Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 1

Hike Fest enthusiasts started to gather outside the DHTA office in Roseau from 6:30 a.m.

Hike Fest enthusiasts started to gather outside the DHTA office in Roseau from 6:30 a.m.  This is the 6th year of the annual event, which forms part of Dominica’s Tourism Awareness Month.

When a group of 71 Hike Fest enthusiasts of several nationalities set off  from the DHTA office on Saturday May 4th by bus en route to the start of  Segment Seven of Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail, we were collectively saying prayers of thanks for a gorgeous day on the Nature Isle.  As we travelled from Roseau through the interior to the trail-head at Hatton Garden on the east coast, we chatted excitedly about our adventure-to-be on Hike # 1 of this year’s event.

We disembarked after an hour’s drive at around 9 a.m. and were anxious to hit the  12.6 km/ 7.5 mile trail immediately.  The sun was quickly rising higher in the sky and

Seventy-one people from various countries around the world (some visitors and some residents) took part in Hike # 1 on WNT Segment 7.

Seventy-one people from various countries (both visitors and residents) took part in Hike # 1 on WNT Segment 7.

the temperature was starting to soar at that early hour. However, we did not rush off without a’ prep and pep’ talk from long-time Hike Fest organizer Simon

DHTA Past-President and fromer Hike Fest Cooridinator Simon Walsh instructs the group about the day's hike.

DHTA Past-President and former Hike Fest Coordinator Simon Walsh instructs the group about the day’s hike.

Walsh.  He introduced our guides for the day, described possible hazards on the trail, noted unique exit markings and most of all, encouraged us to take our time and have fun!

We crossed a small river very near the start of WNT Segment 7.  I got a lift across the river, thanks to a very strong young man.  I wonder if anyone captured that on camera!

We crossed a small river very near the start of WNT Segment 7. I got a free lift across it, thanks to a very strong young man. I wonder if anyone captured that on camera!

It was about 9: 20 a.m. when the group set off en masse.  By the time we crossed the first small river, all the intrepids had basically split up according to their pace.  I knew that I would remain with friends and acquaintances of similar step who had been in my previous hiking ‘pods’ and I was happy with that arrangement.  In this congenial company, I was bound to have a wonderful time socially, as well

Nigel, proprietor of a popular snackette beside ACS in Roseau and Tamara, an instructor at Ross University in Portsmouth are two  lovely people that I met on this adventure.

Nigel, proprietor of a popular natural foods snackette beside  the ACS grocery store in Roseau and Tamara, an instructor at Ross University in Portsmouth are two lovely people who I met for a few moments on this adventure.

as a physical work-out that essentially suited my age and ability – in the  50+  year olds club!  The added bonuses were reuniting with some similar hikers from other years and getting to know some new faces.  Seven of us were content to remain at the end of the group.  What a stroke of luck , as the person at the very back of the hike turned out to be a fantastic guide by the name of Lenny Sylvester from Woodford Hill, a village on the northeast coast.

Lenny is an awesome guide!  We were lucky to be in his company.  He knows this trail very well as he was one of the people who built it.

Lenny is an awesome guide! We were lucky to be in his company. He knows this trail very well as he was one of the people who built it.

From the 'get-go', the trail has a steep uphill climb immediately after crossing the river.

From the ‘get-go’, the trail has a steep uphill climb immediately after crossing the first river.

He proved to be an exceptional coach and teacher.  Without a doubt, he was also the epitome of patience as he walked along with some of us that he respectfully called

“grannies!” (And don’t get me wrong – I think he truly was impressed with our abilities, good cheer, interest in his instruction, and determination to complete the trail!  He was emphatic that most women our age would not attempt such a trek!)

In reality,  it was Lenny who really “mothered” us along the way.  If someone’s pack was too heavy, he took it. If someone needed extra help, especially on the slippery downhills, he was right there!  He was always telling  us what to expect next on the trail: about 5 “ups’ and 4 ‘downs’; a couple  little rivers to cross; three bridges (one submerged); the time it would take to exit the trail and get back to the meeting point at Melville Hall (1 1/2 hours!);  and what to do if we got lost on the trail! (There are signs posted every now and then that show the GPS locations).

That first big climb took me and some of my hiking partners by surprise . I was very familiar with traversing steep terrain, but in this instance, I was winded once I reached the first ridge.  Under scorching sun and high humidity, my lungs burned, I huffed and puffed like a novice and my legs felt weak.  My face turned beet red and sweat dripped from my cap.  I turned around and saw that I was not the only one in this situation.  Perhaps we had started too quickly  with the big group. Maybe it was the moist  salt-laden winds. Possibly, it was this newer experience of  intense heat and  sun exposure in the open fields at the start of this hike on the eastern side of  Dominica.

The social aspect of Hike Fest is definitely part of the fun!

The social aspect of Hike Fest is definitely part of the fun!

Anyway, we seemed to regain our momentum once we took a breather on the first high ridge as we plunked ourselves down on a picnic table, ate a few snacks and admired the

From a high elevation ,the view of Pagua Bay and the Hatten Garden are breathtaking even on a hazy day!

From a high elevation ,the view of Pagua Bay and  the Hatton Garden area are breathtaking even on a hazy day!

stunning view of Pagua Bay ‘beneath’ us.  As the trail took us further inland we oohed and aahed over the vistas to the northeast.  There was not doubt in my mind that our efforts were

Our 'walk' took us above the Melville Hall Airport (runway in foreground), with views to the village of Wesley with the northeast coast approachig Calibishie in the distance.

Our ‘walk’ took us above the Melville Hall Airport (runway in left foreground), with views to the village of Wesley and the northeast coast approaching Woodford Hill in the distance and Calibishie Ridge at the upper left.

Majestic Morne Diablotin featured prominently to the north and west of our track.

Majestic Morne Diablotin featured prominently to the northwest of our track.

more than worth it as we surrounded ourselves in the stunning beauty of the Nature Isle.

We passed through a number of farms,

The trail passed through a number of farms.After cheery greetings, we respected  their privacy and refrained from picking any fruit!

The trail passed through a number of farms.After cheery greetings, we respected their privacy and refrained from picking any fruit!

including a large one owned by Mr. Walter Williams.   He was cultivating oranges and cocoa in that area. We stopped to chat with him briefly and then took a look at the birder’s observation tower on his property.

A birder's building is found on Mr. Williams's farm.  It can also be rented as a stay-over abode while traversing the WNT from one segment to the next.

Liz looks out from the bird observation tower, which is found on Mr. Williams’s farm.

It is also available to rent overnight for intrepids going through on more than one segment of the trail.  (For more information, contact the WNT office in Pond Cassé (767)

266-3593;email: wntp@dominica.gov.dm).  From there, we wended our way down to a small river,

It was a hot day for hiking and Wendy took the opportunity to refresh herself at the next little river after the Williams farm.

It was a hot day for hiking and Wendy took the opportunity to refresh herself at the next little river after the Williams farm.

Beyond the farms, we entered the seondary forest and continued our climb - for the second of sevefral times!

Beyond the farms, we entered the secondary forest and continued our climb – for the third of five times!

where we splashed our faces to cool off for the next challenging ascent.  Along the way, we admired abundant heliconia flowers.

We admired different heliconia flowers along the route.

We admired different heliconia flowers along the route.

The red heliconia is a stunning contrast to the ubiquitous greens around it

The red heliconia is a stunning contrast to the ubiquitous greens around it.

Some of their varieties are only found on Dominica.

When we paused at a picnic table on the top of the next ridge, we thrilled to see a pair of Jaco parrots flying in our direction.

Lenny shows us a 'water lemon', one of the preferred fruits that parrots eat.  Dominica's two endemic parrots, the Sisserou and the Jaco are sometimes seen along Segment 7.  We saw two Jacos in flight!

Lenny shows us a ‘water lemon’, one of the preferred fruits that parrots eat. Dominica’s two endemic parrots, the Sisserou and the Jaco are sometimes seen along Segment 7. We saw two Jacos in flight!

“People should be more like parrots,” mused Lenny.  “What do you mean?” we asked ensemble.  “They only have one partner for life!” he enthused.  I can assure you that a lively discussion ensued, after which we tackled the next descent where we came upon a farmer working in his field.  We admired the plentiful, fat coconuts on his trees and openly longed for a refreshing taste of their healthful water.  The others ahead of us must have benefited due to the pile of husks near the track.  Suddenly, he called out, “Anyone for a jelly coconut?” “Yes please!!” we enthusiastically responded. For $2.00 EC dollars each, we fortified ourselves with the refreshing juice which

A friendly farmer along the trail offered us refreshing coco.nut water

A friendly farmer along the trail offered us refreshing coconut water.

restored our energy levels, thanks to the bountiful nutrients in it.

Gwendominica delights in delicously sweet coconut water.  It contains electrolytes which can become depleted by excessive sweating.  I was completely refreshed after that treat!

Gwendominica delights in deliciously sweet coconut water. It contains electrolytes which can become depleted by excessive sweating. I was completely refreshed after that treat!

Coconut water is nature’s Gatorade, many people say!

We were thankful for our ‘power refreshment break’ as we took on the final descent through the forest, which would bring us to a big bridge (that Lenny helped to build) over a rushing river.  This part of the track proved to be the most challenging of all.  But we had received some advice by text message from Wendy’s husband Simon, who suggested that this section was very muddy ( as 63 people had already been over it!) and steep and that it would be best to go “off piste”  (down-hill ski term for ‘off the trai’l)when necessary.  As we narrowly slolamed back and forth down the tricky track,  that   ski expression was aptly applied in this area.  We hung on to whatever tree or vine was within reach. Hiking poles and walking sticks provided extra balance. Occasionally the” bottoms-up” technique was the best approach to this challenge.  Of course, Lenny was there to lend a much appreciated hand to all of us when the going got a little too tough!

Liz completely cools off after a very steep, muddy and tricky descent in order to refresh for the next (and final) ascent.

Liz completely cools off after a very steep, muddy and tricky descent to refresh for the next (and final) ascent.

By the time I got to the bridge, some of my ‘pod’ were in the  cool waters beneath it. I resisted the temptation, because if I had gone in, I probably wouldn’t

Our trail guide Lenny helped to build this substantial bridge.  We walked over it easily on this dry day, but we were told that these structures can be very slippery when wet.

Our trail guide Lenny helped to build this substantial bridge. We walked over it easily on this dry day, but we were told that these structures can be very slippery when wet.

want to get out!

Finally, Lenny assured us that the “worst” was basically over and that there was only one more ascent before we connected with a farm feeder road that would take us back “down” to our meeting point with the rest of the group.  We took a big breath and started to climb.

Our final ascent took us deeper into the forest in Dominica's interior.

Our final ascent took us deeper into the forest in Dominica’s interior.

For some reason, this last stretch seemed much easier.  I even broke into song  sometimes.  But fatigue was setting in for all of us.  We had been more than five hours on the trail and there still remained a few more! While one couple went on ahead, the rest of us paced ourselves.  Sore swollen knees, burning red ant bites, heat exhaustion and excruciating headaches were taking their toll, but still we put on brave faces and helped

The vanilla orchid (vine) can only be pollinated by hand!  It grows wild in the forest, but there are some farmers who painstakingly cultivate it

The vanilla orchid (vine) can only be pollinated by hand! It grows wild in the forest as a parasitic plant, but there are some farmers in Dominica who painstakingly cultivate it.

each other along – in the true spirit of Hike Fest.

Lenny informed us that parrots like to nest in 'holes' in trees (dark area) either created by termites or a rotting section of a ree

Lenny informed us that parrots like to nest in ‘holes’  (dark area) either created by termites or a rotting section of a tree.

A brilliant red mushroom brightens up the forest floor.  I don't think I would eat this one, because I don't know if it non-poisonous!

A brilliant red mushroom brightens up the forest floor. I don’t think I would eat this one, because I don’t know if it’s poisonous!

.

When we emerged from the forest onto farmland and brilliant sunshine again, the stately Gommier trees stood out beautifully against the blus sjy backdrop.

When we emerged from the forest onto farmland and brilliant sunshine again, the stately Gommier trees stood out beautifully against the blue sky backdrop.

At last, we broke out of the forest and faced the last river crossing – a submerged concrete bridge.  No worries – I’ve never taken my boots off faster !

We passed by a pretty and prolifci nutmeg tree on the farm feeder road towards the end of our journey.

We passed by a pretty and prolific nutmeg tree on the farm feeder road towards the end of our journey.

The final river crossing involved boot removal.  I didn't mind one bit.  the cool wtaer felt so refreshing on my feet!

The last river crossing involved boot removal. I didn’t mind one bit!

  The  cool waters revived my hot, tired, achy feet for the upcoming  1 1/2 hour last lap!

At this point, there was concern that the couple who had gone ahead of us on their own might have gotten lost.  Lenny sent another guide  to find them and alerted the Hike Fest Coordinator.  We continued along in an area called First Camp, admiring the sensational views in every direction, while Lenny tried to find out where the two visitors had gone.  There are many farm feeder roads there, apart from the WNT, and we were not sure if they had turned onto the wrong one!

Wendy points to the highest peak in the distance, from whence we came on WNT # 7. It was a long way!

Wendy points to the highest southerly peak in the distance, from whence we came (!) on WNT # 7. It was a long way!  And that wasn’t  even the start of the trail!

A northerly view, as we headed back to the east coast.  I can never get enough of looking at Dominica's mountains!

A northerly view, as we headed back to the east coast. I can never get enough of looking at Dominica’s mountains!

Towards the end of our hike, the shades of green looking south were simply spectacular!

Towards the end of our hike, the shades of green looking south were simply spectacular!

Quietly, we moved along in the  gorgeous afternoon sun, now behind us.

We focussed on putting one foot in front of the other and hoping for  the quick return of our ‘pod’ members who had taken a wrong turn.  As we neared Melville Hall Airport, we stopped to watch a LIAT plane make its final descent.  We could also hear  music in the distance so we knew it wouldn’t be too much longer.

With less than a half hour to go, we came upon Red Cross volunteers and other guides who were on their way to pick up the lost hikers.  They stopped for a few moments to check on us and offered jelly coconuts, which I eagerly accepted and quickly drank for instant refreshment.

By the time we reached the Melville Hall River and a hot lunch, which was prepared by the Marigot  Community Association, almost 8 hours had elapsed since we started.  That was a record for me – about the same length of time on this trail as when I had climbed up and down Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak many years earlier.

We devoured the delicious food – I had mahi-mahi fish in coconut milk with provisions ( starchy  vegetables) and  plentiful greens. At first, I wasn’t sure if I could consume the substantial meal but I surprised myself by eating it all!

Good feelings abounded after our challenging but successful day on Segment 7 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.  I was pleased with my performance and felt ready to take on Hike Fest # 2 the following week – the famous Boiling Lake Trail.  Watch out for my  next report!

*The lost hikers were quickly and safely found, thanks to a team effort.  Moral of the story:  Always stay with your guide when hiking in unfamiliar territory!

**Lenny Sylvester, our excellent guide on WNT  Segment # 7 (who also knows Segment # 8 very well) can be contacted through the Waitukubuli National Trail Office ( 767-266-3593) or at 295-1144.

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10 comments on “Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 1

  1. lizziemad says:

    Thanks for such an eloquent and detailed description of our eventful day! Looking forward to the Boiling Lake hike this Saturday!

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  2. Leng Sorhaindo says:

    Well done Gwen!

    Leng

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  3. Tina ALexander says:

    Enjoyed travelling with you…….I guess this is a chapter of the book ” Escaping Babylon – adventures on the Waitikubuli Trail!”

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    • gwendominica says:

      Yes indeed, Tina! Thanks for being on this adventure – albeit vicariously. Time spent in Dominica’s rainforest seems to me to be at times surreal. It’s the perfect escape, for sure!

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  4. gyslaine says:

    hi gwen
    found your blog with a simple click, the team from sxm trails, we were very happy and having lots of fun to be with you all….

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    • gwendominica says:

      Thanks Gyslaine. It was great to see you and the team from St. Martin on the trail in Dominica! I hope you will come back again next year. Best wishes and happy hiking!

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  5. Maxine says:

    Hey Gwen! We are now 3 weekends of hiking for Hike Fest! includes 3 Saturdays and 2 Sundays…plus weekday hikes in the final week!

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    • gwendominica says:

      Yes, thanks Maxine. I have links to the DHTA site for Hike Fest throughout the text so that readers may find out more if they wish. My personal objective is 3 Saturdays in May this year. Maybe next year, I’ll aim for more! Cheers!

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