February 28th, 2002
The rental car threatened to fall apart with each bump as we drove up into the mountains of Trinidad. Together with friends of ours, Ron and Emily off 'Bird Of Paradise', we had rented a car for the day in order to drive up to Asa Wright Nature Center. Ron drove up the winding road trying to avoid the plentiful potholes, and beeping the horn before rounding the many hairpin curves.
The rest of us peered out the windows into the lush green foliage that grew denser and denser the higher we climbed. Amidst the green palm fronds and vines brilliant red, blue and orange flowers dotted the way. Large groves of massive bamboo shot skyward towering over the road. Looking down into one of the valleys we saw a whole hillside covered with a trestle of avocado vines. Up we climbed into the rainforest for close to 2 hours as the road continued to get narrower and more precarious.
Finally we arrived at the Asa Wright Nature Center, turned into the driveway and parked the car. Walking down the path to the main lodge we passed a group of fellow visitors carrying binoculars and staring up into the trees. We had heard about the fantastic birdwatching up here at Asa Wright, and it began as soon as we arrived. Looking over to a bright orange Imortelle tree on the mountainside we saw large nests hanging down from almost every branch. Large black birds with yellow beaks and tails and brilliant blue eyes flew into and out of the nests and over our heads. We hardly had any idea of what was in store as we continued down toward the lodge.
The lodge itself was a grand old building, built as the plantation house when the land was worked to produce Coco, Grapefruit, Bananas, and other tropical fruit. A cozy wooden room lined with bookshelves and old portraits opened onto a spacious verandah that ran the length of the house. Walking to the edge of the porch one could pull up an empty stool and gaze out over the verdant hills. In moments we spotted a humming bird hovering amidst the flowers, and then another, and another. A spectacular blue bird, then a green one, then a yellow one, and another different looking hummingbird. We looked at each other in amazement and quickly started flipping through the bird books we had in order to identify what we could.... A Blue Crested Mott Mott, A Green Honey Creeper, a Red Tufted Coquette... and on and on.
The lunch bell rang and as people started to shuffle off the verandah Miranda and I straggled behind, mesmerized by all the flying colors. Just when we were about to head in ourselves someone pulled out a telescope and exclaimed with excitement that the Toucan was back! Sitting in a dead tree about a quarter of a mile off was a big colorful Toucan, and we all took turns looking at him through the telescope.
Lunch was a delicious meal, served buffet style for all of the day visitors. There are rooms at the center where visitors can spend the night, and it is said that this is the best way to see Asa Wright as the birds are most active at dawn and dusk. But on this visit we were only here for the day, so we ate lunch in preparation for our guided afternoon hike.
We gathered on the verandah after lunch and split into small groups of about 12 for our trip into the forest. The guide led us down a pathway pointing out a number of different plants and trees as we walked. The land was so fertile that it seemed anything would grow, and the variety and quantity of plant life was truly astounding. At one point the guide stopped the group and pointed out a large termite nest growing on a bamboo patch. He put his finger into the nest, allowed one to crawl up his finger and then put the termite into his mouth. "Tastes just like carrots," he said smiling "anyone want to taste?" I couldn't resist and I popped one into my mouth quickly chewing and swallowing. Seeing my surprised reaction Miranda decided she'd try one as well, and we both agreed that they did taste very much like carrots.
Deeper in the forest we came across a beautiful waterfall, which was only marred by the fact that there were 12 of us all standing around clicking cameras and pointing video recorders. We continued along the path with the guide pointing out numerous birds along the way. About an hour later we found ourselves back at the lodge.
I have never considered myself a major bird watcher. I don't often have the patience to sit and wait for the birds. But here on the Asa Wright verandah I didn't have to wait. This was my kind of birdwatching. Sitting in the comfortable seats of the porch with a cold drink in my hand I watched as more than 10 different species of birds put on a show in front of me. Hummingbirds (including the 3rd smallest bird in the world) hovered only feet away. Yellow Tails glided over the treetops. Even a small mammal called an Agouti and a large lizard called a Matt came out to play.
Satisfied that we had truly seen something special we braced ourselves for the drive home. On the road again we bumped and rattled our way down the mountain keeping our fingers crossed that both we and the car would arrive in one piece. We made it without incident, arriving back at the marina just after dark. The dinghy ride out to the anchorage where Baggywrinkle lay had become quite familiar after a few weeks, and the bay across which we motored seemed safer by far than any road in Trinidad. No sooner were we aboard than we sank into our bunks and fell fast asleep.