There are thousands of islands, islets and cays in the Caribbean. In the winter and spring of 2010/2011 we visited the majority of the countries in the Lesser Antilles and many of those in the Greater Antilles. As I said in my post two weeks ago, I was originally worried that I would get bored, on a beach holiday for months and months, but of course, every island is different and so I never got bored! After Christmas and New Year, we left the lovely island of St Lucia and started heading north to explore the Caribbean on our way back home.
Martinique was France
That’s actually true – it is still a part of France and, as a local told us is “like Paris, but sent away into the sea“. Approaching the coastline from St Lucia, it was very green, but gently rising out of the water, with patches of gently rolling grassy slopes that looked almost like the South Downs of England – that is, until you looked down slightly and saw the perfect stretches of white sand and the turquoise water!
We went into a little town called St. Annes and couldn’t believe just how French it was. A big church dominating the town, with a small tree-lined main square in front of it, lots of narrower side-streets, and bakeries and patisseries. Our next stop was Le Marin, where we had French food in a French cafe. Oh and we even had crepes(!) at a little town called Bointe du Bout.
We took a trip into the centre of the island to go zip-wiring, and saw how the land was cultivated, much more so than in St Lucia, and how every village had a little French-style church. We also met a Martinican guy at the zip wiring who gave us a lift back to the boat along with some interesting information about Martinique. This young guy spoke very good English, but also Spanish, some German and some Italian. He said his family name came from a French family who emigrated in 1600, and he was part French, part African, and part Indian (American Indian). He’d travelled extensively and had lived in Paris for a few years, which he said was quite usual for Martinicans. He said that they don’t tend to travel within the Caribbean but if they have the money, they’ll go to Europe or even further afield. He was a really friendly guy and it was nice to just have a chat with a local and get his take on it!
Dominica was a wild, rainy paradise characterised by the sound of running water
We had a beautiful sail from Martinique to Dominca and were met by a boat-boy praised in our pilot book, Pancho. He found us a mooring in a bay just south of Roseau and started chatting to us about the various treks and tours you can do on Dominica – we found out he was a guide for a 6 hour hike up to a boiling lake that we had read about as one of the best things to do in Dominica and so quickly booked that.
We woke up at 6.30am the next morning to torrential rain, pulled on our wet weather gear and jumped in our dinghy to shore, before getting onto a minibus with Pancho and three Norwegian boys.
The walk was amazing. By far the most physically strenuous thing I had ever done at that point in my life. Six hours of steep uphill and steep downhill, which was just as hard as the ups! And it never stopped raining. Lower down, we were in the rainforest and steps had been made out of strips of bark – higher up, we had to scramble up and down loose, slippy rocks. Because it was so wet, there were many more rivers and waterfalls than there would normally have been. The first thing we did was walk up through a river, getting our socks and shoes soaked immediately. Next we walked over a narrow bridge across Tito Gorge, which was rushing furiously and extremely high. This was the gorge where Johnny Depp had fled the cannibals in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pancho claimed he had guided Johnny Depp up this walk.
We had to climb up/down sheer rock faces, wade through rushing rivers about thigh high, use tree roots as hand-holds, and climb up, up, up, until it seemed impossible that anything could be any higher. But still it kept going, as we climbed up a narrow ledge looking down into steep wooded valleys, or just mist and cloud below. The top itself was 3200 feet, and it was cold!! Sadly because of the weather, cloud obscured any view we might have had, so we didn’t linger, and began a long, steep and difficult climb down the other side. When we came out of the rainforest, we all had to clamber down a waterfall using our hands and feet, and then we stood in the Valley of Desolation. And it really was desolate. Little vegetation, strange white, grey and greenish rock formations. The narrow river we had just climbed down ran through it, and on either side, bubbling springs emitted plumes of steam that rose up and drifted lazily through the valley, giving it a very eerie look. Added to this was the strong smell of sulphur.
We stopped for a break after the strenuous climb down and some food. Pancho had brought bread rolls and a filling of salted cod and onions which was really nice. He also had brought eggs, which he put in a metal basket and left to cook over a bubbling spring! When they were done, the shells were black from the sulphur, but oh they tasted amazing! They were cooked to perfection and were absolutely the nicest eggs I’ve ever eaten!
After we had crossed the Valley of Desolation, we were back in the rainforest for more up and down, less steeply this time. On the way, Pancho pointed out a series of little waterfalls and pools, which were warm from the hot springs, so we spent about an hour swimming and climbing up the waterfalls. The air temperature was so much cooler than the water that the thought of getting out was horrible!!
Eventually we had to, and shivering, pulled our clothes and waterproofs over our wet bodies as fast as possible. The crazy Norweigian boys just decided to go topless for the rest of the walk, in the pouring rain! Two of them, having never sailed before, got drunk one night and decided to sail across the Atlantic. They crossed on a tiny little boat at entirely the wrong time of year, after a horrendous trip from Norway to Scotland where they got stuck in storms and almost ran out of drinking water.
At about midday, we finally came to the boiling lake and looked down upon it. Mist – steam or cloud, I’m not sure which – was swirling around below us, periodically clearing to reveal huge bubbles in the middle of the lake. Every now and then a hot waft of air would drift up towards us.
On the way back, we were so wet that we didn’t notice the rain anymore, nor the fact that our feet were constantly trudging through water – back to the boat and we jumped into the sea, in the rain, with all our clothes on.