things first’, explained the guide, ‘what matters in the rainforest is
not how far you walk but how much you see on the way.’ Reassured, I
checked the wellies lined up at the gate and hired a pair for 20 TT. We
were about to explore the oldest rainforest reserve in the western
hemisphere, set up in 1776 under British rule.
But what about the name?
‘That means machete but don’t worry, you won’t need one today.’ So off
we went along the Main Ridge, the long volcanic spine of the island,
following the old donkey trail down to the silver and gold waterfall.
The gold turned out to be iron ore but deep in the forest filled with
bird song, it didn’t seem to matter at all. We didn’t see the rare
white-tailed sabre-wing but we heard its melodious call, crystal clear
in the drifting mist.
We spotted yellow sugar
birds and blue-backed mannekins, who dance and hop in the trees at
mating time, red and green collared trogons, white-necked thrushes with
a song for every occasion, motmots who nest in the clay and great black
hawks who think nothing of eating a parrot. Frogs whistled along the
stream and cicadas burst into a frenzied chorus to signal our dangerous
approach. Not that we made a noise, but occasionally someone let out a
‘wow, what was that?’ or a not so polite grumble when they lost a boot
in the mud.
* * *
1963 hurricane caused enormous damage in the reserve but the trees have
recovered well, an amazing 200 species per hectare in some places, wild
nutmeg, 30 metres high, luminous tree ferns, prickly palms, trumpet
trees, cocoa, olive palms and bamboo growing at an alarming rate of 20cm
Mimosa fern curled up as
we brushed past, leaf cutter ants scurried across the path and a young
boa constrictor slithered away into the undergrowth.
No venomous snakes, said
the guide, but I wasn’t too keen on termites making themselves at home
in hollow tree trunks, or whipping spiders who turn their front legs
into fangs to catch their prey.
The trail was clear but
great tangles of lianas reached out and the forest creaked and groaned,
bursting with invisible life, iron back crabs, trap door spiders,
scorpions hiding under the stones and many more. I was glad I had boots.
* * *
it didn’t really help when I fell in the mud but that was my fault, I
was too busy looking up at the fleshy bromeliads climbing in the trees,
the wild orchids nestling between branches, the white flowers of a cedar
tree and the first orange blooms of an immortelle.
The wet season was over
yet all of a sudden, the heavens opened, rain thundering on the canopy,
but it never reached us down on the ground. We didn’t mind, now the air
was cool, the birds twittered with unrestrained pleasure and the forest
glistened like new, from the gigantic trees to the smallest blade of
razor grass and the red or yellow blooms of tall heliconia.
The Gilpin trace is just 5
km long, from the Roxborough-Parlatuvier road to ‘Bloody Bay’ but we
turned back, after two hours or so, eyes filled with wonders, ready to
return the wellies to the astute entrepreneur waiting at the gate. I
looked forward to a snack and a rest but the young boa constrictor had
beaten us to it, basking in the sunlight right across the picnic table.
We moved on down the road.
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