Eric and Matthew Gilbertson, (with Amanda Morris andAmanda’s Mom)
Date: March 27, 2012 (Matthew), Dec 31, 2012 (Eric)
“I’m stuck!” Amanda’s mom exclaimed. We were high up on Morne Diablotins – the tallest mountain in the Caribbean Island nation of Dominica – and tantalizingly close to the summit. But the untamed Dominican jungle threatened to block us from reaching our objective. The trail – or shall we say “route” – which had begun as a well-maintained, well-behaved (albeit steep) path up through gigantic chataniere trees and palm fronds had transformed into a muddy slog through a steep obstacle course under and over slippery kaklen tree roots mixed with some scrambling up slimy jungle boulders. One moment we were squelching through ankle-deep mud, the next we were slithering like snakes through the tangled mess of roots and braches. We were beginning to understand the origins of the playground “jungle” gym.
To make things interesting my attire consisted of just three items: a pair of swimming trunks and one Croc (slipper) per foot. Our friends at LIAT Airlines had decided to add to the challenge of our little Caribbean hiking adventure by losing my luggage somewhere back in Grenada. I figured that by now the luggage was long gone, and hoped that at least some little Grenadan boy could benefit from the shoes, clothing, camping gear, and Morne Diablotins maps and route descriptions that were in my lost backpack.
I had to be extra cautious with each step because occasionally I’d step into a big mud pit, keep walking, and realize a few steps later that I was missing one of my Crocs. Although the mud was nice and squishy under my bare feet, with the threat of razor grass and sharp jungle rocks ahead this would not be the place to lose your footwear. I’d then quickly retrieve my slipper before it was swallowed. Fortunately Amanda and her mom had come better-prepared with hiking boots and a pair of knee pads, which had so far proven indispensible.
But my primary concern was not my feet, it was the route itself. Before the trip I had conducted a substantial amount of research about the route and found a good SummitPost page about Diablotins. I also had an email from another person who had hiked it years ago. Although I didn’t have any of the printed information with me, I didn’t recall any mention of the sheer rootiness of the trail from anything I had read. It was just supposed to be a “steep hike.” With this many roots, I thought, you’d think they’d feature prominently in any trip report. At that moment I vowed that when it was time for me to write this trip report I’d give the roots more of a mention. But even though the actual route didn’t seem match the description, our GPS indicated we were still headed towards the summit (whose coords I had copied from Google Earth).
But now we faced the most serious challenge of all: The Squeeze. Mrs. Morris was pinned tightly between roots and rocks, her chin buried in the mud, unable to move. We didn’t want her to have to spend the remainder of her Caribbean vacation stuck underneath this tree. She pulled on a branch with her left hand, I pulled on her right arm, while Amanda pushed from behind. “Ow ow ow ow ow!” she yelled in agony. We paused to catch our breaths and began to laugh. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. On a Caribbean vacation most people hang out on the beach. Here we were, covered in mud and bruises, as far from the beach as you can get. Our objective for this vacation was a little different. We wanted to stand on the summit of Dominica.
With one final pull, push, and squeeze, Amanda’s mom wriggled free. We brushed ourselves off, pleased with our little victory. It had been a tough half-mile. But with the afternoon daylight growing shorter we knew we’d really have to hustle the last half-mile to the summit.
THE NATURE ISLAND
We had a few different goals for this trip. First and foremost we wanted to take advantage of Spring Break. Second, we wanted to visit some new countries. And third: as long as you’re in a country you might as well climb to the highest point. So far on the trip Eric and I had climbed the highest mountains in Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. Then we rendezvoused with Amanda and her mom in Bridgetown and climbed the highest mountain in Barbados. Then the plan was for me, Amanda, and her mom to fly to Dominica and climb the highest mountain, and then afterwards we’d climb the highest mountain in Antigua & Barbuda before flying back. Eric had to leave to visit an oil rig in the Gulf for his research, so he’d have to come back for Dominica some other time.
Dominica is nicknamed the “Nature Island” for its “unspoiled natural beauty” (according to Wikipedia) and after driving around for a little while it’s easy to understand why. Unlike Barbados or Trinidad or Grenada where much of the land is developed, Dominica is like one big mountainous rainforest. Even though it’s still a tiny island, with only 70,000 people there is still plenty of wilderness. Our first night on the island we stayed in a tree house at the 3 Rivers EcoLodge near Rosalie. The house is built around a gigantic chataniere tree way back in the woods.
DRIVING ON THE LEFT
The next morning we woke up bright and early to the sounds of the treefrogs and, with Amanda at the wheel, headed north towards Morne Diablotins. Now driving in Dominica isn’t exactly like driving in the ’States. First of all, you had better not forget that you drive on the left-hand side of the road in Dominica (the same is true in the other non-French Caribbean islands). Second, the roads are so windy and the turns are so sharp and steep that sometimes the two roof supports at the front of the car obscure your view and you either need to arch your neck to see around the turn or stick your head out the window. Clearly the geometry of our car was not designed for driving around 360-degree turns. And third, there’s often a steep dropoff on the side due to a drainage ditch or guardrail-less cliff, which sometimes makes the passengers (and driver) uneasy. But Amanda faced the challenge with bravery, and took the helm of our Suzuki jeep with confidence while I navigated with the GPS. Amanda’s mom, meanwhile, provided moral support.
As we reached the intersection at Pont Cassé in the interior, we realized that we were low on gas so we pulled over to the side of the road and approached a group of locals to ask where the nearest gas station was. One dude stepped forward, and with a smile said something completely unintelligible. As Amanda and I tried to process what he said, or even what language he was speaking, some of the words started to become clearer. He was indeed speaking English, but we just needed a moment to orient ourselves with his dialect. We eventually understood that the nearest gas station was in Jimmit, and that he would hop in our jeep and show us how to get there. We were a little hesitant to let him in at first, but he looked like a nice enough fellow so we let him in.
The official language of Dominica is English, but it turns out that many people speak Antillean Creole, a blend of French, Carib, and African languages. The French influence might explain why the country is pronounced “dome-in-EE-ka”, with emphasis on the third syllable, unlike “Dominican Republic.” So we figured that this dude probably spoke Creole too, which we thought was cool. We let him off at a little village called “Warner,” although from his pronunciation it sounded more like “wuh-nuh,” and gassed up on the west-coast town of Jimmit.
As we continued north the road quality improved dramatically. We found out that the government of China had actually paid for the rebuilding of the road, along with other public works projects in Dominica. Not really sure how they choose Dominica, but we were sure happy about it. An hour later we made the critical turn at the sign to “Morne Diablotins National Park and Syndicate Visitors’ Centre.” While planning the trip I had carefully marked on the GPS the coords of even the tiniest of turns, expecting them to be non-obvious. In reality, however, it was pretty easy to navigate around because there were plenty of road signs.
Six miles later we rounded a turn and spotted the sign indicating the Morne Diablotin trailhead. “The hike to the mountain’s summit takes 2-3 hours one-way. Hikers should not attempt the hike after 10:30am… Certified guides are strongly recommended. Enjoy your climb and for your safety do not stray from the trail!” the sign proclaimed. We had heard that guides were recommended but figured we’d take our chances without one. I always feel that having a guide takes away the elements of the excitement, of self-reliance, and the sense of discovery that you gain by leading the hike by yourself. Besides, the first hundred feet of visible trail looked perfectly obvious – why would you need guide for a trail like this?
We pulled over into a little grassy parking lot and suited up for the hike. It was surprising to me that there weren’t any other hikers. It was a beautiful Tuesday in the dry season, we figured there’d maybe be other Spring Breakers here at least. But throughout the course of the day I gradually realized why most people chicken out of this mountain in favor of snorkeling.
The trail started surprisingly steeply, gaining 1600ft in just 1.4 miles – that’s a 21% grade! But the beauty of the jungle around us distracted us from the steepness of the climb. It was pretty much your textbook rainforest; massive chataniere trees with sprawling roots, palm trees, gigantic jungle ferns with dense foliage that blocked much of the sunlight. Higher up you could see the canopy layer with huge parasitic yucca-looking plants dripping with moss and a couple of bright red flowers. There wasn’t much wildlife to be seen, but we guessed maybe they were more active earlier in the day or at night.
After 1.4 miles of stair climbing up the well-maintained trail we topped out on a grassy knoll. From the GPS I knew that we still had another 1.1 miles to the summit, so it wasn’t time for back-patting yet. But it was still early in the day so we guessed that with the good time we had made on the climb we’d be getting back to the car plenty early. The highlands were all socked in with clouds, but occasionally as the clouds drifted by we caught a glimpse of the ridge that led to the summit. It looked like we were in for more of the same: steep and jungley.
We turned back to the trail and noticed something ominous: the condition of the trail deteriorated significantly. The trail we had ascended had been nice and wide with plenty of stairs, good drainage, and plenty of headroom. By contrast the trail ahead was a dark, muddy, and tangled with roots. No big deal, we thought, this is probably just one tough stretch and soon it will improve.
THE JUNGLE GYM
Slithering through the roots required a certain level of agility and upper-body strength. Sometimes you’d have to hang onto the roots above your head and Tarzan-swing yourself over a mud pit or branch. Sometimes you’d crawl through the mud on all fours in order to squeeze under a tree. You’d extricate your arms and legs on the other side of the mud pit with a loud squelch. Sometimes you’d get to a tangled mass of roots in front of you and ask yourself: “Is that an ‘under’-tree or an ‘over’-tree?” As we proceeded the questions kept coming, both mentally and verbally: how did these roots get to be so exposed? Why are the roots so high up? Are these roots or branches? How on earth do I get around this one? If they call this a trail, why don’t they cut these things? Why’d they stop maintaining the trail? Is this the right trail? Is this even a trail at all?
Progress was painfully slow. Nobody said much. We stopped taking pictures. If there had been just a hundred feet of roots then it’d simply be a fun little obstacle course. But with what was looking to be a solid mile of them our chances of reaching the summit before sunset seemed to be slipping away. Our speed slowed to less than half a mile per hour. It also began to dawn on me, and all of us I think, that we’d have to climb down the same steep roots and rocks on the way back. Even if we turned around now that meant that we were only halfway done. But, determined to reach the summit, we pushed on, hopeful that just around the corner the trail would open up.
Some stretches were especially tricky, particularly when there’d be a tangle of roots above a steep pitch of rock. Sometimes you’d be rock climbing, sometimes tree climbing, sometimes trying to squeeze between roots. By about 1pm, the trail finally leveled out a little and we got our first glimpse of the summit, 0.4 miles away. The clouds had parted for an instant and we could see a pointy hill a little ways up the ridge. It was impossible to visually gauge distance, the dense treecover provided no reference for your eye. The 0.4 miles indicated by the GPS seemed trivial, but with this type of trail that could take another hour.
Finding the route was challenging. Occasionally there was flagging tape on the trees, but there certainly weren’t any cut branches to follow. The only way to find the trail was to head for the black roots and avoid the green moss-covered ones. The roots were black because enough people had walked on them to rub off the moss. But it was such a lush environment and the trail was so seldom used that often there’d be moss covering everything and you’d be completely baffled about the location of the trail. We’d try a few different directions until we found the right one, then confirm it with the GPS. I was starting to realize why some people hire guides, although I certainly never regretted doing our hike unguided.
One time, at a particularly dense and confusing area, I decided to whip out the GPS to see which direction I should look for the trail. I didn’t have the trail on the GPS, but could at least see which direction would take us to the summit. But to my dismay the GPS had turned off. The batteries were dead! “Shoot,” I said. I had forgotten to bring spare AAs too. Usually Eric and I are super-cautious about relying on the GPS. In case the primary GPS fails we’ll bring maps, a compass, and we had recently acquired a new GPS, which meant that our old one could serve as a backup in case the primary one failed. But Eric was currently using the spare GPS while he climbed the highest mountain in Antigua. And since my maps were probably being folded into paper airplanes by some little boy in Grenada at that moment, we suddenly found ourselves without a good map.
Proceeding without the GPS made me uneasy, but it wasn’t a show-stopper. We still had plenty of daylight and even if it got a little dark we had each brought our headlamps. Nevertheless, I tried to play it cool and didn’t tell Amanda or her mom about it. Soon enough we figured out the correct trail anyhow and kept going.
By 1:15 I knew we were getting close but was starting to get a little doubtful about the validity of the trail. There had been quite a few possible intersections back there where we could have deviated from the correct route. I really needed to fire up the GPS to confirm. I pressed the ON button, but as soon as it powered up it immediately shut off. Shoot, it doesn’t even have enough juice to turn on. Then I remembered the trick we had learned in Winter School about warming batteries up. Even though it was 70F it might still work, I thought. I put the two AAs in my hands and rubbed them vigorously, trying to coax the last few chemical reactions to take place and release their precious electrons. I breathed on them for a while, then popped them back into the GPS and to my surprise it turned on! I quickly discovered that we were just 500ft from the summit, then hurriedly turned the device off.
THE ROOF OF DOMINICA
Moments later we rounded another small hill and could finally taste the summit. We noticed a mysterious little circular marker embedded in the rock and bent over to inspect it. “Inter-American Geodetic Survey | Do Not Disturb | Diablotin | 1953” it read. The summit! Wait, the summit? The next hill was obviously taller, based on both visual observation and the GPS. Perhaps this summit marker had been placed on a cloudy day when the surveyors couldn’t even see the actual summit? Very likely, we figured, since we’ve read this area is always cloudy.
After a final fifteen minutes of bush scrambling at last we found ourselves on the roof of Dominica. It was an exciting moment, but our enthusiasm was subdued because we knew that we’d have a very tough hike back and we probably wouldn’t return before dark. It was nothing but clouds in every direction, but a little bit of sun occasionally poked through to us. We could see the jungle extending about a quarter mile below us until it blended into clouds. We wondered if perhaps there was even another, taller mountain hiding somewhere in the clouds that had never been spotted, like Brazil’s Pico de Neblina…
There was actually a nice little grassy bald on the summit and even some dry rocks we could sit on. It had been a long time since we last had seen grass, dry rocks, and sun. On the summit we could finally relax a little; we wouldn’t be getting any deeper into the jungle, and we knew that we could overcome each of the obstacles we now faced on the return trip. We sat down and opened our little gourmet lunch of bread, cheese, beef jerky, green peppers, granola bars (from the US), and agua. Only a few words were spoken, but we all shared a common sigh of relief at having made it half-way.
We captured the two all-important summit photos: one of the three of us, one of me holding Amanda up. We took a backup photo on Amanda’s camera just in case mine failed. The hike had certainly been fun, but we didn’t want to have to repeat it for just a single photo like Mt Greylock in Massachusetts or High Point in New Jersey. This made Country High Point #2 for Amanda and her mom and #18 for me.
We took one last look around, took a deep breath, psyched ourselves up, and plunged back into the jungle. We knew that the descent would be tough, but at least we knew what we were up against. We took it slowly and carefully.
Staying on trail was even tougher during the descent. Twice we found ourselves off-trail and had to retrace our steps. Even though we never went farther than 50 feet off trail, it was still an eerie sensation that it was so easy to lose the trail. Someone who had hiked it years ago told me that during their descent they had lost the trail and found themselves bushwhacking through the jungle in the dark. He told me it had been “probably the scariest moment of my life.” We enabled our super-alert modes and stayed vigilant.
My crocs had held up so far but my feet weren’t too happy about it. The cool mud was comfortable to walk on, but embedded in the mud were tiny grains of sand that had rubbed my toe-knuckles raw. As the wounds dried out they became painful. Without socks I needed to improvise, so I took a few clumps of moss and stuffed them around my toes. It worked like a charm.
We triumphantly emerged from the unmaintained section and rejoiced at the stairs below us. True, the stairs were steep, but at least we wouldn’t be climbing over any more roots. This stretch of trail was much more doable in the dark, but we still had to be cognizant of the trail and especially had to watch out for waterbars.
On descents it’s easier to get off trail because you’re going in the direction that gravity is pulling you, just like a drop of water. When water falls it takes the steepest way down. Some trails have waterbars to divert the water off trail and into the woods. But often the little creeklets that form near these waterbars look like trails because there’s no vegetation and the ground is muddy, just like a trail. So that’s one reason to be particularly alert during descents.
As we neared our finish line the last glorious rays of setting sunlight filtered though the canopy and illuminated the path before us like a golden staircase. We emerged from the bush, victorious, at 5:58pm. “We’re back!” I said. It had taken us eight hours total, about 30% longer than the sign had predicted. Maybe the sign isn’t actually referring to the summit, we wondered, maybe it’s just talking about the end of the maintained section?
With a big sigh of relief we posed for one last photo in front of the sign. In the photo you can see us all covered in mud from waist to toe. When I headed into the woods for some final business I noticed a curious yellow sphere on the ground. Hmm, I thought, I’ve seen one of those before. It was a grapefruit! Turned out that I was in a grapefruit-tree grove and there were plenty more hanging on the tree. I clandestinely whacked a half-dozen of them off with a long stick just like a piñata and we chowed down on an exquisite celebration snack of grapefruit and corn flakes. It’s actually a nice combination when you’re hungry. It was Diablotin’s little reward for a successful day of climbing and staying away from the beach.
The next day Amanda’s mom generously treated us all to a night in the magnificent Papillote Wilderness Retreat near Roseau where we relaxed in the natural hot springs among the sounds of hummingbirds and waterfalls. Amanda and her mom eased into the warm water and laid back. “Now this is my kind of vacation!” Amanda’s mom said.
Morne Diablotins (4,747ft) – Roof of Dominica
Dec 31, 2012
I switched my 2-door RAV 4 into park, turned off the ignition, and started rotating the steering wheel far to the right. I was parked on a slight incline at the trailhead of Morne Diablotins in Dominica, and didn’t want the car to roll too far if the brakes failed. As I kept rotating the steering wheel I heard an ominous “click,” and then the wheel locked. “Uh-oh,” I thought. The wheel now wouldn’t turn in either direction. I struggled for 20 minutes, but nothing worked to unlock the wheel. I was out of cell service, on a lonely road in the middle of the jungle, far from any city, at night. I could still climb the mountain, but getting back to the airport may be tricky with a car stuck turning right. I sat down on the ground to ponder my options.
WINDIEST ROADS IN THE WORLD
I was in the Caribbean for a week over Christmas Break trying to finish off a few more country highpoints. On Sunday, Dec 31 I descended from Mount Scenery, the country highpoint of the Netherlands, on Saba Island and boarded an early afternoon flight to my next objective, Dominica.
I landed at Melville Hall, Dominica at 3:45pm on Sunday and immediately approached the car rental counter, with my Budget car reservation printed out in hand. There were three rental counters in the building, but only one person sat behind the desk playing with his cell phone.
“Hi, I have a reservation,” I said, handing him the form showing my 4-door economy car I’d selected online.
“All the cars are out. We only have an 8-passenger van,” the man responded matter-of-factly. The reservation form obviously had no significance down in the Caribbean.
“Um…do any other rental places have cars?” I asked hopefully.
The man turned to his side and woke up another guy napping in the corner.
“Yeah, yeah I got a car mon,” the second man said. “A 2-door Rav-4.”
“Great! I’ll take it,” I said in relief. I filled out all the paperwork, walked back into the airport to buy an official Dominica drivers permit, and then got in the car. The Rav-4 was the best vehicle I could have hoped for in Dominica: it was short and narrow enough to easily navigate small, windy roads, and all-terrain enough to get up rough gravel.
On the dashboard of the car a sign warned in big letters “DRIVE ON THE LEFT. HONK OFTEN.” I looked at the sign, and then thought back to Matthew’s description of his experience driving in Dominica a year ago. He had said there wasn’t a straight stretch of road in the whole country, that almost every turn was a blind turn, and that the roads were extremely narrow with no shoulders. This sign corroborated his description, and I mentally prepared myself for the difficult journey ahead. It didn’t help matters that Dominica is left-side drive, the opposite of the US.
I carefully backed the car up, and pulled out of the parking lot. Luckily it’s difficult to get lost in Dominica. There’s basically just one road going around the island with few turnoffs. I headed north out of Melville Hall, driving intermittently through lush jungle and small villages. I was amazed how many blind turns the Dominican DOT could throw into every mile of road! I had to honk the horn several times a minute, it seemed, trying to warn potential oncoming cars to stay out of my lane. The roads were narrow enough that it was almost impossible to avoid drifting into the opposing lane during a turn.
I passed through the small villages of Wesley, Anse Du Me, and Hampstead before hitting the first major town – Portsmouth. I had arrived in Dominica with no food in my backpack – thus having nothing to declare and clearing customs quickly – and now I stopped to stock up for the next day. I drove around looking hopefully for a grocery store, but couldn’t recognize any building as obviously selling food. I finally asked some locals and they pointed me to a nondescript little building. I went inside and scrounged up some bread, junk food, and water bottles from the meager pickings and then continued south.
As the sun was setting I turned off the main road just before the town of Dublanc at a sign for Sindicate. This road was even narrower than the main road, and wound straight up the hills into the interior of the Island, but luckily there were no other cars out tonight. I wound through fruit plantations, then into the jungle until finally reaching a sign for Morne Diablotins half an hour later. I pulled off the road, parked the car, and that’s where the steering wheel got stuck.
After my initial 20 minutes of fighting with the steering wheel, I had sat down to ponder my options.
- Give up and go to sleep, hike the mountain in the morning, and afterwards walk/hitchhike into town to find a tow truck to get me back to the airport
- Walk until I could find a cell signal, and call the rental company to ask what to do (but they were already closed)
- Fight the wheel again.
I chose option 3. What could it hurt to struggle a little more? I spent another 15 minutes trying to press every button in the car, pushing the car back and forward, kicking the wheels, yanking the wheel really hard, all to no avail. The car wouldn’t even turn on when I tried to turn the keys.
Finally, I tried sticking the keys in just halfway, and then pulling the wheel the opposite direction, and presto! It unclicked and returned to its normal position.
I let a huge sigh of relief, took out the keys, and didn’t dare touch the steering wheel again. Finally, I could worry about merely climbing the mountain. I took out my small tent, walked past a sign the may or may not have said ‘no camping’, and camped about a hundred feet into the woods.
THE JUNGLE GYM
I awoke at 7am and was packed and ready to go thirty minutes later. Now I could with certainty recognize the letters that spelled ‘no camping’ on the sign at the trailhead, but I had already taken down my tent so didn’t worry about it.
The trail at the base was steep but very well-maintained, with wooden steps leading through lush jungle. After an hour and a half I emerged on a small knoll poking out above the trees, with a view that I imagined being amazing if I weren’t inside the clouds. I imagine this is the point where most people stop hiking, because the trail seriously deteriorated afterwards. The viewpoint was obviously not the top, but I could envision it taking someone 2-3 hours to climb up there, and the trailhead sign had warned the hike could take 2-3 hours.
Beyond the viewpoint the trail basically turned into a muddy jungle gym. That morning I had made the decision to hike in crocs instead of sneakers, and the muddy trail was now vindicating that decision. Sometimes the trail would be flat, with shin-deep muddy sections that would suck the crocs right off my feet. Other times it was steep, requiring me to use my hands to pull my body up on tree branches. At all times it was a jungle gym. Big roots criss-crossed the trail at waist or head height almost the entire way, requiring acrobatic skills to crawl over, under, and through the jungle gym.
If I’d had an axe and a full day I could have cleared out the entire trail, but for some reason the Dominicans decided not to maintain this last stretch. Perhaps they want people to truly earn the summit of the country. I struggled through the jungle for 45 minutes before emerging on another small rocky outlook. I noticed a small geological survey marker in the rock that said “Morne Diablotins.” This is the second place people might be fooled into thinking was the summit. On a cloudy day like today it certainly looked like the tallest point around, and it even had this official marker to prove it. But, I knew from Matthew’s account hiking this mountain the previous year that this was merely a false summit.
I admired the view into the clouds for a moment, but then plunged back into the jungle. Fifteen minutes later I finally emerged on the true summit of Morne Diablotins, as verified by my GPS and the fact that nothing was obviously taller around me. It had taken 2.5 hours from the car, just as the sign at the trailhead had predicted (assuming it actually meant travel time to the summit for a reasonably-fast hiker). It had been drizzling most of the morning, but miraculously as I got to the summit the clouds broke and I got a panoramic view of almost the entire island.
I hung out for about 10 minutes, until the clouds rolled back in and it started drizzling again. The summit was actually kind of exposed to the rain, so I ducked back into the jungle and continued back down the trail.
BACK TO THE CAR
I soon emerged from the jungle gym and started hiking down the normal trail. Not far past the exit of the jungle gym I met a couple hiking up the trail.
“How much farther?” they asked, predictably.
“Um, I left the top an hour ago,” I responded. They looked disappointed. “And the trail gets a lot worse real soon. You have to use your hands most of the way to climb over and under stuff. It is pretty fun, though.” I could see what they were thinking ‘worse?! It’s already a hard trail!’
The man in front looked down at the muddy crocs on my feet, my bare chest (I was going shirtless since it was raining) and my skimpy little day pack. He and his wife were decked out in serious hiking boots, big packs, fancy trekking poles, and all kinds of fancy hiking accessories.
He must have thought I was treating the hike pretty nonchalantly based on my attire and attitude.
“Nope, never been here before. I responded. “Good luck. I should also mention, the first viewpoint you get to isn’t the top. And the second one that has a little marker in the rock that says ‘Morne Diablotins’ is also not the top. The trail gets even worse after that one, but the next viewpoint actually is the top. Have fun!”
I continued down the trail, jogging at this point because there were no jungle-gym roots to get in the way. I don’t think I’d told those people a single word they’d wanted to hear, and I would doubt if they turned around at the second viewpoint (or maybe the first) and called that close enough.
By 12:30pm I reached my car for a 5-hr round trip. I celebrated by picking a few grapefruit from the trees nearby and eating some lunch.
BACK TO THE AIRPORT
Somehow I’d planned on the hike taking all day based on other reports I’d read, and here I was with half a day still remaining. I decided to explore a little more of Dominica, so drove back down to the main road and looped up to the northern peninsula, then back down towards the airport. I passed the airport on the east coast of the island, drove into the jungle in the interior and found a stealthy dirt side road to camp out on that night.
I flew out the next morning for the next objective of the trip – Mt Gimie in St Lucia.