Dominica - 2

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Thu 24 Mar 2016 16:51
Two days after our minibus tour we were ready for a hike.  The Waitukubuli trail zig-zags it's way north-south down the island and takes 2 weeks to complete.  4 hours would be enough for us.  We set off with Sea Cat as our guide and 3 other cruising couples (1 each from France, Canada and the USA) for company.  It rained most of the time on our 2 hour hike to the Middleham falls and back but Sea Cat is a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide, telling us all about the rainforest, especially the different species of tree fern. 

After a quick lunch Sea Cat sent us off on another hike along a ridge overlooking the large 'Fresh Water Lake' and back beside an amazing wooden pipe, built by French Canadians 30 years ago, which carries water to a hydroelectricity plant. 
Because of the rain and low cloud we didn't see much - apart from many lovely flowering plants, including a purple orchid which was brought to the island by hurricane David and now flourishes - but our companions were all good fun so we chatted along the way until we met up with Sea Cat (who had brought the minibus to the other end of the trail). 

The so-called 'Fresh Water Lake' - (yes, it is fresh water, but so are most lakes)

1980s 30" water pipe - made from 10' long 4" x 1 1/4" boards (There was plenty of fallen timber after hurricane David)

Sea Cat loves bathing - as well as doing Tarzan impressions when a convenient vine is available.  Whether it's an icy cold waterfall pool or hot, sulphurous springs, Dominica has plenty.  Even though we were wet from the rain he was determined to get us wetter.  In the late afternoon we went (a second time for us) to the Trafalgar Falls where there are hot springs at the base of the tallest fall.  For some time these springs were buried by a rockslide but Erika cleared some of the rockfall.  Sea Cat had us all clambering up the rocks, sometimes very slippery, until we reached the springs.  At the end of a day's hike there's nothing better than a nice, hot soak.  Even Paul threw caution to the wind and sat in the hot water until we had to leave because the sun was setting.

Hot on the left, cold on the right - but a fair bit of rock hopping to be done first

We were exhausted by the time we got back to the anchorage but keen to explore some more after a day of recovery.  Our French companions (France and Francois) wanted to go to the famous Boiling Lake, a difficult all-day hike there and back.  We decided to give it a go.

Two days later at 8am we disgorged from the van and set off, not only with France and Francois but also 2 younger couples and Kenny, a young guide who helps Sea Cat.  The first part of the trail is a long, slow climb through the rainforest.  The trail is mostly in good condition, though frequently washed away by the rain and sometimes requiring a bit of mountaineering. 

Sea Cat supervising a river crossing

Higher up the rainforest gives way to montane vegetation and elfin forest, where the trees are smaller due to the wind, and the moss and epiphyte cover thicker due to the low cloud.  After two hours we got to the half-way point at the top of Morne Nicholls - covered with flowering shrubs.  We could see all the way back to Roseau on one side and the steam from the Boiling Lake in a distant valley on the other. 

Count the shades of green! Montane and elfin (higher) region

From here the trail goes down towards the Valley of Desolation and becomes more difficult; sometimes we were having to cling to the side of a cliff where the path had been eroded to a narrow ledge. 

Light at the end of the tunnel - a plume of steam at the end of the valley flags our target

The Valley of Desolation is an area smelling of sulphur, oozing and rumbling with boiling mud, mini-geysers and fumaroles scattered everywhere.  Only a few hardy plants - mostly mosses and lichen but including a pervasive yellow-flowering bromeliad - grow there.  We stopped to eat eggs that Sea Cat boiled in one of the bubbling caldrons, then had our faces daubed with volcanic mud before continuing onward.  The hike is a tricky mix of clambering down one side or other of a rocky hot river bed, crossing it from time to time, and through more elfin forest until eventually you arrive triumphantly at the edge of the Boiling Lake.

The Valley of Desolation

Hot mud pack included                                                      Good - there's cold water running into the Boiling Lake

After over 4 hours on our feet we were glad to sit down and admire the second largest flooded fumerole in the world with its waterfall on the one side and bubbling geyser in the middle.  Sea Cat and Kenny (who had walked all the way barefoot) had brought the ingredients for all of us to have a creole lunch of smoked cod, salad, fried bananas and bread, acccompanied by fresh fruit juice.  Yum!

Mostly simmering but when the steam is blown clear you can see the boiling area directly above the volcanic hot spot

More volcanic activity - which way is the trail?

On the way back we stopped for a "jacuzzi experience" in a hot pool fed by a small cascade, conveniently near the trail just below the Valley of Desolation.  This time Paul declined - fearing that if he took his hiking boots off he might never get them back on again - but Rachel took full advantage of the massage for her aching muscles.  Onward and upward - we eventually reached the high point again, taking a lot of breaks on the way.  Finally we all staggered back to the trailhead at about 4pm - some of the youngsters were ahead but not by much.  And that was not the end.  There's a water-filled gorge - a split in the volcanic rock - which is accessible for about 30 metres and ends in a waterfall, ideal for a bracing swim at the end of an exhausting but fabulous day.