The Waitukubuli trail began with me very excited. Of course it was ‘closed’ like trails usually are, but upon hiking into the verdant jungle, I soon found out why. A ravine had been sliced much deeper and wider than usual by the recent hurricane to strike Dominica. Suspension bridges once crossed this ravine a couple times, but they had been destroyed. I climbed down into the ravine, lost my balance and fell. I lost control in a bad way, and slid far with my overly heavy backpack to land hard and scrape my butt. I could’ve slid further down into the ravine and been seriously hurt, it was a lesson to me right away: remember to be careful out here! At one point a bridge was out which used to cross the ravine at a place where it went 100+ feet down. I thought I’d be turned back there, after falling again and smashing my kneecap. I cursed the steep and muddy trail. They had set up ropes and a temporary trail which did not cross the ravine, and I climbed my way straight up to a gorgeous view of Scotts Head. However, on the thunderous descent from there my knee hurt. It had been hurting lately anyway, but smashing it didn’t help.
It had been a pretty rough day overall, having woken up that morning after a sleepless “worst night of my life” on Martinique. Then I made it to the village of Soufriere and found their hot springs! No one was around, they had a big gazebo to camp in, and I soaked in the hot springs where they had built a pool. It was everything I ever could have asked for and more.
The morning began with my bag very heavy. I climbed the first mountain, excited again and starting right at dawn. As the hiking becomes more strenuous, you immediately become drenched in sweat. This place is green, so tropical, very lush and wet. The mountains are outrageously steep, yet you don’t get to the top very fast. When you do make the mountain pass, you are generally granted a nice view to the ocean below, and a refreshing, possessing breeze from the constant trade winds. The wind here is the only thing that dries the sweat, without it you stay soaked.
I came down to the quaint village of Tete Morne and said good morning to some people. One man was a raving lunatic and was trying to explain me something I just couldn’t understand. “The moss!” he was yelling, “It makes you eyes BIG!” He gestured to his eyes as he widened them, standing in the middle of the village road with giant holes ripped in his jeans. “What? The moss or the moths?” I asked. “What-chu talkin’ about boy!?” The conversation went on to make even less sense from there before he asked me for a dollar like all these crazy ones do, but I refused this one and said good day sir. I plunged off the side of the hilltop village and descended violently back into the bush. It was there I found my trusty bamboo stick.
More hiking brought me to a small farming village and I spent the rest of the morning climbing on an endless road through palm groves and banana plantations. The trail at times follows the road, but always follows the trustworthy blue and yellow blazes. People were working here and there, around their shacks built on the hillside farms. It was quiet, I ate a plantain off the ground. I also found some guavas. I asked a lady if I could buy a grapefruit and she just gave me one, so tart, satisfying and ruby red. The view became better and better of the Atlantic Ocean as I ascended headed always toward the mountains. It turned out to be a very long, steep hike and brought me up to the rainforest. I was very happy to see this exotic plant called the tree fern growing abundantly. I’m not sure when it happened but I started to be in pain. My backpack was so insanely heavy, rubbing me wrong, and my knee hurt. The top of the mountain was the wettest place yet. I was moving slower by now, the extreme hike had totally exhausted me. Limping slightly on my bad knee, I made it down the other side to the village of Bellvue Chopin.
I think I was travelling fast because I knew if I made high mileage then I’d stand a better chance of being able to do the entire thru-hike of Dominica in the time I had. I realized at some point I simply did not have enough days to complete the thru-hike. The muddy terrain was so extreme, and also due to my bad knee, I only covered 7 kilometers in 4 hours! That’s really bad, but walking into Bellvue Chopin at 11:30 I was told by a lady that my hike this morning was very successful to arrive so early. I bought excellent hot food from her, and it reinvigorated me to keep pushing for my mileage goal. I pushed myself too hard and have learned I must take it slow, the problem is I genuinely want to keep hiking. Even though I became inconveniently in pain, I still climbed a final mountain for the day. At one point I crashed my heavy backpack down into a dry stream bed and just laid there on it for many minutes. I had a hard time moving again. I had rubbed raw a couple patches of skin on my back from being so wet and sweaty all day with the pack. The last downhill to the River Claire was fearsome, muddy and long as it followed terrifying switchbacks. I found I was crutching down it on my bamboo stick after the long hard day, and I was ready to stop hiking. The last obstacle of the day was this mangled and destroyed bridge over the river, a fear instilling crossing. I collapsed on a flat and open area right after the bridge.
It was good to be in camp and I relaxed although I was in pain. I could barely move, and I lowered myself into a pool of the river for a bath. The tropics are so nice, this stream was wide and fresh with crystal clear mountain water, but it was not too cold for a swim. Just refreshingly cool, and lush green palm trees decorated the jungle foliage in the late afternoon sun.
Then a man showed up which I didn’t expect at all being in such a remote place. I was naked when he surprised me, but he didn’t mind. I put my clothes on and greeted him. He was older and had the most bizarre snaggle tooth I’ve ever seen. It was a gigantic fang, pointed like a sharks tooth and protruding two inches out of his mouth. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” he shouted. Oh great another loony, I thought. But then I got to talking to him, and I could tell he was a sensible guy, just very religious. We prayed together. He invited me to come up this side trail to where there apparently was a shack and camp with him there for the night. He practically insisted and I became defensive because my camp was already set up. In fact he was interrupting me cooking dinner after I finally got a fire started. He told me he could make a big fire at the shack and cook the food much faster. He left me at my request, but eventually came back, and finally I gave in to come to the shack and finish cooking my food there. I did it grudgingly, because he insisted, but I was not about to move my camp. I was exhausted. Then when I got to the shack I realized, oh this place is his shack, this is all his property. I apologized that I hadn’t understood and he took over cooking my food on his makeshift stove.
The shack was the most magical place, built by him out of pieces of aluminum siding and large tree branches. It was a remote spot, his private hideaway in the bush. He had a bedroom with a bunk bed and a makeshift couch. His tin cups, cutlery and rags hung on the walls. The floors were all the same mud. Outside of that was a kitchen area, a sort of tin/wood countertop and place to make fire with metal rods over it for cooking. There was a sink with a piece of PVC pipe coming directly from the spring, so he had a faucet which was always running. An entire other shack was a large outside space elevated off the ground, built from branches with an aluminum roof and it was rotting. He offered me to move my camp there but I did not.
I sat and ate dinner with him, Thomas was his name. He was hard to understand because of his teeth, but we still had great conversation. Eventually I left and went back to camp but I realized in the morning that I should have just stayed with him. It rained pretty hard on me, and I was a bit slanted all night.
My tarp was setup poorly and in the morning I was wet and had slept bad. I told Thomas I’d come see him in the morning, so I went over and sat in his outdoor shack writing until he woke up. The kittens were scurrying around as he came and sat with me. The sun was strong to dry the rain. “See… if ya ‘d come up ‘ere ya could a… freed up yaself… and you wouldn’ta slept like shit!” He offered me to stay all day, stay as many days as I liked. He even offered to give me a piece of his land to build my own shack if I wanted. He had a beautiful garden with many carrots, sweet potatoes and beets, papayas and breadfruit and plantains, grapefruit and cherimoyas and passionfruits and mangoes and soursops and coconuts and so much more. He mixed one cilantro-like plant with ginger and made bush tea, which was doubtlessly the best tea I’ve ever drank. He told me all about his religion, he was a Yahwist with his faith in the profit Joshua. “Joshua- Shalom!” he said, and I realized that was the name of the boats I had been sailing on. Ah, a coincidence, then he told me all about coincidences! He was a little crazy, but a good guy, walking around singing and randomly yelling “HALLELOOOJAH!”
I was not planning to stay, but when I went and put my pack on I realized that I hurt very badly. My back was so raw and sore that I hadn’t been able to sleep on it, my knee still felt horrible. I realized it would be in my best interest just to stay with Thomas like he told me to and observe the Sabbath. So I cooked us an early lunch over his fire of pasta, cous cous, with watercress from his garden, shallots and olive oil. I hung out there relaxing and visiting for many hours until about 1:00 in the afternoon when I decided to pack up. “If you stay for t’ree hours, t’ree days, or t’ree weeks… doesn’t matter to me!” Thomas said. Thomas also said I was an angel sent from God, but I think he is in fact the angel. The resting really did make me feel refreshed, I needed it. Thomas believed that God is in the earth and all around us,
“When we met, I could see that Yah was in you, just as he is in me. Black or white, our skin does not matter, our spirit is the same. That is why, when we meet each other, we have no fear. No fear of crime, no fear of danger, because we trust the spirit. We will fear nothing because of that. You might forget me, but remember that you always have a place to stay here in Zion!”
“Thomas, I will never forget you, because to forget you would be to forget Dominica!”
“HALLELUJAH!” He yelled, “HALLELUJAH!” I yelled with him. The sky opened up to a sun shower as I shouldered my pack and left. Liquid sunshine they call it, and I climbed through it on the muddy trail which Thomas had built. I headed for Morne Prosper.
I had planned to take an easy day, not to push myself at all and let my body heal. However, after passing through Thomas’ small village of Morne Prosper, I came to a junction in the trail. One way was my proposed route toward Wotton Waven, the other way was a detour I knew I had to take. I wasn’t planning to take it until tomorrow on a different trail, but here it was- the Valley of Desolation. I was feeling pretty good so I decided, let’s go for it! I walked a very long way on the roads, through farms with views of the massive volcanoes in the Trois Pitons National Park. Then the rough and rugged trail entered the jungle and headed toward them.
I only wanted to hike until 4 o’clock and then stop. The trail winded through immense trees with long elegant roots that dissected the earth. I was reminded of Northern California with the steep hills and the large trees. This place was greener and much wetter. Then the trail climbed. It climbed fiercely up. Now I was in pain again. One step at a time, I used my bamboo to help me uphill. Soon it became 3 o’clock and I felt ready to stop but on this steep trail there was nowhere to do so. Eventually, after a completely merciless hour, it was 4 o’clock and I was still going up. I became upset as the trail ascended diagonally a sheer dirt cliff, shaking as I was from pain and fatigue. I needed to keep going until I could find some marginally flat place to put my bivvy sack.
It felt like I was in some nightmare world as I entered the cloud forest. The trail remained completely sheer and at this high elevation place is perpetually soaking wet. It was muddy and it was more vibrantly green than anything I’ve (ever) seen before. The wettest spot on the North American continent receives 271 inches of rainfall per year on average, while Dominica in some spots will receive over 350. I knew that tonight I would be wet and even though I had done this to myself, I was extremely upset. Today was my day to rest and recover from the first two extreme and painful days out here, I was supposed to take it easy! Then the trail navigated down into and up out of this horrible series of ravines where I lost the faint, backcountry trail over and over. I thought I would hurt myself and I started screaming profanities to the sky with anger and frustration bringing myself nearly to tears as I moved through the bush. Unable to find the trail, but unable to turn back with the fear of descending all those treacherous muddy cliffs on my bad knee. I was mostly upset because I knew I was in for an extremely wet night. All this talk about God today and I felt like I had been forsaken. ‘I don’t need much, just give me what I need,’ I was saying. I tried not to be fearful. I was totally screwed tonight as I stood on top of a volcano.
Then I turned a corner and the tree cover broke. Like a place from the time of dinosaurs, I looked down into the Valley of Desolation.
It was the erupted crater from the volcano. Steam poured from the volcanic vents at the valley floor into the air which smelled of sulfur. In the distance one huge cloud of steam could be seen coming from the hidden location of the boiling lake. I thought, ‘finally! Here’s a relatively flat place to camp with a view, even though it’s wet.’ But for some reason, I was compelled to venture just a little bit further. Then… no… I saw it peeking from the bushes. A gazebo shelter and picnic table. I cried with joy and screamed “HALLELUJAH!” I was indescribably happy to set up my bivvy sack ontop of that picnic table. Then it downpoured buckets all night long. The rain was torrential, I would’ve been destroyed out there, but I stayed dry under the gazebo.
Morning came, and even though I had stayed dry, everything was so wet. The trail was a loop, so I was grateful I didn’t have to go back the way I came. I decided to leave most of my stuff in the gazebo and hike with a light pack to the boiling lake (it was a spur trail so I’d have to return anyway before completing the loop.)
Even with my light pack it was a treacherous hike to the boiling lake. By now, the raw spots on my back were feeling okay, but right away that morning on the climb down the colorful volcanic cliff, my knee was killing me. The pain was nearly unbearable. Arriving at the first set of hot springs though, I found they were undeniably magical. Even though I felt bad I was giddy. There was water boiling furiously out of small pools, churning could be heard underneath the ground. In some places mud was boiling, in some places steam was venting in geysers. I loved it and wandered all around the different springs. Then I met the hot, sulfurous river. It flowed white over the red/orange rocks and a jet black river ran to meet it. It turned gray and ran through green moss. It wound through the lush mossy forest and into the tree fern wonderland. But it was raining on me and I limped along rather miserable. The trail took me down another aggravating cliff. My emotions were hard to figure out that damp, wet morning.
The vicious track brought me to the devils cauldron, the boiling lake itself! I entered a basin where the chill montane- tropical air was interrupted by hot steam. The basin was filled with steam, until a breeze would come by and blow it away. The lake was large and gray, in the middle there was an enormous upwelling. A bubbling so intense that it caused agitated waves throughout the entire lake. The place was a picture in constant motion. I was awestruck, it rained on me again which was annoying, and after some breakfast and taking in the wicked, wild sights, I left.
On the return trip I was still unhappy, and upon arriving back at the hot river I said, okay I don’t care I’m going for a soak! My knee needed it. I undressed, went into the pool under this hot waterfall, and realized it was the best spot possible. I relaxed completely, the grey sulfurous water warm, the hot falls pounding and massaging my sore back. After a while I almost left, then retreated back into the hot water. No, I’m not going anywhere. After a while I decided to leave, head upstream and find a hotter pool. I found one with even more white sulfur, much hotter, also with a massaging waterfall. It was divine so I stayed for an hour rubbing my knee and dreaming about staying forever.
Eventually I left and went back to my gazebo camp. Very slowly, I packed up and left. Let me mention I rarely saw a single other person in the rainforest, this really has felt like an expedition! The trail to Laudat, unlike the trail I had come on from Morne Prosper, was exceptionally nice. It followed a ridge with exposed views and relatively gentle terrain down. Wide switchbacks, comely staircases, and an abundance of joyful rainforest. I limped slowly on my trusty bamboo because my knee hurt, but I found that now even through that I was completely at peace. The hotsprings had done something great to me, and I was happy. I constantly had been wishing I was someplace else, but on that fine trail I said there was nowhere else I’d rather be. For that I shouted Hallelujah a bit!
I walked slow. One step at a time very slowly. After a while in the golden afternoon light I hit the pavement and kept walking. My bag was much lighter than it was when I started the trail, it no longer felt so bad. I had eaten the food, now I must hitch down to town and buy more. Soon I was flying down the rollercoaster mountain roads in a car, leaving the rainforest for the jungle, and finding the colorful suburbs in the dramatic Roseau Valley. Then I was walking in the city of Roseau, still walking as slow as Dominica, and I was smiling happy. I sat in a bar using the wifi and listening to blaring loud Bob Marley and other reggae music. Then I kept walking.
I left Roseau and found my way somehow to the rough ghetto of Newtown. Everybody always wants to talk to me. The grocery stores were pretty sad for resupplying, I had walked passed the grocery stores in Roseau, due to bad directions or something. Mostly they only sell strange (but delicious) biscuits and cookies imported from Bangladesh or some odd place, and sold individually/randomly packaged. I bought a dozen packages for about 3$ US (then ate them all in basically one sitting!) They also sold hard candy and cereal, but that was all. When I walked in I was greeted, the lady asked me what I wanted… I looked around… “some food?” I asked “Oh okay… how about some snacks?” she responded… haha okay guess so. I found another grocery store that had that same selection plus potatoes. I wound up eating pretty good fish sticks, ribs and french fries at a tiny restaurant that only had bright green lighting.
Currently I’m writing this from this pathetic hotel in Newtown. I got it because it was getting dark and I was stranded here, unable to walk with my knee in such pain, definitely unable to find a private spot to camp. The ghetto would have taken me in for nearly free, but I just got the room for only 40$US. There’s no AC and it’s absurdly hot. I’m getting bitten by more mosquitoes in this room than ever in the jungle! Okay well, it’s still pretty nice. I should mention that I’m exploring Dominica now because I actually have wanted to come here for many years and see that boiling lake. Plus I needed a little time away from society. Still I will go back to the sailing and keep persuing my challenging goal, so my plan is to leave here in some days and go to St. Lucia. It will be there that the ARC race is ending it’s first leg from Spain. I’ve heard tell that on January 9th 37 boats will leave Rodney Bay, St. Lucia with a destination of Australia. So I’ll head over there and see if I can find a job with them. Who knows, wish me luck! Tomorrow it’s back to the rainforest!