As a daughter of the soil, I might be biased — but in my opinion, there is no bad time to visit Trinidad and Tobago. There are simply more expensive times. Ticket prices ramp up in December for the holiday season and stay expensive through the winter. The days around Carnival, which usually falls in late February, are probably the most expensive of the calendar year.
Don’t get me wrong — I truly miss the riotous, colorful Trini bacchanal. There is no Carnival like Trini Carnival: the day fetes that drift into night, the upsurge of energy at the panyards and mas camps as they prepare for competition, the pressure-cooker buildup that leads to the climax of Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the crescendo of celebration, beads, feathers, and power soca, and then the ritualistic denouement of Ash Wednesday that takes so many to Maracas Bay. The tradition has brought Trinidad and Tobago a well-earned international reputation and brings tourists to our shores by the tens of thousands.
I was born and raised in and around Port of Spain. My family hailed from Belmont, but early in my childhood, we moved to a townhouse in Westmoorings, a western suburb of the capital that we watched develop around us during the 1980s. In my teenage years, my parents built a home closer to the water, and I try to go back to see them as often as I can.
It’s wonderful to be at home during peak celebration times, but the realities of my bank account have led me to truly appreciate the off-season. It’s not just about saving money, though — it’s about steeping myself in my culture and getting reacquainted with the Trinidad I love, the Trinidad that runs in my veins, the Trinidad beyond what a tourist might see. So many who visit our shores for J’ouvert and Pretty Mas might miss the rest of T&T. So many who come may never experience the quiet oases you can discover if you know the other sides of this place, or visit with someone who does.
Allow me to share my Trinidad with you.
To fall asleep in Trinidad is to be serenaded by a chirping chorus of crickets and frogs. You awaken to the keen of the kiskadee, the birds that alight on the treetops sporting a bold flash of yellow — a sharp contrast to the dingy oil slick iridescence of the pigeons that visit my balcony in downtown Chicago. There’s a reason so many international tourists visit Trinidad for bird-watching; we’ve got some of the most magnificent tropical specimens in the world just fluttering around our gardens.
On a visit home to Trinidad, I must spend a little time at everyone’s home, enjoy a drink and a plate of food everywhere I go. My aunty Jannette and uncle Rawden might have us over for curry or a feast of our traditional Creole food — callaloo, macaroni pie, pelau, and stewed chicken. No trip home is complete without “liming” on the patio with my friend, Jolie, and her family. (If it’s close to Christmas, her mother will treat us to a taste of her homemade wine.) We must buy some doubles for breakfast, and roti, of course — my husband doesn’t care where it’s from, as long as the paratha is soft and abundant. On the weekend, if we’re lucky, my sister will make her famous corn soup and my brother will bring over a special bottle of rum he’s been wanting to share. So many great rums are made in Trinidad and sold only there, so I always save room in my suitcase for a stop at duty free.
Every visit we make the drive up to Maracas Bay. The route is so familiar and vivid, even in my memories: the unmistakable smell of brake pads from the road’s winding curves; the lookout point where the vendors sell incredible pineapple and mango chow, succulent tropical fruit swimming in a brine of pepper sauce; the friendly stray beach dogs that show little interest in people until the cooler opens and snacks are passed around.
Though Trinidad is a small island, even some residents haven’t taken the time to explore its corners — staying put in Port of Spain and the western suburbs without venturing “past the lighthouse,” which marks the city limits. But when I visit, I drag the family somewhere new each time. On one of my last trips, I convinced them to drive far out to the rural region of Carapichaima, home of the renowned Temple in the Sea. This Hindu pilgrimage site was built on the water off of Waterloo in 1947, and it remains a beautiful testament to the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of citizens. Colorful flags flapped in the salt air, and in the distance, the smoke of a burning pyre rose up from a graveyard shared by Hindus, Christians, and Muslims.
There is so much that I miss about Trinidad: the street vendors, rum shops, and hole-in-the-wall parlours. The places locals know. That worn blue shop by the roundabout on Tenth Street in Barataria where you get the best aloo pies. Wings, the roti shop in the back of the University of the West Indies, where the curry is dark and thick. The vendor at Santa Cruz Green Market who encourages you to try their pigeon peas doubles for a change. Guinness ice cream, soursop ice cream — name a flavor and they have it by the original B&M cart, parked on the sidewalk of Patna Street in St. James.
St. James: I miss the late-night vibes of the neighborhood on a Friday — our little “city that never sleeps.” The gamblers and drinkers crowding the sidewalks, cruising by slowly to appraise the line for Miss Kanhai’s dosti roti before deciding to park up and join in, just to indulge in her sweet hand. Potent curry wrapped in soft, delicate dough cooked fresh over a hot tawah, a 75-year-old tradition that continues right there by the corner of Mooneram and Western Main Road. A few minutes away, you can find the inspiration for “A House for Mr. Biswas,” the family home of V.S. Naipaul, lovingly restored to historically accurate early sixties perfection.
I miss the parts of Trinidad where your commute might be slowed down by a drifting herd of cattle, where a pack of goats might be chilling on the side of the road. I miss the crunch of leaves underfoot and the shriek of red howler monkeys above at the Bamboo Cathedral. And being in the back of a boat drifting down the Caroni Swamp just when a flock of scarlet ibis fly past, their plumage vibrant against the mangrove trees.
I miss seeing someone in the streets and immediately recognizing the Trini designer they’re wearing, whether it’s the fretwork-like flourishes of Meiling, the bold colors of Robert Young’s The Cloth, the glamour of a Zadd & Eastman gown, or the unmistakable vibrance of Lisa Faye’s hand-dyed silk. I miss the experience of UpMarket, that popular pop-up shopping event where I can fill my suitcase with products made right here: Rachel Rochford earrings, Immortelle Beauty and Happy Curls, Happy Girls, and so many other local specialties. I wish I could stop by to buy a stack of the latest Caribbean fiction from Paper Based Bookshop in the Normandie Hotel.
I miss Belmont and the family memories there — the house my dad grew up in, where my 90-year-old aunty Joyce still lives, and my mom’s family home, tucked away on a lane so narrow our car can barely squeak through. Just to see it, just to feel it, that grounding of our origin.
Tabanca is a Trini word that means heartbreak, longing, missing something beyond words. I’m always a little bit homesick — but this year, I have a real tabanca for Trinidad. The borders are closed now, but in my mind, I’m already calculating my next visit and trying to time it just right.
I want to be there for the nesting of the leatherback turtles at Grande Riviere, to creep out to the beach in the dark morning hours and watch their ancient shuffle from shore back to sea. I want to stand up outside Brooklyn Bar, or anyplace on D’Avenue, with a strong rum drink in my hand and a grin on my face. I want the sweetest, coldest coconut from the bottom of the cart across from Queen’s Royal College around the Savannah. I want to watch it chopped open in front of me, to drain the water and scoop out the jelly with a spoon made of coconut shell. I want to be there for Hosay, to feel the tassa drums in my chest and gaze in amazement at the parade of ornate tadjahs carried down Western Main Road. I want doubles: one from the airport, one from Couva, one from Chaguanas, one from by the Croisee, and one from Woodbrook, for familiarity’s sake.
More than anything, I want to wake up to the kiskadees outside my window, and enjoy my daddy’s bakes and fried plantain for breakfast. I can’t wait to just sit with my parents on the front porch, birds chirping in the garden, as we sip our morning tea and chat about which fruit trees are bearing.
I eh even reach Tobago yet.
Patrice Grell Yursik is a Trinidadian-born writer. She created Afrobella.com in 2006, and the award-winning beauty and lifestyle site has been featured in Essence, Ebony, Glamour, Trinidad Guardian, WWD, and Fast Company. Patrice’s writing has appeared in Essence, Bust, O Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and Food & Wine, and she has been named one of WWD’s 50 Most Influential People in the Multicultural Beauty Market.
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