Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dominica's Waitukubuli National Trail

Dominica has invested in a very interesting system of hiking trails, the Waitukubuli National Trail (  The island is very mountainous, and has outstanding natural beauty.  The Waitukubuli Trail allows people to access much more of this beauty than would otherwise be possible.

There are 14 trail segments, and they explore the coastal areas as well as the interior.  Each segment has a different mix of rainforest, active agricultural areas, villages and coastal pathways.  We hiked two segments in 2012, and just finished hiking a third segment (Segment 12) in 2013.

The trails are very well marked, but we have always hired a professional guide to go with us.  It is very helpful to have someone along who knows what kind of terrain is coming up, plus we get to learn something about local culture.  On this year's hike our guide was Clive.  He is a certified hiking guide, but makes his main living as a farmer and a forester.  This was a great background for our trek, since we passed through forests and farms.  We had lots of questions about exactly how things were grown, and Clive knew all the answers.

Segment 12 was the most physically challenging of those we have experienced.  The website says it is six miles long, and requires a total of 1,750 feet of climbing.  Based on how long it took us (5 hours), I suspect the actual distance was well over six miles.  We certainly averaged well over a mile per hour, despite taking a few rest stops.  The trail was quite challenging, with some places having difficult footing on steep inclines. Needless to say, we were very tired at the end of the walk!

Here are a few photos we took along the way:

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.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ashore in St. Lucia

On many islands, there are several favorite sites to bring tourists.  Taxi drivers string them together into half-day or longer tours.  These can be kind of kitschy, and on Cruise Ship days they can be crowded, but they can also be very nice.

We took one of these tours, and visited three sites.  First was a place called Tek Paul.  (pronounced "Tea")  This was a 45 minute hike through forest and farm, and is famous for its views.  At various places along the trail you can see the valley of Chateaubelair, both Gros Piton and Petit Piton (the famous Lucian mountains, and a world heritage site), and the village of Soufriere.  We really liked the views, and it was great to stretch our legs after a few days on the boat.

Next we visited a volcano.  This is the only place in the Caribbean where you can drive into an active volcano caldera.  39,000 years ago there was a big eruption here, and the magma is still close to the surface.  You see lots of mist, from rain water contacting hot rock.  Pools of water are literally boiling, but look black and viscous from the suspended iron sulfide.  The rocks in the area are stained with sulfur, copper, and iron.  We are told that there are actual geysers, but only at the time of the full moon.

Finally we visited a very pleasant botanical garden.  This was built by a father and daughter who owned the property and surrounding plantation.  There are many, many beautiful tropical flowers, along with examples of the typical Caribbean fruits -- mangos, cashews, nutmeg, soursop, citrus, pineapple, coffee, and cacao.  A feature of the garden is the unusual Diamond Falls.  The water in this waterfall is the run-off from the volcanic caldera we visited.  It is hot, and black, just like at the volcano.  The rock under the falling water is brown with sulfur deposits.  For a few dollars, you can soak in a pool with water from the stream (thankfully not black!).  We hadn't brought our bathing suits, and skipped it this trip.