We have just spent the day with Jesse James and 5 fellow cruisers visiting the Asa Wright Nature Centre and the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary.
Our trip from the boatyards east wasn’t without drama, as Jesse’s taxi got a puncture just as we arrived at the ‘doubles’ stall. We ate ours whilst Jesse found a place to replace the tyre. Whilst we were waiting for him to return the heavens opened and the shelter offered by the small roof over the snack van didn’t quite keep the rain off. The stall holder rang Jesse to tell him his passengers were all getting soaked, adding to his pressure but we are used to the weather and soon dried in the heat. We tasted some new dishes, such as callalou (like spinach) made into a roll with light batter, sliced finely and deep fried. We then carried on to the spectacular mountains in the north of Trinidad and wound our way up into the hills along a narrow road. Some of it was crumbling away and the drop below was sheer but there were workmen fixing it at least.
The Asa Wright Centre takes overnight guests and has a lovely restaurant, which served an excellent lunch to the 8 of us. If you stay for 3 nights you get a chance to do a night tour to see the nocturnal Oilbird living in the caves there. In the past they have been caught and lit to use as lanterns as their bodies stay alight for several hours. The former plantation house has a verandah overlooking the rainforest and feeding stations attract many bright and busy birds, such as the hummingbird. There are reference books in the lounge area to help identify the birds and we saw a toucan perched in a tree in the distance. We managed to get some half decent photos but can’t remember most of their names.
After lunch we had time to wander to a fresh water pool for a swim under the waterfall before the 1330 guided hike in the rainforest. This is included in the price of 6 GBP. It was a gentle hike along paths, so not taxing at all. We saw a variety of plants, flowers and birds, all described to us by our guide, another Jesse.
The golden-headed manakin was elusive, sadly. Apparently the male does a ‘moonwalk’ to impress the girls and it would have been quite a sight. The white headed manakin also does a special mating walk but he also cleans the area under his perch to impress but once the deed is done he is off back to the mating area, leaving his mate to bring up the kids. She should have known better!
We did see the leaf cutter ants taking huge pieces of leaf back to their nest. The queen lives for about 30 years but once she dies the entire nest also dies. The workers feed a fungus originally brought to the new nest by the queen after her nuptial flight. This in turn provides them with food and sustains the nest. We saw some beautiful flowers and a few bats along the route.
Next we travelled to the Caroni Swamp, arriving around 1645, just in time to join a guided trip in a flat -bottomed boat to see the mangroves and several more birds. The swamp covers a large area and the river is 5 miles long. It was tranquil inside and our guide often cut the engine to let us enjoy the peace. Our main aim was to try to see the scarlet ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and we weren’t disappointed.
As sunset approached, thousands of beautiful red birds flew in to roost on 1 island, soon covering the trees in red dots. A few birds were white ibis, others were darker and our guide told us that the young scarlet ibis don’t turn red until they are over 2 and a half years old. They have a diet high in carotin giving them their colour.
It was a sight that will remain in our memories for a very long time. The golden colours from the setting sun and the blue sky made the red coloured birds look very striking. Jesse made everyone on the boat a lovely snack using fresh pineapple with herbs and spices to add a little heat. He also brought some dough balls with a warm, savoury sauce.
We then headed back to Chaguaramas, finishing our wonderful day with creamy homemade coconut and pistachio ice creams. The whole day trip cost 55 GBP each, including all the meals and was well worth it. Being in the rain forest, hearing all the sounds and finding out about the flora and fauna was a very special experience.