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Trinidad #4

The Days Are Short in Trinidad...

Flag of Trinidad & Tobago

July 2007

After four trips, what more is there to learn about Trinidad, you may ask. Well, there’s plenty, and this time I really had to come to terms with some of the limitations on access. I had planned to see more of Trinidad’s natural wonders and scenic ecological sights, like, bird sanctuaries, swamps, mangroves, bat caves and waterfalls, but I found hiking to be impossible without a guide, and the rainy season is not a good time for hiking, period. Therefore, just about everything except what you can drive to and see from a road was out of the question. That being the case, I had to adjust, see what I could with family, and even recruit a few guides on my own to go to some challenging places. The verdict is that I feel pretty good about the things I saw and the overall experience.

Click here to see photos of our trip at

Transport: We rented a Nissan Almera and drove about 1,017 miles in a country about a fourth the size of middle Tennessee. I was impressed by the fact that the days are short in Trinidad. The sun comes up at about 6:00 AM and it gets dark at 6:30 PM, so it is important to get an early start if you are going to travel across the island. However, the typical day for us meant cleaning and cooking until Noon, and then going somewhere, which meant the day was actually half over by the time we started a journey. Moreover, with the bumpy, twisty roads, any distance seems like a journey. Fortunately, Linda let me be independent on a few days and I went places on my own, or with friends, and a couple of times I took Reanna to San Fernando by myself.

A Note about driving: Driving on the left side of the road is not the hardest thing about driving in Trinidad or England for me. It is changing gears, remembering which side of the steering wheel is the indicator, and which side are the windshield wipers. It is all the opposite of right sided cars, but after a couple of days I usually adjust.

Getting settled: The first order of business was to buy groceries, tidy the house, clean the pool and get it filled. The pool had not been used for several months, or maybe a year, and it was in a messy, dirty, overgrown state. It took two days and five people to clean it and then about four days to fill it, but we were rewarded with a nice place to swim. This was especially good for Reanna, because she had recently had three weeks of private swimming lessons in Tullahoma, and she was eager to try out her skills.

Food: Nearly all of our meals were home cooked by Linda, or a member of her family, and were Indian. That includes a variety of sauces, with chicken, or sometimes fish, with rice, split peas, peppers, sweet potato, or some other kind of vegetable, and nearly always Roti Dalpuri, an Indian bread. They have beef in Trinidad, but Linda’s family rarely eats it. Eating out on a few occasions was usually decided upon spontaneously, depending on what was available. We went to KFC only once, this time, to Church’s Chicken once, to a Chinese restaurant once, to a pizza place three times, and to a Blimpie’s once. And on a few occasions we got take out at independent food stands which specialize in “Doubles,” a spicy Indian fast food that has two layers of roti-bread smothered in a sauce, which sometimes contains split peas. We went to the local bakery several times, when we were passing, to get various buns, breads, and for ice cream cones. We also, on occasion, bought snacks at little roadside shops that are everywhere, called “Parlors.”

Shopping: Most of our grocery shopping was done at a new store in Williamsville, called Stackhouse. Stackhouse is the nicest and largest grocery in these parts to date. We usually found everything we needed there, and for some odd reason, the same parking space was always available when we went there, so I usually parked in the same spot. All of our vegetable and meat shopping was at the main vegetable and poultry market in Williamsville. The young guy at the poultry shop had the most perfectly non-expressive face I have ever seen. We bought fish at the wharf in San Fernando, one day, to take home and cook. We needed a bathroom Faucet and discovered that all hardware stores closed at four or 4:30 PM. We always seem to make multiple visits to Fen Mohammad’s department store, in Marabella, to get household items, such as a hair dryer this time, and an exercise machine for Linda’s mother. We bought several books, at RIK Bookstore in San Fernando, on West Indian themes, and I got three more books by renowned Trinidadian author V.S. Naipaul.

Communications: Many of the phone lines in central Trinidad had recently been vandalized (cut) by copper thieves and the house phone was not working. Fortunately, Linda’s brother Kenneth had a cell phone we could borrow, and I was able to call my parents three or four times. Finding a signal was not easy. I was only able to make calls on the porch and by the pool, and I hardly ever received any calls at the house, but we managed. The Internet was a bit disappointing this trip. Both Internet café’s I went to were experiencing poor service on the days I went to them, and I was not able to keep up with the amount of email that I usually get. I was only able to send a few emails, which was frustrating, but I decided not to get uptight about it.

Since our last visit in 2005, Direct TV has been installed in the house. This was a big improvement for our viewing entertainment, especially Reanna’s, but the one caveat was that the signal came from Puerto Rico, and all the titles, subtitles, info, and commercials were in Spanish. Most of the content was in English, however, and she was able to see a lot of her Disney Channel shows, which was good for her, and we didn’t have to play as many VHS and DVD movies as last time. The first four days we were there, we were a bit consumed by watching Wimbledon. A new local channel, called Caribbean News Network, was broadcasting Wimbledon almost commercial free, and we always like to watch Wimbledon, especially the final stages.

Church: We attended the Williamsville Church of Christ three Sundays, which is the church where Linda grew up. The preacher is Ken Lewis, of Marabella, and he has been preaching there for about twenty-years, or so. The brethren are always very friendly, and we feel right at home there. For some years the church has been meeting in a rented hall, and in recent years, they have been saving money to buy some land to build a church building. They seem to be getting closer to this goal.

Sightseeing: These are the most memorable places we saw in the order we saw them. On 9 July, we went to the town of Siparia in the SW, which was settled by Spanish Capuchin priests in 1758, who established a mission to convert the Amerindians in the area. The large La Divina Pastora (the divine shepherdess) Catholic Church is an attraction for both it’s building and the “Black Virgin,” a small statue of the Virgin Mary, brought from Spain, that is old, dressed in white, and hangs on the wall. The origins of the statue are murky, but it is the centerpiece of an annual festival, and a cult following.

From Siparia, we bought some KFC, and went to Quinam Beach to eat and look around. There were a lot of people bathing, but we did not at this time. If Trinidad were a foot, Quinam Beach would be the first Metatarsus bone on the sole of the foot. It felt gratifying to see crowded Siparia and to make it to Quinam Beach, “the bottom of Trinidad.”

On 12 July, we went to the San Fernando Public Library, which is a Carnegie library, and is an attractive old building with nice woodwork. I believe this was the first time Linda and Reanna have gone inside with me. There was a nice, busy children’s section on the second floor, with fine old ceiling rafters.

On 13 July, we went to LaVega Garden Center, a commercial producer of lots of botanical plants, with Linda's cousin Theresa, and a younger boy cousin, Neal. Neal is a little bit older than Reanna, but they get along real well. We took a nature walk through the grounds, past green houses, and around two small lakes, with shelters for picnics. There was more to see at LaVega, but we ran out of time, as the 5:00 PM closing time approached. We took some backroads to get to LaVega, and the roads through hilly central Trinidad were something else. Passing through the town of Tabaquite, it is remarkable to note that there is a defunct train line that used to service these parts until the late 1960s. The Central range is so sparse that I have scarcely penetrated it in my four trips to Trinidad, except for Navet Reservoir in 2003.

On 14 July, I went with a young man who is training to be a crane operator, named “Jazz,” to Chaguaramas, where I did some kayaking. Jazz has been to the States a few times, and he wanted to give me a personal tour of Trinidad, and he was willing to get an early start. So, at 6:30 AM on a Saturday morning, I picked him up and we got started before the traffic got heavy, and I drove to Chaguaramas, which is were you can see the remnants of a U.S. Military Base that was our main Caribbean base during WWII, lasting from 1940-1960. The buildings are in good shape here, but not many still exist in other parts of the area. I kayaked for one glorious hour in the bay, admiring the scenery, and listening to some drums in the background. I could have gone longer, but my back was without much support, so I was getting tired of sitting. Jazz is a part-time taxi driver, and he knows his way around, so he persuaded me to let him drive my car, which I have never let anyone else do in Trinidad, but this one time I decided to sit back and let him drive the rest of the day. This enabled me to focus on the sites more than usual, and to video some of the natural scenery, as well as the traffic.

Jazz drove us through Port of Spain to the east, and through Barataria, and San Juan, up to the Northern Coast Road, and to Maracas Beach, one of the best beaches in Trinidad. Even though I requested he go through Laventille, a very poor suburb east of Port of Spain, where steel pan music originated, and where much of Trinidad’s crime takes place, he didn’t want to go there.

I had not been to Maracas Beach since 1998, and I was enthusiastic to swim there once again. I am not a big beach person normally, but the way the sun hit the sand, the swift crashing of the waves, and the mountains surrounding the beach make Maracas a pretty intense experience in my opinion. On the way, we stopped at a scenic overlook, and a sweet older gentleman, named "Calypso Joe," serenaded me in calypso-prose. I gave him some money, and then we continued to Maracas, where we ate fish for lunch, and then swam for 1.5 hours. Without the family, I was able to relax and enjoy this beach thing a lot more than I expected. After this, Jazz gave me a long ride home, taking his time, talking, listening to the radio, and letting me see some of the places he frequents, including the school where his crane course is located. Also, keen to give me a bit of Trini-flavor that I'd not had before, Jazz treated me to a cup of warm oyster soup, and some spicy chutney liver. What a day!

On 17 July, we took Linda’s mother and two brothers, a total of six in the car, to Moruga, which is located in the middle bottom of Trinidad, and is very remote. History records that Christopher Columbus set foot on the island in 1498, looking for a fresh supply of water, so I was more than a little curious to see this town with my own eyes. By the time we finally rolled into town, from a late start, and a construction-clogged road, it was quiet and sparse. A large blue and white Catholic church dominating the cramped seafront was a welcome sight, where the road abruptly ended. I had to back out around a poorly placed truck some distance to turn around, and with little room to maneuver or park the car, we inadvertently moved on, looking for a more hospitable beach.

I wish we had looked around some more, and perhaps someday, I will go back to Moruga, but two things were pressing at this point in the day. We had to visit an old relative of the family at La Lune, a few miles to the west, and we had to find a place for Reanna to swim, or she was going to go crazy. So, we drove until we found this little secluded beach, which was a bit too rocky and not suitable for swimming. We ate snack-food we bought at a parlor, and explored the rocks. There was a rare arch in a big rock that caught my eye, and Reanna walked right through it bent-over.

We went back to La Lune proper, and visited Maud, an eighty-year-old cousin of Linda’s family. Maud was there, and she was being visited by her daughter, Lydia. Linda’s family had not seen Lydia much before, but she turned out to be very friendly, and even showed Reanna and me a shortcut to a nice beach across the road past some houses. So, Reanna and I finally got to swim a little, here, west of Moruga, which could also be considered “the bottom of Trinidad.”

The swim in the warm, salty water was good, but things got a bit more interesting than expected when we went back to the house and got to talking to Lydia about her siblings. We found out that her sister, Marva, is a very popular nanny in the States to Hollywood celebrities, such as Julia Roberts, Reece Witherspoon, Courtney Cox, and Sheryl Crow. This was a bit hard to believe at first, but she brought out a copy of In Touch magazine (dated June 18, 2007), and it told all about it with photos of Marva and each of these celebrities, and then it dawned on me that I may have seen something about this on Entertainment Tonight not long ago. Anyway, we were quite impressed. And then she showed us a picture of her other sister who is an acclaimed poet, who received some kind of recognition by the American Poetry Society. This was quite a long, exciting day.

On 19 July, the day started out very rainy and it seemed my plans would be dashed. Three young men from the church, each of whom has a good job in the city, had taken the day off from work to go hiking with me. They are experienced hikers and we had planned to hike to a scenic waterfall in the north, but as it turned out rainy, the trail would be inaccessible. We got a late start—which is never good in Trinidad—but we decided to hope for the weather to improve and head for Toco, the furthest NE point of the island.

So, the three young men, Dave, Stephan, Denva, and their slightly older uncle Sunil, who knew Toco rather well, went with me, and it took about two hours to drive there. Our spirits improved exponentially as the weather improved, and it looked as though the clearer skies would stick in the northeast. The remoteness of this part of Trinidad was apparent as we passed cottages aptly named “Ponderosa” and “We Reach.” Our anticipation grew as we started gawking at stretches of coast that looked anything but passive.

When we finally got to Galera Point, we went to the rocky cliff, the furthest point in the NE, and we could see Tobago about 20-miles across the channel, a spectacular sight. We climbed down to the waves, a bit, and took photos, and then walked back up to the almond tree-shaded picnic area and ate a well-waited for lunch. There was also a tall lighthouse, close by, built in 1897, for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (her 60th year as reigning monarch).

Since the water was too rough at Galera Point, we drove a couple of miles west, parked on the beach, and swam. There was no changing room, so I opted to change clothes in an unused market stall. As I was swimming, I felt the pull of the tide, and noticed that I was drifting further out than I normally do. I was swimming close to Denva, and he felt the same current, so we swam vigorously to get back to a safe distance from shore. For the first time, I could feel sharp bits of coral with my feet, and I picked up several pieces with my toes and collected them to take home with me (they even made it home to Tennessee).

Our visit to Toco may have been somewhat short, because of the late start, but it was very enjoyable. On the way back home, we stopped in Curepe, near the University of the West Indies, to eat doubles. The four young men—my friends and guides—were wonderful companions. The whole trip was 172 miles, which is a sizable trip in Trinidad.

Sightseeing highlights for the rest of the trip included climbing to the top of San Fernando Hill on the 21st. There was no marked trail, but luckily, I befriended a nice man, named Tony, who was on his lunch break, and he showed Reanna and me how to get up there. The vast majority of people who drive up to San Fernando Hill never climb this trail to the top, and the view was amazing. On the 22nd, the whole family went to visit relatives in Point Fortin, to the SW part of the island. I had never been to this particular set of relatives before, and it was special. Toward the end of the trip, we went to San Fernando twice to shop and look around. I searched for CDs of real Trinidadian music on the high street, and had to search high and low just to find some. I got one CD with Chutney music (a Soca influenced style of Indian music), and one CD with new Soca music (more African, and Calypso in style and rhythm). I also got some souvenir hats from the recently finished World Cup Cricket competition.

All-in-all, this trip had the usual difficulties of getting settled, getting around, sleep discomforts, insect bites, stomach unease, and weather conditions, but we had a number of new experiences, and some interesting people that made it all the more rewarding—considering the days are short in Trinidad!

See Map A | Map B
Go to Trinidad #1; Trinidad #2; Trinidad #3