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By Roxan Kinas
Photographs By Roxan Kinas and Eric Young
It was a dull, gray November morning as we bumped and lurched our way up the loose-rock mountain trail to Dominica's Freshwater Lake. The dense, sloping rain forest inched upwards with us, encircling the jeep so closely that tree branches scraped its doors and windows, making that grating styrofoam sound against the vehicle. Lush and gorgeous as the vegetation was, at times it almost seemed to engulf us.
As we pursued the steep climb, the back end of the jeep fish-tailed to the mountain ledge often enough to wonder if the four-wheel drive could really handle this craggy track. But our Dominican friend and host was determined to reach the end regardless of the white-knuckle adventure. The drizzle added even more excitement.
At one point I remember thinking, "we could have walked faster and it wouldn't have been so scary."
Which was precisely the point. You weren't supposed to drive. It was a hiking trail, not a thoroughfare.
We slowly reached the lake at the 2 800 foot base of Dominica's fourth highest mountain, Morne Macaque in the heart of the Morne Trois Piton National Park.
That was then. Today you can drive to the crater lake with far less drama, but it remains first a hiking trail.
Regardless of your physical condition, Dominica lures you into to pushing yourself beyond your limit simply because it's so stunning, so magnificent, you can't bear to miss out on a thing despite the struggle and the ‘dues' that will certainly come later.
This is an island for hikers, adventurers and naturists. It is not a cosmopolitan destination, so if you're looking for shopping malls, room service, nightlife and entertainment, Dominica is not for you. But if you love awesome mountain vistas, steamy mineral springs, misty rain forests melodic with birds and waterfalls plunging into pristine rivers and pools, then put Dominica on the top of your travel wish list. When it comes to commuting with nature in a very personal way, no other island in the region can beat it.
Luckily, Dominica has a multiplicity of hikes, from short flat walks to day-long endurance tests. Some of the more strenuous treks require a guide, but most of the hikes are easily accessible and the trails simple to follow.
We've devised a rating system to give you a sense of the difficulty degree for each hike. Some hikes, while quite short, may offer steep challenges, hence a higher rating than a longer, flat hike. Ratings range from 1 to 5 hikers, 1 being the easiest, 5 for the masochistic.