Stevie, Not Wonder

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

My epic trip has come to an end and I’ve been back in the freezing north for a few days. Brrr…. It’s time now to begin processing the experience for myself as well as find a way to express on this site some of what I have learned and experienced.

Boy did I learn a lot. I may have spent a whole month away, but it never quite felt like I was taking a break. The trip was more comparable to enrolling in an intense immersive learning program. With my brain so filled with new experiences, thoughts and feelings, I lamented on Twitter yesterday, “Where to begin?”

Some of you responded, “With the beginning” but I am having a hard time deciding where that is. Which beginning? I’ve never been very good about pinpointing where a life experience begins and ends. Did it begin when I got on the plane and arrived in Barbados? Or perhaps the part that felt like the real beginning to the personal journey, flying into Dominica. Do I begin with a specific plant that intrigued me (they all did!) or try to express my overall impressions of the trip? Should I stay focused on the botanical portion of the trip or allow myself to veer off into non-botanical terrain and tell a larger story?

And just what is the larger story? I don’t quite know yet. The trip was both what I expected and yet mostly filled with surprises.

Perhaps it is a cop out, but I’ve decided to begin randomly. I literally clicked on a folder of digital images and pulled up the first photo that brought up a memory. If I didn’t begin this way, I’d probably never begin and an entire month of travel would go the way of Cuba and so many other travel experiences I’ve had.

I took the above photos about a week or so into the Dominica portion of the trip. Travel around the island can be a bit gnarly. While the island isn’t particularly big, winding, thin and sometimes rough mountain roads increases the distance between places. In Dominica you are always going up or down but very rarely straight or flat. For this reason we decided to book a few nights in Calibishie, a small village on the northeast side of the island so we could do some walking and exploring at our own pace.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Dominica is not the place to go if you’re looking for a sandy beach vacation. We could see the ocean from the little cottage we rented above Roseau, on the west side of the island, but it was a 3 hour walk to the closest beach, which was rocky, not sandy. Staying in the northeast also gave us closer access to ocean swimming.

Our second day in Calabishie fell on a Sunday. Local buses don’t run on Sundays in Dominica and we don’t drive so we decided to try and walk through the village and see if we could make it to the closest sandy beach in that direction, or find somewhere to dip into the ocean if it got too hot. The people of Calabishie were very friendly and inquisitive, quick to find out who we were and chat. We stopped many times to take photos or get into conversations with locals.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

The last stop we made before leaving the village was when the guy in this picture, Stevie (not Wonder) called out from his porch for us to take his picture. Turns out Stevie is a farmer and a gardener so I asked him to show me what he had growing around his house.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

That’s dasheen (Colocasia esculenta) in the foreground, one of many ground provisions that were originally brought to the West Indies as food for slaves. As you can probably tell by the leaves, dasheen is related to taro. You’ll find it growing just about everywhere in Dominica. The young, unfurled leaves are harvested for a soup or stew called callaloo, and the roots (or corms) are typically served boiled.

That huge bush behind it is a hot seasoning pepper. It looked to be some type of habanero/scotch bonnet, but I was too chicken to taste it. I never saw a mature hot pepper plant in the Caribbean that was smaller than this bush. Some were larger still. I understand now why the scotch bonnet types require such a long growing season to get to the fruiting stage. The plants we grow here just don’t have a chance.

The third edible Stevie had growing was a small tangerine. It didn’t have any fruit yet, but the spines were a good inch and a half long, the largest (and scariest) I have seen on a citrus tree.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “Stevie, Not Wonder

  1. Welcome back.

    The intense colours of the houses in the first picture gave me a thrill, not to mention the greenery. What a feast for the eyes this trip must have been, among other things, for you.
    Look forward to hearing about it.

    I like your idea of just “getting it down” in a random fashion.

  2. So excited your home. I will take the details of your trip in ANY order you’d like..just as many detals and pics I can get PLEASE!? lol

  3. welcome back! I too am excited to hear about the trip, in any old order or fashion. Really enjoyed the bit about Stevie and his crops. I’ve eaten callaloo elsewhere (Turks & Caicos), but hadn’t ever seen the plant growing.

  4. … I agree – just ‘spill’ … someday it might all make sense but for now just enjoy it as it comes (back to you) … that could be ‘telling’ too

  5. This is a lovely story, I especially love the second picture. Isn’t it strange how the Caribbean transforms you into a day person? Maybe it’s the blinding sun or the deafening bird songs coming in through the window. But looking at the second picture reminds me my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico, and waking up early to admire how the morning sun filters through their carambola trees- and enjoying morning dew.

  6. Van: Not just a day person but a morning person. I was getting up at 6am which is UNHEARD of for me. Getting up at 6am in the winter here in Toronto is not the same. It’s just DARK.

    Speaking of carambola… I had the best of my life on this trip and they weren’t even in season!

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