My time in the south of the island began the day after new years day, where I was to find a taxi in the main square of Trinidad, facing south. So here I am walking around the square music blasting in every direction soca calypso dancehall all the popular genres in this part of the world and further afield.
So I see a lot of people who pay no attention to me at all, although I could not see another single tourist, backpacker in sight no matter where I looked. Which had been common on my trip so far. Wi-fi was few and far between but KFC never failed me although extremely slow an internet connection I double checked my arrangement with my future host Arlene who lived in a part of Trinidad called San Fernando ‘sando’ for short the message on Couchsurfing was to meet at a local TGIs in San Fernando she would pick me up and we can head to her house a bit outside of the main town.
The plan seemed straightforward taxi from Port of Spain to san Fernando and ask for direction to the TGIs, there was only one Afterall. So it cannot be too difficult after finding the correct taxi line as there are numerous around there all heading to different parts of the country. I carried on looking for interesting picture to take as I was now feeling comfortable to carry my DSLR camera and bag on my shoulder for a quick shot of something that got my attention.
As I was walking around I noticed a lot of stands for food for the notorious doubles some stands more popular than others which in street food terms are the most hygienic and should taste the best. I opted for one with a good number of people of all ages queuing up for which had a few benches and a line of sight to my taxi rank. I began queuing up there was no set line and people just seemed to push past me happily and anyone else, after being polite and getting within earshot of what they seemed to order as I wouldn’t know what the fillings were. Or spice levels, or how to ask for the mildest option. I made a decision to begin my own pushing and queue jumping which seemed to work and gave the attendant something to laugh at, so I settled for two separate ones and the most order I heard was slight pepper, so I asked for one with slight pepper and one with no pepper. She began wrapping some flat bread and then dolloping some sauce and beans in both then the pepper sauce, I thanked and paid her. With a bottle of water on standby I took a seat dropped my huge 120 litre bergen of my back as I felt a little more relaxed I began to hesitantly taste the doubles which were nice but tricky to eat crumbling flatbread and dripping sauce with just my hands, breakfast sorted interesting sights seen for now and off I headed to the taxi.
I got to the taxi line a man came rushing over to me ushering me away from the many homeless which had their own spots half of them was barely dressed the other half were not at all just underwear extremely malnourished. And weak some didn’t even speak they just held their hand out with their eyes closed almost seeming catatonic at times. As my driver distracted me by asking will I pay for 2 seats as my bag was so big I explained no I won’t be doing that do you not have a boot and of course he had a boot I asked him to open it and to squeeze my bag into it. He then asked ,no electrics, camera or computer a well-dressed man, I explained no all on me. Maybe this was genuine concern or a possible hustle what I was previously warned about as I seen him put it in I began to push it in further so it was pretty much stuck in position he showed me to my seat in a family carrier type car. It was freezing compared to outside but my body adjusted quickly I was joined by young mums with infant children mainly behind me and then a few church folk all dressed up the taxi filled up quickly and we was off on our way down to sando. A lady in the front began to recite a prayer or an amen after every song as this was a shock to the system the taxi driver did not play soca calypso or dancehall music it was all gospel songs, a different generation possibly or just an anomaly within Trinidad. I expected to see more tourists or even backpackers in this part of town but I did not.
Myself and the rest of the passengers squeezed into the car, driver then asked if we would want anything before he began driving all said no. We were off the drive was hairy in parts due to the speed of the driver but the locals was not too worried so I took it as there should be no worries. So I began to relax and spark a few conversations with the other passengers. The views throughout the drive were of roads and bright blue sky so not very interesting as the main highway is a bit inland so no ocean views or country sights. The drive was not too long between hour and an hour and a half, as my plan was to get to San Fernando and then get picked up by my host at a local TGIs, as we got closer to San Fernando there was regular police road blocks. My taxi got stopped on 2 occasions they just counted the passengers and moved us on after the 2nd roadblock the driver pulled up and shouted to another driver leaving San Fernando to let him know that there was police stopping drivers so make sure he has the right number of passengers on. The other thanked him pulled over and asked a young man to get out and get another one so the reason was for the police to crack down on over filling cars which seemed to work.
As we got to the main part of town I asked the driver for the main mall in the area as this is where I was to hopefully meet the host he got all other passengers of at the main taxi rank in town. He then took me a bit further up a hill where he said this is the mall I thanked him and he helped me get my bag out of the back of the car. So I went on the search for TGIs the Mall was smaller than I expected a small square with shops surrounding it near a local clinic called surgi-med clinic although there was a huge hospital nearby. So I am at the Carlton centre looking for TGIs no luck I asked the security guard there for help he said I would need to catch a taxi by the KFC as the TGIs is at gulf city mall, I went and found a place to eat which turned out to be a subway. Afterwards I went on another search for a taxi to head to gulf city mall the taxi ranks were obvious a group of stationary cars with all music blaring and boots open with huge speakers, like they were competing against each other. So as I approach they immediately ask where I am going I explain gulf city mall. I was ushered to the front of the Que to a car that was almost touching the road how much it had been lowered. The car was bright and shiny almost reflective in appearance. A small man with a hat containing his locks in his hat known as a tam hat. With three pairs of sunglasses on the brim of the hat as well as a pair on his face shook my hand and said were to sir. I told him the address got my bag in and then myself car was as hot as it could get without melting the plastic of the dashboard had a few tell-tale bubbles of constant exposure to the sun, there was a whole host of ornaments and beads hanging on the rear view mirror. Mainly of the continent of Africa and images of lions or Ethiopian flag colours green yellow and then red from his own clothes to the backseat throw, as we set off the music began soca, typical Trini upbeat music.
So it was not a far journey he explained maybe 15 minutes 10 if we fast he said, I sat back and just enjoyed the passing views and how the people here live a bit slower pace than in port of Spain. With the constant grinding of his car on the ground I hoped he had another, we did not do much talking on the journey just small talk really from passenger to cab driver how was your day, why are you here and how busy etc. So we arrived at gulf city mall it was a huge mall with everything needed you could think to the extravagant to the basics, I needed a SIM card local to Trinidad Digicel’s was the main provider so I went on the search for a SIM card found a number of shops each one of them stated they had ran out of stock due to Christmas and most people getting new phones which needed new sim cards they said everywhere would be sold out until next week some time I settled for it and went for a walk and found a nice seating area with wifi as I connected I contacted my host to be Arlene she said she shouldn’t be too long and said she would be at the TGIs shortly I explained I would be the one looking extremely out of place with a huge green bergen on my back as if I was carrying a person, the TGIs was up one set of escalators and outside small carpark I found a good seat under some shade as it had got to of been 25°c or more with no breeze I was feeling the heat to say the least luckily Arlene did not take long to arrive we greeted one another and it was a laugh from there onwards.
So the plan was to stay for 2 nights initially just to explore the swamp in the area but I stayed for 3 and was a good time. So, my first day with Arlene its around mid to late afternoon when we met up, it was some way out from gulf city mall around a 20 minute drive through bending roads and ocean views further south we stopped of at a grocery store got some things like crate of water for myself. To ingredients for a few Trini delicacies, she had asked if I’d like to head to San Fernando hills I said yes for a few photo ops the hill was a huge cliff overlooking the whole of San Fernando where families would come for picnics and lime.
So the ingredients we got, were to cook and send to Canada from sugar cake and a few other things I remember these only as they were delicious, a link here to here Instagram. We arrive in south Orupuchee I would define it as Trinidad country small close knit communities so we go into her house Arlene introduced me to her kids a girl and a boy, Just as polite as there mum. I was then shown the room I was going to be staying in for the coming days more than I would have needed. I got rid of my belongings stored them all and went out. I went for a walk around the local community there was music playing from most houses and people in the street probably still partying for from the holiday period. I was seemingly strange to most people as I was being constantly stared at there was 3 young guys drinking in the street in a party mood as dancing was occasional. I walked past them the first time with nothing said to me, on my way back down the street they began calling to me asking me to come down there was a larger group older people and children With offers of drink some puncheon white boy come here, come here. I said no for now and carried on, with me being gone for around half an hour I headed back to Arlene’s house.
So without boring you readers I will now talk about all the places Arlene took me to and more of the food she prepared daily. So the following day in the morning I woke up sat on the balcony until the rest of the folks woke up which was not long when the neighbours started playing music.
So as Arlene came out we were talking about the plans of the day where she would take point as the host and she did a good job also, plans to maracas bay trips to port of Spain bamboo forest and the elusive swamp, we went on the hunt for. all this over the space of 2 more days so my first full day with arlene was to the bamboo forest which is in port of Spain and also to Bamboo forest, was exactly what it say a forest of bamboos. Where locals would run and bike up and down it, there is a big walk path through it we spent a few hours here taking a few pictures and trying to spot the monkeys and listen out for them most sounds where eerily sounds of huge decades old bamboo stalks cracking.
We then headed up a narrow road to a place called macqueripe bay in chaguaramas, there was rope swings and improvised diving boards.
The families were all over the place jumping into the water from heights I wouldn’t bother a few barbecues going kids and adults both enjoying the the deep waters. This bay was originally made to house a submarine or large boat for the US navy in the past so the bay is not a gradual decline, at a certain point it is a sheer drop of 50ft plus and people have and continue to get into trouble at this spot. People have drowned or just never been recovered, it sounds dangerous but it draws people in as it is pretty especially in the baking Caribbean sun. Which is why it draws so many people in, on a daily basis a took a few more shots but this was the best, we began our walk back to the car talking about Arlene’s travel experience from Italy to London. And her future plans such as the euro rail and more Caribbean islands, and briefly spoke about more personal subject family life amongst other things.
We got back to the car and dreaded the drive back as people driving back down south from Port of Spain from the holiday periods are officially over tomorrow so water taxi and general economy back to normal. But the radio entertained us most the journey the radio in Trinidad is hilarious people in Trini would only be able to relate to a chat show called things you can’t take, if I could find this show online I would have installed the link. So Arlene, when you read this, do a comment please with the station.
As we get nearer 2 hours later to Orupuchee there were beers waiting to be opened so I had a shower changed my clothes and sat and drank 1-2 beers with Arlene talking about life. As we ran out I offered to walk to a shop or a person who sells it close by, so I headed up the street back to the young group of guys from the previous day, asked where I could get it they were more inquisitive this time rather than abrupt asking question where I was from, where I have been, why come down to Orupuchee. Not many people do I said I like to get involved with the culture of any country I travel to and the country of Trini must be the best place to start they agreed and laughed. I was then asked how many beers I want I said 6 they offered to take me to a man called Bunji, I thought it was a place to begin and I was not up for getting into a car for a long journey again but they signaled to behind a house in front we walked around one kid led the way I was in the middle and kids followed me behind.
As we take a few more corners we arrived at a house with 4 men playing dominoes as drunk as a man could get. The person who led me was talking to him on my behalf I could pick bits up but it was very fast creole so to speak he (bunji) began to get agitated saying no you could be police a white man around here I said I only want some beers as Arlene sent me around. He repeats ‘Arlene carry you‘ myself and the lad both said yes there attitude changed and said sorry they are warm I said not to worry handed him the money he went inside to fetch the 6 bottles I gave him more than needed to speed it up. I heard shouting behind me and a lady come rushing around the corner and near enough forced her husband away from dominos beer and weed. The mood changed into laughter and the common Trini hospitality 3 young kids then led me back out and pointed me in the direction of Arlene’s I thanked the young lad and men and then the young kids. I headed back with more beers, I was happy as well as alone they were steadily drank and more conversation of travel and my plans for Guyana I headed to bed around 11 that night.
So the next was another packed day with trips to her workplace as brief as it was to pitch lake and the search for the huge south Orupuchee swamp entrance the entrance didn’t exist. As I thought it did, So we ate breakfast and went on a hunt for the swamp which in the GPS seemed to not be that far at all. We headed of to the back of her house and area where small roads got smaller and bridges man made, just enough room for one car to get across and a small car at that. But we managed to get across a few of them we found a dam where local water would be let through manually and we met an old friend of Arlenes. Who had been there ever since she was a small child this man in particular was the only one there then but there was a number of homes made up in and around his original plot. After a good hour driving around in the country no swamp just plenty of secluded farms and houses on the river banks and some had jet skis on the river. We gave up the search and bored of being chased by hunting dogs, Arlene suggested pitch lake a large sulfuric lake supposedly good for the skin I weren’t convinced but we will find out soon enough. So on our drive there, there was a large bridge between San Fernando and Orupuchee where hindus of Trinidad laid the dead to rest by cremation, open cremation which shocked me at first but a whole blog post is here.
So pitch lake It attracts tourists from all over the world its huge 40 hectares and supposedly 75m deep in parts it is mined for pitch, asphalt which is transported all over the world and meant to be good for your skin.
So after pitch lake we headed into town for food and got myself and Arlene roti another infamous food in Trinidad, and then relax back at the house as it was my last night arlene was promising me to taste puncheon a national drink of Trinidad. A type of rum on occasions also brandy say for example Hennessy and a condensed sweet milk called supligen was another infamous drink. We sat on the balcony music playing in the background from neighbors as well as Arlenes house it set the mood for a drink of puncheon or Hennessy and supligen. Plus my last night with arlene, we both decided on a drive to collect both I was to get the brandy and arlene the supligen. I was looking forward to this as the saying goes in Rome do as they do so a dance to soca and puncheon felt a good idea. And a thanks to Arlene, we headed out eventually got both after a long search for any shop that would have both when we got back to the house they had already got puncheon out her daughter I believe, Zhane 14 myself and Arlene sampled the readymade puncheon me first I instantly regretted it hairs stood on end and I coughed and spluttered arlene and zhane was just fine it must of been in the blood.
I settled for the brandy I also bought a coke just to be safe so the supligen thick sweet milk with brandy weren’t looking promising so here goes mixed both I did like it wasn’t the best but drinkable. Arlene sat back and drank it happily, Again reminiscing on life and future plans such as Guyana my next trip as I head there in 2 days, almost all the bottle and supligen as well as the coke nearly gone. I had to head of to bed and left arlene on the balcony. That night I was startled and jumped up straight out of my sleep there was 3 firework sounding noises. I presumed last of them since the new year had just gone I thought nothing more of it. When we woke that morning police and a crowd gathered just outside arlene house and a dead dog must’ve been a family pet but talking to the residents of the area they said it was shot, as it had attacked a young girl a parent of the girl or the police had shot it.
So the plan was to double check water taxi schedule from the south terminal, the last one was 4pm I was hoping to head there before then just to be sure. Amongst planning my travel from the south terminal heading back up to port of Spain I had to plan where I was going to sleep that night and the very reliable Airbnb came to the rescue again. Most of my accommodation was booked last minute through Airbnb which is now my, preferred method of getting accommodation. So I reached out to a Airbnb member called Ave li And was quickly replied back to got as much details as I could of the area, how to get there, and what time is best as I may be late. Before this myself and arlene drove around sando most the morning finding things to do we was looking for a bird sanctuary that seemed to be a bit of an attraction and great photo opportunity. We searched and searched asked a few people but with no luck a few people wanted paying for the information or even a bit of directions, so that search was given up and we settled for sightseeing and getting a roti. As the time came to head up to the water taxi having previously found it to be sure of the place and how to get there. We headed there and prepared to say our goodbyes for now and good luck and so on. As we pulled up, I got my bag and camera gear from the boot I was off, got my ticket to port of Spain and shortly I was on the boat. All the boats had a name I was on carnival runner, a huge boat with over 200 seats most of them empty and the start of the engines began. Draw bridge being taken up it started to move. There was a few wreckages on the west coast of the island as this is the way passenger boats go but there were a number of small wooden boats with small outboard motors scattered around and people local to the area would come out and fish, kids waving at the people on board people waved back it was nice to see. The journey took about 45 minutes to an hour.
As I arrived in port of Spain I had to get to downtown area where the main hub of public busses possible taxis would be to get up to my next destination, a small community/town called el dorado which literally translates to the golden. So getting there firstly I walk down into the centre again as it was a bit later this time than a few days back the atmosphere changed. It was beginning to get dark I went and got food as quickly as possible but was asked by all the staff in the shop ‘what you doing here boy‘ I ignored it mostly but said for food of course. So food in hand headed to the same taxi rank and asked if I could get a taxi to el dorado he laughed and said ‘no taxis go there you have to catch the bus’ At the station which is city gates when he said bus I was dreading it everyone I spoke to from Trinidad before hand online and once in person said avoid city gates like the plague if possible. I have travelled to places with bad reputation before so I was just preparing for all possibilities city gates was a small walk away, the building itself was an old style brick building in the past, it was a train station. Historically Trinidad was under British rule and only gained independence in the 60s. The place was not too bad a lot of homeless and people asking for money or just generally looking at me funny. Again a place I did not see any tourists In the station I ask around for the right stand and eventually get it pointed out to me. So I find my stand for my maxi-taxi where up to 12 people could get in I approached the first one asking if it goes to el dorado he did not even respond grumpy driver with even grumpier passengers. I head to the one a bit further back in the line, was a better choice by far a few more people were helpful and said they would let me know when I get close to el dorado I thanked him. As now it is a little after 430 in the afternoon. The journey was a stop and start journey mainly on main roads but the beginning of the journey there was some sort of delay near Beetham heights which is a notorious illegal settlement could be called a slum in not so polite terms, where sewage and landfill sites, are also located and not very well maintained. We had to go a little inside and come back out and even local people traveling from city gates seemed curious as they have never themselves been in beetham. The journey seemed quick from where I started to where I had to get off. There was a wall around the town like a few other smaller towns I had to follow the wall around to get into a small opening in the outside wall. The town itself was nice a long road with shops food outlets and clothing stores, people seem more outgoing here saying hello and not wanting any money for information they provided. As I had the address I was asking a number of people where it was I got the directions and it took me 10 minutes from the maxi-cab drop off point to knocking in the door of aves house.
I knock the door as the sun was pretty much gone perfect timing on a long day of traveling I was shattered and shown around the house and offered food the house was welcoming and the people warm the older man there was the grandad who’s company I enjoyed the most. Full of knowledge and a genuinely nice man spent 5 minutes or the day with him you would learn something new, went out his way to suggest places I would like to go so, I ate some food spent half an hour with the hosts and went to the room and caught up on some sleep. The next day I was up early as was the family breakfast served and a chat over breakfast what they have done as ave studied in Jamaica something to do with natural sciences, was quite complicated stuff. And came back to Trinidad after her time there. So todays plan was to see the caura river. Where it was a national park and supposedly protected area although a number of houses had been built up there, so her brother drove another pleasant chap quite, quiet but again an intelligent guy knew a bit of the history where slaves would be thrown of into a deep pool from some height up. Where caimans were regular sites. So again the caura river was a spot where people gathered to lime. It was where a lot of people who where religious in hinduism seem to congregate as there were a few places where they prayed and lit candles.
A few images of caura river area and religious structure, we spent a good amount of time here. Travelled into the river for some good 10 minutes away from the loud music of the liming people and found this guy. Where strangely neither ave or her brother had seen one before which was a pleasant surprise for me.
We headed back after a long day traveling around the caura park when we got back to the house. There was a bit of time left in the day so I walked down the main road where I walked up yesterday did a bit of sightseeing people had pet parrotts on there balcony nearly all homes on the street did. I got half way down the road in and out a few shops when the heavens literally opened so I began to head back. I was out for about half an hour and it got cut short by the weather. When I got back the family had cooked some food I had already ate on my walk, I spoke to family and friends back home I made sure my bag was packed for tomorrow as I was officially flying to Guyana in the morning around 12pm I was heading to the shower as ave the host, knocked my door and said she was going out with a few friends to a local place called valsyn. A small business park with individual bars and food outlets, it was quite a nice area the friends we went to meet knew the manager of the bar he arranged a few cocktails with a twist it was just myself my host, her younger sister and 2 friends. It was quite a busy night with discussions of what each one of us do, It felt welcoming and was an enjoyable night I tend not to drink when overseas in a place I was unfamiliar with. But this group was easy to be around so the brandies cocktails and a few beer bottles where sunk by us 5. As the night got on we decided to get some food and all go home I would happily of gone on through the night but in the back of my mind my flight tomorrow. I needs some good rest as I don’t know what Georgetown will be like or my accommodation in Georgetown and how easy it would be to find. So food got and eaten was typical beer food huge burgers and fries, the friends left first in a large pickup truck and spoke to me about carnival in Trinidad and to come if possible, I said I would try. Myself ave and her sister set off back to El dorado a short journey once on the main roads. We get back have a chat about tomorrow and the plans for my journey to the airport they offered to take me I thanked them and I headed of to bed double checked my packing and I was satisfied all was ok, I went off to sleep. We woke up around the same time again quite early breakfast already on the go we sat at the dining table spoke about my trip and my intentions once in Guyana I explained I was to travel the length of the river to raise awareness of the conservation aims in Guyana of indigenous people, and the biodiversity. Ave explained what she will be doing in the future such as heading back to Jamaica to work on a project in a few months. So all the family up and about I checked my itinerary for the flight which was midday as it was only a short distance I like to get early so I did ask if we could set of around ten they happily agreed as they was on a day out for a few groceries it worked out well for us all. So the time came when we needed to get going and I double checked my packed gear and off we went, to the airport as we got there quiet again I thanked them all and got my bag out and off I went to catch my flight to Guyana.