Bromeliads in the Valley of Desolation

Later this month I am giving a presentation to the Parkdale Horticultural Society on my trip to the West Indies. In preparation, I am striving to finish scanning all of the film photos I took, not including the Polaroids, because frankly, I’ve got to draw the line somewhere or I’ll never be done.

I’m doing this scanning in the background, while writing and working on other topics, most specifically a third book (with a deadline that is coming up all too soon) that has absolutely nothing to do with this trip. It’s a strange form of multi-tasking. Working my way through the images in quick succession is a sort-of re-living of the sights and experiences, and it is also bringing back emotions I felt at the time while also reconnecting me to older emotions related to my family. I wish I had more time to devote to this specifically right now, but alas there are only so many waking hours in the day.

Anyways, I am just now working my way through the film photos I took on our 8 hour hike to and from the Boiling Lake. This is one of my most memorable experiences from the trip and one I’d LOVE to experience again. My favorite part of the hike was the trek across the Valley of Desolation, also shown here. I didn’t want to leave and lingered for a few minutes on the way out before turning my back on this incredible landscape, possibly forever.

There are stories, of course, rumors of people staying in the valley overnight and dying from the fumes. A place with such a biblical name is bound to inspire the imagination. The energy and volatility there was like travelling back in time to the earth’s beginnings, just after land and plant life had formed.

There was no lava, but there was bubbling mud. The smoke in the photo is sulphur. I could see it escaping all around me through vents. And feel it and hear it underneath my feet; sometimes without seeing it. And smell it. Oh, could I smell it. In fact, I lived with the smell of sulphur in the air during most of my stay in Dominica. It was strongest at night when the breeze picked it up and carried it down from the Roseau Valley. In St. Lucia we stayed in Soufriere, just around the way from another stinking sulphurous caldera. The smell seemed to collect and concentrate in our bedroom at night. The first night I smelled it was before our early morning decent to the Boiling Lake and I have to admit that I couldn’t rest, worried that I’d slip away quietly in my sleep from the noxious-smelling gas like one of those campers. I do not miss that rotten egg smell.

Despite the name, there was life in the Valley of Desolation. The most common plant is the bromeliad pictured above. It literally covered the mountainside and dotted the landscape that we walked across. It is endemic to this very place — you won’t see it anywhere else in the world. After doing extensive searching online, I believe it is called, Pitcairnia micotrinensis, although I am not absolutely, 100% certain. I’m a pretty decent researcher, but I am no botanist.

I’d love to go back when it is blooming! The flowers are yellow and white. Can you imagine the display? Wouldn’t that be something to see?!

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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