Tuesday, January 28, 2003; 12:29PM
I’m at Reagan (airport), waiting to board for Miami, then on to Port of Spain (POS), Trinidad. The adventure has already begun . . . what would travel be without some uncertainty?!: This morning I called Mr. Johnson at Johnson’s Guesthouse in POS (as he suggested when I made my reservation) to take him up on his offer of having someone meet me at the airport for $20. I told him I was due to arrive on flight such-and-so at 9:25 PM, and all appeared to be in order until he said that the driver would charge me $50 if I got there after 10 PM. He said this was “standard practice.” This did not feel right or fair to me. I told him I’d be happy to pay $20, but not $50, and explained that, by the time I got my checked luggage, it’d likely be after 10, etc. So, we left it that I’d pay $20 if there before 10 and negotiate with the driver, if after 10.
Now I’m wondering whether Mr. Johnson will be a good & trustworthy host. My Rough Guide speaks well of Johnson’s Guesthouse, but now this new uncertainty.
Around 4 PM:
My flight down to Miami was fine, albeit I was seating on the left-side window (the one away from a view of the FL coast coming down). Miami Int’l airport & terminal is a (series of) massive concrete-looking structure(s) (not terribly attractive).
Enroute to Trinidad:
Leaving Miami, it was nice heading eastward over the Intercoastal Waterway and the Miami Beach area . . . it was neat seeing the bridging connections between the beach and the mainland, through the Intercoastal Waterway, all developed. I thought I’d like to visit Miami sometime.
I’m feeling pretty lonely this part of my trip. I haven’t had much of a chance to talk with fellow passengers (hoping maybe to get some inside info about getting from the airport into POS). However, I found my Rough Guide does provide info about getting from the airport into town. Buses stop running at 8 PM, but there are maxi taxis and route taxis (both of which serve groups and tend to follow fixed routes). I would need to transfer at least once to get to my destination, and, given the unknowns in the terrain, I’d just as soon take a private taxi. The Guide seemed to indicate it’d be a good $20 US to get into town that way, so I don’t feel bad paying something like that amount. My room is only $25 US per night (though I expect a 15% tax and a 10% service charge to be added). If I don’t like it, the Par-May-La (which is equally nicely situated) is only $36.50. Both are located just east of the center city and south of Queen’s Park Savannah, which, for my money, are the primary areas to be seen in POS, rich with history. I can barely wait to walk these areas tomorrow! I’m thinking I may walk around the broad perimeter of the Park, then down Frederick Street (said to be the main shopping street) to Woodford Square (a place rich in history and said to be a center of political activism). From there I might walk a couple of blocks south and stroll along Independence Square, before heading back to Johnson’s. If I do all this, I imagine I’d have covered a good 5 miles, absent detours.
Wednesday, January 29, 2003; 7:47AM
Things are looking good this morning, even though I didn’t sleep well last night. The sun rises earlier here . . . maybe as early as 6 AM. Tomorrow I’ll get an early start and do the excursion I’d planned for today (if the weather looks as nice as it does now . . . mostly sunny, a few, scattered light clouds, the sky quite a light blue).
As I look out from my second floor window, I see over the corrugated roof of the single-story house next door toward a couple two-story houses beyond. Just off to the right, over those houses, a small mountain rises, greenish, covered with vegetation.
View from my guesthouse window
I’ve noticed some ‘industrial’ smells in the air here. Could they be from the powerplant which is about 3 blocks from my guesthouse?
My room air-conditioner is very loud, blocking out almost every other sound when it’s on. There’s a good-sized black dog on the roof of a house under construction about 100 feet off to the right. Is that the same dog that was barking loudly last night (not even the air-conditioner and my closed windows could obliterate that bark!)? [As I sit here longer, I see (hear) that the black dog was not the problem . . . the loudly barking dog is in the compound next door, just 20 or 30 feet outside my window, his barks bouncing between the hard exterior surfaces of the house and a wall.]
Basically, I like my room. I was not so pleased with the first one the Mr. Johnson showed me last night (the $25 room). It was smaller and, more to the point, smelled as if a heavy smoker had last occupied it. So, instead, I got this better second floor room (no cigarette residue here) for $30 a night. Btw, the $30 includes the tax (not bad)! Also, breakfast is included. Mr. Johnson says the guesthouse is about half-full . . . I would guess there might be 10 guest rooms here, plus the Johnson residence.
As for the airport last night, I didn’t quite make it all the way through by 10 PM. When I exited Customs, I found my driver (Decoteu) holding a sign with my name. I asked about the price, whether he’d carry me for $20 US. He saw that I knew about the 10 PM rule . . . he said it was $30 after 10 and accepted my offer of $25 (noting, as he did, that it was only just past 10). I wondered if the $25 was all inclusive (i.e., whether any tip was expected), but was relieved to be going for $25, which seemed fair enough, plus the driver was a friendly, nice guy . . . we talked quite a bit about the city and his daughter in Washington, DC. I handed him the $25 at our destination and he looked at it for several seconds–I imagined him thinking, “isn’t there going to be a tip,” but I was cheerful in expressing my appreciation and thanks for his services, and he was cheerful & friendly in return. I was left feeling a bit guilty last night about not tipping . . . if, on my return, Decoteu is my taxi driver, I’ll will give him a nice tip.
Last night, I was also troubled that I’d related rather awkwardly, at points, with the proprietor, Mr. Johnson. This is me, and maybe I did prattle a bit or become excessively solicitous, wanting to “establish a positive relationship.” In any event, Mr. Johnson was fully cordially friendly throughout. In short, my concerns about Mr. Johnson as a host were not realized. If I had any sense, and the ability, I’d put this all behind me, adopt the reputedly laidback style of the Island, and go down to enjoy breakfast.
The guesthouse breakfast was ok–scrambled eggs, ‘chicken sausage’ (like a hot dog), and plenty of good, toasted bread (with Guava jam). Further, there was some excellent, chilled passion fruit juice. I like the staff here . . . the woman who prepared & served my breakfast–she has such a nice, genuine, full-lipped, welcoming smile & is maybe a little bit shy (as for me, I’m definitely shy). Mr. Johnson checked in to see how things were going during breakfast.
After breakfast, I changed money at the bank–6 TT dollars to 1 US dollar. The bank was classy and the staff attentive and friendly . . . there actually seemed to be someone at the door to greet/direct me (in addition to the guard). From the bank, I was off to explore the town but was uncomfortable, realizing I was carrying all my cash, credit cards, and traveler’s checks in my wallet. I decided to hide some of it in my room, so headed back (which is how I happen to be here now to write this).
I (finally) got out and took the stroll I’d planned. The sun & its heat turned out not to be so much of a problem, primarily because there was a fresh breeze blowing throughout the day. I headed north from my place at 16 Buller, essentially walking around the perimeter of the Queen’s Park Savannah, then back south to the downtown (POS), then back home. In the course of this journey, I met a couple of characters, much enjoyed the Botanical Gardens, and, for the first time, got to experience the ambience of the city.
The Queen’s Park Savannah is basically a huge plain of close-cut grass, rather dry this time of year, reminding me of summer lawns back home. I began by walking up the western side of the park, essentially along Maraval Road . . . its about 2 miles around the perimeter of the park.
The auto traffic around the park’s perimeter is one-way & heavy.
I saw what they call the “magnificent seven,” seven mansions built in the early 1900’s by wealthy plantation owners in the spirit of “keeping up with the Jones.”
I decided to take a rest on one of the comfortable-looking benches along the road at the park’s edge, the refreshing breeze at my back. I’d been seated no more than five minutes, though, when one of the locals sat down and began talking to me, introducing himself as Peter Gabriel and telling me he worked at the botanical gardens (in fact, this is how I first heard of the gardens). Within a few minutes, he was trying to persuade me to come with him–he wanted to show me around the area where he lived, suggesting we take a maxi taxi to Petit Valley and Maraval.
I asked him to show me where they were on a map, but he wasn’t able to do so. He may well have been sincere, but I was not about to go off with an unknown stranger to places unknown (who would? what did he have in mind?). [Looking now at my guide book, I see that these areas (Maraval and Petit Valley) are just north of town, offering some scenic possibilities.] Even if I were a trusting person, it’d be contrary to my nature to take him up on his proposal. I like to take things slowly, to get my bearings before exploring.
It was a few minutes before he understood I was set on doing things my own way, thank you. He said I might find him at the botanical garden, if I wanted to meet up another day.
I found the area north of the park the most scenic, especially the Botanical Gardens (the zoo and the President’s House are also there). The Botanical Gardens (BG), established 1820, are the home of a collection of exotic plants and trees, nicely landscaped & maintained. I was one of the few people in the BG (just as I’d been virtually the only person on the grassy expanse of the Queen’s Park). Before coming into the main part of the BG, I climbed the treed & grassy hill just east of the zoo and found my self alone with the nature of the place. This was the highlight of my day. I climbed several hundred feet, fairly steeply, wondering what I could see from the top [surrounding hillsides and a bit of the city in the distance] . . . I never really reached the top, content to stop at a ‘local maximum.’ I most enjoyed being off on my own, in a natural setting, feeling the wind blowing up the hill and seeing trees of a sort I seldom see (such as bamboo). I got some nice pictures!
The eastern boundary of the zoo
A spiky tree & crown
Spikes, grass, and
Bamboo against the sky
Coming down from the heights, to the BG proper, I enjoyed my walkabout and was almost to the point of heading back into town, taking a picture of what appeared to be a flower growing in a small crevice between two rocks, when someone started speaking to me, asking what I was doing. He was a black man, maybe in his 50’s, thin, sallow-cheeked with an untrimmed beard of maybe 4 or 5 inches, casually dressed (shorts & t-shirt). He showed me that the ‘flower’ that I had been picturing was not really a flower at all, but instead what he called a ‘powderpuff’ that had blown from a tree some distance away (sort of like a pink milkweed).
He then proceeded to show me around, giving me a tour, as it were, of the BG, naming many of the trees & plants, giving their local or folk names and telling me what they were used for (for example, one could be used to make a natural laxative, another an embalming fluid, another to produce a lipstick or rouge, and so on, with a score of different details and demonstrations).
He showed me a (seed?) I could pop into my mouth for a sweet taste. He showed me bougainvilleas and mimosa. On several occasions he’d crush-up a leave from a herb to show me its smell (for example, a bay leaf).
He tore another leaf in half, still on the stem, to show me the sticky or oily sap for making castor oil. He would have shown me more, and I appreciated these things, but I never was completely comfortable. After all, he come upon me completely unbidden and without any ‘ground rules.’ I expected I’d be giving him some money for his tour, but nothing had been said about this upfront. After a while, I was getting ancy . . . he was leading me deeper into the Gardens, away from the main road where I’d been headed earlier.
So, I let him know I wanted to be heading back (but first I wanted to get a look at the graveyard I’d spied earlier, just before he started talking to me).
Historic grave markers
Historic grave markers
West side of President’s House
as seen through fence from BG