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The Yachtie Chronicles -- Grande Rivière




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Grande Rivière

by Ralph & Connie McNeil s/v Arjumand

See other article by Ralph & Connie - "Marionettes Choral"

Watching turtles glide through the water is always a thrill, but watching the huge 500-600 pound Leatherbacks lumbering up the beach to find a perfect spot for an egg chamber makes a person look on with wonder. This is our 6th time in Trinidad. We'd seen the Leatherbacks twice before at Matura with Jesse James as our excellent guide.

Therefore we thought we'd try the Grande Riviere excursion. Oh my! It's a different trip altogether!  A really civilized way to watch those wonderful turtles!

Jesse gathered the various curious yachties from the marinas and boat yards at around 11 am.  Of course, no trip with Jesse is complete without at least one stop for food! Near the horse racing track he pulled off the road where several stalls displayed their Indian food. Jesse enticed us with 5 of their specialties which were finger licking good!. Our favorites were the doubles, a deep fried dough bread heaped with chick peas and chutney as well as sahina, another deep fried delicacy with green callaloo and sauce. Then wash it all down with fresh coconut water! Yum!

Rather than a mostly dark drive to Matura, the entire drive to Grande Riviere takes place in the daylight. A person is able to feel a change as the traffic thins and the city gives way to the smaller villages interspersed with the more tranquil countryside. Little farms lined the road with the promise of good eats to come. By the time we passed Matura and the turn off to the usual turtle watching beach we were feeling really pleased that we'd seen it all in daylight for once! On and on we drove via narrow winding roads past houses perched on the knolls overlooking the Atlantic. A quick stop to suck in the sea air and we were off again.

As we rounded the northeast corner of Trinidad and its lighthouse at Toco which guides those coming from the Atlantic, we could see Tobago far off in the distance. We learned that a man regularly runs passengers to Tobago in his pirogue. The greenery changed. Now we were in the real rain forest. What we'd been driving through before suddenly seemed a bit arid! The road squiggled and wiggled its way along the coast, through little lush valleys and small villages. We could look down on the beach and see the marks where turtles had been finding the perfect spot for their eggs.

At last we arrived in Grande Riviere at the inn of the Grande Almandier. A quick check-in, bags put into the rooms, and we were off to explore the beach with its large fresh water river joining the salty water of the Caribbean. The beach is small, only about a mile long, so the density of turtles is much greater than at Matura. The competition to find a perfect egg laying place is so great that turtles inadvertently dig up each other's nest and expose the new golf ball sized eggs to the opportunists lurking around. The birds are quick to snatch any egg that they can. The dogs are in for their share, too.

A small stream, swollen by the rains, had cut into the bank of sand and exposed several nests. Some of the eggs were broken around it. We threw some sand over the exposed area to give the rest of the eggs a better chance of survival. But maybe they'd been exposed too long already?

We could see the marks of the big turtles dragging themselves up the beach looking like some small caterpillar tractor had left its imprint on the sand. The regularly seen turtles have shells that are about 4-6 feet long. The turtles weigh 500-600 pounds. Yet the grand daddy male of all time weighed in at nearly 2000 pounds! The hatchlings are about the size of the palm of your hand and swim relentless on the sand, in the palm of your hand, or in the sea once they finally reach it. A turtle's sex is determined by where the egg is laid; closer to the water in cooler sand (males are hatched), or higher on the beach in warmer sand (females are hatched).

As the sun sunk lower it was time for happy hour on the deck followed by a fine dinner at the Grande Almandier. When the turtles arrived on the beach, at the end of dinner, the turtle guide came and gave Jesse a heads up. We walked across the street to the interpretive center, watched a short video showing hordes of turtles on the beach in times past, then proceeded to the beach to see the real life action.

Not far from our hotel was the first turtle, positioned over the nest site and dropping the white eggs into the hole. The turtles go into a trance when they start laying which allows a person to touch them without causing any stress. The shell is amazingly cool and the neck skin is so soft and warm!

While turtle number 1 was laying, two more dark shapes came out of the water and started their lumber up the sand. We had goosebumps having 3 of them so close to  us--all within about a 30 foot radius!

When the first turtle was finished, she carefully swiped sand over the eggs with her back flippers and patted it down almost lovingly.

She flipped sand, and patted, and flipped sand, and patted. then moved a bit and kept flipping and patting until you absolutely couldn't tell where the nest was. She had it totally camouflaged. The later comers went through the careful, back flipper digging process until the nest hole was just the right size and then started to lay. Then the turtle guide spotted some babies and brought them over so we could each hold the flapping little creature before sending it on its way down the sand and into the water.

After a quick sleep, Jesse made sure we were up again at about 5 am to see the last of the turtles in the growing light of dawn. There was one turtle left on the beach when we went out, but the guide wasn't there to control the excited visitors and their camera flashes. The turtle was confused and, after a few positioning attempts, lumbered back into the sea to try again the next night as she is compelled to lay 500-600 eggs in a short time span.

The trip back to Chaguaramas was another adventure in eating. Jesse stopped numerous times to point out the different trees; nutmeg, pommerac, coffee, breadfruit, cocoa, paw paw, cashew fruit. If he saw something of interest at a roadside stand he'd stop and buy something for us all to taste. By this time we were razing him about needing ice cream to top it off. Valencia he found a street side vendor making home made ice cream in a hand cranked machine like we used when we were kids. A quick dart across the traffic stream and we were eating great ice cream! And plenty of it! Jesse wanted to feed us doubles again by the race track so most of us poured out of the van and filled the last few cracks in our tummies!

It was a fine & memorable trip, one that a person reflects on with a warm and satisfied glow. THANK YOU, JESSE!


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