We have made it to the island of Trinidad (and soon come, Tobago). It is amazing how quickly time flies even when you are on an island. We have been here for nearly a week and it seems like we just got here yesterday. To start, Trinidad is much larger (with much more traffic) than I really understood. The island itself is about 90 x 40 miles, which is quite large especially when you factor in that about 1.3 million people live here and all of them seem to want to go whatever direction we are going. The time it takes to get around is very much a limiting factor in doing too much exploring on the southern side of the island. We are staying in Maraval which is north of the capital, Port of Spain by about 15 minutes. Well, actually depending on the time of day it can take 15 minutes or 1 hour to drive to Port of Spain, but I was being generous. Unlike the tropical vacations Autumn and I have been on, Trinidad is much more industrialized and with a substantial oil and gas industry. Apparently Hugo Chávez had even threatened to take over Trinidad for its natural resources at one point. I suppose from a location perspective it makes sense as the southern end of Trinidad gets as close as 7 miles from Venezuela.
One comment on the roads in Trinidad; even with all of the money that the country is bringing in via oil and gas, the roads are crap. I mean BAD. First of all, they are seriously narrow with plenty of tight turns due to the mountains. Add in lots of pot holes, rain water gutters runs along the side of the roads, and the fact that traffic rules are more “guidelines” than anything and it makes for some seriously crazy driving. Having lived in Nassau, I thought I had a good handle on the island driving experience, but this is at a whole new level. Just in case you don’t believe me, the rain gutters run from 6 inches to 3 feet in depth and don’t typically have a curb to let you know if you are going to drop a tire into it. You could be driving along and have to move over for someone coming down the middle of the road and end up with your car’s front end on the ground. Not fun. That being said, I am driving like a champ! It is not without some nerves, but I guess if you constantly expect the unexpected you are bound to do alight. I told Autumn today that there is no “should” when talking about other drivers, there is only what “is”. Someone parked in the middle of traffic to get out and get something from the store? Ok, no reason to get mad, just pull into oncoming traffic, honk, and keep moving. Mom and Dad I do not recommend you two driving down here.
Enough of the background, let’s talk about activities. Autumn and I are finding that we are really good at jumping into doing things, but we are not so good at taking pictures of doing things. Don’t worry, we are working on being better about it. Without getting too much into the daily specifics, let me cover off on some of the highlights; Green Market, Maracas Beach, Las Cuevas, Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Paramin, and Pitch Lake.
Green Market. Our friends Zahra and Marvin took us to the Green Market on Saturday morning. The best description I can give is that it is a farmer’s market with cooked food stands in addition to the produce and local products. This was our first opportunity to eat some real Trini food. We jumped right in with Roti. Roti is a flour based almost tortilla like dough that is cooked and stuffed with delicious goodness and rolled into a wrap. It can also be served with the Roti on the side allowing you to eat by hand with the meat or stuffing coming on the side. We dug in and it was delicious!
Maracas and Las Cuevas Beaches. Besides the awesome beaches they had much to offer for Trini foods. Mango Chow and Pineapple Chow are delicious spicy herbs mixed in with the fruit juices and poured over the fruit. Awesome! Autumn thought it was great, but I thought it was a little too hot. Then, we also were lucky enough to enjoy BAKE & SHARK. Omg. It is breaded shark on fried bread. That alone would sell anyone, but then they offer a condiment bar to die for. There are tons of sauces (we had zero idea what any of them were), slaw, veggies, and pineapple. Fortunately, the first time we ate there we were able to guess correctly with the sauces (equaling a very complimentary mix). The second time we were braver and unbeknownst to us we layered on the hot pepper sauce. HOT< HOT<HOT!! We still didn’t really care due to the awesome breaded shark, but no amount of Carib (the Trini beer) could quench our thirst!
The Beaches themselves were beautiful. The bays are surrounded by lush mountains, palm trees, and plenty of sand. We had numerous chances to body surf and fight the big waves in Maracas. In Las Cuevas the beach was much longer and it was perfect for walking (minus the sand flies). Many people at the beach were locals, but the tourists that were there were mainly South American; probably Brazilian or Venezuelan. It was cloudy and a little rainy most of the time that we are on the beach, but it was okay because it was 93 degrees and humid.
Caroni Bird Sanctuary. This was recommended to us by many people, but Autumn was hesitant. Once she found out there was a boat ride she jumped on board. As this is not really the tourist season, we were able to get a big boat for us and another couple. The tour took us through a swamp where we saw snakes snoozing in the trees, and crabs (tree climbing crabs) climbing up branches. But, the main event was the Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad’s national bird. 2-3 months of the year these birds fly to Venezuela during the day to feed and then come back to the swamp to roost (a 7-15 mile flight both ways). After a lovely boat ride we awaited their arrival across the lake from their roosting spot. Hundreds of Ibis, as well as white egrets, flew above/around our boat to find their home for the evening. It was a beautiful and peaceful experience!
Paramin. This is a mountain-side village full of great views and small farms. Our host, Anne Marie, was kind enough to drive us up the mountains in her truck. You need a 4-wheel drive vehicle up there as there are crazy switch backs due to the steepness of the mountain. The drive was fun and a different sort of intense versus the rest of the driving we did. I’m glad I wasn’t the one doing the driving so I could enjoy the scenery too. It is beautiful up there. We were at about 2,500 or 3,000 feet in elevation which is impressive considering it drops right down into the sea. The views from the top were gorgeous!
Pitch Lake. The Pitch Lake was something that we had been told about almost from when we arrived on the island. As it was described, it was a lake of tar on which you could do a walking tour. After much debate, we decided to make the 2 hour drive down there on Thursday, our last day in Trinidad. The drive down to the Southern end of the island was an adventure in itself, but the lake and the surrounding area was worth the trip. Unlike what I was thinking (a bubbling lake of tar with dead stuff in it) the lake was actually covered in water and more resembled a swamp than anything. The neat part was that the ground was “pitch” or tar that was pushing up and making some very cool fissures, water pools, and underwater topography. The water pools are said to have healing and restorative powers like a fountain of youth. We were not prepared for swimming, but we put some on our face, arms, and legs. I’m pretty sure my legs look younger than they have in years. 🙂 Another interesting thing to note is that the whole area, towns, roads, farms, etc. all sit on the pitch so the roads and house are constantly moving. Unlike other places in Trinidad where houses are made out of concrete, houses near Pitch Lake are built on wooden rafts that sit on the ground with the house up on stilts. Every 2-3 months they have to jack houses up and move them back or level them off because the ground is always moving. Very different, but very neat.
After a nice week in Trinidad we are headed over to Tobago, the sister island of Trinidad for a couple of days before our flight on Sunday to Argentina. The flight is an arduous 18 minutes. Up and Down. We will definitely let you know how it goes. We have been told that it is much more “Caribbean” than Trinidad with plenty of nice beaches, good fishing, and good swimming too.