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 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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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 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 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.
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’ mushroom
Wendy and Liz study the ‘chicken of the forest’ mushroom’ that Birdy has described.
This chatannye (sha-ta-ney)tree is being “choked” by a parasitic vine. Look at the rainforest canopy above it!
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 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 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 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 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.
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. 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 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 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, 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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.