Guest Column: A holiday spent with nature in Trinidad

01/14/2016 7:00 PM |

Christmas in Trinidad

I remember that, years ago, some readers enjoyed traveling with Paul and me as we took trips to interesting places. We did the traveling and readers enjoyed it later from the comfort of their easy chairs. I thought you might enjoy taking another journey with me — this time to Trinidad. So get ready to board the plane and enjoy the trip.

My late husband’s caregiver, Julian Lewis, was headed home for Christmas and I was joining him. We left JFK Dec. 22 aboard Caribbean Airways, following along the Atlantic coast for a good part of the way. The flight took only about four hours. As we neared the Caribbean islands, we began to see lights below, like bright, shining stars through the clouds, anticipating our arrival in Trinidad.

We were greeted by Julian’s friendly family and I was accepted as one of them the entire time I was there. How nice to feel so comfortable in a country far from home. Since our time on the island would be short, we planned for our first day there to be busy. One of our most desired spots to visit was the world-renowned Asa Wright Nature Center in the Arima Valley. One of the center’s main goals is to preserve the rainforest.

It was bright and beautiful — a good day to be looking for the brightly colored hummingbirds Asa Wright is known for. Trinidad is a place where drivers sit on the right side of the front seat and drive on the left side of the highway just opposite what we are used to. So hold on now as we will be climbing and winding around the mountain as we head up to find the birds. Lucky Cindy is driving as she is used to these roads. The roadsides were covered with trees growing fruit — coconut, sweet-sop, cashew, avocado, mango, kiwi and others, with bright flowers sprinkled in amongst the trees.

We had called ahead for reservations to join a tour guide to tell us about the birds and take a walk to look for and listen to some of the area’s more secretive birds. We were glad she was with us, for we were about to encounter the bearded bell bird and were even able to record its interesting call.

Back up the path, we were able to get a few more shots of the hummingbirds before taking off on our afternoon trip to the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary, an amazing lagoon covering 40 square miles of wetlands. The area was recently declared a wetland of international importance. We were to go on a lectured boat tour into the Aripo Scientific Reserve. We were due to leave the jetty at 4 p.m. and boarded a boat that looked like an extra-wide, extra-long rowboat.

We headed through a maze of waterways in a mangrove-covered swamp where we saw a tree boa snake curled up in the tree limbs waiting for a bat to come by. He would reach out and grab the bat for a meal, never moving from his spot.

Fortunately for us, we were on the boat run by the son of the man for whom the area is named. He told us his father at one time hunted the scarlet ibis, but became concerned about preserving it and worked hard to get the area preserved. Two months after his death, the area was named for him. Therefore our boat driver/lecturer was most familiar with the large preserved area and the bird we were headed out to see. They said we would see up to a few thousand that come in to roost for the night.

After we proceeded slowly through the mangrove-covered canal we eventually entered the lagoon area. Here we were to be treated to an amazing sight, as first white egrets — and later the scarlet ibis — would be entering their roost for the night. We sat in our rowboats on the opposite side of the large expanse of water to observe this spectacular performance.

As the blue sky with big, white, puffy clouds set up the picture for the evening show, we began to see groups of white egrets arrive, flying low just above the water, and as the evening moved on, groups of 20 to 30 bright scarlet ibis arrived, moving higher across the white clouds, their brilliant color a breathtaking scene in the night sky. Ohhs and ahhs could be heard from the people in the boats around us.

Then, as darkness crept in, we moved slowly out of the lagoon area and headed into the narrow channels under the mangrove canopy. The moon rose as we passed quietly under the canopy. A more perfect ending to our first day could not have been imagined.

Back at the house, smells of holiday cooking abounded. Everyone helped in the kitchen — each one working on some family recipe, others working on food for supper, but everyone busy working. Everyone seemed to know their place and their job. There was still last-minute shopping to do and the next day we headed out to rush through the store, with Calypso music playing in the crowded streets. There needed to be gifts for everyone and we needed to do all that before we headed home.

The next day I attended Christmas morning Mass with Cindy and found everyone so friendly, putting their arms around us with a “Merry Christmas.” Even the priest mentioned the lady from New York visiting for the holiday. There was a choir led by a lady with a guitar and all the children joined in the service. As we left the service, there were boxes to pick up and pass around on your way home to others less fortunate. There was much visiting from house to house and even a big family get-together, with 40 or more joining in.

We couldn’t leave Trinidad without a few more trips around the island so the next day we went up over the northern range to Maracas Bay for a swim and a stop across the road at Shark and Bake for the biggest fishburger you ever saw, then back down the winding zig-zag roads toward home.

If you enjoy the outdoors, wildlife and people as much as I do, you will have enjoyed this Christmas holiday in Trinidad along with Julian and me. Best wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy 2016.

From 1961 until 2011, the author assisted her late husband, Paul Stoutenburgh, in writing his iconic ‘Focus on Nature’ column for the Riverhead News-Review and later The Suffolk Times. She lives in Cutchogue.

Photo credit: twicepix via VisualHunt

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