I am obsessed with eco-tourism. I love the thrill of outdoor adventures; being on open waters, hiking through tropical forests, exploring uninhabited spaces, and doing anything that stimulates a little bit of fear or adrenaline. Therefore, it came as no surprise to anyone when I hurriedly signed myself and two others up for a day-hike to Mount Tamana Bat Caves with a local hiking club called Hikers United.
On the day of the tour, my usual adventure-companion Latoya, my friend Onika, and I found ourselves on the road at 6 am to meet up with one of the hike leaders. By 8 am, the three of us were seated in the car of the gracious and fearless, Kernesha, who drove for approximately three hours (maybe less) on one of the worst roads I have ever been on. There are absolutely no words to describe the thoroughfare to Mount Tamana’s summit trail; except for extremely painful.
Beyond the disastrous ride, we finally made it to the beginning of the trail to get to the caves. There all hikers assembled to be addressed by the hiking group captain, Khallid, who spoke about safety, hygiene, dangerous snakes, bats, spiders and of course cockroaches. At this point a number of brave souls – who thought this was going to be a cool walk through a cool cave – cringed and began weighing their options of continuing. I was still curious, or perhaps I was distracted by the variety of insects attacking me while he was talking.
Moments later we were hiking up the mountain in hot and humid weather conditions, which were ideal for cocoa plantations and not humans. Along the way a family of red howler monkeys were heard howling in the distance. Halfway up we were greeted by the pungent smell of bat urine and guano emanating from two massive, gaping openings in the mountainside. Not unusual for a cave that is home to millions of bats; 67 different species of bats in total.
Our guides promptly led us to our entry point and explained how we were going to descend into the cave using a rope. While we were waiting for them to secure the line, a scourge of mosquitoes laid every hiker to waste in spite of the multiple layers of repellent we applied. It almost seemed as though they were bionic, immune to every brand of repellent, and avoided by the insect-eating bats inside.
After a few minutes , it was my turn to go down into the cave. Latoya and Onika had already gone in and were busy fiddling with their flashlights, and ducking from bats. Upon entering , I came face-to-face with several flying bats, but not enough to think that there were thousands or millions; maybe hundreds for the most. One fluffy flyer crashed into Latoya and she yelped. The walls and ground of the cave felt soft, almost like damp cardboard, which was probably due to the moisture and build-up of guano. I was glad the hiking group took the initiative to provide gloves for everyone.
Our group of ‘explorers’ were then guided to the left into a fairly narrow cave connection that was joined to a larger cave. For some reason unknown to me at the time, everyone was bunched up in this connector pathway, waiting for their turn to go across to the far end of the larger cave. I initially thought that they were all waiting to get their individual photos from Hikers United, until a few hikers who already had their pictures taken wanted to go back out, and others from behind wanted to overtake and move ahead. So, in trying to make room for them to pass, I stepped to my extreme right, and that was when the shouting began.
“Come away from there!”
“Look where you’re standing!”
“Don’t stand there!”
I froze, because my main fear was that I was standing in something horrible like a pile of worms. I prayed that it wasn’t worms – I hate worms. I couldn’t see well because my flashlight refused to stay on and I had to rely on light from the others, so I freaked out for a minute. Eventually, someone shone their light at my feet, and thank God it was only a nest of strange-looking roaches. Better yet they weren’t running over my shoes; they were running away from my feet. I moved back to where I was standing before, silently remembering that lecture about not stepping to the side of the cave where the cockroaches were. Face palm!
Then, in my moment of retrospection, some rather excited hikers tried to push past us to get to the area where the others were taking photos. I assumed they rushed because they couldn’t understand why we were held up in this small space, waiting. One of them saw an area where no one dared to venture, and without asking why, they proceeded to cross there. To this hiker’s demise, they sank knee-high into ‘guano soup’ and was unable to pull their foot out of the thick, gooey pond. This is why you should never be hurry to overtake when you’re not familiar with the terrain or else you might end up in ‘guano soup’. One of our very, patient hike leaders quickly jumped to the hiker’s rescue and got them out safely.
Drama aside, my companions and I got to go across and have our photos taken with the newly-revealed millions of bats overhead. The roof of the cave rose several feet above and was covered by a dense coating of black, tropical bats. Some angry and flying about in protest; the majority screeched from their perches above, too lazy to fly. It was magnificent and I regretted not having a camera to take videos or photos of them. Millions of bats.
We ‘harassed’ the bats with the lights for a while to observe them before we left for the summit. A little over thirty to forty minutes later (I honestly don’t remember how long we were hiking) our party arrived at the top of Mount Tamana, where the trail passed through a field of small, white flowers. There were bees buzzing among the wild flowers; undisturbed by our presence, and butterflies. We took our time to take in the view and revel in the fresh air after spending some time in the musky cave. More photos were taken and once everyone had enough time to appreciate the scenery from above, we embarked on our descent from Mount Tamana.
This was one of the most interesting ventures I’ve ever done in Trinidad and I would describe Mount Tamana Bat Caves as a ‘must visit’ destination. If you’re planning to visit the island and you’re into eco-tourism, I would recommend that you check out Hikers United Facebook and Instagram pages to find out what upcoming tours or hikes they have scheduled, or to book your own private tours. It is absolutely worth it.
‘Guano soup’ – a puddle of underground cave water mixed with bat excrement / guano