A Guided Tour -August 23, 2001
We usually seize any opportunity to get off the boat for some inland exploration - perhaps driven as much by our cramped living quarters as by any burning desire for adventure. Such an opportunity arose recently when we met our friend Chris Doyle in Sails Restaurant and Bar - a popular cruiser hangout in Chaguaramas Bay in Trinidad. Eileen was performing and Chris invited us to his table during a break in the music. He asked if we'd like to join him for a bit of land touring in a car he had rented. Chris writes Caribbean cruising guides. Virtually every pleasure boater in the island chain has a copy of at least one of his publications. We jumped at the chance to go touring with someone whose books many people consider to be as indispensable as their GPS.
We got a brutally early start Sunday morning when Chris picked us up at the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association in a rather beat up little car. He dumped a pile of maps on David's lap and declared, "We're off to Edith Falls, you're the navigator!" David, who has the world's worst sense of direction, silently hoped the roads would be marked. They weren't. We took the main road north through Chaguaramas National Park toward Magueripe Bay on the north coast. We looked vainly at either side of the valley for any signs of waterfalls. Finally, Eileen insisted we ask for directions (men never ask for directions). "No water at this time of the year," we were told. "Not enough rain." In Trinidad, rainfall reports have to be viewed in relative terms. It had rained at least once a day since we had arrived, but not in the torrents that occur at the height of rainy season.
Undeterred, Chris announced, "Then it's off to the old tracking station," being careful this time to confirm where the correct turnoff was. We parked the car at the start of a gradual uphill trail and were soon hiking through an incredible bamboo forest. The bamboo arched above us, forming a green cathedral-like vault. At the top of the trail were the ruins of a satellite tracking station built by the Americans and now abandoned. We climbed a rickety set of stairs to the roof of the main building to take in the view. "Too bad it's overcast," Chris said. "Not any good for photos." He scurried back down the stairs, the two of us struggling to keep up.
Back at the car, we continued on the main road to Magueripe Bay. The sun came out and filtered through the trees to where several local families were frolicking in the water. Chris snapped a flurry of photos. As David fumbled to get his camera out of his day pack, Chris was already striding back to the parking lot.
Racing back the way we had come, Chris told us he'd like to check out some attractions around Maracas Bay, further east on the north coast and reached by a different road. With only a few wrong turns, we found the road and followed its tortuous twists and turns through the Northern Range of mountains. We stopped briefly at a viewpoint a few miles before Maracas and inquired about a restaurant Chris had visited several years before. We were told it was closed. "I'll have to drop it from the next edition of my guide," Chris mused. "Not to worry, we'll grab something to eat in Maracas." We sped on.
Maracas Bay has a long sandy beach fringed with coconut palms. It's a great place to eat as long as you like "bake-and-shark", apparently the only dish sold by the many beach vendors. Bake-and-shark is shark meat in a heavy fried dough. We ordered three and hastily ate them standing at the counter of a small cabana.
Next stop was Cuevas Bay, a couple of miles further along the coast. Chris wanted to take some photos of the east end of the bay where there was a small fishing village. "I'm including this bay as an anchorage in the next edition of my guide," he told us. Chris recalled passing a lighthouse when he last anchored in the bay. We asked some fishermen how to get to the lighthouse. They smiled and shrugged. Chris reasoned, "There has to some means of land access." He parked the car where a rutted, overgrown track met the main road. It seemed to head in the right general direction. We plunged through the undergrowth. After scaling a few hills, we reached the rumoured lighthouse in the middle of a clearing. David climbed a steel ladder on the outside of the lighthouse. A couple of large vultures balefully watched his progress and deigned to move aside when he reached the small platform at the top. He looked down to see the others already disappearing through the brush on the way back.
Returning on the North Coast road, Chris asked if we'd mind a slight detour into Port of Spain on the way home. "No problem," we said, "just as long as it doesn't involve wilderness bushwhacking." We whipped through Port of Spain, stopping momentarily at a couple of restaurants that had been recommended to Chris. We looked over the menus, chatted a bit with the staff and piled back into the car. The sun was just setting when Chris dropped us off at the Sailing Association.
We thanked Chris and waved good bye. Eileen surveyed her scratched arms and legs and laughed, "I guess we'll have to buy the new edition of his guide book so we'll know where we've just been!"
Cheers, David & Eileen