Grande Riviere Weekend: In Which Your Girl Finally Sees Leatherback Turtles!

I am in turtle heaven from the weekend.  Oh my goodness.  And I have no idea where to start on this wonderful weekend I’ve had…

So we’ll start with the road–a long and straight road once we got past 45 minutes of gridlock, from our neck of the woods out to the Eastern Main Road in Sangre Grande:

And then a long, long, winding road that is the Valencia Road as it turns into the Paria Main Road:

Catching some choice sights along the way:

One day, I'll get the nerve to actually try this delicacy--but Saturday was not that day

A car miraculously wedged between the mountain and a lightpole

One day, I'll try to climb a coconut tree in Toco--but Saturday was not that day

Cumana or Balandra Bay--not sure as both are very close

Some narrow squeezes on one-lane mountain roads large enough to fit one car and a good amount of fear

Three hours and a very friendly check-in at the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel later, imagine my delight at opening the door to our room and seeing this:

The room was aglow in dark wood and warm orange tones, local artwork, and gorgeous simple furniture,  with a spectacular view of the beach right outside our balcony.   Only one thing missing:

View into the room from our balcony

Hmm…. where did the door go?  Wait, there’s no door!  No door, just curtain.  Yes, I did a double-take, and yes, Mr. Laura triple-checked for a hidden sliding door.  Nope, no door.  Well, we’d heard Toco was safe, and the room was on a second floor, so I just took it in stride–hey, at least we had a full sea view and sea sounds, right?

Well, we put our things down, reveled in our view:

And went to the hotel’s restaurant, the Ylang-Ylang, for lunch:

After a rum and coke, I tore into some tasty olives and bread:

And a lunch of Trinidad barbecued chicken, rice with lentils, and potato pie:

Everything tastes better when you’re sitting at a beachside restaurant–but this would have been great anywhere.  I licked my fingers like a five-year-old, but no one seemed to mind.

After lunch, we came back up to relax on our porch until heading down for a beach walk when the owner of the hotel came to check on the room.  Apparently, the door wasn’t the only thing missing–the room hadn’t been completed and the shower head was AWOL as well, not that I noticed–the hotel’s owner caught the problem when he came to check on the room, which is new, and he very kindly whisked us into an upgraded room next door (discount! discount!) to ensure our cleanliness.  No one wants stank guests, much less in rooms like this:

Nice indeed!

Since we thought we’d be up all night watching turtles, we took a quick nap and then headed out for a beach walk:

After which we made the porch ours with some good conversation and rum and cokes–oh yes, and an amazing sunset:

As you can imagine, the anticipation for seeing the turtles was killing me.  However, dinner is a great way to spend a bit of time before seeing the biggest turtles around, especially if you’ve pre-ordered the river lime geera (curried) duck and it’s preceded by a grilled vegetable plate:

Table decoration--gorgeous fresh flower petals and leaves

Heaven on a plate

Curried duck--one cloud up from heaven. SO good.

I had all intentions of tasting the cassava pone (a rich pudding-like spiced cake made with grated cassava), but after a lunch and dinner of that size plus two rum and cokes and two ice cold (or, as they say here, beastly cold) beers, there was no way I could manage the dessert.  Alas, next time–at least I had some time to digest before the tour guide picked us up at nine thirty to finally go see the turtles!

The leatherback turtles come up at night to nest–they dig holes two to three feet deep, drop eggs, camouflage the eggs, and then head back to sea.  Grande Riviere is the highest-density nesting spot in the world for these giant turtles, which can measure over five feet in length and can weigh up to 1,500 pounds in their 100 year-lifespan.  They are HUGE.  They were around during dinosaur times–and man, you can certainly tell.

The tour was amazing as the guide led us out onto the beach, carefully using low red lights to prevent disturbing the turtles (who would get confused with bright lights–hence, no flash photography).  We saw different turtles go through the entire process, touched the turtles while they were in their “trance stage” (what the tour guide called the egg-laying phase) and got to see them slink off into sea.  By the time we headed in, we were basically stepping around turtles and there were over 40 turtles around–during high season with a full moon, there can be up to 600 turtles on the beach.  Oh my.

I tried to get a snap at night, but sadly this is the best I could do:

A "nice girl," according to our charming lovely tourguide

After the tour guide wound the tour up a couple of hours later, we headed off to bed–we had an early 5 am wake-up call to get up and see the turtles at dawn.  I slept like a log–no door, no problem, but then the Husband did put a big chair by the curtains so that any potential intruder would trip and fall hard before, you know, chopping us with a machete or something.

The next morning, dim and early, we got up, scoped the shore from the porch:

And, as soon as we saw one down the beach, ran downstairs and across the lumpy, turtle-tracked sand in time to catch it heading back into the water:

We scoured the beach some more and finally we saw a group of people rushing to huddle around a turtle that was compacting and camouflaging her eggs, so we dashed as fast as we could over the lumpy sand and caught her doing her thing:

Doing turtle push-ups to compact the sand over her eggs

Scooting herself along towards the water

Beautiful turtle portrait--Trinidad's Next Top Turtle Model

Making tracks...

Almost in!

Au revoir nice girl!

Until we meet again (next May)

After communing with the turtles, we gradually made our way back to our room through the turtle tracks and turtle egg shells:

And took a well-deserved sleep break for an hour or two until hitting breakfast at nine.  I dreamed of turtles and may have first fallen asleep reading on the balcony before crawling into the  mosquito net cocoon that was the bed.  I need that bed and that mosquito net around here, stat.

I woke up s-t-a-r-v-i-n-g and could not have been happier to see that the breakfast menu boasted local estate coffee ( and fruit plates:

Pineapple, papaya, watermelon, mango, banana

Plus the Trini breakfast of coconut bake (dense bread) with saltfish buljol (salad) and tomato choka (roasted tomatoes and onions, smashed into a sauce):

Buljol side...

And choka side.

After breakfast and a few photo ops:

I appreciate art in non-mimetic ways too, I swear...

Wonder if they'd notice if I brought this home with me?

We took to the beach, finally, for the rest of the morning.  I’d like to say it was blissful, but it was a bit too hot and sun-intense and sand-bug infested to be fully blissful, and though the water was deliciously warm, the currents were too strong to go in much past my knees.  But it was very nice, especially after we scampered across the boiling sand to catch some shade–I burned my feet but it was worth the respite from the sun.

Our tiny spot of shade

I’d love to say we then stayed all day and got lunch, but we were full from breakfast and the dog and home awaited us, so after a few hours of beach we said our goodbyes to beautiful Grande Riviere and the kicking hotel:

One last sunbleached view of the hotel's exterior from the beach--our room was the last on the left

A contender for Favorite Tree of Trinidad, in the space between the hotel rooms and the hotel main building/restaurant

Last second at Grande Riviere, Smurf loaded and ready to go

The road back--coast, coast and more coast

So that was the anniversary celebration part deux.  I loved the turtle even more than I thought I would (which was a lot) and can’t wait to come back next May when I can party with 600 of my closest turtle friends.  The hotel was all “luxurious resticity” as advertised, the food was to die for, and just two days in Grande Riviere seemed to iron all the stress of the last few weeks away.  I can’t recommend the turtles (and Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel, with its uber-friendly staff and gorgeous setup) enough.

And now for a short sap burst:  this little trip reminded me once again of how great Trinidad really is.  I may miss city life and films and museums and metros and the like, but I never thought I’d love nature and eco travel so much.  Trips like this make the lack of twenty brands of everything, occasional bureaucratic annoyances, and long flight between here and the family more than worth it.

Enough.  If I’m sapping, I’m obviously tired, so I’m going to call it a night and dream of my new nice girl posse.

Night y’all!


One Response

  1. I felt totally sappy looking at those gorgeous photos and dreaming of my trip down there last summer. The turtles are truly amazing – one of the best things I’ve ever seen, ever! Your Mt Plaisir experience sounds a nicer than ours – we had the old rooms last year as they hadn’t finished the new ones then but I’d love to go back and stay again. And the food was great! What I wouldn’t do for a weekend in Trinidad with turtles, beaches, saltish buljol and coconut bread, all followed by a porch lime with Laura, Husband and Hanky Bannister!

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