If you went to North American schools, like me you would have learned about long dead white men “discovering” places and having adventures. You may have also played computer games such as Amazon Trail at home. And if you’re anything like me, the two have combined in your brain and so the thought of visiting the rainforest is exhilarating and would be like embarking on your very own mini quest. Okay, fine – I fully acknowledge I may be alone in this regard…
Hiking in my birth country has always been a dream of mine and one that has been rather difficult to achieve due to Trinidad being a tad unsafe and because of protective family members. However, that all changed when I discovered a group called “Island Hikers”. Leaders are first-aid trained and police are notified of where the group will be hiking that day. There were officially no more barriers against a Trini hike!
I joined Island Hikers for a Saturday hike to Yarra Gorge and River, located in northern Trinidad. The group assembly point was at Maracas Bay, just after a row of restaurant shacks, all of whom were still closed at 7:30 in the morning. There were a few early birds on the beach but it was mostly quiet except for the ever growing hiking group. Once everyone had signed in, paid the $40TT (about $8CDN) fee, we were given these instructions on how to get to Yarra Gorge:
“Follow the road until you hit Blanchicheuse Secondary School on your right. 20 meters later, there is a road on the right so take that. Don’t cross the bridge! Take the road. Whatever you do, don’t take the bridge.”
I don’t know about you, but that made me want to take the bridge. Unfortunately (or thankfully), I wasn’t the one driving. The caravan of cars wound through the mountain roads and through La Fillette, a village that had a strong air of poverty and isolation. People stared at us as we drove past; I couldn’t help but wonder if the caravan was the excitement for the day. Then we came to a split where one direction had the road to our hike meeting point and the other had the infamous bridge which looked rather innocuous after all.
Today’s hiking group was huge – about 60 people! There was a large high school group, a number of regular locals, eight yellow-shirted hike leaders, and two locals-turned-foreigners (me and my sister). It ultimately turned out to be okay despite my absolute dislike of large groups as a small number of us were “slow” and brought up the really far away rear. Everyone was given an opportunity to take a life jacket provided by the hike leaders. Not everyone did – and some eventually regretted it. Moral of that story – when a life jacket is offered, unless you’re Aquaman, take it. One hike leader also bawled everyone out to tie shoelaces. “Check your shoelaces! I still see some of them slack! Big Man! Do those laces look properly tied to you? They still slack!”
Hiking in the rainforest is not easy even if you have a well-marked trail. For one, it’s still the rainforest – watch where you step, watch where you sit, and watch what you touch. The rainforest hates you and will do its best to hurt you. If you keep that in mind, all will probably be well. Respect the rainforest and it won’t try to kill you. Maybe. The other issue is that it is so bloody hot and humid. The atmosphere sucks out what strength you have – if you’re fit in temperate climates, don’t think you’re fit in tropical climates. All that to say, rainforest hiking is still pretty amazing.
The trail through the gorge was marked by periodic orange tags in trees as Island Hikers pre-marks the trail before the “big day”. The vegetation surrounding the trail was very dense and green but every once in a while, there was a splash of colourful flowers, cocoa pods, and bright blue butterflies the size of my hand. There were no sounds other than the periodic “ahh-oo!” signal yelled out by various hike leaders to signal how far ahead or behind they were with their clump of hikers.
The thing with gorges, though, at some point, you have to go down to the water. And this down was steep to the point where I just gave up using my feet and put my butt to good use – sliding down in mud over tree roots and using the trees themselves as hand holds was fun but perilously fast. Once at the bottom, there were a number of large rocks in the river, where one could sit and recover. We had a snack there as the river flowed all around us, washing off the mud we’d just accumulated. Then it was time for the second part of the adventure – following the river back to the starting point.
This is where life jackets came in handy. Following the river meant walking through the river itself for about 90% of the time. Much of that is wading. But some of it required actual swimming. And the water was cold. Refreshing, yes, but the initial dunkings were freezing. In some spots, the flow is swift and water was not clear so we couldn’t really see the logs, branches, and rocks waiting to bash our legs. Those who didn’t take life jackets generally ended up seriously regretting it – their manly prides were cut to shreds.
The whole experience was fantastic. Being in the middle of a rainforest, listening to the silence beyond the rushing river. Sometimes the stillness was eerie and other times, it was just peaceful. I certainly got my adventure and a tiny taste of what it would have been like to be an explorer. The day ended back at Maracas Bay – I enjoyed a shark and bake along with a sorrel Carib shandy. They are only rewards suited to capping off this phenomenal experience!*
- So….in order to be fair and transparent, about a week later, my sister and I both started showing symptoms of chikungunya. Being continually immersed in water meant that our mosquito spray got washed off and unfortunately, the chikungunya mosquito bites during the day. Oops. We’re fine now and good news – now that we’ve had it, it is likely we won’t get it again. So more rainforest adventures for me!