Trip Leader: Michelle Brown

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why are My Feet Dry?

Today, Thursday, we arrived back in Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad. "But, wait," you're likely asking: "Weren't you all just in Port of Spain? What happened?" Well, settle in with a good glass of something, my friends, because you're in for a ride.... er, I mean "walk."

What Goes Up Must Sit Down
You last left us on Tuesday, mud-bespattered in Tobago where I had my last brief window of internet access. On Wednesday morning, we very sadly hugged Sharon goodbye after our last Tobagan breakfast of home-made toast, six-year-old guava jam, and local cheddar cheese (creamy!). We shopped in Tobago's largest city, Scarborough, where Michelle replaced her quickly deteriorating brand-new knapsack with an even brander-newer one from a street vendor. It looked rugged, so we were hopeful. A short airplane ride later and we arrived in Piarco Airport, Port of Spain. Trinidad's capital city was a shock for this self-proclaimed group of rural beach dwellers. "Strange!" we gasped, "we have to look before crossing the street!" And where are the wild chickens and dogs like those we saw in Charlotteville? Walking the city for the afternoon, success was finding bush hiking pants for the unprepared. Fear and excitement were palpable because we would embark early the next morning for a three-day adventure with The Pathmaster. The itinerary called for lots of long hikes and LaVonda worried that uphill slogs through the mud with Newton George would feel like a cakewalk in comparison to what Andy Whitwell had in store for us.

LaVonda was right. Kind of.

Capuchin Monkey
Andy picked us up at 5:15 a.m. (yeah, we're an early-rising bunch) and we stopped for doubles on the way to Nariva/Bush Bush. Doubles are the official favorite food of the trip. They're a sandwich of bara (flat fried breads), channa (curried chick peas), spicy chutneys, and pepper sauce. We're still not sure how many Mike ate.

Galera Point
Rosa with Mother Turtle, Night #1
Day 1 with The Pathmaster was a long hike through the Nariva swamp into the Bush Bush forest preserve. We hoped to see a howler monkey. We saw multiple howlers and capuchins. Mosquitoes, not mud, were our nemesis. Sarah's net suit was unanimously voted Most-Wished-for Swamp Hiking Gear. The hike was invigorating, seeing the monkeys was exciting, and Andy's lessons on the plants, animals, peoples, and histories of all that we saw were intellectually stimulating. Back in the bus after lunch... somewhere good... we eventually arrived at Galera Point to view the light house and drop to our knees in awe at the beautifully dangerous cliff-hewn, tree-topped coastline. Rugged? This coastline laughs at such a puny word. At dinner time, we arrived at Grande Riviere and our home for the next two days, Mt. Plaisir Estates. That night, and I say this without irony or hyperbole, our lives changed. Although very early in the nesting season and statistically unlikely, we hoped to see at least one female leatherback sea turtle haul her thousand-pound body ashore to lay eggs. We saw seven! Reactions from the group? Incoherent awe predominated, punctuated by phrases like "circle of life" and "so awesome." Both are accurate.

(R)evolution: Leatherback Sea Turtle
Leatherback turtles predate human arrival on Earth by some 98 million years. This turtle is a study in successful evolution in response to--and simultaneous revolution against--the increasingly toxic encroachment of humans into animal spaces. The Trinidad and Tobago GCP 2012 trip group has adopted the Leatherback Sea Turtle as its totem.

Take Me Through the River
Erin, Todd, friend: Grande Riviere
Michelle, Mother Turtle: Night #2

For Day 2, Andy hired a local guide, Kevin, to lead us on an "easy hike." Kevin showed up in flip flops and a nearly-flat knapsack that we later discovered contained a candle to frighten away killer bees (!) and a bush knife. Kevin farms his own food, barters, and works nearly full-time as a volunteer beach and marine wildlife conservancy coordinator. Layna wants to take Kevin home; Mike wants to move in with Kevin; and all of us want to be Kevin. (After graduation, of course.) Kevin's easy hike started off on a road out of the village and past many old and new farming estates. "Flip flops? The road? This hike is too easy," Nick said. Kevin, though, is no slouch. Like Andy, he's informative and affable. We learned a lot about local medicinal plants. We ate raw cocoa beans that he handed us off the tree. He is, however, not so good with semantics because this hike was not easy. We forded a stream barefoot. Valerie mutinied and put her sneakers on. Then, Erin, Nick, Amanda, Rosa, Layna, and Michelle swam in the river! We had great talks with Kevin and soon it was past time to go. Oops. We voted for the quick route back. Remember that rain forest mud from Tobago? We hiked uphill into another rain forest here in Trinidad, then cut through a bush swamp which meant splashing through ankle-deep mud ponds. Hiking boots aren't meant to remain their original color, right? After powering (or plodding) up "Leg Burner" hill, we were back in Andy's hands for a short "walk" around the village that included jumping a ravine and fording another stream (in our shoes). Quite informative and very fun as usual, the walk was just not your average Winchester meander up the flat, paved, dry road and back. The group had by now decided that the GCP program is in fact a wilderness physical fitness boot camp and that I am not to be trusted when uttering words like "easy" and "walk."

That night, we saw another turtle!

Welcome Smoke Ceremony Tools
This morning, we left Grande Riviere much too soon. Sadly, Kevin did not stow away in any of our bags. En route to trading beach life for the city, we visited Arima, Trinidad's largest Amerindian settlement. We were privileged to participate in a Karigna welcoming ceremony performed for us by the community's Paye (or shaman, healer), Christo, who then showed us around the community's meeting house, educated us on the Karignas' history on Trinidad, and answered our many questions on First Nations healing, ceremony, history, and community. We made connections to the previous nights as Christo explained that the turtle is one of the four totem animals that center the Karigna on the Earth's space. Much of Andy's, Kevin's, and Christo's historical recitations (what they were, really, were great stories!) circled back to themes of evolution and revolution and the ways that both concepts are infused with both progressive and oppressive aspects. As with the turtles, we all left Christo's place with new understandings of ourselves as members of a globally interconnected web of plants, animals, and people.

As you'll recall, we returned to Port of Spain this afternoon where we immediately shucked off our still-wet hiking boots and sighed happily into flip flops. Disoriented a bit from the daylong shift in extremes from rural to urban, bush to city, we again felt strange walking near traffic, deet-free, on dry feet. "Why are my feet dry?" We asked, laughing in shared delirium.

We have not had internet access for the last four days, so this post attempts to catch you up, in photos and in commentary, on our many adventures. We are all grateful for this opportunity to travel, learn, and to be SU ambassadors in a part of the world new to us. We are all also grateful for the friendships forming on this trip.  We laugh so much that we expect to have abs of steel by our return date. But, perhaps more important than developing abs of steel, we are sharing a unique bonding experience that's teaching us about Trinidad and Tobago and our changing global community. We are also learning about each other--and about our changing selves.

Peace,
Michelle, Todd, Valerie, LaVonda, Erin, Mike, Rosa, Nick, Sarah, Layna, and Amanda

Mother, Back to the Sea


4 comments:

  1. Great post, Michelle! Only you would take the time to write something so eloquent while covered in mud after a three-day-hike going on (I presume) little sleep. I have enjoyed following your adventures and living vicariously through your group. Safe travels home!

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  2. THIS IS THE BEST BEST BEST POST EVER.. YOU CAN SURELY CAPTURE OUR MOMENTS IN WORDS!!! AMAZING!!!

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  3. This latest update was so worth the wait. I am somewhat jealous of you all but feel you put me "there" in you vivid descriptions. I can't wait to see Erin in a few weeks to hear first hand her experiences. I got to watch a turtle lay her eggs on a Florida beach many years ago and, yes, it was emotional...an experience never forgotten. Enjoy the rest of your trip and safe travels home!

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  4. Excellent post! Sounds like an amazing journey. We can't wait to see you all and swap stories. :)

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