When Trinidadians refer to The Bocas, they talk of “down the islands” in tones of wistful longing. These rocky islets are separated from the mainland, and from one another, by the Bocas del Dragon (Dragon’s Mouth), a series of channels connecting the Gulf of Paria with the Caribbean. The name is appropriate, for the coastlines here are jagged and rocky, and the sea hides treacherous currents and undertows that can make even the short journey to the nearest island, Gaspar Grande, a rough ride. Dolphins frequent the waters here, so keep your eyes peeled; if you’re lucky, you may see a leatherback turtle or a pilot whale.
The islands had a thriving whaling industry in the eighteenth century, with whaling stations on Gaspar Grande, Monos and Chacachacare. Today the Bocas are sparsely inhabited, lacking any roads and with dense forest covering the interiors and holiday homes, accessible only by boat, scattered along the coasts. For Trinis the islands have always been a popular weekend getaway from the mainland, when yachts drop anchor in the bays for an afternoon of eating, drinking and swimming, and there are several operators offering boat trips to the islands as well as to the Gasparee Caves at Gaspar Grande. Apart from one intermittently functioning resort on Gaspar Grande, there are no hotels, guesthouses, restaurants or bars, and away from popular mooring points such as Scotland Bay (actually on the mainland), the atmosphere is so still that it can verge on the uncanny – especially on deserted Chacachacare, with its abandoned leper colony and accompanying ghostly legends.