Rainforest Revelry: A Wonder-Filled Trek from Springfield to Middleham Falls, Dominica

There's Dominica's Morne Micotrin (Macaque) again!  It welcomes eager hikers to the trailhead of Middleham Falls above Cochrane village.

There’s Dominica’s Morne Micotrin (Macaque) again! It welcomes eager hikers to the trail-head for Middleham Falls above Cochrane village.

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

Plants are flourishing at Tia's grave site at Springfield.  The little kitty is resting in spectacular natural surroundings.

Plants are flourishing at Tia’s grave site at Springfield Plantation. The little kitty is resting in spectacular natural surroundings.

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.

from high above teh Cochrane Village, the views across the Roseau Valley are spectacular.  I believe this prominent massif is Morne Watt.

From high above the Cochrane Village, the views across the Roseau Valley are spectacular. I believe this prominent massif is Morne Watt in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

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

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) provides a dramatic backdrop to the entrance to the Middleham Falls trail.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) provides a dramatic backdrop to the trail-head to the Middleham Falls track above Cochrane.

house, and we noticed the end of the road a short distance away. Right before us, was the entrance to the Middleham Falls Trail!

The enchanting entrance to Middleham Falls trail beckons visitors to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Aprk.

The enchanting entrance to Middleham Falls trail above Cochrane village beckons visitors to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

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

The start of the Middleham Falls trail from the Cochrane side is level and easy to walk on.

The start of the Middleham Falls trail from the Cochrane side is level and easy to walk on.

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

The 'Stinking Hole' filled with thousands of bats during the day, lives up to its name!

The ‘Stinking Hole’ is  filled with thousands of bats and their ‘guano’, and lives up to its name!

Jenny stands at the boundary sign as we entered Morne Trois Pitons National Park en route to Middleham Falls.

Jenny stood at the boundary sign as we entered Morne Trois Pitons National Park en route to Middleham Falls.

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.

Jenny considers the best approach for crossing slippery rocks in the river.

Jenny considered the best approach for crossing slippery rocks in the river.

Jenny manouevers over slippery rocks in a river bed.

Jenny manoeuvred over slippery rocks in a river bed.

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It is possible to hike right through from Cochrane to Laudat (and vice versa) on the Middleham Falls trail. It also intersects with Segment 4 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

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).

In the hot sunny weather, this site was beyond beautiful.

In the hot sunny weather, this site was beyond beautiful.

The top of Middleham Falls is about 270' up.  It has less flow in this photo, as it was taken in the dry seaon, that is no or very little rainfall and intense heat.  This is usual during the month of May.

The top of Middleham Falls is about 270′ up. It has less flow in this photo, as it was taken in the dry season, that is, no or very little rainfall and intense heat. This is usual during the month of May in Dominica.

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

Middleham Falls glistened in the dappled sunlight on Sunday May 3, 2015.

Middleham Falls glistened in the dappled sunlight on Sunday May 3, 2015.

A visitor enjoys a refreshing dip in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

A visitor enjoyed a refreshing dip in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

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.

A pair of insects in this hole within an ancient gommier tree exchanged tuneful phrases (until they noticed that we were listening!)

A pair of insects in this hole within an ancient gommier tree exchanged tuneful phrases (until they noticed that we were listening!)

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 the forest was relatively dry, fungi did still thrive in the dark, cool environment.

While the forest was relatively dry, fungi did still thrive in the dark, cool environment.

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.

Many leaves have fallen from the trees in the rainforest, as a natural phenomenon during the dry season.

Many leaves had fallen from the trees in the rainforest, which is a natural phenomenon during the dry season.

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.

Lovely heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Lovely red heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

We quickened our steps, so that we could reward ourselves with a cool dip in the Springfield River.

The revitalizing Springfield River was a refreshing reward after a day-long trek to and through the rainforest.

The revitalizing Springfield River was a refreshing reward after a day-long trek to and through the rainforest.

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

An beautiful May sunset was another reward for a wonderful day on the Nature Island.

A beautiful May sunset  marked the conclusion of wonderful day on the Nature Island.

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.

 

 

 

 

A Walk Up to Cochrane Dominica: Hot Farms, Warm Friends and Cool Mountains!

Jenny captures some of Dominica's verdant splendour during a walk to Cochrane from Springfield.

Jenny captures some of Dominica’s verdant splendour during a walk to Cochrane from Springfield.

On a beautiful March day during Dominica’s ‘dry season’, Jenny Spencer and I took a long uphill walk from Springfield Plantation to the mountain village of Cochrane.  I had arranged a visit with Karen Sutherland of Roots Farm so that we could have a good look at her  nearby organic garden.  Jenny is a volunteer  researcher from the Zoological Society of London who is assisting  the local Forestry and Wildlife Division  with efforts to save the critically endangered mountain chicken (Crapaud) frog.  She was curious to discover the origin of some of the delicious produce that she had enjoyed during her sojourns on the Nature Island and I was happy to take her there!

We set off in bright early morning sunshine and steadily climbed  a smooth but steep back road located  a short distance  west

A westerly view of high hillson the back road to Cochrane.  The Caribbean Sea is somewhere just beyond those massifs!

A westerly view of high hills from the back road to Cochrane. The Caribbean Sea is somewhere just beyond those massifs!

of Springfield.  In days gone by, I had walked on this road and its connectors to the Middleham Falls trail-head, which is situated above the village of Cochrane.  During that era, I could hike directly to that beautiful cascade and back to Springfield in about five hours return. Of course, it is shorter and more  easily accessible from the Laudat area, but I’ve done it recently from that side. I think that I should go there from Springfield again very soon, and take Jenny along for the fun! Maybe I can convince Karen too, however, I know that it is not easy to take a day off from all that is required for the smooth manual operation of an organic farm on a tropical island!

Jenny pauses at four corners just below our destination.  While we were headed for Roots Farm, we wer also close to the road to the Middleham Falls trailhead.

Jenny pauses at four corners just below our destination. While we were headed for Roots Farm, we were also close to the road to the Middleham Falls trail-head.

As we trekked upwards from the edge of the rainforest at 1,200 feet to our destination of 1,600 feet, we paused in a few places to take in the wondrous sights around us: mountains in all directions, swathed in all shades of green contrasted perfectly with the stunningly blue sky and cottony clouds on that lovely day in paradise.  After about 45 minutes, we approached Karen’s home and surrounding garden.  She noticed us on the nearby track, and ran out to meet and greet us, with a big smile and a warm hug for each of us!

We chatted in the shade for a few minutes, met the farm dogs and then walked around the corner of her house to admire the awesome view before us.  While the mountains were shrouded in clouds at that moment, the cool breezes that blew directly  from  the pristine Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) immediately refreshed us. Karen pointed to an area at a higher elevation where her partner Roy and a worker were toiling in another section of their farm.  In the wind, she said she could hear voices coming from that direction.

White cottony clouds shrouded the mountains in teh area around Middleham Falls, as seen from Karen's back yard.

White cottony clouds shrouded the mountains in the area around Middleham Falls, as seen from Karen’s back yard.

From there, we commenced our garden tour. When Karen started to tell us about the prolific plants and trees around us, we were interrupted by squawks and

A Jaco Parrot perched above us as we tourd Karen's organic garden.

A noisy Jaco Parrot perched above us as we toured Karen’s organic garden.

shrieks overhead. We looked up and Karen pointed to a Jaco  (Red-Necked Amazon) Parrot, perched on a leafless (seasonal) tree a short distance away.  She told us that this endemic bird and its numerous feathered friends had made plenty of noise lately.  She suspected there was a special reason for the ruckus, possibly mating season, but we would have to confirm that with a Forestry Officer.  In any event, Karen said it was entertaining to observe their antics, despite the clamor. This particular breed, whose numbers were once declining seems to be making a come-back, which is certainly an encouraging sign.

This lovely papaya tree in the Root Farm gardenseems to have perfect symmetry!  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

This lovely papaya tree in the Roots Farm garden seems to have perfect symmetry! Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

We admired a beautiful papaya tree in the brilliant sunlight, while munching on an assortment of basils, which thrive in this mountain garden. As we carefully walked through it and Karen pointed out various plants in various stages of growth, she picked various leaves

Holy Gteen Basil grows prolifically in the Roots Farm garden.  It is renowned as a botannical health remedy.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Holy Red Basil grows prolifically in the Roots Farm garden. It is renowned as a botanical health remedy. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

for our taste enjoyment of this particular herb.  We savoured several flavours from some basil varieties: Cinnamon, Holy Green, Holy Red, Malaysian, East Indian, Lemon, Thai, Anise and even Blue Spice that tastes like bubblegum! I definitely got my quota of daily greens during that garden tour!

As Karen shared her phenomenal knowledge about plants, it was apparent that operating a small organic farm

Karen has a genuine love for her work and a firm belief in healthy environment and way of life, for the good of the planet and everyone who lives on it!

Karen has a genuine love for her work and a firm belief in a healthy environment and way of life, for the good of the planet and everyone who lives on it!

without machines or chemicals of any kind is definitely very hard work.  Even though Karen was dealing with a back challenge that day, she never stopped moving while she took us around the plot.

 Foreground: Asian greens, Fennel, Sweet Peppers, Culantro, Basil Background: Shimonita Scallions, Basil (vartious types) Visible trees: Cherry, Carambola, Moringa, Sapodilla, Papaya

Foreground: Asian greens, Fennel, Sweet Peppers, Culantro, Basil
Background: Shimonita Scallions, Basil (various types)
Visible trees: Cherry, Carambola, Moringa, Sapodilla, Papaya

An Avocado tree in flower attracted bees and bananquits  to its blossoms.

On the Cochrane Back Road, a fragrant Avocado tree in flower attracted bees and bananaquits to its blossoms.

 

Sometimes, she harvested a long bean, occasionally, she pulled a weed, once, she righted a plant that had toppled.  But it was clear that she truly loves what she does and I and many others on Dominica are so grateful to partake of the pure fruits of her labours! She also seems

These jicama shoots hold promise for goodness to come!  I think Karen is the only person on Dominica who grows this tasty vegetable.

These jicama shoots hold promise for goodness to come! I think Karen is the only person on Dominica who grows this tasty vegetable.

to have some fun experimenting with plants that are not endemic to Dominica, such as strawberries. I bought a plant from her several months ago, and even though I live almost at sea level where it is much warmer, it is actually bearing fruit! Her seeds are organic and non GMO, of course!

THis young pumpkin has a way to go before harvest.  I have seen Roots Farm pumpkins that weight more than 20 lbs!

This young pumpkin has a way to go before harvest. I have seen Roots Farm pumpkins that weigh more than 20 lbs!

Her pumpkin variety is sweet and flavourful.  Many people rave about its wonderful taste!

I simply marveled at all that she and Roy had done as I admired the abundance that surrounded us  at  Roots Farm garden that fine day.

DSCF4607

Karen says this is a weed — likely Horehound Family, but I think it’s really pretty, even if it is not a flower!

Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

A Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

Interestingly, when queried by Jenny, Karen did mention that she has seen  worrying changes in the environment  over the years as evidenced in a number of ways on the farm.

She mentioned that plants may flower more quickly, and are  then too young to have the foliage to support their flower/fruit/seed production, as one concern.  Karen also noted that there is typically no longer a clear distinction between the wet season and the dry season in Dominica.  This makes it very difficult for farmers to plan what to plant when, as some crops need to mature in dryer weather. “If  [the] historical probability of dry weather is no longer valid, there is a risk for the farmer of losing that crop,” which results in greater total risks (financial, logistical, emotional, etc.). Her examples suggest to me that climate change/global warming is having an adverse effect on the planet, no matter where one lives. That pronouncement certainly gave me food for thought as I reflected on my lifestyle and its (hopefully mostly beneficial) impact on the earth.

After a couple of hours of reverie in this delightful place, Jenny summed up our experience  at Roots Farm this way: “Every minute in the garden was awesome – the plants, bees, parrots, sunshine and fresh mountain breeze – no wonder the Roots Farm produce tastes so good!”

We parted company with Karen after a brief meditation facing those incredible mountains in Dominica’s interior.  While walking down the Cochrane Back

Karen and Jenny pose in Karen's back yard, with Morne Micotrin in the distance.

Karen and Jenny pose in Karen’s back yard, with Morne Micotrin in the distance.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) figures prominently when the clouds lift, as seen from Karen's corner of upper Cochrane Village.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) near Laudat figures prominently when the clouds lift, as seen from Karen’s corner of upper Cochrane Village.

Road en route to Springfield, we shared  our  mutual feelings of respect, admiration and appreciation for Karen and Roy’s exceptional efforts to promote and realize organic  agriculture on the Nature Island .

 

 

 

Dominica’s Middleham Falls: A Wondrous Site/Sight to Behold*

 

Springfield Plantation is my preferred starting point for the Middleham Falls hike.  However, the steep uphill climb from there on the Cochrane feeder road adds a good hour or more to the outing before you reach the actual trailhead.

Springfield Plantation is my preferred starting point for the Middleham Falls hike. However, the steep uphill climb from there on the Cochrane feeder road adds a good hour or more to the outing before you reach the actual trailhead.

Middleham Falls

It’s a long, arduous, painful trek from Springfield –

There are several small streams to cross on the way to Middleham Falls.  They may be dry or they may have flwoing water, depending on the weather conditions and-or the time of year!  Rocks can be slippery.

There are several small streams to cross on the way to Middleham Falls. They may be dry or they may have flowing water, depending on the weather conditions and-or the time of year! Rocks can be slippery.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

clambering over slippery rocks,

 fording shallow streams,

clinging to steep cliffs –

The feeder road en route to Middleham Falls from Springfield passes above the village of Cochrane (bottom right) with views in a southwesterly direction.

The feeder road en route to Middleham Falls from Springfield passes above the village of Cochrane (bottom right) with views in a southwesterly direction from this vantage point.

endlessly uphill.

 

There is no turning back, however.

Too much pride gets in the way.

My guide`s persistent encouragement

makes me more determined

to find my way.

 

My pace diminishes with perpetual distractions.

There is quite a bit of climbing and grappling onto rocks on the Middleham Falls trail - but it`s well worth it!

There is quite a bit of climbing and grappling onto rocks and roots on the Middleham Falls trail – but it`s well worth it! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

The wonders of the rainforest

enchant and intrigue

like a recurrent sensual fantasy,

except that this is not a dream.

 

The rainforest can be a distraction.  It is best to stop  walking and admire it in order to avoid a slip on tricky terrain!

The rainforest can be a distraction. It is best to stop walking and admire it in order to avoid a slip on tricky terrain! (even though it might add a little time to the journey)

Suddenly, I awake from my reveries:

“Don`t slow down  –

you`ll lose the momentum!

Take it in as you go.“

That voice drifts back to me from somewhere up ahead.

 

After seemingly endless hours,

bruised, weary and sore,

I am finally there.

Breathlessly, I admire the splendor of the site.

 

Before me is the most magnificent torrential cascade

Middleham Falls in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Middleham  Falls is found at about 2,500′ above sea level in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. This cascade is around 270′ high and is known as one of the tallest on the island. It can be difficult to photograph due to its exceptional height! It has  a strong flow year-round. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

towering far above

and showering me with a cold mist

that revitalizes and invigorates my entire being.

 

I gaze longingly at this Dominican wonder,

hoping that I can capture its mighty spirit

and carry it with me always.

 

On a dry day, a dip in the cool pôol belwo Middleham Falls can be very refreshing before the return journey.

On a hot, dry day, a dip in the cool pool below Middleham Falls can be very refreshing before the return journey.

A torrential rain begins to pour 

and it is time to turn back.

But I always long for the day

when I can return to Middleham Falls again.

 

-written near Lakefield, Ontario, Canada

March 1998

* Middleham Falls is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It can be approached from Springfield via the Cochrane Village Feeder Road  (4 – 5 hours return at a leisurely pace)  or from the trailhead near Laudat (a shorter trip) in the Roseau Valley.  It is also possible to reach it from Segment Four of the Waitukubuli National Trail. 

You can also hike right through from the Cochrane side to the Laudat side, or vice versa!  Allow the better part of a day to do that – and take some time to check out Tou Santi –  the `Stinking Hole` which is a huge bat cave.  You`ll likely smell it before you see it!

** References:

Dominica: Bradt Travel Guide by Paul Crask. Edition 2 (2011), pp. 127-128. Paul is a longtime island resident (British expatriate) who has provided very detailed background information and  descriptions of the hikes to Middleham Falls, as well particulars about flora and fauna in this area.

Dominica: Discover the Real Dominica: A Travel Guide Written by Former Peace Corps Volunteers by Anna McCanse. Other Places Publishing, 2011, pp. 255-257 A helpful detailed map and specific directions are contained therein.