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.

The joy that is the Poui season…

The Poui tree plays a very significant role in our dry season in Trinidad, giving us a break in the otherwise browning of our beautiful Savannah – an iconic spot in our capital of Port of Spain, dotting the hills throughout the surrounding areas of St. Anns and Cascade with strikingly yellow flowers as well as brightening up our Savannah with magnificent pink and yellow blossoms along its perimeter and within its boundaries.  I have to admit that this is the highlight of our dry season and usually marks the slow transition to our rainy season.
Many years ago I experienced first hand the other side of the Poui tree, when I moved to Cascade and found that my new home was surrounded by Poui trees.  Both pink and yellow.  These trees provide lovely shade in the morning and evening and are home to many species of wildlife including a variety of birds – corn birds, doves, blue jays, kiskadees, hummingbirds and our local parrots.  They also provide a home for iguanas, squirrels and the odd woodpecker. I thought that I had gone to heaven and started building a garden that would prosper alongside these beautiful creatures – providing natural food for all things wild, including a small family of agouti.
But when the leaves started to shed making way for the flowers, my heart began to sink, slowly.  Every day for just about 6 weeks, there would be a carpet of dead leaves covering my lawn and drowning my plants.  It became a chore keeping my garden clean, and my plants un-smothered by leaves.  Slowly my dislike for these trees which had given me so much pleasure during the past year, set in.
Then one morning as I peaked through my window I saw a small burst of yellow.  And as I ventured outside, a small smile replaced the curiosity on my face.  I looked across the valley up towards Lady Chancellor and saw, spotted across the lushness that the yellow Pouis were coming to life.  It was almost as if they were calling out to each other across the valley saying ‘Here I am, here I am. Look at me.”
Over the next couple of days my trees were in full bloom and glorious.  What I could see from underneath was nothing compared to what those persons on the opposite side of the valley were experiencing.  And I smiled broadly.
As the wind blew, and the flowers fell, my garden which was once covered in brown leaves, were now smothered in a carpet yellow.  A sight to behold.  My dismay turned into sheer joy.
Now, as the dry season sets in, I look forward to the shedding of leaves, knowing that for just a short moment in the very near future, I will be blessed with a beauty like no other.

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.

Time is drawing near…

It’s 4 in the afternoon.  Still a few hours until nightfall.  The birds are singing, chirping, squawking, such a variety nesting in the area.  The rest of the world is quiet in the small town of Tyalgum, Australia.  The gentle breeze is soothing and relaxing and my cup of tea makes it all a very serene moment, giving me time to reflect.

My two eldest sons have now been living in Australia for the better part of the past 16 years – my eldest moved here as a teenager to further his university studies and decided to make this country his home.  My second son moved here with his wife (then girlfriend) about 6 years ago.  Both now have 3 sons between them, and I am a very proud grandmother.

My husband and I have been here now for just about 4 weeks, and the time is flying by ever so quickly.  Using our time and talents to help our sons with their growing families.  Enjoying the precious time spent with our grandchildren – meeting them practically for the first time, after leaving our eldest two years ago at the tender age of 3 months.  We were greeted by two little confident, loving, funny, chatty, determined toddlers and one sweet 3 month-old angel – our hearts melted instantly and we immediately felt the dread of leaving them in the short six weeks ahead.

How does that work.  How is it that you can fall so deeply in love with little humans with just a smile, a snuggle, a giggle.  I will never understand.

We’ve been busy travelling back and forth between their homes – an hour’s drive each way – and have come to love this part of the country.  Tyalgum boasts of just over 500 residents and is nestled in the foothills of Mount Warning, the world’s largest extinct shield volcano, surrounded by farmlands, mountains, creeks and rivers which make this area such a joy to explore.  The centre of the town itself can be leisurely visited in just a short 10 minutes and has all the necessities including a cricket oval, a playground for kids, ice cream parlour, general store and of course, a bottle shop. Sunday afternoon is their busy day when the neighbours gather at the local pub for a quick meal and a beer or two, while being entertained by a live band made up of members of the community.  Charming indeed.

Mullumbimby, Australia’s biggest little town, is a bit larger with just over 3,000 residents and seems like a metropolis in comparison.  When you first arrive, it feels like a one-horse-town with not much action but that is part of the charm of Mullumbimby. It is known for its cafes serving world class coffee, quite often locally grown, and its choice of restaurants, local bakery and butcher, all your needs being met within a stone’s throw away.  The weekly Saturday market offers an opportunity for the neighbours to meet each other, share a meal, and of course be serenaded by the local artists.  A simple life, no fuss, no bother.  Locally the town is known as Mullum. Back in the day, this town grew weed so potent it was known as Mullum Madness – go figure. Fashion is alternative and shoes are always optional.

Both towns exude a simplicity of life and ease of living.  A haven for young children where the outdoors beckon, the rivers pique your curiosity for exploring, the trails easy to venture.

We’ve been joyfully busy.  Grateful for every moment shared. But the reality is that we will leave in a short two weeks, having put our life on pause for our grandchildren.  Creating memories that we hope will build a base for many more to come.

Grandparenthood

My father had an insane love for his grandchildren.  They were all perfect, and in his opinion they all looked just like him.  A joke the grandchildren would share to this day.  They were all his favourite, and he told each one just that.  His patience, his gentleness, his special love was felt by each one of them.  And sometimes I wondered just who this man was. As a young child, I knew him as a disciplinarian.  You knew you were the apple of his eye, but yet still you never took the chance to be on his wrong side, and you did all you could to make sure you always did what he wanted you to do.  As an adult, you realised that everything he did was for your benefit.

So, when grandchildren came into the picture, and this guy’s face softened visibly at each birth, visit, hug, you knew that this thing called grandparenthood could change your life forever.  And it certainly has.

Living away from your children is one thing.  Living away from your grandchildren is a totally different ball game. Facetiming as often as you could, smiling from ear to ear with each babble.  And when you finally meet, losing yourself with the slip of a small hand in yours, your heart melting at the sound of your name coming from their lips, you know your life has changed forever.  It feels as if your heart will burst with love, but it only grows and expands to adapt to all the indescribable emotions that come with being a grandparent.

No one can prepare you for this.  And jokingly, I tease my children that I love my grandchildren more than I do my very own.  But it is different.  You’re at a stage of your life when you can easily shake off your adulting duties and once again experience the wonder of the world through their eyes.  Their innocence and awe of life softens you.  And you now begin to truly enjoy the simple things in life.  The beauty of a ‘baby flower’ at the side of the road.  The awesomeness of a tractor cutting grass.  The imagination of fishing with a stick and catching leaves.  The excitement of skating down the driveway laughing a belly-laugh like it’s the best thing in the world.  The deep chuckle at the sound of a stone ‘kplunking’ into the water.  The colours of a rainbow.

It’s a joy bestowed upon many.  And I’m ever so blessed to be one of them.

Are we doing a good job as parents?

It’s been quite a journey – this thing called parenthood.  Your main purpose is to raise your children to be the adults you wanted them to be – honest, hardworking, loving, gentle, strong, worthy…  You didn’t always get it perfectly right.  There were many mistakes along the way, but at no time did you give up.  At no time did you stop loving them unconditionally, for this is the foundation on which you build their dreams, their hopes, their future.  Plain and simple LOVE.

I remember quite some time ago, discussing with my dad the trials and tribulations of raising my kids.  There were so many frustrations and questions.  None of which he answered, by the way.  He never offered any sage advice. He would just sit and listen.  Nodding the knowing nod.  Shaking his head appropriately and on queue.  As if to say – ‘Well it’s your turn now.  It’s not easy, but you will get there’.

And then one day he said, quietly and unexpectedly – “You’ll know if you’ve done a good job when your kids have their own kids.  I think I did a good job.”  And he continued staring ahead at the view as we always did on his weekly visits with me.  It was enough affirmation for me, that I wasn’t doing such a bad job.

And so, as I too now watch my boys raise their own.  Watch them be the ever-present, ever-loving father, instilling in their sons, the important virtues of honesty, gentleness, love – I too feel proud.  I too believe, finally, that I really didn’t do such a bad job after all.

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.