WITH more than 115 years to her name, she is Toco's oldest resident, faithfully guiding seamen safely back to land for over a century.
Toco could never be the same without this landmark - the Toco Lighthouse, soon to be officially renamed the Keshorn Walcott Toco Lighthouse. It stands as a tall reminder of Toco's rich history. It was completed in October 1867 and officially opened on November 1, 1897 in celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubillee.
This beacon of Toco looks over Galera Point, where one can watch the Caribbean Sea embrace the Atlantic Ocean and hear the roar as the turbulent seas crash against sharp rocks.
It's said that those very rocks were the final resting place for dozens of Amerinidians who, in an ultimate show of desperation, threw themselves off the precipice and into the water, choosing death instead of forced conversion to Christianity at the hands of a Capuchin priest.
The details of this story are murky and have been disputed. But there is no disputing the history the lighthouse has witnessed with the passing of time.
Victoria Thomas, or 'Miss Thora', was only two when her family moved from Tobago to Toco at the height of World War I in 1916. She remembers climbing the steps of the lighthouse, which was then a wooden structure, and looking over at the island where she was born, sitting on the horizon. She recalls the days when men and boys raced horses and goats, using the grounds just before the lighthouse as their own race-track.
During the tumultuous years of World War II, the body of water between Toco and Tobago became known as the 'Torpedo Junction'. On February 19, 1942 at midnight, three-quarters of a mile off the lighthouse, a Norweigian tanker Nordvangen was torpedoed by a German U-boat under the command of Nicoli Clausen, reports the Chaguaramas Military History and Aviation Museum.
The tanker went up in one tremendous explosion, leaving no survivors. In the small curve between Matelot and Manzanilla there are believed to be 16 underwater wrecks. Toco was a base for the T&T regiment. In those war days, a piece of land just before the lighthouse was used as an airstrip, today it is overgrown with bush and heavy foliage.
Learning about the history of the Toco Lighthouse is not the easiest feat since written information on this landmark is scant.
When clerk typist at the Toco Regional Complex, Avalon George, had to do a project on Toco as part of a programme she participated in back in 2000, she turned to the older heads in the community such as Clarita Thomas, who has since died and the effervescent Miss Thora.
George compiled the information into a folder which she keeps at the complex. With regret in her voice, she says that children in the community and beyond are growing up without any knowledge about the rich history of the lighthouse. It's this lack of knowledge, says Eugenia McClatchie, that results in a lack of appreciation for historical landmarks.
McClatchie is one of several caretakers who maintain the lighthouse grounds every day. When the Express visited her on Monday she was busy at work, raking up dried leaves which had fallen on the pebbled-lined trail.
"We find that when people come here, they don't appreciate all this. They meet it clean but they throw paper and garbage all about because they think that there are people here to clean up the mess so it doesn't matter to them. Most of the visitors are not from Toco and they have no pride in what we have here. We ask them not to stand on the tables but they don't listen," she complained while gesturing to at least three large tables which had been overturned by previous visitors.
McClatchie recoiled at the memory of seeing all forms of garbage, including human filth, left behind in the general area of the lighthouse. Ironically, the misuse of the lighthouse grounds has increased in the days and weeks following Keshorn Walcott's Olympic victory.
"Since he won gold, there have been more visitors to the lighthouse and the littering has escalated more than ever before. We're trying our best to maintain the grounds, doing this work is not easy so we're asking people to take their rubbish with home with them,"said McClatchie. No one knows more about the increase in littering at the lighthouse grounds than Clint Williams, who has been Toco's lighthouse keeper going on nine years. Last year the lighthouse was refurbished to boost its appeal to tourists and visitors.
Outdoor furniture, carat sheds were all part of the facelift and 10,000 square feet of parking space was added. Still, the refurbishment did not necessarily translate into greater appreciation for the landmark and its surroundings.
"Sometimes, I get into arguments with people when I try to tell them about certain things they're not supposed to be doing. But I must say the police gives me the support I need,"says Williams.
Pipe-borne water, and toilet facilities for the public must be included on the grounds, Williams insists. But that's not all. While the paint job on the lighthouse remains pristine, the same cannot be said about the lighthouse's beacon light which is not functioning.
Fishermen have complained, says Williams, who is also a fisherman and depends on the lighthouse while out on the seas. Unlike large boats outfitted with GPS navigational systems, local fishermen piloting pirogues don't have that technology, they depend on experience and knowledge of the landscape but even that is sometimes no match for choppy seas which disguise sharp, treacherous rocks lurking beneath their waves.
The relevant authorities would be addressing the matter soon, visits to evaluate the situation have already been made, said Williams.
There are few who aren't overjoyed that the lighthouse is to be renamed, some say that Walcott's victory has nothing to do with the history of the lighthouse that spans over a century. The lighthouse belongs to Toco and shouldn't be renamed after one person, some have opined.
But everyone agrees, it's a landmark that must be appreciated and valued.
Says Williams, "It's high time this place is developed and treated as a true tourist attraction and national landmark."