I was debating, in my mind, how much to offer him, what I would say. I decided on, “I’d like to make a contribution” (I was thinking, I believe, of $20 TT, which I felt was pretty generous, but, before I could make the amount known, he suggested his fee for a tour was $20 US (which is 6 times more than $20 TT). Immediately and sincerely troubled, I reacted saying, “no, that’s too much,” thinking “this could be trouble.” I thought for a couple of seconds before counter-offering him $40 TT (twice what I’d originally planned). He asked, then, for $60TT, saying that be half what he’d originally requested and indicating that he needed the money to eat.
Even though I was not fully happy with the situation, I countered with a final offer of $50 TT, just wanting to be done with it. He took the $50 TT and walked with me a bit further, perhaps wondering if he might be of any further service. He finally understood that I wanted to go off on my own. He did, though, as I was leaving, thank me (sincerely) for the $50 TT.
I left wondering if I’d been somewhat taken advantage of. According to my guidebook, minimum wage here is $7 TT per hour. So, by that standard, my guide got a windfall for, at most, an hour’s work. On the other hand, I’d expect a private commercial tour, marketed to tourists, to cost a good $50 TT (although, in that case, I’d have had the considerable comfort of knowing the parameters of the arrangement beforehand, and greater assurance that the guide, in fact, actually knew what he was talking about). In any event, I got a good story out of the experience.
After the BG, I took a few pictures of the President’s House then headed south on Queen’s Park East, back into town. Once on the southern side of the park, I continued heading south on Frederick Street, said to be the main shopping street in POS. I was not impressed. I’d expected to see at least a few toney, upscale establishments, but saw none. There were a lot of so-called “malls”—collections of shops in a larger building of two or three stories. All of it was pretty basic, but there was quite a bit of hustle and bustle on the street––the narrow sidewalks were crowded with shoppers, strollers and people just off work. Here I’m talking about the part of Frederick Street running south from Woodford Square to Independence Square. On upper Frederick Street (above Woodford Square), I stopped at an Indian food shop for a potato & chickpea roti (i.e., the curried ingredients were wrapped up in a soft bread (sort of like a burrito)). It was sizeable & delicious and cost only $7 TT. I was told by a native, after the fact, that such rotis are called “doubles” (though I’m not sure whether that is singular or plural . . . if I have just one such roti, is it a “double” or a “doubles”?).
Once down at Independence Square/Brian Lara Promenade, I strolled its length and found crowds of people sitting, relaxing & visiting in the late afternoon sun. I stopped in a couple of ‘supermarkets,’ finding them very basic (though I was pleased to see a variety of soy milk offered). From Independence, I walked a block or two further south to see the large central bus station at South Quay/City Gate, probably the biggest transportation center on the island, offering transport to any number of destinations. From here, I basically walked the 2 miles back to my guesthouse—I walked up very busy Wrightson Road, through a mostly industrial district. There seems to be a lot of industry on the south side of POS . . . much of it seems to be characterized by long shed-like buildings, 20 to 30 feet tall, with corrugated steel roofs, and often with similarly plated sides as well.
Church’s Chicken on Independence
Cathedral of the
Clothing for sale
[Btw, much of the roofing here is corrugated steel, but I also see some that is said to be mostly aluminum (with zinc?) that comes in sheets that are mostly flat except for parallel squarish ridges about an inch across and maybe 15 inches apart that run down perpendicularly from the roof’s center ridge beam. I’m told these are warranted to last a very long time (maybe 80 years) and don’t rust like the corrugated steel (which, in my opinion, is unsightly). Very occasionally, I see a heavy, terra cotta type tile roof. A fair number of roofs are flat . . . I can’t tell what those are made of.]
An old house nearby
A weathered residence
[So far, on the first couple days of my trip, I’ve consumed something in the neighborhood of 10 energy bars . . . I brought enough with me to have about 4 a day. I’ve been drinking the local water copiously, so far with no ill-effects.]
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Last night, I was down, thinking/feeling that Trinidad looks no different than other places I’ve seen . . . “I’ve seen it all before, nothing new . . . if I can’t experience new things in my travels, I might as well hang it up [my travels].” It felt like I might be getting close to the point where there was little in the way of truly novel (and, at the same time, safe) travel for me to experience. How depressing!
It seemed to me I’d seen virtually no interesting architecture and very few buildings of good quality–nothing to uplift the spirit. Whether or not the people are friendly, it seemed unlikely I’d meet any of them . . . no sir, I saw no greater likelihood of meeting the reputedly laidback & friendly people liming (relaxing) on the park benches than that of meeting strangers in any other city.
Furthermore, I seemed little interested in the idea of writing up my experiences . . . “maybe,” I thought, “this will be the end of my travel writing and photography . . . so much for my recent thought of trying to publish some travel writing.” It seemed like I was just going through the motions, without adventure, excitement or engagement. “How in the world did I imagine going out alone in the evening to a nightspot (did I ever imagine such a thing)?” “Surely,” I thought, “there can be nothing for me to do here after dark.”
Today, however, things definitely have been looking up! Just down the street, I found Kalloo’s car rental and tour service. Their car rental rates are no better than those at the airport ($300 TT per day, plus $120 TT per day, if I want CDW), but I am very intrigued by one of the tour possibilities: It goes up Saddle Road to the North Coast Road heading east all the way out to Blanchisseuse, then south through the interior mountains & rainforest (with a stop at the Asa Wright Nature Center) and on to Arima, then returning east on the Eastern Main Road through various communities back to POS. This tour would be a private automobile tour, just me and the guide, and would take most of the day. It would cost $100 US.
I also discovered (with my host’s directions) a well-stocked IGA supermarket just 3 blocks from my guesthouse, where I bought a local paper, soy milk, corn flakes, apples, raisins, and bottled water. I took my newspaper to the Sweet Lime outdoor eatery & bar, where I had a set lunch and a Coke for $25 TT. My waitress, Evelyn, was friendly . . . an attractive, youthful but mature, young lady with a beautifully angular face and very dark complexion. Her lilting accent reminded my of Cynthia (who grew up on Grenada). She said she was born on Antigua but grew up in Trinidad. I left her a $10 TT tip. She told me I could take my receipt next door and get 20 coins to gamble in the slot machine, which I did. Each coin represented a TT dollar. I played my coins and came away from the slot machines with winning receipts of $37 . . . thus, my lunch turned out to cost me nothing! Was I really that lucky or was the fix in to let me, obviously a neophyte player, initially win, so as to encourage my extended play to the house’s advantage? In any event, I quit while I was ahead . . . I don’t find much allure in slot machines.
I’ve been at it again, suffering. A couple of hours ago, awaking from my nap, I noticed the smell of smoke in the air (from outside . . . I usually keep my windows open with the fan on, to stay comfortable without the noise of the A/C). At first, I wasn’t concerned, probably figuring it would quickly pass . . . it smelled like someone might be burning trash. The smell continued, however, and I began to worry (excessively, I might add) whether the smoke could be detrimental to my health.
Finally, I decided to turn the A/C on (earlier, I’d tried it briefly, and it didn’t seem to be drawing the smokey smell in). I also decided to go out for a walk around the block to see if I could determine the source of the smell. I couldn’t, but the smell was pretty much gone by the time I got back.
Friday, January 31, 2003
I had a full day. I took the Kalloo tour (though we took the reverse of the route I originally expected). It was a good day, even though the sights were a bit less than my high expectations. Malcolm, my private tour guide, was the best! He was incredibly knowledgeable about the everyday life and beauty of the island and very easy to talk with, friendly, accommodating. He was born and raised here (in Trinidad in the smallish town of Santa Cruz, just outside POS).
We drove the Eastern Main Road out to Arima, the Arima-Blanchisseuse Road through the rainforests of the Northern Range (stopping at the Asa Wright Nature Center for a footpath tour and lunch), and the North Coast Road from Blanchisseuse back to the Saddle and into town. Where Malcolm really went beyond the call of duty was in taking me out the Western Main Road, through well-to-do areas along the Gulf of Paria, through Carenage and up the smaller road toward Macqueripe Bay, all for no additional charge. [We also stopped at the West Mall, where I was able to change money at the RBTT (bank) ATM for no charge and a (presumably) good exchange rate using my debit card (I’ll have to wait until I get my bank statement to know for sure).]
A guide with an ‘exotic’
Asa Wright Nature Center
A frond in the forest at Asa Wright
Rain forest view
A view to the sea
from the rain forest
suspension bridge near Blanchisseuse
Orange flowering tree
Estuary to the sea
Hazy mountains from the North Coast Road
Headlands & the sea,
Hazy mountains & sea
Saturday, February 1:
I took the Chaguanas bus from South Quay ($4 TT each way), air-conditioned and with large windows, the better to view the passing sites (which, while not overly scenic, are interesting to see for for the first time (when covering new ground)). I got off the bus at its final destination, the bus ‘station’ next to the KFC. From there it is just a couple hundred yards to Chaguanas Main Road and the markets lining the south side of the road, with people selling their wares along the sidewalk in front of the store fronts stretching half a mile down the road. Toward the end of the market area is a huge, covered, open-air, complex where produce sellers stake out a spots to sell their fruits & vegetables (and some meat & fish, as well).
At the beginning of my walk down the Main Road, I stopped by a small pool or fountain in front of a bank, resting on a convenient pipe metal fence, behind the line of sellers, wanting to get a few photos of market activity, but one of the sellers was perturbed when she saw me there. She confronted me about taking photos of people unawares, without permission or knowledge, saying it was against the law, etc. I was deferential and apologetic, but she went on demanding to know, in an angry tone, which of her 3 daughters had caught my fancy [she and her 3 daughters were selling from a table on the sidewalk].
“I was merely taking pictures of the market, not of anyone in particular,” I said, but she responded by asking if I wanted to marry one of her daughters—she seemed especially to be pointing out the one at the far end. I, of course, denied any such interest. As I made my final apology and turned to leave, it seemed to me her question about marriage had been more teasing than angry (probably directed more at her daughter than at me).
My most interesting encounter of the day was with the taxi driver I hired to take me out to Waterloo and Felicity to see areas of (East) Indian influence. He, himself, was of Indian descent, his forebears having come from India maybe a hundred or more years ago. I’d found him at a cab stand . . . later I learned that he’d been born and raised in Felicity.
On the way out to Waterloo, he stopped to show me a new temple (Hindu) under construction. It is to be, I think, to be dedicated to Hanuman . . . there was a huge (maybe 50 or 60 feet tall) concrete statue being constructed off to one side. The temple appeared to be primarily of concrete or pre-cast concrete construction with much of the Hindu or Indian cultural/artistic form already apparent in the statues, forms and wall carvings (which appeared either to have been etched in the concrete before it dried, but could have been pre-cast). I’d not have known about this large, new temple, were it not for my driver.
Statue on approach to Waterloo temple
Next, he took me to his home town of Felicity, which is very heavily East Indian based and showed me a number of things of interest. He took me out to the river where fishermen were just getting ready to set out in small boats (on the high tide). He knew these people and they were friendly. In fact, said he, Felicity is a very friendly and peaceful community, which I found easy to believe.
[Later, after getting back home, I did a little research on the internet and found that, while there was a well-known Swami Satchidanada in Trinidad, he probably was not the same as the one in Ashburn, Virginia. Apparently Satchidananda is not that uncommon a name or usage, having some reference (if I have it correct) to the mind of Siva.]
As we drove back to the market in Chaguanas, my guide told me about the process of harvesting/processing sugar cane. On parting, I wished him well, that he might one day be able to visit India.
Shortly, I was on the bus back to South Quay, POS. From there, wondering how best to find a taxi home, I chanced to ask a native Trinidadian at the station and found myself another coincidence. He asked where I was from. I said, “the US,” and he pressed further, asking which state. I said “DC . . . Washington, DC”, whereupon he told me he’d lived there for 17 years (seeming delighted by the coincidence and going on to name various streets and locations in DC, so that I might know he wasn’t putting me on). He’d been born & raised on Trinidad, but gone to the U.S. when 17, ending up staying in Washington, DC, where he was a cab driver, at least part of the time. He told me his story, stopping only to shoo away a beggar who interrupted with an outrageous claim of being blind. As we finished, and before he put me in the route taxi, he himself asked for some help, which did not surprise me, as I knew he was currently unemployed (so he’d said), etc. Nor did I mind helping out a bit, as he’d not approached me, but I him.
Sunday, February 2, 2003; 3:15PM:
I’m in good shape! I’ve already seen/done everything I wanted to see/do (here in Trinidad), which leaves me another 2 or 3 days to do whatever! This morning, I was out walking early (by 7 AM). I got some very nice early light pictures of houses in my neighborhood, then walked past Lapeyrouse Cemetery on my way downtown to check out the Woodford Square area. Around Woodford Square, I got pictures of the public library, the Hall of Justice, 2 police stations, the Holy Trinity Cathedral (a small cathedral), and of the Red House, which houses the TT parliament. The building currently on the site was built to replace the original Red House, which was burned down in 1903 water riots.
Red House (detail)
Central Police HQ
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Old Police Station
Cricket and soccer are the big sports here and music is a very important, and oft discussed, aspect of the culture. Calypso is big, (steel) pan originated here, and both continue to be very much in evidence, maybe the more so because Carnival is approaching. Trinidad was first place in the Caribbean, if not the Americas, to have Carnival, and its Carnival continues to be one of the most substantial in the hemisphere (after Rio’s and New Orlean’s?). Most Carnivals today are based on the model established here.]
Back at the guesthouse, it was still early . . . time for breakfast (I choose the sardines, tomatoes, & toast bread with jam). I listened (and sometimes joined in) while a couple of my fellow guests shared, at length, about their ongoing experiences working for NGOs (one in Suriname and the other in Guyana), dealing with issues of domestic violence and AIDS awareness. I got to hear a lot of dope on just what is going on re dealing with domestic violence throughout the West Indies. Vidya (sp?) is a bright, aware guy of East Indian descent from Guyana, who is a volunteer for his NGO, whereas Marja is a woman of Finnish descent living in Washington, DC (Chevy Chase) who works (fulltime?) for her NGO. [Btw, I think of NGOs (“Non-Governmental Organizations”) as being charitable organizations involved in relief work.]
Sunday evening, I went to Sweet Lime for supper. I’d missed going to Hi-Lo (supermarket) before it closed at noon (to get soymilk for my cereal), and most of the other restaurants in the neighborhood were closed for Sunday, so I had little choice. I was, however, looking forward to ordering off their dinner menu and maybe seeing Evelyn, the waitress I like. Evelyn wasn’t there and, disappointingly, the food was miserable. The kingfish was somewhat sodden and grossly over-seasoned, as if soaked in a salt-based, undistinguished marinade. I asked for Creole sauce and attempted to smother it, without great success. Yet, I ate all of it to tide me over until the next day. The vegetables were bland, probably overcooked. Only the baked potato was decent. Dinner was $68 TT. I suspect Sweet Lime is not known for good food–my guide called the food there “dependable.” I recalled that my lunch there, earlier in the week, was no epicurean delight (but what would you expect in a $20 TT set lunch?). What distinguishes Sweet Lime is its atmosphere—basically it is an open but covered sidewalk café that wraps around the corner of Ariapita and French, appointed nicely in a casual style and open to a pleasant breeze (and occasional auto fumes).
Sweet Lime – evening
I just had the nicest extended conversation with Janelle (the woman who has been serving me breakfast). She was sitting at one of the tables in the dining room, seemingly relaxing, so I joined her and we talked of all manner of things relating to Trinidad . . . things to see, her schooling and family, the language, the treatment of patients at the local mental health hospital, and much more. English is the official language of TT and most people grow up speaking it, learning Spanish in school as a second language. Janelle (and maybe most others who have gone through the public school system here) can speak 3 styles of English—native slang, American slang, and Proper English. She says the people in the south of Trinidad (and the south of Tobago) speak a patois of ‘broken Spanish,’ maybe similar to Jamaican, aka “speaking bad” (I think that’s the term she used).
She suggested I might go out Chaguaramas way (on the West Main Road past where I went with Malcolm) and maybe see, or go out to, some of the islands off the coast or take an inexpensive boat tour. She said one often sees dolphins alongside the small boats when out and that, in fact, it’s not uncommon for a dolphin to jump right over the boat! Janelle is a nice woman with a pretty smile . . . I wish I’d taken her picture. I said goodbye to her as she’ll not be here tomorrow, and I’ll be gone Wednesday before she arrives. I also gave her my card . . . maybe someday she’ll see my website.
One of my biggest problems here, when not out actively sightseeing, is that I find little to do. First, I’m not a party person, so that pretty much lets out the mas camp clubs, music and dancing (except to sit listening to pan, which I may do tonight). For today (what’s left of it), I may go out to see a mas camp (the type where they make and display Carnival costumes) . . . there are a number of these camps around, each with its own distinctive design for this year’s Carnival . . . if one wants to play in the Carnival, one goes to a mas camp for a costume then marches/jumps with that camp’s contingent in the parade. A camp with, say, 3000 people in its contingent likely would have three or four different bands (loud music sound trucks) so that all marchers are within earshot of the beat (so says Janelle . . . she’s not going to play this year because she’s saving money for a vacation (to visit her aunt in the Bronx?)).
What bedevils me here, though, is that I find little place I can go outside my room to just hangout in a public setting and read or write, etc. At home, I go to cafes, coffee shops, or bookstores most every day, just to get out of my room and be alone, but in a setting where other people are around. I’ve not found such places here, so often feel stuck in my room when not sightseeing. For example, I’m now writing this in my room, but, if I knew of a halfway decent alternative, I might instead be out writing (or reading, or whatever). The thing is, I’d like an air-conditioned, safe, public place, where I’d not be out of place or approached by strangers, to do my thing–(where are all the Starbuck’s when you need them ;-)? As I understand it, historically, the culture here is not one of public eateries and such, although more have developed in recent years (perhaps with tourism?). On the other hand, Trinidad is not a tourist magnet and I like that–I came here to experience the people and cultures, not other tourists. That’s also why I chose to come at non-carnival time–to see the usual state of daily affairs.
Tuesday, February 4, 2003; 6 PM
Today is/was my last full day in Trinidad. This morning, I did the zoo. At first, I was pretty self-conscious, first of the zoo workers, then of other visitors, especially one rather nice looking woman who seemed to be alone. Once I got to the far reaches of the grounds and was alone, though, I was ok. I was up on high ground toward the back of the zoo where the native deer play (or, at the least, enjoy confinement in a nicely wooded area of a hillside). I rested against the low fence, feeling the cooling breeze on my face, in my hair, ruffling my clothes as I stood in the shade of tropical trees that were moving with the wind. Later, as I watched the monkey’s, and some of the other animals, I imagined what it’d be like to be in their bodies, with their mass, being able to move the way they move, the joy of that motion when young and healthy.
Ice-cold coconuts sold from a truck
A structure at the zoo
From here, I cut across Queen’s Park Savannah toward Frederick Street and the National Museum & Art Gallery, where I saw exhibits on the history of man on Trinidad–about the various cultural/ethnic groups that have been and are now a part of the life of the island. I liked seeing the art (recent works of island artists) and felt I gained some insight into local culture. Finally, I was pleased the museum included a section on Carnival, the costumes, etc., and something about local music, though I’d like to have seen & heard more. On the way out, I stopped to sign the guest register and talked for a while with the guard about the music, calypso and pan.
After the museum, I stopped in at Rama (Roti) for a roti, this time chicken. I didn’t like it as well as the simple potato and chickpea roti I’d had the other day. The chicken tasted as if it had been prepared separately then added to the filling as the roti was made. That is, all of the richness of the curry flavoring was in the curried potato (and chana?) filling, none in the chicken. Further, it seems strange that unboned chicken was used . . . I found a small chicken thigh and a chuck of breast meat in my roti . . . still it wasn’t really bad and I did get my protein for the day.
On the way back to my guesthouse, I was troubled to see a black man lying on the sidewalk, passed out or sick, his pants off but covering his genitals as he lay motionless. I look briefly, not wanting to be thought to be staring. I glimpsed something else on the sidewalk a few feet away, a part of a baked, curried potato? Was it food the man or someone else had dropped? Had the man thrown up or excreted on the sidewalk? As an outsider, I didn’t want to stop, in indecision, to look more closely. There were plenty of other people around.
I went into a store across the street to look for an alarm clock, but ended up looking out the window at the man on the sidewalk for a few minutes, wondering if any passersby would take notice. Basically, I couldn’t tell that anyone did, though there was one man nearby who seemed possibly to be on a cell phone, so I could imagine he might be calling about the man. Further, I noticed the man lying on the sidewalk had shifted position, which I found somewhat comforting—if he was able to move, he might be the more typical vagrant who sleeps or passes out on a sidewalk . . . not so uncommon, not in dire straits, not dying. In any event, I decided to leave the situation to the locals, who would better know who to call, etc., if something were to be done.
Tuesday, February 4, 2003; 10 PM
Amazing though it may seem, I am feeling tipsy after just one rum & coke (admittedly on a very empty & hungry stomach). Tonight I went out to two panyards, settling down at the second, the Woodbrook Playboyz, being as the numbers they were practicing were more polished than those of the Silver Stars (Starz?) and their area for listeners to sit was much more inviting. I felt like a regular as I sat on the last ‘barstool,’ back in the ‘corner,’ facing the music, but off to the side where it was not overpoweringly loud, with all of the venue in front of me. After settling in, I read my newspaper while enjoying the beat. My R&C (with Fernandez Black Label red rum) cost only $6 TT.
I’m all set to leave tomorrow morning. I’ve paid my room bill, left tips with Mr. Johnson for Janelle ($10 US) and the other ‘girls’ ($5 US), borrowed an alarm clock, collected my laundry, etc. I had a good parting rapport with Mr. Johnson. I’m set for my ride to the airport at 7 AM.
New York City