In a desolate part of the San Antonio Estate in Moruga, residents believe they have found the fabled fountain of youth that has been the source of many quests over the past few centuries. They attest to the curative, rejuvenating qualities of water from natural springs flowing a ridge more than 200 feet above sea level.
The springs have been attracting visitors from across the globe, among them researchers from universities in the United States and Canada.
Co-owner of the estate, Eric Lewis, has installed a tub near the well for visitors who want to immerse themselves in the healing water. He said he believes the springs, once one of the hidden secrets of Moruga are sulfuric in content which is great for skin elasticity.
It is located behind the historic National Cocoa and Chocolate Museum of T&T, a building filled with exciting artefacts. Lewis said the 300 indentured immigrants who toiled on the estate during the early 20th century used the spring water for cooking, bathing, washing and drinking. He said a woman who once lived next to the estate was more than 90 years old but did not look a day older than 60.
“People have come here with all kinds of skin conditions and we recommend that they take a few baths in the springs. Some people report that after one bath, or sometimes after a few baths, dermatitis, eczema, lota or other ailments disappear,” he said.
The volcanic soil, also sulphuric in content, can be used for mud mask which does wonders for the skin, he added.
Among the range of medicinal herbs grown on the estate is wild tobacco which is used to relieve migraines.
“Just wrap it on your head like a poultice and your headache disappears,” Lewis advised.
Black sage, stinging nettles and chandelay bush are used for colds, coughs and fever, along with the actual tobacco herb.
There is also the powerful “joy juice” plant—an aphrodisiac and hallucinogen used by women—is sought by herbologists. However, Lewis cautioned, it is best to use in moderation.
One visitor to the estate, Armando Marchan, was seen having a bush bath, rubbing wild carailli leaves on whitish spots on his skin. He said the sulphuric water made his skin feel tight.
Marchan expressed amazement at the range of medicinal plants grown on the estate.
“It is the most variety of herbs I have seen on a single estate,” he said.
Entering the old cocoa house on the estate is like stepping back in time. The decor includes a solid wooden table in the middle of a quaint dining area. Enamel wares, a concrete grinding stone and thick-walled colonial glass
bottles are among the antique items displayed.
In another room, beautifully written ledgers from the year 1935 list the earnings of indentured workers. Lackpatiah, the name of my paternal great grandmother, is in one of the ledgers.
“Was it possible that this was her earnings?” I wondered.
Artefacts inside the house include saddles and bridles used by horses, mules and donkeys. There is also a bed made from coconut husk, along with an array of tools and kitchen utensils.
From the master’s quarters upstairs there a breathtaking view of the highest points of Trinidad.
There is a Colonial-era rain gauge in front of the building. Lewis wants to set up a modern one so there could be a comparison.
Owned by the Herrera family, the estate once employed more 300 immigrants. Before Indian indentureship in May 1845, African slaves worked on the estate.
Lewis said tourists who are fascinated by the pleasures of the San Antonio estate.
“It’s like a literal walk back in time,” he said.
More than 100 people visit the estate every week and during the holidays as many as 1,000 guests stay at the facility.
“When they come, they say this is like a different country,” Lewis said.
Though the Estate is listed as a heritage site by the National Trust, it is not named as a tourist destination by the Ministry of Tourism. Lewis plans to refurbish the master’s quarters to accommodate overnight guests.
“It may cost over $3 million to build better pathways and nature trails, repair the cocoa houses, refurbish the master’s quarters, improve the Great Hall and set up proper signs to document the historic relics. I have always said my greatest resource is my youth and I will spend my life preserving this legacy,” he said.
Geoscientist wants to test spring water
So is the fountain of youth really what it is? Senior geoscientist at Touchstone Exploration, Xavier Moonan, said he and a team of geologists are willing to find out. He said tests on the spring water could easily determine its sulphuric content.
Moonan said to date no oil seeps or sulphur springs have ever been recorded by geologists within Moruga Village.
“Swiss geologist Karl Rohr in 1942 noted disturbed beds on the western end of Moruga Bay near the banks of Henry River and suggested that a fairly significant tear fault may occur there. These type of faults are associated with mud volcanoes in other parts of the country,” Moonan said.
“At Moruga village, the Late Miocene - Early Pliocene (5 to 3 million years old) Casa Cruz sandstones occur near vertical and form a series of dramatic trending hills from west to east,” he added.
Moonan explained that the perched sandstones typically allow for emergent freshwater springs near their base.