On my last visit to my birth country, Trinidad, I finally managed to fulfill a long held dream – hiking! You’re probably wondering why that’s a big deal to me. Well, Trinidad isn’t exactly what one would call a “safe country” so trying to find a relative who’d take me into the isolated rainforests for a hike was like asking Cookie Monster to have some pie instead. However, on my last visit, I found a cousin who sometimes hiked with this particular group called Island Hikers. I pretty much gave her no choice and off we went to fulfill my dream of hiking in Trinidad.
This particular hike was on the northern coast of the island. Directions given by the hike leader were to meet at the Morne Cocoa Road gas station. One thing you’ll learn when visiting the Caribbean is that getting directions from those who live there is rarely “such and such number” plus “street name”. It tends to be very very general yet very very specific at the same time. So armed with those directions, we drove down that road until we found the one and only gas station on there and voila, we reach.
We were the last ones to arrive about 8am so once we said our hellos, signed our names, and paid $40TT (about $8CDN), the group of about 20 people got into their cars and off we went, caravan style. The trail was off of North Coast Road on the way to Maracas. We were told to keep an eye out on the left for a concrete paved road as that was the one we wanted. And yes, it was concrete paved as opposed to asphalt paved like the main roads. Concrete was necessary on this particular road because it was practically at a 70 degree angle (steep roads in the Caribbean are generally concrete – less likely to wash away in heavy rains. I saw this in Mexico as well).
The hiking trail was to Negmawah Beach, an isolated beach that has an interesting history. The whole area used to be one of sugar plantations. There is a minor dispute over the meaning of “Negmawah”, a French Creole word. Some say it means “hideout for slaves” and others say it means “runaway n****r”. Either way, it has the same general meaning so it is known that this trail was used by slaves escaping captivity.
I’m a self-confessed dawdler. If there is a group, you can always find me at the back. It is my passive-aggressive way to separate myself from group activity (I don’t play well with others) as well as it allows me time to photograph to my heart’s content (not to mention, minimize the amount of humans wandering through my shot). So when our medium sized group quickly outpaced me and my cousin, I was very much okay with that. The hike started off on nicely maintained track but it quickly gave way to bush and jungle. The maintained track was not for us hikers but for the few folks who made their home up here, off the grid.
The hike essentially started high up in a valley and went straight down to the ocean. In the day time stillness that is so typical of dense vegetation, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like to be a slave fleeing down this path. And it wasn’t always what most of us would call a path – the trail was sometimes narrower than my foot! If a hiker were to trip to the wrong side, (s)he’d fall tumbling through the bush. Hopefully there would be a branch strong enough to stop the fall…lengthwise not vertical, anyway… And hopefully it would be an actual branch, not a snake or something…
One thing I did forget to keep in mind about hiking in the Caribbean as opposed to hiking in North America or Europe is how different the atmosphere would be. That day was over 30 degrees and the humidity was insane. It made navigating the twisty trail that more difficult when it was already difficult with hairpin turns, watching out for wildlife, making sure I didn’t put my hands on thorny trees or devious plants with surprisingly sharp edges, slippery fallen vegetation that sometimes forced me to slide down an area on my butt, and the distinct impression that if I were to fall, no one can really help me out except myself… Yet there were times where I was just in awe and practically dancing with pure happiness to be right there on that trail. There is nothing like watching vivid blue butterflies flutter amongst the green or admiring tall trees growing up from the valley floor fighting for their share of the sunlight. Sometimes I felt like I was walking through an episode of BBC Planet Earth!
Just before one reaches Negmawah Beach, there is a lovely cove in which rest is possible. It is a little pebbly beach complete with waterfall. Standing under the cool mountain water is a fantastic way to cool down before tackling the last bit to Negmawah. And a “tackling” mindset was necessary. It required climbing a rock face a few feet up into the air, crossing a gap via balancing on a tree root, and then using rope to go the final few feet to the other side of the hillside whereupon more rope usage was required to get down the other side. Thankfully, after all of that effort, Negmawah Beach was worth it.
The beach is pebbled, not sandy. There was no one else there except us. We arrived late morning and by that time, the tide was slowly starting to come in. As such, the water and rocks created three ‘coves’ and I had to wade into the ocean in order to explore the whole length of the beach. The big rocks that separated the coves had these cool things that looked like fossils. I was just about to poke one when someone told me that colloquially, it was called a sea cockroach. They glomp onto the rock and don’t move until submerged in water (high tide). That cured any desire to touch. Nevertheless, the wildness of the area, the gentle strength of the waves, and the isolation all made me think that this was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in Trinidad.
All good things must come to an end, however. And what goes down must go back up. The hike back up was gross. It was strenuous, it made me feel like I had my own personal rain cloud as I was dripping so much, I was hungry, and I had the trampling of my pride witnessed by a couple people. However, said people were brilliantly awesome. Between the Venezuelan who spoke little English taking my backpack and the ex-US Marine who sometimes did 1-800-TOWME and pulled me through the bush as a shortcut, my cousin and I eventually made it back to the top. And once I saw the view from at the top again, I got my second wind and practically skipped to the car.
So, after sweating my body weight and getting a thorn in my toe (I don’t recommend jungle hiking with Teva sandals as they are open) do I recommend this hike? Most definitely, 100%. However, I highly suggest you do not go hiking alone or in tiny groups when in Trinidad. Not just because if you fall off a hillside but because of personal safety (crime). Once you’re done your hike, head down the road to Maracas Beach for a snack. May I suggest a sorrel shandy as well as kingfish and bake?