Monday, January 24, 2011

Day Sixteen: Rigorous, Arduous, and Slippery

The Dominicans take Sunday off from manual labor and even though we proposed the idea of working instead, they convinced us that we HAD to visit another of the island’s natural beauties, this one called Boiling Lake.  As far as we can tell, this path is the island’s most challenging hike (at least one that is halfway marked) and it leads to the crater of a formerly active volcano.  In the center of the crater is a huge lake that actually, truly boils (almost) nonstop.

The hike is about eight miles long and it involves climbing about 2000 vertical feet then dropping down 1000 or more before going up again to get to a huge overlook above the lake.  The trail is apparently always muddy – really really really muddy – so hikers get a one-inch or so platform on the bottoms of their boots to complicate things a bit more. 

The beginning of the hike goes to the last clear-running stream that isn’t full of sulphur; that stopping point about an hour into the hike is called Breakfast River.  We were already feeling the rigors of the hike at that point, knowing that another five or more hours of walking were still ahead of us.  Additionally, our guides warned us that the hour we had just spent was the easy part and the next couple of hours were going to really kick our butts.  They were right.

Speaking of our guides, it is probably important to introduce them, as they have each hiked this monster dozens of times.  Our lead guide was Jonathan, otherwise known as Skippy.  Watching the video from today will help you to understand why he has that nickname.  His partner for the day was Philbert, who was assigned to bring up the rear and deal with the slow group, whoever that might be.  (Actually, determining the slowest member of our team is not difficult; it was Shawny for sure.  We are granting her special dispensation for this hike because last year at this time she was on crutches in the Brazilian Amazon with a broken leg so this doesn’t seem so bad.)

The post-Breakfast River slog was a never-ending upward climb and when there finally was some relief in the downward direction, it was so thick with mud (and so vertical) that at certain points the only way down was for strings of us to hold hands and support each other step by step.  The symbolism of all of those collective efforts definitely made the struggle worth it. 

Our main way of coping with the slog was to have Scott tell us complicated synopses of movies that not everyone had seen.  He did multi-hour renditions of the movies “Taken” and “In Brouges,” which kept us all laughing and clinging to his pace so that we wouldn’t miss anything. 

The struggle of the vertical mudslope got us to a place that might not sound “worth it” – the Valley of Desolation.  Visually, the name is pretty accurate but as in most volcanic areas, there was a lot going on in that apparently desolate place.  Hot streams poured all through sulphur deposits, some of which were claylike and smushy, some of which were rocklike and crunchy, and all of which smell like rotten eggs.  We took some of the smushy kind and spread it on our faces to declare ourselves some kind of unified tribe.  We certainly have an identifiable unique culture, so why not add facepaint?

We ate lunch there in the Valley, consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Clif Bars, some canned chicken, a few sardines and our usual mountain of Ritz crackers.  We also had a very special treat for a lucky few: Luke carried up two raw eggs and hardboiled them in the volcanic water.  It was fascinating even if there wasn’t much to watch.  Those who tasted them said that they were excellent but most of us didn’t have the guts to even try. 

After lunch we continued to hike up and up and up, occasionally having to climb a rock wall of eight feet or so and sometimes having to ford a hot stream.  We got to the top and found a cliff overlooking the enormous crater lake.  Sometimes steam consumed the entire atmosphere, keeping us from seeing the lake; other times the steam would lift and the whole place looked like a big boiling drain, swirling in the middle. 

Some of us ventured down the rocky trail to get right to the lake but most of us just observed from above, resting our aching legs without getting so comfortable that we couldn’t walk back out.  A couple of people started back toward the trailhead because they knew there was a workable mineral pool on the way back to Desolation Valley.  The rest followed soon thereafter but skipped the pool to get ourselves to the cooling pool (with one hot mineral spring showering into the side) at the bottom. 

The pool at the bottom brought great relief, especially because it turned out to be attached to a cavernous canyon that had a waterfall at one end.  We could swim the length of the canyon, brace ourselves under the waterfall for a few seconds, then get shot out into the canyon again by the force of the water.  We were almost too exhausted to enjoy it, but we found a way. 

We grabbed some pizza on our way through town (the locals actually recommended Pizza Hut as the best to be had), along with some cold drinks.  We ate four large pizzas in about two minutes, then got in the car and headed back to the territory. 

We were too crowded in the van to get the sleep that most of us needed so we entertained ourselves by having Scotchy and Matt “Pappy” Beutner recite almost the whole move “The Big Lebowski” from memory. 

We rejoined Hilary and Christina back at home, as they both opted to skip the hike and get some much-needed rest.  We were jealous of their state of rest though they also put in quite a bit of work sorting and condensing our piles of stuff to help us fast forward our upcoming packing push.

We leave here on Wednesday morning early to start another boat odyssey back to St. Lucia that will get us to SFO by Friday night.  After that, we will camp out in the computer labs on campus finishing our media projects.  The next you will hear from us is at our public presentation on campus during the second week of February.  We think it is on Wednesday or so of the first week of the spring semester, but we will confirm and post the date and time in the next couple of day.  Please join us there to see the final presentation of our work.


  1. One's heart is as big as one's desire for good you all have big hearts and hands that will impact... You've all accomplished an amazing job. And created a difference in many lives in which they will be thankful..give yourselfs a hand for making it this far, stay strong these few days left and have fun while your at it because soon it will end.... keep up the good work!!!!!

  2. Amazing work! Congrats to the entire crew. God bless you all and have a safe trip home. The transition coming back to the Moraga hills may be somewhat difficult but always remember the relationships that you built and the lives you have touched. Can't wait to see some more videos! Take care! -Sal Ortiz