Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Boilin Lake

I would have never gone if it hadn’t been for Bruce.  Well, I might have gone, it was something I wanted to do when I first came here but I’d heard stories since then- most of which were partially true.  They involved boiling streams, wandering from the path and getting blown up by exploding ground swells, steep cliffs, hot sun, and something called the Valley of Desolation.  But Bruce REALLY wanted to go.  The week before was filled with Boiling Lake talk such as  “If we go up and down this path forty times (a steep path down to the ocean- maybe a fifteen minute walk) it will almost be like going to the Lake, Well bye guys I’m off to the Lake (really the village)”, but mostly it was just the words “Boiling Lake!” thrown in every conversation or quiet moment.   I think this is a great way to prepare oneself for things and I plan to take it up for the next big thing I do in my life.   Bruce has got some years on me and also didn’t have the ‘leg up’ Mike and I have from walking the huge guard dog Eevie twice a day like we have the past month or so.   I swear I’m in better shape now than I have ever been in my life but still the Boiling Lake was daunting.  But Bruce was so enthusiastic and brave about it that we all jumped on board and followed him to the city to prepare for the next day….

I’ll skip the city and the cruise ships docked there and plunge right into 5:45 the next morning when we woke up after (some of us had) a rough night with a crowing rooster and barking dogs; Dominica city sounds.  We met our guide Haigan and packed him into the car.  We then drove (he said) twenty minutes, although it felt like at least forty-five, up and down and around on roads paved, gravel, and half paved half gravel.  We finally arrived at the trail head feeling rather ill.  And off we were on a rather gentle little trail up through the forest with giant ferns and lizards and thousands of prehistoric looking trees.  Gradually we began to slope down towards the Breakfast River- watching for parrots and listening to Hagian tell stories of trips he’d taken before.  Recently he took three men who were heading towards sixty up and it took them from eight o’clock AM til eleven o’clock at night to get back- which set the fear of Boiling Lake afire in us skeptics (everyone but Bruce) once again.   But by the time we had gone down the steep trail to the ravine where the Breakfast River flowed, drank from it (yes Grandmama I did drink from a river and I hope to God it doesn’t kill me eventually), and ate some peanut brittle we were ready to roll.  It was about eight o’clock and we were an hour in.

So back up the other side of the ravine we went, heading towards some now hidden peak that shadowed our destination, the smell of sulfur creeping around in the air. When Ann, Bruce’s wife, asked how long and how far away we were Haigan replied- Don’t think about that, think about NOW.  See where you are now and enjoy it.  We will get there when we get there and you will enjoy that then.  I decided right then and there that my new policy would combine both Bruce and Haigan’s wisdoms and I would begin shouting Live in the Present, Don’t Worry about the Future, Notice the Beauty of Now so the Future may be Just as Beautiful! at random intervals.  

Now this path was a little steep but there were still nice broad steps and every time my legs began to burn the path would even out for a bit.  But we were gradually crawling higher and higher.  Every now and then there would be a breathtaking view of surrounding mountains, the sea, valleys,  and birds soaring through the sky.  It was a clear day and even as we ascended into the peaks the clouds only blew through and did not stay.   This country is truly so beautiful that it makes my heart beat a little harder and sometimes I want to sing as loud as I can.  Fortunately I am not a cartwheel turner because I would not longer be here to tell this tale if I were.   After we had climbed up for another hour or so we came to a little path on top of a ridge.  I still can’t grasp the fact that that is actually all it was- a little path on top of a ridge.  It was a small dirt path lined with beautiful waist high moss that was covered in teeny flowers, ferns, and bushes.  I swear I saw a little fairy wink at me from behind a plant that looked like seaweed rooted from the sea and set atop this mountain.  But on either side of those lovely mosses there was nothing- just a straight drop down into the gorge.  I have this awful fear of heights that makes my toes tingle and my stomach churn when I stand on a third story balcony.  But for whatever reason I had no fear on that path- even with Haigan’s stories of the man he was hiking with who bent over to take a picture and slipped and Haigan had to grab him by his boots and pull him back up (this story was much more involved and horrific but I won’t get into it as it ended well and that’s all that counts).  I think it must have been the ferns, moss, and Haigan’s sure expertise (he was in his own sixties at least I think but I had faith he would get us back before eleven o’clock pm).   We walked along this trail for awhile and then came to a large clearing/overlook where we took pictures,  drank water, and (I) relieved ourselves and prepared for the straight downhill path from there. 

The trail should have been a ladder, it would have made as much sense.  When I stood on one step the previous steps were just behind my back.  And these steps were logs set into the soggy ground, some missing, some leg-lengths apart, but still steps.  They were an addition of seven years ago.  Before that Haigan said he would help each person down this slope (which curved on and around much farther than I could see) and go back up for the next.   Going down is rough on the body and I was carrying a backpack which somehow threw off my center of balance.  This trail was cut into the ridge side with the bluff by my left hand and nothing by my right.  I felt like I was tipping forward at every step and was glad when both feet met the slippery rounded stair each time I went down.  When I wasn’t worried about somersaulting down the stairs I wondered what it was going to be like going back up.  

We spent about forty-five minutes on that section of the path before we rounded the corner and came out into the Valley of Desolation.  We had to clamber down a few rocks and into a smoldering sulfury valley where a yellow boiling stream wound it’s way back into the woods below.  There were spewing holes of water, gurgling white ponds, iridescent yellow rocks streaked with blue, and a bubbling pit of grey clay where we all had our volcanic face masks applied from the tip of a stick, still hot from the ground.

Once we were through the valley we went back up on the mountain trail, it was hotter and drier here but still wooded.  We walked along a milky white hot sulfur stream and back up and down and around til we came out once again in a rock valley where the Boiling Lake’s steam loomed ahead.   We walked along the trail through the heath-like plants and came around the corner to behold the Lake in the cater of this mountain we had traveled and it was truly Boiling.  A huge steady boil rose out of the center and could be seen when the mist blew away for a moment.  I asked Haigan how many times he had done this hike because it seemed to me that he still looked at the land around him with awe and true love and he replied, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were thousands.

We sat down to eat our hiking snacks, the usual sugar, fat, salt crowd that hangs around backpacks hoping for a ride to boiling lakes.  Our collection included the much sought after Cheetos- a force that helped drive Bruce through some of the steeper uphill climbs as he shouted The Cheetos! much like he had chanted the lake’s name the week before.  Also, as I have promised to mention in my Local Food Letter, we had Ginger Nut cookies with peanut butter.  Ginger Nuts are a British cookie in those long cylindrical packs that have a gingersnap flavor and texture and no sign of a nut.  We fixed that by adding our own peanut butter.  It you ever go to the Boiling Lake this is a must in your snack collection.   So we ate these things and drank water and ate candied coconut and salted peanuts and Ann lay on the rock with her legs up in the air to prepare for the return journey.  She was the most skeptic of us all but lead the pack the whole way there and back and I think the leg trick may have something to do with that (not to mention her true energy and joy in every moment the whole trip). 

As we turned back I found myself caught between feeling tired and dreading the return and excitement at getting to do it all over again but backwards.  Haigan said he once had someone come back to hike with him because she could not stop dreaming about it.  I can completely understand the feeling and am certain that every one of our dreams carries of a little wisp of fog from the mountains of Dominica. 

And so we turned back.  We meandered though the dry brush and stopped to soak in a warm sulfur pool in the stream that ran alongside the trail.  The waterfall rushing into it served as a silky strong massage for the soles of our feet and our tight shoulders, calves and thighs.  The trail back up to the overlook was as steep going up as it was coming down but my center of gravity had returned and every step came as it came and we crawled slowly back up the mountain and slowly back down. We crossed over the Breakfast River and were back up on the now seemingly cushy path through the lush forest.  My legs were shaky but my heart was laughing.  I saw a sunlit leaf smile, nod, and wave to me as I passed by and if my toes weren’t so sore I might have skipped.  We had all stopped speaking by then and the birds were alone to sing their screeching, squeaking, soaring whistling songs.  As we got to the end we heard a new roar- the cruise ship crowd roar.

At the beginning of the trail there is a cold blue pool that comes from a cave in the mountains.  If you swim inside with rocks to the end you find a deep waterfall rushing down from it’s home up higher.  Back out at the pool there is a stream of warm water from the volcano above.   The pool was full of very white people tied to life preservers who were screeching and squeaking a new song.  But they soon left and we swam into the pool with our tired sore legs and back to the waterfall.  Mike and I climbed on a rock and looked at the ferns and trees looming overhead and then plunged back into the chilly waters and swam out into the sunshine and ate some chocolate on the rocks outside.  The whole hike was like a beautiful story that came and rolled with perfect tempo- ending with chocolate, cold blue water, and a great sense of accomplishment and strength.

The next day we had recovery yoga overlooking the ocean and didn’t do a whole lot of nothin’ else.


Anonymous said...

Awesome blog! Did you see Mick Jagger at the lake?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic experiance Ann. Glad you made it back.