My fave celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in his book, No Reservations, said that his idea of a little heaven was sitting on a beach in St. Maarten, sand in his flip flops, drinking a cold CARIB(!) beer and every so often heading off to a shack on the beach to eat something nice with his fingers. Man, he sure knows how to live. Though I've not travelled nearly as widely as Mr. Bourdain there are a few spots that stand out.
That stretch of road between Manzanilla and Mayaro along the east coast of Trinidad is very special. The Cocal, as it is called by natives, used to contain coconut estates and is still, thankfully, not polluted by large holiday homes every where. While I am quite sure that we will find a way to despoil even this lovely space it is still one of my most favourite places. You literally come upon the endless stretch of beach and coconut trees after a winding drive from the outskirts of Sangre Grande. It pops out, an endless sea of blue, the clean smell of sea through the open car windows. Mayaro has been the holiday destination of my family forever. August vacations meant piling into the car, Granny, Pappy, my mother, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins and heading off for the mandatory week or two by the sea.
We spent equal time in Toco, the home of my great uncle, the fisherman who would pack us all into his pirogue and head for the open ocean. I still remember the sharp smell of diesel competing with the brine for prominence as we chugged over the swells with water swilling around our feet in the bottom of the boat. While Toco meant fish, bathing in the sea with a view of Tobago in the background it is Mayaro that has always captured my imagination.
Once it was my goal to acquire a house out there so that on weekends I could drive down and swing lazily in a hammock while watching the sea. The beach is extremely wide, you have to walk out twenty feet before you get to the water in some places though it is not really suitable for bathing. The rolling waves and undertow make it rather treacherous to the unwary and we all quickly learnt to wallow in the shallows having a "sand bath". But it is the drive through the Cocal that made me want to go there. The narrow ribbon of tarmac winding through the graceful coconut trees arching above the road. Pillocky green ground giving way to sea vines, sand and the endless stretch of beach, muddy waves washing against the shore in an endless cycle. From there the journey to the horizon is literally endless, the next land mass being the African continent hundreds of miles away.
The Mayaro of my childhood is gone, development has reared its ugly head in the form of unplanned housing developments, ugly concrete monstrosities masquerading as guest houses but the lady Cocal perseveres. The magic is still there when early on Sunday morning, the car wends through the trunks, the breeze blowing through the open windows and the music of the waves the only back ground soundtrack required.