THE BLOG

The Magnificent Rain Forests of Trinidad's Northern Mountains: Trotting round Trinidad and Tobago on the Looney Front, Part 1

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When you think of Trinidad, chances are your mind will conjure up steelpan bands, those wonderfully infectious combos who over the past 70 years have perfected the art of teasing the lilting accents of the Caribbean out of 55-gallon industrial oil drums with lids ingeniously fashioned into prisms of percussion.

Or calypso, the rhythmic, harmonic, satirical songs that originated among the descendants of African slaves in Trinidad and Tobago 100 or more years ago. Or Port of Spain's annual carnival, whose luxuriantly elaborate costumes and total abandon are claimed to be second only to Rio de Janeiro's.

But beyond these rich musical traditions, overgenerous Nature has endowed the twin-island state with some of the finest tropical scenery you'll find anywhere.

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Just miles from the bustling little capital of Port of Spain, the Northern Range heaves its peaks to over 3,000 feet in fold after fold of jungle-clad mountains, proffering spectacular panoramas over plunging valleys, idyllic coves and the brilliant blue of the Caribbean Sea.

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It's here that I've hired taxi driver Steve to take me. At least I've been calling him Steve for the past hour or so, but it now turns out his name is Keith. OK, I haven't brought my deaf aids with me, but for all the good they do I could just as well stick them up my arse - I'd probably get more interesting sounds, anyway.

It's November, the rainy season, and grey clouds are swirling over the peaks, transforming all into an enchanted jungle. Whiter, fluffier clouds hover half way down the mountainsides, marooned in the folds, mists exhale above the forest canopy, and bright orange, scarlet and yellow flowers dapple the myriad different shades of green.

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From a look-out ridge Maracas Bay appears far below. Its magnificently jungled hills and islets, cloaked in teak, mahogany, palm and giant bamboo, gleam emerald over a golden crescent. Dozens of Bake and Shark huts line the beach selling the local delicacy of deep-fried shark in kneaded dough fried into buns.

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It's Sunday, calypso and steelpan bands blare from loudspeakers, and a great time is had by one and all. Several guys are wandering around with Rastafarian dreadlocks bunched up atop their heads. One has his draping below his knees - can they be real? I won't pull to find out.

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Further along the coast, Las Cuevas provides an equally beautiful but more secluded bay with a tiny fishing village. Then La Fillette. Yet further on you come to Blanchisseuse (Washer Woman), where leatherback turtles lay their eggs. It was thus named by British Captain Frederick Mallet in 1797 when he was surveying the island and saw women washing clothes in the river.

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The various European names bear testimony to the countries that seized the island after the Spaniards first stole it from the indigenous Arawak and Caribs, whom they then did their best to annihilate.

I'm not staying in the centre of Port of Spain but in a suburb called Maraval in the foothills of the Northern Range at a mansion-cum-inn called Carolyns view. And by golly, what a view, perched on a hillside below galleries of liana-strewn jungle trees in all the possible shades of green, and then some!

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It's not far from where some of the town's wealthiest denizens have their abodes, in gated communities like The Greens with its miniature slate grey and blushing salmon gothic tower up front and turreted villas within, or on lanes with names like Golf Road. The jungle ridges gleam golden in the setting sun.

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Pairs of emerald parrots swoop over the trees, a blazing orange flame tree violently disrupts the monochromatic sea of green, and violet, carmine, blue and yellow bushes put in their tuppence.

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Boards proclaim the religious fervour of the Caribbean islands. God's Family Bible Church, says one: La Seiva Community Centre, Old Rifle Range, Come & Experience The Deliverance & Transformation with us.

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After the relative aridity of Venezuela's Margarita Island, which I've just left, Trinidad's lushly forested peaks and mountain folds are overwhelming.

And at last, after Venezuela's infamous crime statistics, I can walk freely about without forever casting my eyes over my shoulder for your friendly neighbourhood mugger.

Oh dear, I've just looked at the UK Foreign Office travel advisory: it says a Brit was murdered after being robbed at gunpoint in the Mt D'Or area of Mt Hope in April. But then it adds: You should maintain at least the same level of security awareness as you would in the UK. So here goes. Yoicks, Talley-Ho again.

And what better way to end the day than to sit on the terrace of Carolyns View with a cup of hot tea and make sure the sun does indeed go down in the west. The lush forests travel through the whole palette of greens, from brightest emerald to deepest bottle.

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The scattered clouds above gild their wings, gradually suffusing their whole mass in brilliant gold. They tarnish into rust, then rose, then carmine, and finally into pewter. The blue deepens into indigo, then violet. The evening star makes a sudden appearance in the darkening sky, as though turned on by a switch.

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And way to the southwest, the lofty monolith of a thunder stack cloud blazes with glowing orange lakes splashing behind its swirling grey veils as forked lightning sends splintering spider webs of blinding light across its ominous dark mass. Perfect.

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[Upcoming blog next Sunday: Trinidad's pitch lake, the world's largest]

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By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.