Tuesday 26 September, 2017

Trinidad’s offshore Islands full of natural wonders and history

Guide Elton Pouchet taking a dip in the Salt Water pond on Chacachacare Island

Guide Elton Pouchet taking a dip in the Salt Water pond on Chacachacare Island

Trinbagonians love to party and the islands off Trinidad, known as Down the Islands or DDI, have become the perfect party venue.

But outside of the lush homes, some of which are rented out for weekend soirees or the quiet bays with crystal clear water for swimming, DDI has much more for curious visitors.

As part of its Stay to Get Away campaign aimed at encouraging more domestic tourism, T&T’s Ministry of Tourism took a group of media personnel on a tour Down the Islands, specifically to Chacachacare Island.

The tour was done in conjunction with Injoy Tours, a tour guide company operational since 1982. Accompanying us were Sherma Mitchell, Ministry of Tourism Communications Manager and Belinda Charles, Manager of Stakeholder Relations.

The very knowledgeable co-owner of the company and captain of the boat, Elton Pouchet, led the commentary as we sailed from Chaguaramas in Trinidad’s Western Peninsula.

There are a number of islands off Trinidad’s Western coast, among them the Bocas islands: Monos, Huevos, Chacachacare, Gaspar Grande (Gasparee) and Centipede Island, where centipedes are said to grow as much as 18 inches long!  

Chacachacare, the western most island, is fringed in the background by Venezuela’s mountains which are clearly visible the closer one gets to the island.

The island is home to a little known natural wonder, the Salt water pond which lies less than two minutes’ walk from the pebbly coast. One account says the salt water pond was created to combat mosquitoes breeding in what was formerly a fresh water lagoon. Our guide told us that twice a year mosquitoes take up residence on the island, hungry for fresh blood.

The pond is a large and glassy looking stagnant pool of warm salt water with a slight sulphur scent.  Our guide dived right in but most of the group didn’t have the nerve to venture beyond ankle height water.

Chacachacare is full of history.  Cotton was once grown on the island and it was a popular whaling station. This was prior to Trinidad’s oil discovery when blubber from whales was crucial for fuel.

The island was once a haven for leprosy patients when the Government, alarmed at the spread of the disease, built a Leprosarium on the island.

 In 1868 Governor Arthur Hamilton asked the Roman Catholic Archbishop to bring Dominican Sisters from France to care for the lepers.

The Convent’s structure is still there on Marine Bay, run down and dilapidated, overgrown with weeds, vines and inhabited with bats as is the smaller Convent where the Sisters of Mercy lived. These Sisters were brought in to replace the nuns.

Pouchet said campers have been using the wood from the structure for fire and the army, which once occupied the buildings, cut human shapes out of the walls to use for target practice.

There is a narrow walkway which was once paved where visitors can walk to the Convent and cemetery nearby.

While we didn’t visit the old hospital, Pouchet said up to 11 years ago when he last visited, the surgery room was intact with equipment and medical records were strewn all over.

The Americans who once occupied Chaguaramas, were stationed on Chacachacare and separated their 900 acres from the leper colony with a barb wire fence. 

Also of interest on the island is the lighthouse which was built in 1870 on the northern ridge. Pouchet said the lighthouse, eight hundred and sixty-five feet above sea level, is the highest in the world.

There is a road leading to the lighthouse but be warned, the route is infested with mosquitoes.

To get to Chacachacare Island, be prepared to pass through the three Bocas, openings between the islands that lead from the Gulf of Paria to the Caribbean Sea. The North winds from the Caribbean Sea contribute to rough waters along the way.

To book one of the tours on the stay to Get Away Campaign, visit: https://sites.google.com/view/staytnt/home