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

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

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

With some lingering arthritic-like symptoms  and residual lower energy levels resulting from my bout of  Chikungunya in April 2014, I was unsure about my strength and stamina in terms of a day-long hike in Dominica’s interior. I had done well so far, with walks of up to four hours.  However, there was only one way to find out if I could do more – and  you will have to read on to see how I made out!

Sunday May 3rd, 2015 was a very significant day for me, as it marked the first anniversary of the passing of my dear kitty, Tia-pet into the next life.  Before hiking partner Jenny and I set off from Springfield Plantation to

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

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

commence our ambitious ‘walk’ to Middleham Falls, we visited Tia’s grave site and laid flowers there.  While I miss him dearly, I can still ‘feel the love’ and I will always be grateful to my friends who have helped me cope with this loss.

The dry, hot season had set in with a vengeance on Dominica.  Everyone was complaining about the oppressive heat.  But what better place to go than into the cool of the rainforest, and that was our primary objective!  We commenced just after 8:30 a.m. and immediately I huffed and puffed as my muscles warmed  to the steep climb up the Cochrane Back Road, the first leg of the journey.  Despite the initial breathlessness on my part, Jenny and I chatted away, and within half an hour, we arrived at the next uphill road that would take us to the trail-head to Middleham Falls. While the sun shone brilliantly overhead, we admired distant views of some of the mountains in Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). As we trekked along, we  stopped to chat with a couple who were cleaning the yard in front of their beautiful, secluded home.  The gentleman mentioned that hikers did pass by now and then, but I was well aware that most intrepids access the Middleham Falls eco-site from the Laudat side, as it is shorter, although a bit steeper in sections.  I had taken that track a few months earlier, and you can read about that fun-filled foray here.

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

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

As we climbed higher into the rainforest, we were grateful for the cool breezes and shady trees that lined the overgrown through-way. When we came to a fork in the road, I couldn’t exactly recall which track to take, as it had been ten years since I had ventured this way.  At that moment, a friendly farmer drove by and stopped to answer my query.  Right away, he directed us to the right (hikers, take note), as the concreted lane to the left accesses private property.

Thereafter, our conversation kept us moving along, and after an hour or so of continuous incline, we arrived at a grassy plateau with an abandoned

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

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

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

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

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

As we entered the dense forest, we were immediately entranced by sweet sounds of revelry emanating from the tree-tops high above us. Finches, thrushes, and particularly Mountain Whistlers (Siffleur Montagne) accompanied us for the

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

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

duration of our day in the ‘woods’.  Although we were a little fatigued from the challenging uphill climb on the back roads in the heat, we instantly felt refreshed under the cover of the canopy. A well-maintained track, with steps made from carapit, a sturdy, slip-proof local wood enabled us to move along very easily.

After a few minutes, we passed by a sign indicating that we were now officially inside the 17,000 acre Morne Trois Pitons National Park boundary.  A  number of steps  later,  we found ourselves beside the renowned ‘Stinking Hole’ (Tou Santi). While we were curious about this sulphurous crevice in the earth, which is home to thousands of bats, the foul-smelling fumes chased us away.  Jenny and I did agree though, that it would be fun to see these

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

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

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

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

nocturnal mammals fly out  en masse at dusk someday.

We continued from there in peaceful reverie as we listened to the cheery revelry of ubiquitous bird-songs above and around us. We forded several streams along the way,  of which the first two were bone dry due to the  lack of rainfall and intense heat. However, the next few did require some strategizing to avoid a slip on a slick rock or a wet boot. I generally let Jenny go first over these mini-challenges; she was more nimble in her agile attempts, however, I carefully (but successfully) picked my way to the other side.

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

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

Jenny manouevers over slippery rocks in a river bed.

Jenny manoeuvred over slippery rocks in a river bed.

DSCF4820

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

As we neared the falls, the ravines on either side of the mini-rivers became steeper and more slippery.  Good thing it was the dry season or those areas would have required more effort to reach the top of the opposite bank.  The track also became narrower, a little greasy and uneven where there were above-ground streams and prominent tree  roots.  We had to keep our eyes to the ground so that we did not trip or twist an ankle.  Soon we came to a junction with a sign that indicated our close proximity to the destination.  At that point, we encountered a couple who had hiked from the Laudat side and we all more or less hiked the last several minutes together.

We could hear the roar first and then we caught a glimpse of the tall waterfall through the trees.  But suddenly, we came to a dead end, and realized that we had ‘overshot’ the eco-site.  Jenny scouted around while I explained to French visitors in their language about the situation.  Then my intrepid friend backtracked and we followed her until she found the main path, which we had all overlooked for some reason. (Perhaps a sign would be helpful at that junction).

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

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

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

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

We took a few photos right away as we gawked at this dramatic cascade, which is one of the tallest on the island. (I cannot fit it all into my camera lens!)  Then we plopped down on some large boulders overlooking this lovely scene and its pretty pool below.  While we munched on our snacks, two young ladies came along and asked about swimming under the waterfall.  I enthusiastically encouraged them to go below and try it.  There were now six of us in the area, and I felt it was better to have a few people

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

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

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

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

around when others were in the water. So on that day, Jenny and I became unofficial ‘lifeguards’ . I had indeed jumped in to the refreshing waters many years ago, but did not think my knees could take further challenge on the rocky descent to the pool, as this was my first long trek in two years.

The others truly enjoyed their ‘bath’, and they actually left the site just ahead of Jenny and me.  We had lingered for about 45 minutes, and the refreshing repose (without getting wet) was worth every second! On the return journey, I let Jenny lead, which I felt was good for me, as she helped me to quicken my pace slightly.  We were again enraptured by the music over our heads, and we heard an assortment of tunes from various mountain whistlers along the route.  It also intrigued us to listen to melodious tinkling sounds from unidentified insects.  The rainforest was truly full of music that day and I felt as if I were walking in a heaven on earth.

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

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

While we retraced our steps, we also admired the tall trees which shaded us and housed those harmonious creatures:  expansive chatanier, with huge buttresses and  stately gommier, with  aromatic sticky resin made us think that this forest must be very ancient indeed.

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

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

While we were looking around at all the beautiful plants in the rainforest, we heard a rustling in the dry leaves.  All of a sudden, a rodent-like agouti scooted across the path just behind us.  I had not seen one in the wild for many years, and it added to my delight with this day.

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

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

As we moved out of the trail and onto the open  back road that would take us ‘down’ to Springfield, we also appreciated lovely wildflowers and the gorgeous views in every direction.

Lovely heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Lovely red heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

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

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

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

When I looked at my watch once we were back at our base at Springfield, I remarked that we had taken about 6 1/2 hours to thoroughly enjoy a spectacular part of paradise.  As I slipped into the refreshing river, I reveled in the joy of a remarkable journey into  the essence of the Nature Island. And I was also thrilled to have accomplished my

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

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

first day-long trek since having fallen ill just over a year ago.  Time spent in Dominica’s rainforest is definitely a healing tonic for  body, mind and soul.

 

 

 

 

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF4607

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

Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

A Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A Return to Middleham Falls: Hiking to One of Dominica`s Superb Natural Sensations

There she is!  Even through the trees, Dominica`s Middleham Falls is a treat to the eye and a gift to the soul.

There she is! Even  through the trees, Dominica`s Middleham Falls is a treat to the eye and a sight to behold.

Middleham Falls captured my imagination (and my heart) the first time I ever visited Dominica. That very first hike,  I walked all the way from Springfield on the Imperial Road, then traversed a steep secondary road above  Cochrane village before even reaching the trail head. It took me five hours return in those days.  It was exhausting but

Getting closer to Middleham Falls.  Still a little distance to go!

Getting closer to Middleham Falls. Still a little distance to go!

exhilarating.  You can read about my initial fascination and  impressions right here. I have returned to gaze at this marvel of nature several times since March 1997, but I `ve only taken the trail from the Laudat side in the Roseau Valley twice.  So when I proposed  revisiting this waterfall to my longstanding hiking pod friends, they enthusiastically grabbed their gear and off we went! Liz and I were putting ourselves to a test of strength and endurance about our bouts of Chikungunya.  We were curious (and I was a little anxious) to see how we would make out.

The morning skies were dark and drizzly when Nancy, Liz and I set off from Roseau.  By the time we arrived at the trail head and got out of Nancy`s SUV, buckets full of rain were falling on our heads.  Although Nancy suggested that we head north to the Cabrits in search of drier land,  we stayed put and waited it out. We also held back because the Walsh family (Simon and Wendy and their son Andrew) pulled in to the parking lot at about that time, so there was no turning back!

We chatted and snacked for a few minutes at the sheltered interpretive facility, and after a few minutes, the sun came out!  Andrew and his dad took off ahead of us (both are avid athletes and naturalists) while the ladies purposely lagged behind. We set off at a leisurely pace, and were  slowed down at the start when Nancy and I decided to take off our footwear to cross the one and only shallow river on this route.  I didn`t regret it though.  I was happy to have relatively dry boots and socks for the duration of the journey.  Liz sensibly wore all-terrain sandals and Wendy got a little `help“ from her family so that her feet remained dry!

Wendy and Liz patiently wait for Nancy and I to put our boots back on after the river crossing.

Wendy and Liz patiently wait for Nancy and me to put our boots back on after the river crossing.

We ascended some steep steps and then picked our way carefully around exposed tree roots extending  from massive chatanier trees and their impressive buttresses.  The moist rainforest environment did dampen the path considerably, and we watched out for slippery rocks and deep

The prolific tree roots add a bit of a challenge to the moderate hike to Middleham Falls.

The prolific tree roots add a bit of a challenge to the moderate hike to Middleham Falls.

mud  puddles.  Sometimes we engaged in conversation and other times we contented ourselves with listening to the sounds of the rainforest. We admired abundant epiphytes and bromeliads on  the tall ancient gommier trees when we often stopped to refresh from our water bottles. The tuneful call of  mountain whistlers hiding in the treetops accompanied our pleasant foray.

Nancy manoeuvers around  tteh buttresses of a massive Chatanier tree

Nancy maneuvers around the buttresses of a massive Chatanier tree

It would be hard to get lost on this well-marked and maintained trail.

It would be hard to get lost on this well-marked and maintained trail.

After about an hour, we reached a sign which clearly pointed the way to Middleham Falls.  Without delay, we carefully quickened our pace on  the steep and rocky descent, and after about 15 minutes, the distinct roar of the gigantic cascade could be heard in the distance.  We did pass by a couple of pretty mini-falls en route, but they were only teasers leading up to the real thing!

Simon and his son Andrew take a quick rest stop in the mist blowing at them from Middleham Falls.

Simon and his son Andrew take a quick rest stop in the mist blowing at them from Middleham Falls.

Gwendominica takes a moment to catch her breath at the sign pointing the way!

Gwendominica takes a moment to catch her breath at a sign pointing the way!

The rainforest is filled with pretty sights - the mini-waterfalls are cause for a pause along the route.

The rainforest is filled with pretty sights – the mini-waterfalls are cause for a pause along the route.

And then we saw Simon and Andrew,

comfortably propped on a huge rock facing the falls.  They were  soaked by the significant spray showering the area from the powerful force of water flowing down the precipice.  At 270 feet, (82 meters), Middleham Falls is one of Dominica`s tallest chutes, and it deserves special respect during the rainy season. If we had been there in the dry season, we might have been able to descend the rocky slope and have a cool `bath`in the cavernous pool below.  However, we all agreed that the excessive strength of the waterfall was only to be admired from a distance on this day.  Besides, we were already soaking wet! I was glad that I had experienced the chill of this “cold“ water setting before.  You can read about it here.

Nancy and Liz contemplate the beauty and strength of marvellous Middleham Falls.

Nancy and Liz contemplated the beauty and strength of marvellous Middleham Falls.

Wendy`s joyful gaze taken in the natural spendour of the setting.

Wendy`s joyful gaze took in the natural splendour of the setting.

It`s the real thing! Middleham Falls is so tall that it is impossible for me to capture it all on my camera!

It`s the real thing! Middleham Falls is so tall that it was impossible for me to capture it all on my camera!

There`s that cool pool at the base of the falls.  take a dip if you dare (but don`t dive!).

There`s that cool pool at the base of the falls. Take a dip if you dare (but don`t dive!).

Snacks were hauled out and“ inhaled“, as we all had worked up appetites from our mountain-rainforest adventure.  We settled ourselves on various rocks or leaned against substantial trees as we took in this natural beauty and her forceful voice. After about half an hour, Simon and Andrew set off, with Wendy close behind as they were going to finish their day with some fun at Mero Beach. Liz, Nancy and I paced ourselves carefully and kept to quiet conversation or solitary meditation on the return.

By the time we reached the shallow river, Nancy and I unhesitatingly walked right through it!  It was the perfect method for removing mud and dirt that had accumulated on the footwear over the two plus hour trek.

At the Interpretation Centre, we changed into dry clothes in the convenient washrooms, nibbled on some chocolate, and then set off in Nancy`s vehicle  for a light lunch  and a soak in a hot pool at Papillote Wilderness Retreat a few minutes`drive  away.

Liz, Nancy and Anne, the active octogenarian and owner of Papillote Wilderness Retreat  relax after a hoot pool soak.

Liz, Nancy and Anne, the active octogenarian and owner of Papillote Wilderness Retreat relax after a hot pool soak.

When we arrived, we were fortunate to catch up with proprietor and friend Anne Jno Baptiste.  After our quick meal (I had delicious vegetarian callaloo soup!), Anne took us on a little tour of the upper garden and then we settled into a lovely secluded and sheltered hot mineral pool.  We allowed the healing waters to soothe our sore muscles and we further unwound with  light-hearted chatter.

This secluded, shletered pool at Papillote Widerness Retreat is the ideal refuge for treating post-hike soreness.

This secluded, sheltered pool at Papillote Wilderness Retreat is the ideal refuge for treating post-hike soreness.

At the end of this sensational afternoon, Liz and I agreed that despite some soreness possibly due to the lingering effects of Chikungunya, we were ready to take on another moderate hike soon.  Our long-range goal is still set to tackle more of the Waitukubuli National Trail.  Without a doubt, we`ll get there, and Nancy and Wendy will come along for the fun too!

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.