ONCE KNOWN for fishing and agriculture, Matelot is now fast becoming an attraction for local visitors, receiving sometimes as much as 300 visitors to the rural village on a busy weekend.

Foreign visitors are few, but the area has seen tourists from as far as Johannesburg, South Africa and Tel Aviv, Israel.

It is the last point on Trinidad’s north coast, and because of the distance some don’t make it to the village, opting to stop at Toco, San Souci or Grande Riviere, unaware of what they are missing further afield. Turtle watching in Matelot require s taking a boat, and again visitors often end up going to the larger nesting sites such as Grande Riviere and Matura where there is easier access.

There’s no prevalence of Internet nor cable TV, and employment opportunities are few, but what these residents have right here is a little piece of paradise.

Life is simple. You grow your own food, fish and share with your neighbours. The ocean, waterfalls, rivers and hiking trails are on your doorstep and there’s always more where that came from.

Areas for improvement Environment The disposal of both garbage and fecal waste when visitors spend the day poses a serious health hazard. Calls to the authorities in past years by residents for more toilet facilities have gone on deaf ears and secretary of the village council, Michelle Roberts explains that many times it is the residents who end up cleaning the savannah and nearby Matelot and Shark rivers after a busy weekend.

Former village council president, Anderson Zoe says there is a need for additional workers to clean up on weekends and to do things outside the ambit of CEPEP and the city corporation.

“There is a need for more car parks, upgrades to the savannah, recreational space (playfields, outdoor multipurpose courts) as well as regulated commercial space for entrepreneurs in the area,” Zoe explains.

Agriculture and Fishing Zoe explains that produce (mainly provisions) are not grown in abundance in order to be sustainable. “Due to the rough terrain, long distance and lack of transportation, perishable crops are not grown. However, short term crops are grown for self-consumption. Animals are also not reared (save for the yard fowl at Christmas time) because the closest feed depot is in Sangre Grande,” he expounds.

Avin Glaud a member of both the Fishermen’s and Farmer’s Association tells Sunday Newsday that there are abandoned cocoa, coffee and nutmeg estates (over 500 acres) that can be revitalised for ecotourism. “There are no incentives for agriculture and people (especially the youths) need to be educated about farming since they think there is no profit in it…A co-operative also needs to be formed for greater leverage of our goods.” Zoe, president of the Fisherman’s Association says fishing in the Matelot area is sustainable, but local fishermen also have challenges which include not being able to fetch the price for their fish after spending a hard day’s work at sea. He says that many times fishermen are forced to accept the low prices offered (sometimes ten dollars a pound), rather than have it stay on their hands, since these middlemen also provide the ice and fuel which cannot be obtained within Matelot.

The area also lacks a jetty or ‘slip way’ (runway for boats) which makes it even more difficult for fishermen. Other challenges highlighted are the need for refurbishment of the market area, improved roadways, the inclusion of a breakwater wall for the protection from rough seas, an area for boat repairs and an area to process and clean fish.

Transportation and Infrastructure Apart from ice and fuel, Matelot appears to be a self-sufficient community that boasts of three schools - an Early Childhood Care Centre, a primary and secondary school, as well as a health center, post office, police post and churches of different denominations.

However, there is the lack of public transportation and private cars owners charge passengers as much as $50 to get to Sangre Grande, which is difficult especially for pensioners.

Matelot residents also battle with the lack of reliable electricity as they explain that power outages occur as often as four times a week. Although residents say that the roads and drainage have been improved considerably over the last few years, there is still room for more upgrades, as some suppliers do not want the burden of coming into the area. Sometimes local business owners have to depend on middlemen to have their goods delivered.

Potential for area Member of the Women’s Dorcas group, Julia Clarke suggests that there is great potential for the area’s development for eco-tourism.

Clarke says that there should be more organised linkages between Matelot and Tobago, as this can increase employment and boost entrepreneurial capabilities for accommodation and hospitality services in the area.

Some residents are looking forward to the new government’s plans for a ferry route between Toco and Scarborough to facilitate this wish.

Zoe says that Matelot is the home to many species of flora and fauna and there is a need for heritage parks and the upgrade of trails from Matelot to Blanchisseuse, including access roads leading to the forest. He says the area is positioned to assist with the diversification of the economy with its huge potential for agriculture, fishing and tourism.

“Just as other parts of the country need investment, so too does Matelot…in fact we haven’t seen Toco or Matelot included in the national budget for many years until now.” Accomplishments Matelot residents are proud of a few milestones over the last few years, which include the building of the Bailey bridge to cross the Matelot River, stemming from a visit to the area by the then Works Minister, Jack Warner. They are also happy about the refurbishment of the fishing depot and the improvement of the roads.

Women’s Dorcas Group One of the many pastimes in Matelot is the Dorcas Women’s group which was formed seven years ago. The word Dorcas originates from the Bible and is the Greek translation of the name Tabitha, who was a very kind and charitable disciple that always assisted the poor.

Sheila Sutherland, Julia Clarke and Michelle Roberts explained that the watchwords of the Women’s group are: “teach, turn and travel.” The group comprises 16 women who help other women in the community crochet, bake, sew and basically to try live a good life and turn away from what is not right. They travel to other areas of TT in an effort to learn more about the history of other areas and educate other women’s community groups.

They host events, including youth forums, family days and celebrate Christmas by distributing toys to the children in the community with activities such as cooking competitions and punch boards. The women also help the elderly with house repairs, gifts and act as a companion.

These industrious women were also able get sponsorship for a soup kitchen and provide meals to residents at no charge.

The Women’s Dorcas group is also a member of a global community known as Amizade group whose programmes focus on “community development, youth engagement, women’s rights and the environment.” For a oneweek period Matelot hosts students from different countries, such as South Africa, Nepal, Haiti, Pittsburg and West Virginia in the USA. Here there is a free exchange of culture, learning and education, while the women provide housing and meals.

Youth Club/Safe Haven Police constable Steffon Alfred confirmed what the public hears (or doesn’t hear on the news): Matelot is a safe, close-knit community free from crime, except for the odd domestic dispute and praedial larceny.

Constable Alfred was instrumental in the Police Youth Club, which focuses on molding youths between the ages of five to 25. He believes that sports and culture can positively impact a young person’s life if enrolled at an early age, since statistics show that a lot of the crimes nowadays are committed by young people ages 14-25. Alfred explains that one of the goals of the police service is to curb crime by targeting youths by way of youth clubs throughout TT. The residents would like the area to be remembered for “peace, love and unity and for the area to remain natural.” Many say that after living in other areas such as Sangre Grande, Arima, San Fernando and Canada, nothing beats the feeling of waking up in this village they call home. The eldest resident, 99-year-old Felix Medina Cook is living proof that the air is rare in Matelot and it makes for a long and beautiful life.

For more info, contact (interim) village council president Gaston Graham at 295-8624 or secretary Michelle Roberts at 381-9014.

Population – 553 persons Ethnic background – Carib, Spanish, Afro-Trinidadian Economic background - fishing Landmarks – Matelot Roman Catholic Church, Matelot Fishing Depot, Shark and Matelot Rivers.

Festivals – Fisherman’s Fete (only fish served) – June 29 Toco Old Boys and Old Girls Back in Times party – late July.

Matelot/Toco Harvest (RC Church) – early August.

Hunter’s Fete (only wild meat served) – late October.

inspirationescape@gmail.com Matelot river

Returning ‘home’ to Matelot
By Carolyn K Correia Sunday, May 22 2016