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mistybleu Port-of-Spain - A travel report by Amanda
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Port-of-Spain,  Trinidad and Tobago - flag Trinidad and Tobago -  Port-of-Spain
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mistybleu's travel reports

It's carnival time again....

  13 votes
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Nestled in the mouth to the Orinoco River, just off the coast of Venezuela is Trinidad, the last island of the Caribbean chain; and at one particular time of the year, it comes alive in a blaze of colour, music and dance.

Carnival Costume
Carnival Costume
Carnival is a wonderful example of how a country can come together as one; where the only thing on the agenda is to sing, dance, shout, eat, play music, ole talk and just plainly have fun. Carnival as we know it today came to Trinidad via Europe and Africa, and now it unites a country for two solid days; where every creed, race, gender, origins etc comes together celebrates the beauty of being human.

The word carnival comes from the Latin ‘carnevale’ which means “to put away the meat”, as this symbolises the beginning of Lent. For this reason its origins are found in the Catholic Church.

Back in the late 1700s a group of French settlers and their slaves went to Trinidad; the French brought their customs of having fancy dress balls where they would wear beautiful dresses, big wigs and ornate masks and would dance all night long.

The slaves were banded from the balls, so they would hold their own dances in their back gardens and would use their own rituals to celebrate, as well as imitate their slave masters’ behaviours. It became a way to express their individuality that was rich in tradition and culture that was continuously being suppressed.

Once slavery was abolished in 1838, the newly freed slaves began to host their own carnival celebrations in the streets; once an imitation of the French settlers it then completely overshadowed their masquerade balls.

Today in Trinidad carnival is an important aspect of life and is used to teach young people about their roots and culture.

Basic Information

On average the daily temperatures is 30 degrees centigrade, falling to around 21-24 at night. They have two seasons wet (Jul-Dec) and dry (Jan-Jun).

The population is 1.3 million and have two major towns – Port of Spain (the Capital) and San Fernando (second city).

Trinidad has positioned itself as one of the richest of the English speaking Caribbean island when oil and natural gas was discovered in the 1960s.

Favourite spots:
Carnival Costumes 2
Carnival Costumes 2
The Carnival season is the best time to visit; as not only do you get to enjoy an idyllic Caribbean island but you also get to experience carnival - the greatest show on earth.

For 2 straight days (Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), Trinidad & Tobago comes alive, but to be honest the 'Carnival Season' starts on Boxing Day as it is the time new calypsos are released. The pan men start practising and the costume designs go on display to entice the revellers to participate.

Carnival isn't officially a public holiday however just you try to get any of the islanders to go to work.

Throughout the island various celebrations occur, but the main active is held in Port of Spain at the Queens Park Savannah. It starts early Monday morning (around 4am) with J'ouvert, then two solid days of partying, culminating with last lap – Tuesday evening, when the last beer is drink, the last song is song before people go to mass on Ash Wednesday.

What's really great:
Brian Lara Promenade
Brian Lara Promenade
The music – traditional calypso is a comical social commentary, but now a more modern feel including soca (fast pace, up tempo beat), chutney (a blend of calypso and Indian music). The kind of music that makes you want to sway your hips. Steel pan – the only instruments to be created in the 20th Century – sounds perfect with a calypso beat but can also be appreciated with classical renditions. People would visit the pan yards to listen the bands practice.

The Bands – unlike Rio, the beauty of this carnival is that they encourage people’s participation. Revellers from all over the world book their place, by choosing a costume that they will party in for 2 days.

The completion – at the end, everyone is judged; they choose a King and Queen of Carnival, Best Band, Best Steel Band, Road March (the song that most bands choose to jump up with ), Calysonian of the Year etc.

It’s so amazing to see so many people enjoying themselves, regardless of colour, creed or race.

Maracus Bay
Maracus Bay
Trinidad is a bit of an anomaly; yes there are some nice beaches, but locals consider Trinidad an industrial island, focusing on commerce, as they try to lose the third world image. But to give them credit there are some wonderful things to experiences:

PITCH LAKES – one of only three asphalt lakes in the world. The lake looks like a huge parking lot, even tough it has been mined for centuries – it’s ever replenishing. It’s possible to walk on it but stationary things will slowly sink.

ASA WRIGHT NATURE CENTRE – is a former cocoa and coffee estate that now protects an extraordinary variety of wildlife. It is famous for birds which can be seen from the verandas.

EL TUCUCHE – this is the second highest peak, at around d 3,072 feet. There are many trails and take about 4 hours to climb, but once at the top the views are stunning.

GRANDE RIVIERE – the major nesting site for leatherback turtles, the surrounding forest is great for bird watching.

Trinidad - offshore
Trinidad - offshore
There are lots of hotels and guesthouses around Port of Spain; I like the location of the Trinidad Hilton, perched on the hills of St Clair overlooking the Savannah.

Up there you're kissed with wonderful cool breezes and at night a wonderful panoramic view of lights of the Capital stretching out as far as the coast line with the twin towers standing majestically. At one stage the twin towers where the tallest buildings in the Caribbean.

On the Roxy roundabout
On the Roxy roundabout
Carnival is all about liming – as the locals say. Just hanging around, going as many parties as possible.

To really enjoy Carnival, you have to go to the island at least a week beforehand that way you’re familiar with the music, the language and culture.

Things you must do:

Go to a Calypso Tent – local concert featuring the various calypso artists. Some feature up and coming singers and other the old time favourites. Usually in and around Port of Spain so easily accessible.

Attend a Band Launch – this is where the costumes bands show off their designs for the revellers. The music is always pumping and will always feature additional entertainment then just deejays.

Hang out at a Pan yard – listen to groups practice their renditions for the Panorama (ie steelpan) competition. People are always in a good mood and this makes an enjoyable evening.

For further information the local newspapers always has information on the upcoming events.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception
The Church of the Immaculate Conception
My favourite place to hang out is around the QUEEN’S PARK SAVANNAH. During the day it is home to joggers, strollers and sportsmen; this is the largest round about in the world and the capital’s largest green area. It pays homage to the country’s colonial past as it has seven wonderful, ornate colonial buildings along the western side.

Emperor Valley Zoo doesn’t have an extensive collection – mainly local wildlife. It located on the north east side next to the Botanical Gardens, which have been in this location for nearly 200 years.

When the sun goes down it is a great place to just sit and chat with friends while eating some local delicacies like doubles (curry channa served in a fried roll), snow cones (shaved ice with syrup) and wonderful coconut water – ice cold and drunk out of the shell.

Finally at carnival time this is the centre of all activity, as all competitions are held in the Grand Stand Savannah and many food stands (certified with health board) line the route.

Lookout over Maracus Bay
Lookout over Maracus Bay
I always find that when in hot countries the need to eat seems to decrease.

I also noticed that the locals in Trinidad (and Tobago) tend to eat their main meal during the day, so when going out for lunch, they seldom have a sandwich. It is more like rice, stew chicken, macaroni cheese, potato salad, curry roti, or some other local dish.

At lunch for a quick snack go to the Excellent Trading Mall (on Fredrick Street) in the food hall upstairs. They serve an extensive selection food which is inexpensive - all sorts of local dishes are available. You'll find Chinese, Indian and Creole menus to choose from and the food really tastes great. It does get quite busy for lunch so you have to get there fairly early.

Also on the south side of Independence Square are many eateries including: Mario's Pizzeria, Caesar's, KFC, Peking Palace, Royal Castle, Stanley's Food Haven and a few others that are good for lunch.

Other recommendations:
Steel Pan Band
Steel Pan Band
CARONI SWAMP – this mangrove swamp/lagoon on the east coast. The best time to visit, by canoe, is at sunset when the stunning scarlet ibis (Trinidad’s national bird) make their way back to the roosting area.

ANGOSTURA DISTILLERY – a tour of the rum factory is essential; it is also the home of the world famous Angostura Bitter and has an interesting museum devoted to the history of the distillery.

DEVIL’S WOODYARD – is just outside of Princes Town and is a perfect place to see the mysterious subterranean forces ie mud volcanoes.

By far MARACUS BAY is the most famous – as it’s a place to see and be seen. The drive is very scenic, with many lookouts along the way; only 45 minutes from Port of Spain.

MANZANILLA – this coconut tree lined beach is 1½hrs drive from the capital and MAYARO is the longest beach on the island. Not too crowded and can be great on moonlit nights.

CHACACHACARE is a small island; 20 minutes boat-ride from the capital and provides a great day.

Published on Friday April 27th, 2007

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Fri, May 16 2008 - 08:51 AM rating by krisek

This is a fabulous report. I cannot believe I missed it to date. I was in Trinidad for business once and I'd love to come back for the carnival of carnivals.

Sun, May 06 2007 - 06:51 AM rating by marianne

Simply perfect. what a joy to read

Fri, May 04 2007 - 02:43 AM rating by akhila

Hi Amanda, another beautiful report. Thanks for sharing.
Best regards,

Sat, Apr 28 2007 - 04:48 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Wonderful report, as it is usual in yours. And full of practical information. Gracias!

Sat, Apr 28 2007 - 03:39 AM rating by rangutan

It would take me a few days to prepare an excellently researched and reported presentation like this!

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