If Trinidad was a colour, it’d be yellow. Bright and harsh, not always easy to look at. Sometimes it’s as soft as sunrise. It’s definitely not blue; it doesn’t have the Caribbean azure waters being so close to the mouth of the Orinoco river in neighbouring Venezuela. Not angry red either, there’s too much tolerance and natural efficiency of its people to stay mad for long. Green? Yes, you could consider green for its jungles, but green seems a little too peaceful for the average Trinidadian. From their crazy driving to the way they stare deeply at you when you talk, these guys definitely keep you on their toes.
The first two things I heard about Trinidad was how the people loved it there and how dangerous it was. The guy telling us had half his family living in Trini. ‘My aunt loves it even though she was robbed at gunpoint in her bed at night,’ he said. ‘Now when she goes out, she packs a gun in her hand bag to protect her group of friends.’ We looked on like idiots. He chuckled. ‘Yes man, people from Trinidad, they love Trinidad.’
After that, we came to Trinidad avoiding Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and barely left the boat for fear of being kidnapped for our body parts. We’d sailed at night with our lights off. The second time we went, we rented a car. We payed more for the model where the doors didn’t fall off and the island really opened up for us. The beaches in the north are superb – the whole thing – the drive there through the jungle, the swathes of soft sand when you arrive, the greenish tropical water. On the steps down to the beach, a woman and her granddaughter sold bags of fresh, sliced mango and pineapple mixed with chow, a coriander-based relish and optional pepper sauce. I’d never tasted anything like it in my life. It was drop-dead beautiful.
I’m not usually into food.. ok I try to cook it so it tastes good and I enjoy eating other peoples’ food but I don’t often go in for cultural foodie love affairs. They usually make me suspicious. It’s not a good look, I know but the older I get the more I like to eat simple. Here’s the thing though; Trinidad bucks my own trend. Take breakfast where everyone eats ‘doubles’. Stalls of people sell them all over the island. Doubles is a chick pea sauce wrapped in little puffy round breads and covered in a delicious relish. It is vegetarian heaven, but if you have it with pepper sauce, you know about it! And it’s more than that too. This delicious mix and unique mix of Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean food comes from the mid-1800s when Indian indentured workers were sent by the British Empire to work the sugar cane after slavery was abolished. When you’re eating them, you’re tasting history.
Coming this time, we felt like locals. I can even imagine us sauntering around, saying, ‘Where’s the lime at?’ Liming is the Trinidadian saying for enjoying yourself, hanging out and talking to friends. It comes from the old practice of people chewing on limes when they were relaxing. At first we were like, we get it, you guys like to relax – but don’t be fooled. This is a cover. From the dealings we’ve had with the yachting industry hauling Quest out and facilitating her many services and repair, you get the feeling that all the geeks from your class from school may have moved to Trinidad and you’re checking in on them thirty years later. A man called Ian took Quest’s anchor windlass home, serviced it and now writes us regular emails checking on its performance. When we were home in the UK, Lincoln, the boatyard foreman refused to let anyone else on Quest except himself to check on her while Greg, the boatyard manager comes from a wealthy family in the UK but chooses not to live a certain sort of life and runs an impressively efficient boatyard instead. This is our experience of Trinidad.
Indeed, engineers abound here. The abundance of offshore gas and oil, particularly in the south of the island, sees to that. I’m not saying it makes it a better sort of a Caribbean island than the islands that plug the tourist industry. All of them sprang out of such brutal colonial beginnings that their history seems unbelievable standing next to their physical beauty.
Trinidad is just its own place. It has a rich cultural heritage from literature to music. It has the carnival in the Caribbean that everybody goes crazy for. I noticed a lot of Trinis saying they don’t go in for carnival but you hear them sing the popular Soca songs under their breath. Carnival is part of life. The artists of the most popular and played song is awarded money and a brand-new car. Someone recently scoffed that the winner of neighbouring Grenada’s carnival is given a goat. Oh yeah, Trinidad is well aware of its powerhouse status. Nice malls, straightforward people, fabulous, South-American style beaches, humming bird sanctuaries, for sure you can carve out a good life here.
So, now the ‘but’ everyone wants to know about Trinidad; ‘Yes, but HOW dangerous is it?’ Kidnappings, the body part trade, being robbed at night in your own bed? I keep thinking back to the wiry aunt who survived to tell the tale of her violent experience. I think that if she can still love Trinidad, there’s something here to love, right? Tie a yellow ribbon round her.