A February 2003 trip
to Dominica by nmagann
Quote: Home of World Heritage Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica is the "Caribbean’s Nature Island," offering hiking, scuba, kayaking, hot springs, and rappelling and trekking the thin crust of the earth. Scuba-diving with bubbling springs below and hiking to boiling lakes is not your everyday vacation.
Personally I found a disposable underwater camera to a plus. Depending on the hikes you choose, you may be scrambling over boulders, hiking upstream, rappelling down a waterfall, or having to swim up river. To have a really nice camera fall and/or get wet would really be a shame. Remember too, postcards are available.
Service charges of 10% are added to hotel bills as well as 5% room tax. And although many restaurants add 10% gratuities, check first.
Furthermore, a prime reason for visiting here is hiking. The hikes advise guides and no matter whether you choose a company or an individual to take you, they will provide transportation. The three main cities, all on the coast, really don’t require a vehicle either. Here public transportation, walking or biking are a better idea especially because this is not a shopping or dining mecca.
Attraction | "Middleham Falls & Ti Tou Gorge"
I opted to strip down to my swimming attire and enjoy the pool. By the time I had reached the edge of the water the cold mist nearly changed my mind. My goose bumps quickly disappeared after diving in. Not that the water was warm, but I realized the cold mist on a dry body felt very cold. I scrambled up the side of the waterfall with the guide and went for a high dive. Very refreshing.
Special note: This hike typically costs $160 for 1-4 persons with each additional $40. Park admission is $2.00. This hike would easy to be to do without a guide.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 3, 2003
Middleham Falls & Ti Tou Gorge
The hike began just outside of Laudat near Ti Tou Gorge early in the morning with a backpack full of water and snacks. The winding trail through the rainforest (complete with rain) was uphill and downhill with infrequent short distances of flat paths. Throughout the hour you are either rock hopping across streams and in streams or balancing on the extensive root systems of the buttressed trees. On steeper grades, logs fashioned into steps serve as stairs. This would have worked well if my legs had been twice as log.
Meanwhile, throughout all this, you are trying to dodge puddles of muddy water and areas of very soft mud. The mud was so deep it covered my shoes and so wet my foot was coming out my shoe as the mud held tightly. With each step you try to plant your foot precisely horizontal so as not to slide.
The path continues down to Breakfast River where the guide suggested we take a drink of our water, as we are just about to head straight up again. That was all we had time for before we crossed crossing the river and reaching the 3000’ peak of Morne Nichols half an hour later. The wind was blowing so strongly I squatted to steady myself and put film in my camera to take some pictures. This is the where the guide leaves me and continues on with the four tourists from France, but not before muttering about other hikers coming.
Just as a side note, I booked this tour through Larry Love’s and told him how disappointed I was to have the guide leave me and not be able to learn more about the area. (I tried to find information in the local bookstore to no avail.) Other guides that crossed my path were both perplexed and shocked that I had been left and said that was so very wrong. Larry did not give me a refund, another tour or anything else. Therefore I cannot recommend his services even though I know his is one of the two biggest operators in Roseau.
Inside a crater, this large lake measuring 200 feet in diameter boiled vigorously because it was heated by the magma deep below the surface. Considering the lake is at least 200 feet deep, I cannot fathom how far down it is to the magma. Although two small waterfalls feed this lake, it is the volcanic activity below the lake that heats the water.
The water is a translucent white with large bubbles rising to the top in the center of the lake. The steam created an eerie fog that blurred the details around the rim. Periodically a gust of wind would create a hole in the fog long enough to snap a picture or two. Although not the most important thing, but right up there, was the exchanging of cameras by everyone to have proof we had made the journey.
The muddy trail didn’t seem to have dried out any on the way back and I had long since given up on the idea of staying clean. And although I was passed in both directions, I had time to take pictures. I was impressed with myself that I was able to complete this strenuous hike, but not nearly as much as with the sights along the way.
Special note: This hike typically costs $200 for 1-4 persons with each additional $50 via tour operators such as Larry Love’s, whom I used and don’t recommend because his guide left me, and Ken Hinterland Tours located at Fort Young Hotel and the best Whitchurch at the ferry dock. Park admission is $2.00. Locals both those you meet on the street as well as the taxi and bus drivers will all offer to guide you. Many have business cards if you do wish to utilize their services. Their prices are negotiable.
Fortunately after what seemed an eternity a guide and a dozen students came up from behind and helped direct me. Soon I was through the worst. The trail continues on with much the same but to a lesser degree until I reach what looks like the aftermath of an avalanche. Compared to the mud, the stumbling over loose rocks is like a stroll in the park.
Just below, Morne Watt beckons and the half hour crossing of the Valley of Desolation begins. Here there are fumaroles, steam vents, and sulfur holes due to the volcanic activity found in the area. There was little vegetation except, oddly enough, thick patches of moss growing on the banks of chemical rich warm springs. This beautiful delicate moss was actually thriving near warm waters containing sulfur and iron sediments. In fact various colors from the chemicals highlight the area such as yellow sulfur, purple manganese, orange iron and others. I stopped to take several pictures glad not to have a guide rushing me onward. The Valley of Desolation was originally a forest but was destroyed by the very sulfur vents that make it so fascinating now. Had I turned back before reaching here I would have missed out indeed and I still had arrived to the ultimate destination.
The trail takes a turn downward and suddenly I am back into a green area with small waterfalls and pools of the most incredibly milky teal colored water. No written description could come close to describing this fantasyland. Had a gnome appeared it would have been so apropos I wouldn’t have been surprised. I was so engrossed in this view I sort of screamed when a guide came up from behind asking why I was looking downstream? He pointed across the water out of Hot Water Springs to where the trail continued and I took off. Lingering at a couple more of these incredible pools enroute; I came to the end of Hot Water Springs.
Located off Point Guignard the boat trip from Fort Young Hotel was less than half an hour. Moored within sight of shore, we jump into the calm waters descending to a depth of 70’ among coral fingers and a small wall with plenty of elephant ear sponges and soldier fish darting in and out of the sea feathers. Heading toward shore an abundance of huge sand dollars dot the sandy bottom. A couple of eels and a sea turtle acknowledge our presence along with puffer fish, blue tangs and others.
At a depth of just under 20’ feet is a gorge where trails of bubbles lead upward to the surface. I placed my fingers over a few of the bubble streams to discover to my astonishment that they were not warm. Seeing my amazement, the guide showed me a large one that was so warm it obscured the water in nearby. Barely able to maintain the shallow depth, we headed off in the direction of the boat.
With a wetsuit on, I lacked the experience of feeling the bubbles. Had I known snorkeling from the shore was a very popular option, I would have chosen that instead. Although a unique dive, it was very expensive. Each piece of rental gear such as regulator, buoyancy compensator, wetsuit etc…cost $10, not to mention the $30 round trip taxi fare.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 1, 2003
Illegal to Hassle Visitors in Dominica
Dominica, known as the 'Nature Island' of the Caribbean, has introduced a law aimed at 'curbing the harassment of visitors, and to make the island more visitor friendly'. The government has made it a crime to 'molest, trouble, threaten, worry, accost, jeer, insult, persistently beg or follow about any person in a public place', after countless complaints from cruise ship visitors to the island. Anyone caught 'harassing' anyone else will be subject to a fine of up to US$370 or imprisonment of up to six months. Dominica has an unemployment rate of around 35 percent among its population of 70,000. The mountainous island is well known for its rainforests, rivers and waterfalls, and income from tourism is important to the economy.
Money: The Eastern Caribbean dollar is the local currency, but US dollars and credit cards are widely accepted. This is probably due, in part at least, to the fixed rate to the US dollar. It is very important when negotiating prices to agree on which currency. At 1:2.67, agreeing on a price you think is in the local currency and later being told it is US can be an expensive experience. I had first hand experience of this in Belize.
Hikes: Most hikes cost $40-60pp based on a minimum of 4 persons. This means a family of 4 or two couples can qualify for their own private group tour. Many locals offer guide services for $10 per hour, again based on a minimum of 4 persons. Hikes vary from tour and novice levels to strenuous and advance ranging from 3 hrs to 7hrs. With Sari Sari Falls half a miles each way to the very short hike of Victoria Falls and the leg burner of Middleham Falls, there is something for everyone. The one draw back is that if you are not traveling with 3 other persons, you pay a hefty price or are left out altogether. Tourism here deals primarily with groups and more specifically with cruise ship clientele, who usually opt for the two-hour Trafalgar Falls tour.
Climate: Although the rainy season is from July to October, the lowest temperatures are from November to February. Still, the air year round is a comfortable 75-90 degrees and the water 78-83 degrees.
Transportation: Driving is on the left side of the road with speed limits typically 20mph. Be aware that a driver’s permit at approximately $12 is required and that gasoline can be expensive at $2.50+ per gallon. Alternatively taxis have fixed rates and those with an H or HA on the license plate and are insured. Some locals take their own vehicles and offer them as taxis. Both will offer guide services and in both types of taxis are extremely expensive. The 4.2 miles from Trafalgar Village to Roseau is $15 and more on Sundays. The 1 ½ hour ride from Melville airport to Roseau is $50 minimum or $25 per person. The buses are $1-2 depending on distance.
Ferry service to/from nearby islands requires spending overnight as there is only one boat per day. But it could make for a nice diversion if you need one. Some cruise ships do stop here but according to the literature most that disembark don’t purchase anything as there isn’t anything to buy and don’t have enough time for the hikes. Therefore, Dominica doesn’t reap monetarily from cruise ships and they have little impact on tourists staying on the island.
Some of the last of the Caribs, which originally came from South America, reside here. They still build canoes and produce woodcarvings and basket weaving items. Hand-made baskets are about the extent of local items available for purchase. You can see canoe building at Castle Bruce Beach, midway on the eastern coast, or go 6 miles north to their 3700 acre Tribal Reservations. Hiking tours are offered to Carib Territory that lies further north of the reservation.
The locals are very friendly and adult and children alike will greet you. When it comes to extended conversations from drivers though, it is usually more for want of your business than conversation. Children wear uniforms to school and take education seriously.
Geography: The Island has the dubious distinction of being one of the wettest in the Caribbean. Rainforests steep terrain, narrow rivers, volcanic activity all make for a truly unique island. So much diversity is usually found in much more vast areas than an island. And as far back as 1952, people began protecting this natural wonder, beginning with the first forest reserve, to the first National Park and on to expanding the Forestry Division.
Fauna: Wildlife includes over 150 species of birds including the Sisserou Parrot, Dominica’s endangered national bird. Tours are offered specifically for the bird enthusiasts. Personally I’m a fan of hummingbirds like the Purple Throated and Antillean Crested found here. There are several types of bats, but only one variety of snake and it isn’t even a poisonous one. On the other hand, a boa doesn’t make me feel warm and cozy. Other creatures include opossums, frogs and agoutis. There are no bears, deer or crocodiles. The fact that there is good whale watching here is becoming known.
Flora: Banana plantations are so beautiful tours often include them. Higher altitudes in the rainforest provide the perfect setting for a variety heleconias including bird of paradise, antherium, tiger claw and gingers as well as begonias and orchids. Fruits include oranges, grapefruit, avocado, mangos, guavas and more. And let us not forget the lush foliage of Australian tree ferns, ground ferns, gommiers, elephant ears, and a variety of vines.