The Slumbering Giant That Awakes

The bay at St. Pierre Mont Pelee in the distance

The bay at St. Pierre Mont Pelee in the distance

On the northern tip of Martinique, on the west side, there is a wide peaceful bay populated by small wooden fishing boats. As we slowly approach it, the old buildings of a sleepy town at the foot of a massive bald mountain begin to take shape. The mountain is Mont Pelée: the deadliest volcano in modern history whose titanic eruption in 1902 killed nearly 30,000 people in this same town, St. Pierre.

Fishing boats in the anchorage at St. Pierre, Martinique

Fishing boats in the anchorage at St. Pierre, Martinique

The story of St Pierre and the volcano

Martinique was settled in 1635 by the French and St. Pierre, a vibrant colonial town, quickly became its most important city: ‘the Paris of the West Indies’, complete with an extravagant 800-seat theatre. By the end of the nineteenth century St. Pierre had a population of over 20,000, mostly local Martiniquans descendants of African slaves, but the wealth and political power was in the hands of the Creole and the few French colonial officials and civil servants. But in 1902 things were about to change. Very important elections were scheduled to take place on May 11 of that year to decide if the ruling Progressive party will maintain control of the island or the black candidate from the Radical party will take over for the first time.

Entrance to the theater ruins, St Pierre, Martinique

Entrance to the theater ruins, St Pierre, Martinique

When in February of 1902 the mountain exhaled sulphurous gases killing birds, and in April tremors shook the slopes and a cloud of ash showered the town and its residents, the officials couldn’t care less. Instead of evacuating, they declared that „there is nothing in the activity of Mt. Pelée that warrants a departure from St. Pierre,“ and ordered the voters to remain put and not to leave the town until after election day. On May 5 the rim of the crater lake whose water was beginning to boil broke and volcanic mudflow rushed down the slopes at 100 kilometers per hour killing 23 people, burying everything in its path all the way to the sea where it generated a tsunami and flooded the lowlands.

Mont Pelee, Martinique

Mont Pelee, Martinique

Hell begun. Snakes and insects fleeing the mountain slopes invaded the town and villages. Hordes of red ants, poisonous snakes, spiders, and huge centipedes crawled inside homes and barns as pigs, horses and dogs screamed with agony. Hundreds of domestic animals as well as children died by snake and centipede bites. People from the villages nearest to the volcano sought refuge in St Pierre, four miles directly under the crater, thinking it is safer there based on the government’s reassurances published in local newspapers. The population grew to nearly 28,000. Yet, some tried to leave the town of St Pierre and head south to the second largest city, Fort-de-France, but Governor Mouttet brought army troops to patrol the roads with orders not to let anyone leave the town until elections, on May 11.
At 7:50 a.m. on May 8, three days before the elections, the volcano erupted. The cataclysm started with a deafening roar, an atomic-like blast, and a black cloud of gas, ash and rock heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius replaced the sky and fell over St Pierre. Homes swallowed, people incinerated within minutes. 28,000 people… The 18 boats in the bay were also destroyed, their remains still lying on the bottom of the sea. Only few escaped in time. Only two survived the fury of the mountain.

Mont Pelee, Martinique

Mont Pelee, Martinique

A young girl terrified by the eruption jumped in a small wooden boat and managed to get to a tiny cave near the shore where she used to play with her friends. Later, she was found unconscious but alive drifting in her damaged little boat two miles away from the cave.

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A shoemaker miraculously survived in the room of his home, badly burned but alive.

Jail and Theater ruins, St Pierre, Martinique. Mont Pelee in the background

Jail and Theater ruins, St Pierre, Martinique. Mont Pelee in the background

In the local jail, a convict who misbehaved was placed in isolation in a stone cell with thick walls and no windows, which saved his life. Later, his sins were pardoned and he joined a circus to be exhibited around the world as the Lone Survivor of St. Pierre.
Today, only the ruins of the old theatre, the church and the jail with its isolation cell remain. All other houses and public establishments destroyed by the volcanic explosion and the fires that lasted a few days have been rebuilt. St. Pierre is no longer the busy extravagant town it once was, but a small quiet fishermen’s village with a few restaurants, a church, and a French pastry shop.

Fishermen, St Pierre, Martinique

Fishermen, St Pierre, Martinique

Hiking to the top of the volcano

We take the bus from St. Pierre after waiting for more than one hour at the bus stop, and get to the village nearest to the mountain. From there we walk for over an hour on a road up to the trailhead which starts from a car park at 830m (2,700ft). We begin the two-hour climb to the summit.

Hike to Mont Pelee, Martinique

Hike to Mont Pelee, Martinique

The trail is excellent, with steps and narrow paths at places, and a few rock scrambles over old magma deposits, domes, and andesie flows. There are no trees, only low shrubs and grasses and a few frail palms near the summit. The air is misty and the mountain is enveloped in a thick cloud. It drizzles. There are snails all over the place. Small hummingbirds making tiny helicopter sounds with their wings often come very near to check us out.

hummingbird

hummingbird

The dome at the summit, 1379m (4583ft), inside the crater is covered in vegetation and there is no volcanic activity, no smell of sulfur, no gases coming out of the earth. The giant is quietly slumbering again.

Maya

Maya

Maya is jumping happily up and down the trail, leading us like usually, when suddenly she jumps sideways screaming with fear and starts crying. We freeze. There is a HUGE hairy brown spider in the middle of the path, like a tarantula!

Martinique tree spider

Martinique tree spider

The Antilles pinktoe tarantula, or Martinique red tree spider is native to Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica. He lives up in the trees where he builds elaborate spiderweb tunnels. These tarantulas are not poisonous, and are very „friendly“ and docile, as well as beautifully colored, for which reasons people capture them and keep them as pets. We think that wild creatures belong in the wild, not in captivity… In any case, this little Big Guy frightened us, as we didn’t know he was harmless; we found out that later.

Mont Pelee, Martinique

Mont Pelee, Martinique

Up at the summit we walk around the crater and the few domes, rest for a bit, and start heading back down. It’s a long way. We are at the car park by the early afternoon, but it takes us over an hour to walk down from the car park to the village. We are exhausted and hungry and can’t wait to get in the bus and sit down. We wait for a long time at the bus stop. People pass by. Finally we ask a guy when the bus is coming, and he tells us, there is no bus to St. Pierre in the afternoon, only in the morning. Great…

Hike to Mont Pelee, Martinique

Hike to Mont Pelee, Martinique

We start walking again down the road, hitchhiking. Many cars pass by. Big fancy cars with just one person in them, unwilling to give us a lift. If this was Saba or any other non-French island, we’d be home long time ago. We calculate how long it will take us to walk all the way down to St. Pierre. We tell Maya we will probably be back home, on the boat, in the middle of the night…

Fata Morgana at St Pierre anchorage

Fata Morgana at St Pierre anchorage

After a very long time, a very small car pulls over. The driver is a young French woman and she has two kids in the back. There are two spots left for the three of us, but we manage to squeeze in. We are so grateful. Some people with small cars have big hearts.
We can now imagine returning to our boat in the anchorage around sunset, the journey over, time to eat French baguette sandwiches, drink beer, and relax watching the clouds drifting down from the bald mountain and over the sea.

St Pierre, Martinique

St Pierre, Martinique

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Across The Valley of Desolation to Boiling Lake

Boiling Lake, Dominica

Boiling Lake, Dominica

There is a lake in Dominica where you could make a soup for giants, for it looks like a pot and it’s full of boiling water!

Boiling Lake is the second largest hot spring in the world. Some Dominicans say, it is actually the largest, as the one that currently holds the record, Frying Pan Lake in the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley in New Zealand, is merely steaming, not really boiling. We will have to go to New Zealand and confirm this. But until then, let’s see if the one in Dominica is really boiling!

Boiling Lake steaming in the distance

Boiling Lake steaming in the distance

We take the bus to the capital Roseau and from there the bus to another village, Loda, near the trailhead. At the last stop we are greeted by locals who offer to be our guides. We refuse. Guides to Boiling Lake charge 100 US$ per person but are not obligatory. We enter the rainforest without a guide and the 3-hour 8-mile journey in one direction begins.

The bridge leading to the beginning of Boiling Lake trail, Dominica

The bridge leading to the beginning of Boiling Lake trail, Dominica

In the beginning the trail is very easy, like always, gently leading us up, on steps made of wood among beautiful rainforest. But after that crazy hike up Morne Diablotin, which started all right too, we are a bit skeptical.

Maya on the trail

Maya on the trail

We reach a small river after about an hour and from there the hike gests more difficult, with some physically challenging moments, but nothing to be afraid of. The trail all the way to Boiling Lake is one of the best straightforward trails we have hiked so far, with lots and lots of convenient steps of wood or stone, a succession of sections going up and down, instead of a constant uphill hike, and just two or three a bit more difficult rock-scrambles.

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On the way, we even meet a woman in her late 70-s with her granddaughter and a guide on the trail to the lake, even though she didn’t make the final couple of miles.

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The temperature gets cooler as we get higher, and Maya puts on her rain poncho, against drizzle and cold. But as soon as we reach the Valley of Desolation it gets hot again.

Maya

Maya

The Valley of desolation… If I was a mean little troll I would live here, among the bubbling boiling smelly sulphur-water pots letting out vapors and gases. I would hide near the small spraying and hissing geysers, in cracks and holes. The small stream that runs through and beneath the ground would be my enchanted river.

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

The Valley of Desolation is a volcanic area with hot, steamy and moist air which smells sharply of sulphur. It is also one of the most mysterious and beautiful places I have ever seen, smelled and gone through, with hot-water streams: some milky-white, others grey like led, others inexplicably black, creating stunning abstract patterns of colors and shapes.

Ivo

Ivo

The entire landscape in the valley is in fact barren and desolate, hellish, devoid of life. Not many plants grow here due to the poisonous volcanic gases constantly escaping the earth’s crust.

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

After spending some time in the Valley of Desolation, we continue a few more minutes, across a hot-water milky-colored river with a small waterfall and a hot-water pond, to reach the Boiling Lake, steaming in the distance.

Hot-water waterfall and pond

Hot-water waterfall and pond

Almost continuously enveloped in clouds of vapor, its greyish water forever bubbling, its temperature along the edges is 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit or about 90 degrees Celsius, and its boiling center is too hot to measure.

Mira at Boiling Lake, Dominica

Mira at Boiling Lake, Dominica

Dominica’s Boiling Lake, about 200-250 feet in diameter located at the bottom of a large sinkhole-like basin is in fact a flooded fumarole: a crack in the Earth’s crust near a volcano, which emits steam, gases and heat escaping from the molten lava below.

Boiling Lake, Dominica

Boiling Lake, Dominica

High steep rock walls create the lake’s basin. Its cliff-top ledge is about 100 feet directly above its shore. You wouldn’t want to slip here and fall in the pot…

The landscape around the lake is similarly barren and melancholic as the one in the Valley of Desolation. Perpetual mist, dead plants and low grasses, wet rocks covered with orange moss.

Maya in Valley of Desolation, Dominica

Maya in Valley of Desolation, Dominica

We eat our sandwiches on top of the cliff, the lake boiling below us, before we start heading back, feeling enchanted.

We look at the heavy green mountains around us when the clouds permit us to see, and we are speechless with awe. Nature keeps amazing us again and again

The long but not difficult trail to the lake, across the Valley of Desolation, leading us to the Boiling Lake itself became our favorite journey while visiting Dominica.

Maya at Boiling Lake, Dominica

Maya at Boiling Lake, Dominica

 

More Pictures from The Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake trail

Wooden steps

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Valley of Desolation, Dominica

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

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Morne Diablotin. Lost in The Labyrinth of Hell

View from Morne Diablotin

View from Morne Diablotin

Dominica is the youngest of all the Caribbean islands, still being shaped by volcanic and geothermal activity. Rich with rivers and waterfalls, lush forested mountains teaming with wildlife, Dominica  offers miles and miles of hiking trails all around the island. The ultimate and most difficult hike is not The Boiling Lake, as many wrongly think, but the trail to the highest peak standing at 1,447 meters (4,747ft) above the sea: Morne Diablotin, The Devil’s Mountain.

Road to the trailhead

Road to the trailhead

After a night of abundant tropical rain, around 7:30 a.m., we take a bus from Plymouth direction Roseau to the intersection of the road leading up to the Morne Diablotin trail. The bus ride, 15-20 minutes, costs us 3 EC per person and the driver knows exactly where to drop us off. We start up the road, steep but paved, walking among farms and agricultural lands, stopping often to eat fruits.

Maya with grapefruit

Maya with grapefruit

There are mango, oranges, and grapefruit trees on the side of the road covered with ripe fruit, some of it lying on the ground under the trees.

Ivo and Maya near a fallen banana tree

Ivo and Maya near a fallen banana tree

Maya, the blue wizard,  saving bananas from rotting on the ground.

Maya, the blue wizard, saving bananas from rotting on the ground.

We have a fresh delicious fruit salad for breakfast right there on the road, and gather a few mangoes and grapefruits for later in a bag adding to the already heavy load Ivo is hauling on his back: water bottles, sandwiches, rain ponchos, and jackets for the three of us.

Mira with mango

Mira with mango

Fresh grapefruit

Fresh grapefruit

Maya and Ivo

Maya and Ivo

The higher we go the colder it gets and it drizzles every now and then, so we put on our blue rain ponchos. We meet people working on their lands, gathering fruits, planting trees, greeting us.

Planting a coconut palm tree

Planting a coconut palm tree

After 2 hours, already a bit tired of walking uphill, we reach the trailhead where a warning sign explains that the hike to the mountain summit is between 2 and 3 hours long in one direction and should not be attempted after 10:30 a.m. It’s 10:00 a.m. so we are good to go. There is no one here to present our one-week park permits to, so we simply enter the park and start walking.

Maya at Morne Diablotin trailhead

Maya at Morne Diablotin trailhead

“A certified guide is strongly recommended”, the sign advises. We don’t have a guide as they charge somewhere between 50 and 100 $US per person for this hike.

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In the beginning we walk slightly uphill on steps made of wood. Soon, the climb becomes steeper and the steps are replaced by roots. The forest is beautiful: giant wet ferns and tall trees covered with moss. The ground is very muddy from last night’s rain and our progress is slow, choosing where to step. After an hour I start thinking, this isn’t too bad. We can survive this terrain for 2 more hours.

Maya in the forest

Maya in the forest

Maya walking on roots

Maya walking on roots

The devil heard my though.

Just like that, the world transforms, like in a bad dream. Dark roots like monstrous intestines emerge from the ground to form an ugly twisted web all around us and above our heads.

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The tropical rainforest is replaced by nightmarish woods with trees that grow upside-down and sideways, twist and disappear in the swampy ground. Never seen anything like it, except maybe in horror films. The trail is no more.

Maya

Maya

We are now in a labyrinth of hell, painfully making our way up and up between these giant slippery moss-covered roots and branches, climbing on boulders, walking on trees, sinking in mud. If it was just a section that ends after 15 minutes it would be a fun experience, but this nightmare goes on forever, hour after hour. We wish we had superhuman powers, we wish we were ninjas, or lizards who can crawl, or birds who can fly, so that we could save ourselves. Even a certified guide wouldn’t be of any help here unless he can perform miracles.

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Three hours have passed and we are still in the infernal maze of roots and mud, still climbing up, still haven’t reach the summit. For the first time, I give up. I just don’t want to suffer anymore, and I know I have all this way, two hours of torture, to go back down. So I stop.

Mira

Mira

Ivo and Maya persist, determined to reach Dominica’s highest dome. I wait for them for one more hour, unable to sit anywhere, mud and roots covered with damp moss all around me. When they return, Ivo tells me it gets even worse further up and there is nothing really to see on top, especially with all those thick clouds. He had to carry Maya on his back a few times climbing up huge boulders and more of those hateful roots.

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I can’t believe they are calling this “a trail”. How is this a trail in a national park?

mud

mud

Maya

Maya

We have walked to a cave in Guatemala up the mountain through a jungle without trail, cutting vegetation and making steps in the steep ground with machetes in order to pass, walking across precipices and fallen trees. We have hiked for two days, across different climates and terrains, to the highest Caribbean peak with guides and mules, sleeping in mountain shelters. But we have never seen such an impossible “trail” as the Morne Diablotin one. We have never felt so defeated by mud and roots, so at the end of our strength.

Maya

Maya

Somehow we manage to get back down to the trailhead without any of us getting injured, even though we all fall in the mud over branches now and then.

Maya fell in the mud

Maya fell in the mud

Ivo fell over branches

Ivo fell over branches

It’s 5:00 p.m. and we haven’t had the chance to stop and eat anywhere. We are starving, tired, destroyed. We sit on the road for a while and eat our sandwiches, then we hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck returning from a day’s work at the farms, loaded with avocados, pumpkins, oranges, and bananas. Then back on the bus, and back home, on the boat.

Maya at the end of the journey

Maya at the end of the journey

It has been a crazy hike in the most surreal terrain ever and Maya, 11-years-old, did really great. She remained positive and enthusiastic the entire time, leading the group, jumping from branch to branch. And even though at the end of the journey she cried a little bit, from exhaustion and pain in the legs, she was really happy she made it. I didn’t cry, but I also didn’t make it all the way to the top, and I felt miserable most of the time. Yet, now, looking back at this unique journey, I feel proud and glad we went there. One more incredible story to tell, one more unforgettable memory. (Just don’t ask me to go hike up to Morne Diablotin ever again…)

Maya

Maya

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Tall is Her Body

Tall is her body, her spirit young and independent. With devastating energy, she is fresh and attractive like no other: Dominica, „Isle of beauty Isle of splendor, Isle, to all so rich and rare…“(Dominica’s National Anthem)

Plymouth anchorage, Dominica

Plymouth anchorage, Dominica

The independent island-nation of Dominica stands out in the group of the Lesser Antilles Islands like a gorgeous young girl in a crowd. The youngest of all other islands in the region she is still being shaped by volcanic and geothermal activity making her the island with the most diverse, rich, unspoiled nature. Tall mountains and volcano craters covered with rainforest, home of rare plant and animal species, hundreds of lakes, rivers and waterfalls, hot springs, sandy beaches and reefs: land and waters teaming with life.

Dominica, East Coast

Dominica, East Coast

Here, we climbed the tallest of her peaks: Morne Diablotin standing at 1,447 meters (4,747 ft) above the sea level, the most unconceivable hike we have ever done, and we walked up to Boiling Lake, the second largest hot-water spring in the world, a lake inside a crater that is actually boiling!

Mira at Boiling Lake, Dominica

Mira at Boiling Lake, Dominica

We jumped in deep river-ponds, we bathed in geothermal pools, we showered under spectacular waterfalls, and we swam among hot bubbles coming out of coral reefs.
In the forests, where wild mango, grapefruit, and banana trees offered us snacks, we met the green Sisserou parrots, endangered endemic birds, which flew above our heads screaming like mad sorcerous some cacophonic warnings. And on the road, near a vast banana plantation, a shy agouti crossed our path.

Huge grasshopper, Dominica

Huge grasshopper, Dominica

During his second voyage, Columbus, his imagination stiff by the tropical heat, gave her the present name, Dominica, as it was Sunday when he passed by on November 3, 1493, and he had run out of saints for naming islands. But her original inhabitants, the Carib and Kalinago Indians used to call their island Wai‘tu kubuli, meaning “Tall is her body” for her many volcanoes and mountains with peaks lost inside clouds.

View of Dominica's West Coast from Morne Diablotin

View of Dominica’s West Coast from Morne Diablotin

As the neighboring islands were settled by the French and the British, their native populations decimated, their lands planted with sugarcane harvested by imported African slaves, Dominica remained unsettled, a neutral territory and a sanctuary for all remaining Caribs in the region until the 18th century. Today, Dominica is the only Eastern Caribbean island where about 3,000 pre-Columbian Caribs still live in a few small villages on the east coast: a designated Carib Territory.

Ivo at Trafalgar Fall, Dominica

Ivo at Trafalgar Fall, Dominica

As we went to visit them, we met Matilda Archibald selling woven baskets and hats by the road to passing tourists. She offered us guavas from her garden and a homemade ice cream from a large spiky fruit we’ve never seen before. It was fragrant and sweet.
“Comeback and visit me again”, she said. We would love to comeback, we thought as we kept going.

Matilda Archibald, descendant of the Carib Indians, Carib Territory, Dominica

Matilda Archibald, descendant of the Carib Indians, Carib Territory, Dominica

Further down the road we marveled at stunning vistas from tall cliffs: gorgeous bays with vegetation-covered rocks sticking out of the sea among reefs, another one of the many locations on the island providing the film set for The Pirates of The Caribbean.

Dominica's East Coast

Dominica’s East Coast

Later, we went for a dip at Champagne Reef, near Roseau, the capital, where geothermal volcanic activity not far from the shore has transformed a large underwater area into a bowl of bubbling ticklish champagne. Snorkeling there is a magical fun experience with hot fuzzy bubbles bumping into your goggles.

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Yes, even though Dominica is the least popular of all the Caribbean destinations, getting half the amount of visitors per year than Haiti, even though her economy is very much struggling, as most independent Caribbean nations, with poverty and unemployment her biggest issues, and even though land and water pollution are threatening the health of her rivers and coastal areas, Dominica is still ‘The Nature Island’, very much self-sufficient, where agriculture is the main economy and the inhabitants produce and consume an impressive amount of local fruits and vegetables, with unlimited freshwater supplies, clean hydroelectric production, as well as a geothermal project developed by Iceland, and many effective social and healthcare resources available to the population.

Maya at Champagne Reef, Dominica

Maya at Champagne Reef, Dominica

This is the Caribbean island with the most rivers and nature trails, and we enjoyed every moment of our two week visit there. We fell deeply in love with Dominica. We even thought that if we had to choose only one island in the Caribbean where we would return and even live, it would be her.

Emerald Pond Waterfall, Dominica

Emerald Pond Waterfall, Dominica

 

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Mountain of Magic

-by Mira

For our good friend Nikolay Tzanevski

 

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In august of 1976 there were indications that La Grande Soufrière volcano in Guadeloupe will erupt with an expected explosion the size of 6 atomic bombs.

In August 1976 all inhabitants of the island’s capital and biggest city Basse-Terre situated right at the foot of the western slope of the mountain were evacuated, for, the scientists agreed, a catastrophe of great magnitude was inevitable.

 

La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe

La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe

A filmmaker and his crew were allowed to fly to Guadeloupe and film the final moments of its deserted capital. That filmmaker was Werner Herzog who found an eerie ghost town full of starving dogs, a bay full of dead snakes who have fled the mountain only to drown in the sea, and a homeless person who has refused to leave.

There were tremors and shock waves, 1257 earthquakes recorded, dense poisonous sulfuric clouds gushing from the mountain craters, yet, magically, nothing happened. Never before seismologists had measured signs of eruption of such magnitude, yet an eruption never occurred. The people who thought they would never again see their homes in Basse-Terre returned. La Grande Soufrière went back to slumber.

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In August 1976, back in Bulgaria, my mother gave birth to a baby-girl. That baby was me. I am a Leo.

This year, to celebrate my 38th birthday and the 38th anniversary of the active volcano’s failed eruption, we climb La Grande Soufrière in Guadeloupe.

The Life Nomadik family at La Grande Soufrière volcano, Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family at La Grande Soufrière volcano, Guadeloupe

The top of the volcano is also the highest point on the island rising 1,467 m (4,813 ft) above the sea.

The hike starts from a road east of Basse-Terre. There are no entry fees to the park and tons of visitors swarm the mountain slopes, especially on sunny cloudless days.

We start early in the morning sharing a car from Deshaies with our Australian mates Mel and Caryn. We have a long steep walk ahead of us.

Our volcano-climbing shoes. We are ready!

Our volcano-climbing shoes. We are ready!

The climb to the top is about two hours starting with an easy walk in the rainforest on almost flat terrain. The path is paved and shady. We pass by a small stone pool with hot volcanic spring water. Many people come here just for the hot springs and don’t go hiking further.

Hot volcanic springs in the forest.

Hot volcanic springs in the forest.

As soon as we are out of the forest we see the volcano, heavy and silent, standing before us, with a mantle of thin grey cloud. It’s all very strange and mysterious. It’s also a lot colder.

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The nature here is out of this world: low vegetation, damp orange moss over huge boulders adorned with small purple flowers.

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From the slopes, when the clouds clear, we can see Basse-Terre, the sea and Iles des Saintes in the distance.

 

Free Million Dollar View

Free Million Dollar View

But most of the time it’s foggy and the landscape is mysterious. Giant rocks are sticking out of the ground vertically, like teeth in the the low clouds, the result of some terrific Jurassic event millions of years ago.

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The walk up is now steep and narrow, at places difficult, but pleasant all the way to the top.

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We pass by deep shafts, ancient cracks on the slopes of the mountain, the result of seismic tremors and earthquakes.

Lava shafts

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We reach the summit, the highest point in Guadeloupe. We are now standing on top of a volcano.

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The smell of sulfur near the craters is so strong it burns the eyes and sticks to the throat.

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There are a few craters and a maize of small paths among jagged boulders, and in the mist of the fog we become disoriented and restless.

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Evo heads for one of the craters gushing dense yellow steam of sulfur with horrific industrial noise. The sound is deep and muffled coming from the underearth, like suffering. I start after Evo but Maya is left behind, she doesn’t want to breathe the intense poisonous gas.

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She is worried and I hear her voice calling us. Evo cannot hear her anymore, so I go back. We lose each other for a moment, each one of us looking for the others in a dense cloud of sulfuric smoke and mist, on an unfamiliar strange, unstable volcano.

Crater

Crater

I find Maya, Evo finds us, everything is OK. We are just a bit cold and bit scared.

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We are also awe-stricken like never before. The place, the entire experience is sublime, beyond explanation.

Picture A Volcano: La Grande Soufrière

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Volcano Paintings

 

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Island of Beautiful Waters

Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe, one of the biggest and most populated islands of the Lesser Antilles island chain, is an overseas region and an integral department of France. French language only is spoken here, and the euro is its currency. Like pretty much every other Caribbean island, the main industry is tourism, but agriculture is also well developed, with vast banana plantations on fertile volcanic soil.

Guadeloupe consists of two islands in the shape of, most people say a butterfly, but to me they look more like human lungs. Basse-Terre to the west and Grange-Terre to the east are joined, almost like Siamese twins, separated by a narrow strait crossed by bridges. There are two smaller islands also part of Guadeloupe: Marie-Galante and Iles des Saintes.

Evo with dorado

Evo with dorado

Guadeloupe is our next stop after visiting the sovereign state of Antigua and Barbuda. Sailing there on a beam reach in moderate tradewinds from English Harbour is a sheer pleasure, and we even catch a small dorado. Evo has been hoping to catch a dorado for months now and it’s funny that his first one is so tiny and doesn’t fight at all. Small, but fish, one of the tastiest out there, and it feeds us all that evening.

Deshaies

We arrive in Deshaies, a main port of entry to Guadeloupe on the northwest side of Basse-Terre and a charming little fishermen village, and are happy to find s/v Passages already moored in the bay there (mooring balls in the bay are available free of charge, for now).

Desaies

Desaies

We met Caryn and Mel briefly when we were checking out from Nevis, and then again in Montserrat. With them and with the crews of two other boats in the Deshaies anchorage: Bev aboard s/v Aseka and Mark and Tina aboard s/v Rainbow, we organize our first waterfall expedition.

Deshaies Waterfall

Guadeloupe was once named Kerukera, The Island of Beautiful Waters, by its first known inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, for its abundance of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Not far from the Deshaies anchorage there is a small river flowing through the forest, and a waterfall. But to reach the waterfall, which has no name (or maybe it does but we don’t know it) we have to walk beside and inside the river, over boulders and fallen trees for what seems an eternity.

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Maya

Maya

Evo

Evo

We stop for a short refreshing splash-around in a small pond up river. Everyone is happy to chill before heading up and up again until we reach the place.

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Cruisiers in the pond

Cruisers in a pond

It’s a beautiful miniature canyon with dark mossy walls dripping with water, a green pool and a small waterfall hidden in the dark behind a huge rock.

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We are really glad we have finally reached it, it was not an easy walk-in-the-park kind of hike. On the way back we pick up a few coconuts and lots of mangoes from the forest.

Mira

Mira

Ecrevisses Waterfall

A few days later we hire a car with our new best friends Caryn and Mel s/v Passages, very sweet people form Australia, and visit another waterfall, this one really popular and very close to the road, Ecrevisse Waterfall. You can park your car on the side of the road, get your towel, enter the forest, and walk 2 minutes to the place.

Ecrevisse Fall

Ecrevisse Fall

It’s full of people even at 6 in the evening, and everyone is cooling down in the pool under the cascade and in the small ponds formed here and there in the shallow wide river.

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Most visitors are locals enjoying the refreshing waters in the afternoon, and we join them for a dip.

 

Cabret Falls

Days later we share a rental car again with Caryn and Mel and drive to the Cabret Falls for another expedition. The Cabret Falls are a series of waterfalls in a national park and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guadeloupe. There is an entrance fee to the park of about 3 euros per person which is well worth the excellent trails with wooden paths and steps in some parts of the path.

Maya

Maya

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Maya on the trail

Maya on the trail

The first cascade is about two hours of uphill walking from the visitor’s center and descends from the Soufriere Volcano’s slopes dropping 125 meters (410 ft) in a deep pool of green waters surrounded by yellow and red rocks.

Cabret First Cascade

Cabret First Cascade

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Mira

Mira

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

It is not an easy hike to the first cascade and not too many visitors go there. Most people are content with the 15-minute walk from the visitor’s center on a paved wheelchair-accessible path to the second cascade which has a 110 meters (360 ft) drop.

Cabret Second Cascade

Cabret Second Cascade

Evo and Maya

Evo and Maya

The access to the third cascade, the one with most water volume, is currently restricted after an earthquake in 2004 and heavy rains caused landslides and cut off the trail.

Maya

Maya

We spend the day walking up and down the slopes of Soufriere volcano amidst the intense green vegetation of the tropical rainforest, going from one waterfall to another, eating sandwiches, singing and dancing among giant trees, enjoying Guadeloupe’s beautiful nature.

Maya

Maya

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Maya

Maya

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

Maya

Maya

Maya-elephant

Maya-elephant

Evo

Evo

Mira

Mira

Maya sleeping on a rock

Maya sleeping on a rock

Evo's blond-forest hairstyle

Evo’s blond-forest hairstyle

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Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

 

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Journey to the Lost Waterfall

Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountain accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there’s no single fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls.

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsing

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The island of St Kitts is of volcanic origin with tall steep mountain hills covered in tropical rainforest. There, in the mountains, rivers of cool delicious water cascade down carving small canyons among centennial trees, and then through the valleys they reach the sea.

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A waterfall is hidden in these forests, high in the hills home of shy vervet monkeys and spirits, far away from people and towns, at the edge of a river canyon.
There is no path leading to this waterfall and to reach it you have to walk parcour style for three hours up a river, climb over rocks, big and small, and fallen trees, until you are all soaked wet from the river and the sudden rain, and your hair is covered with gentle spider webs full of tiny disoriented spiders.

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It is not a famous, big, roaring waterfall, like the ones that pop up in your imagination when you think about waterfalls. It is rather a very small, very gentle, almost transparent, almost silent trickle of water hidden among green shadows, and many people wouldn’t go through all the trouble to reach it. They would be disappointed. They would say: Is this the waterfall, after three hours of walking inside a river, climbing across boulders and fallen trees?

Oh, but is worth it. Both the journey and the destination.

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We needed someone who knew the way to lead us to the waterfall, and of course our friend Sejah Joseph came along as our guide. He said he knew how to get there, even though he only went once a few years ago.

Sejah Joseph

Sejah Joseph

The first attempt to reach our goal failed. We start unprepared, wearing flip-flops , thinking that the place is not far away and the path to get there is easy. We start up a dry riverbed and soon it becomes not only difficult but dangerous climbing over huge boulders. We don’t know how far away the fall is, and even though Maya wants to continue and not admit failure, we have to turn back.

Maya

Maya

The second time, a few days later, we put on our serious climbing shoes and chose a different path walking inside a river with the water rushing against us.
Chances to find a waterfall up a river are much bigger.

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– Are we almost there, Sejah?, we ask after some time.
– Maybe.

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We walk inside the river which is knee-deep most of the time and the water is cold and refreshing ‘like water from the fridge’, Sejah says.

When it rains we hide under trees and eat the sandwiches I made and the mangos we found along the way.

We drink the water from the river-fridge, it is cool and sweet and precious.

 

Sandwich break under the rain

Sandwich break under the rain

– These trees are four or five hundred years old, Sejah says.
– Oh, so they were here at the time when Columbus found the island?
– The island was never lost…

Evo and Sejah

Evo and Sejah

Nor is our waterfall.

We have reached our destination, the point in time where we stop for a while and turn back. At the end of the river, the end of our journey, from a rock covered with eternal moss: a silent waterfall.

Mira

Mira

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Dominican Republic Road Trip

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Luperon is the safest anchorage in all of Dominican Republic in every senses of the word safe. It is a notorious hurricane hole with great holding where even Christopher Columbus used to shelter his fleet in bad weather back in 1492.

Today the visiting boats are also very well protected by the Dominican Republic Army against theft and any other criminal activities. There is an armed guard watching the anchorage 24/7 from up the hills, as well as a guarded road barrier preventing strangers form going freely in and out the docks.

For these reasons it is a good place to leave the boat at anchor for a few days, rent a car and explore the country inland.

Our new friends Jade and Gabriel who have been living and surfing in Cabarete for two years now give us a bunch of very useful tips: where to rent a car, where to go, and what to do. Thanks to them, the car we rent (Kayak rental cars, Puerto Plata) is only 1 000 pesos per day (23.00 US dollars) instead of the usual 1 500 and it is a big economic car, Toyota RAV4, everything working fine, even the ac, although we don’t use it to save on gas. Thus, the car costs us $163.00 to rent and we spend $135.00 for gas driving all over the Dominican Republic for 7 days. Total $ 198.00.

Driving in Dominican Republic is an adventure in itself. No driving school can prepare you for all the thrills of the Dominican roads.

Cow crossing the road

Cow crossing the road

Sheep crossing the road

Sheep crossing the road

 

Scary donkeys refusing to cross the road

Scary donkeys refusing to cross the road

 

Santiago

The first day we visit Santiago in the interior of the island, the second largest city after Santo Domingo.

Read  full article Santiago in Colors.

Monument in Santiago

Monument in Santiago

 

Jarabacoa

From Santiago we drive to Jarabacoa, a beautiful little town in the mountains very popular with tourist for its picturesque surroundings, hiking paths, ranchos and waterfalls. Early the next day (day 2) we hike up and down El Mogote and in the afternoon we drive to La Cienaga, deeper in the hearth of the Dominican central mountain range.

Read full article Mountain After The Rain. El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

 

Pico Duarte

There is the national park Armando Bermudez in the Cordillera Central mountain range where we park the car for the next two days and go on an expedition to the highest peak in the Carribean, Pico Duarte, over 3000 meters. The hike to Pico Duarte takes us 2 days (day 3 & 4 of our road trip) and we are required to hire a guide and rent sleeping bags and mules. It is a journey we will never forget.

Read full article Pico Duarte. Journey Beyond The Clouds

Last base before Pico Duarte and an overnight stop

Last base before Pico Duarte and an overnight stop

 

Santo Domingo

After Pico Duarte (day 5) we visit Santo Domingo, the capital and biggest city in Dominican Republic on the south shore of Hispaniola, the botanical garden and the colonial town, and we are absolutely thrilled by the beauty, history, and architecture condensed in this place.

Read full article Santo Domingo. History, Culture, Nature

Colonial Town, Santo Domingo

Colonial Town, Santo Domingo

 

Isabella Historica and Montecristi

Next day (day 6) we drive back north and visit La Isabella Historica, the site of the first New World settlement, and Montecristi near the Haitian border on the north shore of Hispaniola with its dramatic rocky coast and salt flats.

Read full article In The Footsteps of Columbus. Isabela Historica and Montecristi

Montecristi, beach and rocks

Montecristi, beach and rocks

 

Damajaqua’s 27 Waterfalls

On the last day of our road trip (day 7) we drive to a place not far from our anchorage in Luperon where Las Cascadas de Damajaqua offer an extreme waterfall adventure hiking for about an hour up a river with 27 big and small waterfalls, and then jumping, sliding and swimming down the river and the waterfalls. This is Viktor and Maya’s favorite part of the entire trip.

Damajaqua Cascadas

Damajaqua Cascadas

 

Lago Enriquillo

A few days after we return to the boat and rest a bit, we rent the same car again and visit Lago Enriquillo, the biggest lake in the Carribean lower than the sea level, with saltwater, home of diverse wildlife among which iguanas and crocodiles.

lago Enriquillo

lago Enriquillo

 

Road Trip Map

Dominican Republic Road Trip Map

Dominican Republic Road Trip Map

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In Search of the Lost Cave

 Hiking Across the Guatemalan countryside

 

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The mountains around Lago Izabal are home of many caves. Most are difficult to find and hard to access as there are no roads, not even paths leading there but wilderness. Once, we walked up and down Sierra de las Minas all day searching for a cave we never found.

Our journey started on a Friday afternoon. Together with the FriendShips we sail to Dennis Beach, on the south shore of the lake. We leave the two boats anchored there and we head for the mountains looking for a cave.

 

The beginning of the long walk.  Noial, maya, Ivo and Daeli walking past a traditional mayan house

The beginning of the long walk.
Noial, maya, Ivo and Daeli walking past a traditional mayan house

 

Joni stays behind chilling on the beach with Elan and Lovam. The rest of us: Daeli, Noial, Ivo, Viktor, Maya, and I, with Spirit and a random dog that joined us, spend the day hiking through the Guatemalan countryside following a narrow path through the jungle, past a small Mayan village, across rivers, bamboo forests, cornfields, and cow pastures.

 

Bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

 

We meet people carrying wood and people working in the fields and every time we ask them for directions to the cave. “Down the path, across the river, past the orange orchard is the cave”, they tell us, but we lost our way and cannot find it. And it doesn’t matter anyway. The green of the land, the hot smell of the cornfields, the coolness of the river waters, and the spectacular view of the lake shining beneath the mountain is worth it.

 

River crossing

River crossing

 

We return to Dennis Beach before dark, tired, our feet covered with mud, our sight filled with green landscapes.

 

More photos from the hike
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Cornfield

 

 

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Daeli with cows and two dogs

Daeli with cows and two dogs

 

 

 

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View of Lago Izabal

 

 

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A Traditional Mayan House

 

 

 

 

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Maya and Noial met a family of ducks

Maya and Noial met a family of ducks

 

 

Maya and Noial chilling in the stream

Maya and Noial chilling in the stream

 

 

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