Monday, December 8, 2008

Hike no. 7: Middleham and Fond England Falls

Some time ago I heard about the Fond England Falls from a Peace Corps volunteer who was assisting the Cockrane community. I was surprised that there was a waterfall in the Roseau Valley that I hadn’t visited as yet and was determined to hike to it, just one problem there was no track/trail to the falls and any hike had to be as an expedition-type activity.

So turning on my radio on Wednesday I was excited to hear Ibrahim Brohim “The Sign Man” talking about the last hike of the 7 Wonders of Hiking in Dominica to the Middleham and Fond England Falls. The hike was being organized by Dwivayez Hiking Club and the National Reunion Committee 2008. I immediately rushed to their office, paid my 30 dollars and signed up without even checking my schedule for that Saturday, although I later found out that it was clear.

Saturday morning, bright and early, I made my way to the Financial Center to meet up with some 40 – 50 other hikers. We took the bus up to Providence, Laudat and assembled at the Middleham Falls Welcome Center. After a quick welcome, prayer and some hiking hints we were on our way around 7:00am. It was still kind of dark in the forest; the sun hadn’t come up yet on that part of the island.

I remember our guide saying that the first past of the hike was easy and the second part to Fond England was challenging to difficult, I took that to mean that it was difficult for the older hikers but I was to be pleasantly surprised.

I don’t really like to hike in prepared trails with the walkways all laid out with logs and ferns (fwigé). I prefer to walk and jump in the mud, if I can’t get dirty then I don’t feel like I’m taking a hike but just a walk or stroll. So for the first 45 minutes I was just running thru the trail and having fun taking pictures and drinking from the numerous streams along the way.

Did I mention that I am a competitive hiker? Even if no one is consciously competing with me I race through with every intention of making it first to the destination. Okay, I wasn't the first to reach Middleham falls, I was fifth but still in the first cluster of hikers. No one seemed to want to descend to the fresh pools of the falls until myself and my college classmate, now police officer, made our way down. Then all of a sudden every one was in the water swimming in the water. Did I mention that the water is as cold as ice? The sun rays hardly ever strike the water of the falls in the forest because of the leaf cover. I didn’t take a bath at Middleham, I was saving myself for Fond England falls and I would regret that choice.

After about 30 minutes of watching hikers swim across the pond at the base of the falls and taking photos of the picturesque scenery we gathered our bags and made our way back up the trail then made our way to the Tou Santi (Stinking Hole). It is another area of interest along the trail; a volcanic vent frequented by bats and the mixtures of the fumes and bat manure make for a very “undesirable” stink.

We continued along the trail, still to the front of the pack and almost passed the entrance of the Fond England Falls trail because it was only marked with ribbons. And now the true challenge began. We (pack of 6) made ourselves thru the dense forest search out pink and red ribbons to direct our path. Along the way, we had to grab unto young trees, descend a cliff holding unto knotted rope and even drag our butts in the mud, all worth it and exactly what I wanted in a hike.

By the time we made it down the mountain we were at a small river which came from the falls so from there it was upstream over rocks and through the water. Sweaty, muddy and now wet, just the way I like my hike, well the only thing missing was a good Dominican rain shower. I was the first to make it to Fond England and at first I was a little disappointed upon approaching the falls but then I touched the cold water, took a dip and felt all my pores open up under the crystal clear water and it was all worth it.

I had remarked one thing though during the hike, that although the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, World Heritage Site was renowned for its wildlife I had only heard the songs of a few birds (Siffleur Montagne) and seen one cyrique (crab). I wanted to cross paths with some snakes, agouti or manicou but I guess it was not to be today, well maybe the next time I visit the falls because this definitely isn’t my last hike there. I will definitely be back.

After about an hour at Fond England, we made our way back, first downstream, then back up the mountain, although easier it was more tiring to go up the muddy mountain side. My legs trembled up the hillside after a moment but I refused to stop because I didn’t want to lose momentum. But finally, I made it through the track to find a welcoming site, a white bus. It picked us up, by that time I was in a pack of four (4) persons and we descended Cockrane to the school where we feasted on rabbit water, fig and codfish, grilled plantains and sugar cane, all Dominican favourites. It was all worth it.

All in a day of hiking, all in my day.



Maureen said...

What an absolutely excellent well written post. I love reading adventures like these of our beautiful caribbean island Dominica. Love the photo's as well.

I intend to visit Dominica next year sometime. I'm not exactly sure when because I like to do things spontaneously. I have never been on a hike before but would like to to experience one, can you recommend one for a beginner?

Maureen said...

Thanks for your advice...

Martha Cuffy said...

Hi, we didn't get to talk on the hike but I saw you steaming ahead.

Yes, the hike to Fond England Falls was more like a Tarzan/Jane experience. Only thing missing was Cheetah!

Next time I will do it when I don't have a fever....

Anonymous said...

I just took a couple of students to Fond England Falls about 10 days ago. I just stumbled across this account and wanted to comment that it is a lot easier to come in from the Cochrane end of the trail. Moreover, the really steep road to Cochrane from the Imperial Highway is newly paved and makes the drive much easier as well.
The trail is still poorly marked and the trip is risky (don't do it alone). But it's worth it for a real Dominican adventure. I spoke with a legendary ranger from Forestry Division who said he'd only been to this waterfall twice in his life. nice