Hike – Argyle Waterfall, Tobago

I’ve been going to Tobago annually for the past 30+ odd years.  Since my boys were toddlers and infants.  It’s such a lovely place to spend your holidays with your children.  Beach, sun and fun.  That’s all children really need to have a great vacation.  And friends of course.  And we are fortunate enough to belong to a group of friends who have weathered the test of kids, time and growing pains so that our children were surrounded by what they have grown to call their ‘normal friends’.  Friends who have been with them always.

As a form of entertainment, we have toured Tobago by land and sea.  It’s a small island after all.  So that’s an easy feat to accomplish year after year.  But by far the most enjoyable times have been our adventures by boat and of course hiking.

Our kids may no longer be with us as they are grown and growing their own families, but that hasn’t stopped the adults from continuing the exploration of Tobago without them.

Argyle waterfall, located on the northeast side of Tobago just past Roxborough, is one of the highest falls at 54m cascading down 3 levels officially.  And I say officially because that’s what is told to you by, well, the officials let’s say.  But we managed to hike up the sides of the waterfall to seven levels of pools and rocks.  Each level taking you through the lush green woodland that surrounds, and affording you the opportunity to relax and refresh yourself in the cool water of the rock pools that greet you.

The hike begins with a short 20-minute walk through wide paths adorned by huge trees and the lush flora.  The silk cotton trees were in full bloom and we were somewhat mesmerised by the seeds floating across our path.  You can hear the roar of the waterfall in the distance and your first impression upon reaching the falls is that this cannot be it.  But as you climb further you realise that that was just the beginning of what is truly Tobago’s finest waterfall.

Note though that there is a small entrance fee.

The Marianne River – Trinidad…

The mouth of the Marianne River

I constantly boast that there’s not a bad spot, beach or view on the north coast of Trinidad.  And even though I’ve driven along this coast hundreds of times, I am still in awe of its beauty.  The rugged coastline, the small, isolated islands embellishing the ocean view, the lushness of the flora lining the road and cascading down to the beaches.

There are many beaches that are easily accessible and some that take a bit of a hike to get to.  But all are beautiful, peaceful and welcoming.  The Marianne beach and its river mouth are no different.  Frequented by beach lovers daily, this spot has become a much-loved location for weekenders and those seeking a quiet getaway anytime during the week.

We simply intended to take a quick refreshing swim in the river, but lingered on peacefully until the sun set. Highly recommended to relieve stress and put a smile on your face.

Matura River Hiking Trail – Trinidad

Pristine waters of the Matura River, Trinidad

I suddenly felt that I was in the middle of a dream, floating gently down a body of water, not quite sure exactly where I was, for the beauty that surrounded was like no other.  The clear turquoise waters, the lush green forest, the babbling of the water running over the rocks, pool after pool after pool.

Swimming in the Mystic Pool in the Matura River

As a group of avid hikers, we were in search of the Mystic pool – one of the many pools which form the Matura River in the north-eastern part of Trinidad.   The nearby Matura beach is known as one of the best turtle watching sites in Trinidad, but I can assure you that there are other natural resources which make this small village spectacular beyond words – a dream for nature seekers.

The hiking trail is by no means challenging, except maybe for the short decline and ascent to and from the river, but the trek through the river, with its numerous waterfalls, picturesque gorges, and amazing swimming pools will more than make up for any discomfort you may endure.

We had ample time to swim, dive off rocks (mainly the teenagers in our midst), swing from the ropes hanging from the trees (not only the teenagers but the young at heart as well), snack, capture the natural beauty in our heart and mind and cameras, wade through the waters and, of course, loll in the many babbling brooks.

Certainly having fun…

Did we have a great time?  We certainly did.  A must visit for all nature lovers.

Hike – Brasso Santo Trail…

An early morning start with a drive to the beautiful Caura Valley to begin our hike.  Honestly our small twin island state abounds with such natural beauty, it is a shame that I don’t explore it more often.

Already as you drive through the Caura valley you can envision the peace and quiet you will be trekking through.  The mountains now awakening still covered in mist, the calling of the birds as they start their day, with the distinctive ‘tocking’ of the Bearded Bell Bird also known as the Campanaro, native to the upper regions of the northern range, and the peekaboo views of the Caura River as you near the beginning of the trail, all contribute to building the excitement for your journey.

The Brasso Santo Trail is home to hikers, bikers and hunters and much thanks must be given to our bikers who have made the trail passable with their ongoing efforts to keep it clear of fallen trees.

The beginning of the 13.5 km trail takes you along a meandering path criss-crossing the Caura River several times before making your way up the mountain.  The water is clean and refreshing, the river shrouded at times in Bamboo, and the banks are lined with the white peace lily giving off its characteristic scent.  You begin to relax and smile not realising that you will soon begin the gradual ascent to the top of the ridge traversing the northern range. Your elevation gain will be a total of 777m with a maximum height of 500m.

Along the trail there is evidence of hunters as you pass a makeshift shed and if you are a keen observer, you will notice our local version of ‘sentry posts’ created to spot unsuspecting animals all along the path.  These are strips of branches laced or nailed between two trees so that the hunter can either sit or stand unseen for hours awaiting their prey.

The forest is not dense and allows just the right amount of filtered light for you to enjoy the beauty of the natural flora keeping you cool along the way.

There are several check points on this trail – the ‘Belly of the Beast’ lets you know that you have reached what seems to be the lowest point in the trail. The ‘Bathtub’ – a very welcoming small pool of refreshing water filled by an endearing waterfall.  And ‘Base Camp’ – an arbitrary meeting and look out point where you reap the rewards of your climb with views stretching along the north coast with Las Cuevas beach to the west.

It is undulating territory as you leave Base Camp, primarily downhill along the path when you finally exit the forest and enter the open landscape where you can catch a glimpse of your final destination La Fillette bay.  You’re almost there.  And after a 4-hour hike, you are content knowing that you have just spent a relatively short time crossing but a small part of our beautiful northern range experiencing nature at its best, shedding some of your worries and anxieties.  I would say a morning well spent.

This trail is one of Trinidad’s finest.

Hike – the Gorges @ Heights of Guanapo…

As an avid lover of all that is outdoors, the opportunity to discover places new to me is always welcome.  And as a blogger it is always my intent to use this forum to share my experiences as I explore my surroundings.  However, I am having great difficulty in describing the true beauty and sense of pride after having hiked the gorges of the Heights of Guanapo, a hill with an elevation of a mere 218 metres and located in the Northern Range on my island of Trinidad.  But I will try.

This adventure began with a long, winding drive through the foothills of the northern range on the Guanapo Road.  This area is home to the Guanapo quarry which has contributed significantly to the road damage and dust pollution as you make your way ever so slowly to your destination.  It’s worth the effort though and the banter in the bus of course almost helps you forget the passing of time.

You stop at the side of the Tumbason river and begin the hike with a short 40-minute walk through the forest until you reach the part of the river where you now continue through the waters to the gorges.  Some swimming through pools, some wading through the waters and mostly strolling through the riverbed, takes you to the beginning of the gorges. 

For the most part the beauty that surrounds is pretty similar to other rivers in the forest.  As you enter the gorges however, you are literally silenced by the imposing magnificence of the rock formation reaching towards the sky.  There is little sunlight, and the water begins to get a bit chilly, but you are impelled to move forward craving more and more of this splendour.

The river takes you up a few levels over minor waterfalls, until you suddenly, and without much fanfare, reach a small pool where you can go no further.

It’s not a challenging hike and very much worth your morning.

Glamping, Lumbre style…

I remember as a child watching the movie “Sound of Music” over and over again.  I shamelessly admit that I’ve also seen it as an adult multiple times.  And every time that I’ve had the opportunity to hike across the ridge of a mountain, my mind goes back to that scene when the Von Trapp family leave Austria and escape to Switzerland.

Lumbre offered that experience, with cows grazing on the hills, open landscape as far as the eye can see, and as a special treat, what seemed like a secret hike through the forest to an enchanting waterfall – our own private escape.  Such a perfect way to spend a beautiful sunny morning just oustide the small quaint town of Salento nestled in the Cocora Valley.

For those of us who think they want to go camping but aren’t quite ready to sleep on the ground, who want to enjoy the simplicity and beauty that nature has to offer, to wake up to gentle breezes and the chirping of the birds, to be pampered and catered to by the most gracious of hosts, Glamping at Lumbre will fulfil all of your desires and more.  With hiking trails just 100m away, horseback riding at your whim and even the extreme pampering of a masseuse, if you so desire.  A treat for bird watchers.

Our short 3 night stay wasn’t enough.  If there’s one place you want to put on your bucket list – this is it.

Salento – Touring the Wax Palm Forest in the Cocora Valley

We arrived in Salento late into the night, in pouring rain, cold, damp and hungry.  What was supposed to be a 5-hour drive from Jardin stretched into an 8-hour journey due to unforeseen traffic and road works.  Needless to say we were tired and after a quick dinner, bundled into our ‘Glamping accomodation’ and fell asleep before anybody could say “Jack Sprat”.

As we emerged from our tents in the morning, the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the sound of the birds chirping and the cows mooing in the distance immediately erased any displeasures we may have experienced the day before. We were on the Lumbre farm in the Cocora Valley situated in Quindio, Colombia, located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains.  What an absolutely beautiful morning view.  And the day had only just begun.

For we were about to embark on a tour of the Carbonera estate known for its Wax Palms and amazing views.  We chose however to do this tour with a local guide (www.salentocycling.com) in what could only be described as an unconventional way – not only hiking through farm lands bordering the Wax Palm forest, but exploring what is known as the Cloud Forest on dirt road bikes.

We met our exuberant guide Eduardo in Salento and once fitted with our gear, climbed into the back of a Jeep and made our way 20 km up to 11000’ up into the estate.  Rumbling along the rocky dirt road we eventually arrived at our first point of decent – an 8k downhill bike ride which took us to the start of our trek to the Wax Palms.

Amazing views awaited us as we climbed up and down the gentle slopes back to the top where we picnicked relishing in the peace and quiet of the nature that surrounded us.  And then the adventure really began as we were carried back up to the top and jumped on our bikes to make the final 20k ride downhill back to Salento.

The cloud forest, at a temperature of roughly 18C provided mystery at every turn as we could see just 10 meters ahead at any one time.  As we descended further the views of the Cocora valley opened up once more and we were treated to the mooing of cows and even accompanied by a couple of young foals who galloped alongside us for part of the journey.  The excitement building, adrenaline pumping as we had just experienced the tour of a lifetime.

The pictures speak for themselves, and the memories etched in our minds forever.

Jardin – A small town with a big heart

We pulled up in front of our hotel perfectly located on the picturesque square, El Libertador Park,  of the small town of Jardin, located in northwest Colombia.  We gasped at the imposing presence of the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which towered over the square in all its glory.  The square was encircled by tents with vendors of local food and art, restaurants full to the brim of customers enjoying their Sunday lunch, parents sitting amongst the rose gardens, while their young children ran around chasing the birds, laughing with their friends.

We smiled, and immediately fell in love with the sheer beauty of Jardin, known for its brightly painted houses, colorful floral displays and milk candies.  We too began to laugh and chit chat as we wandered in and around the stalls and shops making our way to the nearest local restaurant for lunch.  A normal Sunday, in a small quiet town.

As the afternoon continued, we began to notice young children in their costumes, likewise teenagers and some adults.  It was Halloween we were reminded, but nothing prepared us for the unfolding events that would take place as the sun set on what we thought was the sweet quiet town of Jardin, Antiquoia.

While relaxing on our balcony overlooking the square, we noticed crowds lining the streets under our noses, music from bands began to play on the other side of the plaza, the stalls that were selling local art and candies filled the air with the inviting smells of street food.  The town had come alive in a way totally unexpected.

And then we realized that we were about to witness a parade of Halloween bands, not unlike the Carnival parade of ‘Ole Mas’ bands we are accustomed to in our small twin island of Trinidad and Tobago. This parade however not only featured the well orchestrated bands as they marched or danced pass but also included a large contingent of motorcyclists showing off their road skills.   The revving of their bikes, intermingled with the sounds of the orchestra, the costumed participants of all ages and the varying methods of expression, made for a highly energetic display much appreciated by all.

We were thoroughly entertained and left this sweet town with its unsuspecting vitality imprinted on our hearts.

La Piedra, Guatape

675 steps up to an altitude of 200m to witness what is claimed to be the best view in the world.  A panoramic vista as far as the horizon towering above the town of Guatapé Antioquia.  Fresh water lakes formed by a hydro electric dam interrupted by small islands, dotted with what you can only imagine to be vacation homes and the odd boat speeding from one island to the next.  You can almost see vacationers tanning on the decks with children splashing in the water enjoying the brilliant sun shiny day that it was.

It is known as “La Piedra” and has been the reason for many rivalries between the towns of El Peñol and Guatapé over the years.  This is highlighted by the letters “G” and an incomplete “U” (leaving the letters GI) painted on the western face of the rock.  The two towns had long disputed ownership of the rock and the residents of Guatapé decided to settle the matter by painting the town’s name on the rock in huge white letters.  It did not take long for the residents of El Peñol to notice the work and a large mob was assembled to stop it, leaving behind the unfinished graffiti.*

According to geologists the rock is approximately 65 million years old.  The indigenous Tahami, former inhabitants of this region, worshipped the rock and called it, in their language “Mojarra” or “Mubarak” (rock or stone).   The landform is a granitic rock remnant that has resisted weathering and erosion.

Climbing the rock is not for the faint hearted.  Yet it’s a challenge that many take on as the view literally takes your breath away.

* Wikipedia

La Comuna 13

Children should not be working in the streets, but on their dreams.

Comuna 13 was considered one of the most dangerous communities in Medellin if not the world.  Many may remember our fear of even so much as visiting Colombia due to the rampant drug trafficking and the violence that surrounded this trade.  Stories abounded with kidnappings, drug lords taking over small communities, the crime rate soaring.  After the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 however, the government decided to intervene in the ongoing destruction of its youth in Comuna 13 one of the hardest hit communities where a life of violence and crime seemed to be the only option open to its residents to climb the social ladder, or so they were led to believe.

Investment was made in the infrastructure of the community allowing everyone access to schools and public transport instilling in them not only a new vision for their future but a sense of pride in themselves and their community that has transcended from generation to generation.  A community that truly embraces the spirit of ‘each one help one’.

Today Comuna 13 is considered one of the safest districts in the world, its walls covered in graffiti art depicting not only the struggles faced by their inhabitants and the evolution of its community, but also embodying messages of peace and unity amongst its people.  As you walk the streets, you are entertained by self made dancers, hip hop artists, singers – all intent on making an honest living while promoting a life of honesty and integrity.

We thought we were going to visit an exhibition of the finest street art Medellin has to offer.  Instead we were silenced by the beauty and humility of its people, the exuberance of a new culture of youth who look out for each other and who understand the value of community living.  We felt safe and secure exploring the ins and outs of the many shops and thoroughly enjoyed the talents of the local artists who performed on demand for our voluntary contributions.

You can visit on your own or with a tour guide (Aeroturex).  You will be welcomed with open arms at all times.

An overhead view of la Comuna 13, courtesy our Tour guide Aeroturex