Location: Dominica

We woke up early this morning and ate cinnamon scones to prepare ourselves for the intense hike we knew was ahead. We had been informed that it was at least six hours long and the hardest hike in the Caribbean, but it apparently was worth it because the top held one of the world’s two boiling lakes. We were met at the end of the dock by two cabs, one of which contained our crazy guide Pancho. After a stop at the bakery for rolls for lunch, we drove haphazardly through the bustling streets, blasting reggae music. Arriving in a small clearing down a slope by a stream, we hopped out and mentally prepared ourselves for the adventure ahead. The Hike began with a mild to concerning incline that soon turned to a set of never-ending stairs, at a frightening angle. We made it…almost to the point of defeat but turned a corner and were met by Kris and Ben holding a camera playing Eye of the Tiger and wielding a phone, demanding each individual to run up the last set of stairs to the summit. The summits breathtaking view of the surrounding mountainsides gave us a perspective of where the destination was, as we could see a plume of steam rising behind a distant hill.

We then descended into the Valley of Desolation. It looked like a scene from the age of dinosaurs; the smell of sulfur combined with the mineral deposits streaking the earth surrounded us as we climbed down a steep riverbed. We stopped at the bottom where we watched Pancho boil eggs in bubbling springs of boiling water. Due to some unknown chemical reaction (something to do with sulfur and calcium?) the shells turned black. An observation was made by one dutiful student, Aylee, that the rocks were calcite, meaning that they may have once been a calcareous ooze made from coccolithophores, pteropods, and foraminifera, knowledge bestowed by our dear chemist Ivy Moondance. The next stop was the hot pools. Water flowing from the previously mentioned boiling pools had cooled to the temperature of bathwater. It was light greyish blue and full of sulfur. It turned any silver jewelry bluish-black (tarnished). After a refreshing and rejuvenating soak in these pools along with a slightly rough natural waterslide, it was time to proceed to our final destination. This section of the trail left the forest and crossed another patch of calcite and rubble. The intensifying smell of sulfur ensured we were coming closer and closer to the lake. Finally, there was a clear gravel area overlooking what seemed to be an abyss of white sulfurous steam. Far below in the mouth-like crater, the same milky bluish greywater bubbled and emitted clouds of steam. We ate lunch and soaked in the view of this once in a lifetime sight. Climbing back out of the crater was accompanied by a cloudburst of rain. We climbed back out the Valley of Desolation (or rather crawled in the case of some, including me). The hardest part was over; we finished off the hike with a swim in the gorge at the bottom, a cold freshwater stream carving through narrow curving rock walls (apparently the site of filming for Pirates of the Caribbean). We rode home, ate a delicious steak dinner and had brownies that Monika made, then had a marine biology class, and passed out.