On an overcast, drizzly Saturday, about 70 hiking enthusiasts boarded three coaster buses at Roseau and headed up Dominica’s west coast to the village of Colihaut. Our objective on Hike Fest‘s second outing this year was to complete Segment # 10 of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT), which covers terrain between Colihaut Heights and Syndicate, and then follow a section of Segment 11 that would take us to our final destination at Ross Castle Estate on the Picard River, near Portsmouth.
Part of the intrigue of Hike Fest (for me) is the adventure, including unexpected “diversions.” When we disembarked from the buses, we discovered that in order to reach the trail-head of Segment 10, we would have to “hop on” a dump truck, which would take us up steep and rough farm road. With only a little trepidation, I took a deep breath and cautiously climbed the steps on the side of the dumper. I lifted one leg very high and then the other over the side panel and landed safely on the floor of the dumper, where I took a standing position at the front, just behind the cab. A few others took the front row view beside me, while about 2o more sat down or hung on behind me for the uphill journey.
My initial fears vanished as the dumper climbed higher and higher. The courteous and careful driver blew the horn whenever we approached low-hanging branches or heavily laden mango trees, so I was able to squat safely out of harm’s way. A fresh cool breeze caressed me as I gazed with awe at the stunning scenery all around me – lush valleys, verdant hills, an azure blue Caribbean Sea.
After half an hour, we arrived at the start of the trek and I confidently climbed down from the truck . Then we realized the trip would be slightly delayed, as we had to wait for the dumper to return again with the rest of the hikers. With patience and good cheer, we easily conversed with each other, made introductions to the visitors in the group and fortified ourselves with snacks from our packs.
The time passed fairly quickly and finally everyone gathered around to hear final instructions from Hike Fest Coordinator Simon Walsh. Then we were off!
Most of the hikers took off at a quick pace. I lagged behind, as usual, mainly so that no one would have to wait to pass me on the trail. Of course I was not alone. Very early on, my little pod of lady trekkers assembled – both old friends and new ones of varying ages and experience. With a collegial spirit, we kept each other company over the next four hours. You can be assured that the rain commenced early on the journey. Although our views were somewhat diminished, we were accompanied by the sounds of the occasional screeching Jaco parrot(endemic to Dominica), melodious chirping thrushes and warblers, as well as an actual sighting of a Blue-headed hummingbird, which is only found on Dominica and Martinique.
The trail was wet and muddy, but the going was fairly smooth on old and newer farm roads. We arrived near the Syndicate Visitor Centre and the end of Segment 10 in exactly two hours. Along the way, we stopped briefly to admire lovely flowers, take photographs and discuss our previous hikes up the majestic Morne Diablotin, which towered above us in the mist. We generally agreed that one trek up (and down) the challenging slope of Dominica’s tallest mountain would suffice. I admit that I was proud to have successfully accomplished this eight hour feat many years earlier. I have the pictures to prove it!
When we arrived at the trail-head to Segment 11 two hours after our start, I guestimated that it would take us two more hours to complete this hike. I figured that the day’s outing was estimated at four hours, and as an average hiker with others of like step, I felt confident that we could finish it in that length of time.
For the next hour or so, it was a gentle (but wet and muddy) downward slope on an old farm road. But then the going got a little trickier as the path diverted into the thick forest, passing by ancient chattanneye (sha-ta-nay) trees, where the angle of descent became much more acute. We carefully picked our way down, grasping trees for support and planting our feet carefully around roots and some loose rocks. At one point, I applied my bottoms-up technique rather than risk an abrupt slip on the slick ground. By now, the rain drops pelted us relentlessly. But we were not deterred. As our boots slogged along, we lifted our voices in song – about rain and sun, of course!
All of a sudden, we stopped dead in our tracks. Out of the blue (I mean gray), a spectacular sea view appeared before us. And Portsmouth was in plain sight. We were practically there! The final few minutes were a respite for us as the weather cleared and we quickly passed through a banana field, crossed a road, and arrived at our destination – Ross Castle Estate. And yes, we made it down from Syndicate in exactly two hours!
I delighted in another Hike Fest accomplishment as I devoured a hearty callaloo (like spinach) soup and danced for a few minutes to the jumpy West Indian beats coming from loudspeakers nearby.
Now, there is just Hike # 3 to go!