip too, stuck in the back of my backpack, watching the route from behind. But neither of these pictures give you the scale of the fall, this link should show a 4 second movie clip, in the middle, two thirds down the frame is Petra, about to jump from a rock.

(and for those of you who tried, and failed to get the turtles movie from Tobago Cays to work, try again with this one:  )

The trip back down the river seemed to go much faster than the scramble up, but was just as much fun. On the way we passed another guide with a party of walkers, including the two who had set off ahead of us. They had missed their way - boulders don't show the passing of feet, and had ended up climbing right to the top of the gorge, then made their way back down again before bumping into the guide who took them under his wing. We arrived back in Zion Valley glad to sit down in the shade of the "Rastarant", feeling we'd earned our rum punch and vegetable stew, served in a calabash with a coconut shell spoon.



The day wasn't done yet! We moved on from here to a beautiful sparkling black sand beach on the East of the Island, Rosalie Bay, where coconut crabs scuttle down their holes as you approach and where Sea Cat broke open a coconut by dropping boulders on it, then tore off the coir to carefully crack the top off by hitting it around the crown with a rock - like you'd take the top off a boiled egg by tapping around the top with your spoon.


On the way back to the anchorage we stopped at Emerald Pool, another beautiful waterfall down in a deep gorge, with a pleasant 15 minute walk through the rainforest along a part of the Waitakubuli National Trail, a 140k walk, split into 14 sections, that goes the whole length of the Island. The pool is quite commercialised, with stalls selling souvenirs at the entrance to the path but we went at the end of the day, when it was officially closed, and there were only locals enjoying the clear cool emerald waters. We bemused the families quietly enjoying the pool in the evening light by climbing on the rocks behind it and shouting - yes, you guessed it, "Mooonshine!".


Norma, our Dutch friend from Vela, did the same trip with Sea Cat a few days after we did. She's been cruising for about a year now, from Holland to the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verdes, Trinidad, Granada and all the Caribbean Islands up from there. She said it was the best day of her whole voyage.

Thank you Sea Cat. Mooooonshine!