We’d heard about this river trip from a guy we met named Sly-go. He told us that his brother had followed the Madamas River until it met the Caribbean Sea. He’d eaten crabs and mangoes along the way and had met a group of people who lived in the bush and wore no clothes. When we saw that the local hiking group was going, we decided that it was something we needed to do.
We met up with them at 5AM to start the hike in Brasso Seco. We loaded our tent, sheet, and water onto the boat that would meet us at the mouth of the river. The group provided dinner. I wanted to bring my camera, but one of the hikers warned me against bringing anything that couldn’t get wet. We even put our food in plastic bags. We started the hike to the river—in the thick green jungle that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing throughout the Caribbean. The pace of this group is not slow. I think I’ve mentioned before how in the US, hiking is a social sport; here in Trinidad, it’s competitive. So the pace is somewhere between “I’m breathing too hard to talk” and “I’m going to need to take a break in 20 more steps.” I felt like I was in the beginning of Indiana and the Raiders of the Lost Ark—definitely on the verge of an adventure in the wild. Nobody’s pace slowed once we found the river and treaded through ankle deep water, trying to step on stones that wouldn’t slip.
After about another hour, the landscape of the river started to change. There were sections when each step meant another foot deeper into the river, and we’d lean in against the current, fighting for that foot. There were sections where the river narrowed and we’d be thrust through tight canyons, gazing up at rock ledges on either side of us. There were parts where there’d be room for a few steps on rocky land. There were parts where the river would widen and we’d float down on our backs, lazily paddling as the bright green canopy blocked the sun. The paces of the people varied along with the landscape, which meant that Aaron and I found ourselves alone pretty quickly after we found the river; nobody was there to tell us how to not break our legs. Excited, and a little anxious, like Goonies, we’d stand at the top of waterfalls and consider our options. It must have been about halfway through our day when we realized that the gorp and sandwiches that we’d packed had been completely submerged along with the rest of us. Aaron continued to pound the peanuts, now a soothing soggy-soft mass, but I just couldn’t.
Hours later, while the landscape cycled through its variety show, our moods and energy levels crashed. On hikes, calves or feet normally get sore, but thigh muscles are strong and rarely complain. But here, with the constant rush of the current providing some serious resistance, my muscles ached from the simple movement of lifting, placing, and steadying, repeat. A few times, I scratched my stomach on the river bottom from trying to avoid walking until the last possible moment. We had no idea how long we’d been hiking or what time it was, we hadn’t seen anybody in hours, we had no food (except the PB &J sandwiches floating in brown water-filled plastic bags), and we didn’t really know where we were, other than not yet there. I felt like I was on Everest with Krakauer.
Finally, sand replaced rocks and palm trees replaced mangroves. Aaron shouted for joy; I meeped. Almost immediately, we got caught in the long clinging fingers of algae and I felt like I was in Apocalypse Now. The river was so wide at this point and we were right in the middle of it, that all we could do was paddle with our hands and try to keep our legs above the tangled green goo below us. We escaped, licking the salt water from our lips, and ran up on shore, ready for cheers. Nobody was there. Not a soul. Not a sign of a soul. We had been transported to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Aaron explored a little (I stared blankly out to sea, no help at all) and came running to say that he’d found three sets of foot prints headed down the beach. Maybe they were in the next bay? We’d done this part of the hike before, so we knew the path to the next bay included about an hour of steep climbing. And we knew that the next bay after that was about six hours of the same. That hour wasn’t pretty. But, we made it just in time for a Swiss Family Robinson style-hot dinner of salt fish and ground provisions, which, while not quite what I’d been dreaming about all day for my next meal, was edible. We set up our tent, right on the beach, and fell asleep to the waves breaking.