It all started with a friend telling me: “I am going to visit my cousin in Trinidad & Tobago over Thanksgiving, do you want come?” Well, the answer to that question is always “yes” (it is like a genetic thing with me) though then I have to check: can I, really. My parents would be in the midst of a move. Work was not in a hectic period. I could use points for more than half of the hotel stay. But my hometown airline didn’t travel to/from the destinations. My friend told me the relative was a foreign diplomat in T&T and that Curacao was also being thrown into the plans for a couple of days. After checking out flight cost, with this other new info, I thought this would be a good opportunity to go to places not in my top 20 but worth checking out nevertheless.
So, following my gut, like I did with the Greece opportunity, I went for it with less than a month’s notice. Phenomenal!
The flight Port of Spain was about 3.5 hrs from Miami. It was later in the evening so it was a mellow flight. We landed and the airport was pretty straightforward and on we went. I was dropped off at my hotel (my friend was staying with the relative) and deep sleep based on the late hour (around 1AM, if memory serves me right). The plans were for me to be picked up around 2PM since said-relative had to work part of the day. I did what came naturally to me: sleep in. After that, I unpacked, grabbed coffee, and relaxed outdoors in the pool area. I was picked up a little earlier (around 1PM) and we went for lunch.
Before talking about lunch, let me say I loved the variety of architecture around town. From old houses to modern office buildings, you can find a little bit of everything in Port of Spain!
Now to lunch… the place our local hostess picked offered local cuisine. I guess I need to be more specific since some may say there are two types of local cuisines in T&T… Stepping back, T&T had slaves brought over as most islands in the Caribbean. But, after slavery was abolished, the Brits (so civilized…) brought Indians as INDENTURED workers (read, slaves with pay). I will reserve further opinions on the topic… Anyhow, there is a more traditional Caribbean cuisine with fruit sauces, etc. but there is also Indian cuisine that is fully Trini. So, this first lunch place was more of the Caribbean cuisine but different than the Greater Antilles’ cuisine with which I am more familiar (rice and beans and some meat). The place was called Veni Mangé (come eat in some sort of French) (http://www.venimange.com/) My friend’s cousin (I will call her “the cousin” going forward!) has been there many times and rents a place from a sister of the owner. The place is located in a former house so the architecture appealed to me. The decor seems to be Haitian art (for sale). And the food, oh, the food! We ordered 3 dishes to share so we could try them all. Oxtail with dumplings, fried flying fish, and creole beef with eggplant. Plus side dishes and some tropical red juice from a fruit I didn’t recognize (even if I did grow up in the northern Caribbean…)
The rest of the day we drove around various parts of town. Had some drinks by a yacht club a little north of town (I think by Diego Martin or past it, at least), hanging out at the Hilton outside terrace, and even a stop at a shopping mall (I could have been anywhere in ther U.S.)!
The beach to go to in Trinidad seems to be Maracas Bay. It is a short drive from Port of Spain that includes driving through a beautiful forest and the views of the sea from up high. However, due to some recent rains, the area of Maraval on the outskirts of Port of Spain had sustained high waters from the river and traffic moved slowly through part – however, we counted our blessings because the road had been closed earlier that day.
At some point we stopped on a roadside stand where among the things they sold as various fruits soaked in chadon beni, a delicious mix of cilantro and garlic (sometimes with black pepper too). I tried the mango and it was outstanding (though at first it wasn’t appealing to me).
Maracas was very empty on this weekday and we thought it was due to people avoiding Maraval, not being sure if the road would be passable. But after a little bit, people started appearing and the beach was a little more animated. It was a beautiful setting, not as cove-like as the beaches we would see in Tobago. Locals flock to this beach on the weekends and I can imagine it is a good place to be.
Finally, the thing to do in Maracas is eat bake and shark, a sort of sandwich of shark topped with any number of toppings you self-serve on it. Richard’s is the most famous and I hear they can have long lines. Much to our chagrin, it was closed as they were tiling the floor of the table area (upgrade! they must be doing well). We ate at another one in the area and the bake and shark lived to its fame!
Our hostess suggested we spend a day in Tobago, known for its beaches and more geared to tourism than Trinidad (they have not invested heavily in tourism since they have lots of oil – though you could be forgiven for thinking it is a poor country; where do oil profits go?!). A ferry would take a few hours so we decided to just fly over there in 20 mins. Our flight over was at 8AM and the return was at 9PM. We decided against staying overnight the night before or the night of because we had such limited time in Trinidad & Tobago. Oh, and the day after, we had a 7AM flight to Curaçao! We planned to rent a car and drive around and also our hostess got a hotel room so we could shower before heading back to Trinidad.
The Caribbean Airlines flight was efficient and quick. Picking up the rental car at the Tobago airport was pretty straightforward. Our hotel was pretty close to the airport so we stopped to check it out and have breakfast which was pretty nice.
Unfortunately, neither the car rental agency person nor the hotel clerk were terribly knowledgeable about which beaches were better to explore and our hostess only knew the one by the main resort. The only nugget we got was that maybe Charlotteville and Englishman’s Bay were probably the ones to check out. Charlotteville was on the other end of the island and, given the island is so small, I suggested we go and that we go there first to do the longer drive first and then make our way back to the hotel making stops anywhere we wanted based on the time left.
It took us about 1.5 hrs to make it to Charlotteville driving on a coastal road (the highway) which, though small, was in good condition (this was to be true almost everywhere!). Right before getting to Charlotteville we passed a nice beach which the map had marked with many a SCUBA flag which must mean it has good snorkeling/diving going on. However, it was the morning of a rainy weekday so we didn’t see anyone at the beach.
Charlotteville seemed like a quaint town or village facing the beach. I was to learn many of the beaches here were in cove-like settings which were beautiful but which are very different from the expansive beaches in places like PR, Florida, etc. Again, the weather was not favorable so it was empty. I wish I had seen it with a little more life…
From Charlotteville we started off to Englishman’s Bay halfway back to where we started from. However, a piece of the road was sort of broken up due to rains, I suppose. So, off the car I got to find rocks to cover up the mud. With a deep step on the pedal and an almost empty car, the car passed and on we went. We stopped at Bloody Bay where a school bus full of kids was playing at the beach.
After a quick stop, we kept on going back but somewhere missed a turn. After driving through a beautiful forest-like area (it was a national park, we found out), we surfaced on the other side of the small island so we decided to just keep on going as we were starving. We stopped at a place right before Scarborough called Café Havana. It wasn’t really Cuban but was nice and open and just what we needed. It was next to a beautiful hotel overlooking a small cove. It would certainly be a place to stay at should there be a repeat visit.
Trinidad and Tobago was not in my top 20 of places to go. But this was a good opportunity that offered me seeing some of it through the eyes of a resident which is always better than just being a visitor. And I liked what I saw! I hope to return. Who would have told me at the start of 2011 that I was to see Trinidad & Tobago and Greece in the year? Living with spontaneity brings these happy surprises and new discoveries. Do you have any similar travel destination surprises?