Story and photos by Renee Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t consider myself the typical outdoor person or an adventure seeker but I do appreciate nature. With nature, there is a beauty in both the silence and sounds; listening to the rhythm of your breath, looking at the small details or losing yourself in the look of magnificent scenery.
While on vacation I thought it was the perfect time to relish in the beauty of nature by taking a Down De Islands (DDI) trip. I connected with Experience T&T tours who hosted a series of tours around Trinidad and Tobago during the July/August vacation.
At the cost of $275 the tour promised a trip to the former whaling station at Point Baleine (Whaling Point), exploration of caves at Gaspar Grande Island, and a period of “relaxation” on Monos Island. It has been five years since my last DDI trip and first time visiting the popular Gasparee Caves so I treated the adventure with a lot of excitement.
Persons on the tour were expected to meet at the Trinidad and Tobago Incoming Tour Operators Association, Chaguaramas for 9 a.m. or “risk getting left behind”. Accompanied by my boyfriend, Mikhail, we left South at 6.30 a.m. on Saturday morning to meet the tour guides and other members of the group.
But alas! In true Trini fashion, we had to wait one hour and a half for the tour guides and other members to arrive. When they did arrive, no apologies were given and one of the latecomers chose to be boisterous and obnoxious during the entire trip.
My personal view is that I don’t feel the need for talking and, even less listening, to other people chatting when surrounded by nature as there is enough noise around us every day and everywhere. It’s not the place for many words, unless they are spoken by nature or God.
That aside, we proceeded to circle the tiny islands scattered off Trinidad’s north-west peninsula, separated by the sea channels called the Bocas del Dragon (Dragon’s Mouth). Our tour guide and captain gave us an earful of beautiful but sometimes eerie stories surrounding the Gasparee, Monos, and Chacachacare islands.
I forgot it was also the weekend of Great Race so the islands were alive with many families, friends, and partygoers who chose to holiday there. (So much for expecting peace and quiet!)
Point Baleine, at the western end of Gaspar Grande Island was our first stop. Gasparee and Monos are the two islands closest to the mainland which lie along the First Boca, and the first exit to the Atlantic Ocean on Trinidad’s North Coast. Our tour guide explained it is the easiest of the islands to access from the mainland.
Just before Point Baleine, hidden among the trees you could spot the Holy Ghost Fathers’ chapel and retreat house. Our captain reminded us Mass is celebrated there on Saturday afternoons at 5 p.m.
As we docked, our Gasparee Cave tour guide gave us some whaling and fishing history of the isle which began in the 1820s and carried on to the 1850s. The whales’ blubber was rendered into oil while the whale bones were used to make ladies’ corsets. It was really hard for me to imagine it as an active whaling station without ever sighting a whale near our shores.
Today, Gaspar Grande island is best known for its caves which open to stalagmites and stalactites and a small pool. There is a steep, 30 metre descent to enter the Blue Grotto Cave which is the main cave open to the public since 1981 (it is one of a network of underground caverns). Anyone visiting must be accompanied by a tour guide.
You will expect the caves to be dark upon entering but artificial lighting on the inside gives a great view of the limestone structures. During the tour, we were asked what optical illusions the limestone created. Some included a shadow of Michael Jackson, T-Rex and the head of an Indian chief.
It seemed all the DDI visitors opted to visit the caves which made it impossible to swim in the caves’ pool. This was a huge disappointment because with all the bodies gathered the cave felt like a sauna!
From Gasparee, Monos Island swings into view to the west of the First Boca. Our captain said Monos has sheltered coves and small beaches that make it ideal for swimming. He also mentioned it was not impossible to see dolphins or turtles. The latter, I spotted somewhere along our journey. Before stopping off for sea bathing, he also took us to the other Bocas where the terrain is even more stunning, wild and untouched. At the Third Boca, separating Huevos from Chacachacare, one could see the tip of Venezuela.
With all the excitement taking place DDI that weekend, our group found difficulty deciding on a spot to sea bathe. We all seemed to want tranquillity, cleanliness and exclusivity but that was pipe dream. Our first stop at one of the beaches of Monos Islands was littered, while Solomon’s Bay was in full party mode and limited space for even sitting on shore.
We finally made a compromise at a bay just off Monos Islands, which proved to be quiet and a bit exclusive although its shoreline was littered from one end to the other. The water was calm and while floating in the water I thought, “Finally some rest and relaxation!” The captain told us we were only allotted 45 mins on the beach so I wanted to enjoy it until the last minute. While everyone went back to the boat some 40 mins in, Mikhail and I conversed in the water until the captain interrupted our conversation, “Don’t move! Don’t move!”
At that point, I didn’t know what to think so I looked at him wide eyed and yelled “What! What!” He did not respond but silently waded to where we stood. As the water suddenly became chilly for me, he turned and said jokingly, “My dear, you nearly stepped on a sting ray, good thing there was someone that held your attention”. I could not even laugh but instead jumped out of the water and waited on shore until the captain’s first mate shooed the sea creature which decided to nestle near the boat.
After that little episode, my DDI trip came to an end as everyone felt it was an appropriate time to return to the mainland. I would love to revisit the islands and learn more of its history but in a quieter setting and hopefully sting-ray free.