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The long road to Mayaro
Mayaro was originally settled by French immigrants and their slaves following the Cedula of Population in 1783. Prominent names like Radix, Frontin and Mahon grew cotton and later sugar. Around 1790-1800, the Ganteaumes arrived, allegedly by accident after putting down a mutiny aboard the sloop on which they were travelling from Martinique.
Coconuts soon became the dominant crop in the area and the Ganteaumes the first family of Mayaro. As could be imagined in this isolated area of Trinidad, communications were poor. The issues of Mayaro were pointed out by LAA De Verteuil in 1857: “The coco-palm thrives better along the Mayaro beach than anywhere else, perhaps in the colony.
Cotton was once extensively cultivated, but the high price of sugar, coupled with the depredations of caterpillars and locusts, induced the proprietors to abandon its cultivation for that of the cane. Six sugar estates were then settled in the quarter. Immediately after emancipation, however, a great number of the emancipated labourers abandoned the cane fields for other pursuits, and the planters were compelled to make the most urgent sacrifices to procure immigrants.
“But the difficulties of communication with Port-of-Spain, and the high freight paid for the carriage of produce thither, as well as of articles of food therefrom, influenced, or rather necessitated, the labourers to retire from the quarter; they were, in fact, sometimes left without salt, provisions, or even flour for weeks.
The remoteness of Mayaro from a market, therefore, was the chief cause of its utter ruin, all the sugar estates having, in succession, gone out of cultivation. The plantation of coco-palms, however, has extended, and, it is expected, will continue to extend, both to the advantage of the proprietors and the prosperity of the ward.”
Copra and other produce were sent to the capital via the island steamer which operated from 1818-1928, and it also brought in machinery, supplies and passengers as well as mail. The main land route to Mayaro was the broad, firm beach known as the Bande L’Est.
Travellers in the 19th century would get to Sangre Grande (by rail from 1898) and then have to walk or ride through the forest to Manzanilla. From thence, they would proceed along the beach (sometimes at high tide, as seen here) before turning inland again near Point Radix, which abruptly juts out to sea. Travellers would be obliged to board the ferry crossing on the Ortoire River, then hop back onto the beach to Mayaro. This was an arduous journey which could take as long as three days.
In 1890, Alphonse Ganteaume, warden for the area cut a small bridle path from near Radix to where the Naparima road (leading from Princes Town) met a small government rest house at a forested area called Rio Claro. This became the Naparima Mayaro Road and Mayaro was finally connected by a proper roadway, although the beach road survived at least until 1916, when the government railway came to Rio Claro which by then had become a sizeable village.
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