Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Titou Gorge

Serving in the Peace Corps is a two-year commitment. Last Friday, the latest group of volunteers were sworn in to start their two years after completing their training. The photo below shows the newest class members, joined by my class, as well as the class that preceded mine (I'm at the top left). Yesterday, those of us still serving here took the new class on a day trip to some of our favorite spots on the island.
We met at the Peace Corps office in the capital, and then had our van driver take us up to Freshwater Lake (pictured below), which is at a very high altitude (and provides much of the hydroelectric power for the island). I had visited this beautiful lake previously, but this time it was warm and sunny instead of cool and misty. This picture only captures a portion of this large lake.
Although we didn't have time to explore, they got a brief look at Trafalgar Falls. We also visited the hot springs in Soufriere (pictured below), and finished the day by snorkeling at Champagne Reef, all of which I had enjoyed before (click on the links to review my previous stories).
The one place we visited that was new to me was Titou Gorge. I had heard tales of this tourist attraction, and knew that it had been one of the spots used in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was filmed here. I was eager to check it out for myself.

Titou Gorge (“Ti tou” means “little-thoat” in the local Creole dialect) is a narrow canyon with a deep, cold, clear stream running through it. It reminded me of cave tours I have done (including Old Man's Cave State Park in Ohio), with its stark stone walls winding on either side. However, if one gazes upward, there is a narrow slit of blue sky and green vegetation at the top (probably fifty feet or so above you at its highest point). It is a surreal setting.

I understand that one of the recent episodes of Discovery Channel's “American Tarzan” featured Titou Gorge. With the help of ropes, they went further up the gorge than the typical tourist, as shown in this brief video clip.

As you wade into the water, it is rather cold at first. The water deepens quickly, and I was eager to swim just to warm my body. You do get a workout swimming upstream, because the current in the narrow parts of the gorge is fighting against you (there was one wider “room” which had a point on the side where you could stand on the bottom and rest). The current becomes more prominent as you approach the first waterfall.

Just to the right of the waterfall is a small round area just slightly larger than a telephone booth, where folks can get out of the current and stand for a rest. From this point, you climb along the rocky wall towards the waterfall, using a limited number of handholds while your feet struggle to find solid points under the frothy water. Upon reaching the waterfall (actually more of a cascade), the guide helped us to climb up it, stepping through the strong flow of the water which was coming down “steps” (a drop of about five feet over about a three foot length). It was a bit challenging, but all of us made it.

The next pool above the first waterfall was much shorter, but just as cold and cave-like. There was a much larger waterfall (about 10-12 feet?) dumping itself at the head of this pool. It was possible to work your way around the back of the falls, or to “take a shower” under the force of the falling water. However, this was the end of the line for most visitors swimming up the Titou Gorge.

To exit, we swam back to the top of the first waterfall. The preferred method for getting around this five foot cascade is to jump from the top into the pool below. Normally, this would not be a problem for me, but one must add into your calculations not to jump out too far and hit your head on the “cave” wall above the targeted landing zone. Too far to the left, and the water is too shallow for a safe landing, but too far to the right and you might hit the wall in flight. However, I'm probably making it sound worse than it was, because everyone made the jump with no problem.

From there, we had the current behind us as we swam out of the narrow canyon. I enjoyed swimming on my back so that I could look upward at this very unusual scene. Obviously, I couldn't take my camera with me on this wet adventure, but a friend snapped the picture below as I emerged from the gorge, followed by two of the new volunteers. You can't feel the water temperature in this picture, but you can see the clarity of the water in this stream.

Notice that even though I was a good enough swimmer to pass the Red Cross life guard test years ago, I went ahead and paid $5 Eastern Caribbean dollars (about $2 US) to rent a life jacket, because others had told me how important it was here. I highly recommend a life jacket for anyone trying this, because of the current and the water temperature.

There is also an opportunity to jump (actually, it is more like just stepping off) down between the walls into the deep water about 15 feet below. It is just beyond the opening of the gorge that I am swimming out of in the picture above. I don't have a photograph to share, but I did find a YouTube video of someone else taking the leap if anyone wants to see what it was like.

Personally, I enjoyed my leap off the end of Rodney's Rock into the Caribbean better as far as jumps go, but I am very glad I got to experience this unusual tourist spot on the Nature Island of Dominica. I will remember it for the rest of my life.

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