IN THE MID 70’s, our family stopped for a season in Dominica on our boat, and while Mom grabbed her alone-time, Dad took us girls exploring the island. I recall hanging onto a strap in the VW as we raced around mountains. Papillote Rainforest Lodge was dad’s favorite hangout. There was a tiny restaurant beneath a roaring waterfall, surrounded with dripping trees, birds humming and frogs peeping, the scent of the earth, the flowers, and spices filling your senses with enchantment and tranquility. But what brought Dad back time and again was not the rum punch concoctions, neither was it the hot steaming natural baths he floated around in face down until we thought he was dead. It was the intellectual stimulation he got from talking to Anne, the proprietor of the hotel, and Anne’s other guests, who were mostly educated well-to-do adventurers.
Dad was starved for social contact and became very outgoing after a few of those rum punches. We kids slid into the hot orange waters of the pool, dad slid into the nap he needed before driving us down the single-lane boulder-strewn hairpin twister of a road…
I SAILED TO DOMINICA yet again in 2006, this time aboard my husband's boat.
On foot, we climbed the steep hill for the premier island attraction -- Trafalgar Falls. I felt the burn in my leg muscles. Since I had last visited, the path had been much improved. It was accessible after paying a small fee at a forestry station. I recalled that in the old days, we walked through the rain over muddy rocks, dodging falling breadfruit, slipping on rotted leaves and hooting with jubilation into the sky -- alone with the falls. Now we waited politely on a concrete ramp to allow a line of fellow tourists to pass: “Wow! You’re going to love it!” they enthused, but I felt superior, having been there already.
We came to a burbling pool of hot water, and that’s where Petur stopped. He was not interested in the rock climbing aspect of waterfalls and decided to sit under a mini-fall, letting the pounding water work on his back muscles. Ludwig and I leapt and bounded over the rocks, following the wet footsteps of a trio of young whites before us. I picked my way to the uppermost pool at the base of the falls. There was a different kind of weather up there -- gale force! High-pressure droplets pelted my face as I swam with all my might against the cold rushing torrent, gulping and thrashing, inhaling vapor, and finally grasping the knobby skin of a rock and pulling myself into the calm space behind the thundering curtain of pure fresh water… Yes, my hair was still attached!
Flopped on a smooth rock in the still sun, letting the goose bumps dry away, we chatted with a handsome and well-spoken local guy, who pointed out crayfish, land crabs, zandoli lizards, and various small birds, and demonstrated fearless back flips into the clear deep pool. He gave us a mini botanical tour, naming some trees and answering our questions. After treating him to a snack we left him and joined Petur. I slid inch by inch into our tiny private pool. The heat was delicious, chasing away the cool damp of the rainforest and relaxing me to the very core. I lay back and did nothing but breathe.
As I floated I began to notice details. An ancient-looking fern tree splayed against the waning sky. Pointy begonias nodded against mossy mineral. Water trickled. My heart beat slow and strong. I was sweating into the hot water. Darkness fell suddenly and fireflies appeared. I made friends with one particular firefly. It embodied the spirit of my departed granny. It buzzed me, sniffing my breath, examining me with loving curiosity. Whoops --! Enough of this fancy -- I was starved! Time for dinner! We had packed evening wear in our backpacks, and brushing off the mud, dressed in the darkness. Tonight was the big night - dinner at Papillote!
I HAD DEEP ROOTED memories of dripping green leaves, dark earth scents, muddy clothes, of the cool damp rainforest with moss and must and mold...
I looked forward to sharing a piece my childhood with Petur. Was it wise to revisit? I was prepared for my nostalgia to be dashed, like when you cruise past an old house you’d once thrived in, only to find that the place has been replaced by a gas-station. Would Papillote have changed for the worse? What if the place had gone to seed, or worse yet, improved beyond our means --would we be met by imposing liveried doormen? Perhaps Mickey Mouse would bow and wave us in?
None of that. Nothing had changed but for a wee bit of expansion.
Papillote. Intriguing changes had taken place. A new balconied restaurant, built of stone and ornamental ironwork, gave a magnificent view of the valley. Paths led in every direction -- to private rooms, hot pools, waterfalls big and small, on garden walks or simply to benches where one could sit and reflect in the company of orchids and hummingbirds. The gardens were amazing --antherium and bird-of-paradise, and lobster-claws and gingers overpowered miniature blooms and strange plants I’d never before noticed.
Wearing our sponge-cleaned formal attire, we made our entrance into the dining room. We had arrived just in time - Anne, the grand old proprietor, was climbing up the back entrance from her private rooms at the bottom of the property. She flung aside her flashlight, umbrella, shawl and cane to greet us with both hands outstretched. I had not seen her in over ten years and was glad that age had treated her well. Her short grey hair was combed back in waves, her face was neatly made-up, and she grinned happily, squeezing my hand and making me feel important. Her staff settled her, bringing her a glass of red wine, and soon an assortment of other guests filled the night with gaiety. At Anne’s table was a Canadian film producer, a runaway house-wife, a cruise-ship massage-therapy-franchise operator, a London Times reporter. My mother arrived, looking weather-beaten in spite of her elegant fringed and beaded gown. Anne introduced her as a sea-captain retired from her ocean-going tugboat and salvage company. The conversation ranged from topic to topic. Anne even gossiped a little about some guests at a nearby table -- it seemed that the American father-daughter duo was not happy because there were no TVs in any of the rooms! We covertly examined the pair. Yes, they belonged in a different hotel -- the generic, sterile type of hotel, with chlorinated pool, room-service burgers, and a TV to preclude conversation.
Mom allowed herself to be persuaded into ordering a spicy rum punch - her usual. “Just one! “ She said, recommending it. I tried to sort out the complex entanglement of flavors: nutmeg, certainly. Passion fruit, lime, cinnamon? An unidentified scent laced throughout. And strong rum. Now I know why dear old dad was so enamored! Hopefully I’d be better at controlling myself… I’d better stick to the advice -- “Just one! Or two!”
First, a bowl of callalou soup, salty and smooth, with garlic bread. Then, mahi-mahi, fresh, grilled. Dasheen, plantain, christophene. Casserole and seasoned rice. And for dessert, rich black chocolate cake with ice-cream on top. It was an elegant finale to a big day. Following Mom's flashlight, we turned to bed with thoughts of tomorrow’s explorations awaiting us.
FORTY YEARS of my life visiting Papillote. Tripadvisor doesn't want insider, "friend-reviewed" posts, but how can I not be biased? While the rest of the world grows more crowded and hectic, Papillote has remained timeless and primal.
The rocks, mosses and waterfalls are as enchanting as ever. Thank you Anne and Cuthbert, for keeping it right.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- A small secluded hotel at the head of the beautiful Roseau River Valley with comfortable charming rooms overlooking gardens, mountains, waterfalls and pristine rainforest wilderness.Dine in our Rainforest Restaurant on fresh caught fish, prawns or chicken prepared with all the fabled spices of our Island's rich cultural heritageWander through four acres of nurtured wilderness amidst a world class collection of bromeliads, begonias, gingers and aroids. Bathe in our natural hot mineral pools. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Papillote Wilderness Retreat Hotel Roseau
- Papillote Wilderness Retreat Dominica/Roseau