Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 Gives Me a very big Surprise!

Gwendominica steadily steps along the Jaco Flats/Steps Trail during Hike Fest 2013.  Photo taken by Simon Walsh of Images Dominica for the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association.

Gwendominica steadily steps along the Jaco Flats/Steps Trail during Hike Fest 2013. Photo taken by Simon Walsh of Images Dominica for the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association.

When Dominica’s Hike Fest Coordinator  Maxine Alleyne-Esprit called me recently, I assumed she was going to give me the date of a forthcoming meeting to plan next year’s program. But what she actually said rendered me temporarily speechless!

“Congratulations Gwen! You won the Jolly’s Pharmacy /Digicel “Most Steps Pedometer Challenge”.  You took the most steps over the three Saturday

Gwendominica received a cheque of $500. ECD from Jolly's Pharmacy to present to her chosen charity: R.E.A.C.H.

Gwendominica received a cheque of $500. ECD from Jolly’s Pharmacy to present to her chosen charity: R.E.A.C.H. At the table are from left, DHTA Board Members: Carol Rabess, Treasurer; Maxine Esprit, Vice-President; Jessica Yarde, Director.

hikes in May, and you are the grand prize winner!” she informed me excitedly.  In response, she received my stunned silence. After a few moments, I managed to  stammer: “Me? What?  I can’t believe it!”  And then I chuckled, “Perhaps shorter legs sometimes have an advantage as they can’t help but take more steps!!!”

I was of course thrilled to receive this award, as it meant that Jolly’s Pharmacy would issue a cheque of $500.00 ECD to a charity of my choice.  There are many worthy  and worthwhile charitable organizations on the Nature Island.  After having given it some thought, I informed Maxine the next day that I would like this donation to be given to a charity called ‘Reaching Elderly  Abandoned Citizens Housebound’ (R.E.A.C.H.)’.  This  organization “seeks to relieve some of the intense suffering of the aging in the community.”  I feel very strongly about addressing  some of  the concerns of less fortunate senior citizens and I was thankful to have the opportunity to help them in a small way with my Hike Fest prize.

Gwendominica gives Sister Henrietta of Reaching Elderly Abandoned Citizens Housebound (R.E.A.C.H.) a cheque from Jolly's Pharmacy for $500. ECD.

Gwendominica gives Sister Henrietta of Reaching Elderly Abandoned Citizens Housebound (R.E.A.C.H.) a cheque from Jolly’s Pharmacy for $500. ECD.

At the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA) Prize-Giving and Recognition Media Event on Wednesday June 12th, I was formally presented with this prize. But what I didn’t expect was more!  Maxine informed the assembled press and public that  my mobile phone had gotten wet during the Jaco Flats/Steps Hike while crossing the Layou River several times and that it had since dried out thanks to a bag of rice.  However, the other part of the grand prize was a Smart Phone from  Digicel and the Hike Fest Committee felt that it could serve me well on future hikes! I knew I was a little pale that morning, but by now I was starting to turn quite pink!  I accepted this prize with delight.  (Now I just need to figure out how to use it!)

Gwendominica receives a Smart Phone from Calvia at Digicel as grand prize winner of the "Most Steps Pedometer Challenge".

Gwendominica receives a Smart Phone from Calvia at Digicel as grand prize winner of the “Most Steps Pedometer Challenge”.

And the surprises continued!  On behalf of the DHTA, Maxine  thanked me for my contributions to Hike Fest as a volunteer and for my blog posts about the event.  I had previously

Maxine Esprit, DHTA Vice-President/Hike Fest Coordinator presents me with a Certificate of Recognition.

Maxine Esprit, DHTA Vice-President/Hike Fest Coordinator presents me with a Certificate of Recognition.

informed her that I write from the heart and that there is no expectation of anything but interested readers for my efforts.  I appreciate this acknowledgement and theDSCF0111 promotion of Ti Domnik Tales to the press!  I was then presented with a Certificate of Recognition and another goodie – a dinner for two at the well-recommended Old Stone Grill & Bar in Roseau.  And to think that I had never eaten there before!

I was so happy that Liz, longtime hiking pod buddy and member of the 50+ club was recognized for her exceptional efforts!

I was so happy that Liz (l), longtime hiking buddy and member of the 50+ club was recognized for her exceptional efforts!

It was a very happy occasion as a number of Hike Fest participants from what I  informally call “the 50 plus club” were also recognized for their achievements on the trails.  As well, the invaluable support of all sponsors and partners who assisted the DHTA with Hike Fest were publicly thanked profusely.

In turn, I would like to extend much gratitude to the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association and its Hike Fest Committee, as well as all the sponsors and partners who contributed to the success of this enjoyable event.  Because of this annual festivity during Tourism Awareness Month on the Nature Island, I have been able to tackle  and complete many trails that I would have never thought previously possible.  As well, I have trekked with wonderful people every time and have always had a great deal of fun.  There is no doubt in my mind:”‘Dominica’s Hike Fest. It’s the best!”

See you on the trails  next year! The dates are set:  May 24, 31 and June 7, 2014.  For more information, consult the web site of the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association.

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Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 3

Gwendominica hams it up for the camera on one of several crossings of the Layou River during Hike Fest's 3rd and final Saturday adventure in 2013.  Photo taken by Simon Walsh, professional photographer at Images Dominica.

Gwendominica hams it up for the camera on one of several crossings of the Layou River during Hike Fest’s 3rd and final Saturday adventure in 2013. Photo taken by Simon Walsh, professional photographer at Images Dominica.

When I arrived at the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association office to register Hike Fest participants at 7 a.m. on Saturday May 18th, I had no idea that all 77 of us would be spending more of this trek in the water than on land!  The “Maroon Heritage River Hike” would be the last of a number of outdoor adventures that were offered this year as part of  the annual Tourism Awareness Month   activities on the Nature Island.

The trail is well maintained and signs do point the way on land  - but the river is another matter!

The trail is well maintained and signs do point the way on land – but the river is another matter!

At about 9:30 a.m. on that dry day in paradise, we disembarked from four buses at the village of Bells, which is located in the  island’s interior, north of the Pond Cassé round-about.  Anticipation and expectations were high.  We listened to long-time Hike Fest organizer and professional photographer Simon Walsh , who outlined the details of this adventure and introduced our guides.

At the start of the hike, about 80 enthusiasts strolled down to the Layou River en route to Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats.

At the start of the hike, about 80 enthusiasts strolled down to the Layou River crossing en route to Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats.

We were in for a few surprises and a load of fun – but I won’t give it all away at the top of this post!  The main objective was to experience and observe a very significant, historic place deep in the forest and high above the Layou River.  Our foray would take us to  two nearby locales called Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats, which are named after a famous negre maron (maroon or escaped slave) chief named Jacko. He  hid there in an encampment with his supporters  in the late 1700’s, raided and plundered many plantations and avoided capture by the British for about 40 years!

What is quite ingenious about this maroon and his followers is that they cut over 100 steps into the stone so that they had a stairway down the 300 foot cliff to the river.  However, these cuttings are far from ordinary.  They are very narrow, extremely steep and excessively high, which would have made it very difficult for British troops to quickly and easily attack them. The maroons would have seen them first from their  high hiding places in the dense forest.  Furthermore, the remote location of Jacko’s camp  on a plateau (flat land) was far from accessible.  As we quickly found out, getting to and from this area involved crossing the powerful Layou River, not once, but several times, depending on the direction of one’s approach.   They were well protected on three sides, because of the winding river with its forceful current and the steep, heavily treed cliffs.  Jacko was  a brilliant strategist, in my humble opinion!

We soon found out how clever Jacko was as we forded the  river for the first (!) time

The first crossing of the Layou River was only knee-deep.  The worst (best?!?) was yet to come - for us, but my camera had already begun to fade out before it succumbed to the river...

The first crossing of the Layou River was only knee-deep. The worst (best?!?) was yet to come – for us, but my camera had already begun to fade out before it succumbed to the river…

Trudging through the plateau hig above the rive rwas relatively easy - until we met the  Jacko steps!

Trudging through the plateau high above the river was relatively easy – until we met the Jacko Steps!

We walked up a path which met the challenging steps. Then we cautiously climbed down them to meet the river again! It was increasingly easy to understand why Jacko’s band of maroons were relatively safe from capture for so long.  One would have had to have been very familiar with the terrain, accustomed to the climate and in top physical condition to safely and successfully negotiate those steps!

These hooks were put in place over a couple of centuries ago to assist with a cable mechanism to pull goods up and down the steep steps.

These hooks were put in place over a couple of centuries ago to help with a cable mechanism to haul goods up and down the steep incline at the steps.

David (r) is an incredible guide who moved with swiftness and strength and saved a number of us from trips or topples over treacherous terrain.

A section of the Jacko Steps. David (r) is an incredible guide who moved with swiftness and strength and saved a number of us from trips or topples over treacherous terrain – both on land and in the river!

The start of the descent seemed easy - but of course Jacko would have planned it that way!  It was the  bottom up that was almost impassable - with good reason!

The start of the descent seemed easy – but of course Jacko would have planned it that way! It was  from the bottom up that was almost impassable – with good reason!

We definitely treaded with caution on the treacherous descent to the river.

From there, we realized that although the sun was shining, this was not a day for dry clothes.  As we traversed the rushing river, we  slid over slippery rocks and were often caught off-balance by the thrust of the current as its waters coursed towards the sea. Even along the shorelines, large boulders and uneven ground put my weak ankles to the test.   I had switched to plastic sandals and was thinking about putting on my hiking boots again.   I had carried them over my shoulder until that point.  But when I traversed a powerful cascade,  I tipped over with the force of the water and my  boots fell into the turbulent waters and started to drift away.  Simon immediately came to my aid and quickly retrieved the boots.  “So much for your dry boots,” he chortled.  I laughed out loud in response. If it hadn’t been for his sharp reflexes, I would have lost a  good pair of  outdoor footwear.  Thanks Simon!!!

When I reached the shoreline after about the third crossing, I realized that while my boots had been saved, I had potentially lost some other possessions, thanks to Mother Nature.  Although I had tucked my loosely plastic-wrapped   camera and my cellphone into my sports bra, I had not fully anticipated that the fearsome Layou would be so high on a dry day.  But I did have a few moments in waters up to my neck, so you know what happened next.  The camera was already fading, after several years of good service.  And as for the cell phone, it is drying out in a container of rice (!) as recommended to me by several people.  We’ll see what happens… Now there is a lesson learned – for me  – and for you!

As further photos on my part were out of the question, we were fortunate that Simon brought along a sophisticated camera and managed to keep it dry.    To see his excellent photo journal of the day’s events, look at his business face book page for Images Dominica, of which he is a partner.

At about the midway point of the several river crossings, a powerful current and fairly high waters presented a major obstacle for many of us.  I credit our guides, particularly David and Roberta, for getting us safely across to the opposite shore.  I had a moment or two during that exercise when I felt  as if the river  were about to carry me away.  I was trying with all my might to resist it and I tensed every muscle.  Strong hands pulled me safely to the other side.  I sat down and trembled for a few moments.  It occurred to me that the challenging Boiling Lake trail was perhaps a better option for my style of hiking.  But after a while I changed my mind.  Some African drummers had brought their instruments and were restoring our energy through their rhythmic sounds.

The joy of hiking in Dominica is that each trek offers something different about the Nature Island.That is what makes every outing a memorable adventure!

By the time we had slogged to the sixth crossing, some of us opted to go overland, thereby eliminating at least one traverse before the grand finale.  We were more than waterlogged, to put it mildly  While a few people started ahead, I and a few others insisted that we wait for a guide.  As I have observed and heard, it is very easy to get lost in Dominica’s dense jungle and I was not going to be party to that!

Roberta guided us through scrub,  farmlands and a cow pasture. Suddenly, we were back at the river’s edge, where we waited for the water enthusiasts to catch up to us for that very last crossing.  Amazingly, a small puppy, picked up at the trail-head, finished the  entire journey with us.  I watched people  carry him safely through all the rough waters.  I was also astonished that a nine-year old boy and ten-year old girl made the trip with relative ease.  I was so delighted for them, although they acted as if it were nothing.  Next time, I hope they will bring all their friends!

During the last traverse across the Laurent River, which flows into the Layou ,I actually began to feel more at ease with the flow of these  forceful bodies of water.  I seemed to be able to make moves that matched their unpredictable rhythms.   As we walked down the main road through the village of Bells to relax at the nearby RiverStone Bar ‘n Grill, I thought about Jacko with the greatest of  admiration and respect.

My day was not quite over, as it was time to eat and then  listen to some cool’ jazz and creole’ music from live bands.  I’ll tell you all about it in the next post!

*Special thanks to the Hike Fest Organizing Committee, particularly Maxine, David and Simon.  A big up to the tourism and hospitality interns (Victoria and the other young lady) from the Dominica State College  who helped me with registration and provided much needed support.  The guides with whom I associated were very good and added to the quality of the experiences.  I had a blast and I think most others did too!

**  I am also grateful to those in my hiking ‘pod’, especially Liz, Christabel, Wendy and the faculty ladies from Ross University Medical School for their congenial company.  Didn’t we have fun!!!

*** DO NOT attempt the Jaco Flats/Steps Hike without a knowledgeable guide. The Layou River is well-known for its flash floods, so it is inadvisable to go there on a rainy day.  The river crossings are not obvious and the current can be very strong. Local guidance is essential.

REFERENCES:

Caribbean Sunseekers Dominica by Don Philpott.Chicago: Passport Books, 1995.

Dominica: Isle of Adventure by Lennox Honychurch. Second Edition. London: Macmillan, 1995.

The Dominica Story: A History of the Island by Lennox Honychurch. London: Macmillan, 1995.

Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 2

Yes, I did it!  Gwendominica points to the Boiling Lake behind (and below) her.  Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

Yes, I did it! Gwendominica points to the Boiling Lake behind (and below) her. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

My successful foray to Dominica’s famous Boiling Lake as part of Hike Fest 2013 was a dream come true! On Saturday May 11th, 45 willing and

By the Titou Gorge, Gwendominica was really 'psyched to start the long and challenging  hike to the Boiling Lake.  Photo taken by Liz Madisettit.

By the Titou Gorge, Gwendominica was really ‘psyched’ to start the long and challenging hike to the Boiling Lake. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

enthusiastic hikers gathered at the trail-head by the  Titou Gorge near the village of Laudat in Dominica’s interior.  While quite a number of the assembled intrepids had previously experienced this challenging and difficult hike, a number of us had never done it – including me!

One of the added perks of Hike Fest is the easy ability to meet people from all over the world, most of whom are resident in Dominica.  The cultural diversity adds to the richness of the adventure!

One of the added perks of Hike Fest is the easy ability to meet people, including Dominicans and others from all over the world, most of whom are resident in Dominica. The cultural diversity adds to the richness of the adventure!

Hike Fest's Boiling Lake organizer Simon Walsh gave us a rousing pep talk, after which there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it!

Hike Fest‘s Boiling Lake organizer Simon Walsh gave us a rousing pep talk, after which there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it!

Once again this May, the weather gods cooperated and we started up the trail under partly cloudy skies, refreshing breezes and shady trees in the rainforest.  We were also at a relatively high elevation (about 2,000 feet to start) so we had the benefit of a cooler temperature than that of the sea-coast.

Jennifer, a sign-language interpreter for hearing impaired students at Ross University bubbled with energy and enthusiasm on the enture trek!

Jennifer, a sign-language interpreter for hearing impaired students at Ross University bubbled with energy and enthusiasm on the entire trek!

The more-or-less gentle ‘walk’ up and down to the Breakfast River (so-called because hikers would restore themselves here before the

The start of the Boiling Lake trail is a gradual climb and then a gentle descent to the Breakfast River.

The start of the Boiling Lake trail is a gradual climb and then a gentle descent to the Breakfast River.

long uphill to the look-off on Morne Nicholls) took about an hour.  The going was relatively smooth – some might dare to say monotonous, but I felt it was the perfect warm-up for the grueling trek ahead of us.  We were accompanied by the melodious trill of the Mountain Whistler (Siffleur Montagne), which to me is always a sign that I am in the rainforest.  As usual, my ‘pod’ of  the more-or-less 50 plus club and some novices (on this trail) tagged along at the tail-end of the group.  We didn’t mind because we concentrated as much on getting to know each other as on where to place our feet.  The ‘youngsters’ in our crowd were all affiliated with Ross University Medical School – not as students but as staff!  They were bubbling over with good cheer and energy.  I think their collective pleasant demeanor helped to sustain me for the whole trip.  What a lovely group of young(er) women!

Cynthia of HHV Whitchurch Tours is an amazing guide.  She is a great coach too!

Cynthia of HHV Whitchurch Tours is an amazing guide. She is a great coach too!

The Boiling Lake Trail would take us well into the interior of Dominica and its renowned

The Boiling Lake is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Boiling Lake is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 and the first of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean. This particular trek is world-famous, in terms of  hiking enthusiasts and adventure seekers. It is also a notable thing-to-do when visiting the Nature Island.  Its presence was first announced to the world in the late 1800’s by two British men, after whom two mountains in close proximity along the route are named: Nicholls and Watt.  Shortly thereafter, a formal track was cut out of the varied terrain and thousands of people have been over it ever since.  Another similar ‘cauldron’ of geothermal activity exists in New Zealand, which is officially said to be slightly larger and unofficially declared much less dramatic than Dominica’s own!

When we reached the Breakfast River after one hour, the crossing was a little tricky.

Crossing the Breakfast River, after about an hour on the trail.  This is often where hikers have a break and snack before the long and steep ascent up Morne Nicholls.

Crossing the Breakfast River, after about an hour on the trail. This is often where hikers have a break and snack before the long and steep ascent up Morne Nicholls.

Even with help, I managed to get one boot sopping wet.  Oh well, that is part of the experience.  A dry pair of socks would wait until that ultimate destination  a few hours further on.  We did not stop here for a snack.  It seems that the group was focused on the next intense uphill slog to the look-off at the top of Morne Nicholls. The trail was well-groomed and easy to manage in this area, except for the occasional too high step for my too short legs.  I was thankful for my hiking pole and the occasional boost from behind!  The

At the look-off on Morne Nicholls, Morne Anglais features prominently in the southwestern.  distance, l think Morne John is the lower peak in front of it.

At the look-off on Morne Nicholls, Morne Anglais features prominently in the southwest. l think Morne John (r) is the lower peak in front of it.

Morne Watt, at just over 4,000 feet, was directly south of our vantage point on Morne Nicholls.

Morne Watt, at just over 4,000 feet, was directly south of our vantage point on Morne Nicholls.

The village of Laudat (l) is not far from the trail-head.  majestic Morne Micotrin (r) is shrouded in cloud!

The village of Laudat (l) is not far from the trail-head. Majestic Morne Micotrin (r) is shrouded in cloud!

steep ascent  to the highest point of the day’s  foray (3,200 feet)was well  worth it once at the pinnacle.  The circumferential views were spectacular!

After this breathtaking/restorative (!) pause, we were off again – this time down-down-down en route to the Valley of Desolation.  There were a few little teasers along the way – not far

As we commenced the long descent to the Valley of Desolation, we could see the steam rising from the Boiling Lake in the distance.

As we commenced the long descent to the Valley of Desolation, we could see the steam rising from the Boiling Lake in the distance.

from the look-off.  The steam rising from Boiling Lake in the distance looked so near – and yet it was still  so far – another couple of hours at least!

I really wondered about my capabilities on this section of the trail.  Some of the hand-made steps had been washed away in a recent torrential rainfall. The gradient in the area was practically precipitous and the slick mud reminded me of walking on ice.  Sometimes I hoisted myself over and around treacherous spots with my arms supporting the rest of my body weight.  What a work-out!

In order to take in the breathtaking scenery, it wa necessary to stop and then look.  Otherwise, one cuold easily slip on the tricky downward track.

In order to take in the breathtaking scenery, it was necessary to stop and then look. Otherwise, one could easily slip on the tricky downward track.

I mumbled aloud: “I got down this thing, but how am I going to get back up?”  “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!” seemed to be the resounding reply that I received from more than one experienced trekker.

Then, all of a sudden, we arrived on more or less even ground in the most unusual landscape  I have ever seen.  It was hard to believe that I was looking at and situated in the renowned Valley of Desolation.  I felt as if I had stumbled upon another planet.  I

The first glimpse of the Valley of Desolation was spellbinding. It would still take teh better part of an hour to reach it!

The first glimpse of the Valley of Desolation was spellbinding. It took the better part of an hour to descend to it from the summit of Morne Nicholls!

As I walked through the Valley of Desolation, I admired God's handiwork.

As I walked through the Valley of Desolation, I admired God’s handiwork.

can’t really put words to it- so I will let the pictures do the talking.  I can only say if your spirit is willing, you’ve just got to see this exceptional place!

Liz, a member of the 50+ club (!) knows this trail well.  She has now seen the Boiling Lake 17 (!) times since 1993.

Liz, a member of the 50+ club (!) knows this trail well. She has seen the Boiling Lake 17  times since 1993. Now that’s impressive!

As we walked through it, with less than an hour to the Boiling Lake, we marveled at the seemingly extra-terrestrial appearance of the landscape while inhaling heavy sulphur-laden air.

A few people took advantage of a natural facial from Guide Cynthia. The sulphuric mud is reputed to be filled with many healthful minerals.

Cynthia takes a little time out to give herself and a few others a natural beauty treatment - a mud face mask which contains healthy nutrients for the skin that are found in the Valley of Desolation.

Cynthia takes a little time out to give herself and a few others a natural beauty treatment – a mud face mask which has healthy nutrients for the skin that are found in the Valley of Desolation.

At 14, Andrew was the youngest hiker on the trail.  He got to the Boiling Lake in 1 hour, 50 minutes, stayed there for 40 minutes and returned to the start in one hour, 15 minutes.  Isn't that fantastic!!!

At 14, Andrew was the youngest hiker on the trail. He got to the Boiling Lake in 1 hour, 50 minutes, stayed there for 40 minutes and returned to the start in one hour, 45 minutes. Isn’t that fantastic!!!

At this point, there was another wondrous sight to behold: the faster hikers in the group were passing us on their return from the Boiling Lake!  I marvelled at their prowess, particularly that of young Andrew.  He has been hiking since he was a little tot.    I would only wish that more  youths would experience the buzz of a day in nature, even if they aren’t as agile as Andrew!

As we passed though the Valley of Desolation, we followed along a little river and crossed over it here and there.  I stuck my hand in it a few

We found this boiling hot pool in the Valley of Desolation.  I am sure one could cook an egg in it very quickly, if you had a long spoon to remove it!

We found this boiling hot pool in the Valley of Desolation. I am sure one could cook an egg in it very quickly, if you had a long spoon to remove it!

times and was amazed at the diverse temperatures: boiling,  hot, warm,cool, cold and everything in between!

By now we encountered more returnees, who assured us that we were almost there. There were high-fives from everyone we met and the excitement quickly mounted. At last, we were there!!! Although we were in the slower ‘pod’, we congratulated ourselves for our timing – just a little under four hours.

Niya, an instructor at Ross University is triumphant at having finally made it to the Boiling Lake!

Naila, an instructor at Ross University is triumphant at having finally made it to the Boiling Lake!

And what a sight to behold!  Steep cliffs of 60 – 100 feet surrounded the steaming cauldron on all four sides.  Low clouds often shrouded the entire lake and distant views. Occasionally, a glimpse into its depths revealed  massive roiling bubbles which surged for a few moments and then as quickly subsided. Talk about mesmerizing!

Sulpherous smelling steam rises from the Boliling Lake about 60 - 100 feet below.

Sulphurous smelling steam rises from the Boiling Lake  below.  Steep cliffs of 60 – 100′ in depth surround it.

Looking down at the roiling Boiling Lake inspires awe and fear.

Looking down at the roiling Boiling Lake inspires awe, fear and great respect for our Father’s world.

Ibrahim (aka the Sign Man) takes a break at the Boiling Lake.  He is one of Dominica's most accomplished hikers.  We were grateful for his guidance and his strength in a few tricky spots.

Ibrahim (aka the Sign Man) takes a break at the Boiling Lake. He is one of Dominica’s most accomplished hikers. We were grateful for his guidance and extra strength in tricky spots.

For a short while, we lunched and laughed and lingered a safe distance from the steep cliffs where potential danger lurked below.  As  most of the group had by now moved off, it was Ibrahim (aka the Sign Man), one of Dominica’s most seasoned hikers and guides who urged us not to tarry.  We had to do the trail in reverse, after all!

A southeasterly view to the Atlantic Ocean and the Delices area.  Steam from the Boiling Lake can sometimes be seen from a certain point on the Petite Savanne Road approaching Delices.

A southeasterly view to the Atlantic Ocean and the Delices area. Steam from the Boiling Lake can sometimes be seen from a certain point on the Petite Savanne Road approaching Delices.

The waters around the Boiling Lake are milky-white in apperance due to high mineral content.  The White River near Delices is aptly named because of this.

The waters around the Boiling Lake are milky-white in appearance due to high mineral content. The White River near Delices in the southeast is aptly named because of this.

By now, we all admitted that legs were feeling a bit wobbly and it was definitely “mind over matter,” as I heard Ibrahim say more than once.

Sometimes people take a little break under this lovely little waterfall on the return to Valley of Desolation.  I think Simon spent a little time there, but he was well ahead of us!

Sometimes people take a little break under this lovely little waterfall on the return to Valley of Desolation. I think Simon spent a little time there, but he was well ahead of us!

Fatigued as we were, there was no stopping us now!  As we carefully retraced our steps, we only regretted that there was not time to refresh in a pretty little waterfall pool on the approach to the Valley of Desolation. I concentrated really hard so that my short little legs would not fail me.  From time to time, Naila, a physician by training, kindly gave me a hand or suggested where I should place my feet.  Every bit helped!

The uphill return to the look-off on Morne Nicholls was no easier than the downhill from it.

The uphill return to the look-off on Morne Nicholls was no easier than the downhill from it. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

Once we were through the Valley of Desolation, the most daunting section confronted us: what seemed extremely challenging coming down Morne Nicholls must now be done in reverse.  It reminded me of what it would be like to scale a cliff (well, I guess I was! ).  Slowly and carefully I took a big breath and oomphed (for extra energy), crawled, clung and clamoured over and around slippery, steep steps,big stones and little streams.

When I looked back at the steam rising from the Boiling Lake on the outbound journey, I knew at once that I was captivated by its mystery.  I hope to return to it again!

When I looked back at the steam rising from the Boiling Lake on the outbound journey, I knew at once that I was captivated by its mystery. I hope to return to it again!

Our chatter was more subdued here as a light rain began to fall.  In no time (well, an hour or so), we were back at the summit!

From there, the collective focus was on the trails end and a hot meal at the new kiosk at Titou Gorge.  Weary, but relaxed and happy, we chattered away to each other, occasionally broke into song and frequently ‘whooped’ and awaited return ‘whoops’ from those who were further behind us.

The last  hour beyond the Breakfast River seemed endless, but that Mountain Whistler trilled us along and then we were back at the Titou Gorge trail head exactly seven and one half hours later.  Did I squeal with glee!  I gobbled down a delicious chicken lunch and then carefully hopped on the bus with many other weary and sore but satisfied souls.  Now that I’ve finally done it, I have just have to go back there again.  You should too!

But first, there are some more things in Hike Fest to do.  Be sure to check it out!

* Special thanks to phenomenal coaches and guides Liz, Simon, Cynthia, Ibrahim and Naila.  You definitely helped to make my long-awaited Boiling Lake hike so worthwhile!

References:

Dominica: Isle of Adventure by Lennox Honychurch. London: MacMillan, 1998.

Hike Dominica by the Discover Dominica Authority (with the support of the European Commission). Trinidad and Tobago: Zenith Printing Services, [no date]

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.

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!

.

Hike Fest 2012 Concludes: A Beach Hop along Dominica’s Dramatic North-East Coast

On Saturday May 26th, two coaster buses transported 37 enthusiastic Hike Fest participants up the west coast from Roseau, then turned in an easterly direction at Portsmouth,following the winding road that passed by quaint  northerly villages.  After about two hours, we arrived at the start of the third and final  adventure on this year’s program.  We were all a little queasy when we disembarked, but thankfully, we quickly revived in the fresh stiff breeze that blew in off of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our 3 1/2 hour trek would take us along the north-east coast below Eden Estate (south of Calibishie) and we would head in a southerly direction, ending up in an area on Londonderry Bay called Cabana Beach (north of Melville Hall airport).  We were particularly motivated because we knew that some delectable local food awaited us at the finish: crayfish stew; fish broth; chicken and pumpkin soup; and lots more, prepared from scratch by a willing community group from the nearby village of Marigot.

Hike Fest Coordinator Simon Walsh gives final instructions at the trail-head and motivates us with details about the delectable dinner menu awaiting us at the end.

We were accompanied by several experienced guides, including Jerry Brisbane and Clement Rabess.  These two men hold the record for being the first to successfully hike the entire 115 mile (180 km)  Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT) and they did it in record time – 6 days!!! We were definitely in good company – even off of the WNT.

Also joining us on the trail were a team of French journalists from our nearest  northerly  island neighbour, Guadeloupe.  They were filming a documentary about Dominica.  Their ‘joie de vivre‘ certainly contributed to the convivial atmosphere on our “beach walk.”  And it hardly rained at all!

At the start, the going was easy, but it wasn’t long before we faced our first big challenge – we carefully picked our way along a rocky ledge, with only the sea below to catch us if we fell.  We did slip and slide, of course.  There was never any real fear as there was also a helping hand close-by to assist anyone in need.

A well-worn path gently introduced us to the day’s hike.

It wasn’t long before the going got a little trickier. There wasn’t always a beach!

The scenery was simply stunning!  As we wended our way along rocky outcrops, through coastal forest,around sheltered bays and windswept coves, we collectively stopped to admire each breathtaking view.  As a smaller group, we stuck closely together, making new friends along the way and sharing our snacks too.

Debra took time for a sea bath in a secluded cove.

I was so grateful for the opportunity to explore this relatively hidden coastline.  We all agreed that it was like a dream come true.  Cameras flashed at every opportunity.  Our relaxed pace even provided a little time for Debra, owner of Ohlala Villas to take a sea bath.

“Beach Hop!” is the best phrase to describe this walk.  There were plenty of ‘up’s and down’s’ in the forested areas between each beach, most of them steep and some of them treacherous. A fair number of trekkers occasionally applied the “bottoms-up” technique (intentionally or unintentionally) in order to slide down a slippery (muddy) slope. A kind young man (I think it was Chris) coached me down a particularly challenging incline.  With careful, confident and calm instruction, he shadowed me, calling out my hand and feet placements so that I did not go “bottoms-up” at all.  Thanks Chris!

We carefully placed our feet when traversing rocky outcrops.

We were grateful for a relatively dry day and dry rocks for solid footing.

Looking down the coast, with the village of Marigot in the distance. We did admire the views, but for safety’s sake, we walked through the forest in this area. Those cliffs were steep!

After a couple of hours, we could finally see beyond our intended destination.  Melville Hall Airport and the large village of Marigot loomed in the distance.  And we were getting very  hungry from  the sea air and the diverse work-out! Only an hour to go!

The rocky outcrop that proved to be “off the beaten path.”

The surf was stronger on Londonderry Bay, but the smooth beach sand permitted an easy walk towards the hike’s end.

We did take a little time to climb up a rocky (and somewhat slippery) outcrop between beaches.  Most of us didn’t realize that this was a mere diversion and we had to back-track a bit to get on the correct path.  On my way down, one of the French videographers  caught me in motion as I flapped my arms and  jumped a few feet from the rock to the sand.  No one  overseas would know it was me, but I truly did feel free as a bird in this pristine locale.

Samantha (left) was always willing to lend a helping hand during the hike. The river was rising and the current was fairly strong.

It seemed like no time at all when we descended the last section of forest and easily walked the beach along Londonderry Bay.  We were basically dry up to that point.  But Hike Fest, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is not without its “diversions.”  Once again, it did not disappoint me, because at the trail’s end point, a rising river on the Londonderry Estate challenged us to cross it in a hurry.  I beckoned to a fellow hiker who had already forded it to show me  the most shallow section.  I forged on, boots and all.  By mid-river, the water was up to my thighs and the  strong current pushed me around.  I gritted my teeth and followed my friend in front of me.  We made it!  At least the camera in my pocket was in a sealed plastic bag.  And a pair of plastic slippers in my pack would do for the ride home.  After urging everyone else to cross quickly and safely, we all converged on a sheltered spot, where we found a couple of vehicles with protruding tents, tables and huge pots of food at the rear for hungry and weary, but happy hikers.

Whether it’s the trails, the unexpected “diversions,” the weather, the friends – both old and new, or the food, there is no doubt in my mind: Dominica’s Hike Fest – it’s definitely “the best!”

SOME STUNNING SHOTS OF DOMINICA’S DRAMATIC NORTH-EAST COAST:

Dominica’s Hike Fest 2012 Continues: Hike # 2 in Review – (Relatively) Short and (Simply) Sweet!

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.

The steep uphill ride on the dumper to the trail-head of WNT Segment 10 was awesome!

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.

Northwesterly valley view from the start of WNT Segment 10.

Hike Fest Coordinator Simon Walsh always urges participants to take their time, socialize and have fun!

The time passed fairly quickly and finally everyone gathered around to hear final instructions from Hike Fest Coordinator Simon Walsh.  Then we were off!

Even misty views have exceptional beauty.

The sights along any segment of the WNT are a nature photographer’s dream come true.

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.

Gwendominica proudly recalls an earlier time (1999) when she and her brother successfully climbed the mighty Morne Diablotin. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

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!

WNT trail-heads and the trail itself are well marked. The first section of Segment 11 from Syndicate is completely downhill.

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.

Magnificent buttresses of the Chatanneye (sha-ta-nay). These trees are abundant in Dominica’s rainforests.

Hike # 2 didn’t get tricky until about the last hour, when the descent became fairly steep in spots.

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!

Portsmouth in the distance indicated that we were close to the end of our hike on that part of WNT Segment 11.

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!