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Published: March 29th 2017
We have just returned from a Habitat build in Trinidad. On this trip, I achieved my long awaited objective of visiting 100 countries, based on the rules of The Century Club. Trinidad was number 99 and St Vincent got me to number 100.
We left home on March 2nd in order to have dinner with friends in Vancouver and take in the Cavilia Odessey Horse Show-quite an extravaganza. The next day it was off to the airport at 9.00 to check in and have a White Spot breakfast. I was wearing my rather beat up Blundestone boots on this trip so decided to search the airport for a shoe shine kiosk. It appears that many airports in Canada have had their shoe shine programs franchised by Aurora which may or may not be progress. Ten dollars to get my boots looking good for the trip-more on this later.
Our flight plan to get to Trinidad has a few bad things, one of which is the requirement to connect through Toronto. This airport seems to have been designed by someone with no sense of time. When you come in on a domestic flight that connects to an international destination, there
1000s of ibises fly in every night to roost on the Caroni refuge islands
is a very long walk between gates (at least for Westjet) Long walks aren't bad if you have lots of time but not so good with a tight connection.
We left Toronto on time for the 5 hour overnight flight to Port of Spain arriving in Trinidad at 0530 and had an easy entry through customs. There are lots of Trinidadians with connections to Canada so they are used to Canadians at customs. We had thirteen of fifteen team members on this flight and two more will arrive later. After a bit of a wait for the Habitat bus (signs of things to come) we were shuttled to Morton House for checkin and a catered breakfast.
The rest of the day included a market visit plus a brief city tour. We were then shuttled to the Caroni refuge for what turned out to be the highlight of the day which was the viewing of the spectacular flights of the scarlet ibises. The tour starts out with some rather lame views of wildlife along the canal-many people described the canal side snake and owl as fakes. However the owl was apparently a caribean screech owl. We then slowly boated
Near Maracas Beach
up the canal system until we arrived at open water and saw a glimpse of scarlet on the far shore.Our boat driver then inexplicably turned the boat and headed away from our first sighting to another open water location where he parked the boat. Within minutes huge flocks of scarlet ibises started arriving, setting up in the trees on an adjacent island. After an hour of watching thousands of birds arriving, we returned to shore to go back to Morton House for an excellent dinner. The entire group agreed that the visit to Caroni had been amazing.
On Sunday it was off to Maracas Beach for a chance to try the Caribbean ocean (and eat shark bake) The road to get there is spectacular and it was a good day. We left early to get back to Morton House for the Habitat orientation before heading off to Point Fortin. It appears that concrete work is in our future.
The Point Fortin accommodation is in Ebeneezer House, which is a guest house across from a primary school. Rooms are on the top floor and we have the entire place to ourselves. Everyone seems happy with their rooms (Jan and
Gravel pile waiting for us
I have the only room without an ensuite) The beds have plastic under sheets and there is widespread conjecture about the motivation for this...After a hamburger dinner and some Stags, everyone turned in early.
Monday saw day one of the build and we had fried plantain sandwiches for breakfast-some troop unrest. After a bit of a wait for the bus (driver did not know where we were) we headed out to the site under the direction of our Habitat Trinidad coordinator. (site location found by random touring method) At the site, we met the skilled workers , had a safety orientation and then started on our first task which was to dewater, level and shape the foundation trenches. We also poured a thin scratch coat in the trenches so the anticipated rain showers would not cause delays. Habitat Trinidad encourages music on the site and provides a huge bluetooth speaker. Another great feature is the ice water cooler which at +30C is much appreciated.Huge rice and beans lunch with chicken. Several keel billed toucans were flying around near the site.
The wet clay trench work (so much for my $10 shoeshine) provided lasting memories for our clothes. After
a hard day, we returned to the guest house via a local beverage outlet. Showers were welcomed by all. Our evening meal was a small sandwich so we did a brief walking tour, with particular attention paid to visiting a nearby KFC outlet. Apparently Trinidadians do not eat a big meal at night - thus the small sandwich strategy. We requested an adjustment for future days.
A highlight each day at the site was the visit of a neighbour named Richard with his caged bird- a very pleasant and friendly individual. Apparently having a bird in a cage (finch) is somewhat of a prestige thing in Trinidad.
Day two involved a bit more concrete, rebar cage preparation and a massive drainage project. It appears we are suffering from a bit of logistical lack of organization on the part of Habitat Trinidad. The pile holes must be drilled before we can seat the corner rebar and pour the foundation and no one seems to know when the drillers will arrive. As a result we did an early quit.
In addition, there is some doubt if the much anticipated steel Pan event will occur... As an alternative, our coordinator
Waiting for the drillers
decided to organize an evening trip for us to a resort where there was supposed to be entertainment. Our arrival was greeted with surprise by the custodian who advised the establishment was closed.We returned to Ebeenezer House and went for ice cream- very friendly people on the streets.
Day three (Wednesday) was the day the drillers were supposed to be on site. We arrived at the usual time and worked on getting things all ready for final rebar placement and the concrete pour. No drillers in site so everyone amused themselves until 10.00 when the drill crew arrived. One diversion during the wait was watching a team of black vultures across the street doing their work on a dead cat.
The drill crew worked very efficiently and quickly, wrapping up 6 ten foot holes in heavy clay in an hour-Canada pins and a standing ovation from our team.We then did final rebar placement and proceeded to pour the piles. The remaining job for the day was to get all the rebar frames in place for the foundation and the big pour tomorrow. This was a hot day. We got the word today that Pan is back on for
this evening thanks to Carlene our faithful HFH coordinator. Another great thing today was a visit by the local police, who came by to thank us for our efforts.
After dinner, we all walked a few blocks to the Tornedoes Pan facility to discover it was closed.After a few frantic cell calls by our HFH coordinator, it was ascertained that the correct evening was Thursday. Ice cream , here we come.
Thursday, we arrived at the site and got set for the big cement pour. We are enjoying our time with the Trinidad construction crew ( Keith and Johnie) who are very organized and fun to work with on the project. Our assignment today is to try and pour the entire foundation-about 120 lineal feet, 24 inch wide to a depth of 12 inches.We started at 930 and poured until 400 PM. It was a hard days work given the 30C plus temperature but one excellent part of this build is that we have a real cement mixer. The team is great with every team member eagerly working to maintain the flow of concrete. We finished the exterior walls.
We have had Keisha the homeowner come and
Richard and his bird
On site with us every day
work with us at the build site. She is a single mother with three children and is very appreciative of our efforts. She also came to see us off on departure day.
After rehydration and dinner, we made the familiar trek to the Tornedoes site for steel Pan and discovered that the musicians were there. This was a trip highlight for everyone. They did a mini-concert and then showed us how to play. Pan music is created on tuned oil drums and it is truly amazing. A big thank you to our HFH coordinator for organizing this event.
Friday was our last day of work and we were given permission by the construction coordinator to start work without them in order the complete the foundation by pouring the interior wall. This worked well and we were finished by 10.00 just before the workers arrived. We then did some rebar adjustment and carried wall blocks. However the rest of the morning was rather unproductive for the team and a bit frustrating. As planned, it was off the site at 2.00 to pack for the return trip to Port of Spain (actually Morton House is in Tunapuna) After an exciting
Ferry to Bequia
Leaving the dock
bus ride on a cozy vehicle, we arrived at Morton House and did a quick turnaround to get to the Habitat Trinidad farewell banquet. Certificates for all and I got a replica Pan drum-hello Xavier. We then returned to Morton House.
The next and last day originally had a schedule laid on for an early flight to Tobago. However, apparently our early flight was commandeered by some Cuban officials so we ended up leaving about noon. After a brief bit of frantic activity on Tobago including a boat tour, snorkelling etc, we were quickly shuttled back to the airport to catch a 525 flight. It was a near thing for missing the flight for some of us... That evening we had a last meal together- a great bunch of people.
The next day, 9 of us (all the people from Winnipeg) got up at 5.00 to catch our shuttle to the airport and fly on to Kingstown in St Vincent ( my 100th country) We arrived at 10.00 into the new $700 million airport which was financed by China and built by Cubans. The cab drivers advised that because it was Sunday, we had just missed the ferry
Sign at the bar
to Bequia so they suggested they could take us to a beach resort where we could spend the day. They took us to the Mariners Hotel which had a great beach and a pool. There is a bar. All of us did some major relaxing and then took in the noon brunch which was excellent. A number of people expressed a desire to return to this resort some day.
Our taxi crew came back at 430 and shuttled us to the ferry terminal which is near to downtown Kingstown. After a bit of a wait, we joined the mad scramble to board the ferry to Bequia (MV Bequia Express) It is always interesting to see how ferry services work in other countries. In BC, ferry operations are precise, safety paranoid military like procedures that ensure no one deviates from protocols. In St Vincent, people start exiting the boat almost before it hits the shore. The new passengers start loading before the boat is empty and I noticed a few latecomers jumping up on to the ramp as the boat was backing out. Somewhat chaotic but everything worked out fine... This is a fairly high and narrow vessel so some
Watching the whale processing
rolling was experienced during the one hour journey.
We arrived at Port Elizabeth on Bequia at 7.00 and were swarmed (in a nice way) by members of the Bequia taxi industry. The preferred taxi on Bequia is a small truck with open seating in the back so we hired two vehicles to haul the 9 of us and our luggage to Keegans Beachside Hotel. Our arrival there coincided with a huge pork roast extravaganza amidst lively music and some street dancing. After checkin we had dinner and a welcoming rum punch. There was some apprehension about noisy rooms but things went quiet after 9.00 pm.
The next morning (after a great sleep) it was time to explore Port Elizabeth. Three of us walked the shoreline to downtown with a plan to visit the two model boat builder shops- Mauvins and Sargeants. After a look at both we settled on two boats from Mauvins by Benson Philips. These are models of the traditional whaling boats used for over 140 years by Bequians. The two boats needed a bit more painting so the sellers agreed to deliver them to Keegans the next day.We walked home and made plans for a
The end product
Blubber and whale meat-probably an acquired taste
tour to the hawksbill turtle recovery centre on the other side of the island. Another member of our group bought a model boat on Wednesday.
Lobster season appears to be on (maybe it is always on ) so we had lobster pizzas for dinner.
Our next few days fell into a familiar pattern-lots of walking, some ocean dips including snorkelling, rum punch, movie on whaling (Wind that Blows) souvenir shopping, rum punch etc. I started having toasted lobster sandwiches and a frozen pineapple daquiri for lunches-excellent. On Wednesday, Keegans screened the movie Hidden Figures. They have a drop down canvas screen on the side of the hotel with seating in the beachside bar- very unique and rum punch is available. During the day we heard the news that the whalers had been successful and had killed a large humpback whale.
Thursday was our last day and the most memorable. After breakfast our group decided to walk to Friendship Bay to see the whale being processed. After a false start we asked for directions and ended up finding the best road route-up the big hill from Keegans and then on the street to Friendship Bay. As we got
Hello to all my CFIA friends
closer, we could see crowds of people out on the little island where they process whales. Continuing our walk, we encountered people carrying pails of whale meat and/or blubber.
At the fishermen's dock, a major cultural event was in progress with lots of boats coming and going loaded with whale products. The dockside bar was doing a good business as people were celebrating. In talking with some of the people on the dock, there seems to be a feeling that whaling may be coming to an end for Bequians. Their permit which allows them to take 2 whales expires in 2018 and they feel it may not be renewed. It should be noted that humpback whales are not endangered and the population seems to be increasing.
We went for one final Bequia dinner and had lobster-excellent. Packing for an early start was also on the agenda as our taxi pickup in the morning by Ramzay and the Fatman (our favourite taxi drivers) was scheduled for 6.00 AM. We highly recommend Keegans -one of the best places we have ever stayed...
The next day we caught the ferry for perhaps what was a even rougher journey, then took
My model boat
Benson Phillips made this boat-a model of the whaleboats still being used
taxis in big league traffic to the Kingstown airport for our short flight to Port of Spain. We had a stopover, staying in the excellent L'Orchidee Hotel before catching the Saturday 6.30 AM Westjet flight to Toronto. (up at 3.30 AM) We finally arrived home on Salt Spring Sunday about 3.00 PM. -another excellent adventure.
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