Last December, when my friend asked me if I wanted to do a feature on her boss’s place…I was thrilled because I really needed an escape since it was nearing Christmas and I was thrown back in time and mourning the loss of my Dad who died around this time, a year before. It was just what I needed.
I’ve met the owner once before, but after spending a full day chatting and getting a tour of the place I started calling Vin my second daddy 🙂 He’s soo sweet, humble and a true joy to be around. A walking history book and encyclopedia all rolled into one!
In fact the entire family was so delightful and the FOOD! Ohemgee….the food and desserts prepared by his wife Ulusia was out of this world amazing. My friend gave me a heads up, but seeing is believing…in fact the proof is in the pudding! ha
My guest and I enjoyed those 2 days thoroughly!!! I encourage you if you are a visitor or a resident….you have to experience a full day and night at HACIENDA JACANA!!! HEAVEN ON EARTH!!
Thanks for a wonderful escape from reality.
Without further ado, here’s the article which was published on February 18th 2016
First Published on Newsday: http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,224184.html
Nestled in the sublime forests of Talparo, lies a dreamy escape from reality known as Hacienda Jacana. Just an hour’s drive from Port-of-Spain, you can find the most perfect combination of comfortable lodging, scrumptious food, breathtaking nature at its best, hospitable people and the rest is left up to your imagination.
Somewhat off the beaten path is a secluded utopia that not many people know about. However it’s an adventure worth exploring because once you leave your comfort zone, you would experience the paradise that awaits right here in T&T.
Forget the wildly popular phone app – ‘waze’ and GPS, because once you’ve booked your trip, you are provided with flawless directions by the owners. Buckle up and grab an old fashioned map as part of the adventure and learning!
“Once you’ve reached San Raphael RC Church, you can’t get lost” Vin said. A few more roads and corners later, I was led to Phipps Trace and I “went brave” just as instructed and drove until there were no more houses.
The little white arrow that pointed to Hacienda Jacanda was like following a treasure hunt and I couldn’t be more delighted as I entered the gates and Simon let us in. The owners are Vin and Ulusia Quesnel and we soon met up with Vin who showed us to our cabin and the real adventure began as I got a tour of the estate.
Sitting on 22 acres of land, Hacienda Jacana consists of four wooden cottages each named after birds: Gallinule, Lapwing, Nightjar and Wood Rail. The owner who wanted a Caribbean feel and the Spanish influence stuck with the name Hacienda which means “a large estate or plantation with a dwelling house.”
Similarly after toying with several sketches and designs for years, Quesnel initially was aiming for an Adobe type look, however the cabins are a slight deviation completely outfitted with Greenheart wood imported from Guyana. The place now has that rustic appeal that is both charming and homely and perfectly blends in with the outdoor environment.
Keeping it local, the décor is adorned with fresh flowers from the garden and mounted colour photography by Gregory Scott which were carefully selected by Vin. Each cottage is equipped with a fully functional kitchen, two air conditioned bedrooms, bathroom, dining and living rooms and a porch overlooking the most magnificent view of the lake that seems to stretch as far as the eye could see!
As you take in the view from the porch, it is easy to get mesmerized as you watch the reflection of light on the water and the various species of birds that hop to and fro on the lily pads way down below.
The most amazing thing was to watch the different coloured hummingbirds that came up to the feeders that hung right above my head.
I was amused by the fight that ensued with this one particular green hummingbird that marked his territory chasing all the other hummingbirds away!
Constructed in 2010, the cottages are available for vacations, church, staff or writer’s retreats, plant, bird and even bat conservationists or anyone in need of quiet time to relax and unwind from the stresses of daily life. They can safely accommodate 25 persons for a one-day event.
During the day, guests can enjoy a stroll around the grounds, canoeing in the lake or fishing where you can catch big guabins, tilapia and pacu. For the less adventurous you can relax in the pool. There are also tours available for foreign visitors who are so inclined to visit the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Wild Fowl Trust, Nariva or Caroni swamps, Tamana caves or Waterloo mudflats.
I got a geography, agricultural and history lesson all rolled into one as we walked around the estate.
There were some fruits that I did not know except what I was told about by my father as a child such as shaddock and Tamarind des Indies (Chinese tamarind).
More familiar ones include caimite, pomerac, tangerine, sapodilla, five finger, chataigne, breadfruit, hog plum, barbadine, citrus and more.
There are also animals on the estate such as chickens, agouti, caiman, matte, manicou, mongoose, morocoy, iguanas, squirrels, fish, birds such as the famous Jacana where the estate got its name, several species of hawks etc and two donkeys, one of which was made famous and is on the cover of a book sold on Amazon.
Other occasional visitors that guests never get to see are deer, ocelot, tayra, otter and tattoo. There is also a wide and unique variety of butterflies abound.
At night guests can relax on the porch, watch Direct TV or fall asleep to the sounds of nature. If you’re lucky to visit when there is a full moon, you are in for a special treat as you get a front row seat to the spectacular view.
The property is managed by Vin’s son Jesse and his wife Helen. Helen shared that there are also a few challenges. She explains that the main access road – Leotaud Trace has been closed since May 2015 while a retaining wall is being constructed. This was due to the collapse of the road in November 2013 which cut off all access to and from the property for a few days.
On the positive side, the connecting roads have been considerably improved over the last few years, but there is room for improvement when it comes to the other infrastructure such as internet and electricity. I was told however that T&TEC reports promptly to resolve any power outages in the area.
It is also difficult to find a reliable source of labour, so most of the work remains within the family. As the business grows, it will necessitate more hands on deck and the need to outsource good labour in the kitchen and on the grounds.
At the moment, all meals are prepared by the owner’s wife Ulusia who is an exceptional cook and also caters to persons with special needs. Meals are delivered on time and are tasty, nutritious and completely satisfying. Guests have the option of two meals a day with the most mouthwatering homemade desserts, or they can also bring their own food as cooking is allowed on the compound.
For those interested in booking a romantic getaway, family get together or just a quiet escape to study, write or complete business projects, the quietest periods are from August to October, while the peak season is January to the end of May.
Still in its embryonic stage, as the business grows the owners seek to broaden the appeal by constructing a walking path around the property among other things.
A refreshingly humble and down to earth Quesnel says his legacy for Hacienda Jacana is to be a hallmark of excellence:
“Excellence in beauty, maintenance, food and customer service….that’s all I want.”