The hike to Middleham Falls took precisely 45 minutes, just as my guide, Dylan Williams, had predicted. In that time, Dylan, his girlfriend, Miriam Ormond, and I had marched a mile and a quarter up and down (and up and down) the hills of Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park, starting on a well-cleared trail through rain forest brush — tree ferns, rubber trees, shaggy epiphytes — and finishing with moderate scrambles over damp rock and down slippery wooden stairs. But finally, we stood on a sturdy platform gazing at the island’s highest waterfall as it thundered 200 or so feet down into a broad, inviting pool.
Between us and the pool, however, stood a field of water-slicked boulders. Suddenly, I felt every drop of my trekking confidence evaporate. I wanted nothing more than to bound over the rocks, as dreadlocked Dylan was doing in Converse low-tops, and dip my feet in the pristine water, but those feet, I was now irrationally sure, would fail me, and I’d slip, fall, dash my brains out below. Nature, until a moment ago so lovely and generous, had turned threatening and dark. Who was I to risk her wrath?
Nature’s Janus-faced narrative also happens to be the fraught story of Dominica, a mountainous little island of 73,000 plopped in the eastern Caribbean between Guadeloupe and Martinique. (Don’t confuse it with the Dominican Republic; the name comes from Christopher Columbus, who sighted it on a Sunday — Dominica in Latin.) For centuries, during which the island was ruled by the Spanish, French, and British before winning independence in 1978, Dominica was a rugged place, fertile but, because it was so consistently hilly, relatively underdeveloped.
This is an excerpt from an article originally published by The New York Times.