Earlier Hikes on the Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica

Alden (l), Gwendominica and Vivi of Vivi’s Excursiones Inc. start on a section of WNT Segment 6 from Salybia by the Historic Church in the Carib Territory. Photo taken by Simon Walsh of Images Dominica for the DHTA.

As another annual  Hike Fest in Dominica approaches, I am reminded of other hikes I have taken on the Waitukubuli National Trail before it was officially opened in December 2011.

During Dominica’s 30th anniversary of Independence in 2008, Hike Fest was born that May and I have been a faithful follower ever since!

The first hike of that year took us to the north of the island – to experience a historic track that had always been called the Capuchin Trail and is now formally known as Waitukubuli National Trail Segment 13.  This important footpath had always linked the northern villages of the island, and in recent years had been well-maintained by the Capuchin Cultural Group.

We started at Pennville, after having driven over the Northern Link Road with a stop to take in the Cold Soufriere, located a short distance from the road.  Unlike its hot southerly counterparts in the south of the island (Roseau Valley and Soufriere),  there are cold bubbling sulphurous pools, but no steaming fumeroles!

From the trail-head, we followed along the northerly edge of Morne Aux Diables and its volcanic crater.  The trail twisted and turned through the forest and sometimes we huffed and puffed up seemingly endless inclines.  Stunning views of the Guadeloupe Channel and the French islands to the north sometimes diverted our attention from the challenging path.  Tree roots and loose rocks prevented casual gazing unless one stopped for a well-deserved  “breather!”

The Expres des Iles ferry from Guadeloupe skirts Dominica's northern shoreline en route to Roseau as seen from WNT Segment 13.

The Express des Iles ferry from Guadeloupe skirts Dominica’s northern shoreline en route to Roseau as seen from WNT Segment 13.

WNT Segment 13 is an historic track between the northern villages of Pennville and Capuchin.

WNT Segment 13 is a historic track between the northern villages of Pennville and Capuchin.

When the trail broadened and the inclines became less intense, I was able to acquaint myself with some other expats who had recently relocated to Dominica: Hans and Lise, owners of the Comfortel De Champ hotel in Picard, near Portsmouth.  I ‘ve since stayed there a few times.  I really enjoy the  friendly ambiance, spectacular views and fantastic food!  I also met a retiree from the Netherlands, named Gyis.  He and his wife live a short distance away from me and they are also my classmates at Alliance Francaise de la Dominique!  Hiking in Dominica is definitely a companionable pass-time.

After about four hours, we arrived at the Connor Heritage Park at Capuchin, where the Capuchin Cultural Group welcomed us with hearty broth (more like a stew) and cold drinks.  We lingered a while and explored the area around the northern most point of land in Dominica.  Little did we know, that a couple of years hence we would continue in a westerly direction from there and finish at the Cabrits National Park on the final segment of the Waitukubuli National Trail!

At Capuchin, this point is the northernmost location in Dominica.  It also marks the end of WNT Segment 13 and start of WNT 14.

At Capuchin, this rocky promontory is the northernmost location in Dominica. It also marks the end of WNT Segment 13 and start of WNT 14.

On a drizzly early Saturday morning in May 2010, we arrived at the Connor Heritage Park in Capuchin with a few dozen other enthusiastic intrepids to commence Segment 14 en route to Cabrits National Park, the trail’s end.  And who should we meet, with hot and rich local cocoa tea  (made with coconut milk!) and hearty stuffed bakes but the members of the Capuchin Cultural Group -again!  I was so impressed with their hospitality and good cheer.  This sustenance held me for several hours on this trail, which for me was more challenging than most!

After a steep, slippery descent to the rocky coastline facing the Guadeloupe Channel, we walked for a long distance over rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes.  As the morning wore on, the weather became brilliant and  sunny.  Although I was loaded down with a large water bottle and two smaller ones, I was grateful for my foresight as everyone soon became very thirsty and dehydrated in the intense seaside heat.  This ocean-side trail did not offer any shelter for shade.  I took my time and had the honour of being escorted by two ladies from the Capuchin Cultural Group.  They told me many  stories of days-gone-by in the area, and how this “walk” of  11 kilometres was really nothing for them – even in their Sunday best!

All of a sudden, we encountered a tricky outcrop which required careful footwork or a sudden dunk in the ocean!  There was a wide crevice to “jump over” from a slippery ledge and I was scared.  I was ready to take the plunge and sacrifice my hiking boots, when Vivi, who is a seasoned tour guide extraordinaire (see first photo above) offered to reach out and grab me.  She is petite, but  mighty.  I am glad she has a strong back!

WNT Segment 14 (the last segment!) ends at the Cabrits National Park.  It features as the two humps in the distance.  Photo taken from Coconut Beach by Edwin Whitford.

WNT Segment 14 (the last segment!) ends at the Cabrits National Park. It features as the two humps in the distance. Photo taken from Coconut Beach by Edwin Whitford.

After about four and a half hours, I reached the Cabrits National Park on the Douglas Bay side with a few other stragglers.  My ankles are weak, and despite my hot damp boots, I did slip on the unpredictable rocks, from which there was no respite.  Simon Walsh, then-president of the DHTA and Hike Fest Coordinator was there waiting patiently  and good-naturedly on the edge of the Cabrits forest and he pointed the way to enter the final stretch of Segment 14.  I was grateful for a woodland trail, but somehow we got turned around  in the dense brush.  We had inadvertently left the main trail, but did not realize it for about 15 minutes.  Finally, after five and half hours, we stumbled out of the forest onto the main grounds of historic Fort Shirley and headed to Purple Turtle Beach, a short walk away. But we couldn’t have a recuperative swim that day.  Others had been waiting for us for some time! We boarded buses and headed back to Roseau.  Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from that hike.  I was completely focused on placing my feet!

The actual first hike of the 2010 season took us over to the Carib (Kalinago) Territory, on the east coast of the island.  There, we started Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail at the historic Catholic Church at Salybia.  It has a canoe-shaped altar!  We admired its beautiful murals of Carib culture before setting out to the task at hand.  The breathtaking dramatic scenery was ever-present as we followed the coastline from high above the Atlantic Ocean.  While the day was fair, reddish mud along the trail was at times slippery and required careful footwork.  Friendly villagers and farmers greeted us and sometimes offered fruit as we  respectfully passed through their private properties.  The undulating hills were fairly challenging, but not excessively steep (for me).  We did rest at several points while we waited for slower trekkers to catch up with the group.  The latter part of the trail put us on the main road, where we all stopped for photo ops (but I was without

Some of the rugged coastline that can be seen along Segment 6 of the WNT from Castle Bruce and then through the Carib Territory.

Some of the rugged coastline that can be seen along Segment 6 of the WNT from Castle Bruce and then through the Carib Territory.

camera that day!) at the scenic look-off point at Atkinson, before departing the Carib Territory.

A scenic inland view near the start of WNT Segment 6, at Castle Bruce.  We did not start from there in Hike Fest 2010.

A scenic inland view near the beginning of WNT Segment 6, at Castle Bruce. We did not start from there in Hike Fest 2010.

We walked a short distance further and ended up at the luxurious Silks Hotel in Hatton Garden, where a delicious local lunch of chicken or fish awaited us on the airy patio.  I got to know new neighbours Susan and Alden over a leisurely meal while others chose to refresh themselves in the  Pagua  River, located right beside the property.

I am pleased to have tackled these trails at an earlier time.  I can’t wait to tell you about my next adventure on the Waitukubuli National Trail.  Segment 7 is on the agenda for Hike Fest 2013.  I hope I’ll see you there!

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