We drive to Blanchisseuse

 ... it was an eye-opening trip for all

by Len Dalton

After local schools were dismissed for the summer in 1969 my wife, Joyce, and I took our three children to the exotic Island of Trinidad. Trinidad was where my wife was raised and her parents still lived there. To be sure, it was an eye-opening trip for all the children. The Island had a largely maritime climate which kept even summer temperatures from getting over 93 or so, in spite of being just 12 degrees north of the equator.

This island of a strange history was composed of approximately 50% East Indians and 50% Africans and mixes. I always thought of it as the place where the Katzenjammer Kids lived. I refer to a strange history because it went from Spanish to French, back to Spanish and then to British possession where it remained until Independence in 1966.

A mountain range stretched across the entire north of the place and it was not until World War II that the Americans based there pushed a good road through from the Port of Spain area to the north coast. Trinidadians forever after flocked up that road to the great beach at Maracas Bay. When I was stationed at the American base at Chagaramus I spent many sunny days there.

After seeing many of the sights with the children, I asked my father-in-law about perhaps driving from the city of Arima up over a very primitive road through the mountains to the small north coast town of Blanchisseuse. That is pronounced, "Blanshee shez." He had never made that trip but thought it might be fun. Next day I rented an auto and with my oldest son, William, my father and mother-in-law, I set off.

Getting to Arima was no problem whatever. There we located the road that went to Blanchisseuse. Up we went! The road was a fairly good one and climbed gradually to several thousand feet. Then it leveled off but I found it had been literally cut out of the stone wall of the mountains. As we drove, the scene to the right was of vertical rock. On the left was a sheer drop of several thousand feet with no fence in between. At that point the road was only wide enough for one vehicle.  Every half-mile or so there was a widening where two vehicles could pass. Fortunately I met only one vehicle coming in the opposite direction and there was a turn-off right there.

I was rather nervous under those conditions. It was beautiful with a natural green house and parasitic plants growing in profusion with orchids in the crotches of the high mountain hardwood trees. Being so isolated and far from help it appeared to me to be a perfect place to get robbed. Bandits were known to use that road to victimize visitors. They would rob the people or worse and then run the automobile off the precipice, leaving help that much farther away.

The trip over that road to Blanchisseuse was 26 miles. As we descended down the final few miles to that village, it was with considerable relief. Blanchisseuese itself was somewhat of a disappointment. It had been a very isolated place for hundreds of years, home only to a few fishermen. So nervous was I about the trip over the mountains, I was not at all enthused about a return trip.

In the papers I had read that the government was pushing a new road along the north coast from Maracas to Blanchisseuese and I decided to see if by any luck they had gotten that road developed enough for me to scramble over it. Driving west, the Blanchisseuse road eventually petered out and we were on a narrow dirt road. In a few miles, lo and behold, there was a rudimental newly-graded dirt road with workers all about. We proceeded as if we were local officials and workers gawked at us. I hoped we could make it through to Maracas before we got arrested. We did not. First came Cuevas Bay, similar to Maracas, and then Maracas itself. I heaved a great sigh of relief! Home free in a trip fraught with hazards. The happy hour that day was well-received!

May 2, 2003

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