A cruise ship was in port at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berth when Dr. Birdy (Bertrand Jno Baptiste)** drove through the congested streets of the capital to pick me up for our hike to Middleham Falls on March 8, 2018. When he stopped for me at the ‘Fort Young Round-About’, we almost simultaneously exclaimed that we were really tired. Birdy had driven for more than an hour through heavy traffic from his temporary home in Picard, near Portsmouth, Dominica. He had been having occasional trouble sleeping, and like most people on-island, was still recovering from the trauma inflicted by Hurricane Maria. I wasn’t feeling one hundred per cent, but did not explain why until we reached our destination later that day. “Never mind,” I said to reassure Birdy, “We’ll feel better once we are in the forest!”
This time, our drive up the Roseau Valley was hindered by reconstruction and road works around the turn-off to the Middleham Falls trail, near Laudat. A worker advised us that the road would be closed for a few hours, so we would not be able to exit from the interior. However, we were not deterred, as we knew we would take our time and likely not return until it reopened anyway.
As soon as we arrived at the Visitor Centre, I took advantage of the washroom facilities, donned my hiking boots and drank some coconut water that I had brought along with me.
We were not even out of the parking lot when Birdy suddenly stopped: “Look over there!” “Where exactly?” I asked. Birdy pointed and remarked excitedly, ” Follow my finger. Right on that limb just above that big branch and over to your left. It’s a Thrasher!” Finally, I caught a glimpse of it, to the satisfaction of my teacher, and we headed off on the trail.
My legs really felt wobbly, but I hadn’t mentioned this to Birdy yet. We had to cross the Providence River, fast-flowing but shallow. Plenty of slippery rocks. Admittedly, there had been other trips here when I had taken off those boots, and then put them back on once I reached the other side. But I could not get away with that timid approach with Birdy. “Look,” he coached, “You’ll be fine. Just follow me and step where I put my feet, go slowly, use your pole for balance.” I took a deep breath, and did exactly that.
Miraculously, I made it across without incident and was absolutely thrilled about it. But when I paused on the opposite bank, took a drink of water and stepped forward, my feet went out from under me. I am still not sure what happened – a loose stone or stepping on an unstable rock – but I went down for about two seconds. I quickly bounced up, while Birdy laughingly exclaimed: “What happened to you?” My legs trembled slightly but I was not going to admit it. “I dunno. A loose rock and I stepped on it wrong, I guess.”
We continued along and I paused frequently to drink water and take in the very exposed track and the diminished rainforest, so different from my numerous excursions on this once-familiar trail. I have written several posts about Middleham, my favourite waterfall in Dominica on my blog Ti Domnik Tales. You can read about those memorable outings here.
Without that canopy, I was thankful that it was a cloudy day. I was somewhat “woozy” and really didn’t feel up to direct sunlight on my head. This pristine area, part of Morne Trois Pitons National Park was really “smashed up”, as a result of Maria. Tall trees were the exception now, as opposed to the norm. However, the trail itself was well cleared and easy to follow, thanks to Dominica’s Forestry Division workers and helping hands from a Cuban group of volunteers.
This time, I did see the endemic blue-headed hummingbird as it whizzed by my head at the same time that Birdy noted it. But when it perched on a nearby bough,
my eyes could not locate it. However, Birdy studied it with pleasure.
A few other birds such as Bull-finches and Plumbeous Warblers flitted about. Sometimes Birdy even called to them by mimicking their sounds. After more than 20 years of intensive study, he definitely knows what to do!
Again, the changed terrain, downed trees and exposed trail made me wonder at times if I were really on the same track that I once knew so well. It was fairly easy-going as we ascended into the forest. By the time we reached the junction with the Cochrane side of the trail, which also intersects with Segment 4 of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT) I was astounded by its new unfamiliarity. Those tracks had not yet been cleared (the Cochrane one is open as of July 2018) and it looked like never-ending brush and
broken trees for as far as I could see into the forest.
From there, the trail to the falls went off to the left – and it was all downhill from there!
I was rather fatigued, but distracted myself by distant views, as well as taking in Birdy’s thorough descriptions of everything along the way. (Although I really must record him next time!)
Seemingly suddenly, the terrain changed, and large, sometimes slippery boulders demanded skill and agility to cross over them. In the distance, the gentle roar of the falls became apparent. Although feeling unwell, I concentrated on Birdy’s words and setting my feet where he had placed his. Occasionally , he offered a hand. I was tempted to tell him that I couldn’t go any farther that day. I was just out-of-sorts. But I said not a word, and continued to carefully maneuver my body over the huge rocks. Within a few minutes, we were there!
A new viewing platform had recently been erected, and I exclaimed to Birdy that its location was not what I recalled from previous visits in 2014 and 2015. In fact, there had been no structure for several years, and on other treks with friends, we simply settled ourselves on nearby boulders to admire the towering cascade. To me, the approach seemed more difficult, but Birdy explained that because of persistent rains and perpetual dampness, the rocks were more slick than at other times.
And the waterfall really did look different. Birdy felt that landslides, blockages and torrential rains associated with Maria might have diverted the courses of some of the water sources that used to flow into the cascade. The torrent of water did seem diminished to me, but not for lack of rainfall! This was in March, but January and February, normally drier months were extremely wet this year (2018).
As I guzzled my juice and inhaled my sandwich, I started to feel much better. A light mist further moistened my already damp clothing and I inhaled deeply of the pure fresh air emanating from the flow of the falls. “Birdy, I am really sorry,” I confessed,” I’ve had the “loosey-gooseys” (diarrhea) for a few days and I really wasn’t very strong this morning. I almost told you I couldn’t go over those big rocks, but I just listened to you and followed your steps, and I made it!” Birdy smiled as he said, “I had no idea. But you know, with hiking, sometimes it is as much mental as it is a physical effort. If you psyche yourself to do it, then you can!” Truer words were ne’er spoken!
While we rested and ate lunch overlooking this sensational site, a visitor from China came along. She appeared to have been running, and when we made her acquaintance, she admitted to being an athlete. She really enjoyed the trail, but only stayed for a few minutes at the falls while Birdy and I took pictures of her (at her request, on her camera) as she posed like a model with the falls as her backdrop. Then our guest was off, with me cautioning her to “be careful!” We did not see her again, so she must have run the entire way back as well!
The different moods of Middleham Falls:
Left: November 2014; Centre: May 2015; Right: March 2018.
The return journey was much easier for me. I really felt rejuvenated and re-energized at the falls: a total tonic for what had ailed me! We refilled our water bottles at a spring not far from the falls and I drank deeply of this pure water, high in the mountains of Dominica. Along the way back, I bounced over the steps, chatted merrily and seemed to have found my old self in these sensational surroundings. But the lessons never stopped – and Birdy continually pointed out many natural wonders – birds, trees, plants and fruits of the forest while we appreciated the changed, but constantly amazing beauty of the Nature Island.
After this amazing journey, I was more than ready for the next one in a week’s time: the stunning Emerald Pool!
“Nature is resilient,” according to Dr. Birdy, and as evidenced by these plants and flowers in regrowth on the Middleham Falls trail in March 2018:
**Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist. He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org