16th January 2009:
I got up to a late start because I had to increase my dose of Vitamin X and wait until I was calm enough to venture out. Those final few days were taking it out of me.
It was past noon, and it was clear that I wouldn’t manage to walk all the way to the Cocal Estate and back before dark. I set off down the road anyway.
The roar of an approaching engine made me turn. I leapt out of the way as a PSTC bus thundered past without slowing. It was almost empty. It seems that not even the locals know when to expect them or where to track down the elusive tickets. However, I still had that 3TT ticket in my wallet. If only I’d paid more attention to the traffic instead of day-dreaming.
After that I threw caution to the wind and flagged down the next car that came along, treating the driver as if he was driving a route taxi, although it was plain that he wasn’t and that I would be his only passenger. He was easy with that. We passed the bridge over the Nariva River and he pulled over, asking whether I wanted to go to the beach with him.
“No, here’s good. How much?”
“How much do you want to give me?”
I handed him 10TT, and he was easy with that too. Sometimes things just are.
I would worry about how to get back when the time came.
I walked back to the bridge. The Nariva river continued for as far as the eye could see with no sign of an estuary. The banks were a dense thicket of mangroves, as impassable as any fence around a military installation.
The river runs parallel to the road and going along the beach suddenly didn’t seem such a bad idea. I walked to a deserted spot—well away from any parked cars—and picked up a sturdy rod of bamboo. Then I continued along the beach, using the seam of mangroves to point the way.
It took me twenty minutes to reach what passed for the estuary. Aside from two fishermen on the opposite bank, I hadn’t seen a soul.
The Nariva River is a classic blackwater river, the water dark like tea, with visibility between 30-45cm. It is rich in organics and fish, but there was nothing which the manatees could conceivably feed on.
Dejected, I turned back. The manatees wouldn’t be at the estuary—I wasn’t looking for dolphins.
The estate was about an hours walk away. It looked out of place with its large sheds; similar to a farmyard back home. Two lads were working in the yard. They greeted me and shouted for the boss as soon as I mentioned the M-word.
And there he was: Mr. Michael ‘Yankee’ James, wearing a Manatee Conservation Trust shirt.
I felt as if I had been caught in a surreal dream, standing on a farmyard with palm trees in the distance, talking about manatees.
“Come, I show you something,” Yankee said and took me to a large house opposite the estate. A wood-panelled room opened to a panoramic view of the sea. Its walls were covered with press clippings, maps and photographs of manatees.
Yankee stood by while I studied the newspaper articles, many already familiar from pdf scans on the MCT website.
“Yes, how many are left in the swamp?”
“We think about forty-seven.”
Forty-seven? My mind was reeling.
“But— I thought the last estimate was about twenty!”
“Twenty-two in fact,” Yankee said, and grinned.
“They don’t breed that fast! Ohmigod—you found another population!”
His grin widened. “That’s right. There is another sub-population.”
That was all that I could find out from him for now. Yankee was a busy man and I didn’t want to keep him, so eventually I came out with my intent. “I was told that I should contact you about seeing the manatees.”
“No, not me. I’ll give you the number for a Mr. Boodoo. He can make arrangements.”
“Oh—” what had I expected? “Tomorrow is my last day. I’ve spent a whole week chasing after manatees and only just found out about you!”
Yankee regarded me with open amusement. It was clear that I had gone about the matter all wrong. To top it off, tomorrow would be a Saturday.
“I’m sure he can accommodate you.”
So near and yet so far… And yet, I was elated as I bade my good-byes. Forty-seven manatees!
“How will you get home?”
“Oh, something will turn up.”
Something—or rather somebody—did. A man called George dropped me right in front of Dougie’s. I had met him and his friends a couple of days ago, but had forgotten his name. I kept meeting too many new people.
Mr. Douglas let me use his phone to call David Boodoo (6683133; cell 7504688, if you ever want to see the manatees), who was (who’d have thought!) a good friend of his. Somebody would come to pick me up at half past seven tomorrow morning.
Despite the shaky start, it had been a perfect day. I rounded it off with some of Sherna’s excellent food (her tiny kitchen in the orange trailer in front of Dougie’s is a secret so well-kept that I would probably have lived on bakes all week if she hadn’t pointed it out herself) and a few beers at the bar. Even when one of the few man-pests started talking to me (only the second one this week), he couldn’t spoil it. I left and sat on the balcony to watch the sunset.
Tiny stars floated among the trees as fireflies came out to greet the encroaching dark.Americas, Nariva Swamp, Travel, Tag Index