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Paradise waiting to be explored

Aripo residents seek eco-tourism venture

By Louis B Homer South Bureau

AT the foothills of Trinidad's highest mountain, El Cerro Del Aripo, (3,085 feet), is a small mountain village called Aripo with a population of less than 1,000.

The villagers are mostly agriculturists specialising in growing watercress and chrystophene.

Its early inhabitants were the Amerindians, who were later associated with the Arima Mission set up by the Capuchin monks.

After the Spanish colonists decimated these early people, the cocoa panyols of South America moved into the area during the early 20th Century to work on the cocoa and coffee estates.

Around 1920 the price of cocoa dropped, and many were forced to return to their native homes on the mainland. They left behind their offspring who had already settled in Caura and Lopinot.

In 1945 when the people in Caura were forced to leave the village to make way for the construction of the Caura Dam, many retreated over the hills and established a home in Aripo. Unfortunately the dam was never completed and it was written off by government as a bad job.

By 1949 a new village bearing the name Aripo (meaning: a flat baking stone used in the production of bread) emerged.

Early settlers, including the Martinez and Valentine families, brought to the village the culture and traditions they had acquired from their forefathers in Caura and Lopinot.

The oldest remaining resident, 93-year-old Queen Anne Martinez, lives next to the Aripo RC School located in the village centre.

The school has an average of 84 pupils and in the lower floor is a chapel where mass is held weekly by a priest from Arima.

For many years the older residents have been calling, without much success, for recognition of their community. Recently an organisation comprising a number of young people and calling itself Aripo Youth Development was formed to highlight the importance of the village and to develop tourist sites.

"We feel trapped in our natural paradise," said Andrenette Blackburn, vice president of the organisation consisting of 18 members ranging in ages from eight to 40 years.

Blackburn said the group held discussions recently with a landowner in an effort to develop one of his abandoned cocoa estates into a heritage site.

"We spoke to (the landowner) and he is expected to allow us to occupy his 25-acre estate on Morne Pouis Road to revive the cocoa industry and use the existing facilities to start a project designed to educate people about the importance of cocoa in the development of agriculture. On the estate there are many old buildings that were used during the early years of the cocoa industry and we propose to establish a museum and other facilities so that visitors could come to Aripo to learn about the industry."

Blackburn is passionate about highlighting the heritage of the village.

"We have a lot to offer visitors, all we need is the support of the powers that be to stimulate our initiatives and plans," she said.

She pointed out that the cultivation of watercress is one of the more important activities in the village.

"Aripo is one of two places in Trinidad where watercress is grown. It is the single product that has brought some importance to the village. "

Blackburn said from an eco-tourism standpoint there are also several caves in which the famous oil bird lives. "That is also a tourist attraction because the early Amerindians used to catch the birds to remove the oil from the feathers and use it for household purposes."

Parang music also played a key role among residents.

"The cocoa panyol brought it to the village, and although the practice lapsed for a while we in the youth group are determined to revive the art form," she said.

There is accommodation for people who want to spend a quiet vacation, away from pollution and noises, and in a green environment. There is the Aripo Cottage located at the far end of Morne Pouis Road on a portion of land overlooking the beautiful valleys and rivers for which Aripo is famous.

"It is a paradise on the foothills of the mountain," she said.

The cottage was formerly an estate house on an abandoned cocoa estate owned by the de Verteuil family. It was opened for visitors and tenants in 1999 after it was restored and six fully furnished rooms were made available for members of the public.

Bird-watching is also a valuable pastime for visitors.

Close to the village centre is the Datta Yoga centre, a temple with prayer rooms located on the banks of the Aripo River. The water flows into the pristine valleys and finally into the Caroni River. That site is visited frequently by Hindus and other spiritual people.

Getting to Aripo is simple. The village can be accessed from a point on the Eastern Main Road in Cumuto. Bear left if you are travelling in an easterly direction. An outstanding landmark is the Water and Sewerage Authority installation at the intersection of the Eastern Main Road and the Aripo Road.

On the way to Aripo there are several springs on the side of the road, and rivers with crystal clear water fit for bathing. The road winds lazily between ferns on one side and streams on the other.

The Chaconia, Trinidad's national flower, grows wild on the hillsides.

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