Caribbean Day 11: Sulfur

I had been remarking earlier that I the trip so far didn’t feel like it had that “edge”, and I think some of that was that the Caribbean is pretty easy to deal with. People are mostly friendly and they speak English. It’s not a particularly dangerous place despite the poverty. Today we found some of that edge on our hike.

We set out early for the day, first checking out of Ma Bass Guesthouse in favor of the upscale Fort Young Hotel in anticipation of a hard day. Then we grabbed some grub at the hotel dining room before we left since the restaurant we liked from the day before doesn’t open until 830am. But once that was out of the way, with packs full of lunch, water, and everything else we might need we set off for the bus to Laudat.

We found the stop easy enough but were early, and the buses to Laudat are few and far between. There was an American woman waiting as well with her guide headed towards Middleham falls. We chatted for a while and her guide walked off to talk to a friend, when he came back he said a friend was offering to take us up for $10EC each. We figured it will cost like 7 for the local bus, so yea, let’s go. The trip was surprisingly long, the roads are steep and windy, and most often wet.

Arriving at the top our new acquaintance’s guide took us to the trail head. Those site passes weren’t needed since there was no one there checking them. We noticed some cars parked and set off hoping to catch them. Ben and I carried a pretty good pace and before too long we did catch and pass a group of 5 with a guide. We trotted on past with lots of confidence. The trail was fairly muddy from previous rain, and my boots were soon covered with a nice patina of Dominican soil. Ben was wearing sandals that kept getting pebbles between the foot and the sole. We cross and river and started up a steep hill. In places the steps embedded in the ground were slippery, but manageable. Eventually we reached the high point of the climb, it wasn’t particularly easy, but the hard part was over, or so we thought.

The second “half” of the hike was mostly downhill, at the start on slippery mud covered steps that were scary to navigate on their own, never sure if your foot would slip. On occasion we even had sheer drops on a side which, although not too bad with the width of the trail made me favor the side with the wall. At one point we got hit by a really good downpour, the wind was pushing the rain up the side of the hill it seemed, and sideways as it crossed the ridge we were on. At first we took shelter behind a bush but eventually found it futile and decided to just go with being soaked. Neither of us could see well out of our glasses so we had to take them off, but that’s not much better trading fog and rain blurred vision for a lack of detail and diminished depth perception. The path got super steep and we went slowly down. Then we came to a place we couldn’t quite figure out. The path disappeared into a small rushing river of water going down a slippery and rocky wash. We sat there for a bit and couldn’t figure out the puzzle and weren’t too keen to try our footing. We decided that the trail must have been washed out and started to turn back, but before we got 20 ft we ran into the group we had passed early on. Their guide kept on trekking and said that the rocks were rough and to look for foot sized indents carved in. We watched as a few of his group started down. I was still fairly ready to turn back, but Ben goaded me on, if they can do it we can do it. In my head I was thinking “it only takes one” but decided I’d come this far, might as well put a foot in and try.

The rock was surprisingly grippy, and I crab walked down with my back to the rock I made it down fine, followed by Ben. We were now in the “Valley of Desolation” which was an old caldera that is still semi-active, pushing up boiling rain water to the surface. The drive in volcano in St. Lucia wasn’t nearly as cool, but then again it wasn’t 2hrs into a 6+ hour hike. I remembered what our guide in St. Lucia had said though, that the rock can often be eaten away from underneath and weak, and the last thing you want to do is put your foot in some boiling water. I followed the guide’s path as best I could foot for foot, but at a respectful distance from his group. I could hear the guide explaining that in the tropics it’s hard to make fire, nothing is dry, but when they found the hot springs, they could cook food again. Eggs boiled in the water apparently also get a weird color like black or blue depending on the mineral content of the pool they’re put in.

The path went on much further than I expected going up some steep sections require clambering. At some point crossing a river, I got water down the top of my boot, my foot was now an aquarium. The other was damp from the rain water getting wicked into the sock.

Eventually we made it to the Boiling Lake and gave the guide a tip for letting us follow. Apparently the lake is more like a geyser, the water is sitting on top of a big bubble of hot gas, and the boiling in the center is the gas escaping, the water itself isn’t really boiling temperature, just really hot. Every few years something causes the gases to let up and the water to escape, then eventually the waters fill back in and are just warm and can be swam in which I guess the guides do from time to time. I couldn’t figure out how you’d get down there. It was hard getting a good photo, the steam from the water kept filling the field of view making it hard to see. It was still neat all the same. We met the other hikers to some degree, there was a French couple that spoke a little bit of English, an older French woman who spoke none really, and a couple our guide Jeremy called Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet or as we would later learn were James and Severine, are from England and France, with James now living in Paris. They are here on their honey moon and so the nick name.

After everyone got their fill of lunch and sulfur we made our way back stopping in the Valley of Desolation for some more bubbling pools and a quick lecture. The ground felt hollow, and I remembered the story from St. Lucia about the ground breaking and guide falling in the boiling water, so I kept away from everyone else a bit back towards the trail.

The hike back was a bit tougher, we climb to the high point was steep, and Ben was wearing out. I’m still impressed all the same, it’s a long hike, and he gritted through it. Going downhill is where I struggle, I find it more taxing to have to take tiny steps, and part way down I twisted the same knee as the one I did when I slipped descending Gros Piton. My leg muscles are really tense and my IT band needs a stretch badly. We sat down for a bit and I tried to stretch it out the best I could. When we got going again I was fine for a bit but it only takes one lose footstep to make it hurt again. This is why I’m better as a cyclist than a hiker. Either way a few Ibuprofen helped it tremendously overnight.

With Ben being a bit slow up and me being very slow down I expected the group we had been with to be long gone. When we reached the bottom though, they had just arrived themselves and were waiting.

Titou Gorge was something I had highlighted and underlined in my guide book and sits right at the start of the trail. It’s a long slot canyon a bit like the ones I had visited with my parents in Arizona, but not so beautifully colored and with a running waterfall and river through it. You enter at a shallow pool and swim into the gorge. The water is cold and refreshing, but after jumping in with the heat of Dominica you’re noticing mostly the contrast between the heat you had from the hike in this environment and the colder water so you get used to it quickly after the shock. Swimming in you see the beautifully carved walls eaten away by the flowing river. The water gets deeper and shallower as you go and at the very end is a waterfall. I absolutely failed to get a good photo of the water fall because the light is low and the water is constantly moving me and the camera. I really enjoyed this and found it absolutely spectacular and one of the best things on the trip so far, absolutely didn’t disappoint, if anything it was better than I had expected from the photos I’d seen. I went back to try to convince Ben to join but he wouldn’t get in the water saying it was too cold. I couldn’t convince him that it was worth putting up with the cold, that it was something unique and worthwhile but failed.

Leaving we caught a ride with Romeo and Juliet, first to a café/bar where we sat around, had a beer and chit chatted. We said our good byes and Romeo and Juliet dropped us off at the junction of the routes from Laudat and Trafalgar giving us a good shot at catching our bus. We didn’t have to wait long and the Laudat bus came barreling around the corner stopping for us.

Back at the hotel our bags had been delivered to our rooms, though Ben with his ultra light approach had confused them and he ended up with one of my bags by accident. After a shower we went yet again to the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a filling meal and drinks. The shower felt so good after a long, wet, muddy day hiking.

I even got to chat with Jen back home. I think that connectivity and me “phoning home” is part of why this trip feels a bit different from the rest. I still have 1 foot back in The States. Part of me even is looking forward to being home. It’s not a bad thing really though I suppose, just different. It’s kind of nice in a way, as much as I looked forward to this trip, I’m not dreading going back either. Normally 2 weeks out of 3 in, and I would already be starting to thinking about how much I didn’t want to leave.

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