to the Island of Dominica -
Dominica Photo Gallery
About the Island of Dominica
Journey to the Boiling Lake
How to get to Dominica
Map of the Island
Airfare & Hotel Info
Island: Saint Lucia
JOURNEY TO THE BOILING LAKE
We have embarked on a four-hour-long hike to
Boiling Lake - the world's largest bubbling caldron of water and the main
reason that the Morne Trois Pitons National Park was designated as an UNESCO
World Heritage Site in 1997.
It had been mercifully warm, humid and drizzling
rain here and there as we set out early in the morning with Henry, our guide.
It's the Caribs that keep on springing back to
mind when my friends, Henry and I make our way into the island's southern
forest, especially when we find ourselves in front of a living gommier.
The popular tale that there's a river here for
every day of the year is fiction. But it is true that it rains as much as 300
inches annually in some parts of the island, making Dominica one of the
wettest places on earth. I've begun to get used to the smell of damp clothes.
The gommier is almost the first tree I notice:
60 feet high with a straight, whitish trunk perfect for chiseling out a canoe.
A few slashes in the bark reveal where someone has tapped its sweet-smelling
resin for furniture glue, or incense, or perhaps to cure a toothache.
But what's most impressive about this specimen
is that it's grown up since Hurricane David tore through Dominica 20 years
ago, leveling this entire area. The regenerative power of the timber, vines,
and other vegetation, which now look as if nothing had ever disturbed them,
seems the stuff of science fiction. There's a saying in Dominica, if you stand
still too long, something will start growing on you. As we walk farther into
the forest, we fall deeper under its spell. Instinctively conversation becomes
hushed. There's the sound of tink frogs and the call of a siffleur montagne, a
rufous-throated solitaire, creaking away like a rusty garden gate.
|From the ridge we get a
clear view of the canopy; dotted here and there with flaming red tulip
trees, a favorite ornamental species of the British, who brought it in
their slave ships from West Africa. I heard that a German tourist once
fell to her death, trying to sidestep a mud puddle.
Gradually, the story of Dominica unfolds - a
tale of conquest and defeat. First the Caribs came, then the French with their
slaves and coffee, then the British with sugarcane, cocoa, and limes. Settlers
arrived, tried to make their fortunes, and left - hounded out by the next
colonial wave or overwhelmed by the forces of nature. So far, the mountains,
the rain, and the rain forest have always been on the winning team.
At last, when my legs are starting to nag me with
suggestions that I should he more fit, we descend from a world of verdure into the Valley
of Desolation, a bizarre moonscape broken by puffs of steam from hot vents and geysers.
Here, the crust of the earth is yellow, dotted with pools of boiling gray mud, and the
streams are so laden with minerals they flow jet-black, orange, or blue. There are lichens
and algae of every color sucking up the sulfurous warmth, but no other plants, except for
a strange local bromeliad flowering in exile.
Photo Copyright © LukeTravels.com
The scene is a fitting avenue to the lake itself, which,
when it appears around that final rocky bend, looks like something dreamed up by
It hisses and seethes, a giant, milky mass 200 feet across, in a crater 300 feet deep.
It feels as if we've made it to the heart of
the island and found it heaving with impatience. The sulfur steam taints our
clothes, and the heat is almost unbearable. I know the caldron hasn't actually
erupted for more than a hundred years, but despite the spectacular occasional
glimpse, when the clouds of vapor part, down the Sari-Sari valley to the cool
blue of the Atlantic, the lake makes an uneasy place to rest.
"Pilot, whales at two o'clock!" We hurtle around
the boat like it's on fire. There's a moment's agony when everyone else seems to see the
creatures and I can't. Then there they are, rising and falling through the waves and
cruising toward us - two, three, five, ten... no, thirty of them. There are three babies
with the whales, and they're agog with curiosity.
Just 20 feet away from the boat, they line up like a row of
floating torpedoes and pop their heads up to take a look. "Man, they checking us
out!" cries the skipper's mate, as an eerie underwater singsong comes over the
hydrophones. Skipper Derek Perryman has sighted whales hundreds of times in the five
seasons he's been operating his cruises out of Roseau. He's filmed them, snorkeled and
dived with them, and helped to collect a wealth of data on their behavior. But by the look
on his face, you'd think this was his first encounter. Twenty species of dolphin and whale
have been sighted within five miles of Dominica, he tells us. There's a nine-in-ten chance
of spotting at least one cetacean species simply because there are so many sperm whales
here. (Giant squid in the depth 2,000 feet below us are the main attraction for them.) As
we head for home, Derek adjusts the hydrophone and has a last listen for the telltale
clicks of a sperm whale. There's one close by, but a cruise ship docked at Roseau two
miles away starts its engines and blocks out all other sounds.
Roseau strikes me as a matchbox town, scarcely a capital
city, though it has its cathedral, ministry, statehouse, courthouse, two marketplaces, and
a building honoring Queen Victoria. There's a sense of transience about the place, as if
it might blow away at any minute. It's the kind of precariousness that has me looking over
my shoulder from time to time to check Morne Micotrin the supposedly dormant volcano that
stands watch over the town, and when I lie down for a siesta beneath one of the remaining
banyans in the botanical gardens, I half expect to feel vibrations.
Photo Copyright © LukeTravels.com
Hurricanes, fires, and floods have swept Roseau away
numerous times it the past; Hurricane David took out the whole bayfront. The result is a
town of patchwork charm. Among the unresolved piles of rubble where the buildings used to
be, are the survivors, with their gap-toothed jalousied windows, verandas askew, and
wooden shingles curling up at the edges like old sandwiches. New arrivals - all smoked
glass and chrome and self-satisfaction and another generation of tin-and-driftwood
structures (sometimes painted with graffiti) fill out the mix.
Alongside Roseau, the cruise ship Fascination
looks as outrageous as a flying saucer with room for 2,000 passengers, it's
almost as big as the new bay front. Dominica's entire hotel industry can
accommodate only 1,700. The town's population has grown by ten percent for the
day, and the pace of life has changed dramatically. The road to Trafalgar
Falls, a few miles out of town, is a traffic jam of minibuses. An hour away,
in the middle of the forest, there's a line for the Emerald Pool, and a
catering truck has been set up to provide burgers and Mexican specialties.
Photo Copyright © LukeTravels.com
Apart from taxi drivers, few locals I have
talked to seemed to welcome this thrice-weekly invasion. Dominica doesn't have
beaches, and golf courses, and 300-bedroom hotels. People come here for peace
and quiet and because this island is one of the last unspoiled islands in the
world. Dominica has resources that most resorts just dream of: waterfalls,
mountains, and rain forests. Dominica has hundreds of birds, 36 species of
orchid, edible frogs... Where else can you drink water from a stream nowadays
without poisoning yourself? With passions running high in Roseau, it's a
relief to head back to the country for our last couple of nights on the island
before we head up to Guadeloupe.
My goal is Morne Fous on Dominica's southernmost tip, and
my coccyx is bruised from bouncing along the stone-paved road laid by slave labor in the
1700s - a road that once led to the sugar estate at Bois Cotelotte, where Empress
Josephine is said to have stayed. All that's left of the place is an old stone mill and a
line of strangler figs that must have lined an avenue. From rainforest to boiling lake,
the message on this Caribbean island is clear: Dominica - Nature calls the shots.