Access & Resources
"THIS IS WHY WE respect our elders." My guide, the euphonically titled Cristo Adonis, gestured to the trail as we hiked through the jungle mountains of northern Trinidad. Above us: steep slopes as far as we could see. Below: A mudslide had opened up a view of a deep canyon overhung with red and yellow heliconia. We could hear invisible waterfalls. An iridescent blue emperor butterfly flitted by. Before us lay a narrow, flat shelf of chunky limestone. Trinidad's Northern Range is the last gasp of the Andes, cleaved from the mainland only recently, geologically speaking. Impossibly rugged. This old donkey paththought to be a centuries-old Arawak or Carib Indian trailwas widened by hand to serve remote cocoa plantations.
For our group of hikers, the trail made possible a foray into a wild paradise from the mountain village of Brasso Seco to Paria Bay, on the north coast, leg two of a five-day multisport adventure run by Wildways, an adventure travel outfit based in Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain. We'd already spent a day mountain-biking. Now we were backpacking to a remote beach.
That these mountains are Andean remnants felt right. Trinidad, just seven miles off the coast of Venezuela, is as South American as it is Caribbean. It blends the astounding variety of wildlife and jungle plants of the continent with the easygoing friendliness and laid-back beaches of the islands. Trinidad is a compressed wonderland that serves up some 460 species of birds (I saw hummingbirds the size of bumblebees), more than 650 kinds of butterflies, and 200 types of orchids.
Even the "groomed" trail presented its challengesmudslides, blowdowns, and slick washoutson the nine-mile hike. Every one of our group of six did a quick turn on his or her duff at some point, which is why we dubbed our destination Camp Soreass. We set up our tents on the boundary between the rainforest and the beach fronting Paria Bay. A gentle surf lapped the north-facing strand of flour-soft sand; we wasted no time cooling our hot bodies and achy rumps in the Caribbean. A small streamour freshwater sourcerippled past the campsite.
Life was uneventfuluntil 2:30 a.m., when I woke up to the light tinkling of a bell. I dragged myself out of my tent to see Cristo ringing the bell and pointing down the beach, where in cloud-shrouded moonlight I could see a creature lumbering out of the surfa leatherback turtle, at least six feet in diameter. She looked weary, ancient. We watched from a distance as she combed the sand with her flippers the way kids inscribe angels in the snow. It took her about an hour to burrow down three feet or so. She paused, presumably to lay her eggs, then spent 45 minutes covering and hiding her trove before she lumbered back into the sea. Leatherback numbers have declined by as much as 90 percent in some parts of the world in the past 15 years. Still, Trinidad is something of a stronghold for them, thanks to the fervent conservation efforts of the government, community members, and groups like Nature Seekers.
In the morning, Cristo gathered us before breakfast for a short hike to Paria Falls, a 30-foot tumble into a deep pool, surrounded by more heliconia, fringed lilies, and philodendron leaves the size of elephants' ears. The waterfall has enough overhang that a determined swimmer could get behind the cascade, submit to the force of the water, and be spat out like a twig. Properly spat and spent, I was almost overwhelmed with the choices back at Paria Bay: take a cold shower under a waterfall, have a warm bath by the beach, or sleep to a surf lullaby.