The Cumaca Cave or sometimes referred to as the Oropouche Cave or the Guarcharo Cave is located in northern Trinidad in an isolated valley in the southeastern area of the Northern Range. The Cumaca Road is located two miles from Valencia and heads north into the Northern Range for approximately 9 miles. The drive along the slow bumpy Cumaca Road will take at least an hour. Along the way, there is the Turure Bridge and Cumaca Quarry where one can see splendid sceneries of the Central Plains. At the end of the village, there is the distinguished Cumaca RC School now closed but once had an attendance of twenty-five students. Cumaca’s population is approximately 150 residents who earn their living mainly from agriculture. In the early 1900s, the region housed many cocoa estates in an area called Platanal, however with the decline of cocoa many estates are now abandoned. The land is reclaimed by nature and all left today are the ruins of the old plantation houses and dilapidated concrete roads. In 1911, the United States 26th President Theodore Roosevelt visited the cave.
The cave is approximately 200 metres in length and is home to a variety of wildlife including bats and oil birds (Steatornis caripensis). The cave has the largest colony of oil birds in the country and nesting on the rims of the cave are hundreds of birds. The oil birds are the only fruit-eating nocturnal birds in the world and eat the fruit of a variety of palms including moriche and cocorite. They swallow the fruit whole, digesting the pericarp or pulp, and then regurgitate the seed. It is a large brown bird, and from beak to tail, it measures about 18 inches in length and has a wing span of 36-42 inches. At night they exit the cave in search of food and navigate in the same way as bats by echo-location but with a high-pitched clicking sound identifiable to humans. Both parents incubate the 2-4 eggs for about 33 days. The young chicks at about 2 months, weigh about 50% more than adults. They leave the nest when they are between 95-120 days old. The birds have a tremendous oil content and the Amerindians would use them for cooking and also fuel for torches.
Also living deep inside the cave, in the last chamber are nocturnal or hypogean semi-blind catfish fishes. They are Rhamdia quelen or South American Catfish believed to be a distinct cave species. Their characteristics are endemic to Trinidad with reduced eye size and reduced pigmentation. Occasionally seen in high areas surrounding the cave are boa constrictors who patiently wait to hunt the birds as they exit the cave at night.
The expedition to the cave will take 1 1/2 hours. There are two routes to get there. The first and shortest route is from Jennings Trace and is a straight descent to the cave however the return is a steep uphill. For an easier trek, there is the option to drive thirty minutes further down in the Valley to a landmark known as Ballhead Springs. The head of the trail starts 100 meters from the Springs. The tall mountain that overlooks the cave is Mendoza Peak at 1937 feet, where underground tributaries flow into the cave. There is a theory that the source of the North Oropouche River comes from Aripo however this is not so since Aripo Valley is bordered by Dry River with its mouth flowing into the Hollis Reservoir. Heading down to the cave most noticeably, there are concrete crossings, showing the landscape was once a thriving estate. Situated in the middle of the forest, there is a large dilapidated estate house, now abandoned and overtaken by wild shrubs and forest vines.
The exploration inside the cave is optional and some may prefer to remain at the entrance where they can still get a peek at the birds. On the sight of human invasion, the birds go into a frenzy, and shining the light directly on the birds disturbs their peace and should be avoided. To visit inside requires the use of a headlamp and walking up the shallow river. The cave has several chambers, and accessing the furthermost requires bending under the rocks. The source of the North Oropouche River flows from an underground chamber in the cave. On the 26th of March 1964, two divers Adams Richards and Victor Abraham from the Divers Institute lost their lives while trying to get to the source of the river. There is a plaque at the entrance to the cave in their remembrance.
On the return, there is the option to explore the river downstream and visit the Cumaca Sulphur Springs located 1km away from the confluence of the Rio Grande and North Oropouche tributary. Across the river from the Sulphur Springs there is also another secret gem, a hidden cave full of fascinating stalagmites and stalactites. Further downstream, where the Platanal Bridge is located, there are large pools for swimming and picnicking.