“Wow, that lake is actually boiling,” I said out loud, but mostly to myself. The sight in front of me was so incongruous, so strange, that I needed to explain it to myself I guess. Our family had just made it to the overlook of the Boiling Lake here on Dominica after a pretty muddy and challenging four-hour hike in the rain. What a strange sight to look down at a +20 acre lake that was bubbling and rolling like a witches cauldron out of the sulfur mist . . .
When we arrived on Dominica, we pulled together a “to-do” list, and the Boiling Lake was at the very top of that list. Everyone in the family wanted to go, so our first week here we hired a local guide (Nigel George from Calibishie), and set out at 6AM for the town of Laudat on the south western side of the island. Actually, we tried to leave at 6AM, but our car battery was dead and we had to wait until around 8:30AM for a replacement to arrive. Nigel was worried we didn’t have enough time to get the hike in because of the delay, but the car came sooner than we expected, and we tracked Nigel down on the main road. When we picked him up, he told me that he is building up his guiding business and that he can sometimes find a guiding job on the road when tourists pass by. Hard work, I’m sure, and it made me think about always trying to be respectful to people I see offering services here (and elsewhere).
The Start of the Hike
Dominica has nine active volcanoes, the most of any of the Eastern Caribbean islands, and the Boiling Lake hike takes you directly into one of them. The hike starts at the Ti Tou Gorge, a narrow slot canyon that features prominently in the second Pirates of Caribbean movie. It’s an eight mile trip in, and I think there was maybe one section of flat trail about 20 yards long. The rest of the time, we were either going up or down. I was worried about the kids, but by the end of the day, I was at the back of the pack with Jimmy, Maddie and Caitlin leading the way and me just trying to hang on. It sucks getting old! Nigel entertained the kids with stories about the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set, the stars from the movie that he knew, one of which drank like a sailor, and other various tidbits. It certainly helped to keep their minds off the long hike. Guides are licensed here, and Nigel had to go to a special school to get his license. He was really knowledgable about the local flora and fauna, and took great pride in his country and the fact that you can live off the land here without much money.
The Valley of Desolation
After a few hours of hiking, we reached the highest spot on the trail, and which point we were supposed to be able to see amazing views of Roseau and the Caribbean sea to the West, Morne Micotrin to the North, and the Grande Soufriere Hills and the Atlantic Ocean far beyond to the East. Unfortunately, all we saw was the inside of a cloud and felt the howling wind. But it made the hike down into the Valley of Desolation even that much more mysterious and surreal.
The Valley of Desolation is well named. It feels other worldly. Sulfur hangs in the air, and the trail drops you steeply down off the ridge line into a volcanic caldera full of steam vents, fumaroles and hot muddy pools. Some of the streams and rivers along the trail are scalding hot, others are cool. I had a hard time telling which was which, and I was glad to have Nigel along. One of the other guides there took a few raw eggs from his pack and boiled them in one of the hot pools. It was truly bizarre, and we talked about the amazing power of nature–that we were feeling the energy and heat escaping from the magma layer deep below us. And that these cracks were caused by the Atlantic tectonic plate colliding with the Caribbean tectonic plate at a rate of 1 to 2 inches each year. In fact, this collision is what formed all of the islands we plan to visit on this trip. Yes, it’s fun to homeschool your kid so you can trot out fun facts like Cliff Clavin.
Into the Valley-2015
The First Recorded Exhibition into the Valley-1875
After stopping to refill our water bottles at a spring, we made the last push up to the overlook of the lake, had a great lunch, and took about nine thousand pictures. If this place was in the U.S., there would be hundreds of people here. We had the place to ourselves, until a German couple and their guide showed up right before we left. Pretty cool.
We Made It!
We stopped on our way back through the Valley of Desolation for a rest in a hot river pool, complete with a waterfall. It was like a hot tub, and my tired bones didn’t want to get out and face the hike back.
But we rallied and pressed on. As my daughter Caitlin said, it’s not a vacation until we get pushed to the point of exhaustion 🙂 We made the hike in a total trip time of 7.5 hours, and had just enough daylight for a fantastic swim in the river, complete with a hot springs shower before heading back home.
Hot Shower Dominican Style
If you ever travel to Dominica, I’d highly recommend this hike. It’s certainly possible to do without a guide, but we were very happy to have Nigel along as it allowed me to relax and not worry about safety, getting lost, falling into a boiling pit, etc.
It was well worth the trip!