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Trinidad #2

Flag of Trinidad & Tobago

June - July 2003

This was our second trip to Trinidad, and Reanna’s first ever. We expected to see some changes since our last visit, in 1998, and there certainly were some: a new airport, a change in government leadership, more pickup trucks and SUV’s, a higher crime rate, and slicker television ads and programming, but Trinidad remains one of the most stable democracies and economies in the West Indies and among the least known to American’s. Other than speaking to my parents on the phone, and emailing, I didn’t interact with a single other American the whole time we were there.

Browwwser's Cyber Cafe, in San Fernando.

Internet access was an encouraging sign that things are improving. In 1998, there were hardly any cyber cafés anywhere (I did not see any, personally, but I have been informed that Browwwser's Cafe has been open since 1996), but this time I found at least three in the San Fernando area. This time I emailed family and colleagues rather than send post cards! I also kept in touch with the world via the Internet. For instance, Wimbledon was not on free television in Trinidad, so I kept up with it on the Web! I also got out more on my own. I traveled to San Fernando and environs three times by myself in our rental car. This time we rented a Hyundai Accent (automatic, with A/C), not exactly my first choice, but that’s all they had even though I reserved a car two weeks in advance. That’s how it goes when you use a cheap company, but we only paid $540 (U.S.) for 17 days. You can’t beat that! But the moon-cratered roads continue to be a problem, and made us bottom-out in the Accent more times than I can remember. Another annoying thing about the car was the theft alarm system. It would go off whenever you opened one of the doors, or the boot (if the engine was not running), and could only be stopped by pressing a button on the key-chain remote.

Manzanilla Beach.

The weather was more of a factor than last time. It was earlier in the rainy season, and we had a number of heavy rains and tropical storms, resulting in flooded local roads, and spoiled sightseeing plans, but it wasn’t too bad. On the up side, I experienced almost no allergy symptoms for the trip, but on the down side I got perhaps the worst sunburn I’ve ever had toward the end of the trip. Just a couple of hours swimming in Manzanilla Beach’s salty water, in indirect sunlight, gave me a beet-red burn that was the most painful I can remember in my life. This was my fault, of course, and being protective of my thinning scalp, fortunately, I was at least mindful to wear a hat just about all the time I was outdoors. When I was indoors I often managed to hide and read an old text called, The Story of Our Islands, a good introduction to British colonial history in the Caribbean.

Kids walking on the Pitch Lake.

Sightseeing: I drove nearly 1,000 miles on the trip in a country slightly smaller than the State of Delaware. We went to the extreme SE of Trinidad, almost to the Trinity Hills, but were turned back at a road block for not having a special permit (which we obviously knew nothing about). We also went to the extreme SW of Trinidad, to Columbus Bay, where we were unexpectedly inundated with mosquitoes the moment we opened the car door. Daunted by this hiccup we nonetheless proceeded quickly yet optimistically to another beach at Granville, 20 miles away, and not long after we got in the water it poured and poured. This was a low point, but the day was not lost because we went to the Pitch Lake earlier in the day, and visited some of Linda’s relatives in the area, which was enjoyable. The Pitch Lake was discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595, who used it to seal the cracks in his ships. Our guide dutifully walked us all over the Pitch Lake, so we definitely feel like we’ve “been there, and smelled the sulphurous pitch." We also made a brief visit to Charuma Lake, a more scenic and conventional lake, near the center of the island.

We went to see a couple of Hindu sights that were fairly close together and impressive enough for the non-Hindu. The Hanuman statue, an 85 foot tall statue, which was just inaugurated in June 2003, was quite a spectacle at the Datta Yoga Center, in Caripichaima. Hanuman is the god of the monkey, and it is the tallest Hindu monument in the Western Hemisphere. (See this site about Hanuman for more info.) Also, the “Temple in the Sea” at Waterloo was an interesting stop, and tribute to the persistence of a local Indian laborer named Sewdass Sadhu, who built the original, a labor of love which took about 17 years to complete. Sewdass died in 1971, and the original temple fell into disrepair, so the government decided to erect a new one, which was completed in 1996. (For more about the story go to Incidentally, Waterloo is where the first Indian laborers arrived from India in 1845, among which, my wife’s Great-Grandfather was supposedly one of them. I learned a lot about Linda's genealogy during a conversation with her mother, Dustrilla, and wrote down as much of it as she could give me.

We made just one trip to Port of Spain this time. It was a quick visit to the workplace of one of Linda’s old friends, named Allison, and then we drove past the new National Library, Parliament, and up to Queen’s Park Savannah, a large green park surrounded by some of the architectural gems of colonial times. I stopped frequently to take pictures of some of the fine old homes and buildings with my new digital camera, a Canon A70. I took about 260 pictures on the trip and love this camera!

Closer to home, we went to church in Williamsville on two Sundays, and went to church in San Fernando the third Sunday. Fellowshiping with Christians and meeting Linda’s relatives is certainly one of the most rewarding parts of our visits to Trinidad. Plus, this time I felt like I got a much more intense exposure to San Fernando (Trinidad’s second largest city), where I went to Browwwser’s Cyber Café, the Carnegie Free Library, and many bookstores and shops, as well as the surrounding villages of Mayo, and Tabaquite, near Linda’s home. As for T&T currency, ATM's were reasonably easy to find, and I was able to charge purchases to my debit card at most shops and stores.

Reanna holding a mango.

I'm happy to report that Reanna handled the trip very well, especially the flights, which we were not sure what to expect from a three-year-old. We carried her car seat with us and used it a lot on the trip. She learned a lot and I'm sure she formed a lot of memories that will stay with her for a long time. I haven't even mentioned all the new foods, plants and shopping excursions she was exposed to. When we got back to the States, I was stuck in cultural transition for days. The intensity of this trip (and my sunburn) brought home a deep cultural hangover that I haven't felt in years. We definitely have to do this more often!

Extra photos:
A photo of brethren at Williamsville church
A photo of an old colonial style house
A photo of Roger at the beach
A photo of the Temple in the Sea
See Map A | Map B
Go to Trinidad #1; #3