Lonely fields line the EMR for a couple of kilometres east of Heights of Guanapo Road before it meets the nondescript-looking Aripo Road, which meanders northwards uphill for 14km into the mountains, following a valley cut by the Aripo River. As the road is rough and potholed, you’ll need a car with high clearance. The road’s upper reaches are pretty and pass through some quiet rural communities. If you’re in the mood for a river swim, look out for a metal arch with the inscription “Jai Guru Data”; take the steps down the hill to a deep pool.
Even though they’re weather-beaten and battered, you can still make out the Forestry Division signs along the road which point the way to the Aripo Caves, Trinidad’s largest system of caverns; note that a guide is essential if you plan on exploring them, as they will take care of the permissions required to enter the area, a scientific reserve. After a cocoa grove – which sports fruits that turn purple when ripe rather than the usual orange – there’s a clearing where you can park, and a sign for the trail. The fairly taxing two- to three-hour trek through undisturbed forest, with plenty of hills and gullies to navigate, is best undertaken in the dry season (Jan–March), when the three rivers that cross the path usually slow to a trickle; if it’s been raining, you’ll have to wade them. In the rainy season, you’ll also have to get wet to enter the caves, as a river courses straight into the mouth – the going can be slippery. Nearing the entrance to the caves, you get the occasional view of the Central Plains below, and you’ll start to hear the unearthly rasping shriek of one of the island’s few colonies of oilbirds. The mouth is large and dramatic, with a rather fusty mist rising constantly. Water drips from the limestone roof, and every surface is covered with fruit stones and guano. With a good torch you can navigate the rocks and go fairly deep inside, but the oilbirds’ cries near an ear-splitting pitch; the Amerindians named them “Guacharo”, meaning “the one who wails and mourns”. If you want to go deeper, you’ll need rope, a compass and caving experience.