Reminiscent Stroll – Speyside Waterwheel
On my weekend road trip in Tobago, one of the spots I chose to stop at was the Speyside Waterwheel and old sugar factory. It's located on Blue Waters Inn Road, Speyside, and can be easy to miss, if you’re not looking out for it. The drive to get here is scenic and beautiful, and the location itself is so picturesque (hence the many pictures taken!).
Now this is simply an abandoned building..well the walls of the building as the roof is gone, and the rusty remains of the waterwheel, so many might wonder why the intrigue? Well..I love ruins. Maybe it's the romantic in me, and the fact that I have an extremely overactive imagination, which fills in the blanks with some pretty colourful stories. It's also a site that represents so much history for me as a Trinbagonian, as someone who is a national of this country because of my ancestors who came to work in the sugarcane fields as indentured labourers, who may have worked on this very spot.
The huge waterwheel was erected in the late 18th or early 19th century, and was used to power the sugar cane production process. Waterwheels basically convert the energy of flowing or falling water into the power necessary to do other tasks. They are generally large wheels made out of wood or metal that have many blades or buckets along the outside edge to capture the power of moving water. Isn't that crazy cool? We have so much technology nowadays, which obviously makes these processes more efficient, hence why these gorgeous waterwheels are now obsolete, but just thinking about how these things worked still amazes me. Life is just a wonderful thing, filled with wonderful inventions from the beginning of time to now. To me, having a more up-to-date invention doesn't diminish the sheer beauty of the previous.
These sugar factories were run on slave labour, and later indentured labour. I visited India in 2013 and while an amazing experience, the harsh reality that I saw in person made me even more grateful than before that my ancestors left with the hope of a better future life. Their decision and sacrifices paved the road to me having the life and lifestyle that I enjoy today. I may complain about the state of things in the country, but it never stops me from being grateful that I don't live in a country where it's so much worse. We are blessed with such amazing opportunities in an extremely diverse and culturally rich country, and this is owed in a large part to the sugar industry.
The sugar cane industry is such an important part of our history in Trinidad and Tobago. In our generation, it may not have been powered by waterwheels, but until 2003 when the Caroni (1975) Limited closed its doors, it was still a huge source of employment, if not so much government revenue. Our descendants, the Europeans, Africans, Chinese and East Indians came to these shores to work in the cane fields, and other plantations. It's this diverse group of people that brought their unique cultures, which have merged and formed the beautiful Trinbago society we have today. The sugar industry got less attention as the oil industry became more viable, until it completely died. That's history. Sad, but reality. While our oil industry is currently the most important, with fluctuating oil prices, and constant changes in economic, political, and social factors, how long will this remain true? The rise and fall of the sugar industry reminds us that we need to constantly change with the times to remain viable. Who knows what our history will be for the next generation?
The Speyside Waterwheel and old sugar factory is in a remote location, but the area is very well taken care of, with the bushes at a low level, and flower plants around. I read in an article that this is one of the best maintained places of historic value on the windward end of the island due to the care by the Community-Based Environmental Protection Enhancement Programme. So, thank you CEPEP for making my wandering in my natural clumsy state less precarious.
It was a beautiful, bright and sunny day when I visited, and as it's remote, there was no one else around at the time, so any and all antics were performed with gleeful abandon. I was able to wander freely, climb through the abandoned doors of the house, over the walls, and just spin in a circle with my hands outstretched and my face towards the sun. It brought back memories of childhood days where there were no worries, no fear of looking silly, and no fear of falling, and I fell a lot in those days (and these too to be honest). It reminded me of cane fields and drinking sweet cane juice right from the stalks with the juice running down my hands, running after my brothers and cousins in Chaguanas. Any place that takes us back to happy memories is a good place. This was a good place, and it did make me a little sad that while my kids will have their own amazing experiences, it won't be the same because unfortunately these are things of the past. So to all the persons who played a part in the sugar industry which plays such a large, often taken for granted role in our history, thank you! You're champions!
Now, some disclaimers. I am the least techy person in the world, so I had to research to confirm some things, so the below were the sites I found most helpful:
(i) How waterwheels work - wonderopolis.org (most simplistic explanation)
(ii) Sugar industry - www.sugarheritagevillage.com
Also, the content in this blog post should not be quoted for any of the history/other facts because well...I relied on trusty old google, so carry on at your own risk. But feel free to share and comment letting me know if there were any errors, if you've visited this or any of the other old sugar factories, if you plan to, etc. Let's become more knowledgeable together!