Dominica – Where austere mountains rise from the sea and 365 pristine rivers flow, some of them intersecting and cascading down the jagged mountains into massive waterfalls, a perfect canopy of coolness helps you beat the summertime heat.
Sulfuric gases and steam from geysers hang over plants and trees, creating fertile conditions for agriculture.
One particular attraction, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, is home to the world’s second-largest boiling lake. It’s one of the Caribbean’s World Heritage Sites.
A fellow adventurer and I hire the services of one of Dominica’s most knowledgeable and experienced guides, Hagan Daridan, through Chez Ophelia Guest House in the Inner Roseau Valley, where we’re staying.
At the entrance to the park, two waterfalls cascade over large overlapping boulders. A few years ago, Johnny Depp, hanging on a vine, swung through these same boulders filming Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Fibrous dark brown steps made of fern trees lead to the opening of the lush green trail. We stop briefly while Daridan identifies species of wild orchids growing out of chestnut trees toppled by 1979’s Hurricane David in the never-logged rainforest.
Ivy and mammoth elephant ear plants line the path that ascends 900 metres to the great Valley of Desolation lookout point over a panorama of fertile lands.
“Plants, fruits and trees of both tropical and temperate climates grow on this island,” says Daridan proudly. “In the central regions, cocoa, coffee and coconut grow. Pineapple plantations flourish on the west coast, where it’s dry.”
As we descend, boiling geysers spew sulphuric gases into the mineral-breathing forest. Daridan guides us nimbly through the Valley of Desolation, pointing to the path so we don’t step near open vents oozing gold and red ash. One wrong step could be fatal.
A short ascent later, we arrive at the lake. “Deep vents in the earth suck the water down into gas chambers and then spout it up, creating boiling steam on the surface,” explains Daridan.
Discovered in 1882, the lake is 12 metres deep. Back in 1994, when a tsunami affected much of Asia, most of the water was sucked out of Dominica’s Boiling Lake, which stayed dry for three months. When the water came back, it was black for a year.
On the way home, we stop to soak in Secret Pools, a hot mineral-massage waterfall. After just 10 minutes, the pressure of the falling liquid on my back, legs and feet leaves my muscles loose and relaxed, as if I’ve had an hour-long massage.
Famished and tired, we feast in Wotton Waven on a hearty Creole meal our new friend Joan of Le Petit Paradis cooks for us.
Next morning, we drive a winding road that ascends sharply from sea level into the dizzying heights of another dense, lush high-altitude rainforest. We stay sharp, driving carefully to avoid roadside hazards, including metre-deep ditches on one side and death drops to the ocean on the other.
Though we secretly enjoy the terrifying sight of semi trucks roaring toward us on the narrow cliffside road, it is a bit of a worry.
Stopping briefly to admire an ecosystem of ferns and flowers taking over a dilapidated old vehicle, we remember a friendly Dominican’s explanation: “If you stand in one place long enough, Dominica will grow on you.”