January 12, 2015
We rose early to leave the Taj at 8 AM to drive on serpentine hills up and down, but mostly up to arrive at Mongo Hill above St. John’s to meet our hiking guide, James Scriber Daly. Like most Monserratians, he has an Irish surname, but he people call him Scriber. When he was in school the other children called him Scriber because he was so good at describing things. He offered each of us a hiking stick which we gratefully accepted and were definitely glad to have particularly on slippery down slopes.
We set out on the Blackwood Allen hike from Mongo Hill to Baker Hill in the Center Hills. The highest point of the hike was 1417 feet. The highest point of the island is 2429 feet. Many of the hiking trails are located in these Centre Hills.
Scriber was a great source of information about the rainforest. We would certainly have hiked two kilometres much faster than three and a half hours if Scriber had not stopped to make us see and hear the many birds, trees and smaller living creatures. He pointed out the national symbols: the hairy mango tree which was flowering yellow, the heliconia flower of which we saw a large bright red one (at one foot in length, much bigger than any house plant varieties) and the Montserrat oriole, which we heard but did not see. The oriole suspends its basket nest from the heliconia plant.
We did see an Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Brian spotted it first and Scriber was very impressed with Brian’s observation skills. The iridescent green crest was beautiful. We also saw a large black moth darting about like a bat, a big cane toad hidden in the leaves, a crayfish in a stream and flashes of birds such as the quail dove, forest thrush, ani and scaly-breasted thrasher.
Scriber pointed out the Cecopia tree as we began our hike. When its twenty inch diameter leaves turn upside down to show white, a weather system is moving in, that is, rain. We did get rained on a few times but the rain forest provides pretty good protection. In addition, Scriber handed us a philodendron leaf as an umbrella. A two foot diameter leaf makes a good umbrella. The thirty to forty foot roots of the philodendron drape to the forest floor. Women cut them down and use them to weave baskets.
The thick high roots of the banyon tree have to be stepped over. This is one of the larger trees of the rain forest.
Shortly after starting our hike, Scriber motioned us to stop. He broke off a slim stick and lowered it into a hollow metal pole. When he pulled the stick out a gecko was clinging to the stick. Scriber held it while we admired it. Scriber was quite excited to see it was moulting, not a common sight. I held my little finger up to its paw and it grasped the end of my finger. What a feeling! It was soft and velvety like baby skin. Tiny grippers on the end of its foot held fast to my finger. I thought I would be wearing him home.
We also spotted holes in the ground where the nocturnal tarantula lives, but Scriber did not disturb him.
The Mammy Apple tree with its six inch wide round shiny leaves had small apples on it, but they were not yet ripe. People used to live on the mountain. Evidence of gardening remains. Scriber pointed out a poisonous plant, non native, that causes severe blistering on the skin.
It was a very informative excursion which finished with a drink at the Grandview B and B while Scriber had a friend take him and Bryan back for the cars. I had a delicious ginger beer made on site. Yum!