Through the slatted cedar panels, light filtered into our villa. Birdsong was all around us, muffled slightly by the splashing of fresh spring water against rock as the river raged on in the near-distance. I watched a green scaled head as it bobbed slightly, perched between two wooden slats in the door. With a sharp flick of its head, the lizard scurried out of sight.
This was my first morning at Banana Lama eco-villas. Yesterday we had journeyed deep into the rainforest, taking our 4×4 down a bumpy route off the main road and onto a narrow jungle trail. The sturdy wheels had bounced and crashed against the uneven terrain as we snaked down into a secluded valley, protected on all sides by magnificent mountains which were dressed head to toe in tall green trees.
Our car had splashed through a shallow river-crossing before brushing through undergrowth, damp with fresh rainwater. At the end of the track was an open field which led to a rugged building. Beyond the building was a raging river which put an abrupt end to the road.
A zipline trail awaited us which took us across the vicious current. After squelching through a muddy field we then reached a second river which we also ziplined across. Finally, we met a pickup truck which took us through the final stretch to our eco-villa.
What an adventure it had been!
Our arrival at Banana Lama eco-villas had been late in the day after a delayed flight and then a crazy run-around town trying to find cash to pay for our taxi – that’s a story for another day! But all the hustle and bustle of the day left us with little time to explore Banana Lama, although we did get to sample some of Melissa’s delicious meals.
Banana Lama is run by a couple – Melissa and Andy. Melissa was formerly a chef working on luxury superyachts and Andy a captain. Before working on yachts, Melissa was an architect and Andy an engineer. They both put their expertise and knowledge to the test by setting up a collection of eco-villas nestled in the middle of the Dominican jungle.
And what a job they did!
Our eco-villa was one of 3 guest eco-villas located within the Banana Lama estate. Formerly a banana plantation (hence the name Banana Lama), the land had been transformed not only to house the villas but also into a lush garden or organic fruit and vegetables. Pretty much every vegetable under the sun grows here and are carefully tended to by Melissa, Andy and their very passionate and knowledgeable team.
I was excited to learn more about what they grew here but first I allowed myself a moment to wind down on the balcony and take in the gorgeous view that lay before me.
Melissa prepared us a gorgeous breakfast which was served at the stylish communal area. We kicked-off our breakfast with a fruit plata, laden wish fresh fruits from the garden. To accompany it we had a fruit smoothie and a warm mug of tea (I’m British – I can’t live without my tea).
The main-course was a crêpe. Banana Lama’s resident chickens were occupied with rearing young meaning that they weren’t currently producing eggs. But that wasn’t a problem. Melissa’s friend from a neighbouring estate was able to provide super fresh eggs for the crêpe. The crêpe was then stuffed with a colourful array of veggies with an avocado on the side.
After breakfast, Melissa kindly gave us a guided tour of Banana Lama’s extensive gardens. Here we saw everything from pineapple patches to orange trees, papaya trees to pumpkin patches. My triumphant moment of the day was spotting a well-hidden pumpkin in the pumpkin patch. This prize pumpkin was to be turned into a pumpkin soup starter for us that night.
All produce at Banana Lama is organic. This means that they don’t use any pesticides and the produce is fertilised using a natural fertiliser – chicken manure, to be exact.
When we asked Melissa if bugs were a problem in regards to yield, Melissa simply told us that they made sure to plant enough so everybody could have some and that included nature’s cheeky critters.
Whilst touring the gardens with Melissa we met Jeremiah, a member of Melissa and Andy’s team who enjoys taking care of the garden. He offered to take us with him to search for some fresh coconut. I was excited to see how he would get the coconuts, considering they were so high up!
Whilst we made our way down a winding jungle path, Jeremiah was sure to point out any plants or trees of interest along the way. It was very impressive to hear just how much he knew about Dominica’s flora and fauna and how much of an appreciation he had for it.
A curious red crab scuttled in front of us. Quick as a flash, Jeremiah scooped it us to show us. “It’s so beautiful.” He smiled.
Now it was time to leave the path and venture into the thick foliage. A reasonably steep incline met us at the edge of the path and I ungracefully slid into the thick carpet of creeper plants that had engulfed the land around us.
We trudged through the undergrowth, feeling the land squelch beneath our feet. Several times I found myself trapped within the clasp of creeping vines and stumbled, a problem neither Lewis nor Jeremiah seemed to encounter.
Jeremiah located a huge stick which was nearly the entire height of the coconut tree which stood before us. He lifted it, holding it completely vertical before using his strength to push the stick up towards a coconut. Boof! The coconut disconnected from the tree upon impact and fell gracefully through the air before landing silently, its fall cushioned by the undergrowth.
Jerimiah hit another coconut and another. Coconuts were falling all around us!
Satisfied with his haul, Jerimiah used his machete to carefully carve the top of the coconut. With one final neat slice, the top slid off and a splash of water greeted us. It was time to taste some fresh Dominican coconut!
The coconut was fresh and cool against my lips with a beautiful succulent taste.
Jerimiah also told us how we could eat the flesh of the coconut as well.
Lewis asked Jeremiah if we had ever climbed to the top of one of the coconut trees. Jeremiah was keen to show off his tree-climbing skills and leapt into action. In no time at all, using strength I could never even imagine, he had scaled a palm tree right to the top and waved his arms around like it was nothing at all.
I was amazed. I struggle to climb trees that have lots of protruding branches to grab onto, let alone a tall, straight palm tree.
Back at the eco-villas we had some time to relax and indulge in lunch. This time Melissa had made is a quiche as well as some homemade bread. As usual, the food was incredible!
Banana Lama eco-villas are built on the bank of the river Rosalie, one of Dominica’s 365 rivers. This particular river earned its name as it enters the ocean at the coastal town of Rosalie. The river’s source is not far away from Banana Lama, meaning that the water that flows past the villas is super fresh.
All water which we were drinking during our stay at Banana Lama was bottled using the fresh river water.
Not only did the river provide clean drinking water, it also provided a relaxing place to cool off and take a dip.
Outside one of the eco-villas, the layout of the rocks in the rivers forms a natural pool. It’s the perfect place to take a swim.
After lunch, Lewis and I wandered down to the natural pool, ready to unwind. The water was icily cold! But there was something incredibly refreshing about it.
The colour of the water was a beautiful clear blue which apparently glows a translucent cyan on a glorious sunny day. Even though it wasn’t at its clearest, I still thought it looked spectacular.
As we retreated back to our eco-villa, night was starting to fall. The tip of the great mountains was glowing a brilliant orange as the sun gently slipped behind them. Birdsong gradually gave way to the orchestra of the night with frogs and crickets adding their voices as light grew dimmer.
Dinner was approaching and I couldn’t wait.
The river gurgled gently in the darkness as we tucked into our meals. For starter we indulged in pumpkin soup using the great pumpkin I had located earlier.
For main course Melissa had prepared a fillet of seared yellow-fin tuna with fresh vegetables. My goodness, the tuna was incredible! It literally melted in my mouth.
Last but not least was the dessert. We had homemade ice-cream alongside some homemade chocolate using cacao beans grown in the garden. Andy was the chocolatier who had put this delicious chocolate together. Using 80% dark chocolate and only a tiny bit of sugar, this was easily the best chocolate I’d had in my life.
With our bellies full, it was time to return to our eco-villa for our final night in Banana Lama. I felt a pang when I thought about the fact that I’d be leaving tomorrow. Banana Lama had so much to offer and I felt like I was only just starting to get settled in.
Banana Lama (website here) really is a paradise in the middle of the rainforest, well off-the-beaten-track. It may be an adventure to get here but it is most certainly worth it.