Two Inspiring Dominicans
We had a full-on day today which included a good hike and two inspiring people.
Andrea and I didn't get a great night's sleep as it rained on and off since I finished writing my blog last evening. At 1:30am, I was getting rained on in bed so had to get up and shut the door and windows. Every hour or so after that, I was woken by the rain hammering on the roof. Our excursion this morning was at 9:00am, though, so we had to get up and ready before heading down for breakfast and trying to load up with enough energy to get us through as I had a sneaking suspicion that lunch would be small, delayed or non-existent.
We loaded up into one of the minibuses with a guide called Brother who we'd not met before. He was very good and gave us an interesting introduction to what we'd be doing. With that, we drove for half and hour or so and then all got out into the pouring rain. The walk was up a rough path with river crossings every 15 minutes or so. To start with, we were walking through small fields of Dasheen and Bananas with mellow-looking cows reposing in picturesque attitudes. Brother got everyone together, shinned up a nearby tree and threw down an orange for each of us. They were delicious and he told us how nobody can starve on Dominica as there is always food to be had on the trees. The epiphyte growing on the bark is used as a cure for fever and he informed us that the island's reputation for longevity is based on such herbal remedies. The trees want you to eat the fruit so they can grow some more and, when you throw away the pips, another tree grows so there's even more to eat.
He demonstrated how to harvest cinnamon from another tree by scraping away the bark and peeling off the next layer of the tree. It tasted strong and sweet. After an hour or so of walking, we started the climb up a slippery, stony track to Pomp's Residence, also knows as Pomp's Paradise, which was the destination for the hike. At the top of the hill, we walked out onto a close-cropped paddock with occasional trees and surrounded by virgin jungle. Pomp himself was busy with a mechete tending to his Dasheen but didn't need much persuading to stop that and chat to us lot. He was wearing a set of French Blue overalls, rubber boots and a large brown Rasta hat which set off his lined face, goatee beard and twinkly eyes wonderfully.
We all headed over to his house, set in a garden of fruit trees and outbuildings. Everyone sat down beneath an awning with Pomp at one end next to me. He spoke slowly with long pauses and wasn't in any hurry to do or say anything, content to let the peaceful atmosphere make its own impression. We talked of how the world has gone mad with fighting and greed. Of how people need to have access to land so they can live simply and raise their family. He's clearly living a dream life that he's carved out of the jungle for himself and it's very much the Rasta ideal although didn't use all the usual phrases which made what he said a lot more convincing.
After a lot of chatting and even more pausing, we went for a look around the garden. It was stunning. Trees everywhere bearing either fruit or flowers with the promise of fruit to come. All the usual suspects plus cocoa, grapefruit (and what grapefruit they were, delicious and sweet) cashews, limes, oranges, golden-apple... Amongst the trees were all the herbs you could name plus soyabeans, carrots, sweet potato and even brussels sprouts. We spent a very unhurried hour or so wandering around trying to make sense of it all. The birds and animals from the jungle come out and eat some of it but, apparently, he just plants enough so they can have some too, especially the birds who work so hard at spreading the seeds for him. He also keeps goats, cows, chicken, rabbits and horses, none of which get eaten or even milked. I'm a bit puzzled at all the animals which must take a lot of looking after and occupy a huge area of land, cleared at some effort.
After a good look around, we sat down again and ate home-made Journey Cakes which are deep-fried unleavened bread, cooked in the separate kitchen building. Then time for a bit more lounging around before heading off back down the hill.
The whole place was like a different world or, I suppose, a different time. He's a simple man is some ways but a very complex one in others. Poor in that he uses no money but rich in spirit and, frankly, in land. Wise in that he's made the life for himself that he wants but naive in that he wants it for everyone else and can't see why they would object. The scale of his ambition is impressive. He's not just wandered off to be content with the minimum but has created a self-consciously perfect kingdom in the hills complete with picture-postcard wooden house and flowers everywhere. It's certainly an attractive vision of what the world could be like but I'm not sure that it's this world. Maybe something out of the Bible.
Anyway, we set off back to the minibus and I had a chat to a German guy called Thomas who's thinking of setting off in a yacht and wanted to find out what we'd been up to. Then it was back to Jungle Bay where Andrea had an afternoon nap and I read my Bob Bartlett book about boating adventures in the Arctic. Before too long, it was time to get going again as Sam, the owner of Jungle Bay, was giving a talk about the resort.
We sat under one of the trees while he told us about wanting to do something that involved the community and helped the Island. He had to train all the people to work in the resort from scratch as the people who now run the restaurant had never actually eaten in one. They've carved the trails out of the jungle for the walks, created a local market for farm produce and then helped the farmers supply it, employed most of the local people and done it all while protecting the natural environment of Dominica. Sam has had successful businesses before on other islands and is the sort of person who would always get stuff done but his ambition in setting out to create a new business that would work itself and act as a model for others to follow was staggering. He wanted to make a point and then set out to do whatever it took. Now that he has a successful business, he's been able to use that as a springboard to get the Dominican government to focus on a sustainable path to development
and, for example, refuse to let the Venezuelans build an oil refinery here.
We've just had our dinner while discussing all the stuff we've seen and heard today. It's been very inspiring. Both Pomp and Sam have got their visions of how to make Dominica - and the world - a better place. They're both out there doing it. Prepared to fail but putting in sufficient effort to make sure that doesn't happen. Sure, they're both getting their own kick out of it and enjoying themselves but they're both holding up a beacon for others to follow. Both showing that there are other ways to be, that the world can be better.