Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hiking Wai'tukubuli National Trail: Segment 5

Hi there!

In 2011, Dominica completed development of its 115 mile long Wai'tukubuli National Trail (WNT). "Wai'tukubuli" is the Kalinago word for the island, meaning "tall is her body," which is an apt description for this most mountainous of the Caribbean islands. The Kalinago, also called Caribs, are the indigenous people of the island; their ancestors arrived on the island thousands of years ago from mainland South America. About 3,700 Kalinago currently live in the Kalinago Territory in the east of the island. I plan to learn more about their culture and heritage. If you are interested in Kalinago history I recommend starting with these links:


    Wai'tukubuli National Trail Map
The Wai'tukubuli trail stretches from Scott's Head in the south, running north through the center of the island, bending toward the east coast at Castle Bruce before heading toward the center again and continuing north and hooking to finish in Cabrits on the northwest coast. The trail is divided into 14 segments and goes through all three of Dominica's national parks: the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO world heritage site), Morne Diablotin National Park (including the highest point in Dominica at 4,747 feet), and Cabrits National Park (an important historical site and wetland).

Last Saturday, I got to hike Segment 5 of the WNT. This is a 12km section from Pont Casse in the center of the island to the east coast village of Castle Bruce, and purportedly one of the easier segments. It's listed at about 6 hours in the guide book, and that seems about accurate.

This hike was the Second Annual Mountain Chicken Hike; it was part of the public outreach efforts by the Mountain Chicken Project as a way to raise awareness about this incredible frog and encourage people to get outside and onto the trail. The event was a big success, with about 40 participants. It was my first involvement in all-things-mountain-chicken, and a great introduction into conservation efforts here in Dominica. I met a few more folks from the Forestry Dept, and got talking with the people in charge of the mountain chicken project. I still need to check with them whether I have their permission to post their names and any photos of them here, so expect an updated version of this page soon! If you are a Facebook user: check out their page here.

information about the Mountain Chicken at the trail-head
We all met early in the morning at the Botanic Gardens and took a drive up to Pont Casse in two buses. It was so encouraging that there were so many people there who were interested in the mountain chicken and in hiking, who wanted to spend their Saturday out on the trail. After a group picture and the handing out of free t-shirts (!) we all set out along the path.

beginning WNT Segment 5 
It was slow going at first, just because the group was so large, and the trail very slick from the recent rainy days. Although Segment 5 is one of the flatter portions of the WNT, the trail is still a good challenge! Even once the group had all settled out into each person's respective pace, I found myself having to slow down and be very cautious about my footing over the densely packed roots, leaves, and rocks that make up the surface of the path.

One thing that continues to impress me is just how well marked the trail is. The way is very easy to follow, with blue and yellow paired blazes painted on rocks, trees, and pavement (when the trail intersects with roads). Signs also point hikers in the right direction whenever there is choice of paths. Kudos to those who maintain these trails!

one of Dominica's 365 rivers
I managed to keep my hiking boots dry for about the first third of the hike, despite the slippery and muddy descents and climbs. But, I eventually gave in to having squishy wet feet at one of the many stream-crossings we made. It is said that Dominica has 365 rivers, which is such a satisfying number--one for each day of the year. It's a very poetic notion. I need to pursue that...Anyway, I met at least a dozen of these engorged rivers during this hike, sinking my feet and legs deep into them, but luckily keeping my pack dry the whole time!

One of the bigger streams we crossed pours into the Emerald Pool. I'd visited this site once before while siteseeing with two companions I'd met at the St. James Guesthouse, but was thrilled to see it again. The water freefalls about 30 feet down into the pool via a deep notch in the volcanic rock, forming a beautiful oval pool that reflects the greenery of the surrounding forest. It really is a gem. One my last visit (there's an access path from a nearby road to the pool) we swam and stood under the falls to get a pounding but free and natural massage! One neat observation I made about the pool: the rocks in the pool are extremely well sorted by size, with bigger cobbles on the downstream side all the way down to sand on the upstream side where the river has carved out a cave of miniature canyons.

Further on down the trail, I and my similarly paced hiking partners came to a large, wide river. The trail led to a bridge, but one of the firemen who had accompanied the group in case of any safety concerns called us down to the riverbank where he was waiting. He explained that a recent landslide must have wiped out the trail, because it was impassable beyond the bridge. We would need to ford downriver a while before finding a way back up the bank to pick up the trail on the other side.

The rest of the group eventually caught up and we journeyed down river. I had little idea how long we were going for, or how we'd scramble up the steep bank, but this was the point when the hike turned into a real adventure.

the landslide that took out the trail
As we continued splashing and wading though the rushing water, it became clearer and clearer that returning to the trail would be a real challenge. The water deepened, and I removed my pack so that I could carry it balanced on my head--worried that one wrong slip would mean no more phone and no more camera. Luckily I kept my footing!

By group consensus, we forded back to the side of the river where we'd begun, except now much further downstream. We gazed across to the landslide and contemplated attempting a scramble up the loose earth, rocks, and logs, but decided we'd hoof it on the road instead. We found a way back toward the paved road through some farm fields, and passed an unimpressed bovine. I smiled, remembering the cows I met in the orchard below RTC in Bhutan.

The mood of the group changed drastically once we got on the road, and people began to talk about why in the world were we walking like this--we might as well just get a ride. Maybe it was fatigue or hunger motivating these comments, but it's interesting how what's under our feet makes a big difference in our perspective. After only a few minutes a pick up with two Rasta men in the cab drove by, and several group members flagged the truck down. I'm not sure how we managed to fit, but at least twenty of us jammed into the bed, and held on for the windy, bumpy ride. The rest of the group elected to continue to walk--we were quite close to the end of the trip anyway, and arrived soon at a pavilion in Castle Bruce where lunch awaited us!
end of the hike by the shore in Castle Bruce

Alas, there was no time to visit the beach and play in the Atlantic breakers, but it was a good time, and an easy ride back on the bus to my lovely place here in Trafalgar. I'm hoping to do at least a few more segments of the WNT during my time here in Dominica. Ideally, I may be going to the Boiling Lake soon. It's definitely on my must-see list. I'm also considering trying to get SCUBA certified while I'm here? Weeeooo many possibilities lie ahead!

Much love (and wishes to hear your hiking stories),

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