Trinidad: An Island of Friendly Adventures
If you crave diversity, adventure and friendly atmosphere in your Caribbean vacation, then Trinidad is a place you won't want to pass up.
A quick illustration on how helpful and friendly are the people. When I landed in Piarco, Trinidad's only airport, at the ungodly hour of 1 am, understandably almost everything was shut down tight. No place to exchange Yankee dollars into $TT (Trinidad and Tobago dollars) even for making a phone call.
As I milled around in confusion, thinking that I might have to spend either an uncomfortable night in the airport lounge or pay the outrageous $US40 the taxi scalpers were demanding for a ride to my guest house, enter a local guard that had been witnessing my predicament. He pressed two TT quarters in my palm, refusing to take any US coin in return, and pointed me to a bank of phones. As it turned out there was a phone with direct line to the guest house I was staying, through which I summoned their house cab, and returned the coins to my would-be benefactor.
The Trinidad & Tobago Tourist Development Authority, one of the best run outfits of it's kind I have ever encountered, has an office right in the airport to help travelers. And normally their representative meets even late flights--when sufficiently large number of tourists are on board. Apparently I had picked a slow night.
Jose DaSilva, the cab driver, was chock-full of helpful information about Trinidad. It turns out he conducts Bluebird Tours for people wanting to know the island in depth. By the time I checked in and got to bed, it was 3 am. At around 7 I get a call from Michael Charbonne, the co-owner of Monique's Guest House, inviting me to join him for breakfast.
By the time made it to the dinning room there still were some golfers who were playing in the Trinidad international tournament, lingering over their coffee, with whom Mike was having an amiable banter.
He welcomed me warmly, almost as if I were a family member. In fact that's how they envision their underlying aim: create a family atmosphere for their guests and staff.
And that's how Monique's Guest House, named after Monica, Mike's wife and referred by his as the "boss," got started with two Canadian "Winter Dodgers." But let me use the words from their own brochure:
"Some twenty years ago, Pete Hall, a Canadian gentlemen, was in need of accommodations. He wished to stay with a warm, friendly family whilst in Trinidad. Through the Tourist Board, Pete came to stay with Mike and Monica at their home in Maravel. He enjoyed his tree month stay so much, that the following year he and a good friend, Walter Sidey, arrived to spend another three months with Mike and Monica. This was the beginning of annual visits that lasted at least five years. Mike and Monica so enjoyed their guests, they decided to devote themselves to the business and added five new rooms to their home." And that was the genesis of Monique's Guest House.
When I learned that Monique's 19-unit guest house has 15 full time and 3 part time staff I was understandably amazed. But I was pleasantly surprised for the reason for such heavy staff. Historically Trinidad's unemployment rate has been high — maybe even as high 24 per cent, according to one knowledgeable source.
I don't know if what follows encompasses the broader spirit of Trinidad or is just that of two individuals. But a while back Mike and Monica were seriously considering retirement. Although they both had worked hard and raised a large family, life had been very good to them. But with almost a quarter of their countrymen unemployed, they felt an obligation to help people who are less fortunate. So their policy is to keep expanding their guest house so that they can keep as many Trinidadians off the unemployment rolls as possible by hiring as many as they possibly can.
With such high unemployment rate, the locals were warning me to be careful in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital and largest city. But during the two days I spent meandering around the city, I encountered no negative incidents. People actually volunteered to give assistance when I seemed confused. For you see Trinidad doesn't believe in street numbers and often they are rather skimpy on street signs as well.
Architecturally, the city and surrounding suburbs are nondescript. When I asked a former local builder as how he would characterize Trinidad as to prevalent architectural style: hodgepodge and mongrel is the best he and other I talked could come up with. The City streets are unkempt, narrow, noisy, jammed with cars and people and vendors peddling all kinds of wares. There is a sense of great vitality about this place. Understandably some refer to Port of Spain as New York City in miniature.
There are a lot of things to experience in Port of Spain: a magnificent museum, an excellent zoo, a beautiful botanical garden, three of the large boat yards in the Caribbean, loaded with yachts and power boats in for repairs, reequipped, re-provisioning, in search of a crew or in drydock, just northeast of the city. Casually, going around and spending an afternoon chatting with people from all over the world is almost an adventure in itself.