Sunday, 15 March 2015

Trinidad, Tobago and Hot Doubles


Summer 2014. We fly to Seattle from Tampa. Me and my teammates for the annual traffic bowl. We finish  (or so we like to believe) a close second. The connecting flight on the return in Phoenix is overbooked. I volunteer to take the next flight. I always wanted to do that!

I get $225 in travel credit and a business class seat on the next available flight. I already miss economy. Less murmur, less chitchat. The person next to me not even courteous enough to return a "Hello".

Summer 2015, time to reap the rewards, the travel credits would expire soon.

Where will I get the best bang for the buck? How far can I fly?
Introduction: Kayak Buzz and ITA.
It is Port of Spain, Trinidad.

What about visa?
VisaHQ says I'm good for 90 days.

All set. My first solo travel in quite a few years! Call the airline, Book the tickets.
Hmm. Easier said than done.

Me: ABC.. A as in Adam, B as in Brian, C as in Chris.
Customer Care: Err. Did you say "PQR"?

Found a Couchsurfing host for two days.
The other two days? Will figure out.
Atleast I don't need to think for others this time.

Chapter One: Murphy's Law
When you can miss the bus you will.
Ask your friend to drive you.
That will work!

When your flight can get delayed, it will.
Try to sleep while sitting. Act like you are getting sleep, you eventually will.

4 pm: Arrive at Port of Spain.
Eat Doubles aka modified Chole-Poori or miniature Channa Bhatura with custom made sauces.
Each vendor has different sauces. Each doubles is unique.

Doubles vendor: Pepper?
Yes - Thunder bucket in the morning
No - Oh you softy!
Slight - Delicious!

When the bus drivers can go on a strike, they will.
Plan B: Get a fellow traveler to share taxi and you pay 1/4th of it because he needs it more than you.

1 TT Dollar = 1/6 US Dollar = 10 Indian Rupees.
Example: Just paid 4 TT for Doubles or 40 Rupees for Chole Poori. That works! :D


Thanks to the oil owned by the islands. Gas is cheap ergo transportation.
Rental car: Around $300 TT a day
Bus: Around $4 TT per 10 kms (operated by the government of TT)
Maxi-Taxis: $4 TT per 5 kms. Operated by private individuals but regulated by government. Color coded by the routes. Very much safe and comfortable to travel.
Shared/Route Taxis: $4 TT per 4 kms
(You can not tell the difference between a shared taxi and a regular car. You just hold the thumb up with an optimism and hope that you get picked up. This is risky to an extent. Use caution)
Water Taxis and Inter Island ferry: $50 TT each direction from Port of Spain,Trinidad to Scarbourough, Tobago. $10 TT to Chaguaramas and $20 something to San Fernando.

Chapter Two: Joseph and George

Day 1, 6 pm, Downtown, Port of Spain

Joseph from St.Joseph works in a farm at Chaguaramas. Domesticates rabbits and goats for meat. His brother is agnostic where as Joseph is a conservative Catholic. He wants to preach and make others follow the path of Jesus. But he needs to stop smoking first, to enhance his moral compass. He finishes his second round of Cubans, I take a walk into the neighborhood grocery.

My ferry is scheduled to depart Trinidad at 11 pm, reach Tobago at 5 am.
I get myself a comfy cabin (except for freezing a/c) for $40 TT.
I read the news paper article about Trini girls who went missing after their water taxi ran out of fuel.

It is 8 am. I am afraid the ferry reached Scarborough and no one woke me up. I get up and go upstairs to take a look.

Beautiful morning. Ocean on one side, Scarborough on the other. The ferry is late by 3 hours. it happens everyday they say. Well, good for me! . I finish reading the news paper article. Trini girls found by Venezuelan coast guards, set to return home. Well, good for them!

Scarborough looks likes a small town, it smells like it too. They have a long boardwalk for the town of its size. I recall lonely planet talking about a memorial or something about St.George. I get out of the ferry and take a route taxi to St.George. Turns out, the only thing that is of interest there is a waste water plant. The taxi driver realizes I'm not from the islands. Till this point I am able to pickup Trini accent and camouflage myself as a Trini Indian. Now I am an "Indian Indian".

Taxi driver has a question for me: Who is greater: Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar?
When in Rome....  well.. you get it.

He drives me to Fort King George. The other place which lonely planet was talking about.
I roam around and catch the magnificent view of the ocean and Scarborough with a rooster who wouldn't let me be myself or let himself by himself. Who knows which one it was.

Chapter Three: Lazy Snorkeling and Roti

Day 2 Afternoon, I am at Buccoo to see the coral reef. The boat takes us to the reef. The captain asks if he anyone wants to do "lazy snorkeling". I say I can't swim properly but I volunteer. They put me into ocean with a life jacket and a pair of goggles. A rope to hold on to the boat, a rope that drags me around in the ocean as I look beneath to see the ocean bottom and the corals. There aren't many corals left with tourists like me around (Irony!). I drink too much salt water. Enough's enough.

There is a tiny piece of space in the middle of the ocean where the water is only knee high. They call it the "Nylon pool". The place where "Women become five years younger and men become five years wiser".

I go to a restaurant near Buccoo. They have a meal and also Roti.
I order the meal with Roti. The waitress gives me a look.

The food arrives. The Roti in TT turns out refers to the Roti back home stuffed with the curry, in this case veggie potato curry. It can also be some kind of meat if desired. Basically I had ordered two meals for one person.

I take the afternoon nap at the Pigeon Point. It starts raining. I go to the road stretch my arms with thumbs up, I get a ride to Scarborough. night ferry back to Trinidad (only this time, I fail to get a cabin, end up sleeping on the deck.

Chapter Four: Diamond in the Maracas Valley
Plan for Day 3: Go hike El Tucuche popularly known as "El Tucu" the second highest peak in Trinidad. It sits in the Maracas Valley and from its peak on a clear day, one can see the Maracas Bay and the ocean. And rumor has it, the trail to the top is "Devil's staircase".

I arrive at Curepe using a maxi from Port of Spain. "Diamond" from Santa Rita, the taxi driver, drives me from Curepe to the base of El Tucu and presents me with a blade which almost resembles a machete. I ask why is he giving me that. He replies, I will soon find out why.

The trail indeed turns out to be "Devil's Staircase" and often the difference between the trail and the woods being what I make out of the blade/machete. I reach the summit to meet the clouds which block the views of the Maracas Bay. The reward, the vista, no where to be seen. Alone on top of Trinidad, I decide to finally eat the doubles that I had got packed in POS.

The way down turns out to be tricky, going up and down in search of the right path, finally going to Santa Rita to meet Diamond and his friends. Back to Curepe, back to Port of Spain. On the way back I hear commentary on radio. Dhoni takes India home against West Indies in the World Cup. My couchsurfing host meets me at near Queens Park Oval, where one can still find a person singing about Gavaskar. I meet Josima'ar, an Indo-African-Brazilian guy with a Portuguese name with his Trini friends from Chinese, German and African backgrounds. I get a cultural education  about Trinidad and a lot more.

Chapter Five: Temple in the Sea
The day of Holi, is celebrated as "Phagwa" in Trini. This is not a national holiday. Hence most Trinis celebrate it during the next weekend. I decide to dedicate the day to know more about Indian Caribbean community.

Maxi from POS to Chaguanas.
Taxi from Chaguanas to St.Mary's.
Taxi/hitchhiking from St.Mary's to Waterloo.

Temple in the Sea:
Siewdass Sadhu was denied to build a temple on the mainland.
He creates an island by dumping buckets of sand in the ocean everyday for many years and then builds a temple in the sea.

Hanuman Temple:
Only a few steps from sea stands a eighty five feet tall Hanuman, the monkey God.

Indian Caribbean Museum:
Lots of history. The book which has names of all the ships which brought Collies to this land is the main attraction of the museum. I see a few Trinis flipping over the pages to find their ancestors' names. The museum guard is amused to know that I'm Indian from India.

Four days in a country and you already feel safe to do random hitchhiking and land yourself back in Port of Spain in no time. I have some time left. I visit Chaguaramas for the evening. A serene part of Trinidad with many islands nearby. Going to Venezuela from here used to be popular before Venezuela went into the economic crisis. Couple of sailing hours away from Venezuela, the most popular foreign cuisine here seems to be Chinese. The Chinese food places also have gambling machines notoriously known for emptying the pockets of poor and addicted countrymen.

Chapter Six: Airports and stuff
I call home from POS airport. I take the flight back to Miami. I carpool with  three other strangers. For the first time in four days, I am the one who is trying to make conversations while others are busy with their i-Phones. The journey doesn't take long on the smooth interstates of Florida. The sunset along Paynes' Prairie mark the feat that we reached Gainesville. As I drop-off the i-phone slaves to their places and drive home, I can smell the Caribbean from my sweaty clothes. I can feel the Trini in me in my temporarily changed accent.

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