Suriname story interruptus, or oops, I went to Trinidad, too!
So before I went to Suriname, I went to Trinidad. I did this for a variety of reasons, the main one being that you’ve got to get to Suriname from somewhere, and Chile definitely isn’t it. At the time, Americans had to get a visa to go to Suriname, and it’s easy to get in Trinidad. I hear now that you can get a one-time entry tourist card at the airport. I’ve now got a visa good for multiple entries for five years. I hope my travels take me back, as a) I’d hate to spend $110 on something I use once and b) Suriname was super.
But first, Trinidad. From my journal:
Though it will come as a great surprise to those that know me, have met me, or heard me speak, on a recent trip to Trinidad, I discovered that I may, in fact, be West Indian. There is a sense of humor, a way of confronting difficult situations, a manera de ser (way of being) that is so similar to my own in Trinidad, that I kept on asking myself if I was back in Brooklyn.
So me, a Jewish girl from NY who lives in Chile. West Indian? Maybe so.
Take the night I came back from the ferry from Tobago. I was in the downtown/port area, and despite everyone’s good directions, I was unable to find the shared taxi (4 TT, or about 80 cents) stand, from which I could take a shared ride back to the gas station near my hotel on Maraval Road, near the Queens’ Park Savannah. I walked hither and yon, past the main landmark (a giant KFC) in the area, but to no avail. I was sweaty, tired, starving, and not just a little frustrated. (word to the wise, do not EVER, under any circumstances, fail to buy your ferry ticket ahead of time either at the port or a travel agency. Now thank me. Also, those seasickness bags are not an exaggeration, and cheesy poufs (my neighbor’s) do not smell good in either direction, down or up). I finally asked a few police officers if they could just hail me a cab, which they did. He said he’d charge me 20 TT (about $3.50) to take me to the general neighborhood where I was going, but that I’d have to give him directions, so I told him it was just up the street from Dopson’s Rotis, a known landmark, and the best of many, many, many rotis I would eat on this trip.
“I don’t eat roti,” he said.
I don’t eat roti. I don’t eat anything with curry.
Do you mean to tell me I got in a taxi (which by the way, didn’t even have a taxi license plate) with the only person in all of Trinidad who doesn’t eat curry? Are you even Trini? Is this even a taxi?
“Yes,” he said. And then he laughed, and said, “You’re funny.”
Again and again. I don’t have any reason to believe that Trinis are particularly gleeful or easy to laugh, or enjoy the whole lying-to-the-foreigner thing. It’s just that my sense of humor really fits on this island. In fact, I felt like I understood so many things I’d seen, growing up in Brooklyn, and over in Park Slope (before it got so fancy), where you’d see a guy sitting on a bench on the street, towel draped over his neck, eating out of a styrofoam box and “liming” (hanging out) with his friends. I saw the same scene a number of times in Port of Spain.
And the green coconut guy (see cart, below) thought I was hilarious. The woman I bought pholourie (fried balls of goodness, served with mango sauce) from late one night. The morning guy who sold me doubles (to be explained), with medium pepper, because I like food spicy, but not that spicy. Even everyone I talked to getting a watch battery replaced (three, count ’em three stores before I got what I needed) snickered. Everyone just laughed, and relaxed and talked back, ribbing and poking fun and smiling all the while. It was like being at home.
The proprietor at the hotel where I stayed told me it was because I was “regular.” That I don’t put on airs. I don’t know what I’d put on airs about, look at me, I waited four hours in the standby line at the ferry! (see: don’t show up without a ticket). I like my food with only “medium pepper” (not too spicy). I break out in a sweat thinking about going outside in Trinidad, I can’t find a taxi stand that’s in full sight. And she laughed, too.
Trinidad doesn’t do a lot of foreign tourism, and what it does mainly heads to Tobago (mostly by plane, judging from who was on the ferry). There are also a couple of birdspying sites on Trinidad itself, one of which I went to, info to follow. There’s a lot of petroleum resources, and the tourism industry is more of a side dish, rather than the main course. It makes finding cheap places to stay a bit of a challenge, but it also means no one is tired of white girls in ugly rafting sandals asking a bunch of questions and generally nosing around. Everyone knows (or guesses) you’re not from there, but it doesn’t really raise any eyebrows.
Except for when you make someone laugh. And their whole face gets in on the action. And then they find out you’re from NY, and the fun really starts.
Below, a few more pics of Trinidad, with captions: