Friday, December 15, 2017

Hiking to the Naranjo summit


flourishing: Bromeliads thrive in misty conditions.

Mark Fraser

This is a great time of year to climb the heights of our ranges. Trails are dry, streams are crystal clear, forest fruits are bearing aplenty and the air is, to say the least, energising

We made our way up the old bench trail that runs from Maracas/St Joseph to Las Cuevas. Our famous silk-cotton tree still stood tall along the way, despite the tangled mess of its surroun­dings where once sturdy neighbours flourished but now lay down the steep slopes, their lives extinguished by natural progression.

This route used to be one of the main access favourites on hikes to El Tucuche. Now, it has degenerated into an overgrown, sometimes bare-

ly visible, trail. Though there is habitation along this route, access to this is made difficult by heavy rains creating a virtual watercourse instead of a decent path. The elder, who has lived most of his life here, now goes to the village only if necessary

because he can no longer traverse the uncompromi­sing trail.

As we neared the top of this leg of the hike, we began to enjoy the presence of our winged friends. We viewed several pairs of species on bearing branches of trees, all revelling in the delights of the forest.

There were creatures, too, on the forest floor, one of whom had so eaten his fill that he never gave the slightest movement when we passed around the length of his outstretched body. This balsayn was having a long, satisfied sleep.

At the summit of the steep trail, we turned towards Naranjo. Piedra Blanca, with its steep, crag­gy summit, now lay behind us.

Naranjo is perhaps the most comfortably accessible of the four peaks crowning the valleys of Caura and Maracas/St Joseph. Seen from Las Cuevas along the north coast, Naranjo is the peak nearest to El Tucuche. All four of these mountains are linked by a hiking trail that gently winds south-east to north-west around their northern contours. Naranjo, is more rounded in shape when compared to its neighbours, hence its name.

We now climbed the steep slopes of Naranjo and found after all these years, there is still that gentleness along the access ridge that you do not enjoy en route to the summit of neighbouring Piedra Blanca.

There are none of the walls of stone where you are forced to find narrow animal passages to gain altitude. Though there are plunging fall-aways from the main path, these do not unduly affect progress to the summit. In fact, these precarious, vertical drops facilitate bird’s-eye views of Las Cuevas to the north and Maracas/St Joseph roughly to the south.

We breathed in the coolness of the air that was borne out of the mists floating in, around and out of the montane-type vegetation. Trailing mosses glistened with fine drop­lets of water that seemed to dance in the muted shafts of sunlight.

Our warm clothing served us well as we climbed still higher. Sometimes, mists were so thick that we could barely discern the first person in line. When the mists cleared, the crispness of the air gave us great visibility all around.

On some of the flatter areas of the slope, small basins of water collected. We call these the actual reservoirs of these heights, from which precious water filters into this watershed.

On reaching the summit of Naranjo, we were greeted by the musical sounds of a pair of golden-headed mana­kins. We had heard some of them along the way but had not expected more of them to be actually at the top. As the swirling mists whistled around the ferns and bromeliads that clothe this peak, the pair melted into the whiteness. When this cleared, they were indeed gone.

The panoramic views that we enjoyed from the top of this peak were well worth the steady uphill climb we had accomplished. As we gazed out across the seemingly far-off undulations of the rest of Trinidad, we all agreed that our hike up to the peak of Naranjo was one of the more gratifying hikes of the heights of the Northern Range.