Just walking in the rain
Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail is the first and only long distance hiking trail in the Caribbean traversing the entire island. I am here to walk the walk , or at least some if it, and I am braving the rain in the rainforest to do so.
In a region saturated by tourism, Dominica remains one of the hidden gems of the Caribbean. Sometimes confused with the similarly named Dominican Republic, Dominica is dubbed the ‘Nature Island’ due to its abundance of natural splendours: 365 rivers, the second largest boiling lake in the world, a lush rainforest, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and black and white sand beaches. Much of the island is protected under national parks, one of which has been given UNESCO World Heritage status. Dominica is a paradise for divers, birdwatchers, nature-lovers and hikers.
Named after the indigenous name for Dominica (meaning “tall is her body”), the Waitukubuli trail runs for 115 miles from the south to the north of the island and is divided into 14 sections. Hikers are able to complete one section per day, so in theory it will take two weeks to cover the entire trail. It traverses forest reserves, national parks, old slave routes, ruins of plantations that once processed sugar, coffee and limes, small farms and country villages.
With tropical raindrops falling on my head, I’m completing section 10 and 11, Colihaut to Syndicate, which finish in a refreshing and fragrant walk through a banana plantation. The trail is the brainchild of Bernard Wiltshire, a passionate Dominican environmentalist who persuaded the British Development Division to fund studies of the trail. He claims to have been inspired by walks across the Pennine Way when he was in the UK, although it is hard to see any similarities. Even the rain smells differently.
As a reward to my tired legs, I am spending the night at Secret Bay, a boutique eco-luxury development of just four villas and bungalows. The secluded accommodations are nestled within the lush rainforest canopy, surrounded by trees with the Cario River, the Caribbean sea, two swimming beaches and a sea cave below.
Secret Bay’s distinctive villas and bungalows were conceptualised by award-winning Latin American architect Fruto Vivas to minimise the impact on the environment and bring the outdoors in. Secret Bay’s two storey bungalows are luxurious tree houses perched in the canopy with floor-to-ceiling glass windows on both levels with stunning views.
The town of Portsmouth is nearby and the capital of Roseau, one hour away. My stroll around Roseau takes in the old French quarter, Roseau cathedral and one of the best-preserved collections of 18th century Creole architecture in the Caribbean including former home of author Jean Rhys, whose atmospheric novel Wide Sargasso Sea and many of her other works draw reference from her early life on Dominica
Dominica is the only Caribbean island with a population of indigenous Carib Indians (around 3,000); known locally as the Kalinago – and interested in finding out more about their lifestyle I opted to spend the last night of my visit experiencing the new home stay programme. Designed to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience the unique heritage of Dominica’s first settlers, the scheme also allows the residents of the community to benefit from the tourism sector.
My hostess Regina greets me at the door of the traditional house she has built herself, where I shall be staying overnight. Farmer Regina has travelled to London, Canada and the USA as a free trade ambassador for Dominica’s banana business. She tells me about the produce she grows: dasheen, cassava, yams and sweet potatoes and explains the way the Territory works. It is collectively owned with an elected chief and there is a strong sense of community here.
There is no flushing toilet in this house and the facilities are basic, but it is clean, the food is fresh and plentiful and Regina is a fascinating dinner companion.
In the middle of the night I can hear the rain battering on the galvanised roof and I awake at about 5am to the sounds of local workers chattering in Creole. Regina tells me the Kalinago language died out because of colonisation, but Creole is still widely spoken and even local news programmes are broadcast in the language.
Nearby at the Kalinago Barana Aute, a village built to showcase the Kalinago lifestyle, manager Kevin Dangleben tells me that given a choice of three levels of homestay accommodation: traditional lodging in a hut, simple accommodation such as that at Regina’s, or a home with more modern facilities, few visitors select the modern option. People from other parts of the Caribbean have been particularly keen to stay here, he explains, attracted perhaps by the simple, relaxed way of life that has largely died out on the islands.
I complete my tour with a boat ride down the Indian River, black crabs scuttling along the river banks and iguanas watching me curiously from the trees. The sun comes out at last and a rainbow arches across the Dominican sky.
A dip in the natural springs at Screw’s Sulphur spa at Wotten Waven revives my aching limbs as I conclude a trip to Dominica is certainly a new take on the typical Caribbean holiday. What other Caribbean island could you say is ideal for walking and nature enthusiasts? Segments of the trail vary in length and level of difficulty, see www.waitukubulitrail.com for guidance.
There are no direct flights from either the UK or Ireland. British Airways offer return flights from London Gatwick to Antigua. Visit www.ba.com or call 0844 493 0787. You can also get there via Barbados, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago which are serviced by BA as well as Virgin Atlantic. Or you can connect from Paris via Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Maarten. There are high speed catamaran ferries to Dominica from Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia.
LIAT operates a regular daily service to Dominica (Melville Hall Airport) from Antigua, Barbados and St Lucia and BVI Airlines has connections fromSt Maarten.
Homestays with local families and small guest houses are available as an accommodation option on the Waitukubuli trail, www.waitukubulitrail.com