PHOTOS BY : Courtney “Bush Man” Rooks (Adventurer/Naturalist/TV Host/Mg. Director Paria Springs)
WRITTEN BY : Derek Drayton (Founder – NativeFoto)
NATIVEFOTO CONTRIBUTOR: Our highlighted Photo Contributor is none other than the “Bush Man” Courtenay Rooks with over 35 years in field experience studying nature. Courtenay is recognized by National Geographic Adventure as on of the best Adventure Tour Operators on Earth!! Courtenay is also the host of the TV show Earth Alert that follows Courtenay’s adventures throughout the Caribbean and world from delving into bat infested caves to swimming through swamps and oceans or investigating jungles. We look forward to further images from the Bush Man to add to our Local Stock Image database at NativeFoto.com. Read on to hear me babble about my excursion with Courtenay 🙂 STORY / COMMENTARY
I have been fortunate to experience a few nature excursions in a different countries including, Costa Rica the heartland of Eco Tourism with its country slogan “la vida pura” (the pure life), Dominican Republic with its crocodile infested salt lake “lago enriquillo”, and Norway with its breath-taking fjords, but, trust me when I say that the Trinidad Tamana Bat Cave is at the top of the unforgettable list when it comes to a hair raising experience. This coming from a ball headed guy! With the Tamana cave expedition you can conquer many of your typical fears in “one shot” ( i.e. all together).
The Cave is located in the Trinidad Central Range, south of Sangre Grande which is approximately a 1 hour drive from Port of Spain (52 km). For this adventure you will need a tour guide, I went with our NativeFoto Contributor and friend Courtenay “Bush man” Rooks. Before going on the tour the sum of my knowledge about the Tamana Bat Cave was that it contained a “whole bunch a bats”, and that the main event was the mass nightly exodus of bats from the cave’s mouth at sundown 5:30 – 6:00pm. In fact the Tamana bat cave is home to over an estimated 1.5million bats of 11 different species including blood-feeding Vampire Bats and Fruit Bats. More bats than people in T&T!!
The trip started with a short picturesque hike (30 mins) through old coffee estates with large Silk Cotton trees and up a gentle hill that was somewhat slippery due to the rainy season. Upon reaching the mouth of the cave I “manned up” and was ready to enter with Bush Man and the rest of our small tour group. As we entered Bats were flying past us in their thousands but, given their excellent sonar and peaceful nature, they managed to evade us quite skilfully. It took me no more than 30 seconds to overcome my fear of Vampire Bats, the secret being a more pressing concern. As I looked on the floor of the cave there were hundreds of large flying cockroaches everywhere!! No problem man, I got this, cockroaches don’t have teeth, and they are not going to smother me to death.
We press on with our touch lights walking further into the dark main chamber of the cave, suddenly the young lady that was bravely walking ahead drops waist down in a large pool of guano (bat poo poo). Not dangerous, but certainly amusing, “go ahead and lead Missy” I whisper to myself with a chuckle. Normally, I would offer a helping hand to assist a young lady in distress but I though she was managing to extract herself quite nicely. By the way, the guano explains the presence of cockroaches that feed on that stuff; interesting or nasty ? The rest of the group maneuverer around the pool and Courtenay (Bush Man) continues to educate us on the inhabitants of the cave by pointing to a sizeable Tarantula. By the way, scorpions and millipedes also love the cave. By now all fear and dignity is gone, avoiding guano is no longer an option, and that Tarantula could have merrily crawled on my shoulder without much complaint.
So now we have explored one of the two main chambers in the cave, on to the second chamber … Bring it on !! America’s TV series Fear Factor ain’t got nothing on the real world of the Tamana Cave!! To enter the second chamber is a bit tricky as it is a vertical descent through a short narrow “tunnel”, we need to crawl through one by one. If you are physically on the bigger side then entering chamber number two may not be an option for you, but if you get stuck a little guano could do the trick 🙂 In the second chamber there appears to be more light which enters from the end of the chamber where there is an opening. Our tour guide, Bush Man, continues to educate us on the inhabitants as we observe a noticeable flow of water within this chamber.
Ok, we have seen chamber number two, and now need to exit the same way we entered. Its nearly my turn to again crawl through the tunnel; there is a scream! What now? On the floor behind us is a notable boa constrictor snake. My thoughts are “can we make it up the tunnel before that snake bites me, and why didn’t I lead the pack like that girl who nearly downed in poo poo, dam it! Where is the our local Crocodile Dundee i.e. Mr Bush Man?” A million thoughts freeze in my head, but I maintain an outward posture of pure calm as my ego and manhood demand it in front of the young ladies, particularly as there are one or two attractive female specimens. Casually, Mr Bush Man arrives and lifts up the snake with a smile and puts it aside. Hmmm …. I could hear the young ladies along with me clamouring in their minds “my hero” lol. I think its different when you pick up a snake in a zoo or from some guy on the beach who keeps them as pets. Those snakes might be accustomed to people and have a known track record. No one knows the personality of our Tamana cave snake, is he grumpy and likely to bite on an evening if he didn’t get a chance to feed on some creature in that hole? Has he sampled regular human dark meat before ?
So we head on up and out of the cave with a host of memories that even Alzheimer’s would take its time to erase. Now we await the main event, the exodus of the bats that leave to feed at sundown. As we stand at the mouth of the cave thousands of bats flutter past us with some grazing ever so slightly against our clothes. Given our trip to the inner reaches of the Tamana cave I feel as though these Bats are now just friends that have welcomed us to their home and now are enthusiastically bidding us farewell.
Our hike back down the hill is not as simple as the way up, a few showers have left the ground soft and muddy so there’s a bit of falling on our butts and it takes us some time longer to return but the shared experience of the Cave with our expert Bush Man made every step homeward seem more like an opportunity to recall each great memory. What a fantastic trip and place, our Tamana Caves. How did it take me so long into my adult life to reach there!