Port of Spain

Published: August 4th 2019
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Monday July 29 - The flight to Trinidad was only 30 minutes, so I barely got any reading done. Immigration was fast and then I had to walk to baggage claim. This is the largest airport I’ve been in in the Caribbean. I stopped to change money, but felt their rate was crap, so skipped it for a future date with an ATM. I also stopped in a bathroom, and by the time I got to baggage claim, I figured I’d still have to wait a bit, since the conveyor belt wasn’t moving. But then I noticed there was no one standing around, and then I saw my bag sitting next to the conveyor belt. That must have come out lightning quick.

The customs line was a bit long, but it went quickly. Then I was outside and met Ally, my airbnb host and guide-to-be. She works as a guide and is a birder, so I will use her to take me to different places in Trinidad, especially the nature places/places you can’t get to by public transport. She told me her car was acting funny, and was trying to decide what to do. She had a quick look at the engine and checked the oil and transmission fluid. They were both fine. She thinks it might be the spark plugs. She decided to drive home and then call her mechanic. When we arrived at her place in the capital, Port of Spain, she showed me to my room and the rest of the house, explaining a few things. I unpacked completely while she phoned her mechanic and arranged for him to come over around 6:30pm. This is the last place on my trip, and I intend to wash as little as possible and wear as many things as I can before I go home. Then I can just pack the dirty stuff before I leave.

Ally explained that clothing here is different than in much of the Caribbean. It is pretty conservative, and shorts are not common in the city, especially in the day, unless you are advertising. Harsh, since it’s damn hot out and I so want to be wearing shorts. She said dresses and skirts are fine, and I did bring one of each, which are both unworn and clean. I really don’t like to travel in them, but maybe here I will sometimes. She also said people get really dressed up to go out, tight clothes that cover. Shorts with stilettos are not uncommon in those circumstances. Nope.

I chatted with Jeroen and his nephew and then Ally took me to the grocery store, which also had an ATM. Food, unlike almost everywhere else I’ve been this summer, is cheap here, and I decided to buy some breakfast and dessert, and eat my dinners out. My timing was a bit off though. Most food places are open until 4pm or after 6:30pm, so Ally said she would take me back out after the mechanic, if I wanted. I was already starving, but agreed, because I wanted to try the gyro place she mentioned. Little did I know that the mechanic was on island time. At 8pm, I was like “So...food?”. She called him and he was far enough away that we could go out for gyros and come back. So we did - she was starving too. It’s a popular outside place and we both got lamb Havana gyros, with mushrooms, peppers, onions and cheese. It also had garlic white sauce, ketchup (which is apparently on everything in Trinidad) and slight pepper, the local way of asking for just a little bit of spicy sauce.

We brought our goods home to eat and I ate at the kitchen table with my kindle while she waited for the mechanic in her study. This house is massive. Her family moved in in 1965. She lives her now, and rents out 2 or 3 rooms, depending. She has a separate section of the house for her study, but her bedroom is on this side. The windows remind me of the house in Barbados. Iron decorations around the windows, no screens, a metal gate/door before the actual door.

The dinner was good and filling, but it’s the kind of meal you feel bad about having eaten. After that, I still managed to eat a yogurt with some granola. What was I thinking?

For tomorrow, she wants to stay relatively close to the house, in case the car acts up, so I chose the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, which is a nearby afternoon trip. That leaves the morning free for staying in if I still feel tired/sick, or I can check out some of the things around Port of Spain. Ally tells me the city is crap, but there is a museum, a zoo, a botanic garden, and the Queen’s Park Savannah, one of the largest parks in the world.

Tuesday July 30 - I woke up feeling nearly healthy today. Now I’m more of a mucus-export machine. No runny nose at night, which is nice, but still a healthy amount of nose-blowing during the day. I had some breakfast and chatted with Jeroen and my mom, and finally got out of here a little after 9:30. I walked over to Queen’s Park Savannah, which is just a huge open park. I think people play cricket and soccer there in the evenings, but nothing was going on during the day. I walked the whole way around, about three miles, taking in the sights. I went around clockwise, and this brought me early on to the Magnificent Seven, seven colonial-style buildings from the early 1900s. They were all pretty interesting, though one is undergoing massive surgery right now. As Ally says, Trinidad doesn’t so maintenance. They just wait until things fall apart. I’ve seen more evidence of this - the president’s house is under reconstruction for the west-wing, which fell apart. We also saw a viewing tower in the bird sanctuary this afternoon that was now just a pile of rubble.

The next stop was the botanic garden, which is right next to the zoo. I skipped the zoo and went for the gardens, which were very nice to walk around. Big, open space. From there I walked around to the National Museum, next door to the National Academy for the Performing Arts, which is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. The museum is free and interesting, since it’s hard to follow from one exhibit to the next. No obvious logic. But I saw some geology, some natural history, some art, some history...all the things. All told, it took me about three hours and then I was home.

Ally told me about a place that’s good for lunch, so I went there next. I got a box of chicken, rice, and provisions (starchy veg). I sat down and ate half there, where the air was a little cooler, and brought the rest home for dinner. It was only $5 and plenty of food. I doubt I will cook here at all.

Back at the house, I said goodnight to Jeroen and caught up with some clips from late-night TV, and then got ready for the afternoon.

*See Caroni blog for more

Wednesday July 31 - see Asa Wright blog

Thursday August 1 - Today is a holiday in Switzerland, and as I was getting ready for my day trip today I got a note on the fridge from Ally saying it is also a holiday in Trinidad and the buses don’t run today. Surprise! Today is Emancipation Day, and my day trip would have to wait. I didn’t sleep well again, so I would have been able to leave fairly early, but in the end I tried to relax since there was nowhere to go. Kind of nice, actually.

I chatted with Ally for about an hour, and then headed out into the city. There were a couple parts of the city I wanted to check out, and over on the Savannah they had some activities for Emancipation Day. I headed there first, and had planned to ask if the parade had already happened. And then I totally forgot about it when I got there. Instead I headed inside, looked at the tents to see what they were selling, and then followed others into the stadium for a seat, but whatever the show was going to be hadn’t started by 11:45. I went back down and admired the clothing of everyone who had turned up. Nearly everyone was dressed in African clothes, whether in the style of their ancestors or just stuff they liked, I couldn’t say, but the clothes were beautiful. Lots of color, lots of head scarves, cool designs. I got an ice cream with two new flavors - soursop (a local fruit) and seamoss (a local seaweed they eat). Soursop tasted ok, but I would like to taste the actual fruit to compare. Seamoss didn’t taste like much. I got another seat in the stadium and it was starting to fill up. This was a little after noon. A few drums groups came on, and a couple of singers. Then there was a group who came on who spent a lot of time talking about how they want to be repatriated to Africa and how embarrassing it is to have a Caribbean passport, when they are only here because their ancestors were forced to come here. Ally had told me about this line of thinking. She thinks it’s nuts and that they are all Trinidadians for generations. Where would they go back to, and would they actually want to stay? I agree that what was done in the past was hideous, but what Ally said makes a lot of sense. Either way, I decided to see some other things in my day rather than just sit there longer.

Almost as soon as I left it started to rain. I was on the other side of the street by then, and walked under an overhang of the NAPA building to wait out some rain. When I started to move again, it started to rain again, so I went under a different part of the overhang. It didn’t take too long before I was on the move again.

I walked down to Woodford Square, which is surrounded by the library and several city offices. Ally told me the city is not impressive, and she was right. There was not much to look at, though I had hoped for more. There were nice big trees that kept me dry when it started to rain a little again, and a nice church nearby, but I was soon on my way to Independence Square, which must be nice, right?

Meh. Independence Square in a narrow park in between two streets, and it gets kind of sketchy as you get close to the Catholic Church. Actually, as soon as I got there, the guy locked all the gates and I couldn’t go in. That was bad timing. Ally actually told me that after a certain street, I shouldn’t just wander around, that is could be unsafe. She said I could walk the square, and then walk it back, so I did. Not a very nice part of town, but there don’t seem to be any of those.

My last stop was the cemetery. I’d been wanting to walk in since my first day, but the entrance is not where I’ve been before. Unfortunately it got cloudy again when I was there (but fortunately it did not rain), so the photos aren’t all that nice. But it was good to walk around and get a feel for the place.

Back at the apartment, I had about half an hour to relax before Ally and I drove over to her friend Maureen’s house. She had invited me earlier in the day, and it seemed like quite a nice idea, and of course fits in with my “people” theme. Maureen is 82 and has a nice house and a pretty garden, where we sat eating watermelon and then crackers with peanut butter. We also watched some birds from the garden including a scary situation where an oropendola attacked an oriole nest, trying to eat the chicks. The orioles were dive-bombing the oropendola, as were some other small neigborhood birds. I don’t think the attack was successful, but it was going on for a long time. The bird came back once but they got it out of there quickly the second time. Phew. It was good to meet Maureen, and we had fun discussing her 70-year-old sister’s dating life. She gave us an enormous avocado and several mangoes, all from her trees, to take back.

Dinner was leftover jerk chicken from last night (was that only last night?). I had a chat with my mom and watched some late-night clips and went to bed on the earlier side.

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