Magic's Adventure

21 April 2009 | Georgetown
17 April 2009 | Mayaguana
11 November 2008 | St Croix
07 November 2008 | St Croix
22 October 2008 | St Croix
21 September 2008 | St Croix
15 September 2008 | Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
15 September 2008 | Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
14 September 2008 | Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
07 September 2008 | Scotland Bay, Trinidad
21 August 2008 | Clarkes Court Bay, Grenada
09 August 2008 | Clarkes Court Bay, Grenada
06 August 2008 | Clarkes Court Bay, Grenada
06 June 2008 | Bequia
05 June 2008 | Bequia
02 June 2008 | Bequia
28 May 2008 | Bequia
27 May 2008 | Bequia
26 May 2008 | Bequia
25 May 2008 | Guadaloupe

Asa Wright Nature Center

15 September 2008 | Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
We finally managed to make our long awaited trip to the Asa Wright Nature Center (AWNC) on August 27th, a few days after we retuned from Annapolis. We had originally intended to visit before we left for the US but the need to get Magic ready for her haul-out coupled with bad weather forced us to postpone the trip. The good news about the postponement was that our friends on 'Keesje II', Peter and Wendy as well as our friends on 'Discovery', Carl and Marilyn would also be joining us. We had decided on the overnight trip as other friends who had been day visitors had told us that they would have preferred to be able to spend more time at the center. We were also looking forward to a night off the boat. Since returning to Trinidad we had been living 'on the hard'. In other words, Magic was still out of the water and although we had hired an a/c unit from the yard it was still stifling hot below. In addition, we were making at least a dozen or more trips up and down the ladder a day, moving stuff back on the boat and running to the local chandlery whenever we needed a part. A night in the cool at 1,200ft in the rainforest would be a welcome change.

The Asa Wright Center comprises almost 1,500 acres in the Arima and Aripo valleys. It was originally a coffee, cocoa and citrus plantation but in 1967 was transformed into a 'non-profit' Trust by a group of conservationists trying to protect the Arima Valley and its wildlife. The center is now world renowned as a destination for students of tropical ecology and is of specific interest to birdwatchers. It is also apparently included in the book '1,000 Places To See Before You Die', although we've not verified that ourselves.

Our tour organizer was again the famous Jesse James. We've mentioned Jesse before. He runs a taxi and tour service based in Chaguaramas which caters to the yachting community staying there for the hurricane season. Jesse runs trips to the local supermarkets and malls, the fresh vegetable and fish markets and movie night as well as a variety of hikes and sight-seeing trips. He is a very helpful and efficient resource for the cruising community as well as being a genuinely nice guy. We relied on Jesse a good deal.

We clambered on to the bus a little after 9.30am. We had a long run to the Asa Wright Centre, one road in, one road out and the condition of that road was a worry due to the heavy storms and rainfall we had experienced the weekend before our trip. But Jesse's first concern was our stomachs and an hour or so into the ride we had to stop for 'doubles'. Most of the really good 'street food' in Trinidad is of Indian origin and 'doubles' are no different. The ones we had had from the van that parks just outside the Power Boats gate every morning were pretty good to us but no, Jesse assured us, the ones we were about to experience were far better than anything we could find in Chaguaramas. Who were we to argue with an expert? With mouths watering in anticipation we anxiously awaited sight of the Taj Mahal of doubles shacks. So when Jesse pulled on to a block of concrete outside an industrial estate where two mobile 'hot dog' type vans were parked, we were a little dubious. OK, one had a brightly colored blue and white canvas top, but even so. But again we were proved wrong. The doubles were wonderful (ignore the potential cholesterol issues here). Deep fried dough flavored with saffron which puffed up beautifully filled with a spicy chick-pea mixture. And at TT$4 per item (about 66 US cents or 36p in sterling) we could have more than one! Did we want to sample the other snacks they sell? Silly question, Jesse. We certainly did. So we tucked into Saheena (deep fried callaloo) and a ball made of mashed peas that I've forgotten the name of as well as more doubles. All good vegetarian stuff washed down with mineral water. Duly fed and watered, we got back on the bus to continue our journey.

The road to AWNC had been damaged by the storms but was still passable so we made good time, arriving at the center just after noon. We were allocated rooms, dumped our gear and then went immediately back to the veranda to take a look at the bird-watching area the center is famous for. Every morning at 6.30am the staff set up tables immediately below the veranda where they place fruit and other 'goodies' to attract the birds for observation. Trinidad until relatively recently (in geological terms, that is) was part of South America and broke off from that continent less than 10,000 years ago. As a result, some of the spectacularly colorful birds native to South America are also found here. Now neither Dave nor I can call ourselves avid bird watchers, but we were fascinated by the comings and goings from the table and happily sat and watched. A group of day visitors were about to be taken on an orientation hike, but we decided that we would prefer to be in a smaller group and would therefore take our first hike the following morning. Fortunately for us, one of the staff guides who was actually off-duty happened to overhear our discussion and offered to take us himself. We happily accepted.

The center insists on all visitors taking an orientation hike with a guide before venturing out on the trails unaccompanied. There are a couple of good reasons for this. One is that it gives visitors the chance to learn about the history of the center, and be introduced to some of the more common birds and plants, but the second is snakes. As well as enjoying some of South America's most beautiful birds, Trinidad is also home to four species of venomous snakes one of which, the fer-de-lance, is responsible for more deaths in Central and South America than any other snake. Now for those of you who don't know, our Dave has a slight aversion to snakes and as our guide was happily narrating his tale of the fer-de-lance seen stalking juvenile agoutis across the car park the previous week, Dave, even with his tan, was turning paler and paler. Fortunately he agreed to join us on the hike, with the proviso that he would be second in the line. Why? Well because, as we were reliably informed by a self-appointed snake expert, if there is a snake hidden on the trail the first person wakes it up, the second person causes it to position itself to strike and the actual strike hits the third of fourth person in line. As our guide would be up front, Dave would be second and I would be, well, third. Get the anti-venom lined up please!

As luck would have it, we didn't meet a single snake on our hike. But we did see many birds, wondrous plants and an incredible colony of leaf-cutter ants that was over 15 years old. Over that time, the ants have worn a path to and from the colony that ran for over 200ft before it disappeared into the undergrowth, and was more than 2ft wide. We watched as ant after ant approached the colony bearing a portion of leaf several times their size. Soldier ants guarding the entrances would 'QC' each leaf and turn away any they found to be sub-standard! Even ants are fascinating, who would believe it!

After our hike we returned to the veranda for afternoon tea (very colonial) and then it was back to our room for a shower and to change for dinner. Coming out of the bathroom I found Dave kneeling on the floor gingerly lifting the edge of the cover on his bed. I had a strong suspicion that I knew the answer, but I had to ask the question anyway - "What are you doing?" "Looking for snakes!" "And what are you going to do if you find one?" "Run like hell!" Well, at least I know where I stood where snakes were concerned. Very much second.

A complimentary glass of rum punch was served at 6pm. Well, OK it was a glass of 'punch' with not a lot of rum until, that is, Dave brought out the bottle of rum we happened to have in our room and remedied the situation. We then watched a video on the wildlife of Trinidad before dinner. After dinner we took our guide's offer of a night hike to try to see some of the nocturnal animals of the rainforest. Again, luck was with us, no snakes. But we did see tarantulas, preying mantis, stick insects, various lizards and tree frogs. The noise of the rainforest is actually quite deafening at night, and by far and away the creature responsible for the highest decibel levels is the tree frog. About the size of your thumb nail, this little creature has a size to noise ratio that must be stunning. We found several before heading back to the center for a nightcap, and bed.

For some reason Dave didn't sleep very well. I had noticed a small tear in the insect screen covering the bathroom window and so had made sure that the bathroom door was very firmly shut. No unexpected visitors in the night for me. I slept well, but we were both wide awake and on the veranda by 6.30am the following morning to watch the sunrise special. The coffee was hot and plentiful and the staff had already been out loading up the tables and bird feeders. The number of birds coming to the table was incredible. All shapes, sizes and colors. I couldn't possibly mention all of the species, but a number of them are shown on the AWNC website (a link is below) so take a look if you're curious. We watched for over an hour and then headed for the breakfast table.

Another hike was scheduled for after breakfast and this one took us past the trail that leads to Dunstan Cave, the home of the centers' colony of Oilbirds. This colony was all but wiped out earlier in the century. The juvenile birds are very rich in oils (they weigh up to 50% more than the adult birds) and were killed by the local Indians for lamp and cooking fuel. After the area became a conservation centre the birds recovered and there are now estimated to be over 130 in the colony. All during the hike we were able to hear the call of the Bearded White Manakin. Finally towards the end of the hike we actually saw the bird. It is famous for its spectacular mating display, but our bird was content to sit in its tree, singing its heart out.

We made it back to the center for lunch, and then it was time to leave. Jesse was as prompt as usual and we loaded ourselves into the bus. We were in for another stroke of luck however. Would we like to go home via another route and see some more of the northern side of the island. We could also stop and one of the best 'shark 'n' bake' huts in the north of Trinidad - Jesse was concerned about our stomachs again. Yep, that seemed like a great idea and off we went.

The drive was beautiful and we saw more of the northern rainforest. And finally we stopped at Maracas Bay, a popular spot with locals, got out of the bus and were directed to Richard's Shark 'n' Bake Shack. Now we've been offered shark many times before but have always responded with the same answer - "No, thank you. We are divers and we have an agreement with the sharks. We don't eat them and they don't eat us." So I was surprised when Dave handed over his money and took possession of a bun filled with fried and battered shark meat. He then went over to the condiment bar and piled in onions, avocado, tomatoes and various relishes. I looked at him curiously. "Yes, I know" he said guiltily, "But it looked so good". And apparently it was. But we haven't eaten shark since.

We were back at Chaguaramas by 4pm and back to living 'on the hard', at least for a few days more. But our trip to Asa Wright was wonderful and if we get the chance to do back there again one day, well I won't complain.
Link to Asa Wright
Vessel Name: Magic
Vessel Make/Model: Baba 40
Hailing Port: Ipswich
Crew: David & Donna Glessing