Feb 21, 2013
Today was an early wake up, but we couldn’t complain when we realized that Sam had gotten up even earlier to bake us cinnamon coffee cake for breakfast! We packed lunches and bags and were off the boat by 7:30. Local guide Pancho had a taxi waiting for us and an exciting day planned. We headed up into Dominica’s jewel-green hills to begin our longest and most arduous hike and trek through the Morne Trois Pitons National Park to Dominica’s famous boiling lake. We walked at least eight miles round-trip, and nearly every step we took was either up or down muddy stairs. The first part of our walk took us through the lush rain forest, with Pancho pointing out interesting vegetation. We were cloaked in the aroma of sulfur compounds, a sure sign that awesome geothermal activity lay ahead. We climbed down a trickling stream bed into the Valley of Desolation, a bleak bowl-like area criss-crossed with sulfurous hot-springs spewing steam. Pancho pulled out a metal basket and a dozen eggs, plunged the eggs into the nearly-boiling water, and offered us snack. Perfectly cooked! Pancho also collected mineral-rich clay for facials, and we walked the next leg with gray faces. We were feeling a bit chilly as the temperature and weather were fickle, so we stopped at the side of the trail to soak in the natural hot springs. None of us wanted to get out, but the boiling lake was still a mile or two ahead, so on we trekked. The lake is a flooded fumarole filled with blue-gray bubbling water. Apparently the temperature is nearly 200F, though none of us got close enough to verify. Steep hills rise around the sides, and the lake is covered in a steamy-sulfury vapor. An eerie, otherworldly spot to for a lunch break. When we arrived back at the parking area, we found that local women had set up tables to sell sweets. Boy, did those chocolate bars taste good after five hours of walking! Back on Ocean Star, we had shower time to try to purge the sulfur from our pores (though it lingers in the air still) and study time for tomorrow’s Oceanography exam. Tables were set up on deck to enjoy a civilized pasta dinner. Shipmates learned about mollusks in Marine Biology class tonight, and then chef Sam rewarded us for our efforts trekking through the mud with our childhood favorite-dirt cups. Today was a great day. Our skin is feeling rejuvenated and we will certainly sleep well tonight. Though we may wake up with sore muscles in the morning, it was totally worth it to experience the awesome powers of the Earth and the gorgeous interior of Dominica.