THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY
DECADES AGO, I almost drowned at Maracas Beach on Trinidad’s north coast. Twice.
Once when I was a small child and only knew I had almost drowned because of the terror in my heart and because of how my father held me when he pulled me gasping from the water.
And again in my mid-20s, bodysurfing, and got tumbled and disoriented by a giant wave and swam down and not up, and bumped into the seabed. And, when I looked up, with my breath already bursting, and saw daylight far above me, I thought, with adult certainty, “I’ll never make it!” And I don’t think my breath would have lasted if the water hadn’t also itself receded at the last moment, a wave went out, allowing me to break the surface, and suck in air.
Maracas Beach very nearly took my life. Twice. And it’s still my favourite beach.
There are more spectacular beaches in the world, maybe even some in Trinidad and Tobago, maybe even Las Cuevas a few minutes down the North Coast Road, but Maracas was the first beach I ever went to and the one I’ve been to more than any other.
I went to Maracas on Sunday. Every time I reach that beach, I spend the first ten minutes looking, first, out to sea, at the horseshoe of the bay, and then turning around to drink in the horseshoe of mountains surrounding it.
And feeling all the luck it took for me to be there then. It’s a beautiful place.
But it’s not child-friendly. On Sunday, I watched a young man, beer still in hand, dart towards the water to yank his toddler daughter out of the water with his free hand.
Now I’ve always belonged to the school of parenting that says, if you don’t keep one eye on your child until it graduates from university, it will surely drown, even if it’s at the mall.
But the chances of that tragedy are greatly increased at what might be the worst beach you can take a child to if you live in Port of Spain.
My favourite beach in the world.
It’s where I took my kids. Chances are it’s where you take yours.
I thought of my father, and of that day he snatched me from the water when I was knee-high.
And of myself as a parent, unable to relax if my own children were at the water’s edge at Maracas, of the balancing act I wobbled over every weekend, the trick of drinking enough alcohol to take the edge off my worry but not enough to dull the reflexes I might need to rescue my children.
In the six decades I’ve been going to Maracas regularly, though, I’ve only been there for one drowning. On Sunday, the lifeguards put out only a couple of red flags warning against swimming near me – a very good day, by Maracas’s rough-water standards.
I sat on my towel at the water’s edge, one eye on the families with small children, the other on a $50 shark-and-bake that contained a dozen different condiments and sauces and no shark at all, just some white fish from PriceSmart, two more of the conundrums Trinidad throws up hourly for anyone paying attention.
What is a parent supposed to do, if not take its child to the most beautiful beach it can reach in an hour on a weekend, even if the surf is treacherous? Would a child be better off in an apartment, safe from drowning, but never to see the arc of the beautiful bay? Was there a child on the beach on Sunday who looked out at the rock beyond the spur at the eastern end of the bay and imagined, the way I had when I was in 11-plus class, that it was Columbus’s ship, the Santa Maria, coming around the point to “discover” Trinidad? What price, in real magic, do we pay for the illusion of security?
I went to Maracas on Sunday. On Monday, I went to the funeral of a friend’s stepfather. And on Tuesday, I went into the cancer ward for chemo.
Life is full of beauty and wonder and the world is an exciting, dangerous place. And this is where we live.
To refuse Maracas because of its risks would be to betray the most beautiful beach in the world.
BC Pires is in the nexus between laugh and cry, hope and despair, joy and sorrow…just like everybody else