With some lingering arthritic-like symptoms and residual lower energy levels resulting from my bout of Chikungunya in April 2014, I was unsure about my strength and stamina in terms of a day-long hike in Dominica’s interior. I had done well so far, with walks of up to four hours. However, there was only one way to find out if I could do more – and you will have to read on to see how I made out!
Sunday May 3rd, 2015 was a very significant day for me, as it marked the first anniversary of the passing of my dear kitty, Tia-pet into the next life. Before hiking partner Jenny and I set off from Springfield Plantation to
commence our ambitious ‘walk’ to Middleham Falls, we visited Tia’s grave site and laid flowers there. While I miss him dearly, I can still ‘feel the love’ and I will always be grateful to my friends who have helped me cope with this loss.
The dry, hot season had set in with a vengeance on Dominica. Everyone was complaining about the oppressive heat. But what better place to go than into the cool of the rainforest, and that was our primary objective! We commenced just after 8:30 a.m. and immediately I huffed and puffed as my muscles warmed to the steep climb up the Cochrane Back Road, the first leg of the journey. Despite the initial breathlessness on my part, Jenny and I chatted away, and within half an hour, we arrived at the next uphill road that would take us to the trail-head to Middleham Falls. While the sun shone brilliantly overhead, we admired distant views of some of the mountains in Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). As we trekked along, we stopped to chat with a couple who were cleaning the yard in front of their beautiful, secluded home. The gentleman mentioned that hikers did pass by now and then, but I was well aware that most intrepids access the Middleham Falls eco-site from the Laudat side, as it is shorter, although a bit steeper in sections. I had taken that track a few months earlier, and you can read about that fun-filled foray here.
As we climbed higher into the rainforest, we were grateful for the cool breezes and shady trees that lined the overgrown through-way. When we came to a fork in the road, I couldn’t exactly recall which track to take, as it had been ten years since I had ventured this way. At that moment, a friendly farmer drove by and stopped to answer my query. Right away, he directed us to the right (hikers, take note), as the concreted lane to the left accesses private property.
Thereafter, our conversation kept us moving along, and after an hour or so of continuous incline, we arrived at a grassy plateau with an abandoned
house, and we noticed the end of the road a short distance away. Right before us, was the entrance to the Middleham Falls Trail!
As we entered the dense forest, we were immediately entranced by sweet sounds of revelry emanating from the tree-tops high above us. Finches, thrushes, and particularly Mountain Whistlers (Siffleur Montagne) accompanied us for the
duration of our day in the ‘woods’. Although we were a little fatigued from the challenging uphill climb on the back roads in the heat, we instantly felt refreshed under the cover of the canopy. A well-maintained track, with steps made from carapit, a sturdy, slip-proof local wood enabled us to move along very easily.
After a few minutes, we passed by a sign indicating that we were now officially inside the 17,000 acre Morne Trois Pitons National Park boundary. A number of steps later, we found ourselves beside the renowned ‘Stinking Hole’ (Tou Santi). While we were curious about this sulphurous crevice in the earth, which is home to thousands of bats, the foul-smelling fumes chased us away. Jenny and I did agree though, that it would be fun to see these
nocturnal mammals fly out en masse at dusk someday.
We continued from there in peaceful reverie as we listened to the cheery revelry of ubiquitous bird-songs above and around us. We forded several streams along the way, of which the first two were bone dry due to the lack of rainfall and intense heat. However, the next few did require some strategizing to avoid a slip on a slick rock or a wet boot. I generally let Jenny go first over these mini-challenges; she was more nimble in her agile attempts, however, I carefully (but successfully) picked my way to the other side.
As we neared the falls, the ravines on either side of the mini-rivers became steeper and more slippery. Good thing it was the dry season or those areas would have required more effort to reach the top of the opposite bank. The track also became narrower, a little greasy and uneven where there were above-ground streams and prominent tree roots. We had to keep our eyes to the ground so that we did not trip or twist an ankle. Soon we came to a junction with a sign that indicated our close proximity to the destination. At that point, we encountered a couple who had hiked from the Laudat side and we all more or less hiked the last several minutes together.
We could hear the roar first and then we caught a glimpse of the tall waterfall through the trees. But suddenly, we came to a dead end, and realized that we had ‘overshot’ the eco-site. Jenny scouted around while I explained to French visitors in their language about the situation. Then my intrepid friend backtracked and we followed her until she found the main path, which we had all overlooked for some reason. (Perhaps a sign would be helpful at that junction).
We took a few photos right away as we gawked at this dramatic cascade, which is one of the tallest on the island. (I cannot fit it all into my camera lens!) Then we plopped down on some large boulders overlooking this lovely scene and its pretty pool below. While we munched on our snacks, two young ladies came along and asked about swimming under the waterfall. I enthusiastically encouraged them to go below and try it. There were now six of us in the area, and I felt it was better to have a few people
around when others were in the water. So on that day, Jenny and I became unofficial ‘lifeguards’ . I had indeed jumped in to the refreshing waters many years ago, but did not think my knees could take further challenge on the rocky descent to the pool, as this was my first long trek in two years.
The others truly enjoyed their ‘bath’, and they actually left the site just ahead of Jenny and me. We had lingered for about 45 minutes, and the refreshing repose (without getting wet) was worth every second! On the return journey, I let Jenny lead, which I felt was good for me, as she helped me to quicken my pace slightly. We were again enraptured by the music over our heads, and we heard an assortment of tunes from various mountain whistlers along the route. It also intrigued us to listen to melodious tinkling sounds from unidentified insects. The rainforest was truly full of music that day and I felt as if I were walking in a heaven on earth.
While we retraced our steps, we also admired the tall trees which shaded us and housed those harmonious creatures: expansive chatanier, with huge buttresses and stately gommier, with aromatic sticky resin made us think that this forest must be very ancient indeed.
While we were looking around at all the beautiful plants in the rainforest, we heard a rustling in the dry leaves. All of a sudden, a rodent-like agouti scooted across the path just behind us. I had not seen one in the wild for many years, and it added to my delight with this day.
As we moved out of the trail and onto the open back road that would take us ‘down’ to Springfield, we also appreciated lovely wildflowers and the gorgeous views in every direction.
We quickened our steps, so that we could reward ourselves with a cool dip in the Springfield River.
When I looked at my watch once we were back at our base at Springfield, I remarked that we had taken about 6 1/2 hours to thoroughly enjoy a spectacular part of paradise. As I slipped into the refreshing river, I reveled in the joy of a remarkable journey into the essence of the Nature Island. And I was also thrilled to have accomplished my
first day-long trek since having fallen ill just over a year ago. Time spent in Dominica’s rainforest is definitely a healing tonic for body, mind and soul.