Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dominica's Boiling Lake

We love to go on trekking through the forest on these Caribbean islands.  It is probably our favorite thing to do when off the boat.  We often hire guides, since the marking of the trails is quite variable – plus, we always learn something about local culture and customs.

This week, we went on our most strenuous trek so far, to the famous Boiling Lake.  Dominica has many fabulous hiking destinations, and we have visited quite a few of them.  We had been a bit nervous about this one, because it has a reputation for being tough, but worth it.  Our guide (nicknamed Bamboo because he is so tall and thin) had taken us to Victoria Falls last year, and he assured us we could make it.

At the beginning of the trail, you walk alongside a major water pipeline that supplies mountain spring water to the island.  It is made out of wood, using a technique much like barrel making.  Our guide said it was 200 years old, and we believed it.  You continue climbing up into the rainforest, reaching the top of a ridge, and then heading down again to the Trois Pitons River.  The locals call this area “Breakfast River.”  Maybe it’s because you need an early start to complete the hike before dark.

Then it is up a steep slope to the peak of a mountain.  Our guide wasn’t quite sure of the mountain’s name, possibly Morne Nicholls.  You then descend into the “Valley of Desolation.”  This is an area with a lot of volcanic activity and it is indeed very desolate.  As the hot and cold springs mix, you can choose the temperature you like to wade in. The area is covered with elemental sulfur, oxides of iron and copper, and very unusual vegetation.  Be careful:  David got a mild burn when he stepped too close to a steam vent.  The steam was completely invisible, and the exit hole was obscured by a rock.

You then wonder up and down the hillsides, and climb up the rocks in a couple of mountain streams.  Pass through an area of more volcanic activity, then up a slope (more rocks), and finally reach the destination:  Dominica’s Boiling Lake.  This is a large body of water, about 60 meters across, and it is literally and continuously boiling from the volcanic heat below it.  The guide books say this is the second largest boiling lake in the world, and the largest in the northern hemisphere.  The lake is usually covered in mist, but this clears up briefly from time to time so you can see the boiling action.

The trail is about 8 miles each way, and each direction takes three hours of vigorous exercise.  We were walking a lot more slowly at the end of the trip than at the beginning!  The area has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and that provides some funds for trail maintenance.  But the trail is still often rough and large stretches are very muddy.  We think that the trail’s reputation is very accurate:  A tough hike, but with an outstanding and unique destination.

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