Chope Piesta, Bull-teasing and Pink River Dolphins
Trip Start Dec 03, 2012
54Trip End Aug 25, 2013
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Where I stayed
True enough, we arrived exhausted (think 10 hours of loud violent films, bumpy dirt roads, freezing AC and no food or drink - no toilet) and for the first time, I was sick, so we made our way quickly to the hotel Campanario, Trinidad's finest (there are 2 others). After lunch we walked one block to the town square, to find a huge procession of dancers in various types of traditional dress. This went on all day long and for the next two days as well
The procession, called Chope Piesta is an annual event, to celebrate the founding of Trinidad 300 years ago. Groups of dancers from all the local schools and colleges, businesses, community associations etc are given a particular traditional dance to do. The church is invariably involved as well, with a couple of rows of dignitaries ranged in front of it, and the main dances taking place in front. There is also a Miss Chope Piesta for various age groups and organisations.
The dances ranged from (to our eyes) traditional tribal dances with fabulous feathered head-dresses (nowadays thankfully made with imitation feathers), to elaborate Spanish-style swirly satin gowns. One group of young teenaged girls that stopped in front of us were very keen on Thomas, and started chatting (one came from America and spoke English). They were wearing masks and carrying whips to punish Judas in their dance. So, no, we didn't really understand what any of it was about, but it was certainly spectacular and a great way to spend the day.
That evening we tried to see the bull "teasing", but it wasn't until the following day. However, it gave us the perfect excuse to try out Trinidad's main form of transport - the mortorbike
The following morning we were picked up from our hotel and taken to Puerto Balivan, on the Ibarre River, to board the Reina de Enin. The boat was like 'The African Queen' on a catamaran. We had two cabins, each technically a triple, with a double bed and a single bunk above. The toilet, sink and shower were all in one little room with a drainage hole in the floor. It was all very charming, though by the end of the week we were longing for soft comfy chairs and a bit of space.
For the first 4 days of our trip we were the only paying passengers, and we quickly got to know the ship's crew. At that point Barbara, the ship's Belgian Captain, was in Trinidad dancing at the Chope Piesta, so the only English speaker was a young man named Marcelo, recently arrived from La Paz, who was our guide/translator
Soon after we boarded, we were taken on an excursion along a tributary of the Ibarre, and caught glimpses of pink river dolphins, as well as excellent views of sloths and capybara, plus red howler monkeys and loads of birds. An otter popped his head up right next to the boat, and we chased giant Ringed kingfishers up and down the river ahead of us. That afternoon the boat moved further up the Ibarre river, past a couple of tiny villages and a small naval base. We hung around in the hammocks on the top deck, birding and reading (no internet, of course!).
The following day started with a boat trip to a lagoon, one of many in the area, connected by thin streams hidden in the flooded forest. We were there at the end of the rainy season, when the water level had dropped by about 3 metres, with another 4-5m to go before the end of the dry season, so travel by boat was still possible in most places. The lagoon was a huge expanse of water, an old ox-bow lake, surrounded by grassy reed-beds and a rise of higher forested ground where we walked to see some gigantic spiky Victoria Water Lilies.
We spent some time in the boat with the engine of, just watching the dolphins swimming around us, and again several times later from the Reina de Enin and in a dug-out canoe that we were allowed to paddle without a guide. The water was so cloudy you couldn't see through it more than a few millimetres, so we could only see the dolphins when they surfaced, which they do very quietly and only exposing a small part of their body, quite unlike the bottlenosed dolphins we saw in Mexico
The afternoon of our first full day, we returned to Trinidad. We had told the crew that we wanted to see the bull-teasing, a major tradition in the area, and they kindly arranged it for us. As an aside, en-route we stopped of at the most peculiar park Ive ever been to. The park was standard-issue kiddies park with swings, play area and lake. The difference was that in the lake were a load of caiman big enough to cause damage, plus a free ranging tapiar, brocket deer and jaribu stork, all significantly large animals and all following little kids around looking for food. They also had a 7m long anaconda, but this at least was behind bars.
The area around the bull-ring was noisy with temporary bars and restaurants, and crowded with families and youngsters - the girls watching the boys in the ring, and the boys trying to prove themselves. We climbed straight up a 3m rickety bamboo ladder to stand on the viewing platforms surrounding the arena. These were also rickety affairs, made from rough planks of wood nailed onto posts, and crowded with as many people as could fit. Health and safety from the UK would have a nervous breakdown here...
The bull-teasing was something we wanted to see because it was a tradition we would probably never get to experience again
Our cultural experiences for the area were not quite over, because the next day was Mother's Day, and a very big deal. Most of the crew came from Puerto Balivan, about 10 minutes by motor boar from where the Reina de Enin was moored, and they wanted to be with their families, not looking after a bunch of gringos (actually technically we aren't gringos because we aren't American...). So, for lunch on our second day aboard, we ate with most of the crew and some of their kids at a small restaurant on the banks of the river, before the boat moved again further upriver.