For the last seven days, I enjoyed the sunshine, surf and sites of Trinidad. My new brother-in-law has family there and thus opened an interest in the opportunity to visit.
Of course I wanted to share all the things I experienced and learned. If you are unfamiliar with this country in the West Indies, hopefully this will help give you some insight as well as tips in case you should travel there yourself in the future.
Not only was I able to see and experience the country but saw the ‘greatest show on Earth’, Trinidad’s Carnival.
There are things we wish we knew beforehand and now I want to share those things with you so you can experience Trinidad to the fullest and possibly avoid some of the pitfalls we faced. There are also things so incredible that you just cannot miss.
The first night, we got in late, stood forever in the Customs line but eventually left the airport after a couple hours.
1. Exchange your Money to Trinidad Dollars (TTD) at the Trinidad Airport.
We thought we might try mainly using USD but we exchanged which was smart. Most places outside of the airport did not make it easy to figure out the conversion so it would be easy to lose money, paying far more than something is worth.
We wanted to convert our money before traveling but even the airport, major banks and international currency exchanges in our city did not have the money on hand. It had to be ordered and by the time we realized it would not be as easy as expected to find TTD at home, it was too late to order. The Port-of-Spain airport in Trinidad is a great place for you to take care of it.
We were fortunate enough to have local connections through my brother-in-law so the first night we went to a house party.
2. Be Weary of Wild Meat…
Unless you are used to it or are particularly adventurous. Some Trinidadian ladies at the party described it to me as animals with tails that creep and crawl, like possum and iguanas. They were not fans. The men seemed to enjoy it. My boyfriend tasted it as said it tasted like curried jerk pork with a lot of bones. He really liked it. I however just could not do it.
I was really glad when later in the night, our party hosts fried us some fresh catfish. It was oh so delicious.
One major key we learned from the conversations that night:
3. Get off the Jet and Go Fete. Party NEVER stops
Mind you we went straight to a party after a full day of traveling. Little did I know that would be the motto for the entire trip. Ultimately the endless party lead to me being sick over half the trip with my lack of rest and recoup time. Even while writing this, I am coughing and congested. Still worth it. The season of Carnival can start as early as Christmastime. Most people have been partying since early January when the fetes (parties) begin. There is a fete for every style.
We arrived at the tail end of the party season. After Carnival Monday and Tuesday are over, the party is done. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and the end of the carefree party lifestyle. People go back to work and get back to business. Carnival is the time for everyone to let loose and be free.
3. Maracas Beach is Far
Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. The roads twist and wind around dangerous curves up then down the sides of a mountain. Streets that look big enough for only one car can, with the right amount of creativity, fit four across. This fact was fascinating and terrifying wrapped in one.
Maracas is beautiful when you finally arrive though. Expect traffic if you go anytime during Carnival. Island beaches can be really stunning and Maracas is no exception. You look out at the mountains framing the scene.
Downsides were the waves at this beach are rough. It was very crowded and unfortunately full of trash after big groups vacated their spaces. It cost $1 to use the toilet which sadly were not regularly cleaned by the staff collecting the funds.
Upsides are the beach never closes, unlike where I’m from when everyone gets kicked out before dawn or after dusk. You can also drink as you please without police harassment. Maracas is also a great beach for sun-bathing. There are plenty of palm trees for shade but if you enjoy sunshine like me, you will find more than enough. Be sure to lay on the bug spray though or the bugs will feast.
4. If you Drink One Rum and Coke then Stop, you get a Headache
Every bartender’s advice: Keep going. I suggest Black Label Rum from Trinidad
5. Embrace the Break from the Hustle and Bustle
I’m a city girl. I like city life. When I spend time outside of Chicago I go back home and listen for the honking horns, see people everywhere having a great night out or drunkenly stumbling home.
But every city horse can stand a break.
I love to travel and go on vacation to take the regular breaks I require.
6. If you do not have a car, take a Maxi
A maxi may sound like a taxi but operates more like a city bus. White passenger van with a colored stripe. The different color tells you what direction the maxi travels and the areas covered.
7. Play J’ouvert
J’ouvert begins 4am on Carnival Monday. You pick a band and walk with them. Although not really walk, more like do a West Indie march through town to the blaring Soca Music from your band’s speakers. There are typically 2 trailers. One with the music and one with the drinks and food. Oh yeah, it’s all inclusive. Plus you get a t-shirt and a drink mug.
Last but not least, this is not for the faint at heart. You need stamina for the walking and a great desire to get dirty because you will. Others who play J’ouvert, are armed with mud, paint, colored powder and whatever else makes a mess. The entire route, you are being covered as part of the celebration in the streets. Mine ended at 9am but there are others who finish at 10, 11 or even noon.
8. Play Mas
Carnival Monday and Tuesday have full days of parades. There are 1000 bands that participate. You can choose to be a spectator or if you really want to, you can pay to be part of a band, get a costume and be in the parades for those two days. If you choose to participate in the masquerade or “play mas”, note it is a major commitment. You basically need to train like you would for a marathon. You will have fun but you are walking in a 2 day parade under the hot sun and being scored at 5 judging stations for your band to compete.
Wear comfy shoes no matter how cute you want to be. Use sunscreen all day, everyday. Stay hydrated and wine (dance) with all your body and soul until the very end.
The more you are willing to pay, the more perks you might have with the band you choose. I did not play mas this trip but I am now adding it to my bucket list. It was so fun to watch and dance from the sidelines. I want to be further in the mix next time. The costumes are immaculate and fancy. It is a great way to celebrate the culture and tradition of Carnival.
9. More Phrases To Know:
Bake & Shark: Bake is a sandwich bread that reminds me of ciabatta. Lots of people will tell you try bake and shark which is a fried shark sandwich. It is actually pretty tasty. There are other bake sandwiches as well.
Good Night: This was interesting to me because I always use the phrase good night as a form of goodbye or something I say before lying down in bed. Good night here is used as a greeting for the evening. People say it when they enter the room instead of leave it.
Lime: Hang out or chill.
Savannah: A park where events happen or sports are played. Any open field for activities can be a Savannah.
10. I loved it and You will Too
At the end, we stayed a few days past Carnival and toured the islands on a boat. Dramamine for motion sickness saved my life that day. We learned about the history and challenges of the country from our local connects. Now we have new friends and family. I developed a true interest in the Trinidadian people, their culture and country. They were so hospitable and loving towards us.
I was most fascinated that many of the same people who were shirtless or in fancy bikinis, losing all control in the streets on Tuesday by Wed and Thursday were back at work in long pants and cardigans, suits and ties like it had never happened at all.
That is all part of the beauty and mystery of Trinidad. Work hard, Play hard.