Source of most of the coconuts sold in Trinidad, the waving groves of coconut palms that line the Manzanilla–Mayaro Road, known collectively as the Cocal, make for an awe-inspiring drive: 24km of graceful, leaning coconut trees dancing in the wind, with unspoilt, wave-pounded beach to one side and the wetlands of Nariva Swamp to the other. There are no hotels or restaurants anywhere along the road (the only buildings are private holidays homes), but roadside stalls sell the shellfish known as chip-chip, freshly caught crabs, black conch, fish and, in season, watermelon. Note, however, that the Manzanilla–Mayaro Road through the Cocal was impassable at the time of writing due to severe flooding of Nariva Swamp.
Three-quarters of the way along, the road crosses the Nariva River, worth a stop for a lovely view of the mangroves along the banks; the waters are a popular swimming spot come the weekends, when cars line the roadside and chutney music blares out over the smooth sands. Nearing Mayaro, the road runs past a coconut processing plant, surrounded by huge mounds of discarded husks. Between 5.30 and 6pm every night the air around here is raucous with the calls of the red-chested macaws that come to roost in the trees (binocular-toting birdwatchers often mark the spot), while the surrounding swampland is a good place to see southern lapwings and the rare red-breasted tanager. The ponds in this area are full of cascadura, a small brown fresh-water fish, properly known as an armoured catfish, with a tough skeletal covering. It’s said that if you eat their chewy brown meat (invariably served curried), you’ll return to end your days in Trinidad, but picking and sucking the flesh from beneath the armour is a messy business.