Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chacachacare - Trinidad's Abandoned Leper Colony


Chacachacare is an island about 7 miles off the coast of northern Trinidad.  For years now, it has been inhabited only by the lighthouse keeper, iguanas and other wildlife.  It does include Trinidadians who arrive on boats for weekend camping and cookouts.  Cruisers also anchor there for weeks at a time.

In the past, it was a leper colony, but since leprosy was brought under control, the last patients left in the early 1980s.  It was just abandoned, no one bothered to clear out the furniture, medical equipment and records or other personal items.  The buildings are slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature and time.  This was one of my favorite places in Trinidad, the buildings were great examples of wonderful architecture of the islands, set on the hills surrounding the bay.  Large windows and doors brought in the light and fresh air – no air conditioning for this community. 

The community was self-contained and included a bakery, hospital/clinic, movie theater, library,  numerous churches and dormitory-like buildings for the patients.  Patients well enough to work built the buildings, worked in the gardens and helped in other areas.  Patients were taken care of by Dominican nuns, who lived in buildings across the bay.  There are a couple cemeteries on the island, most notably, one by the nun’s quarters that contained graves of the deceased nuns who had worked there. 

These days, it’s deserted most of the time.  When we were there, we would always take a hike up to the lighthouse, about an hour walk.  There were great views of both Venezuela and Trinidad from the top of the hill.  The lighthouse keeper was always friendly, they had a rotating staff, but they still got lonely being the only person living on the island. 

Unfortunately, Chacachacare was downwind from Trinidad and the bay was open to the east.  During heavy rains, trash would flow into the rivers to the bays of Trinidad and over to Chacachacare, catching in the big open bay.  Every time we would go over there to stay in a quiet, uninhabited place for a while, we would go over to the beaches and make a big pile of the trash and burn it, trying to clean up the place for the next visitors.  The idea caught on and we found that other cruisers were also cleaning up the place when they went over. 

I felt like the island was a museum of sorts, a look into the lives of people who were unfortunate to have a disease that separated them from everyone they knew.  Some patients spent most of their lives there and had no idea what life would be like when they moved back to Trinidad when the colony closed.  Cleaning up the beaches in the bay was the only way I felt that I could show my respect for the island and the people who had lived there.

Betty Karl
Chacachacare slide show - http:/

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.