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Dominica - An Island of Adventure
By J
Sep 15, 2004, 20:57

Dominica is an island in between the French provinces of Martinique and Guadeloupe, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, a Latin country on the island of Hispanola right next to Haiti. It is the ideal vision of a tropical island. Extremely lush, the interior is high mountain ridges and rainforest which ultimately means rivers and waterfalls. The coast is lined with small poor fishing villages with killer Caribbean views and amazing swimming at white or black sand beaches. For comparison, think of Costa Rica.

Brian and I got on an island hopper owned by a friend and 1 ? hours later we landed in the pounding rain on an airstrip smaller than my parent's driveway in Boxford. "Wow, I couldn't see a thing. I'm glad we made it to the ground" said our cross eyed 70 year old pilot. Imagine how that made 7 paranoid West Indian passengers feel?.never mind Brian and me. Brian actually noticed our fearless pilot taking a cat nap on the way down and hopped into the copilot's seat to see if he could figure out enough to land the thing if necessary.

Safely on the ground, we made our way to our lodge, home for the next few nights and base for many small adventures. We could not have found a better spot for our anniversary trip. Papillote Wilderness Retreat is surrounded by a lush tropical garden the likes of which St. Croix has never seen, even before intrepid explorers stripped the trees to grow sugar cane. It was GREEN. It was LUSH. It was WET. There were orchids, anthiriums, tree ferns, palms, a waterfall, a token parrot and a family of peacocks living at our little retreat. We quickly discovered we had the best room in the place and we were the only guests, so we took full advantage of the hot mineral bath that was right outside our door and the huge patio that overlooked the waterfall.

Trafalgar Falls was our first little outing, a mere 15 minute walk up the hill (I soon discovered my sunrise trips to the gym have done nothing to prepare me for hills). These falls were our first real sighting of major fresh water since a canoeing trip down the Ipswich River last September (hardly major). The falls are actually 2 separate falls, a tall hot spring fed one and shorter cold spring fed one that converge into a rush of river. With glee we found ourselves a little swimming hole to discover that the one I was in was mountain river cold and the one right next to it that Brian was in was more than bath tub warm. There were hot springs everywhere.

Emerald Pool was our next stop. It's one of the most touristed spots on the island, but we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves..the benefit of traveling in the Caribbean during the off season..alas it also pours during the off season so frolicking in the pool of coooold water was not quite as appealing.  Walking behind the waterfall checking out the stalagtites and mites was the most we could manage.

The next two days were the absolute highlights of the trip adventures.

The minute we got under the water we saw the hawksbill sea turtle hovering as if he was waiting for us. Have you ever petted a turtle underwater? Yeah, me neither, not until that moment at least. It was very cool and he seemed to like it. The life was incredible. The best color and overall activity I've seen since diving in the Red Sea. We saw 2 octopi, about 5 moray eels including a free swimming spotted moray, spiny shrimp, schools and schools of squirrel fish and all matter of colorful invertebrates. One of the dive sights we went to was called Champagne and for good reason. A circle of small bubbles streamed up from the bottom to the surface like in a glass of bubbly. If you put your hand to the ground where the bubbles were coming from the air coming out was about 20 degrees warmer than the warm Caribbean Sea. The bubbles are actually caused by volcanic steam vents that are seeping hot air constantly.

Our anniversary day, we hiked for seven hours through the Valley of Desolation to get to the Boiling Lake and then back for a dip in Titou Gorge.

An hour into the hike, it looked like things were going to turn bad as my new looking hiking boots started to self destruct. We decided to continue the hike as long as my boots would stand it and as long as we felt safe. Each hour a new part of the boot came loose and we had to find something to tie it up with..the laces, a strap from our water bottle, the drawstring to Brian's shorts?

Entering the Valley of Desolation was like being transported back in time billions of years to the formation of the continents. The Valley is actually a filled in volcanic crater that was formed after an eruption in the last century. The volcano is still smoldering underneath. There is steam everywhere. Rivers run snow white or black like tar and actually are boiling like a pot on the stove. Almost nothing grows here because of the sulfur that hangs in the air and fills the soil. Oddly enough, there is one type of bromeliad that thrives and is everywhere on the hills that surround the Valley and Brian found one spot of moss growing through a small boiling waterfall.

The Boiling Lake was a short walk from the Valley hopping from rock to rock over boiling hot rivers. The Lake itself was in a small canyon that was constantly clouded with steam. In the center of the lake, when the steam momentarily cleared, you could see the cauldron boiling like something out of a Tolkien novel. The water was smoky white and I pictured Frodo having to somehow get across to get away from the Nasgoul and that it was absolutely terrifying. One false step and you would be boiled alive, which by the way happened to a guide trying to retrieve a camera for some hikers just weeks before.

My boots just managed to get me in and out with a bit of difficulty towards the end as the souls were constantly slipping out from under my feet. At least by that point the trail was a meandering path through the forest and not the muddy steeps we had already passed. I took them off and promptly threw them away and then went for a dip in Titou Gorge, a deep cavern at the base of the hike with cold mountain spring water rushing in from the waterfall at the base of the mountain.

We had successfully paid our homage to the volcano gods to help stimey the curse of the volcano ash that fell on our wedding night.

The rest of the trip was spent recovering from the hike, canoeing down Indian River, exploring the Carib Territory (the last remaining full community of Carib Indians one of the original groups of Indians to settle in the Caribbean and hence the name of the Sea), watching parrots look for their supper out in the wild and swinging in a hammock sipping passion fruit juice.

It was an amazing trip to cap off our first year and start the next. We hope to start each new year of married life with an equally amazing adventure.

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