In Trinidad, an impressive remnant of the Cold War remains – an abandoned military Radar / Missile Tracking Base. I’ve been to Trinidad many times and it’s never been my favourite place. Most of the trips have been for a specific purpose – work or a wedding or graduation. So there’s never been much time to tour, and the crime rate is significant at night so wandering by myself has never felt safe enough to do, and the times I have gone out, its been for the quintessential doubles or drinks, or ‘down the Avenue’. If you really don’t look for it, it feels like a place devoid of the type of dramatic history that I love. On my most recent trip however, I ended up hanging out with some very good friends and got to see a whole other side of the country, one that included dilapidated Churches, Military Museums, and a hike that takes you to back in time!
During the Cold War, the US developed an Ballistic Missile Early Warning System to immediately identify any missile attacks from the Soviet Union. Trinidad played a pivotal role in this effort as the the first prototype was built in Chaguramas (Tucker Valley Hills, near to Macqueripe Bay). This spot was right on the peninsula, on land that the US had already leased from the British to construct a naval base in the 1940s. The land was part of the ‘Destroyer for Bases’ Agreement between the US and the UK, where the US exchanged 50 WWI Destroyer Vessels with the UK for plots of land in various Colonies to establish Military Bases.
Not only was it the first of its kind within the network, the Base was effective – it was located in Trinidad and was able to detect test missiles launched in Florida. The prototype was completed in 1958 and included an enormous satellite dish, which still stands to this day. It was handed back to the Trinidad Government in 1963 and was operated until 1971.
The hike to the station is worth it. You have the opportunity to pass through the ethereal ‘Bamboo Cathedral’, a 300m stretch of road where the bamboo curves overhead and forms a natural arch, mimicking the arched ceilings that are reminiscent of cathedrals. Hence the name. The hike will take you about 40 minutes (a mix of flat terrain and uphill) from Bamboo Cathedral. The walk can be a bit of a pull, but the road is paved (Radio Tower Road) so it’s really not that much off the beaten path. Plus, a little before halfway through, you can stop at the Lookout point where you get to catch your breath and admire the views.
You don’t actually get a clear picture of when you’re approaching the Base. You don’t really see it clearly in the distance until you come to a clearing, look to the left, and boom! There it is. You can walk straight up to it with grass being your main foe. Be wary of stepping inside though – at the time we went, there was a wasp nest so I gingerly took a step in, stuck my hand in further, and took a quick pic using the front facing camera. Real Indiana Jones stuff.
Other metal detritus is strewn around but is hidden by the overgrown grass. I wanted to investigate further, but the seclusion, my inappropriate footwear and the warnings from my buddies, I chickened out. Yes, I do judge myself.
Also, don’t do this hike alone. The seclusion and additional trails that branch off can get you turned around pretty quickly, and in lieu of friends, I read that there are tours that can take you, so please do your due diligence. And as I’m giving advice (I might as well get it all out), although you will be insanely tempted to, I don’t think that you should try to climb the structure. There was a piece of metal on the ground that we later realized had fallen from the dish. Someone mentioned that it fell during an Earthquake, but let’s not wait for a natural disaster to stay away from dangerous suspended death traps, ok?
The Station has been a point of contention with the Trinidad Government in the past, as it has been felt to be a symbol of the threat to independence. Others find it to be an essential part of Trinidad’s history. To me, it was refreshing to discover a place in Trinidad that wasn’t Carnival or oil related. Don’t get me wrong – I’m good with both of those things, but history is my jam. To make it cooler, the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy (CARINA) has been known to hold an annual stargazing event at the site, and the hike looks is popular with fitness enthusiasts.
So the moral of the story is that there’s always more than meets the eye – you just need to go looking for it! And also have friends that will suggest it and take you. And also have the obsessive gene that will have you researching the site long after you’ve left it. So basically, super easy stuff.
Bookmark: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton. This is a great guide to the more offbeat places in the world. The website is one of my favourites and it even mentions the Military base!
Waypoint: 10.7421° N, 61.6087° W