"For a woman, you sure act very manly," Dotun laughed and whispered in my ear.
I slapped him on his arm again and shushed him for the umpteenth time in the taxi on our way to see the birds. I was making him go to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary with me for a couple good reasons other than my wanting to go. For one, he had never gone bird-watching in Trinidad the entire time he's lived there, and second, Caroni is the roosting site for thousands of scarlet ibis. The scarlet ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago, and the sanctuary a perfect place for gawking at them. It's a nature and wildlife lover's peaceful refuge away from the gritty, yet lively, streets of the capital.
After a brief ride through the outskirts of Port-of-Spain, our taxi driver found our way into Caroni. He admitted that he had never gone to see the ibis either, and that he might visit one day. We got out by a row of swamp tour guides lined up and ready for business. Dotun and I hadn't really planned much ahead of time, but we had heard of one guide that was said to give pretty good tours and found his services quickly. Nanan's Bird Sanctuary Tours was the one we decided to go with and signed up.
We waited under the cool shaded docks for other bird lovers to flock to the swamp before the tour began. I tried reading what little information my Lonely Planet guidebook provided about the birds and other swamp wildlife, but was disturbed by Dotun's teasing and playfulness yet again. Switching up from my reading, I then decided to see what discoveries could be found before taking off, what unique pre-bird watching pictures could be taken, and found some crabs playing along one of the dock posts. They blended in well and were hard to see along the wood, but I wanted to snap a few photos of them. I called Dotun over to hold my bag, and he peered down on the little guys.
"I think they are scared of your manliness," Dotun rang as a few of them shuffled out of view from my camera.
I laughed with him. He was going to tease me this entire trip whether I liked it or not. If traveling to Trinidad as a 22-year-old woman alone, knowing only my pen pal I had been writing to for 11 years and a handful of people I met from the Internet (including Dotun) made me aggressive, bold, adventurous, crazy, or plain manly, I had to accept it.
The boats were finally ready, and the tour was to begin shortly. Our boat loaded up quickly with anxious, avid bird-watchers hungry to spot ibis! I was just a newbie to all of this, but excited all the same. They handed out life jackets before pushing off, though they weren't really needed. Alas, it was time to open our eyes and ears to the swamp. Our guide was clearly of East Indian descent with a thick West Indian accent. He walked up and down the sides of the boat barefoot as he spilled out details on the mangroves and other vegetation surrounding the swamp. He could hear and spot various wild inhabitants with ease, and we had the opportunity to see an alligator, some snakes, many more crabs, and various birds before making it deep into the swamp.
We started seeing many more ibis flying above as we approached the roosting site. Our motorboat slowly came to a stop as our guide explained that this would be the farthest we could go. I was really wishing I had bought binoculars, as my camera's zoom wasn't enough to capture or see the real beauty of one single bird, yet with so many flying into their roosting area, it was easy to notice their brilliant scarlet color dotting the trees. The boat sat there for a while, giving everyone the opportunity to take pictures or catch more incoming ibis getting ready for the night. I was disappointed I wasn't going to go back home with National Geographic photos of the birds, but thankful that I had the chance to spend time in one of Trinidad's most prized ecological destinations.
The boat started up again and we began to head back. Our guide took us through a new set of waterways out of the swamp. With the sun setting and white puffy clouds here and there, I took the opportunity to cloud-watch as well as soak in the natural beauty of Trinidad. Dotun was pretty relaxed at this point and happy I had made him tag along.
It had gotten dark pretty fast, and when we made it back to the docks, we hadn't really planned for our taxi driver to take us back. Seeing that Caroni is located a little ways off the highway and a little ways into nowhere, it would be hard catching a ride on the roadside. Our guide was nice enough to ask some of the other tourists if they were heading the same way as we were, and they agreed to drop us off in POS.
Though he was still absorbed somewhat by our day trip to Caroni, it must have been the numerous people limin' on the streets of Port-of-Spain and the blaring soca that bounced off it's corner's that made Dotun's joking return. And I continued to laugh, pout, and shush him.