Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Divali Celebration, continued

The first picture here shows Kathleen and Roland with their dinner all arranged on leaves.

After dinner we walked throughout the village for hours. This is a popular town for viewing Divali lights and many people from all over the area come here. Everyone is dressed up and those of Indian descent wear their traditional costumes. These two young girls are a charming example.
A combination of electric "Christmas" lights and lighted clay lamps decorated almost every home and the streets themselves. Sections of the village coordinated their displays with arches of lights over the streets or rows of lighted lamps along the sides. Bamboo frames are built to display the lamps, which are glued on at the joints. Our photos of the lights are very poor I'm afraid. One shows a fence frame along the street and another a lovely home lit with lamps with the family sitting out front to welcome guests. We talked to many people and were given gifts of sweets in small bags. The most popular was a farina, ghee and honey dough, at it's best warm and fragrent with what I thought was cardomen. The bags also contained frest sliced fruits and other candies.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Divali, the Festival of Light

Divali (or Diwali) means "rows of lighted lamps". The Hindu diaspora celebrates in the form of lit deyas (clay lamps) the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and the return of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile in the forest. Homes are cleaned and windows opened to welcome Laksmi, goddess of light, wealth and beauty. This is held on the last day of the year in the Hindu lunar calendar but because there is no universally accepted Hindu calendar, the date varies in different parts of the world. It is always held sometime in late October or early November. This year is Trinidad we didn't know the date until weeks before the event.
This is an occasion for new clothes and a big family feast. During observation of Divali, as a form of sacrifice, no meat is prepared. There is a wonderful wide variety of traditional vegetarian dishes which are served on a fresh large green leaves. After the meal, it's an easy cleanup! Some of the dishes are curried channa, aloo (chickpeas and potatoes), pumpkin, mango chutneys and hot sauces. These are all served with roti, a light flat bread (similiar to pita) which is used to wrap around the curried vegetables with your fingers.

We left the marina on a series of buses and maxi taxis to the village of Felicity in the center of Trinidad in the late afternoon. We were guests of the temple there and enjoyed performances of Indian dance and Tassa drumming.
Click on the square below to be connected to You Tube and see a brief composite of several snippits of the performances from our digital camera.

After the show, we had dinner in the temple hall of traditional divali vegetarian dishes - all delicious and we had fun eating with our fingers on the big leaves. More to come on another blog entry.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Guapo River Gorge Hike

Our second major hike was a combination of that and canyoning. We hiked up to the top of a series of gorges where the Guapo River descends from the mountains and followed the river down. We waded, swam, floated and jumped. It was a lot of fun.
But we had all been very nervous before starting this trip. Jesse and our guide Snake had warned us in advance that this was a very strenuous trip and might be canceled at any time. These gorges are steep and through many parts it is impossible to get to higher ground, so a flash flood could be pretty dangerous. The heavy rain on the way up the trail added to our anxiety. But when we reached the river the water level was down and the sun came out. Snake gave us the go ahead and we were off. Our first obsticle was a narrow gap and drop into another pool. We had to jump the 12 feet down but land six feet out. We all did it but there were several big pauses and white faces afterwards. This is not Disneyland folks.
But we all had faith in Snake. He has done this many many times and he gave us all courage. Pretty soon we were hooting and hollaring. Lying on my back (we all wore life jackets) and floating down the stream was heavenly. The scenery was amazing and Jesse pointed out all the bird life around us.
We had our lunches sitting in the sun by the side of the river - jumping in to cool off once in a while. Basically we spent most of the day wet. This is a good thing in a hot climate! It was a great group and lots of fun as our photo here indicates. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Asa Wright Nature Center (continued)

.The park like surroundings of the center are planted with flowers, bushes and trees that attract birds of all kinds. Some are indiginous, others brought here years ago to adorn the estate's gardens. Bamboo for example was originally planted to stabilize roads and hillsides but now has become an invasive species and found all over the islands. Miles of trails intersect in every direction, some easy and broad, others steep and rugged.

We managed to cover almost all of them. There are several intersections with a lovely stream. One section, with a waterfall, has been dammed up and rimmed with a stone wall to make a swimming hole. There's even a changing room!

It is so hard to chose pictures to publish here. We took over a hundred ourselves and our friends hundreds more. We all share our photos, passing around discs to copy. The flowers shown are an orchid, a protea, heliconia and in the last a powder puff plant with a hungry hummingbird.

We started the morning at 6 AM out on the veranda watching the birds, then a short pre breakfast hike (that's Honoree playing Jane on the vine!), and another after breakfast - both with guides. We were luckily included in a trip to see the oil birds in the afternoon - this only happens once a week. There are very few colonies of these birds and this is one of the most accessable. The other locations are in Venezuela. They nest in caves or gorges and are nocturnal. The hike into the steeply sided gorges was beautiful. These birds were boiled down to produce oil many years ago and had dwindled in numbers. They are now protected and are making a good recovery.
After a late afternoon swim to cool off we had tea on the veranda. At 6 PM rum punches are served, a tradition Asa Wright herself started, followed by a wonderful dinner. After that we took another walk with our guide to see night birds. What a fantastic day!
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Asa Wright Nature Center

The Asa Wright Nature Center is high in the mountains several hours from our marina and we had heard such great things about it we decided to spend three days there with a group of friends.

The first picture here shows Walt "Will O Wisp", Mike "Casa del Mar", Scott, Sam "Encantada" and Ed "Dreamtime" and the second shows Honore "Will O Wisp", myself and Margy "Encantada" on the top and Linda "Casa del Mar" and Linda "Dreamtime" on the bottom. Mike and Linda and Ed and Linda have been with us since Georgetown in the Bahamas. Jesse picked us up early and stopped for a break mid way for doubles (hot pastry filled with curried chickpeas) and other snacks. The narrow twisty road with several previous landslides very evident, had steep drop offs and we sometimes had to back up to allow other cars to pass. This 200 acre nature preserve is at 1200 feet and was formerly part of a cocoa, coffee and citrus plantation. In 1950 William Beebe established a tropical research station nearby and became good friends with Asa and her husband. After her husband's death she established the property as a reserve. The 1907 estate home is a guest house now and we were lucky to stay in the main house.  Our bedroom had 20 foot ceilings and antique mahagoney furniture. It is a peaceful retreat with constant birdsong in the background. The broad veranda is the center of human and bird/animal life from 6 AM to bed time. Bird feeders hang all around and large tables with fruits laid out surround the porch on the ground. Hundreds of birds are visable at all times - it is mesmerizing.

Posted by PicasaExcellent guides are on duty almost all the time. Birders from all over the world come here and we had six very knowledgeable ones there for a week. They and the guides identified and pointed out over sixty birds for us. The birders themselves had identified over 140 each. Our cameras were in constant use both for the birds and the flowers that attract them. On the way back we drove by the beautiful north shore beaches. I'm dividing this story into several postings so that we can show more pictures - so, more to come.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rincon Falls Hike

One of the best of our day trips was a hike to the Rincon Falls. We started early as the drive to the trail head was several hours. A steep and narrow road over the mountains led through small villages to the north coast road. The views were lovely and included several beautiful beaches. We left
our maxi taxi at a farm and visited the ducks, pigs and goats. Doesn't this pig look a bit like Babe? The farmer's home was quite comfortable and he allowed us to change both before and after the hike inside. Later he had us taste his curry goat and gave us all pieces of pumpkin and huge avocados to take home. We passed this gentleman on the road when we first started out. I think he was picking up trash from the road. We certainly didn't see any that day.
Our guide, Snake, is very famous around this area, partially for the 16 foot boa constrictor he keeps as a pet. His description of feeding it was pretty horrible - a staked live goat, once every three months. He introduced us to a recent addition to his menagerie - a much smaller boa constrictor. He's shown with Jesse here and a close up with the snake.
The hike was steeply uphill at first and we were all huffing and puffing. After an hour and a half we were treated to a small waterfall and pool. That water felt marvelous. Jesse climbed up the falls and slid down to much laughter. Another hour brought us to a very steep descent to the waterfall. The rest and swim had revived us all and thank goodness as this section was very challenging.
We used a rope to partially rappel down and other ropes to hold on to while traversing a narrow shelf of rock. The waterfall is over 250 feet high and in a very beautiful valley. Those are people at the bottom of the falls in the shot here which puts the height in prospective! The rainforest canopy sheltered us most of the day from the direct sun. Here we swam, ate snacks, and lay out on the rocks talking. Some of us dove off the rocks into the pool and climbed up under the lower cascades.

We went back up the rope and took another way back, breaking our trip again with another swim. This time in a river. Snake pointed out the leaf eater ants busily munching away at the bushes and carrying the bits off in a long line to their nest. Some of the pieces were much bigger than the ants! After a change at the farmer's home we headed down to Maracas Beach and Richard's, famous for his Bake and Shark. This popular treat is a freshly deep fried (yes, most everything is fried here) lump of dough that comes out crispy on the outside and somewhat hollow in the center. This is split and stuffed with shark meat in sauce and handed to you. Then you add any combination of condiments from a big buffet type table; basic salad things, spiced pineapple, garlic sauce, hot sauces. Fabulous! (After all this we had trouble staying awake for the trip back. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Day trips with Jesse James

Jesse James is the best ambassador of goodwill that Trinidad could have. He runs all the tours and transportation for the cruising community here. His maxi taxis take us to the supermarkets and malls, music venues, movies and the sights around the island. We've gone on two really fun all day trips with him.
The first was to the Pitch Lake and stops at several Hindu temples. The Pitch Lake was described by Noel Coward as "Twenty two tennis courts badly in need of repair." Actually this million year old pit covers 89 acres and has been used by Sir Walter Raleigh and many since as a natural source of asphalt. Three hundred tons a day are removed from it and it is also a interesting tourist destination. Maxi taxis are overgrown vans that carry twelve people in somewhat cramped conditions. The drive down to the lake was along the industrial west coast through San Fernando, the second largest town in Trinidad. We stopped after an hour to have some "doubles" - hot pita bread like rounds of fried dough stuffed with curried chickpeas. This is a popular breakfast snack here and stands with lines of people in the morning are common. A guide led us through the knee deep water onto the soft asphalt center of the lake. At one point we could lift up the warm pitch and watch it form ribbons off the sticks.

We stopped for lunch and had another Trinidad specialty, roti. Various curried meats or vegetables are wrapped in large squares of warm flat Indian bread. We had goat rotis with very cold local beer - Stag or Carib. Most rotis have bones in them so eating them is a little tricky but they are always delicious. Next we stopped at two Hindu temples. The first is a small temple on a piece of reclaimed land reachable by a narrow causeway.

All of this and the temple itself were hand built by a inspired Indian (about half of Trinidadians are descended from workers brought from India in mid 1800s) forty years ago. The second was a very large complex of temple buildings and statues. This is used for many large weddings and other social gatherings. The largest statue is over 150 feet high. Twenty five percent of Trinidad is Hindu.