Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dominica - Getting Our Legs Into Shape

Before leaving Dominica for the relatively flat island of Marie Galante, we put in two more extensive hikes around the north end of the island.

On the first day, we joined Brita, Lann & Stan on an early morning departure to catch a bus across the island to Vieille Case.  The bus ride also involved picking up a number of kids and dropping them at school since the public bus is also the school bus.  With the very young children, parents will put them on the bus, hand their money and school bag to another adult on the bus and the driver will ensure that the child is delivered appropriately.

Day 1:  Bus to Vieile Case (green track), hike Segment 12 of Waitukubuli Trail (purple track) - approx. 12.5 miles of walking.

Vieille Case is famous on the island as the home of the current Prime Minister but we didn't really know this until we stumbled upon his family home up the street on the way to the trail head.

Well manicured hedges and the link-wire fence protected the ground floor of the house from view...

Along with an ornate gate that gave away the importance of the residence.

However, I kid you not, this was the neighbour's place directly across the street - maybe a little fixer-upper?
The community has definitely benefited from their notable son - the roads are in good repair, there is a substantial community centre and playing field and a general air of prosperity to this little northern village.

Cricket pitch with an awesome view!
 We then found the trailhead and were immediately surrounded by small-holdings and garden plots on the unimaginable steep slopes.

These farmers were clearing land for a new planting.

Looking down the valley it is hard to distinguish the cultivated land from the wilds, but it is definitely there in abundance including citrus, banana, dasheen, papaya, coconut and much more.

This crop of dasheen looked like it could slide right down the slope at the slightest provocation.

Although the Christmas season is over, poinsettia is in full bloom and so gigantic!  This one nicely shaded the chicken coop below it.

This section of the national trail was sponsored by a lumber company, so there was a good solid wooden bridge over the river we had to cross.
 We finally arrived out on the road that runs between Portsmouth on the west coast and the villages of the east coast.  We turned west down the windy narrow 'highway'.

This prettily painted shed looked hopeful as a roadside bar, but unfortunately was closed.
 About halfway back to Portsmouth we once again turned off the road to follow the old railbed from a failed lumbering operation.  We were quite close to the Indian River and this track also includes some spectacular blood root mangroves.

We finally arrived back at Portsmouth, but passed up on the advertised special at this little restaurant.  Instead we faithfully headed for Ray's Rotis where we scarfed down a chicken roti and cold beer before heading back to the boats.

For our second day of hiking, we decided to walk up to the Cold Soufriere (sulphur springs) at the top of Morne Diables.  This would take us on the same track that we had bused previously (the green track on the map at the top of the page.)  Henry, Lann, Stan and I set out after visiting the veggie market and soon knew that what had looked like a steep climb on the bus ride, seemed even steeper on foot!

On our way through Portsmouth on Middle Street, we found this fantastical creation

The artist must have ordered just a few too many concrete balustrades but put them to fine use.
 Further on down the road at the sight of a house under construction, more creative artistry was in evidence.
Statue of Liberty and her buxom sidekick.
 About three quarters of the way up we were treated to wonderful views.

Prince Rupert Bay and the Portsmouth anchorage to the south.

The Saintes and Guadeloupe to the north.

The road wound up and up - we were heading through the gap between the hills to reach the top.

We made it, and man was the wind whipping hard across here - hard to keep the hats on!
We headed over the rim and down into the crater of Morne Diables.  Immediately there was a calm lushness to the area and the distinct sulphurous smell of eggs in the air.

The short hike off the road to the sulphur springs begins down the hill and took us to the lowest point in the crater.
This area was like a little mini Valley of Desolation, nestled in among the trees.  However, unlike the sulphur springs we had seen in the valley, these springs were cold and only bubbling with the release of gases.  In places the gas was escaping through pools of water, but in others, it was just coming up through moist patches in the ground.

Barren in some places, but see the lush green behind Henry where a small stream trickled around the area.

The crater itself is like a garden of Eden with farm plots all along the sides and cattle peacefully grazing one-by-one at the bottom.  I tried to get a picture of a cow, but they were rather aggressive so we kept our distance.
 Having seen what we came for and having hiked all the way up to the top of the mountain we were loathe to just turn around and return the way we came, especially since it was still before noon.  So, checking the map we decided to carry on with the plan to catch a bus when we were tired.  We headed on towards Penville and Vieille Case

We crossed a number of clear cold streams along the way.  This one had a bridge over it but I couldn't resist the cold water on a hot day.

We met many people on foot, many of them carrying produce.  This guy's bin was full of seasoning peppers - a staple in Creole and Caribbean cooking.

The lady of this house was washing out her nieces' school uniforms.  She was highly amused when I told her I liked the colours since they were my old high school colours.

The north east coast of Dominica appears to rise gradually out of the Atlantic, but don't be fooled, there were big waves crashing on the shore at the base of these hills.

And the trees bent over on the windward slopes told how constant and fierce the winds can be, although we were lucky to have a relatively calm day for our hike.

As the sun shone through the leaves of the trees we trudged into Thibaud where we luckily caught a bus to take us home.
I'd be a bit disingenuous if I suggested that we just walked up and caught a bus in Thibaud.  We had actually been watching for a bus for quite a while but despite promises that it would 'come soon' we hadn't seen one.  We continued walking toward the main road, knowing that we'd have a better chance there.

As we walked down the hill into Thibaud we saw a bus (van) pulling up the hill on the other side of the village and knew that this could be the last bus available on Saturday evening from here.  We chatted with some locals who confirmed that the bus had just left and they confirmed that we needed to keep on walking.  Given that Thibaud was a sea level, we had another ridge to climb and were well on our way out of town when one of our new friends from the village pulled up in his van.  We all hopped in and he sped away down the road in hot pursuit of the bus.  Little did we know as we hung on round the curves that he had called ahead and the bus was waiting for us at the junction.  We did a quick transfer, said our grateful thanks and were happily settled in on the Portsmouth bus with our tired achy feet after another 12-mile hike.

I think at this point we've seen enough of the north end of the island, although we've left the very northern coast trail for another day ... perhaps on our return to Dominica south-bound?