The Boeri and Freshwater Lake Trails: Lovely Little Treks in Dominica’s Mountainous Interior

Gwendominica takes on the Boeri Lake Trail in Dominca's Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  Photo taken by Jenny.

Gwendominica takes on the Boeri Lake Trail in  Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Freshwater Lake appears in the upper left hand corner. Photo taken by Jenny.

With Dominica’s popular annual Hike Fest on the horizon, and my almost complete recovery from a bout of Chikungunya  about one year ago, I felt ready to tackle a couple of moderately challenging mountain trails. I had not been on a hike since my revisit to Middleham Falls in November 2014. At that outing, I still did feel some after-effects from my lingering tropical illness.  Therefore,  I let a few months pass, and filled them with other fun activities, including a memorable trip to Paris.

When I approached Jenny Spencer about a foray to the Freshwater Lake area in Morne Trois Pitons National Park  near the village of Laudat, she eagerly accepted.  In her profession as a herpetologist (amphibian researcher), she spends considerable time outdoors, no matter what country she is in.  It is obvious to me that she truly loves nature and wants to be immersed in it when possible. Her descriptions of searches for the elusive critically endangered Mountain Chicken (Crapaud) Frog with some of Dominica’s Forestry Officers indicate that she is able to tackle any type of terrain in any kind of tropical weather.  Therefore, I knew that this trek would be easy for her, and that if need be, I would have a good hiking coach!

I suggested that we start with the Boeri Lake trail, as it is (to me) a bit more challenging than the track around Freshwater Lake. Although the weather was cool, but “not too bad,” I laughingly recalled my last outing to this remote body of water. I told Jenny about how my brother Edwin and I slogged through mud, a landslide and very slippery rocks in torrential rain to reach the shore of this lake in February 2009.  When we arrived a good 45 minutes after our departure, we could not see the lake at all! It was completely covered in low clouds. ( I hope my bro will come back to tackle it again someday soon and we’ll hope for fine weather next time!)

Jenny is ready to  hike to Boeri Lake!

Jenny is ready to hike to Boeri Lake!

When Jenny and I arrived in the parking lot by the Freshwater Lake Visitor Centre,  in the shadow of

Plentiful rainwater run-off  in the Boeri Lake area is a source for  nearby hydorelectric power stations.

Plentiful rainwater run-off in the Boeri Lake area is a source for nearby hydro-electric power stations.

majestic Morne Micotrin , there was not another soul to be seen. While it was not raining, it definitely appeared to be imminent.  We donned our hiking gear and headed to the Boeri Lake Trail-head, a 15 minute walk away.  We did then encounter a pair of hikers who rushed past us on their way to the same destination.  Along the concreted road, we observed an abundant flow of water in the ditch, and marvelled at its force and the colour of the rocks beneath it.  This area forms part of Dominica’s hydro-electric power source, and the water flows to stations found in lower areas of the Roseau Valley.

We started off on the well maintained trail with the intention of taking our time and enjoying the beauty all around us. It would have been difficult not to pause along the early part of the track to admire the breathtaking views of Freshwater Lake to the south and the distant east coast.  I did huff and puff until my muscles warmed up:  I attributed that condition to the higher elevations and the low moist clouds all around us. Boeri Lake sits at 2,800 feet and at that

The Boeri Lake trail offers wonderful views of the mountains towards the east coast in the proximity of the village of Grand Fond.

The Boeri Lake trail offers wonderful views of the mountains towards the east coast in the proximity of the village of Grand Fond.

elevation is the highest body of water on the Nature Island. The going did get a little tricky when we reached the area of the trail made up of slippery rocks!  I stepped carefully and slowly, and balanced myself with the aid of my hiking pole.  A recent tailbone injury reminded me that I would not want to land ‘bottom down’ anytime soon!  Evidently, I fared well, and Jenny,  who patiently kept my pace by following behind me stayed upright due to her superb intrepid skills!  Admittedly, we both broke down and took off our boots when we traversed the Clarke’s  River.  No regrets about that – as the cool water refreshed our warmed up feet!

The rocky part of the Boeri Lake Trail requires patience and agility as those rocks are notoriously slippery!

The rocky part of the Boeri Lake Trail requires patience and agility as those rocks are notoriously slippery!

In this cooler, very humid tropical environment, moss grows easily on the trees.

In this cooler, very humid tropical environment, moss grows easily on the trees.

Jenny contemplates the removal of her hiking shoes before crossing the Clarke Hall River.  Yes, she did do it, and loved it!

Jenny contemplates the removal of her hiking shoes before crossing the shallow Clarke’s River. Yes, she did do it, and loved it!

I had not seen Boeri Lake in sunshine since 1999! I was overjoyed to see it 'in colour' instead of black and gray on my fourth trip!

I had not seen Boeri Lake in sunshine since 1999! I was overjoyed to see it ‘in colour’ instead of black and gray on my fourth trip there!

By the time we arrived at an old platform near the shoreline of this 4 acre lake, the sun actually broke through the clouds.  While snacking and relaxing seated on the boards, we quietly thrilled to the serenity all around us.  The predominant sound of silence was only broken by our sporadic conversation, occasional finch or mountain whistler calls or the wind  rustling leaves in the nearby trees. Over about half an hour, we observed clouds  constantly lifting and lowering, and misty shades of blue, green, gray and white enveloped us in this ethereal atmosphere.

The colours on and around Boeri Lake are constant changing - from moment to moment!

The colours on and around Boeri Lake are constantly changing – from moment to moment!

Suddenly, we noticed a very dark sky approaching from the east, so we moved off quickly and started the return journey as heavy rain fell from the heavens and dampened our clothes, but not our spirits! We emerged from the forest about one hour later, with high hopes of finding  hot chocolate to warm us up at the kiosk in the Visitor Reception Centre!

As it turned out, we were in luck, as the friendly attendant was able to grant our wish, even though she had just arrived to do a little maintenance and did not plan to stay long on this quiet Sunday. (For opening hours, contact Freshwater Lake Adventures at 767-245-7061)  While we sipped the sweetness and munched on other sustenance , the wind howled and torrents of rain pounded against the side of the building.  We were thankful to have sheltered only moments before this intense deluge.  However, we remained hopeful that the weather would soon change for the better so that we could continue with the second half of our agenda: a trek around Freshwater Lake. (It would be my first time back on this lovely trail since 2007, when my brother Edwin was also on-island.  I have  previously written about that wonderful outing here.)

Freshwater Lake is lovely from any vantage point.  It is a reservoir which is one of the sources for hydro-electric power stations on island.

Freshwater Lake is lovely from any vantage point. It is a reservoir which is one of the sources for hydro-electric power stations on island.

Wishes do come true, and after about half an hour, the worst of it was over.  We decided to chance it and were

Getting arounfd Freshwater Lake involves  a lot of ups and downs, as seen here.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Getting around Freshwater Lake involves a lot of  dramatic ups and downs, as seen here. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

duly rewarded for our efforts! The start of the trail was very steep and  some of the boards on the maintained steps were wet and slippery.  We proceeded with caution and stopped often to admire the gorgeous scenery in all directions.  While we never got a peek at the peak of Morne Micotrin, we acknowledged her powerful presence by frequently glancing at the changing clouds around this 4, 006′ massif. We were so captivated with the splendour that encompassed us that we never considered the possibility of  a monster lurking in the depths of this lake.  It was  earlier when we were seated by the shore of Boeri that Jenny had remarked about its similarity to a certain Scottish lake and its famous myth!

Plentiful bromiliads were attached to a mossy tree along the Freshwater Lake trail.

Plentiful bromeliads were attached to a mossy tree along the Freshwater Lake trail.

Nature enthusiast Jenny smiles after having discovered a large female grasshopper ( I call it a crack-crack bug) as she moved along the Freshwater Lake Trail.

Nature enthusiast Jenny smiles after having discovered a large female grasshopper ( I call it a ‘crack-crack’ bug) as she moved along the easterly side of the  Freshwater Lake Trail.

When Freshwater Lake looks like this, the possibility of monsters and myths comes to mind.

When Freshwater Lake looks like this, the possibility of monsters and myths come to mind.

From this easterly view point above Freshwater Lake, it is easy to understand why the Kalinago people named Dominica 'Waitukubuli', which means 'tall is her body'.

From this easterly view-point above Freshwater Lake, it is easy to understand why the Kalinago people named Dominica ‘Waitukubuli’, which means ‘tall is her body’.

Those east coast views, in the direction of Rosalie Bay and the village of Grand Fond in the foreground gave us plenty of reasons for pause.  Luckily, the rain held off and the sun made valiant attempts to come out of the dense cloud cover.  It didn’t matter to us.  We had both succumbed to numerous charms and multiple blessings of a day in a pristine place that epitomizes the essence of the Nature Island.  No wonder UNESCO has bestowed the

Jenny took plenty of photos as she carefully stepped along the Freshwater Lake circumferential trail.

Jenny took plenty of photos as she carefully stepped along the Freshwater Lake circumferential trail.

The hour or so hike around the heights of Freshwater Lake is not for the faint of heart.

The hour or so hike around the heights of Freshwater Lake is not for the faint of heart.

honour of World Heritage Site upon this remarkable park in the wilderness interior of Dominica.

After having spent several hours in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Jenny and I both felt refreshed and revitalized from our forays around Boeri and Freshwater lakes.   We agreed that time spent in this outstanding natural setting can only be good for the soul. Of that, we are certain!

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.

 

Why I Like to Hike on the Nature Island

Gwendominica departs the Valley of Desolation and commences the arduous climb up Morne Nicholls on the challenging Boiling Lake trail.  Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

“” Gwendominica departs the Valley of Desolation and commences the arduous climb up Morne Nicholls on the challenging return from the Boiling Lake. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

Recently, I was contacted by the folks at Backpack ME and asked if I would be interested in writing a short piece on Dominica for their feature entitled Around the World in 80 Posts.    

My article was published in Backpack ME on July 17, 2013 and you can read it and other fabulous entries for The Americas and Caribbean HERE!

 

It's a real 'high' to get lost in the clouds hovering over Freshwater Lake in Morne Trois Piton National Park.  Photo taken by Edwin Whitford.

It’s a real ‘high’ to get lost in the clouds hovering over Freshwater Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Photo taken by Edwin Whitford.

 

Zara, travel writer and videographer of Backpack ME had this  to say about my piece:

“Thanks so much for such a nice contribution about such a rare place!
I NEVER come across articles about Dominica in all the travel blogs I read, so I’m very happy we can include something about it in this collaborative post.”

Admittedly, it was a little tricky to encapsulate my intrepid experiences in 300 words, but it was a good exercise in brevity.  It also caused me to seriously ponder why I like to hike on the Nature Island.  I never could have dreamed that I would have been able to cover so much ground on Dominica in 16+ years!

So let me share this secret with you and hope that it will inspire you to do something outside of your comfort zone today!

Hikers a generally a very social lot and always help each other when the going gets a little tough (as on Segment 7 of teh Waitukubuli National Trail)!

Hikers are generally a very social lot and always help each other when the going gets a little tough (as on Segment 7 of the Waitukubuli National Trail)!

I am so glad that I can say I successfully climbed up and then got back down Morne Diablotins, Dominica's highest peak with my brother in 1999.  It was an 8 hour journey that we will never forget!  Photo taken ny Liz Madisetti, at the trailhead which intersects with Segment 10 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

I am so glad that I can say I successfully climbed up and then got back down Morne Diablotins, Dominica’s highest peak with my brother in 1999. It was an 8 hour journey that we will never forget! Photo taken in 2012 by Liz Madisetti, at the trailhead which intersects with Segment 10 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

I like to hike on the Nature Island because:

  1. I feel so much better physically in pure clean air  with no sources of pollution in sight.
  2. Being connected to nature – surrounded by so many shades of green is a visual delight!
  3. I am able to overcome psychological fears and physical limitations by thinking positively and believing in myself.
  4. I am always in the company of people who feel the same way I do about nature and physical activity.
  5. I can push myself  a little, knowing that my companions support and encourage me.
  6. The physiological effects of the hike (endorphins and adrenalin, perhaps) give me a tremendous sense of well-being and calmness.
  7. Being surrounded by nature has given me an even greater respect for and desire to preserve our precious environment.
  8. It’s a great way to distract from worries and cares by experiencing and discovering something new or different on the trails.
  9. It gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment to have completed a challenging trek.
  10. I can apply the life skills learned on the trail to everyday situations.
The spectacular Atlantic awaited me after a lovely little hike down the Glassy Trail from Boetica, in Dominica's southeast.  Photo taken by Edwin Whitford.

The spectacular Atlantic awaited me after a lovely little hike down the Glassy Trail from Boetica, in Dominica’s southeast. Photo taken by Edwin Whitford.

So, no matter where you are this summer, go and do something physical and perhaps a little more challenging than your usual routine in the great outdoors.

I think that Segment 1 of the WNT is my favourite – done in reverse – that is, from Soufriere to Scotts Head. But I am not going to tell you why! You have to give it a try! Photo taken by Simon Walsh of Images Dominica for the DHTA.

Let me know if it works for you!

Crossing the mighty Layou River eight times on the Jaco Flats/Steps Hike was defintiely beyond my wildest dreams!  Photo taken by Simon Walsh of Images Dominica for the Dominica Hotel & Tourism Association

Crossing the mighty Layou River eight times on the Jaco Flats/Steps Hike was definitely beyond my wildest dreams! Photo taken by Simon Walsh of Images Dominica for the Dominica Hotel & Tourism Association

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!

.

‘Dr. Birdy’ and the Kachibona Lake Adventure on Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail*

The trail is well marked by prominent signs on every segment.

The trail is well-marked by prominent signs on every segment.

On Sunday April 14th, friends Wendy, Liz and I tagged along with tour guide extraordinaire Bertrand ‘ Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste on a true Dominica adventure: a long  section of a hike  regarded by experts as extremely difficult and highly challenging on Segment 9 of  the Waitukubuli National Trail.  A few days later, I am proud to acknowledge that  I realized a dream that  I  had once thought impossible to achieve!

We set out early on a beautiful day in paradise with no rain in the forecast.  Birdy’s son Yuan drove us high above the village of Morne Raquette near Coulibistrie on

It took several hours to hike from the heights of Morne Raquette to Kachibona Lake, which is located a short distance off of Segment 9 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

It took several hours to hike from the heights of Morne Raquette to Kachibona Lake, which is  about 3,000 feet above sea level.  It is located a short distance from Segment 9 of the Waitukubuli National Trail. The name of the lake is derived from a Kalinago word for escaped slaves/maroons.

a farm feeder road.  After about half an hour, he dropped us off a short distance from the actual trail.  We admired the stunning views all around us before disappearing into the cool and inviting rainforest.  Our objective was to hike for several hours until we met up with an intersecting trail that would take us to the intriguing Kachibona Lake.  We were curious to see the small body of water, which played a role in the island’s history.

In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s,  escaped slaves/maroons (called Negres Marons) hid in this area. Under the leadership of their chief named Pharcelle,  they supported Republican Frenchmen  during the French Revolution and  raided the British  who occupied the country at that time.  But then Pharcelle is also documented as having liaised with “British black rangers.”  Interestingly, his alliances were never consistent!

The views looking inland en route to the WNT Segment 9 junction above Morne Raquette.

This view of the south side of Morne Diablotin (Dominica’s highest mountain), was photographed from the southwest side of middle Morne Raquette Heights en route to the WNT Segment 9 junction.

Bridy (l), his son Yuan (our driver), Wendy and Liz relax for a moment before the big hike.

Dr. Birdy (l), his son Yuan (our driver), Wendy and Liz relax for a moment before the big hike.

Liz, Wendy, Gwendominica and Birdy are set to start on their adventurous trek.

Liz, Wendy, Gwendominica and Birdy are set to start on their adventurous trek.

We hadn’t been moving for too long before Dr.  Birdy, who is a forestry and wildlife officer by profession and a leading authority on

    Trees welcomed us on the farm track that took us to WNT Segment 9. It was a beautiful day for a hike!

Tall Gommier trees  that can grow up to 135′ welcomed us on the farm track that took us to the WNT Segment 9 trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike!

birds in Dominica (hence the nickname) stopped us in our tracks.  “Look, look up there -in that tall tree – by  the mistletoe plant -do you see it?” he asked excitedly.  After a few moments and some more patient pointers, we caught a fleeting glimpse of a pretty Antillean Euphonia with its ” blue hood and hind neck.”   Only a few minutes earlier, we had been blessed to see the female blue-headed hummingbird, which is only found on Dominica and Martinique – and we hadn’t even started the hike yet!

English: Blue-headed hummingbird photographed ...

Blue-headed hummingbird (male – which is more colourful than the female we saw!) photographed in its natural habitat in the Morne Diablotin National Park. Guide was local expert ‘Dr Birdy’ Bertrand Baptiste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Birdy and I have been acquainted since 1997, when he was recommended to me as a superb and knowledgeable guide.  Over the years, he has taken me all over Dominica and I credit him with teaching me more about the Nature Island’s flora, fauna, geology and geography than anyone else.  From our first few steps on the trail that day , I knew that  another learning experience would form part of  this

adventure – and Liz and Wendy would no doubt benefit from it too!

Wendy photographs the pretty    flower, which was found on the way to the trail.  It matches her shirt!

Wendy photographs a pretty David’s orchid, which was found by the farm feeder road en route to the trail. It matches her shirt!

As we traversed the dense  jungle, plentiful endemic Jaco Parrots  screeched overhead and Ground (Zenaida) Doves plaintively

Bertrand Jno Baptiste (aka Birdy) always takes time on the trail to' show and tell' about fascinating flora and fauna that are found on the route.

Bertrand Jno Baptiste (aka Dr. Birdy) always takes time on the trail to’ show and tell’ about fascinating flora and fauna that are found on the route.

cooed in the distance.  For the first time, I actually saw the melodious Mountain Whistler, which usually perches high in the treetops – all thanks to Birdy’s exceptional visual and auditory acuity!  House Wrens, Brown Tremblers,Thrushes, Flycatchers and other birds  accompanied us  through the tropical rainforest and the higher elevations of montane forest.

Liverwort (centre of the rock) is said to have detoxifying properties.

Liverwort (centre of the rock) is said to have detoxifying properties.

There was so much to see – innumerable plants, trees, herbs, mosses and fungi held our fascination when we paused for a breather.

One could never really starve in the rainforest if one knows what is safe to eat, such as this 'Chicken of the Forest.'

One could never really starve in the rainforest if one knows what is safe to eat, such as this ‘Chicken of the Forest’ mushroom

Wendy and Liz study  the 'chicken of the forest' mushroom' that Birdy has described.

Wendy and Liz study the ‘chicken of the forest’ mushroom’ that Birdy has described.

This chatannye tree is being "choled" by a parasitic vine. Look at the rainforest canpy above it!

This chatannye (sha-ta-ney)tree is being “choked” by a parasitic vine. Look at the rainforest canopy above it!

Cat's Claw is an herb which is used to treat a wide range of health problems.

Cat’s Claw (on the leaf) is a plant  which is used to treat a range of health problems.

Gommier trees are tall and strong.  They have a sap (lighter areas) that is a waterproof resin used in teh building of canoes by the Kalinago indigenous people.

Gommier trees are tall and strong and can thrive for hundreds of years. They exude a waterproof resin (the white substance), which is used in the construction of dug-out canoes by the Kalinago indigenous people.

Massive chatannye (cha-ta-nay) trees have huge buttresses and love for hundreds of years.  This one is said to be one of the largest on the island.

Massive Gommier trees have huge buttresses and can live for hundreds of  years. This one has a circumference of 28 feet! It is said to be one of the largest on the island.

Along the way, we occupied ourselves with good-natured  banter and even broke into song several times.  The deep breathing seemed to help us climb and crawl up steep ravines, where at their pinnacles, we  welcomed respites of breezy ridges and relatively easy walking on level ground.    This is where Birdy gave us a break and  a good deal of nature instruction.  Most challenging were the severely steep descents to small river valleys, where we paused a few moments before climbing up the next steep incline.

The buttresses of the prolific Chatannye tree enable it to withstand hurricanes and remain firmly rooted in the soil.

The expansive buttresses of the prolific Chatannye (sha-ta-nay)tree enable it to withstand hurricanes and stay firmly rooted in the soil.

Wendy hangs on tightly to a supportive rope on a steep incline.  Liz follows a safe distance behind her.

Wendy hangs on tightly to a supportive rope on a steep incline. Liz is a safe distance behind her.

Fortunately, there were ropes placed at strategic locations to steady us in our precarious positions.  I was thankful for  a  dry day, because I think parts of this trail could be extremely treacherous when wet and muddy.

By the time we reached the junction of the trail with the track to Kachibona Lake, about 4 hours had elapsed.  It was time for lunch!

After about 20 minutes, we arrived at an oasis of complete serenity and stunning greenery. We seated ourselves on conveniently placed benches and admired the  verdant splendor of nature, as we rewarded ourselves with some sustenance for our gargantuan efforts to reach this intriguing goal.

Birdy takes a break at Kachibona Lake, after hours of patient instruction to his 'students' on the trail!

Dr.Birdy takes a break at Kachibona Lake, after hours of patient instruction to his ‘students’ on the trail!

The shades of green at Kachibona Lake are absolutely stunning.  It is hard to tell the land from the reflection!

The shades of green at Kachibona Lake are absolutely stunning. The plants are perfectly reflected in the clear, still water!

Once we were fortified, we hit the trail for the last lap before arriving at our destination, Savanne Gommier in Colihaut Heights, where Birdy’s son Yuan would pick us up.  While the terrain was drier in this area, we were faced with one last incredibly

Liz and Wendy tackle the final ascent towards the end of WNT Segment 9.

Liz and Wendy tackle the final ascent towards the end of WNT Segment 9 with hands and feet!

precipitous ascent.  It was definitely a final test of our stamina and we all passed with flying colours!  We were amazed that this area was once farmed extensively at this high elevation, as there were a number of ancient citrus trees that continued to thrive.

We enjoyed a southerly view after we emerged from the dense forest close to the conclusion of WNT Segment 9.

We enjoyed a southerly view towards Morne Trois Pitons (which may be the hazy mountain in the distance) after we emerged from the dense forest close to the conclusion of WNT Segment 9.

Exhausted but exhilarated after six and a half hours on the trail, we drove down the mountain with another objective in mind.

Birdy relaxes after a long day on WNT Segment 9 with Gwendominica, Wendy and Liz.

Birdy relaxes after a long, but fun-filled day on WNT Segment 9 with Gwendominica, Wendy and Liz.

After professing heartfelt thanks to Birdy for escorting us on this amazing “walk through the woods,” we headed for Mero Beach and soaked our sore muscles in the calm Caribbean as the sun sank slowly in the west.

A sunset swim on Mero Beach was a well-deserved reward after our challeging trek on the Waitukubuli national Trail.

A sunset swim on Mero Beach was a well-deserved reward after our challenging trek on the Waitukubuli National Trail.

We all agreed that we had passed that strenuous test and were now ready to take on Dominica’s annual Hike Fest, to be held a few weeks hence.

Stay tuned for our next  trekking adventures on the Nature Island!

* This post is dedicated to Brian, who recently departed this earth. We shared many fantastic intrepid adventures in Canada’s great outdoors. Happy  heavenly trails, Bri!

** Special thanks to Birdy for his endless enthusiasm, good humor and patience in assisting me with flora and fauna ID!

*** To contact Bertrand ‘ Dr. Birdy” Jno (pronounced John) Baptiste for an extraordinary hiking or birding experience on Dominica, email: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm or call (767) 245-4768 or (767) 446-6358.

**** DO NOT attempt this trail without a knowledgeable guide.  Use EXTREME CAUTION during inclement weather as  the trail can be very treacherous in wet conditions.

References:

Dominica’s Birds by Arlington James, Stephen Durand and Bertrand Jno Baptiste. (Produced by the Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division of Dominica in collaboration with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service’s Division of International Conservation, Wildlife Without Borders – Latin America & the Caribbean Program, and the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) 2005.

Dominica (Other Places Travel Guide) by Anna McCanse (former Peace Corps volunteer). (Other Places Publishing) 2011.

The Dominica Story: A History of the Island by Lennox Honychurch. (London: MacMillan) 1995.

Plants of Dominica’s Southeast by Arlington James, in collaboration with the Southeast Environment & Tourism Development Committee. (La Plaine, Dominica). 2008.

Winter Solstice on Dominica: Experiencing the Essence of the Nature Island

Even in Dominica, the hype about December 21st and the hubbub of the approaching yule-tide were having less than desired effects on me. Fortunately, I had already decided that that particular Friday was a day to escape to “the country” (that is, away from Roseau, the capital!) if the world hadn’t ended by then.

I headed off to somewhat familiar territory, my destination being the wonderful Papillote Wilderness Retreat at Trafalgar in the Roseau Valley.  I ‘d already booked my massage with physiotherapist Ariane Magloire and was looking forward to soaking in the hot pools after my session with her. As there was no cruise ship in port, I decided to go early and explore the very popular Trafalgar Falls eco-site, which can be very crowded when hundreds of people are on-island for a few hours.

The trail to the viewing platform passes through dense forest that is filled with birdsong.

The trail to the viewing platform passes through dense forest that is filled with birdsong.

It was a beautiful day in paradise and that is no exaggeration! Brilliant sunshine, nary a cloud in sight and slightly cooler temperatures were ideal conditions for my little hike from Papillote up the hill to the twin falls at Trafalgar. As I approached the Visitor Centre, I was completely surprised that there were no visitors or tour buses in sight.  I spoke to the forestry officer and the attendant on duty and informed them of my plan to work my way up to what is called the “mother” fall which is more readily accessible than the “father” fall.  We chatted for a few moments and then I headed off on the well marked  and groomed trail to the viewing platform, about 15 minutes along the route.

So many shades of green on the approach to the "mother" fall at Trafalgar.

So many shades of green on the approach to the “mother” fall at Trafalgar.

A mountain whistler (rufus-throated solitaire) high up in the tree-tops  cheerily accompanied me with its melodious trills. Antillean bull finches and peewees flitted about the lower limbs of the trees, capturing my attention now and then as I paused to look at pretty plants along the path. I marvelled at so many shades of green all about me in the dense forest.  I could sense my breathing becoming deeper and more even as I steadily walked up a gradual incline.  After about 10 minutes, I arrived at the sturdy wooden platform and gasped with delight at the sights before me.

The higher  "father" fall at Trafalgar is more remote and inaccessible

The higher “father” fall at Trafalgar is more remote and inaccessible

To my left, the taller and slimmer “father” fall glistened in the shadowy sunlight.  Its seemingly remote location added to the intrigue.  I did recall a time many years ago when I did actually work my way over treacherous boulders and slippery stones (with the assistance of a guide).  But a landslide changed all that and I was content with the memory of soaking a bruised leg under a man-made bamboo shower of natural hot mineral water.  Now that area is off-limits to visitors.

My only choice was to head  further along the track to the majestic and stately “mother” fall. I was happy to snap shots of the twin cascades from different angles as I followed the trail to the right.  It had been many years since I ventured beyond the platform, mainly because there were always too many people on the trail for my tastes.  Admittedly, I did meet three young men just as I left the viewing point.  They were heading out and now I was completely alone!

DSCF5137

The cascade of the “mother” fall at Trafalgar is powerfully hypnotic!

The “mother” falls’ persistent roar drew me towards her base, over big rocks, a coursing stream of hot water and some huge tree roots. As I was on my own, I decided to stop a bit of a distance away from her as the boulders can be extremely slippery when wet.  I realized that with no-one else around, personal safety was a priority.  I sat on a damp boulder and gazed all around me.  By now, after only 10 minutes beyond the view-point, sweat trickled down my back and my face was wet from the mild exertion. A damp mist from the cascade blew over me and I breathed deeply and slowly for some time.  I stared at the tumbling waters as if in a trance, while recalling its pristine source higher in the mountains in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. 

After a short while, I glanced at my watch and realized that it was time to make my way back to Papillote for my appointment.  As I carefully turned myself around on the over-sized boulder, I cast a backward glance at the “mother.”  Although I had only spent a short time near her torrents, I felt completely invigorated, re-energized and refreshed.  Any stress that I had carried into this spectacular wilderness eco-site had quickly vanished. I was now ready to celebrate the holiday season in the best of spirits!

DSCF5145My few moments of solitude reminded me that nature is indeed a tonic for the mind, body and soul.  I highly recommend it, and urge you to spend a little time in the great outdoors, as well as with family and friends this holiday season –  where-ever you live.  Peace and goodwill to all!

A Walk Around Freshwater Lake in Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Dominica’s Freshwater Lake is found in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. This protected area became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean in 1997. The Visitor Reception Centre and parking lot can be seen in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

There are several weeks to go this hurricane/rainy season, so my hiking forays throughout Dominica are still on hold. In the mean time, I do like to reflect on my favourite  hikes on the Nature Island.  One of them is the well maintained trail which goes completely around Freshwater Lake, and is located near the village of Laudat in Dominica’s interior. This body of water forms part of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s the largest lake on the island, and the second deepest after nearby Boeri Lake.  Of course, you can also trek to Boeri Lake from  the trail-head on the northeastern side of Freshwater Lake (look for the signs on the road). It takes about 45 minutes (one way) and  can be a bit challenging as it crosses a section of Morne Macaque, also called Micotrin, the highest mountain in the Roseau Valley.

However, the circuitous groomed track around Freshwater  Lake takes an hour on average, or more if you wish to admire the circumferential views and/or catch your breath!  I’ve been up there (meaning at the very top of the Roseau Valley!) a number of times over the past 15 years.  I could never be bored with this morning or afternoon outing because the weather conditions have been vastly different every time!  I do confess I only ever came upon Boeri Lake on a clear fine day one time many years ago. It’s the highest lake in the country at 2,800 feet.  I actually took a dip in the deep, cool, clear waters.  I hadn’t been in Dominica very long, so I could tolerate it.  I assure you that I couldn’t do it now!

Freshwater Lake seems to be shrouded in mystery as low clouds create an eerie aura. Maybe a monster really lurks in its depths! Photo by Edwin Whitford

 To get to these inland lakes, it’s an easy  half hour drive up the Roseau Valley on a newly rebuilt road from Roseau. After having left the intense heat of the town and arriving at the parking lot near the shore of Freshwater Lake, the change in climate, terrain and atmosphere can be very dramatic: low lying clouds; a chilly and penetrating mist; a bracing breeze; and poor visibility around the large lake make it easy to imagine why there is a myth about a monster  there!

Before I head off on the trail, I like to have a cup of cocoa tea in the snackette at the Reception Centre to energize and (sometimes) warm myself before the initial uphill climb.  The friendly staff at Caldera’s Dining and Aquatic Sports (tablatie@hotmail.com; 245-7061) offer hearty snacks and sandwiches most days (9 am – 5 pm) during the tourist season (October to April) and most weekends during the other months of the year.  You can also rent a kayak or rowboat from them if you’d like to spend a little time on the water searching for that monster!

Majestic Morne Watt can be seen by looking in a southerly direction a short distance from the Reception Centre. It is named after one of the men who trekked to the Boiling Lake in the late 19th century and then told the world about his experiences.

After my refreshment, I wend my way towards the path by the hydro-electric building (to the right of the Reception Centre when facing the lake).  I take a few moments to wander in a southerly direction to admire Majestic Morne Watt and realize that the famous Boiling Lake is over that way too.  A few minutes further along, I  plant my feet on carefully constructed steps as I make my way to the top of the ridge on the eastern side of the lake. I am usually soaking wet fairly soon – but whether it’s from my exertions or the persistent mist, I am never sure.  Most likely, it’s the result of both!

The track can be a bit slippery in the persistent moist conditions. I always recommend a walking stick and keeping close to the ground whenever necessary! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Gwendominica stops to catch her breath and patiently waits for a break in the clouds. Photo by Edwin Whitford

As I make my way along the ridge, I admire the views of the lake, abundant wildflowers, verdant precipices and the mighty Atlantic in the distance, whenever there is a break in the clouds.

When the clouds lift, the reward is this sensational view to Rosalie Bay on the Atlantic coast and the village of Grand Fond above it. The Chemin Letang trail passes through these mountains from Freshwater Lake to Grand Fond. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

I especially adore the vistas of Rosalie Bay and the village of Grand Fond.  There is a wonderful inland trail, called Chemin Letang which traverses the mountains between Freshwater Lake and Grand Fond.  It’s about 2 1/2 hours to hike it one way or five hours plus for a return trip.  There is a trailhead maker on the eastern side of the Freshwater Lake trail.  On the Grand Fond side, a villager, or  a certified guide can direct you to its starting point and give you some fascinating details about this historic track.  I’ve done it twice from both sides.  While I am slipping and sliding on the often slick track, I am in awe of the many Dominicans who used this well worn path before there were roads to the southeastern side of the island.  They would carry their produce and wares from the east coast to Laudat on one day, and then continue on to the Roseau market to sell their goods the next day, and then do the return journey after that!  No wonder there are so many centenarians and  physically fit seniors on this island!

Freshwater Lake as viewed from a northeasterly point above it. Morne Nicholls (left) and Morne Watt (right) feature in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

As I continue along in a northerly direction,  the path begins to descend and soon I am surrounded in forest before emerging along the western shoreline of the lake. In the pristine air and lush surroundings, I have definitely worked up an appetite during my hour-long vigorous foray on the Freshwater Lake track.  I head back to Caldera’s Dining kiosk and partake of a hearty cheese, tomato and lettuce sandwich on a whole wheat bun.  Of course, I can’t resist another cup of cocoa tea.  I deserve it, I think.

Stunning views of the Roseau Valley down to Roseau are plentiful on the road to/from Freshwater Lake, just beyond the junction to the village of Laudat. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Before departing this lovely locale, I take some time to view the room of exhibits of the geological formations in this area, which add greatly to my understanding of this abundantly volcanic Nature Island.  As  I drive out of the parking lot, I content myself with the knowledge that I’ll be exploring more of Dominica’s unique Morne Trois Pitons National Park  very soon.