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.

 

 

 

 

A Birthday Celebration in Dominica’s Beautiful Interior

River Stone Bar 'n' Grill is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Dominica's interior.

River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon in Dominica’s interior.  It’s located on the Airport Road, about a mile east of Pond Casse in the centre of the island.

It's  a pretty drive into Dominica's interior from Springfield, which is situated on the edge of the rainforest at about 1,200 feet above sea level.

It’s a pretty drive into Dominica’s interior.

It was Nancy who suggested  that some friends should celebrate their birthdays, which are actually a few days apart at River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill in Dominica’s mountainous interior. The proprietress, Maxine Alleyne-Esprit was acknowledging her own big day a little in advance – on Sunday August 25th, and was offering good food, smooth tunes and a chance to ‘lime’ (West Indian for hanging out and having a good time) at her establishment along the Laurent River near the village of Bells.  I had been there once before –  in May, after Hike Fest’s foray along  and through(!) the Layou River to experience the Jacko Steps and Jacko Flats.  I had so much fun dining, dancing and bathing in the river post-hike that day. I looked forward to a repeat performance as part of this birthday bash.

The only initial drawback was the weather: heavy rain was in the forecast.  It is not advisable to drive in Dominica’s interior on that kind of day, as landslides of rocks and mud and flash floods on the rivers are always possible.  We all chose to err on the side of caution and waited throughout that morning with hopes that the clouds would lift.  Miraculously (well, I think so), by midday, the sun started to shine, so we were a ‘go’!

Four of us met at Springfield Plantation in the early afternoon, where Nancy (the manager) offered us a celebratory drink before we piled into her vehicle for the half hour ride further into the rainforest for our birthday get-together.  As the skies continued to brighten, I admired the silhouettes of significant massifs as we headed  in an easterly direction.  When we approached the Pond Cassé round-about (traffic circle) in the middle of the island, I gazed in awe at Morne Trois Pitons, Dominica’s second highest peak,  which dominates the area with its multitudinous shades of green.

Our conversation was lively and chatty, as we caught up on each other’s news and plans.  In no time,  we approached the Laurent River Bridge and turned into the lane way that lead to our destination.  It was about 3 p.m., and at that time, we had the place to ourselves.  I think the earlier inclement weather prediction was holding people back from making the inland trip.  We did not mind, as we were there to have a good time, no matter who else was there!  We selected a table which was situated almost directly over the river.  It was close enough  to a sheltered overhang, if it actually did start to rain.

The birthday gals were in fine form as we relaxed on the lovely deck over the Laurent River.

The birthday gals were in fine form as we relaxed on the lovely deck over the Laurent River.

Liz and I professed to being very hungry so we ordered and subsequently tucked in to a huge lunch right away.  It was a feast that perfectly complemented the celebratory day.  Liz really enjoyed well prepared pork with a BBQ sauce, breadfruit, tasty ‘rice and peas’ (beans) and a hearty green salad . I devoured the ‘mahi-mahi’ fish, which was slathered  in a delicious herbal seasoning, along with the same delectable accompaniments.  It was a substantial meal, and we both  made short work of it!

As we were deep in the mountains, the sun quickly disappeared  as the afternoon wore on.  Liz was keen for a swim and wondered if I would partake of a ‘river bath’ too.  I was

When I look at a topographical map, it seems to me that the Laurent River originates from Morne Trois Pitons, which is over 4,500' high. No wonder it is so cold!

When I look at a topographical map, it seems to me that the powerful Laurent River originates from Morne Trois Pitons, which is over 4,500′ high. No wonder it is so cold!

tempted, and had even brought my suit along.  I declined but she went in, while I took off my sandals and sat by the riverside.  When I put my feet in, I quickly pulled them out: too cold for

Liz didn't seem to mind the chilly waters of the mighty Laurent, which passes close to River Stone Bar 'n' Grill near Bells Dominica.

Liz didn’t seem to mind the chilly waters of the mighty Laurent, which passes close to River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill near Bells Dominica. A rock-slide from a previous storm is seen in the background.

me!  Yes, those mountain rivers can be chilly, as is the case with the Laurent.   Liz toughed it out, and it seems to me that she had fun! (She said it wasn’t so cold once in the water for a while, but I was content to stay mostly dry).

By the time we arrived back at our table, people with whom we were acquainted happened along. Soon it became common knowledge that there was a group of birthday girls in the house!

This fact was reinforced by Maxine, proprietress of the property, who made a general announcement over the D.J.’s sound system.  Seeing as the “secret” was out, D.J. David Sorhaindo played some appropriate birthday tunes, including Kool and the Gang‘s “Celebration” (1980).  Liz and I got up to move to the beat and stayed for a while on the floor while D.J. David played a sequence of favourite ‘Oldie Goldies’ from the 70’s and 80’s.  I was in my element – but I

D.J. David Sorhaindo knew how to members of the '50+" Club' on the dance floor. I had fun groovin' to the oldie goldie tunes.  Thanks David!

D.J. David Sorhaindo knew how to get a few members of the ’50+ Club’ on the dance floor. I had fun groovin’ to the oldie goldie tunes. Thanks David! (Note: his birthday was a few days earlier.  It was definitely a festive atmosphere!).

won’t say anything more about that – you had  to have been be there…

The birthday girls enjoyed their 'lime' at River Stone Bar 'n' Grill.  From left: Gwendominica;Sarah;Nancy; Maxine (proprietress); and Liz.

The birthday girls  enjoyed their ‘lime’ at River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill. From left: Gwen;Sarah;Nancy; Maxine (proprietress); and Liz.

Of course, what would a birthday be without cake.  It certainly was my lucky day, because I savoured a sensational slice of  the homemade sweet prepared by Maxine’s mother.  I have to honestly say – it was one of the most delicious I have eaten in recent memory – it was so moist, flavourful and light.  Thanks, Mrs. Alleyne! I hope I will have the good fortune to order a slice or more when I return to River Stone next time.  Maxine, take note!  While another cake was making the rounds, I did sample it but I was more desirous of having an extra piece of the first one. And now you know why!

We lingered a little longer even though darkness set in all too quickly.  Then the rain did start, which signalled us to depart and   come back  to the relaxing River Stone Bar ‘n’ Grill another day.

Thanks Maxine, for hosting a very sweet birthday ‘lime’ which we enjoyed immensely.  It was a memorable afternoon in a super natural setting within Dominica’s beautiful interior. See you on another Sunday sometime soon. And Happy Birthday to you!

‘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.

An Afternoon in the Rainforest

gwendominica on the suspension bridge over the Breakfast River Gorge 300 feet below.

UPDATE: MAY 30, 2012.

Dominica’s Rainforest Aerial Tram has ceased operations.  This is a very sad day for the tourism industry in Dominica.  I wish all the staff the best of luck and thank them for providing an excellent tourism product.  For further information, consult:

http://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/business/sixty-six-jobless-as-aerial-tram-shuts-down/  and

http://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/business/aerial-tram-dominica-explains-shut-down/

On a cool and drizzly Sunday afternoon, I accepted a friend’s invitation to join her and members of the Dominican Welfare and Hospital Aid Scheme on an outing to Laudat in Dominica’s interior .  In this lush location, we took a tour on the Rainforest Aerial Tram. (http://www.rainforestadventure.com/)

I had not been back to take another Tram tour since it first opened in 2003!  I wasn’t really sure what to expect after all those years.  When we arrived, we had to wait for some time, as a number of groups from a cruise ship were preparing to board the gondolas which could each only hold 8 guests and a guide. In the mean time, there was delectable Dominican coffee to drink, sheltered picnic tables upon which to sit and spectacular scenery to admire at the ‘ground level’.

After about half an hour, we were asked to assemble in an orderly  fashion and we quickly  boarded several of the 22 gondolas in preparation for our above-ground tour.  Our ascent would begin at about 2,000 feet above sea level.  We would climb to 2,500 feet (the upper limit of the rainforest) where we would disembark for a brief walking tour.  Then we  would descend on another cable line that would keep us above the tree-tops for most  of the return journey.

Our friendly guide, Craig Johnson  incessantly plied us with piles of  fascinating facts about the flora, fauna, geology and history  of Dominica for more than one hour. My only regret is that I was not carrying a notebook .There was so much to remember!

A friendly ‘Parasite’ forms a symbiotic relationship with a tree

Craig told us about the four levels of the rainforest and its abundant foliage. There seemed to be endless plants, trees, flowers and birds thriving in this moist and fertile terrain.  He especially amazed us with his in-depth knowledge of plants and their scientific names, as well as their English and Creole versions.  I was further impressed with his understanding of the medicinal and traditional uses of a number of  plants. It seemed that a remedy for almost every ailment can be found in the rainforest.  We saw plants that could alleviate migraines, reduce hypertension, soothe sores and enhance sexual vitality, among other things.  We all  agreed that nature’s pharmacy is obviously found on the Nature Isle.

The plaintive calls of thrushes and the melodious trills of the elusive mountain whistler accompanied us as we  slowly moved along while admiring all of the stunning sights. “Rider,” a bold little Bullfinch hopped on board for part of our excursion as he searched hopefully for a crumb or two.  We were certainly completely immersed in our rainforest experience!

While we oooed and aaahed at this ‘heaven on earth’, Craig  reminded us that there are frighteningly few rainforests and that they only cover  about 6 % of the entire planet.  These precious portions of land are too vital to our survival  to ever be destroyed again.

As an avid hiker, I also paid strict attention to which plants could provide food and water in case I were ever lost  in Dominica’s  dense  jungle.

But next time, I’ll be sure to bring that notebook!

Magnificent buttresses of the Chatannye (pronounced Sha-tah-nay)tree.They are a prominent and spectacular sight in Dominica’s rainforest areas.

The rainforest here is dense and lush with hundreds of plants and trees, which have regenerated since Category 4 Hurricane David wiped most of them out in 1979.

Look out below! The depths of the Breakfast River Gorge 300′ below the suspension bridge. It flows into the ‘mother’ or female cascade at the twin Trafalgar Falls.

Mighty Morne Macaque (French) Micotrin (Carib) which means monkey in English is one of Dominica’s highest mountains at 4,006 as seen from the upper descending gondola line’. There are no monkeys on the Nature Isle, but you would have to be one to climb it!