Swimming in a Waterfall

We wanted to visit a waterfall. We were not entirely sure which one, but we knew the waterfalls in Dominica were famous because you could swim beneath them in clear, fresh water—a strange rarity in the Caribbean where water is in abundance but most of it is salty. We asked our waitress how to get to a bus to take us there, and she pointed off to the right and told us to just start walking that way. Luckily, I stopped and asked an old lady if we were going in the right direction.

“No, no, darling,” she said with the light lilting Caribbean accent. “You’d better follow me.”

She led the way at a fast pace and we followed. Soon, we approached a bunch of men who were standing on the side of the road next to some worn and beaten down trucks. She started talking to them quickly, and one of the men came up to us.

“Thirty dollars each,” he said, “to visit Trafalgar falls and the boiling springs and come back to Roseau.”

By thirty dollars, we assumed he meant thirty Caribbean dollars, since that is the currency in Dominica. Thirty Caribbean dollars are roughly the equivalent of ten Euros ($13). We looked at each other for a split second and then looked at the woman.

“It’s a good price,” she said.

Terrified and thrilled simultaneously, we agreed. He opened the door to his van—a van that looked more like a historical relic than anything fit to traverse the mountainous roads of Dominica. This van had dents in its sides and paint chipping. The seats felt like they were made of wood and there were no seat belts.

Still, we climbed in, and he climbed into the driver’s seat, which was on the right. Dominica, which used to be part of the British empire, has inherited many quirks from its colonial past: driving on the right side of the road, a currency which still features Queen Elizabeth…

He took us through Roseau and gestured at the grocery store. The grocery store is something of a marvel in Dominica because there aren’t any others—most do their shopping at small shops and at markets. He was very proud of this grocery store, which had seemed to be nothing special when we had passed by earlier.

As we left Roseau, we entered small, windy streets that threaded their way through the mountains. We could see long cliffs and tropical forests on either side, and the street was bordered by small houses and shacks. Finally, he stopped. We were at the Trafalgar falls.

The hike was only fifteen or twenty minutes, he told us. We could do it in flip flops easily.

I don’t know what kind of flip flops he’s worn to do this kind of hiking, but we were better off just going barefoot for most of it. The hike is not long and the first two thirds of the hike might fool you into thinking it’s easy. It’s not. In the last third, you have to climb over boulders and hoist yourself up and over large rocks. There is no path and there is no right way to go.

We crossed a stream and the water, to our surprise, was hot. It felt like a hot tub. Another hiker gestured to us to wade further downstream and we found ourselves in a little cave with hot water about three feet deep. We relaxed in the hot water for a little while, before venturing further downstream with our new guide. He told us that this was the easiest way to get to the falls. Perhaps he is right, but it did not feel easy. We waded through the hot water, and then it got deep, up to our chests, so we had to carry our shoes and clothes and bags up to keep them from getting wet. We climbed out and the rock climbing began.

Finally, exhausted, we arrived at the falls. They were beautiful. The falls descend into a large pool with blue water and surrounded by trees and rocks. It felt secluded, even though there were many other tourists nearby. The water was deep at parts, and almost always up to our shoulders. Unlike the hot river, this water was refreshingly chilly—not cold, because nothing in the Caribbean ever seems to feel cold.

We swam in the water for a while, and then headed back. We drove down the road a little ways, and stopped at the boiling springs.

Dominica is home to a Boiling Lake, which is one of only three in the world and can be reached by a five-hour hike roundtrip. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Boiling Lake, and the boiling springs felt a little anticlimactic. Small bursts of water erupted from the ground and steam rose into the air, but they mostly looked like large pots of boiling water only without the pots and without a stove underneath them.

On the way back, we drove through the botanical gardens, and our driver took us back to Roseau. We handed him the money and he said something about American dollars. We said that we had never agreed to American dollars. He didn’t push the issue, and we gave him a small tip. I’m not entirely sure whether he was trying to rip us off or if he genuinely believed that we had agreed on thirty American dollars. However, another group later told us that they had paid ten Caribbean dollars for a one-way trip, so thirty Caribbean dollars for a two-way trip seems more than fair. But let this be a lesson to future travelers: always make sure you specify the currency as well as the amount.

The trip to the waterfall was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, and I only wish that we could have seen more of Dominica while we were there. There are hundreds of waterfalls, and Trafalgar is known for having a lot of tourists. There are many other things to see as well, like the Carib region, the Emerald Pool and the Boiling Lake. Clearly, I’ll just have to return to Dominica one day!

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