|The Ballards - Trinidad & Tobago|
The best holidays are always those where you get the chance to be as un-touristy as possible, preferably staying with a local and not in a hotel. This is when you really get beneath the surface of a place.
We have a good friend who comes from a well-connected family in Trinidad, who lives in England (and makes a very good living in Computer sales) but has roots back in the West Indies. In 1987 we persuaded him to show us Trinidad and Tobago. My friends flew in from the UK and I joined them from Illinois where I was living at the time, and we joined up in Port of Spain.
Coming through Immigration was an experience: it was
hot, dark, and I was a bit jet-lagged after three flights and assorted
connections. We had been given Landing cards during the flight and it
became apparent that I had forgotten my friend's local address in Port
of Spain. So, when my turn at the passport officer window came I (expecting
a friendly welcome from this ex-British colony...) got the 3rd degree:
We spent the first few days in Port of Spain. It was so hot, we spent a lot of time in the pool. Even in the evenings it was so hot that within 30 seconds of exiting a cold shower you were as sweaty as you were before you had the shower.
We had a Nissan estate for trundling around in, with air-conditioning. The ambient air was so humid that whenever we started the car the air-conditioning would immediately fill the car with steam before getting going.
Trinidad is not tourist-Caribbean. The local inhabitants
are not very tourist-friendly; they are more interested in getting on
with their own lives.
Hangin' around on the streets of Port of Spain and doing
not a lot but drinking Carib beer (endemic in the Caribbean) and eating
roadside Roti, is known as "Liming".
The worlds shortest pressurised jet flight begins at Port of Spain Airport. A BWIA (But Will I Arrive?) Boeing 727 that had to have done more pressurisation cycles than Boeing's test structure thundered down the runway, climbed to 10,000ft then immediately descended to a eyeballs-out, full reverse-thrust and maximum braking stop 4.7mm from the end of the Tobago runway exactly 14 minutes after brake release.
I swear the nose of the aircraft was over the beach, only the nosegear was still vaguely on the tarmac of the runway designed for Piper Cubs. Round we went, the maingear creaking and rumbling over the coral, and back to the airport building, where we all piled in to a Tobagonian taxi.
Tobago is smaller than Trinidad and a great deal more rural. The pace of life is very much slower (slower than anywhere I've ever been, including the canals), and all are very laid back.
Since our visit, the runway has been massively extended, allowing 747s direct from Heathrow to touch down without becoming salty reefs off the end, and this is a shame because I'm sure the tourist industry will ruin the island, and it will become just another West Indian beach and watersports island.
When I was at school, we learned Geography from Cambridge
University Press World Geography books printed in the late 1950s: all
hard covers and British Empire trappings.
One of the items I remembered from these books was about
the Great Trinidad Pitch Lake. Apparently, scaffolding poles and tractors
left too long on the surface slowly disappear in to the pitch and emerge,
years later, twisted and torn by the huge internal pressures of the lake.
We drove down through the centre of Trinidad via the one dual-carriageway the oil money allowed them to build before it ran out. Nowadays, driving down it is like some apocalyptic post-industrial Hollywood film: the skeleton of the industrial era rotting away through lack of maintenance; plants growing through the tarmac, and the odd chunk of embankment sloughing away cutting off the slow lane. Rusting oil barrels delineated the section of road physically missing: apparently they had been there for several years in 1987.
The dual-carriageway ran out very suddenly and we were
back to the frankly appalling roads endemic to the island, populated almost
entirely by beautifully maintained but mind-bogglingly mediocre Japanese
My favourite was the Trinidadian method of emerging from
a T-junction to turn right.