We absolutely crushed this trip. It was late October and we were sitting in a small cabin in East Tennessee. Ian was on call for work and I had come to visit and do some motorcycle riding through the amazing autumn foliage of the Appalachian Mountains. We had done an incredible amount of planning for a sailing trip to the BVI, but our schedules hadn’t lined up with the availability of a boat. Before heading out on a morning motorcycle ride we stopped in a coffee shop and I got a phone call from the sailboat charter company. A boat was available, but the notice was extremely short. The saleswoman knew we probably wouldn’t want to book it, but she decided to check anyway. Within five minutes we had pulled the trigger on a week long sail in the BVI. The next day we flew home, grabbed our gear, and took off for the warm turquoise waters of Tortola.
I made this post about Dominica back in 2011 on my aviation blog. Given my recent visit to the island, I thought my former perspective worth sharing. Here is a re-creation the post:
Position: Approaching Dominica from the west, descending through 15,000 feet MSL.
The Captain and I, along with 2 Flight Attendants and 36 passengers in the back have just started our descent into the small island of Dominica, which is in the Lesser Antilles, smashed between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. If Tortola is the high-class sailing island where Richard Branson hangars his jet, Dominica is the rainforest-covered island where reptiles thought to have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years can still be spotted. Tortola is Jimmy Buffett, Dominica is the Jurassic Park theme song.
This is also my first time in Dominica, and as we descend further and the island comes into better view, I can’t help but wonder what 36 people are doing flying to this prehistoric-looking place. My current theory is that they are all geologists, botanists, biologists, some kind of “ist” coming to study the lush landscape. There are usually even fewer passengers occupying our 64 seat aircraft, but yesterday the flights were all canceled due to weather, so today we are making a special rescue run to accommodate the “ists.” Airlines don’t usually cancel flights for weather unless it’s pretty extreme, but in Dominica the clouds have to be above the mountaintops to land.
The approach goes something like this: descend towards the northeast side of the island, aim for the highest mountain until a small valley presents itself right in the middle of the island. Hook a right into the valley as the passengers become increasingly concerned they are about to fly into a mountain. Follow the valley southbound and look for the Brachiosaurus head poking through the tree canopy. Passing him it’s flaps 30, landing gear down and swing left to line up with the runway on final. Dodge the occasional Pterodactyl gliding past and touch down on the runway 9 numbers. Be quick on the reverse thrust to avoid an unscheduled swimming excursion and it’s a wrap. Video tutorial attached.
Every so often when I am traveling, I become overwhelmed by the uniqueness of an area with a strong sense of place. Back in the summer of 2011 I started my first airline job and was based in Puerto Rico. We would carry passengers from San Juan to other islands in the West Indies. The island that quickly became my favorite destination was a small Windward Island called Dominica. As Caribbean Islands go, it felt unique to me – untamed and relatively untainted by tourism. It has the nickname “The Nature Island” because the majority of it is still covered in mountainous rainforest. I relished the legs that we flew to Dominica, at the time mostly for its challenging and scenic approach to landing (see separate post with video). Only once, on a rare set of days off was I was able to spend a little time exploring the island and doing some hiking; but it has since been high on my list of places to revisit.
On this trip, I went to Dominica to meet my friend Shiv, who was doing some business at the medical school located on the island. It was planned as a short stay of only two days, but Shiv and I have a motto when we travel together – Make it happen! We try to avoid giving excuses for why we can’t do something and instead find unique ways to make great things happen. This trip, that involved Shiv making a last minute flight change so we pack in both SCUBA diving and an all day hike to a boiling lake.
For me the highlight of the trip was the hike to Boiling Lake. The lake, which is actually a flooded fumarole (an opening in the Earth’s crust that emits steam and gas, in this case heating the overlying water) is the second largest of its kind in the world. The only way to reach the lake is an 8.1 mile hike, potentially as spectacular as the lake itself. We took the advice of the locals and hired a guide, as the trail is not well defined and it would be very easy to get lost. Starting at 1,690 feet of elevation in the Titou Gorge, the path undulates and winds through a rainforest with huge tropical trees before descending to a river where we stopped to eat some breakfast.
After the river the trail climbs steeply up a ridge that peaks at 3,168 feet. At the top we were standing right at the cloud bases, being hit by the unobstructed force of the trade winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature was cool – about 18C, and felt refreshing combined with the breeze. It’s fascinating to me that this mountainous island creates its own weather. The northeast trade winds get pushed up the steep terrain where the moist air is cooled to its dewpoint, forming clouds and often rainshowers that feed the lush vegetation on the leeward side of the island. Looking off in the distance we could see steam rising up from the trees surrounding the boiling lake.
The trail continued along the ridge before descending into what is called the Valley of Desolation. Almost all of the vegetation quickly disappears and is replaced by rock and loose gravel covering small streams of hot water and sulfuric gas.
Past the valley another climb through a forested area leads to the lake. The sight of the lake was like nothing I had ever seen. The water was a pale blue and was vigorously boiling from the center of the lake. Great amounts of steam were rising up from the water and being blown towards us by the wind. The effect was a bit ominous and I joked that it seemed a perfect location for a ritualistic sacrifice! We found a large boulder to perch on and ate our lunches while we watched the water boil.
On the hike back we stopped for a few moments and relaxed in a heated pool. Aside from the lush scenery, one of my favorite parts was the feeling of solitude. During the whole nine hour hike, we only passed two other people on the trail.
Click on the photo gallery above to see other parts of our stay in Dominica.