"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Student Writing about Caroni Swamp in Trinidad

>> Monday, March 21, 2011

Author: Danielle Woodward

Location: Trinidad

When you say "swamp," most people think of knee deep mud and slime with creepy-crawlies oozing to and fro. But the Caroni Swamp in Trinidad is a far cry from that image. It is a maze of canals filled wit murky, brackish water and surrounded by tangled mangroves. The first few canals are man-made, but as you venture further in, they become natural. We explored deep into this amazing place by boat, and got to look at some gorgeous creatures you don't normally associate with swamps.
When we arrived, we found a haphazard mess of broad, flat-bottomed boats corded around the dock. At first glance, the vessels didn't look very sturdy and it seemed doubtful that they were very safe. Nevertheless, we piled into one along with quite a few other visitors. The boat was steady as could be. When we were loaded, the motor fired up to a dull roar, and we began to weave our way toward the heart of the swamp
On either side of the canal, red and black mangroves created a chaotic mass of roots. The red mangroves have prop roots and drop roots. The former arc smoothly into the water, looking like the support for the trunk. The latter fall straight, like vines, into the dark water. On both, tree crabs--angular little critters with protruding eyes and splashes of red--scuttled up and away from the sound of our engine. The black mangroves have pneumatophores, roots that rise directly upwards several inches into the air. The more we pushed on, the more red mangroves we saw. Soon, we were surrounded by a red mangrove forest. All around, and far into the shadows, the trunks could be seen with their webs of prop roots going in every direction.
We saw several brown tree boas during the journey to the heart of the Caroni Swamp. With their beautiful angular constrictor heads, graceful coils, and speckled brown and white bodies curled into forks of the mangrove branches, they presented an absolutely beautiful sight.
After an hour of traversing the natural canals, we emerged into a gorgeous lagoon. It was the largest we'd come to so far with room for several mangrove islands in the water. Innumerable birds were flocking towards the biggest of these thickets.
According to our guide, this was the roost for hundreds of scarlet ibis and egrets. The egrets were the common, long-legged, white wading birds so often seen hunting fish on the banks of water bodies. The rare scarlet ibis were blazing red wading birds with long, thin bills tilted slightly downwards. As we watched, scores of these ruby colored birds flew in, each a separate, gleaming gem against the now setting sun. In the distance, we could see mountains outlined in orange as that ball of fire slid down toward the horizon.
We sat there for half an hour at least, watching the ibis stream in. Some came alone, others in groups. The adults were breath-takingly beautiful as they soared home. As they neared their perches, they would suddenly dip and spin in the air, looking as though they had lost all control of their flight. But, at the last second, they'd suddenly pull up, with incredible agility, to alight on the branch of their choice.
On of the other tour boats started up suddenly and all of the birds exploded out of the mangroves in a stunning scarlet tide The separate masses flew in opposite directions around the island, converging in the middle before coming back to their roosts. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight.
We soon had to head back, for the sun was rapidly disappearing behind the mountains. But that place, with its dark, mysterious waters, brilliant scarlet ibis, and majestically distant mountains, has imprinted itself forever in my memory.


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