Thrills and Spills in Dominica
Trip Start Apr 13, 2007
1Trip End Apr 17, 2007
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No other word but treacherous describes the conditions on this hiking trail. No wonder-- the cloud-shrouded place gets over 300 inches of precipitation per year. Moss upholsters the tress and rocks, like fine carpeting, making miniature eco-sustainable habitats everywhere.
Balance, concentration, steady footing and luck are required on rainforest walks through Dominica's Morne Trois Pitons, the only UNESCO World Heritage site in the Caribbean. Moses, our leader to the promised land of waterfalls, reminds us to pause and look up every ten steps. "Don't miss the beauty of the forest," he says with equanimity, like a yoga instructor.
This rather unknown island lies between Guadeloupe and Martinique and is NOT the Dominican Republic. Dominica, a former British colony, has governed herself since 1978. She now appears as a preteen, edging toward adolescent experimentation, growth and maturity. But no need for a make-up lesson; the land, sea and people are naturally beautiful. If only, they stay that way.
Water, water everywhere. Dominica boasts 365 rivers, one for every day of the year, with jubilant cascading slopes - if you're willing to work for a view. And my gang of hikers is.
We ford a small gushing stream, soaking our sneakers and socks; but there is no other route. We trudge up and down (the more perilous) across the slippery terrain, overgrown with immense curling ferns and vitamin- fortified foliage.
My husband, Jay loses his footing and tries to recover, stepping on soft soil at the trail's edge and falls backward. I rush to grab his ankle as he begins descent of the 20 foot ravine. Moses appears, this time--like an angel in flight, catching and keeping Jay from harm. The wayward one wrestles himself up, using a giant bromeliad for leverage. He's muddy and a bit embarrassed, but not hurt.
The trail marker indicates a short 45-minute hike. "Island time," I think. Locals, who constantly walk the steep countryside, may arrive in three-quarters of an hour, but it takes our group almost twice that amount. We reach Borei Lake sweating and hungry. Out comes the trail mix, along with our already half empty water bottles. We fortify our energy stores for the return, which seems to go much quicker.
Next, Moses foretells of hidden Middleham Falls. Kristen commits us, "Sure, we can make it." The trek, described in my guide book as arduous, is more like ridiculous. The first challenge is a section of tree roots, looking like giant unearthed vines growing in a horror movie-- "The Attack of the Killer Trees." I drop down and crawl to maneuver over them successfully.
Then, we hit a series of embedded log steps that continue to rise skyward. No flat, no downhill, just up, up and up. Whew. My heart rate climbs and my leg muscles burn.
Finally, we come to a resting point where our observant guide notices parrots. If we contain our breathlessness, we can hear their calls. Moses mimics the song of another bird, who dutifully answers back. Beautiful.
Alas, we are slowed by boulders. To cross, we must navigate over the hanging rocks, carefully finding footholds. Soon, we hear the roar of the falls, we're getting close.
One more river and o'er muddy slopes to a platform. Glorious--glistening liquid crystals gush, spraying a cool mist. A few brave souls conquer the final descent, ready to swim in the pool, but are forced back from the powerful current.
This is a primeval forest, shining in splendor after a typical rain shower. The hike was worth the effort, but try telling that to my calves the next day
Dominica remains undiscovered by tourists, just 100,000 per year. Driving on the left is terrifying, around blind curves on twisty pot-holed roads. Locating restrooms? Next to impossible- except at the blessed hiking centers. Flight schedules-currently difficult, but runway construction is underway and they're installing lights.
And the next Survivor TV series was filming, while I was vacationing. Pretty hard to disguise something that big going on, in such a remote place. My group wanted to hike to the famous Boiling Lake and thermal springs, but we were turned away by security guards, looking like military personnel. The forceful watchman claimed, "We're having special operations here today. No admittance."
Frustrated, Moses argued, "Never seen this closed before."
Dominica is on the verge of growth-hormone surges, pushing rapid maturation of her tourist assets. I just hope she will be a survivor.