Tackling Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail*

SPECIAL NOTICE:  WNT Segment # 1 is blocked due to a massive landslide on Morne Crabier resulting from the torrential rain storm on December 24, 2013.  Please confirm its accessibility before attempting it. Further information is contained in this article: http://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/environment/landslide-waitukubuli-national-trail/

Every May, hiking enthusiasts of all ages and abilities look forward to Dominica’s annual Hike Fest. Three  hikes are  organized on Saturdays by the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association, with support from other public and private sector tourism organizations.

Dominica = ‘Waitukubuli’ (Tall is her Body)as seen from the Caribbean Sea.

The three treks that we tackled in 2010 took place on the unique Waitukubuli (pronounced why-too-koo-boo-lee) National Trail (WNT), an island-long hike of about 184 kilometers (115 miles).  It is actually split up into fourteen segments that traverse the island from north to south.  As the WNT was still under construction at that time,  the participants in Hike Fest were able to give some of the segments a “test run!” (Note: The WNT officially opened in December 2011. ‘Waitukubuli’ is the Kalinago (Dominica’s indigenous people) word for Dominica, which means “tall is her body.”  No kidding!)

The second hike that year featured the WNT’s Segment # 1, which is located in the southwestern tip of the island, near the villages of Soufriere and Scott’s Head.  On an overcast, drizzly morning,  thirty-six hikers ranging from children to seniors, including Dominicans as well as visitors collectively agreed that the weather was perfect for our “walk” over Morne Crabier, a dormant volcano.

From the parking lot of the Soufriere Sulphur Springs eco-site, we set off on a gently ascending rough road consisting of loose stones and dirt, ideal for pick-up trucks and four-wheel drives.  Initially, the going was easy along this well-worn farm route.  Nearby, a privately owned historic estate called Bois Cotelette, which dates back to the early 1700’s aroused curiosity and  became a topic of conversation  as we did not go directly by it on this route.

Soufriere from the heights of Gallion village near WNT Segment # 1. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Some minutes further along, we traversed an easy footpath along a steep precipice, which passed through agricultural lands.  After an hour or so, everyone came to an abrupt halt.

Many of us gazed with trepidation at the top of a steep tree-lined ridge in the distance.  The most agile and experienced among us coaxed the others good-naturedly into taking the next step(s), which required a seemingly vertical climb of about forty-five minutes through the forest on a clearly marked track.

Some of us moaned while others gritted their teeth with grim determination. Meanwhile, young boys climbed fruit trees to check out the “pickings”: red cashew; soursop; mangoes; and pommerac (like a small apple) along with other native fruits.

The steep ascent with its rocky terrain had the longer-winded hikers, including me, huffing and puffing in a companionable way at a moderate pace.  We conversed sporadically and called out to people below when we encountered loose stones.  This climb was no easy feat.  The physical challenge to lungs, heart and legs was extreme.

Three quarters of an hour never felt so long, but finally a few of us arrived at the pinnacle of Morne Crabier.  We restored ourselves with goodies from our packs and some quiet conversation.  With polite patience, we early birds awaited the rest of the group, who stumbled over the summit some time later.  They received resounding applause and cheers for their accomplishment!  After a brief rest, we were off again.

View of the southern coast of Dominica and the Martinique Channel near WNT Segment # 2. Photo by Edwin Whitford

From here on, the sharply descending track zigzagged hither and thither. After about 20 minutes ,we arrived at a stunningly verdant valley, with a breezy view to the Martinique Channel.

At this remote area known as the French Quarter, Dr. Mark Hauser, an American anthropologist from Northwestern University explained its fascinating history to the group.  He told his attentive audience that in the eighteenth century, some French settlers had thrived in this serene setting.  Dr. Hauser’s research team had excavated and recovered shards of pottery and other relics from the surrounding area, which revealed previously unconfirmed information.

After having been fortified with historical anecdotes and light refreshments, we easily walked down an ancient agricultural track, which skirted old stone walls and abandoned soursop trees.  For reasons that remain unclear, we never did see any crabs on Morne Crabier that particular day.

We ended up in the seaside village of Scott’s Head.  Upon our arrival, a hearty homemade local lunch rewarded us for our four-hour-long exertions.  Although fatigued, we were elated.  Segment One accomplished!

N.B.  I have hiked seven of the fourteen segments of the WNT as of 2011.  Three more moderate segments (5, 10 and part of 11) are on  this year’s (2012) Hike Fest agenda.  I am saving the toughest ones (Segments 8 + 9) for last…

* This piece was first published in Blue Caribbean, Volume 1, October 2010 in a slightly different format.

*Apologies for the previous incomplete post on this subject, which I published in error.