Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Hike That Just Didn't Want to Happen - Segment 13

We always say, "Third time's the charm!"  It certainly held true with our attempts to hike segment 13 of the Waitukabuli National Trail on Dominica.

We started off with George on Wildcat with a plan to do the hike, but joined by some other cruisers we decided to head inland up a farm track and loop around on the flatter Indian River part of segment 11.  First attempt a non-starter.

A tropical wave then moved across the island bringing with it about 48 hours of rain.  We thought we had a clearing in the weather but with rivers rushing down the mountainsides we decided prudence was recommended.  Second attempt aborted.

The day of our third attempt dawned cloudy but not rainy so taking a chance we packed up our bags and headed off to find a bus to Penville, from where we would hike back to Portsmouth via segments 13 and 14.

As we sat on the bench at the bus stop I have to say I was beginning to feel we weren't going to get our third chance either.  Past experience had us hoping to be lucky once again with the bus, but as we sat and waited, and waited, no bus to Penville appeared and no one seemed to be waiting to go there.  The bus won't run unless it's reasonably full so we started contemplating alternatives.

One of the things I love about Caribbean culture is how passionate people are in their conversations, one of the things I hate about Caribbean culture is how no-one can seem to talk to each other without raising the conversation to a  shouting match.  This is usually reserved among the locals but I had a good dose of it today with a bus driver offering to take us up to Penville for a taxi fare of 30EC.  We knew if we could get the bus it would cost us 10EC so didn't really want to spend the extra - much better spent on johnnycakes or roti!  I told him we'd wait for the bus and go for 10EC.  This immediately set him off yelling at me much to the amusement of everyone else sitting outside the johnnycake stand.  Needless to say, we didn't get on his bus/taxi, but not before we hurled a couple of shots at each other and ended up with him proclaiming he loved me.  We then watched the next bus pull up and the driver get out, sit down on the bench beside us and proceed to have an animated conversation with himself about some bozo who cut him off.  Once finished, he asked us politely where we were going and explained (told us) that we'd better to get the bus to Capuchin, which of course was where he was going.  Nope, we'd wait and off he went in the opposite direction - did he think we didn't know where Capuchin was?  About 15 minutes later he returned and as you can surmise, no other bus had appeared so we agreed that he was right and we should go to Capuchin.  An so began our day of hiking Segment 13 (backwards) and then back to Portsmouth over Morne Diable and past Cold Souffriere.

Starting in Capuchin, segment 13 traverses the north coast and ends on the road above Penville.  It's then a road-walk over Morne Diable and down to the end at Portsmouth.

The bus driver, true to his word, took us right to the end of the road in Capuchin where we picked up the 8km trail that comprises segment 13.  We were hoping for some spectacular views off the north coast looking out towards Les Saintes and Guadeloupe, and although hazy, the sun was shining brightly.

Henry marks the end of the road at Capuchin.

Catherine notes the segment particulars.

We started off along a sun-dappled farm track.
The trail started off relatively easily but once under way it rose steeply through a number of switch-backs to crest at a ridge at about the half-way point.  Although it had rained heavily in the two preceding days, the track was relatively dry and mud-free - the only slipperiness occurring on moss-covered rocks and with loose footing on the trail.

Not far onto the trail, once we had entered the forest, we crossed a small river that just below the trail dropped over a 30' precipice to a pool below.  We would have loved to see the falls from below but being right at the beginning of our trek and not knowing exactly how demanding the trail would be ahead of us, we opted not to take the diversion down the hill - saving that for next time I guess.

Looking upstream...

And then looking downstream - it's hard to get the perspective but that muddy pool at the bottom is 30' below us.
We walked on through the woodland, recognizing many fruit trees such as mango, breadfruit, guava and coconut.  The footing was rough so we had to keep eyes on the trail but it is always easy to tell when there are coconut trees about - young coconuts competing for sunlight as they reach up to the canopy above.

On the ground, fallen coconut sprouts and grows where it lands.

Look up into the canopy above and you can see the parent tree spreading in the sunlight - look out below!
We pressed on up a series of switch backs in the sticky, humid heat.  We admired the trees and growth around us, but a vista of the northern views never did materialize on this portion of the trail.  At the top of the ridge a well-positioned bench served as a stopping point for a snack.

One johnnycake and one pear, coming right up.

Sitting on the bench at the top of the ridge we had a view down both portions of the trail.

I have to say I'm pretty happy with my Keen's for this type of dry/muddy walking.  The only drawback is that on loose scree, small stones are annoying when they get in under my feet.
As we crossed the ridge, we noticed an immediate change in the growth.  On the west side of the ridge we had seen drier vegetation with fairly clear undergrowth.  On the wetter east side we were immediately plunged into luxuriant, almost rain-forest type growth with tree ferns, flowers and dense undergrowth.  This next portion of the trail also passed through the old Grand Fond plantation where once coffee was grown.  Now there is a predominance of banana and coconut in the area, with plenty of mangos for a delicious snack along the way.

Look carefully to find the trail through the tropical vegetation.

Signage along the way gives some details of the area.

About the size of a tennis ball - this seed pod was extremely prickly and with many of them underfoot, made the going a little tricky.

Lush green vegetation layered in the sunlight makes for a beautiful landscape when you don't have long vistas.

Many small plantations covered the area - the hill on the far side has a near-vertical segment cleared for new planting.  No mechanized farming here, that's for sure!

Finally, a view - and there's not much to see other than this stately papaya tree.

Click on this picture to get a better view of just how rugged the landscape is.  The ground plunged away below us to the bottom of a steeply sided valley, that rushed on down to the sea.  This is prime, east-facing farmland!

More exotic growth along the way.
We finished up segment 13 as we exited to the Northern Link Road.  Given we started the trail at 10am and finished up at 1:40pm with about a half-hour of stops along the way, I'm not sure how this trail can be done in 2 hours at anything less than a run!

2 hours - hard to believe.
We now walked up to the crater on Morne Diable where we had previously visited the Cold Souffriere.  At a height of just over 1800' it was all downhill now to Portsmouth - my heart and lungs were happy but not so much the knees.

The lush crater of Morne Diable, the wind blows on the ridges, it is eerily quiet in the bowl and the river stinks of sulphur.

Our last look back at the ridge we crossed to arrive at the crater.
Down, down, down we went back to the boat anchored at Portsmouth.  The mango trees are in full production once again so before long we had collected a bag-full to add to our supplies.  We also found a small calabash that I will cut to make a bowl and we had a delightful encounter with Martin along the way where we met his wife and daughter.

Finally, we've completed segment 13 and we have now done most of the National Trail that is within walking distance of Portsmouth.  Next time back in Dominica we will have to explore a little further afield.