Recalling Dominica’s Hike Fest 2011: Wet, Challenging, Fun!

There’s still a week  to go before the next trek in 2012’s Hike Fest.   Our sore muscles from last week’s trek on Segment 5 are mending and energy levels are being restored in anticipation of our ‘walk’ along Segment 10 and part of Segment 11 on the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT).  Expect a full report post-hike.

In the mean time I’ve had a chance to pause and reflect on the challenging but rewarding experiences encountered on the trails last May.  As the WNT was nearing completion at that time, we tackled Segments 2, 3 and 4, which were receiving finishing touches for their official opening in June 2011.

Southerly coastal views of Dominica – on a clear day! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

We started the season at the Soufriere Sulphur Springs eco-site where the trail-head to Segment # 2 is situated.  The first part of this track was familiar to me, as I have always enjoyed the steep ascent to the village of Tete Morne (and then back to the springs for a hot soak!), with its spectacular views of the south coast.

But there was one big difference when I hiked it this time.  You guessed it – torrential rain!  I believe there were about 60 participants, all of varying levels of physical fitness.  After an hour, some of us squeezed under a little shelter,(called an ajoupa in Kalinago) near Tete Morne where we waited for the slower walkers and late-comers.  We were quickly drenched and hadn’t even gone too far!  Although we hoped for brightening skies, there was only a respite long enough for me to huff and puff my way up the Morpo Road, an extremely steep section of the trail where the reward is the view along the south coast of the country.  When we were offered an option to hitch a ride on a pick-up truck and thereby avoid the duress of this excruciating climb, I and a few others declined because we wanted to “go for it!”  For me, that was an accomplishment!  But once I arrived at the zenith of the hill, there were only a few moments to rest. Most of the group had waited about an hour for those of us who had chosen the more difficult method of ascent.  And there were still miles (I mean kilometers) to go before the finish at Bellevue Chopin,  a lovely mountain village.

The next part of the trail passed through rainforest and heavy rain drops pattered upon us again.  The track was steep in spots and the going was a little tricky along narrow precipices.  Thick low gray clouds prevented us from being tempted to raise our heads to look for hidden sights.  Instead, we concentrated on carefully placing one foot in front of the other and sticking closely together for safety’s sake.

Looking down upon Roseau from the village of Bellevue Chopin – on a clear day! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

By the time the soggy gang arrived at the Bellevue Chopin Community Centre five hours after we started, we were thoroughly chilled and bedraggled.  We eagerly devoured a tasty hot lunch prepared by  welcoming villagers (who are perhaps more accustomed to this type of micro-climate!).  Although the inclement weather  prevented us from  seeing the spectacular bird’s-eye view of Roseau from this vantage point, we hoped that it would be a fine day when we returned to take on Segment 3.

Our next foray was not Segment 3, but 4, and we did it in reverse.  I guess I don’t have to tell you what the weather was like when we arrived at Pond Casse in the centre of the island.  This route would take several hours, as we worked our way back to the Middleham Falls Visitor Centre  near the village of Laudat. There, we would be rewarded with a delicious lunch prepared by Joan of Le Petit Paradis in Wotten Waven.

The first big hurdle on Segment 4 was the mini-rappel of about 20 feet or so down a precipice  along a river, as the crossing bridge was still under construction.  At least 50 of us patiently waited our turns to descend with the aid of a rope and assistance from a couple of our strong male colleagues.  As it was raining cats and dogs, I pulled out a little umbrella from my pack.  Although I thought I looked foolish, a number of my friends admired my forethought!  Be assured that it didn’t help for long, as it too became waterlogged in the relentless rain.

I admit that I was scared about clinging to a rope and bouncing my feet off of the vertical rock face.  When it was over (in  about 5 minutes),  I couldn’t wait to do it again!  I actually enjoyed it and was proud of myself for overcoming that particular fear.  On the other hand, I didn’t have a choice.  With safety precautions in place, verbal  support and such jovial camaraderie in the group, it was “a piece of cake!”

Once we had hopped from stone to stone to cross the river, we encountered a steep muddy slope,a seemingly endless uphill slog.  We clung to solid rocks, grasped tree roots and often offered a hand to anyone in need.  At about the midway point of this 5 hour plus hike, we fortified ourselves under another ajoupa in preparation for a slippery descent which did eventually level out as we forded a few more rivers and easily walked the track, which was a short distance from Middleham Falls.  By the time I was in the area not far from the cascade, it was getting late and I had walked through the forest for almost 6 hours.   When a friend and I emerged from the bush at the Trail Centre, one bus load of happy tired hikers was pulling out.  But I was not distressed, despite my dirty attire and wobbly legs.  A small group of us lingered, chatted, laughed  and filled our faces with the local dishes that Joan (see above) set on the table.  We did it!  One more to go.

By the time our third and final hike rolled around, we accepted that fact that sunshine was not a likely occurrence.  We travelled by bus and offloaded at the Community Centre in Bellevue Chopin to begin the day’s journey on Segment 3, a 6 – 7 hour foray that would finish at Wotten Waven in the Roseau Valley.  We were motivated by the rewards that awaited us there: a hot soak in the natural hot pool at Ti Kwen Glo Cho, just across the road from Le Petit Paradis, where Joan would once again be serving up something scrumptious.

Spectacular views of the Roseau Valley and beyond can be seen from Morne Prosper – on a clear day! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

On this mountainous trek, we truly experienced the “hills and valleys” of the Nature Island.  From Bellevue, we climbed higher and higher for about an hour in teaming rain, thunder and lightning.  By the time we  reached the village of Giraudel, we were drenched but eager to continue, as there was much more ground to cover.  When the clouds lifted a little, we could see across the valley to our next main point on the trail, Morne Prosper.  But getting there was nothing short of an extreme adventure. For an hour (or was it two?) the group slipped and slid down a treacherously steep ravine as we clung with all our might to a strong rope that was secured along the side of the trail.  At some points, I opted for an easier method – bottoms-up, with my feet serving as brakes!  The rain continued.  Once we arrived in this valley , we quickly crossed  the raging River Claire on a strong bridge above it.  Then we met another  seemingly vertical climb, sometimes narrowly skirting a steep precipice. Finally, we encountered some constructed steps which enabled us to go a little faster and we eventually arrived in Morne Prosper in merely damp conditions.  As we walked through the village, we admired the abundant  garden plots, which offered up a variety of vegetables and even some pretty flowers.

From here-on, the going was  easier and the slopes more gentle as we spent the final hour looking forward to lunch and a hot soak.  It was mid-afternoon when my party stumbled into Joan’s, devoured  dinner,  and then limped across the road to submerge ourselves in the hot mineral waters at Ti Kwen Glo Cho.

As our muscles relaxed, we raised a cheer and giggled with glee.  Hike Fest 2011 was not a wash-out after all!

P.S.  By now, you must have realized that I did not take any pictures during these three hikes.  Perhaps you’ve also figured out why! 😉

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6 comments on “Recalling Dominica’s Hike Fest 2011: Wet, Challenging, Fun!

  1. corinne says:

    your adventures are amazing… I’m a fair weather hiker, so these experiences don’t appeal to me, but I’ll certainly walk a trail or two in the future! 🙂

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    • gwendominica says:

      I would say that I’m a fair weather hiker too – but on a rainforest island – we take what we get! I look forward to hiking a trail or two with you. : )

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  2. lizziemad says:

    Made me shiver just reading about all that rain………Hoping for a sunny day this coming Saturday!! Hope you are able to take loads of photos!

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    • gwendominica says:

      “We’ll hope for fine weather for our outing,” as my maternal grandmother would say. Fingers and toes are crossed, but we’ll have fun, no matter what! ; )

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  3. lizziemad says:

    Just reread this one after just completing part of segment 4 yesterday. Happy to report that the two bridges are now complete! Still ropes in a few places though. Beautiful hike and we were lucky enough to have perfect weather.

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