Location: Roseau, Dominica
A cock crows, breaking the morning silence, and I wake. It’s 5:30 in the morning, and the ship lays moored 150 feet from the shore of Dominica in bottomless deep blue water. The brightly colored shacks and houses that line the shore are subtly lit by the first rays of the sun. A stray dog silently trots across the coarsely pebbled beach, searching for its next meal. The dark jungle crawls up the mist-covered mountains behind the colorful scene, inviting us to explore its shadows during the hike we’ll go on later this morning.
An hour and a half later, the crew lays fast asleep in their bunks, curled around half-packed duffels. This is the hardest part of any skipper’s day: waking the crew. “Alright guys, it’s 7:00 time to get up,” I say gently. Jonathan rolls over eyes still closed, and Eddie grunts a little. I wait a minute to see whether the silence is just a delayed reaction or if everyone is still asleep. They are all still asleep. I remind them again, walking around and tapping their shoulders and speaking louder this time. “We have to be off the ship in 50 minutes with breakfast and lunch. Let’s go!” That does it for most of the crew, and they all roll out of bed to greet what will soon become a very long day.
Breakfast is cereal and melon, which quickly disappears along with the fixings for the ham wraps that will go with us on our hike. The first four hikers who are ready for the day scramble into Exy, our tiller steer dinghy, and ferry to shore across the silky calm water. As we approach a rusted dock, a man walks out towards us, his sandals scuffing across the wooden slats that span the concrete frame. This is Pancho, one of our guides for the island hike. He greats our captain as we crawl onto land and wait for the rest of the crew.
When the entire crew arrives, we take a taxi to the trailhead, a hydroelectric power plant that apparently doesn’t operate as efficiently as the locals would like it to. Water flows from a gorge that winds its way up into the mountain several hundred feet before ending in a waterfall. For those who want to know what it looks like, Jack Sparrow and his crew escape through the gorge from cannibals in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. A light mist falls as we start the hike, making the going easy and keeping us cool as we trudge through the wet jungle towards the Boiling Lake. An hour after crossing a river, we scramble to the top of the mountain. The astoundingly beautiful peaks and valleys stretch out into the clouds as the wind tries to blow us down the near cliffs that surround us.
After a short break at the peak, we head down the other side into the Valley of Desolation, scrambling downstream beds and using ropes to navigate the most treacherous slopes. Sulfurous steam rises from the ground filling our lungs as we walk towards the near-boiling streams that flow from the earth surrounding the vents. Pancho and Bush, our two guides, pull out a group snack of small bread, salted fish with wild spinach, and boiled eggs. But the eggs aren’t boiled yet. Pancho takes a dozen or so eggs and lowers them into one of the streams with a wire basket. Before we know it, they’re turning black in the water, and he takes them out. “Are they safe to eat?” some of the crew ask before cracking the black boiled eggs open and eating them.
After the cooked snack, we pack up again and head a short way downstream, walk around a waterfall, and stop above the pool at its foot. “Who’s going to be the first one it?” asks Bush. This is why we wore our bathing suits. The water is hot, not as hot as it was when we boiled the eggs, roughly the same temperature as a hot bath. Occupied with the hot water and building a dam, it takes the crew a while to get out of the first hot bath we’ve had in a couple of weeks. But our final destination is the Boiling Lake of Dominica. We walk out onto one of the cliffs that surround the lake, unable to see much through the wall of steam that rises up the cliff wall. After a few minutes, the wind changes direction and blows the steam away, drawing the curtain back from the main event. The center of the lake is boiling. An upwelling of boiling water circulates the lake and is able to quickly fill the crater with steam again.
The return trip is short, and we finish in half the time it took us to get to the lake in the first place. Exhausted but feeling accomplished, some of the other crew and I swim up the Pirates of the Caribbean gorge to the waterfall. The water is cold, and it soothes our burning muscles. As we swim down the long gorge toward the waterfall, we look up, expecting to be attacked by cannibals, just as it was in the movie. However, they must have flown in cannibal extras because Dominica has no cannibal population, and therefore we all made it back to the entrance. We took a taxi back to the boat and made it back just in time for a lecture in seamanship. Afterward, we jumped into bed as soon as the staff dismissed us with the haunting calls of jungle birds still echoing through our heads.