Conquering Paria the Perilous & Turtle Rock: Trinidad and Tobago
January 1, 1970
If the thought of hiking miles and miles of rocky terrain that ebb and flow like angry waves in a storm excites you, then this is the hike for you. It’s a three-hour long journey (one way) depending on your level of agility. The trail is a brutal test of your endurance capabilities, with a couple beach stops popping up along the way which serve (in my opinion) as a reward for having made it thus far. One of the breath-taking stops is Turtle Rock, aptly named because of the shape of the rock as well as the many turtles spotted coming up for air in the waters that skirt below.
Welcome to the hike to Paria Waterfalls (or what I like to call Paria, the Perilous) as we journey from the Leather Back Turtle’s nesting beach in Matura to Paria Bay and then further into the woods to find the Paria Waterfalls…all located in the most southerly island of the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago.
INSIGHT ON PARIA FALLS
The trail we follow on the hike to the waterfall is actually a well-known mountain biking trail. However since those events don’t occur as frequently in Trinidad, the location sees more hikers on a regular basis than mountain bikes. Hunters also use certain parts of the trail as an overnight rest stop (you may see a shed or two with cooking utensils and basins of water) before going hunting at night on the other side of the mountain far away from where the hike actually occurs so hikers are not at all at risk.
The Annual Hiking Challenge also lists this as one of the many trails included in the adventure that takes an average of 8-10hrs nonstop (in the woods, by yourself, overnight. *Sigh* One day I will get there. Today is NOT that day.)
FINDING A GROUP/BOOKING YOUR HIKE
It is not recommended to do this hike alone as it is pretty much far away from any form of civilization and cell phone service is minimal and drops constantly. That would prove horrible should you have an emergency and you are all alone.
A simple Google search for hiking groups in Trinidad will suggest several websites and Facebook groups that offer hikes at this location (among others) at various times throughout the year. A quick glance at the group’s calendar and a simple phone call can ensure you a spot at the next excursion. Prices range from US$10 – US$25 per person depending on the group and the items included in the package.
NOTE: During the trek, our vehicles and all other belongings were kept secure by an appointed security so there was no need for concern in that regard. Please enquire and confirm with your group whether this option is available when you sign up.
As expected, the more expensive the package, the more amenities included like transportation to and from the hike as well as food and drink. You should definitely ask to confirm what your package entails even though it has been clearly stated in the hike’s description. Generally though, the following are required with any hike:
- Reaching temperatures of 34 degrees Celsius, the sun can feel pretty murderous sometimes in Trinidad so even though the trees towering above may provide shade, sunscreen is a must.
- Lots of drinking water (at least 2 litres for this hike)
- Comfortable clothing. Leggings, tees, polos, sweat pants, are all acceptable. Nothing too heavy as it can get very hot on the journey.
- Comfortable strong sneakers. Nike, Adidas, Puma or any other brand name is fine. (I saw a guy’s old, cheap sneaker literally bust in three at the end of this hike.)
- Change of clothing. (optional as we tend to bathe and then return in our hiking clothes which dries on us on the way back.)
- Sandwiches or small finger foods. Overeating is not recommended as you won’t feel up to it to complete the journey on a really full stomach. Fruits like bananas or Snacks are helpful.
- A small bag to carry your water and other stuff for the journey.
- Life jackets/vests (optional unless its a water hike but this was also provided on load by my hiking group which we returned at the end).
- First Aid Kit (our hike leaders were in possession of medical aid but its helpful to have your own just in case).
- Compass (you may not require it with able-bodied hike leaders who know the trail but it doesn’t hurt to carry one just in case).
SUGGESTED PREP/FITNESS LEVEL
I failed to mention earlier (though it may have already been deduced) that this particular hike is rated as very challenging and not suitable for first timers. Each hike normally states it’s level of difficulty but you can also clarify this when you make contact with the group for registration for your hike of choice. I personally recommend the hike to Rio Seco as a truly lovely experience for a first-timer (also suitable for children).
Part of my prep for the hike to Paria Falls stem from the fact that I was actually in training for my very first 5K. My training included running three times a week and hiking every Sunday for six weeks (difficulty level for those hikes: EASY). I was gradually moving my way up the challenge chart, so naturally this felt like the next phase of my transition. To date, I have successfully completed this hike twice. By my second encounter, I had been running 5Ks for breakfast (as I call it) three times a week so naturally my confidence level was very high when I opted to repeat the challenge. This does not have to be precisely how you choose to prepare for the trail but it gives an idea of how active you should be.
I usually hike with the group Hikers’ Inc. (they have a website as well as a Facebook page bearing the same name) and after having called to secure a spot, we were to meet very early that morning (around 5am) on Independence Square, the heart of Trinidad’s capital, Port-of-Spain. There, payment was collected (about US$10-15 )and we all drove together to the location. Hike meet ups are usually at 7:30am but because the drive to the destination would be almost two hours we were required to meet earlier. Hikers’ Inc’s package does not include transportation or food and drink which is why it is that cheap. They do loan us life jackets and kayaks and also provide security for our vehicles while we are on the hike.
Upon arrival, we would add our names, contacts (emergency contacts too) to the form and cross the huge bridge (the starting point) with a small bag on our backs. We were encouraged to limit the amount of items we took with us as it would just add weight and strain to our journey so bottled water (2 one litre bottles frozen overnight) and a few sandwiches and snacks for the journey was sufficient. I did choose the “bathe in your hikewear” option so my load was lighter.
We all assembled just before the journey for the hike leader to address us with all the rules and regulations, letting us know that they have been trained in CPR and other Life preserving measures and that hike leaders will be posted in yellow tees at the beginning, end and dotted in our midst throughout the trail to ensure our safety.
There were over 100 persons in the hike group that day (not including hike leaders) so we were split into two groups. The first group was for the more experienced and fit hikers as they would be moving at a faster pace.
AND WE’RE OFF
I guess my confidence had turned into swollen ego by the second hike because I chose the first group and still felt wiped out by the time we got to the first stop some 50 minutes in. The roaring waves and hissing surf were welcomed sounds as I relieved myself of my bag somewhere on the shoreline and walked right into the water to rinse sweat and silt from my body. After splashing the life back into my face, I had a snack then got my camera and started snapping the scenery. We climbed up scattered rocks and hid in little caves, taking photos this way and that.
The second group nearing our location meant it was time for us to go. With a heavy sigh I pushed onto phase two. Forty minutes later several persons who had already completed the hike passed us on their way back. I remember reassuring a young girl (no older than ten) that she was almost there to which she replied giggling. “You’re not!” I laughed for a moment then froze in place, causing a few people from behind me to walk past. I thought I was almost there. Clearly I had misjudged the trail this time around. Then I remembered my favourite stop, Turtle Rock. We hadn’t passed there yet. A few more up hills and down hills and I saw that we were approaching a clearing. “Rest stop!” someone shouted from behind us and we all sat down for a welcomed break.
I remember thinking “surely Turtle Rock was just around the corner, why stop here and not there?” It was at this point that my friend who I had managed to finally drag along on a hike adventure chose to tell me that when we got back home, never speak to her again. I shared her sentiments of exhaustion as well. After having cleared the corner I realized I had miscalculated again. Ok so every other uphill and downhill looked the pretty much the same by that time so I stopped trying to figure out where I was and just focused on making it all the way up and then all the way back down the hill again before stopping to catch my breath.
Soon enough, Turtle Rock appeared through the glade. On the first hike I was somewhat afraid to go near the edge but this time around I embraced the view and as I stood peering down below I was fortunate enough to spot a turtle coming up for air. Unfortunately my camera lens didn’t have a strong zoom to muster anything beyond a faint blur but it still felt glorious all the same. A couple guys jumped into the water some 50ft below and had to choose between climbing up those jagged rocks or swimming all the way back to the beach we visited over an hour ago. I had no such calamity. Simply spotting a baby turtle was enough adventure for me. My friend on the other hand, didn’t even venture out on the rocks. Instead she sat quietly, collecting herself under a tiny glade. When I invited her out on the rock she shook her head vehemently “Are you crazy woman?” and I laughed uncontrollably. Her loss.
FINAL REST STOP
I remember the moment I spotted the beach. We had left Turtle Rock about 45 minutes now. The trail continued to the left but a beautiful beach lay just a few steps and a climb below. At that time most of us in the group were so tired that we were rather spaced out along the trail. I opted for the beach and climbed down only to discover that it was the next stop on our journey. And here I was thinking that I was giving up. I had decided that I would just wait on this beach until they returned. When the hike leader met up with me he explained that we were merely 15 minutes away from the waterfall and that was what made me finally give in and carry on. Seeing the many unusual rock formations meant I would definitely be taking pictures here too so we all decided to wait there for group two to arrive and soon everyone made the final 15 minutes together to the waterfall.
What a sense of completion it was to know that I made it all the way in. Strangely enough I cannot seem to remember what the waterfall looked like the first time but I know I had made it and the journey always stuck in my head. That’s when I got the “aha!” moment about the ever-popular saying “It’s the journey, not the destination.”
PARIA AT LAST
We romped, played, swam and took many pictures for a few hours and I even made a jump off the nearby rocks.
Then it was time to leave again and grim faces slowly exited the pool and prepped for the trail. I took a long sip of my final bottle of water and started out to do it all over again.
I don’t know when next I will challenge this trail as it always leaves my legs like noodles for an entire week. All staircases, even one step up, standing, bending, feel like near death experiences as my body tries to deal with the copious amount of pressure it underwent but I’m sure it was grateful for the push.
This crazy challenge is definitely worth an adventure badge from the scouts.