A winding road takes us down into the town of Caripe. There is a huge statue of a guácharo bird, wings outstretched, nearly ten meters from tip to tip, in the middle of the town. We are looking for the the caves where these birds live, and it doesn’t seem that Miguel or Patricia have a very clear idea of where to find them. Finally after consultation with a couple of random strangers, we head back out of town and up a hill.
At the cave entrance, we wait at the visitors’ centre while our guide is found. We enter across a pretty stone bridge into the high cave entrance. Inside, there is a terrible din of screeching birds and the smell of guano. The guide takes us slowly into the cave in the dim light of a paraffin lamp. The guácharo birds (also called oilbirds) that live here are found only in deep caves in the northern part of South America and Trinidad. They are nocturnal and have extremely sensitive eyes; flashlight photography is forbidden in this part of the cave. In the complete darkness of the cave they are also able to navigate using a kind of echo-location. They eat only fruit, and the floor of the cave is spongy underfoot with the decomposing droppings from the birds. This material provides a rich growing medium for the seeds that are dropped, but those shoots that grow up here are stunted and pale due to the absence of sunlight.
The birds are not the only wildlife in the cave. Occasionally we catch sight of rats scurrying across the ground. Our guide points out various rock formations as we go deeper into the cave, but seems to be a little too obsessed by various anatomical comparisons…
We stoop through a narrow passage and emerge into the “Hall of Silence”. The birds won’t venture through the small opening and the sudden quiet is both surprising and a relief after the raucous screeching in the main cavern. Further up, there are more rock formations, and then we reach the end of the part that is open to the public.
Back in the bus, we continue towards the coast, stopping for a sandwich at lunchtime. The road is winding and hilly, but presently we are rewarded with a splendid view over Mochima and the turquoise bay behind. Our hotel is a yellow and green building right on the water’s edge, with a building site on one side where work is underway on an extension. Michael and I have a room at the front on the ground floor. The shutters won’t open (but the view onto the road would not be inspiring) and the air con switch looks lethal (but at least it works).
It doesn’t take long to walk around Mochima – a small Caribbean fishing village. Back at the hotel, most of the group are relaxing on the wooden jetty behind the hotel. Although the water looks inviting, there is nowhere to climb down and the bottom looks a bit hazardous with sea urchins scattered around. Trying carefully to lower myself off the jetty into the shallow water without touching the bottom, I cut my foot on barnacles attached to the jetty post and decide to abandon the idea. Things don’t improve when I go to get a drink and receive an electric shock off the refrigerator. The proprietress tells me that I should not have touched it in bare feet.
The bay is quite picturesque but there is no beach here. Green hills rise up across the water and pelicans stand preening themselves on the jetty.
We have dinner at a restaurant that appears not to be entirely prepared for the prospect of customers. Despite this they do a creditable job, although it is either fish, or fish. After we have finished eating, we somehow down our end of the table get into an animated discussion about religion. I didn’t start it. In fact, I can hardly get a word in edgeways past Sim, who is staunchly atheist. Michael takes a more agnostic view, and Debbie looks on and grins.