NINE days in Trinidad…Saturday February 1 to Sunday February 9…Hollis Dam to the Queen’s Park Savannah…from picturesque tranquillity to pulsating tempo.
From just the sounds of birds and flowing water in the hilly terrain around the reservoir, to putting down the cooler right next to the rhythm section from Santa Cruz, one of the in-house bands in non-tiered Pan City.
I still can’t hear in my right ear, which is mainly because of the wax, but it was worth it just watching the pure delight on the faces of those players, from the drummers to the horn men, and the pretty women circling them, wining to the beat.
The weekend before it was the ugly faces of the Thirsty Walkers, on the first excursion of 2020, supposedly to look at the toucans in the trees surrounding the dam in the Northern Range, just above Valencia.
Our intrepid tour guide Chris gave that bird-watching “purpose of visit” at WASA’s head office, where he had to apply for permission for us to enter the Hollis Reservoir, constructed between 1934-36, a marvellous feat of engineering which is still functional.
Before anyone at WASA starts checking the visitors’ book to see who are these Walker people who might not be authentic birdwatchers, in our favour is that we took out more than we came in with, everyone picking up all the litter they could carry, plastic and cardboard left behind by those there before us on the trails alongside the intricate drainage system taking water to the dam.
I’ll admit there was a beer or two consumed, maybe that’s why Rufus came up with another reason for the journey - to examine the elusive “fofofus” beetle, which apparently eats the toucan droppings. And with more beers the name of that particular insect species changed a lot throughout the day, the last I remember hearing it being the “mamaforus” beetle.
If you manage to get an entry pass, you won’t be disappointed, ascending to the dam then levelling off at the top to be greeted by the serene background of water and wilderness, picture perfect and really worth a thousand words.
It was a Saturday travelling in a red-band maxi driven by Martin, mostly to the incessant chatter of Troy, and in between his yapping hearing the tunes on a newly-discovered playlist put together by recently-departed Thirsty Walker Massie, who had compiled it for his birthday a few years ago.
There was silent tribute to a friend and brother gone too soon, knowing he would have enjoyed this outing in the bush. And it wasn’t done yet because, from the dam, the Walkers then proceeded a few miles west to Guanapo River Gorge.
It didn’t take long, though, to be reminded of the man-made extremes of Trinidad’s unique environment, as turning north off Eastern Main Road, to the left was billowing smoke, thick and grey, from the Guanapo landfill, with the gorge upwind and out of sight above a hillside laid bare by years of quarrying.
But not far from the scorched earth, after hiking uphill and then down to the river, we were back in God’s countryside, all green and clean. Except for those pesky “bete rouge” buggers which got some of us good, a few itchy bites appearing a couple days later.
Maybe that’s the forest dwellers’ method of trying to keep us city slickers away from this unspoilt location of crystal-clear pools surrounded by towering rock formations and tall timber.
And I must confess we left more than we went in with, an almost-full bottle of rum falling out of a knapsack pocket while trekking through the forest and ducking under fallen trees. Serves us right for putting it in the care of the only Walker who doesn’t drink, Danny, an experienced bushman who conveniently forgot to tell us to look out for the biting bugs.
But some hunter or hiker will soon find our lost Black Label, an unintended gift from the Walkers.
And we didn’t go thirsty for long as there was a lot more of that sort of liquid and many other varieties last Sunday in the Savannah, where the afternoon sun was tempered by cooling winds, and pan men and women always make T&T proud.
In a country where anything progressive often comes to naught amidst political squabbles and selfish interests, almost 200 steelbands get together for a few months each year and show what can be done with a common purpose, making sweet music for the whole wide world, with its grand crescendo coming at Panorama.
And in Pan City, those musicians who couldn’t find the time to make the stage side entertain patrons between each band, none better than those folks from Santa Cruz.
Amidst the revelry, though, there was the grim reminder of our current dismal situation printed on their green T-shirts, with three words set against a bright red circular background - “Stop the murders”.
And below that was what most of us already know and embrace but a few choose to deny – “All ah we is one”.
I won’t count how many people lost their lives in T&T in those nine days, but the gunmen have our full attention, and those hiding and protecting them should spare a thought for the grieving relatives left behind to mourn.
The only gunshots around the Hollis Dam were fired by the hunters, and deep in the Guanapo Gorge, there was just the soothing sound of water flowing over the rocks.
Long may it remain that way. It’s now up to every one of us to take back the rest of the country.