Monday, November 12, 2012

Caribbean - PART TWO

PART 2: Dominica

So, I see I got a little loose with the Caribbean elevation thing yesterday. Today, on Dominica, we rode hairpin switchbacks on narrow back country roads to 3000-4000 feet above sea level, and there was still room to go: is Morne Diablotins, which is nearly 5000 feet above sea level, could be seen amidst swirling mist high above. 

Our group hiked to Sari Sari falls, which is fed from this mountain. There are dozens of major waterfalls, rivers, and hot springs in Dominica. Being essentially a lushly overgrown volcanic cone, it is little wonder there is a lake of boiling water, called—are you ready—Boiling Lake. 

We rode a van from Roseau, the capital and harbor where we docked, to the site of the hike. Dominica stands apart from other Caribbean islands in a couple of obvious ways: namely that it is an island of lush natural beauty. Pristine wilderness comprises most of the island, which is the youngest in the Caribbean, and that wilderness comes in the form of rain forest, with mist-shrouded peaks towering above dense green ravines lined with rivers that rise and fall according to the rainy season. The rainy season is in full swing currently, and during our hike, it rained off and on. More on that later. It also is unique in my opinion because the people are so friendly. On an island where the main cash crop—banana—has receded, giving way to tourism and agriculture and with an unemployment rate of 35%, there is only a 5% crime rate. There is a genuine optimism on Dominica, and it is certainly a reflection of their situation literally in paradise: all the natural things that a human could require to live a healthy life can be found in the rain forests and oceans surrounding this land. People we passed along the steep narrow roads selling fruits or vegetables, walking to their next thing, working on their stalled vehicle, or working on a crew along the roads would indicate if another car was coming around the bend from the opposite direction, waving us on, or just waving period.

The ride brought us through Roseau, a somewhat worn but vibrant and thriving town that clearly thrives in part on the cruise ship industry and other tourism, but yet was the least commercial of any of these ports I’ve seen. Heading out of town and along the coast into the hills, we passed banana crops, cinnamon trees, sugar cane and hibiscus as we gained elevation and the sharp turns began, with the calm waters of the Caribbean fading into a misty background. Houses were situated just to the side of the road, built on the increasingly sharp terrain, some small, some larger, most of them concrete cinder block structures. The road, and the sharp turns through dense rain forest, reminded me of the Hana Highway in Maui. 

After an hour, we reached a small cluster of houses. Our driver, skillfully avoiding pot holes, stalled vehicles, and the numerous stray tan dogs that seem indigenous to this part of the world, pulled around a vehicle with its front axle up on blocks, drove beyond the last house on the block and into a clearing in the woods and there we were, next to a little stand, no more than 6 feet across, with a few bottles of liquor, beer and coffee. This is where we started hiking. 

And I can tell you, some people clearly assumed they were in for much less than we turned out to be in store for.

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