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Meeting young friends in Trinidad. Christine Ridout photo.

A Trinidad Hiking Adventure: Rough Terrain, Gentle People

By Christine Ridout


When friends ask me about my three-day Trinidad adventure hiking the rainforest, I come up with opposites: some of the roughest terrain I've ever hiked and some of the gentlest, warmest people I've met in a long time.

Arriving in Trinidad at night, we drove through the rainforest before settling into a rough lodge to sleep.

In the dark, I saw nothing of what would greet me the next day: a mosaic of brilliant colors, tropical flowers, so many shades of green I couldn't count them, birds singing loudly, varieties of vegetation I had never seen, a praying mantis measuring at least 4 inches - maybe 6 (!) - and a group of school children in bright blue tunics and shirts, the girls with red ribbons in their hair.

From the lodge, we walked to the village center where we had breakfast and met our guides, Cristo and Edmund. They helped us ready our packs for the 14km hike through the rainforest to the sea. We had to carry all our own food and water, bedding, and personal belongings for overnight camping on Paria Bay.

Smiles and Giggles

I was a little dismayed by the weight of my pack and breakfast was a little tough on my western palate -- fish sauce over bread, a Trinidadian delicacy -- but the welcoming faces of the children seemed a good omen. Their smiles and giggles, their delight in meeting us were good for my soul; they welcomed Americans and begged to have their pictures taken. I was struck by the gentleness and care with which they treated each other. I started down the trail light-footed.

The head of the trail was surrounded by bright orange and red palms and tropical flowers glistening in the sun. It felt like passing through a gateway on our way to an adventure. The early section of the trail was flat and easy and I thought "No problem."

But the hike from Brasso Seco to Paria Bay soon became hard and long, the terrain rough, the temperature and humidity high. We had to duck under logs, climb over logs, contend with rock-strewn sections of the path, and climb hills that felt like they were 45 degrees up. We also walked along a ledge where, if you tripped, the fall was straight down. And I, who had arrived the night before on a plane from Boston, was not adapted to the sudden heat and humidity.

Cristo the guide. Christine Ridout photo.

At one point, Cristo, who was in the lead, told us we could sit and rest a while. We thought he was taking pity on us, our blistered feet and parched tongues. But, turned out, just ahead, the trail was blocked by trees and brush which had fallen across the path. Cristo and Edmund whipped out their machetes and joked, "Never go into the rainforest without your machete." They then began to hack away at the vegetation to clear the path while we enjoyed a well deserved rest.

A Cool Stream

As we continued, my feet slowly turned to lead. We stopped more and more frequently to rest and chug water and when we found a cool stream, we doused our heads to cool down. But, as we sat, I looked at the scenery, a lushness of color and variety of tropical plants unknown to me, a New Englander.

I watched, fascinated, as the large Blue Emperor butterfly floated past. Here, in real life, was a creature known only to me from a Massachusetts butterfly house.

We continued hiking and my attention drifted to the brilliant red flowers deep in the forest, the palms that fanned out into unique patterns, the sunlight filtering through foliage, and the birdsong. The colors and richness of the foliage astonished me.

I heard cawing. "What bird is that?" I asked Edmund. "A parrot." "Wait a minute" I thought, "Parrots live in cages!" Not in Trinidad! Nor does a geometrically shaped red and yellow flower, abundant along the trail, live in a New England hothouse. Here, the hothouse is everywhere.

For all the beauty, I was hot and tired, my pack got heavier by the minute, and my feet began to ache. But, one endless foot in front of the other, encouraged on by Edmund and Cristo, I kept hiking, knowing the white sand beach and blue-green water awaiting us were worth the effort. Etched in my mind is the moment we emerged from the forest and the expanse of water and sand spread before us.

We dropped our packs, jumped into our bathing suits and luxuriated in the wonderfully cool water, our bodies floating on the waves and swells, our burning feet cooled and healed by the salt water. That night, I fell asleep listening to the surf gently roll up the beach, only awakening when Edmund roused us to see female leatherback turtles laying their eggs on the beach. We were in Trinidad during the season of the leatherbacks and, in spite of our fatigue, we had willingly said we would get up to see them. Their huge size overwhelmed me-I'm used to little turtles.

The tough hike we had taken was well rewarded by our destination. We spent the next day having a "typical" Caribbean vacation-lolling on the beach, floating in the surf and napping in the shade. After all, we had come a long way to enjoy this and we deserved it. And, we had to rest up because we still had the return trip to do-but this time, there was no doubt we would make it.

Christine Ridout is a freelance writer and director of the BostonWest Center for Writing and Photography in Wayland, MA. Contact her at cridout@attbi.com.

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