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On-Site Trinidad: Exploring the Steep and Storied Paramin Hills

On-Site Trinidad: Exploring the Steep and Storied Paramin Hills
Driving through the Paramin Hills in northwestern Trinidad/SBPR

It’s difficult to describe the amazing beauty of Trinidad’s Paramin Hills. The area stretches across a broad expanse of undulating hills and valleys, resplendent in the lushest, greenest greens imagineable. To the south lies the bustling capital, Port-of-Spain. To the north there’s the sea and a collection of several smaller satellite islets. It’s a scene of utterly idyllic tropical bliss…though none of that has anything to do with why it’s so hard to describe.

No, the real reason Paramin leaves visitors at a loss for words is its roads. It’s insanely narrow, impossibly steep roads…

In some sections, the roads are so steep they appear to take drivers straight into the sky, much like the initial ascent on some Strata coaster before you make a screaming drop for joy. Weeeeee!!!

The Super-Steep Roads of Paramin, Trinidad/SBPR

It’s a wild ride, to be sure, but not one that you’ll want to take without some serious guidance. For instance, in Trinidad, people drive on the left. In the hills of Paramin, though, there are some sections of the road where all the locals know you’re supposed to switch over to the right. What sections of road apply to the rule is not something you’ll find in any guidebook. You either just know, or you’re lucky enough to find yourself under the care of an experienced driver/guide like Andrew Welch from Banwari Experience.

For any visitor to Trinidad looking for a little extra guidance and insight into the country, I can’t recommend Andrew more highly. The man wears his love for his country all over his face, regaling anyone and everyone who’ll listen with useful and interesting tidbits about Trinidad’s history, its culture, heritage, music, food – you name it. He’s also quick with a joke, seems to know everybody, and is always in good humor.

That last characteristic was certainly in evidence as we made our way up through Paramin, as the tail end of his van kept scraping bottom along the sharpest and steepest of our hairpin turns, each successive lurch and scrape drawing ever-louder gasps and curses from a few fellow passengers. Andrew simply laughed it off, pointing out that the vehicles you really need to have to get through Paramin are Range Rovers like this one…

The right vehicle for Paramin/SBPR

These were obviously the preferred vehicles of choice in these hilly environs, as we scarcely saw anyone driving anything else. Aside from a few school kids, we also scarcely saw anyone else as most everyone was out working in the fields.

The land around Paramin may be unforgiving from a transportation standpoint, but agriculturally it’s rich. Farmers here grow everything from cabbages, yams and tomatoes, to thyme, parsley, chives and other spices. Fields are carved right into the sides of the mountains, causing farmers to tend to their crops at the same insane inclines as the road. It’s an incredible sight to witness, even if you’re just passing through…

Hillside Tomato Crops in the Paramin Hills, Trinidad/SBPR

What struck me most about our short drive through Paramin was how wonderfully stuck in time it seemed to be. The left side/right side driving quirks, women walking along the road with bundles balanced on their heads (haven’t seen that back home in St. Croix in years), the extreme farming – life was certainly hard here, but it had a simple laid-back charm that I wished I could’ve experienced a bit more.

If I had more time, Andrew tells me I would’ve learned of the area’s strong French-Creole heritage, a product of the 1783 Cedula of Population called by the Spanish that effectively helped to settle Trinidad. Andrew also told me that after slavery, maroons were given land in the unforgiving hills due to their lower status. The area, being so rugged and isolated, has remained a bastion of Creole culture in Trinidad, with many residents likely having more in common, in terms of language and heritage, with the people of Martinique and Guadeloupe than my family ancestors from San Fernando in southern Trinidad.

Many elders here still speak a type of French Creole that is virtually the same as that spoken in the French Caribbean islands. There’s even a Catholic Church in Paramin that once a year conducts a full mass in Creole on Dimanche Gras, the last Sunday before Carnival.

Clearly, Paramin offers many more reasons to stop and stay awhile than its wild and crazy roads…

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