ANA-LISSA JACK (NYLO INTERN)
Off the North coast of Trinidad, south of Blanchisseuse is the village of Avocat, which is home to an eco-tourism destination, The Petit Marianne Waterfall, commonly known as The Avocat Waterfall.
Members of the media were invited to participate in a waterfall and rappelling adventure as part of the Ministry of Tourism’s stay to get away campaign. The tour was guided by Courtenay “Bush Man” Rooks, Managing Director of Paria Springs Tours, who began the rappelling trend at the falls.
Rooks said, “In Trinidad and Tobago, many people complain that there is nothing to do, but if they look around there are a lot of fun things to do.” He said that he has been surfing, mountain biking, hiking and bird watching and every year the country surprises him and fills him with awe.
The team left Queen’s Park Savannah and began the two hour long ride to Avocat. Along the way, Rooks pointed out the importance of knowing the natural history of our twin island republic. On our way to Avocat, the team made a brief stop at the Maracas Lookout where Rooks pointed out the northern range, as well as the northern part of Venezuela. He urged us to look closely into the mountains for a slight saddle shape which surprisingly was the outline of the satellite dish at Chaguaramas Tracking Station. This site is where the first satellite conversation in the world took place. He also pointed out Balata Bay and El Tucuche, the second highest mountain in Trinidad. Rooks explained that Balata Bay would be perfect for stand up paddle board tours due to its calm waters.
Resuming the maxi ride to Avocat, Rooks explained how towns such as Las Cuevas and Blanchisseuse got their names. He further explained the diverse nature of Trinidad and Tobago’s flora and fauna has resulted in the islands being home to more species of birds than the rest of the Caribbean combined. Interestingly, Rooks explained “The ecology of Trinidad is more related to that of South America, while Tobago has plants that can only be found in Aruba and Curacao.” He added that this is due to the breaking up of the super continent Pangaea centuries ago.
Fifteen minutes off the Arima, Blanchisseuse road, the bus stopped at Pop’s House where the team picked up their harnesses and helmets and began the physical 45 minute trek to the waterfall. In less than 5 minutes we were knee high in the cold waters of the Marianne River. Navigating through slippery rocks, logs and trees, Rooks explained hiking safety rules and the importance of staying in groups. We occasionally stopped to observe the beauty of the rain forest and Rooks took the opportunity to point out trees which intertwined with each other acting as a natural protection for the ecosystem in the event of a hurricane.
He stated “What is fascinating about rainforests is many people think that the forest is here because of the rain, however studies have shown that it is actually the forest which produce the rain.” He further stated that this was the reason for the protection of the rainforest in Tobago in 1776.
As we arrived at the base of the waterfall, the team had to embrace the downpour of rain and strap on their harness to prepare for their rappelling adventure. We had begun our crash course in rappelling as a rope and large tree became our practice pad while Rooks had already hiked to the top of the 72 foot waterfall to fasten the ropes to the hooks. Rooks had drilled and anchored hooks into the rocks himself almost two years ago after learning rappelling from a friend who teaches the technique in France. He encouraged persons to not be afraid, to ensure that they only hike and rappel with someone who has a strong safety record, further adding the way a person handles their equipment and the quality of the safety briefing beforehand can be warning signs. Rooks said that he uses four anchors and two ropes while only one of each is required. “Safety is our priority,” he said.
While some were adventurous enough to climb to the top, others opted to stay at the base of the waterfall and enjoy their river experience. The waterfall is surrounded by rocks and trees which provide a serene landscape for relaxing swim in one of the clear shallow pools of the river.
At the top, we all experienced the moments of fear at the edge, while some considered not rappelling down. Rooks was the first to rappel down the waterfall, showing the proper technique. All anxiety was soon forgotten as one after the other we had our own rappelling adventure. We all agreed that the first phase, which was a cautious climb down, was the most terrifying, however after being swung under the cascading waterfall, the feeling of excitement took over. Those who on first try were timid rushed back to the top to have another go at the rappelling experience.
River-goers who met the team at the river were shocked to see rappelling being done and stated that they wished that they could have joined in.
Rooks stated he began rappelling at Avocat because he wanted persons to get a different experience at the waterfalls. The youngest person to have rappelled was four while the eldest was 86.