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Trinidad #5

You Never Know What's Going to Happen in Trinidad

Flag of Trinidad & Tobago

June-July 2009

Linda wanted to keep our odd year streak intact, so we agreed to go to Trinidad for our 2009 vacation. You never know what’s going to happen when you go on a trip. You usually make plans and have a general idea, but Trinidad always seems to present contingencies that make it hard to create a game plan and stick to it. Nevertheless, I think I managed to have a great time and do some new things and see some new places. I always dream, beforehand, of seeing the sights; the cultural, the natural, the historical, the constant and the ephemeral. I get all giddy about seeing the raw, wild beauty of Trinidad’s biodiversity and geology but I always have to come to terms with the difficulty of gaining access to them. Several short term reminders kept us informed about how uncertain things are. Also, other relatives that we hadn’t seen in a few years were visiting the home place (two of Linda's sisters, and a brother-in-law). The house was full, the company was engaging, and lots of domestic things had to be done.

Click here to see photos of our trip at

Right off the bat, two of our large bags, with all of my clothes, and most of Linda’s, were lost by Delta Airlines (the first time we’d ever lost any items on a flight in our lives!). I realize, with a philosophical tongue-in-cheek, this was probably caused by my unusual visit to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, just two days before our trip, and I’m not making this up! Yes, I actually went there, out of curiosity, since I was in the neighborhood. And, just to show the cosmic retribution cast down upon me for visiting that place, or, to show the incompetence of Delta Airlines (I’m not sure which) my bag was lost on the return flight to the U.S., as well. But the good news out of this was that Delta delivered the baggage to us--in both instances--in a timely manner, and without too much hardship. Bless them!

Getting to Linda’s home the first night from Piarco Airport was like being stiffed by the normally reliable arrival karma. We’d landed late coming from Atlanta (where we were delayed on the runway one-hour), our afore mentioned bags were lost, we stood in line a long time to report them at “lost baggage” and then we noticed that no one was at reception to greet us (which is not a big deal, but one or both of Linda’s brothers had always come in the past), and Econo Car had almost given up on us. We got our rental car just in the nick of time before they closed, but they used our lateness as an excuse not to put any gas in it. And, the closest gas station to the airport we’d used in the past was closed for renovations. So, we had to go locate another gas station, late at night in unfamiliar territory, which is a precarious proposition at best. Then, I got totally turned around at a confusing new motorway exchange that had been built since our last trip. We made it home at about 12:30AM.

The highlights of the trip for me were the following excursions:

La Vega Estate: a group of us went there in 2007, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted, so I went back there on my own and really went over it with a fine tooth comb. It is a botanical garden and recreation area that was a real plantation estate in a previous life, and today supplies garden centers, and is a great place to picnic and go for nature walks. There were several groups of people there, including school kids in their uniforms, and one little girl said, “How long you here for Charlie?” The trails were not all complete, but the few that did were well maintained and absolutely fascinating. Basila plants (one of Trinidad’s national plants), Banga palms (very prickly palm trees), and various tropical fica, lilies, and philodendrons, too numerous to mention, were mesmerizing. There was a trail called “Toucan Trace,” presumably where you could see the famous toucan bird (the Fruit-Loops bird), but I didn’t see any. “Heliconia Walk” was another trail that had large bamboo patches, and a stream; a very tranquil walk. A children’s playground, greenhouses, and a nice amphitheatre with a mural of Jesus capped off the tour of La Vega.

The Military History and Aerospace Museum in Chaguaramas/Tucker Valley/The National History & Art Museum, Port of Spain: on the first Saturday, I got up early and left at 7:40AM to drive up to Chaguaramas (west of POS), and arrived at the Military History Museum at 9:00AM, right as it opened. I stayed for about two-hours, and I was the only visitor there. It covered a lot of history from pre-colonial days to the present, with a lot of handmade displays, moldy photographs, dioramas, and mannequins wearing costumes. I found the pirate history and World War II history to be most absorbing. U.S. Army presence on the island was profound, the Trinidadian contribution to the Allied effort was admirable, and little known outside of the island. I could write volumes about that, but I don’t know where to start. Mosquitoes attacked me constantly, but I was engrossed in the history and artifacts. Outside, were a lot of old army surplus trucks, jeeps, a tank, a small plane, helicopter, a submarine telescope, and a British West Indies Airlines (BWIA) 747, with a Rolls Royce engine, and a gutted interior. How they got it there is a mystery to me, and there was a huge U.S. Army LARC (lighter amphibious, resupply cargo) vessel, which is just like one I’ve seen at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN.

Next, I drove north through Tucker Valley, a national park, through former plantation lands, ending up at Maqueripe Bay, a quaint, idyllic place with an unassuming parking area and a stairs leading down to an intimate beach right next to where U.S. military houses used to stand. Military personnel, presumably, had access to everything, and a sign tells how that a hotel once stood here, and the actor Errol Flynn stayed here during the 1930s. The one overgrown army house still standing, I remember from 1998, was gone, and just the tiles and foundations of houses were left.

After exploring Tucker Valley, I drove back to Port of Spain, somewhat disappointed not to find any bicycle rentals in Chaguaramas, to find the National History & Art Museum. I have wanted to visit this for a long time, but never done so until now. The museum is first rate, and is free, located a little south of the big Queen’s Park Savannah, in a large Victorian building, called the Queen Victoria Institute. Every aspect of T&T is covered in the museum, from history, culture, geology, wildlife, and art. This was a tremendously gratifying find, and I could have devoted a whole day to this alone.

Nariva Swamp (a little bit of the western agricultural part): our first Sunday night, I had the opportunity to take a young man named Sasha home to his village in Biche, about 1 hour and forty-five minutes east of Linda’s home by car. One has to ride over the central hills to get there, and skirt the western most parts of Nariva Swamp, a world class swamp with howler monkeys, manatees, and lots of biodiversity. Sasha, about 19-years of age, has worked as a planter in the agricultural sections on the western end, which parallels a long canal, or swamp river. He directed me down long dirt roads to where he has worked, and where there a is big metal water pumping station, for pumping water into/out of the swamp, depending on which way they need it to flow. He described the more wild and diverse swampland to the east, and knows people who know their way around it. I wish I could come back for a boat ride down the canal, but it does not materialize. I took Sasha to his home, where he still lives with his parents and a few siblings. His father is named “Bullhead” and his mother is named “Baby.” That’s their nicknames. They offered Kenneth, Reanna and me a soft drink, and Sasha showed us an Ocelot skin he skinned himself, as well as a Manatee rib-bone. The bone was very dense and heavy. This was a fascinating excursion.

Piparo Mud Volcano: Reanna, Jurgen and I went to see the mud volcano that erupted in 1997, and permanently changed the area, having wiped out a road, a few houses, and left a huge mud-pie shaped swath of land covered in primeval mud that nothing will grow on. I first saw it in 1998, and then in 2005. There were two mouths or cones protruding about six feet in the air, but the cones were not as defined as they were in 2005. Too many people have climbed on them, and the mud oozes a little bit beside them, now. The drive up there is rough, from the Lower Piparo side, and seeing the flattened volcano was a little anticlimactic, but just a stone’s throw away is the cemetery where Linda’s father, Samuel, is buried. So, I showed Reanna his grave, and one of his brother’s. Next, we drove around to Piparo proper, and happened to see a man selling fish from the back of his pickup, which is common. Jurgen decided to buy some shark from him for about $5.00. Jurgen, incidentally, was in Trinidad on the day the mud volcano erupted in February 1997, and it was a traumatic event. Everyone within 5-10 miles of it could hear it, like it was a jet plane flying right over their heads!

Moruga: a group of us went to Moruga in 2007, but we didn’t spend any time there because we drove on west, along the coast, to LaLune to visit relatives. Moruga is at the bottom of Trinidad, and is an unusual place, because it was settled by former American Negro soldiers who fought for the British in the War of 1812. It still has some unusual customs today, such as the African animist tradition Obeah, and it also happens to be where Columbus landed on the island in 1498, while searching for some water. I have been fascinated with it ever since I read about it, but I had to insist that Linda go with me because she doesn’t like to leave the house much when we are in Trinidad. The drive down to Moruga was a little better than in 2007, because they were doing a lot of road construction back then, and it was completed. However, the road is still a bit rough in many places, mind you. Once we got there, the road ends abruptly right at a big RC Church, but unfortunately, it was not open. I asked a local chap where we could swim, and where Columbus landed, and how to get to the heralded suspension bridge that Linda remembers seeing when she was a child. We took the road east, and not far away, we see a big sign that reads, “Punta De La Playa,” which went on to say, to paraphrase it, that upon this spot, Christopher Columbus landed on August 1, 1498. He lifted a white cross and claimed this land for Spain, and named it La Trinidad, in honor of The Holy Trinity. I tried to imagine Columbus standing here, doing this deed, and probably wanting to move on to find more treasure, but what he did here definitely changed the island’s future in a big way!

We decided to move on to the suspension bridge, a mile or two further east. It was painted white and orange, and had steel trusses and cables with wooden planks, and is one of only two suspension bridges left in the country (they are on opposite ends of the island, north and south, and I saw the other one a few days later). There is a nautical feel to this area, as a river flows south to the sea, and fishing boats are docked nearby. Then, we grabbed some snacks at a snack bar, and went back towards Moruga and found a suitable spot on the sand to park and swim in the ocean for about 40-minutes. Reanna and I swam while Linda stayed in the car. It was our only chance to swim at a beach so far on the trip. We left Moruga at about 5:00PM and reached home after dark.

Port Of Spain with brother and sister in law, Jurgen and Debbie, Linda, Reanna, and myself: We left for POS intending to do some passport business for the sisters in Germany, but we got there too late and ended up doing a little bit of sightseeing. We parked the car at a cramped corner lot we’d never used before, just a short distance from the Parliament building. We walked to the Parliament building, the Red House, and went inside, which was my first time ever (I’ve always wanted to see inside but Linda would never let me). It was very nice, but we couldn’t go beyond the lobby. We walked around Independence Square, ate lunch at a crowded KFC, and then walked up Frederick Street, a main shopping street, where we bought some souvenirs and spices, including a Che Guevara t-shirt I got on a whim. Next, we walked through Woodford Square Park, which is sort of the heart of POS, and is a hub of activity, part solitude, and part Speaker’s Corner. We went back to the car and drove around the Queen’s Park Savannah to look at the “Magnificent Seven” houses from the car, but I stopped a couple of times to get out and take pictures. We proceeded on to Charlotte Street, to round off our visit to POS, by slowly cruising down this congested shopping/market street before hitting the afternoon homeward traffic to the south.

North Coast and Mountains with group: I hooked up with my young friends from the church for an excursion to the north coast, and northern mountain range. Denva, Dave and Stephan are friends of mine from the church in Williamsville, and they like to go for adventurous trips across the island. This time, they took me, along with Denva’s friend, Nichol, and their cousin, Darien, in Denva’s new Toyota Helix pickup truck. We couldn’t all fit in the truck, so Stephan drove his Toyota Corolla, too. The plan was to drive to Blanchisseuse (pronounced “Blaan-she-shers”), a remote retreat on the north coast, well past the more accessible beaches, such as Maracas, and Las Cuevas, and swim at super remote Paria Bay. However, we only got a couple of miles east, on the muddy, dirt road, and were stopped in our tracks by a big tree that fell in the road. With only two local Trini’s there trying to chop up the tree with a machete and a hand saw, there was no way we could get through. So, we went back to a nice beach we’d seen earlier, near the confluence of the Marianne River. The Marianne River, by the way, is where the other old suspension bridge is, as mentioned before. We got out and examined the wooden-planked bridge and a bit of the Marianne River that runs north straight out of the mountains to the sea, and then we ate a snack, and drove to a semi-private beach, where we had to pay to park. This was a very nice place.

Only Denva and I swam in the ocean, here, because of the rough waves, but we all waded and relaxed a bit in the Marianne River, which is clear and transparent as it meets the sea. At one point, I got the bright idea to make a physical map of Trinidad using rocks from the river. With a group effort, we made a pretty decent likeness of the shape of Trinidad on the sand with the rocks. We also saw remnants of leatherback turtle eggs at a nesting place on the beach.

Next, we drove south on the main road through the northern range to Arima. Trinidad’s northern range includes mountains that get up to 3100 feet, so it is comparable to our Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee. One unexpected treat on this jaunt was stopping to explore a waterfall, called Pop’s Avenue, that was little-known, and off the map. It turned out to be worthy of our time, because it was impressive, and it took a little bit of trekking expertise to find. I would guess that it was about 100-feet tall, and it fell into a round pool of water abutted against a rock bluff. All the guys swam at the waterfall but me, since I’d left my swimming clothes in the truck, and I didn’t want to get my dry clothes wet. Oh, well, it would have been great to swim at Pop’s Avenue, but I was content to watch and take pictures. Getting back to the car was not straight forward. Stephan and I decided to take an alternate trail back, apart from the others, who elected to take the river path back. Stephan and I marveled at the dense tropical forest all the way, which took about 25-minutes. We were headed in the right direction, I felt confident, but we didn’t know exactly where it would end up. Fortunately, we arrived just a tad bit ahead of the others, not far from the car, and we were all safe. We continued, slowly, south to Arima, but after about an hour of driving, it was getting dark. Our long daytrip was running out of daylight and we weren’t out of the mountains yet! We passed by the famous Asa Wright Bird Sanctuary, but it was closed already. I've been wanting to visit there for a long time, but I will have to wait till another time. We reached Arima ok, and I surely want to go back to the northern range again someday. It was a crowded Saturday night in Arima, so we continued on and stopped for dinner at a Subway restaurant on the way home. This was a fantastic day; one of the highlights of the trip!

Pool: by the time the pool finally filled up, we were ready for some swimming. This was one of the highlights of the trip for Reanna, since she didn’t get to swim in the ocean much. As usual, I took precautions with my swimming attire. Since Trinidad is about 10 or 11 degrees north of the Equator, I like to be very careful not to get sunburned. I usually swim with a t-shirt and hat on. I’ve learned from experience that the sun’s rays can burn me up pretty quickly if I’m not careful. Even on an overcast day. The water pressure was very weak for much of the four-days that it took to fill the pool. Rumor has it that unsympathetic people, or even water officials at the reservoir, were responsible for turning the water main off several times. Whatever the story, the water pressure seemed to be fine after the pool was full.

Caroni Bird Sanctuary: the world-class bird sanctuary has been on my list of “must see” places since the first time I went to Trinidad, in 1998, but I have never been able to get Linda to go. But this time I went, just two-days before the end of our trip, with Debbie, Reanna, and a cousin, Neil. The main attraction is the Scarlet Ibis, a rare, vibrant red colored, long-beaked ibis that gets its color from its diet of shrimp over in Venezuela, where it feeds during the day, but during the evening, about thirty-minutes before dusk, they fly home to Caroni swamp to roost in the lagoon trees.

We got there in the nick of time, at 4:00PM, to get in line along with several families, with children, and a few couples, for a ride on one of the green, wooden 15-seat pirogue boats. Only two of these were going out this night, and one other competing tourist boat. We were in the middle row of the first boat, and the view was very satisfying. Everything about the ride, the scenery, the mangrove canals, uprooted trees, and anticipation of seeing the ibis was riveting to me. This was amazing! And we saw two tree boa-constrictor snakes wrapped in a ball up in the trees. This really got the children excited, who were otherwise bored at times, including Reanna, and Neil. But the whole experience appealed to me. I’d dreamed of seeing this, and I would have been content just to ride the boat in the mangroves, but seeing the ibis flying in and roosting was absolutely priceless. The return trip to the dock went a lot quicker, as the guide sped the boat through the channels, and it was just about 6:30PM when we finished.

In summary, the trip had all the usual good things about family, activities, sightseeing, church fellowship (I also got to speak at church the second Sunday), and learning experiences. Mosquitoes, insects, and humidity didn't seem to be nearly as prevalent as in the past. Linda was on a mission, as usual, and I was trying to soak up as much culture and Trinidadianness as I could in such a short time span, without totally wearing myself out. You never know what is going to happen in Trinidad, and no trip is ever the same as before.

See Map A | Map B
Go to Trinidad #1; Trinidad #2; Trinidad #3; Trinidad #4