Friday was Labour Day here in Trinidad. One of 3 holidays grouped closely together at this time of year. (May 30 was Indian Arrival Day and June 4 - Corpus Christi Day). For Gayle and I, this was a perfectly placed as we started exams on Wednesday and neither of us had exams on Thursday, so all the marking was done and there were no classes to plan.
A few weeks ago we'd seen that a hiking group was heading out to Chacachacare (SHA-KA-SHA-CAR-EH) island on the holiday. We'd been once before for a Hash, but we new there was a lot more exploring to be done there so we decided to go. We convinced some of the other Canadian teachers to join us as well.
This outing was slightly unusual as we were meeting close to our apartment, so we didn't have to get up a 5 am! We picked up "the girls" at 6:45 and headed to the West Moorings KFC. KFCs are popular landmark for anyone meeting or giving directions in Trinidad. Of course, since we are still Canadian at heart, we arrived before the scheduled 7 am meeting time and were not surprised that people were still arriving to register at 7:45! We took a short drive to the launch site to meet the boat and were on route at about 8:45am (a full hour past the posted departure time!)
Most of the hikes we've been on have 20 or so people. Our usual guide is very strict about that for safety reasons. As the boats loaded, I noted that there were only 3 or 4 guides and, although it was hard to tell how many, there were a lot of people. It wasn't until we started to unload about 45 minutes later, that I saw that our group was close to 200 people. It became very clear that our "guides" weren't going to be able to give us much of a lesson on this hike and we'd be exploring on our own.
Chacachacare has a great history and our goal was to explore this "haunted" island in greater depth. (note: much of the information we've found online or heard from locals is incomplete or contradictory.) Columbus discovered the island in 1498. It used as a military base by Venezuela in the early 1800's. There was a whaling station built in 1820 and a light house was erected in the 1870s. The island was home fishermen and to cotton plantations and was inhabited by 3-400 residents at the turn of the century. In 1924, the island was converted to a leper colony and nuns from France were brought in to care for the residents. The US military set up barracks and built some roads during World War II. In 1984, the leper colony was closed down and the buildings were left abandoned.
Unfortunately, Chacachacare, today, is a real mess. It is a popular spot for visitors to spend the day or to camp and there is little or no maintenance so garbage is a big problem. The road and wooded areas near the beach and boat have bottles, Styrofoam, and bags strewn everywhere. The beach to the east side is littered with washed up plastic bottles and other garbage.
During our visit we hiked on a road up to the light house which still has cotton plants growing along the side. At the top, there were a mix of old and new structures. There were two obvious residences from different time periods, one quite recent, that have been abandoned. The diesel generator ran steadily to keep the old light house beam turning. On the way back down, we found a trail that lead to some sort of oven and another abandon concrete structure. Once back near the dock, we headed east on the trail to the old nun's residences. They are quite well persevered, but they have been vandalized. There are three buildings, some old water tanks and an outside bathroom.
Being able to explore these buildings was a neat experience and we had a great time hiking with everyone. We finished the day with a swim on the south side of the island were there is a nice beach.
Click here to see the photos and a video.