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Dominica - After several hours climbing a steep rain forest track, I am dizzy with exhaustion. My legs are leaden and I’d give anything for a helicopter rescue, a swimming pool and a well-stocked bar. But the summit is not far away, a few short strides off.
Cows graze and gorgeously-plumed cockerels strut about. Then a man emerges from a ramshackle wooden hut and waves. “England?” We nod. “Welcome to Dominica.” My husband Richard and I are in the Caribbean, but it’s a far cry from palm-fringed, white sand beaches and azure seas. Here, dramatic volcanoes soar from deep seas, their forested slopes etched by tumbling rivers.
So mountainous is it that despite being the first land encounter of his second voyage to the New World in 1493, Christopher Columbus is said to have sailed past, merely pausing to name Dominica after the Sunday on which he found it.
Dominica has 365 rivers, a pristine environment and the longest hike in the Caribbean — the 14-stage, 184km Waitukubuli National Trail, which can take more than two weeks to finish.
It is not for the faint-hearted, and guides are recommended, but several stages are relatively easy going. The first sector comes up from Scotts Head on the south-west coast through this Shangri-La meadow where we’d love to linger, but a Champagne treat awaits.
Down we go, through mango and wild orange trees, and exotic flowering shrubs.
The “treat” is a snorkel from Champagne Beach, where hot gases emerge from the seabed amid swaying corals and shoals of brilliantly-hued fish.
We watch the sunset from our room’s seaside deck at Fort Young Hotel, an 18th-century military building. It’s one of the smartest places in the lively capital, Roseau, with its higgledy-piggledy streets of prettily painted colonial-era wooden shops and houses.
But we can’t linger: our driver, Martin, is coming early the next day to give us a short local tour.
The twin Trafalgar Falls are magnificent, with lovely pools to bathe in. At Titou Gorge, we swim through a channel to another falls; the air resounds with roaring water and rain forest bird calls.
Sunset Bay Club, midway up the west Caribbean coast, has the first “proper” beach we’ve seen: a gentle curve of dark volcanic sand.
A club boat takes us snorkelling. The shoreline is dotted with coves and fishing settlements, flying fish scoot alongside, and fork-tailed frigate birds wheel overhead.
En route to out hotel we take a dip in the Emerald Pool, a lagoon fed by a cool clear cascade that mysteriously transforms into a slightly opaque, soft green.
It’s warm underfoot – that volcanic effect again. In these exotic surroundings one becomes a sultry rain forest beauty or, at least, that’s what I like to tell myself. At Kalinago Barana Aute’s Carib model village, we learn about native culture.
It’s fascinating, especially the use of herbal medicine.
That night at the hillside guest house Beau Rive, Richard and I linger on the colonial-style deck eating delicious brownies – they even make their own chocolate here. We tuck into some reflections too.
Dominica is quite out of the ordinary, we agree. – Daily Mail
l Also see discoverdominica.com