It is a well known fact that Dominicans have an excellent sense of humour, and I definately found this to be the case on my travels around this beautiful nature isle of the caribbean! You may have seen some of these before…
The most intense and wonderful experiences were spent walking, hiking, trekking along trails through rainforest, along coasts, across mountains, over causeways and across or up rivers; this adventure was spent in touch with the sights and sounds of nature, the flora and fauna, the rocks and stones, the lizards, birds, frogs, fish and insects of both Martinique and Dominica!
As I spend my last day on the island, I’m reflecting on all the wonderful memories this trip has given to me; the place is absolutely beautiful, filled with amazing natural phenomena, waterfalls, mountains, lush rainforest, a huge variety of animal and insect life, birds too numerous to mention; but mostly it has a group of people who are friendly and welcoming and who like to meet their visitors and chat with them! I’ve made lots of friends here, and even if I don’t return, (although I feel I may some day) I shall stay in touch; and even those people whom I met just in passing or hitching a lift with or giving a ride down the road, and even though I may not know all their names, well they too deserve a mention here! So my thanks to (in order of appearance) Richard, Jem + animals including Delboy, Scooby and Vicky the cats and Gary the donkey, François and Vivian from Petite Soufrière, Prince, Lincoln, Marcel all at 3 Rivers Eco Lodge, Lenny, Curwin + Irie-Grace the young cow, Pepper and Roxy the dogs, Cushcush and Love Hat the cats at Eden Heights, Josanna and family at Sea Breeze Inn, Alvin and team at Courtesy, Bevan and team at Rodney’s Retreat, Sara and Stefan at Beyond Vitality, Gweneth and Pascal at Sea Cliff Cottages, Captain Philbert and team including ‘Will Smith’ Carlos onboard the Anchorage Whale Watcher, Cindi luncheon partner, Trudy, Henry, Carla ‘Peaches’ and her kids and numerous others whom all made my stay a brilliant one!
Curwin’s colorful windscreen
So the day had finally arrived, all my training and motivation had been building up to this moment! 🙂 I’d arranged with Curwin to meet at Pont Casse which is kinda equidistant from Castle Bruce and Calibishie, well almost! This way we could take only one vehicle, I’d offered to drive and he could park his car. I left around 6 am for the hour drive, giving plenty of time to start the hike early enough in the day! I arrived a little before 7am and waited at the roundabout for my guide to arrive. After 15 minutes or so Curwin turned up alone; you may remember he had a friend who wanted to come too, unfortunately he had a dental appointment so couldn’t make it! So off we went to hike up to the Boiling Lake, a place I’d heard lots about and which would be my ‘best’ hike to date! I’d seen this in pictures and on film and was really looking forward to it! As we descended the now ever familiar road from the interior plateau down to the south-west coast, we arrived at Canefield where he stopped off to buy some buns and pastries at the bakery; fuel for the hikers and a nice meal to have on the mountain! From here we avoided Roseau and passed through Goodwill, a suberb of the town, all the while climbing up the road leading to Laudat; upon entering the village we took the right fork (I had taken the left fork up when I hiked the Boeri lake trail) down to Titou Gorge, where the trailhead starts. We stopped for a moment at a small house where we purchased our daily site pass (all Dominica Eco-tourism sites are protected and foreign visitors are required to buy a ticket; the Forestry Commission uses the proceeds for the upkeep of the trails). Titou Gorge is a narrow opening in the rock filled with water, popular with swimmers and canyoners! We left the car at the parking area at the bottom of the hill, happy to be the only people about, and started hiking up to the entrance of the trail next to the gorge!
Starting at roughly 1,600ft/490m, initially the trail goes through rainforest terrain thick with trees and foliage, the trail winds it’s way up, up and up some more, before dropping down to a river; after 35 minutes or so this is the first stop for water (pure and clean straight from the mountain) and where Curwin advised me to empty my water canister and fill it with this spring water instead, which he obligingly did for me! We set ourselves milestones, next stop would be on the plateau! We continued over a small bridge which crossed the river, then up the sides of the ravine, all the time climbing log and stone steps, sometimes literally climbing up rocks over huge tree roots! I wasn’t counting but it reminded me of those places famous for the amount of steps they have (leaning tower of Pisa, Big Ben, the cathedral tower in Seville, a lighthouse I once climbed, etc..) well this place must have thousands! 🙂
We must’ve been going for another good hour, all the time twisting and turning, climbing up over ridges and down gullies, through the elfin rain forest where nothings grows very tall due to the altitude, then suddenly we arrived at a small plateau overlooking the peaks that are the Morne Trois Pitons National Park! And it was here that I was able to get my first view of the lake in the distance! We took a short break and drank some water, deciding to wait and eat later; this decision mainly so as not to lose time on the hike just in case the weather changed. (We needn’t have been concerned, it was a glorious day and there was no sign of any adverse weather conditions)
Continuing on we descended the plateau and hiked downward following steep cuts in the rock into the Valley of Desolation, aptly named for its obvious desolate character! The entire valley and the sides of the mountains that surround it are full of steaming vents and bubbling pools of water that are literally boiling; the smell of ‘rotting eggs’ hangs in the air as the sulphur swirls about, under our feet the ground is hot, Curwin careful to point out where to walk as some areas are hollow! Spurting geisers shoot hot spitting water and steam from fissures in the ground, which is a mixture of volcanic rock stained yellow by sulphur with a dark grey blue hue! Rivers of ion-oxide tainted water flow past us, bubbling down the valley! It’s a scene other-worldly like and yet even here, there is life in some mosses and plants that thrive in this environment. Having passed through the valley unscathed, we crossed the bubbling river to scale the side of the mountain and down into a ravine following the flow of the river; here we came to a pair of waterfalls with a bathing pool below them, we would stop on the return journey!
We climbed up out of the ravine and followed the steps up over into another valley that resembled the previous but with much less activity. We then wound our way along the trail, up and over rocks following the contours of the land, until the final climb revealed the prize, the Boiling Lake itself! This flooded fumarole sits at about 3,000ft/1,000m and is heated by the magma deep below.
So I did it, made it to the top, time for a well earned lunch break of bread rolls with raisins and pastries and a mango! 🙂 After a 30 minute visit we headed back down, past the giant rock with several names and dates etched into it from previous expeditions to this place! Time to head for the bathing pool and a hot bath, wow that was all amazing; and thanks to Curwin’s expertise, back safely too! Even though when almost ‘home’ I tried filming while hiking and almost fell over, lol, to my guide’s admonishment, mind you he had a good laugh and he got to swing on the vines like Tarzan! Videos available shortly! 🙂
Prior to travelling to Dominica, one of my good friends (Lesley) from the Findhorn Iona Retreat which I participated in last August, put me in touch with a friend of hers (Cindi) from reflexology class, who just happens to live on the island! We made plans to meet up for lunch in Portsmouth on Tuesday of my final week. I drove over a little early as I needed to go to the bank to change the last of my holiday money, and having arrived I preceded to drive in the wrong direction; on turning around a young man asked me if I’d take him to the bus station, I said sure and as he got in I asked him to remind me where the bank was! My passenger took the opportunity to praise the American naval medical staff, still present on the island, who had fixed his broken toenail and cleaned his teeth, he was well happy about that! As it turned out the bank is very close to the buses, and my happy hitcher said he’d get out at the bank too! I wished my new friend (yes another one) a good afternoon and entered the bank where there was a very long queue, I checked the time and waited my turn, still having a half hour or so before my lunch date!
On leaving I went to the Police Station, don’t worry it wasn’t serious, it was our planned meeting point! Happy to meet my new friend Cindi, a reflexologist from the UK and whose family are from Dominica, we checked out some local places which were either closed or not to our liking; or I should say not to my liking, being such a difficult veggie-ist! 🙂 So we took my car and drove the short distance up the road where we decided to try a little restaurant opposite the University, you know Ross Medical School mentioned in previous installments! ‘Kathryns’ is a quaint little cafe type place where all the students come to meet or have coffee or a cold drink, well not all but quite a few dropped by whilst we were there. We ordered what was left to have from the menu and chatted about our various different paths. Cindi moved to Dominica 5 years ago having worked in journalism back home; I was looking for an alternative lifestyle outside of ‘the norm’; we had a really interesting chat and I was able to find out more information regarding my strange shopping stop the previous day! I hadn’t mentioned it before but most of the produce in the supermarket in Portsmouth is actually imported and very highly priced! I was informed this is because the Americans don’t like local food! Excuse me but I could have picked the fruit and veg off the trees across the street, this is surely madness! So as I was thinking I had issues about this place, here was a perfect example of craziness and one of the reasons I’m hesitant about considering a move here! There I’ve said it, bet you didn’t see that coming! 🙂 and I do prefer the seasons…
During lunch I also mentioned my Eco-village contact (Trudy) on the island who wants to garner support for the creation of an intentional community, and how I hadn’t had a chance to meet her yet! Trudy runs Rainbow Yoga, travelling all over to give classes. “Oh she’s here today giving a class at university”, said Cindi who of course knows her, since everybody knows everybody here! I thought what a coincidence! Following a lovely meal and chat, we walked to my car for the short journey back to Main Street. On turning around, I saw Trudy walking down the street, who I recognized from her website! We pulled over to say hello and I was formally introduced after having previously only been in email contact; after a short chat since she was about to start class, we said we’d be in touch! As I pulled up to drop off my friend, we wished each other well and I promised to send her my blog link (always happy to promote my changing lifestyle and new adventurous outlook).
As the build-up continues to my biggest hike yet (Boiling Lake), I am limbering up with easier treks; although it would be extremely easy to stay on my veranda and soak up the sun! But that’s not really me, I mean lying in the sun all day, no I prefer to get my tan on the go! Mind you most of the internal forest hikes aren’t really conducive to sun-bathing! 🙂
Driving a little way up the coast here then turning inland, crossing the Northern Forest Reserve I headed towards Portsmouth. After about 50 minutes of twisting and turning, climbing and dipping (very few straight roads on Dominica as I’m sure you can appreciate), I reached the coast and turned south past Ross University ( a private US medical training centre) onto the only ‘highway’ (a two-way Tarmac road) on the island. Then after a short while out of town, the sign most for the Morne Diablotin National Park and the Syndicate Nature Trail, turning sharply left up a single track paved road! I must have driven for 30 minutes or so, past small barns connected to farms and up under trees avoiding crabs scurrying out of the way when I arrived at their spot, down and over weirs and around sharp bends in the road; until finally a sign indicating the visitor centre was approaching, I parked next to another Waitukubuli Trail sign, this time for segment 12 and preceded to the trail.
This time of year the visitor centre is closed, being out of season and since I was the only one around, I had the trail to myself! I entered another world where huge trees have grown long finger-like roots that creep across the path, it’s as if they are alive (well yes actually they are alive) with human-like attributes! I weaved my way in and out of the trees and foliage and over bridges, all the time being greeted with the sound of frogs and crickets and birds of all sorts! Then I came to a look out, a view point that gave a view of immense beauty, as I heard the sound of fast running water in the river below; I couldn’t see it being such a deep gorge, but it was there, one of of over 300 rivers on this island! I then followed the trail round until I came full circle, amazed at the sculptured tree trunks that make up the forest; in fact this area had been targeted for logging but had been saved by a charity and has since been a conservation area! 🙂
Following an enjoyable walk through the Syndicate Nature Trail, I descended to the main road and back up to Portsmouth, which is Dominica’s second largest town, although I wouldn’t really call it a town, more like a village by the sea! I passed by Ross University again, as medical clothed staff walked across the road in front of me and the American style security patrol drove around with amber flashing roof lights; noticing a supermarket (Whitchurch, a group here that also has a travel agency where I bought my ferry ticket) I took advantage and did some needed shopping!
Then I went on through town on my way to Cabrits National Park, which also includes Fort Shirley, a former British colonial outpost protecting the harbour below. I bought my site pass and had it validated by the kind forestry ranger before first having a look in the museum and then heading up to the trails on the plateau.
This is both a nature reserve and a historical record; the fort was abandoned in 1854, the forest was completely cut down and kept back during its occupation over hundreds of years. Walking through the trails I witnessed derelict buildings that housed the occupiers of the fort, officers and men, these places now at the mercy of nature! Some of the stone walls of buildings seem only to be held up by the trees, stopping them from tumbling down on the heads of tourists! As I continued up stairs lined with logs and over rocks, small hermit crabs crossed my path and the birdsong was intense; on one occasion a small snake slid out from under my feet, as if awoken from sleep, then preceded to ‘taste’ the air, slithering between branches and leaves in the undergrowth! A path led me all the way to a ‘battery’ (military terminology not the power for your torch) emplacement overlooking Douglas Bay, of course this too was derelict, I saw the canons that once offered protection on the landward side, seemingly tossed about now left sitting on the ground or half buried in it! I then returned on a long trail around back to the main fort, now restored. This also was closed but I believe in high season it’s possible to go inside!
It was a beautiful day yesterday, as has each day been; here at the coast back in Calibishie it’s easy to forget just how hot the sun can be, as the breeze cools me! I even burnt my back writing a post the other day, as I searched for the wifi hotspot! And the light changes regularly here, an artists delight I’m certain! Anyway enough of nostalgia, lol! No going back to ‘normal’, my adventure continues elsewhere! 🙂
Enjoying my last breakfast with Curwin in Castle Bruce, we made plans to meet at Pont Casse on Wednesday, to hike up to the Boiling Lake; he had asked me if it would be ok for a friend from the village to join us for the day, naturally I told him the more the merrier, let’s go man! He told me it’d been great having me as a guest (I guess he was happy for the company too, Sian and Mario being away) and I told him it’d been amazing staying there, sampling his great cooking and tasting new flavours and new foods! I said adieu and got aboard the 4×4, previously packed with my bags and descended the very steep driveway toward the road! Passing by Sea Breeze Inn heading north out of the village (I had dropped in the previous day to exchange details with them; they’d known I was writing my blog each time I’d eaten there and asked to have the link) I spared a thought for my now mislaid hat, almost certain I’d left it hanging on the back of a chair, lol! Good luck to whomever finds it I say! 🙂
I drove up the coast past familiar landmarks such as the Kalinago Territory, it’s villages and it’s people; even stopping to give rides to an old man who’d been waiting for hours without anyone offering him a lift, and a young guy going just down the road; both extremely happy ‘customers’. Then past Pagua Bay and up to Marigot, skirting the airport, I pulled over for a few pics of the sea! After about an hour and a half, I arrived in Calibishie, a fishing village on the north-east coast, where my next accommodation is located. Sea Cliff Cottages overlooking Hodges Bay is magical and a welcome change from living rough in the virtual outside; here I have warm water and a flushing toilet! Each place has been and is unique and quaint, all are off-grid and are examples of how it’s possible to live alternatively without wastage or pollution! I’ll put the websites links in the sidebar for anyone interested!
I stopped outside the first shop I came to with a fresh vegetable seller opposite. I bought enough supplies for a few days and crossed over to buy some sweet potatoes , spring onions and carrots! Then I drove over to the cottage and met the manager to check in and get the key! Having unpacked and stocked the fridge, yes a luxury item powered by the sun, off I went back south in order to drive to Roseau, to the Anchorage hotel!
Following roughly a 2 hour drive, I pulled into the parking area outside the hotel. At reception I paid the fee, got my ticket and signed the registry before waiting for 2pm and the start of ‘the show’. As the test of the guests showed up, I went through to the bar area where they have a whale presentation board and the skeleton of a sperm whale! Here we all waited while the crew organized the drinks and supplies for onboard entertainment! Then we were all summoned by ‘ Will Smith’ (real name Carlos) who gave us a brief but educational presentation about the whales, including why Sperm Whales are so-called; look it up but he mentioned the sack (actually containing a liquid wax called spermaceti) in its skull and how it resembles ‘the other thing’, to a few little sniggers here and there, I just smiled! 🙂 we then walked down the jetty over planks of wood just above the waterline and onto the catermaran that serves as both a sightseeing boat, whale watcher, dive & snorkel craft. I climbed up onto the upper deck where the captain was and found a seat to the port side (that’s the left for you non seafarers); once we were fully loaded, a mixed bag of tourists and kids and couples, Captain Philbert, his real name, gave us a safety talk and welcomed us all onboard, mentioning that there was no guarantee we’d see whales!
And off we went into the blue Caribbean Sea, heading about 3-5 miles (5-8 kms) off shore. Every now and again the captain stopped the boat to take hydrophone readings, trying to locate any whales that may have been in the area, sadly there wasn’t any sound, neither did we make any sightings in between these stops; we sailed all the way up to Portsmouth and back down to Roseau, then on one more stop the captain told us they’d heard dolphins south-west of our position, so off we went to investigate! In between time, ‘Will’ was handing out fruit juices, first guava then passion fruit, very nice thank you very much!
Suddenly the captain shouted out “dolphins”, and as if by magic we were surrounded by them, spotted dolphins feeding on flying fish, among others! When the boat arrived groups of dolphins assembled in front of us and to the sides, swimming with us, diving out of the water as if excited to see us, playing with each other, even small juveniles doing the same; it was a magical moment and made it all worthwhile! The children on board kept shouting out “there’s one”, the captain reckoned about 150 in the school, no pun intended! We made several turns, and each time the dolphins that had stopped feeding came to play instead! After a terrific display of dolphin friendship, unfortunately it was time to head home; luckily ‘Will’ was making Rum Punches below deck and handed me one just as I was wondering “when are they going to hand out the drinks?”; the captain had mentioned in his briefing they would only serve the rum at the end so we could fully enjoy interaction with either whales or dolphins! I had thought very highly of ‘Will’ up to now, but when he offered me a refil of Rum Punch, I liked him even more! 🙂
Shortly after we arrived back at the hotel jetty, Captain Philbert thanked us for our custom and was sorry we didn’t get to see any whales this time! I thanked him and as I got off the boat, I thanked Carlos for a great trip!