We arrived in Dominica and immediately fell in love with its luscious nature. Portsmouth was our second and last stop and it was there that we had the most magical experience with a tour of the Indian River.
The Indian River is located on the northern edge of the Glanvilla Swamp in Portsmouth. We booked a tour with Martin, a member of PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security). PAYS was created to provide yachties with a variety of services, and most importantly, safety. Fauna and flora are Martin’s area of study and the Indian River his specialty.
Martin picked us up early morning in his boat Providence. The sun was warming the air, the water was calm, not a single ripple, until Providence sped away towards the estuary of the Indian River. Providence motored under a small bridge and we had our first view of the river. Suddenly, Martin turned off the engine and began to row. That simple act changed the tone of the experience we were about to have completely.
We sat in the boat, quietly, gliding over the water as if in another dimension. Very little sunlight passed through the canopy above, the air was thick with moisture and filled with small floating specks. In that moment, our world was reduced to shades of green and brown, a stunning, dreamlike, almost monochromatic morning …
We were practically in a trance, gliding over the swamp waters, when Martin’s voice broke the silence. He spoke about Dominica with passion, knowledge, and pride. As he rowed, the river narrowed the prolific fauna and flora attesting to the health of the swamp. A well-rehearsed nature show with bloodwood trees lining the banks, hanging vines dropping from the trees above, humming birds buzzing around, green heron and parrots making surprise appearances, stealthy iguanas blending into the foliage, and crabs peeking out from the muddy banks.
The exotic bloodwood trees are a sight to see. Their twisted intricate root system extends along the banks of the river, creating an eerie scene that was captured by Hollywood in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean II. The name ‘bloodwood’ comes from its reddish sap, and the root system is responsible for filtering the salt out of the seawater, from which the tree extracts nutrients.
The banks narrowed until we could no longer continue up river and we stopped, tied the boat to a small wooden dock, and began to explore the variety of life up close. Martin shared his knowledge of medicinal plants, bird colors and mating dances and songs. He also answered every question we asked.
As we began our journey downstream and passed by the leaves of a palm tree, Martin got up and used his knife to cut off a few leaves. He then proceeded to weave sculptures of two of the most common river birds, handing them to us – such a delicate gesture, such a delicate art.
Close to the end of our tour, Martin paused unexpectedly and his voice echoed along the river as he sang Dominica’s national anthem. His voice was clear and proud, and the lyrics truly described what we were experiencing, it was a memorable moment rocked by an anthem that exalts nature, its people, and the power of their unity. As you read the words to the national anthem, imagine yourself aboard a small wooden boat, floating on the river surrounded by an incredibly diverse ecosystem.
Isle of Beauty, Isle of Splendor
Isle of beauty, isle of splendor,
Isle to all so sweet and fair,
All must surely gaze in wonder
At thy gifts so rich and rare.
Rivers, valleys, hills and mountains,
All these gifts we do extol.
Healthy land, so like all fountains,
Giving cheer that warms the soul.
Dominica, God hath blest thee
With a clime benign and bright,
Pastures green and flowers of beauty
Filling all with pure delight,
And a people strong and healthy,
Full of godly reverent fear.
May we ever seek to praise Thee
For these gifts so rich and rare.
Come ye forward, sons and daughters
Of this gem beyond compare.
Strive for honour, sons and daughters,
Do the right, be firm, be fair.
Toil with hearts and hands and voices.
We must prosper! Sound the call,
In which everyone rejoices,
“All for Each and Each for All.”
Editor’s note: Words by the late Reverend W.O.M. Pond. Put to music by L.M. Christian.
Monica Pisani and Jonathan Morton live and cruise aboard Journey, a 42ft Tatoosh. To learn more about their voyaging, visit: www.sailing-journey.com