Dominica,  a hiker’s paradise - part one

We left Martinique on February 20th to take advantage of the wind and had a beautiful sail north to Dominica.  Wind on the beam, 12 to 18 knots, calm sea… Saltair sailed happily. 

Upon arrival in Roseau, we picked up one of the last moorings maintained by Sea Cat which unfortunately was a little too close to shore. The bay is very deep with a sharp shelf and anchoring options are limited. The night was very calm and we were able to move to a different mooring the next morning. The anchorage was not particularly nice, someone was burning trash nearby and the acrid smell lingered all night and was very unpleasant. To make the matter worse we were swarmed by mosquitoes at dusk and had to close up the boat quickly.

In contrast, we had an amazing time ashore, we reunited with two other family boats, SV Epiphany and SV Valent, and packed in a lot of hiking together. The first day, after checking in, we walked around Roseau, the capital of the commonwealth of Dominica. Roseau is still recovering from hurricane Maria in 2017 as evidenced by the many rundown buildings. Signs of economic improvements are seen downtown where the cruise ship terminal has modern docking and waterfront facilities. Cruise ship stopovers have increased and Dominica is emerging again as an attractive ecotourism destination thanks to its abundant mountains, rainforests, freshwater lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and diving spots. As we walked by the cruise terminal, where a massive ship was docked we had a nice chat with one of the local tour guides, “Majestic”, a mother/son team trying to get some extra business. By the time cruise ships arrive, most people are already signed up for tours but local guides still gather in the hopes to find a last minute client. She was really hoping to have us as clients but we had already scheduled tours with Sea Cat, our boat boy. Feels weird to call Sea Cat a boat boy as he is approaching 60.

The crew in the botanical gardens 

We wrapped up the evening with a walk through the botanical gardens and up Jack’s Walk, a steep and winding half-mile trail to the top of Morne Bruce. Despite the extensive damage to the gardens from Hurricane Maria, there are still  some mature banyan trees, century palms, an impressive baobab tree and colorful bushes. In the late afternoon many locals were enjoying the park, some sitting on benches, some playing cricket and many others working out on Jack’s walk. A small group of women was training together, reminding me of my little workout team back home. As we slowly climbed to the top many islanders were running up and down the steep trail. 

Sign at the top of Jack’s Walk - excerpt: “The path leading up the cliff from the botanic gardens to morne Bruce is called Jack’s Walk. It was a shortcut for soldiers going to and from Roseau and their barracks on the Morne Bruce Garrison. It was named after the British flag, the flag of the United Kingdom, the Union Jack, which flew from a large flagpole on this site. [...]. To enter [...]  from this side a soldier would walk past the Jack hance the name.

Suzie and Abi

Beautiful flowering trees in the botanical gardens.

The next day we met Octavius, known as Sea Cat on his dinghy dock at 8am for our first day of touring the island. Eleven of us settled in the minivan on the way to Middleham Falls, our first waterfall hike of the day. We made quite a few stops to either buy or pick up (literally off trees and bushes) some local goods. We drank some fresh coconut water and scooped some of the jelly inside, sucked cacao beans, smelled ginger, turmeric, lemongrass and cinnamon and tasted local chocolate. Sophie (SV Valent) drinking the fresh coconut milkLucy (SV Valent) showing the inside of the cocoa pod. You can suck on the flesh surrounding the beans but don’t eat the beans, they need to be roasted first.Adam with the last crumbs of chocolate. Not surprisingly as the kids descended on it before I could get my camera out!

Once on the trail to Middleham Falls, a two hour hike, Octavius pointed out ferns, trees, lianes and flowers. Particularly interesting were the blue wax flowers, wild coffee and wild tobacco with its very large leaves. In the rainforest where the ground is mostly compost, trees send out air roots and buttress roots to help the tree grow tall in wet soil and windy areas. The kids had fun hiding behind some of the very large buttress roots! At the end of the trail was the waterfall which can be viewed from a wooden platform. We changed into our ‘bathing costumes’ and went for a refreshing swim. It was still early in the day and we had the pools to ourselves. Back at the trailhead, Octavius cut up some passion fruit in half and added some brown sugar for a sweet tangy treat.Swimming in the pool at Middleham FallsOctavius preparing the passion fruit treats

Next stop was Titou Gorge, made popular by the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbeans’. Titou Gorge is actually a short swim to the base of a waterfall through a series of natural "rooms and ponds". The undulating sides of this deep, narrow gorge were formed as molten lava cooled and split apart. Light filters down the high cliff walls making it particularly scenic. If you’re curious about where in Pirates of the Caribbeans you can find Titou Gorge scenes, watch the second movie in the franchise- Dead Man’s Chest. Captain Jack Sparrow himself tumbles down the gorge in a cage made of vines.

Adam floating in Titou Gorge. You can see how deep and narrow it is.

We picked a shaded riverbed for our lunch stop before driving to Boeri Lake, one of two freshwater lakes in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, "Boeri" is Dominica's second largest lake and is located at about 2,800 ft elevation, in the crater of an old volcano. Octavius dropped us off at the base of a steep ridge trail going through and above the cloud forest, a small section of the ‘Chemin L’Etang’ trail. Views and vegetation were spectacular. This section of the trail was quite steep thankfully it is well maintained with lots of steps and rope railings as it ascends and descends sharply. It was quite the warm up for the next day! Each step took concentration and we had to keep reminding ourselves to look around at the luscious vegetation. I particularly enjoyed all the bromeliads on the trees.

Kids eating lunch perched on rocks in the river.

Impressive ridge trail above Lake BoeriMatt (SV Epiphany) and Adam on the trail

We finished the day at Trafalgar Falls, the famous twin waterfalls. We arrived late afternoon after most visitors were gone and had the place almost to ourselves. Most of the group climbed up the left waterfall to a hot water pool and Octavius coaxed a couple to climb even higher. It was not for the faint of heart. Little did we know that the hydroelectric plant was being worked on and that the water level and current was much higher than usual making the hike to the hot springs a lot more challenging. 

Clambering the rocks to go up to the hot spring. Coming back down was even more treacherous!

By the time we cleaned up and met for dinner we were all wondering how tired and sore we would feel the next day as we had already scheduled the Boiling Lake hike for the following day and had a rendez-vous at the dock at 7am.

Next Blog - Part two - The Boiling Lake Hike