I think Simon the Guide Mon is trying to kill me. I have already followed him up countless peaks, and we’re barely a quarter of the way through the journey.
“And now we go down into the Valley of Desolation,” he says. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the same place that Gollum led Frodo to in Lord of the Rings.
Simon and I are heading for’s Boiling Lake. It’s the second biggest one of its type in the world, but the champion in can be reached by bus rather than a strenuous three hour hike. And that would be cheating.
It’s a puffing, panting, calf-shattering walk that provides a perfect snapshot of the island. If Dominica was a colour, it would be green. If it was a sound, it would be running water. If it was a direction, it would be uphill.
It only takes the hour-plus drive from the airport to the Dominican capital, Roseau, to realise quite how special the island is. The road constantly curves through rainforest, with mountains springing up either side, banana plantations hugging the hills and postcard shots available from every angle. It’s ultra-green – like someone has taken a normal forest and turned the saturation up to 11.
The Valley of Desolation is an exception. It is surrounded, of course, by mountains on which trees appear to cover every patch of ground, but the trail itself suddenly becomes rather bleak. The look of the valley was created by a volcanic eruption, and it is still full of steam vents and springs pumping hot water into the river.
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Due to the mineral content, the rocks take on reds and yellows, while the trickling waters have a milky blue glow to them. The river turns into a series of eerie pools, each with their own private waterfall. For a tired walker dripping in sweat, it’s like taking a warm – and utterly welcome – bath and shower on another planet.
Precariously balancing on stones to cross streams and trudging up steps made from ferns, a wall of steam comes into view. The only vegetation to be seen is a few pineapple-like plants – they’re the only ones that can survive in the sulphuric cloud. As the steam momentarily clears, we look down to see the Boiling Lake. It’s technically a fumarole – an opening in the earth’s crust emitting gases – which has been flooded.
It has a sinister grey-black colour and doesn’t so much bubble as pulsate. The water bursts up and out in an angry turmoil, hemmed in by its steep, barren prison.
It’s the sort of thing that’s worth climbing up and down mountains to see, but getting back to civilisation is an absolute brute of a journey along the same route. You never know quite what to expect around the corner. But chances are it will be more bloody steps.
This story originally appeared on Vtravelled.com.