An old photo of the Saddle, a narrow pass connecting the Maraval and Santa Cruz valleys. (Photo courtesy the Trinidad Guardian archives)
If you've read Café au Lait you might recall mention of the Maraval Valley. The novel is a work of fiction, but this valley isn't, and I drove through it today to pick up my nephew from school. I lived there once, right after I separated from my husband, and for years I traversed this valley every day on my way to work. It was a longer drive than going through Port of Spain and taking the highway, but there was no traffic and the drive through valleys and over hills was lovely. My son was just five during the months that we lived in Maraval, yet he has vivid memories of the birds hopping around on the windowsill of his bedroom, of playing with the children who lived on the ground floor, of listening to music with his mom.
That was a weird time in my life. My ailing marriage was finally over; I had to come to terms with the prospect of raising my child alone; I was living on my own for the first time in my life. I surrounded myself with beauty as an antidote to all that I had suffered through: the special brand of coffee that I liked, music, my plants, a perfume I'd always wanted, long visits from an old friend whom I'd neglected during the tortured years of my marriage. He'd visit and we'd talk far into the night, catching up, drinking wine, playing Scrabble. After work each day I'd pick up my son and we'd go on an 'adventure' before going home. Some days we went to the mall, others we'd stop by the Queen's Park Savannah and I'd buy fruits from the roadside vendors while he ran around and climbed the trees. Or we'd drive to the marina in Chaguaramas, or to the back of West Mall (this was before all the high-rise condos went up) and sit and watch the sea. It was a shadowed yet strangely happy era. My son still loves the music of the 80s best of all; he says it takes him back to the Maraval time.
The Maraval Valley in the rain today. Photos taken above the golf course at Moka.
My son grew up. I left the teaching behind, lived abroad for awhile, came back. I haven't driven through Maraval in years - until today. It was raining. I like the rain. It was cool and lovely, the hills misty and shrouded, lush, green. Naturally, time has not stood still in the intervening years. The channel of the river that runs alongside the road is wider. There are large supermarkets and pharmacies higher up the valley where before there were only small shops and minimarts. Entire high-end developments have sprung up, and many others are under construction. Enormous brown gashes wound the hillsides which have been bulldozed for even more 'development'. The house with the tall rose bushes that I admired every day on my way to and from work is now indistinguishable from the numerous other houses flanking it. The house is there; the roses aren't.
So much has changed. The narrow bridges have been widened, and the road too in places, but the traffic jams, they tell me, begin way up in the valley where the road begins to rise sharply into the hills. They also tell me that the Saddle, that pass into the Santa Cruz Valley pictured above, is itself unrecognizable, bulldozed and widened, no longer the dark, one-lane tunnel with the sharp blind curve at the Santa Cruz end where I drove for so many years on my way to work, horn blaring to warn any unseen oncoming vehicle.
Those were different times; the Saddle Road was practically deserted then, and if the thought of being blocked and held up at gunpoint ever entered my head, it was for a fleeting moment. My solitary drive through Maraval, into the Saddle, then the descent into Santa Cruz where scarlet immortelles blazed over cocoa trees and pouis splashed the valley with riotous colour, was a daily adventure. It was spiritually refreshing, buoying me for the struggle ahead, and soothing me as I made the return trip when the battles had been lost and won for one more day.
I didn't get as far as the Saddle today, and I dread the day when I'll see for myself the mutilation of this lovely spot. Despite all the change, though, the valley retains its charm, its essence. But for how long? The prognosis, in view of what I saw today, is not hopeful.