If you travel to the Caribbean via all-inclusive packages, you will not be ready for the size and scope of Trinidad. This island is vivid and has a personality that currently cannot be captured by a resort experience. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived on the island was its infrastructure. The airport is directly off of a main highway and a small round about. Beautiful mountains line the skyline and you will notice cars zipping by in hurried fashion, signalling a bustling city. The cities are lined with businesses and people. The biggest thing that makes Trinidad unique among the Caribbean is that this beautiful island is generally indifferent to your interest in it. My flight had a brief layover in Barbados (More on that later), an island that actively solicits tourism and excels at it. Everything from the appearance of their airport to their friendly and hospitable demeanor says “Welcome, come and spend your money and time here.” Trinidad by contrast has a large but bland looking airport with warnings of the illegal status of army fatigue now in force. Venture out for some food or a drink and you are likely to encounter the attitude that is stereotypically associated with Caribbean retail – in short you get the feeling that Trinidad is not excited about you being there. The truth is, I believe, that the island is gloriously and sadly not willing to put on a show for you. Trinidad summarily as an island is rich in both wealth and natural beauty, the oil reserves it holds puts them in a unique position of being non-reliant on tourism dollars.
One thing you will notice is that Trinidad has naturally beautiful women, women with curves that resemble those seen in music videos, often achieved here in North America by going under the knife. Beautiful smiles and flawless skin abound, perfected by salt water dips in the ocean and a gentle yet humid sun. Chenelle, the model on the cover of this issue, literally glistened in the sun as she commanded the moment, fully representing the beauty of her island and its people.
As the island seduces you with its lush vegetation, variety of mountainous terrain, beautiful beaches and the like, know that beneath the surface all is not well. Trinidad & Tobago should give more consideration to its tourism possibilities, not only for the monetary value they are neglecting but also for the current struggles it could cure. Oil keeps the island in the black like its tourist attraction Pitch Lake, (a literal natural lake of asphalt, one of 3 on Earth, it resembles an uneven paved parking lot – hardened on the surface but liquefied beneath) but the majority of the island is not directly or even indirectly employed by the oil industry. With a falling valuation of oil globally as the world seeks cleaner energy and poverty growing on the island, the usual associated ugliness with these issues arises, enter drugs and violence. You cannot discuss Trinidad honestly without speaking of its high level of crime. You must be aware of your surroundings and knowing a resourceful local is helpful if not necessary. Let me be clear, this is not an island where a tourist can be obnoxious and drunkenly get lost and wander the streets at night. If it seems all gloom and doom it isn’t, Trinidad & Tobago’s crime is high but it is not alone in this area. Other islands and countries have similar crime rates but are able to isolate the crime to certain areas and attract visitors due to strong tourism budgets and campaigns. Although T&T surpasses both Jamaica and the Bahamas (individually) in crime, the 2 islands have comparable statistics yet do not suffer the same reputation. No one hesitates to vacation in Jamaica or the Bahamas, it is to these islands that Trinidad and Tobago should look to see their future prosperity. I love their pride and the authentic, non-tourist vibe that the island has but perhaps some of that can be traded for some showmanship. Delicious food like the island’s staple bake & shark, doubles or pelau are not only unique to the island but a must for visitors. The beaches are nice in Trinidad but Tobago has the most picturesque ones. From mountain climbing, clubbing along Avenue in the island’s main party district (honestly the whole island is partying non-stop in every district) to their international carnival, the largest Soca festival in the world – there is no shortage of things to do. Currently this jewel of an island is for those who are in the know and want to experience something truly unique in the Caribbean. Don’t let her inattentive demeanor fool you, she’s shy and she wants you there, she just isn’t ready to tell you yet.
Things You May Notice:
- KFC is everywhere, like Tim Hortons is in Canada
- You need a driver, taxis stop at designated areas like buses (go to a hotel if you need one)
- They use North American compatible electric outlets
- Las Cuevas beach is the nicest in Trinidad, you will have to go to Tobago for better
- During carnival, playing mass is a must – Pretty mass is much livelier than the day before
- The American dollar at the time of the trip was 6-1 to their local currency
- Alcohol can be purchased and consumed almost everywhere
- Offering to buy a woman a drink may seem rude even if she appears to be without a companion – tread carefully
- Nicki Minaj’s heritage is Trinidadian and many are proud of it
- You will have to book accommodation a year in advance if you plan to visit during Carnival
- Soca is a genre of music that is prevalent throughout the Caribbean and both it’s largest star and biggest scene are rooted in Trinidad
Try And Experience: J’ouvert
Many carnivals in the world have an element of J’Ouvert otherwise known as Dutty Mas within it. The carnivals are grand, organized street parties with lavish costumes and lots of investment. J’Ouvert, when done properly, is the antithesis of carnival, its basically a street celebration duration carnival season that is purposefully and mercilessly carefree. There are no expensive costumes, intricate parade routes or king and queen costume competitions at this fete. Baby powder or cooking flour, paint, motor oil, water and any other liquids one desires are thrown at festive revelers, music is played loudly and people dance in the streets. There are no elaborate costumes, rather this is a street party that when it is in full swing is beautiful and amazing. Because of the potentially messy experience, people wear clothes they have little regard for. In Trinidad because carnival is so big there are many people who now do not partake in the messy part of J’Ouvert and rather opt to gather and dance in the streets leaving as clean as they arrived. It is said that the sheer size and scale of Trinidad’s carnival have greatly commercialized the experience and that some smaller islands are more enthusiastic about carnival celebrations. The climax of the carnival does not seem to fall prey to this but J’Ouvert did not seem to live up to its reputed legendary status (I didn’t see much of the paint throwing jubilation but enjoyed a good clean street party). This party is not to be missed if you can catch the true, colorful version of J’Ouvert. The artistic scene comprised of throwing liquids and powders is rumored to be rooted in this island’s rich and rebellious history. Carnival was brought to the island of Trinidad via its French settlers in 1783 during a time of slavery. It is believed by some that the J’Ouvert tradition of smearing and covering oneself dates back to the time of emancipation from French rule. During slavery slaves would hold their own small festivals in their backyards mimicking the ones their masters threw. The backyard festivals embraced the Africans’ own traditions and would mock their masters. To prevent the possibility of being identified at one of these parties and caricature the costumes of the French elite, people would cover themselves in motor oil and powder. Upon emancipation not only could Africans now partake in the festivities openly but they could now make it their own by incorporating their way of celebrating. This amazingly rich origin story is believed to be the genesis from which all J’Ouvert celebrations across the globe stem from! I hope and pray J’Ouvert in Trinidad returns to its carefree and beautifully vivid roots.