Trinidad Travelogue – 2012

First Day in Port of Spain, Trinidad

First of all, I am ALWAYS going to book my flights through KAYAK in the future! I’m not sure how or why, but apparently purchasing the tickets to Trinidad (at the lowest price anywhere else) resulted in putting me in first class all the way! In all my years, I’ve never ever been in first class. Now I know why they didn’t charge me for my luggage. The seats are enormous and very comfortable, with lots of legroom. You are offered beverages immediately upon sitting down and continually throughout the flight. They give you snacks and meals. Just amazing. And I have the same thing for my return trip. All I can say is WOW! What a treat!

I won’t bore you with the details of my travel yesterday- from Madison to Chicago to Miami to Port of Spain. The flights were uneventful and each of the layovers less than 2 hours.

It took almost 2 hours to go through immigration and then customs. Then out into a mass of people, where Diana was waiting for me. She and her driver, Ken, took me to Diana’s home, which sits on top of a high hill with a view of the port. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.

She ushered me into her grandson Jamie’s room, which is small, has an air conditioner and great light, and its own little bathroom. I was all set (it was after midnight).

This morning I wandered around her house taking pictures of everything. There is wonderful colorful art and sculpture and fountains and pottery and woodcarvings and books and exotic flowers inside. Most of the house is surrounded not by walls but instead by lattice-like gates, so you can see out and anything small can come in. The view is spectacular. The house is surrounded by tropical trees and flowers- orchids, breadfruit and avocado and lime and mango and orange trees, palm trees, and all sorts of flowering trees- profuse with bright yellow, vivid white, blue, purple and scarlet blossoms. Despite this, Diana was sorry I hadn’t been there around Easter (when I was originally scheduled to visit) because that is when all the blossoms are at their height!

She has lived here for 40 years, so she planted all of the trees that now provide complete privacy around the entire house.

Every lattice gated wall and door is padlocked. This includes exits to outside patios and small pools and fountains. The entrance to the parking area for the house has a wall with a door that slides open electronically. In the house, there is a video on the entrance.

The house is enormous. I’m not sure how many bedrooms there are, but currently three of her grandchildren live with her (including Jamie, who just graduated from high school and took great care to clean up his room before I came). Her granddaughters, Morgan and Kelsey, are absolutely exquisite. Everyone is very loving and friendly.

When Kelsey and her boyfriend Kevin came in this morning, they both gave me a hug and a kiss!

After a breakfast of fruit and almonds, I accompanied Diana to get gas (which costs 89 cents there!!! because it is subsidized by the government). So is the university, which is free- and has produced four Nobel laureates and untold important folks. (Actually, Diana told me but I’ve forgotten…)

She gave me a quick tour of her neighborhood and main street. We passed a zebra crossing. When I asked Diana if they had zebras, she laughed and said it is called a zebra crossing (for pedestrians) because of how the lines are painted on the street.

Oh, by the way, they drive on the left side of the street, which is very disorienting for me. Especially with oncoming traffic.

She told me that her consulting business has suffered greatly since she hasn’t been there to make sure clients pay their invoices per contract or proposals are in on time. The reason for this is that she is on a Board of Inquiry (as one of several former Senators) into a very violent and bloody coup that occurred in 1990 in which many were killed. They have been taking testimony since 2010, which entails hearings that last 2 weeks at a time, during which the Board must be sequestered and under heavy guard. When I said that this must be very dangerous, her response was “Only if they kill me.”

What is crazy is that they are under armed guard during the entire time that the Board is convened. An armed guard escorts those who come from outside of Port of Spain to the airport. In the meantime, Diana drives herself back to her home, which is 4 minutes away from the hotel where they must stay during the hearings!

The architecture is very diverse, including beautiful Victorians, gingerbread, castle (!), stately government buildings, and lots that I’ll take pictures of rather than try to explain.

Diana has three children: Christopher, who lives in Canada and is Morgan’s and Kelsey’s father. Natalie, who lives in Tobago and I believe has two children, Jamie and his sister S-. Then there is Meryl, who lives here in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

It was absolutely fascinating to discover that although Diana sounds somewhat British, both of her daughters speak with the Caribbean cadence- because they were both born and raised here in Trinidad. They are both very slender and quite lovely. Meryl apparently invited the neighborhood to lunch today at her mother’s house! Diana made a breadfruit dish while I tried to squeeze limes for limeade (not so easy when you have to rely only on your arm and wrist, because we couldn’t find the electrical squeezer).

Diana also provided macaroni casserole and peas. Meryl arrived with salad, marinated tomatoes, humus, bread, and salmon that she cooked there. Kevin, Kelsey’s boyfriend, brought a very delicious rice pilaf with chicken that he made (with a brown sugar sauce, yum!) Bonnie brought cucumber salad, beet salad. Nicole brought a huge box of Asian Indian sweets for dessert. It was a terrific spread and everything was very tasty (and not spicy, as I had feared they might be).

Different conversation included the fact that: Nicole and her family saw a band of monkeys earlier that day; they are building above Diana’s home and the road is too narrow to carry the steam shovel up the steep incline. So, 8 men run alongside, placing tires under the steam shovel as it goes up and down the hill, so the steam shovel doesn’t gouge the road (which they would then have to repave).

Some of the people there were natives of Trinidad, and many were émigrés from England.

Oh, during the party there was very loud thunder and then the heavens poured down (because it is the rainy season). That lasted intermittently and then stopped completely.
Because the walls aren’t really walls, and because we were so high in the hills, the thunder was much louder than I’m accustomed to- so loud that it made conversation very difficult!

As each person came in, they were introduced and shook hands. It was very pleasant. Then, after a few hours, that was enough socializing for me. I really had to go to my room to rest. Diana came and told me she was going to do the same thing, because we didn’t have to go until 6 p.m. I had no idea where we were going, but resting was a great plan.

She roused me around 5:30 and I discovered that we would be going to see a play in the Sydney Theatre (which looks just like the Opera House in Sydney, Australia and was designed by the same architect). We literally had front row seats and the play was magnificent. It is called “Mary Could Dance” and the same troupe has been presenting it for 12 years!!!!

They are brilliant actors and actresses, with terrific comedic timing and the ability to play exotic dancers performing what had to be very realistic moves (I can only guess, never having been to a strip show myself) and then deep drama. Diana warned me that Trinis do not get pathos- they giggle, which is pretty disconcerting when the actress is sobbing her heart out on stage!

Can you imagine the same actors and actresses performing the same show (twice during the year) for 12 years in a row? It was a real treat. If these amateurs were in the states, they would definitely be Equity performers.

I will admit that I missed a lot of the dialogue, particularly at the beginning because I was not used to the Trini cadence and speed of speaking. As the evening wore on, I got better at catching most of it.

Okay, miscellaneous facts:

Diana said that Trinidad was initially colonized by the French, then taken over by the Spanish, and finally taken over by the British. So, they spoke French, operated under Spanish laws, and were governed by the British.

Port of Spain and Trinidad is more industrial (due to the oil and natural gas and methane industries (they export 89% of the methane that the US uses- I don’t know for what), while Tobago has coral beaches and draws the tourists. She did say that there are now Eco tours in Trinidad, with hikes toward the center of the island to see waterfalls.

Before I left the states, I checked the conversion rate between US dollars and the currency in Trinidad. One US dollar = approximately 5.60 Trinidad dollars.

The house numbers on Diana’s street are peculiar because they numbered houses based on when they were built, not on their location on the street. This is true throughout Trinidad.

She lives on a lovely winding street on which also live the minister of health, diplomats, school principal, artists, etc.- there is quite a mix.

Since she is on a hill, there is a nice breeze quite a lot of the time. Diana said that it may get hot during the day (but only occasionally very hot and uncomfortable) but it gets cool in the evening (unlike other tropical places).

Well, it’s midnight and that’s enough for me.

More tomorrow, when I’ll take a walk through the neighborhood while Diana goes to her office (which is moving to a smaller location).

Day 2 in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Hello.

Today was very laid back. I slept late since my phone, which doesn’t get service here anyway, refused to have the alarm go off- even though it went off yesterday! I woke up covered with mosquito bites. Later, the girls told me that I have to use the badminton-racket looking device all around the room. It will zap any mosquitoes. I’ll do that tonight!

So, I chatted with Natalie and her daughter Sabre (Jamie’s sister), who had come to pick him up to take him out to eat. He apparently eats continually throughout the day and night, but he must have an incredible metabolism because he looks trim and fit. They told me that coming over on the ferryboat is very unpleasant, because many people get ill. The voyage is 2.5 hours long, although it can be 4 hours if the seas are bad. Sabre herself can’t take any medicine for it. When I asked if they could use the acupressure wristbands, they had never heard of them. They’re thinking now that they can make a fortune selling them on board!

As they left, Diana got back from the office. We chatted for a while, then she checked her email and I checked mine. Then we went out to do some touring around Port of Spain, conduct some errands, and ultimately have tea at a harbor side café.

This is what I learned, in no particular order:

Trinidadians all have cars because Japan passed a law requiring the Japanese people to get rid of their cars once the cars are 3 years old- and purchase a new one. Since no one in Japan wants these cars, they are purchased for a song by people in the Caribbean. And, since gas is so cheap, the one-lane roads are continually packed.

A former government in Trinidad gave the Taiwanese permission to drag net the harbor, killing many of the local fish species. Trinidad is now starting fish farms to replenish the various fish.

Almost everyone in Trinidad comes from mixed ethnicities. Amer-Indian, West Indian, Chinese, Syrian, Filipino, Lebanese, Nigerian, Cuban, etc. White is not on any census form, but Portuguese is considered an ethnic group in Trinidad.

Cuba provides the best medical training in this hemisphere. They send their doctors and nurses in the hundreds to places that experience disasters. If people in Trinidad need specialized medical care, they go to Cuba.

We passed a beautiful huge building that apparently is now a medical center, but was previously a house of refuge for people with leprosy (which is now known as Hanson’s disease and is very rare). Port of Spain opened up the building when they closed down the island where the leper colony had been kept.

We also passed a sign for a Dental Clinic repairs while you wait! I couldn’t imagine someone leaving their teeth- but that is exactly what it is for, dentures, bridges, etc.

As we drove along the water, there was a reddish sheen over it along with a fog. Diana explained that it was sand from the Sahara Desert!!!

She pointed out ballast walls- when ships came for sugar, they loaded themselves down with ballast, which they then got rid of when they filled up the ships. This ballast is still used to build walls.

I mentioned eco tours yesterday, but forgot what they toured. They go to see the enormous sea turtles, the rain forest, and rare oilbirds who live in caves. These birds have very oily plumage and used to be set on fire and used as torches, which lasted all night. Good grief!

Although it was hardly wonderful mealtime conversation, Diana told me over tea that domestic abuse is very cultural. West Indian families beat the new wives, who are then lowest on the totem pole in the family, beaten by anyone and expected to do all of the difficult work. That was what motivated Diana to start homes for battered wives. The practice continues and she continues to rescue and house these women and their children. She said that other ethnic groups also subscribe to the same treatment of the women who marry into their families.

This occurs even in the wealthiest homes. She told me the story of an English woman who married an East Indian doctor in England. He was very kind and charming in England. However, that didn’t last long. When they came to Trinidad, her mother in law insisted that her new husband beat her so that she learned her place. When she bore a daughter, he beat her because he wanted a son. He only stopped beating her when she was pregnant again.

However, when she bore another daughter, he began again. She became terribly depressed and said something about it (I’d be depressed, too!) Her husband claimed she was unfit and the courts took the children away from her. (Her baby was 3 months old and nursing at the time.) She could only see the children from 4-6 p.m. every day.

When Diana learned about this, she got her a lawyer and the woman was ultimately able to move back to England with her children.

Diana truly has a heart of gold. A beggar came up to the car window and she gave him several bills. She also told him that she had had shoes for him, but hadn’t seen him recently. Afterwards, she told me that all of the beggars know her by name. I’m not surprised.

As I am sitting here this evening, there is a steel band practicing that sounds wonderful.

There are two vines intertwined over 30’ of steel lattice work- and they both come from two plant pots at the far end of the lattice work. Amazing!

When we left the harbor, I saw a black pelican flying overhead. I’m not sure why we discussed it at that time, but Diana told me that they rarely get hurricanes. Instead, they are on a fault line so they get earthquake.

Since this is their winter, the sun sets around 6:30 p.m. I think it rises about 5 a.m.

I now know why Diana acted yesterday as if it wasn’t her own kitchen-unable to find items she needed. Her housekeeper, Dale, moves things to places that make sense to her. We (the girls and I) were looking for the humus and couldn’t find it. Kelsey advised me that, if there is anything I need to find, I should ask Dale while she’s there.

Ken is also employed by Diana as a driver, handyman, gardener, you name it. She is very indebted to both Ken and Dale because they took care of Diana’s husband, Noel, when he had Alzheimer’s and she had to travel for work. Noel died five years ago.

Diana told me an amazing story. When the coup occurred in 1990, the terrorists took over the Parliament building and held everyone as hostages. They were tied up and forced to lie on the ground for 6 days without food, water, or bathroom breaks. Finally, a paraplegic Hindu doctor ordered one of the terrorists to follow him, told him to bring water for everyone. He was sufficiently authoritative that the terrorists did as he asked.
When the hostages were finally released, he hobbled out on one crutch holding up a man who had been gravely wounded. When all of the hostages were told they could stay at the Hilton for a few days to decompress, he hopped in his car and went back to his family. Although others claimed credit for brave deeds, he was the only one to face down the guns and get help for everyone- and never took or received credit for it.

I wish I could remember everything that Diana told me, but this is about it for tonight.

Hopefully, I’ll get up in time to go for a walk in the neighborhood before it gets too hot.

Day 3 in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Today I got up early and by 8:20 was walking up and down the mountains they call hills here! I took lots of photos of the various blossoming trees and homes, which range from mansions to high rises to relatively small plain stucco houses, all either what looks like white stucco or painted in orange or pale blue.

Everyone I passed was pleasant and exchanged good mornings with me. I walked down toward the town, where there are huge hotels and shiny glass-enclosed modern buildings (Citi has apparently been there for 50 years, because it said so on a sign).

I didn’t get to the walls that Diana showed me yesterday, that have what look like murals on them. What they are, however, are the work of important artists that have been blown up and affixed to the walls. They are colorful and appealing, representing all types of art styles (abstract, impressionist, realistic landscapes, etc.)

Oh, I had a fascinating chat with Natalie and Sabre, who came to get Jamie to go back to Tobago. Since they brought their car over on the ferry that is how they are returning. Jamie, however, is choosing to go by plane, which takes about 15 minutes. Luckily, my cousin Teri told me about another anti-sea sickness option: to rub VapoRub on your belly button and cover it with a Band-Aid. She guarantees 3 hours free of seasickness. Natalie and Sabre are going to try it on the trip back and let me know how well it works for them.

They would like me to visit Tobago, which has beautiful coral beaches and great snorkeling. Natalie even tried to find out if Diana and I could fly over on Friday, but getting through to the reservation desk was not possible- either by phone or over the Internet. According to Dale, it just takes a lot of patience (probably a half hour wait, from what Sabre has experienced in the past). I do hope we can go over there. I haven’t been to a beach yet!

They were there after I got back from my 1.5-hour walk, soaking wet from the hot sun (93?) and humidity. I asked them how they managed to wear long sleeves and they explained that the ferry is air conditioned and very cold. Natalie said that most places are very cold- including the Minister of Finance’s office, where they went this morning. As a matter of fact, it is so very cold there (ostensibly for the computers) that all of the staff have been given a winter clothing allowance!! They sit all bundled up, with gloves that are open at the tips so they can type. At breaks, they race outside to get warm. Can you imagine??

I am hoping that Diana comes home soon (it is now 12:30). I really need to get to a grocery, because (except for the pot luck dinner on Sunday and the small spinach/chicken pie at tea yesterday) I’ve been living on fruit and almonds.

Diana gave me a book about Trinidad and Tobago. Random interesting facts include:
“National heroes” listed include: Stephen Ames (a top golfer with 4 major PGA titles, (including an historic victory over and all-star field with Tiger woods at the Players Championship, 2006), Geoffrey Holder, Nicki Minaj, VS Naipaul (2000 Nobel Prize winner for Literature), Billy Ocean, and Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael).

Tobago has a “Blue Food Festival.” This highlights local root crops, including dasheen (which turns varying shades of blue and indigo when cooked).

The Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition involves 10 counties in Trinidad and Tobago. They compete in various aspects of folk tradition, including food, storytelling, Carnival, dance, music, theatre and the selection of the Best Village Queen, La Reine Rive.

Tobago also has a Goat and Crab Racing Festival, which is exactly what it sounds like!

There are all sorts of national holidays for major religious festivals for Hindu, Shouter Baptist, Muslim, and Roman Catholics. A jazz festival, boat racing, celebrations of the Amerindians, the arrival of East Indians, culinary festivals, and of course, Carnival.

There are five major malls in Trinidad. Diana and I went to the Long Circular Mall (named for the Long Circular Street), which was two stories and very very modern and fancy. And very busy, with lots of shoppers.

Well, I just got a call from Diana, who is very apologetic about having to stay at her office to manage proposals, etc. I certainly understand. I think I’m going to get a lot of rest and reading done while I’m here!

I do know that we are going to see Hairspray tonight. After the incredible performances of Mary Could Dance, I’m looking forward to it. It will be a different cast and theatre company. I’ll need to remind Diana to wear shoes and socks, so she doesn’t freeze her tootsies off again!

Oh, a funny quirk of this house. Diana has art on all of the walls. If you want to switch on a light, you have to look behind a framed picture! What a stitch! Usually, you think of hidden wall safes. Kelsey just cautioned me that a lizard might jump out when I move a picture. So far, not so.

I’ve also learned that both Dale and Ken (who are not related in any way) have worked for Diana and her family for over 25 years! Now I can see how Diana has been able to maintain this enormous house.

Surprisingly, there are books, fabric-covered furniture, lots of small throw pillows covered with all sorts of fabrics, and art work all open to the outside air. I asked Dale why things don’t get moldy. She said it was because they only have two seasons: rainy and dry. I guess it doesn’t stay wet long enough to make a dent.

It was a very simple day, mostly filled with reading. We did get all dolled up to go to see Hairspray, only to find that the tickets were for Thursday instead of Tuesday. No wonder we had the entire parking lot to ourselves!

So, nothing more to report. I’ll try to have a more interesting day tomorrow.

Day 4 in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Hello. This was a very very different day than any I’ve had so far. Diana wanted me to talk with her Chief Executive Officer, Saadia Lee Ying, about coming back to conduct a 4-day train the trainer program. So, I got all gussied up, with makeup and heels no less, to make a good professional impression. However, when we got to the office, Saadia was out until 3 p.m.

So, Diana took me to get a pedicure! We were both going to get one, but she had a television interview at 1 p.m. and it was already 12:30. So she left me and off she went, to be interviewed about women and children’s rights and domestic abuse. The young woman who gave me the pedicure was very sweet, explaining everything she was doing. I’ve only had one other pedicure in my life, and I don’t recall having my feet wrapped in hot paraffin that time. It was very pleasant.

The problem was that I had sandals that did not splay my toes, so when they told me that the polish was dry enough to put them on, the big toes got scraped. It took two more tries and then Diana loaning me her flip-flops, so that my toes didn’t rub against anything.

After that, I did meet with Saadia, who asked me to give her a cost proposal. I sent the proposal with attachments off to her before I started to write to you.

By this time, it was after 4 p.m. and both Diana and I were famished. We went to a boutique grocery/café, which had excellent food (a roast beef sandwich for me and tea and a custard sweet for Diana, who has had terrible stomach cramps for over a week and is really suffering). The owner’s wife chatted with us about what Diana could eat (actually drink) to keep up her energy, since solid food doesn’t work for her right now.
Apparently kale is the perfect food, providing protein and all the other vitamins a person needs. If chard and carrots are added to the kale in a juicer, it creates a perfect meal.

I had tried kale previously when my friend Reid learned about my uterine cancer- and I really disliked its bitter taste. So, the fellow’s wife said to add in apples and to make it taste like apple juice (that’s how she gets her children to drink it). She also told me that when you strain out the fiber, you strain out any pesticides- since they stay in the fiber stalks and skins. I’m definitely going to try it out when I get back. She even gave me the recipe!

Then we went to Diana’s meditation class, which was fascinating. I’ve never really been taught how to meditate before. There were about 10 people there, plus Sister Paul- a very warm, welcoming tiny woman in ivory skirt and blouse. Although over 80, she was very youthful. We meditated for 20 minutes, and then the group discussed an incredibly difficult book by a philosopher for another 20 minutes or so. The peace and well-being I gained from the meditation slowly became a headache during the discussion!

We went home to have dinner that Dale had made- chicken stew in a very brown sauce. I asked Diana why it was brown and she said that Dale cooked it the Trinidadian way- with brown sugar.

Tomorrow, we are going to go to Marrakesh beach and then to Hairspray in the evening.

Miscellaneous facts:

There are bands consisting of 10,000 people (all in costume) that march in Carnival! Diana said bands of 1,000 to 2,000 were all right, but these larger bands were overwhelming. I can’t even imagine a 1,000-member band!

She also told me that births in Trinidad spike 500% 9 months after Carnival…

For three hours tonight, I have been serenaded by a steel pan band (the steel pan originated in Trinidad) practicing (as they have done every night). Dogs barked the entire time, too, which was incredibly annoying. No one seems to care or do anything about them.

There were also fireworks- Happy Fourth of July! We could only see a few of them, but they went on for at least 10-15 minutes. So, it is clear that someone was celebrating!

The rain is really something. The sun is shining brightly, then a wind comes and it is as if someone with a huge bucket dumps the water on the roofs. Then it stops as quickly as it started.

This happens throughout the afternoon. And boy, does that rain come down hard!

Oh, I’m going to be in for it now. When I was meeting with Saadia and she started to tell me what she needed from me, I grabbed what looked like a receipt so that I had something to write on. Well, later I realized that it is my departure record from customs- that I’ll have to give them when I leave. Good grief! Luckily, it wasn’t stamped or anything, so hopefully I can get a replacement.

Speaking of leaving, I am going to have to be at the airport 3 hours before my flight leaves- and my flight on Sunday morning is at 7 a.m. Now I understand why my ticket was discounted!

Downtown, next to the savannah where people lime (hang out), there are food vendors. Included among them is a guy who sells coconut juice. He cuts the coconut in half (what we see in the store is inside a different shell). When a coconut is ripe, the flesh is spongy. When we get our coconuts, the flesh is really dried out.

I’m not going to get to Tobago this trip. Diana usually packs food and takes the car on the ferry- then rents a villa from a friend. Since the villa sleeps 6, it isn’t cost effective to do this when the grandchildren aren’t able to come, too. So, Diana is planning to have me spend a few days in Tobago the next time I come. Based on the conversation with Saadia, that will be sometime in the fall (assuming everything works out).

I had to create a cost proposal for Saadia. This was a very different experience than trying to create a cost proposal for the Jordan Civil Society Program (which I had to do just before I left on this trip). Having Diana prompt me on rates, etc. made the entire process very easy. Whew!

Diana has apologized a number of times for leaving me on my own. She had planned to take the entire week off, then discovered only 2 weeks ago that she would have to move her office of 22 staff! Plus, two proposals had to be written. She spent a lot of today with me and tomorrow it sounds like I’ll have her mostly to myself. That will be a great treat!

Day 5 in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Hello.

Today, Diana wanted to get an early start (8 a.m.) to go to the beach at Marrakesh, which is about 45 minutes away over a mountain. Of course, my phone alarm decided not to wake me up at 7 a.m. as I had planned- and Diana didn’t wake me up until 8. When I asked her why she hadn’t gotten me up earlier, she said that her grandchildren had habituated her to NOT waking anyone up!

When we left the house around 8:30, it started to drizzle. Diana did not want to make the perilous journey to Marrakesh if it rained hard. Because the drive is mostly through rain forest, the roads can get very slippery and years ago, Diana had a very bad accident.

There is a story about the origin of the beach at Marrakesh. During the war, Trinidad ceded land along the peninsula (where we ate lunch at the harbor earlier this week) to the US Army, which cut off all access to the beaches there. To compensate, they cut a road over the mountain to the beach on the other side.

The problem is that it had been very easy for people to get to the beaches on the peninsula- a short taxi ride for those without cars. Now it required a car and a long drive on a very twisting narrow road to get to the new Marrakesh beach. Since many Trinidadians did not own cars at the time, it was a real hardship.

So, we went to a mall and window-shopped. When we found a drug store open, we wandered in.. They had gluten-free candy. I didn’t know this, but apparently there is gluten in salad dressings, candy, etc. etc. I had only thought it was in bread. Because of her stomach difficulties, Diana cannot have gluten. I learn new things every day!

She also showed me a number of natural remedies for common aches and pains, such as clove for a tooth ache, etc. Oh, while there I did see the acupressure bands I had mentioned to Natalie and Sabre. I’ll have to tell them about their availability.

While we walked around, a woman met us and gave Diana a hug. She told us that she had just come from the school where her grandchild was crying with joy because he got into the secondary school of his choice. She still had tears in her eyes.

This child had just gotten his results from his 11 plus- an exam that the Caribbean exam council gives to all children between ages 11 and 12. If the grade is good enough, the child gets into a good denominational secondary school, which can give him the preparation necessary to get into the university and set him up for life. If the grade is not good enough, the child is sent to a public school- and only a very few of these schools provide sufficient educations.

For this reason, parents pay a lot to send their children to primary schools. In Trinidad, attendance at all secondary schools (even the private denominational ones) as well as attendance at the universities (assuming the student passes the entry examination)
is free.

High school (O level) is four years. At the 3rd year, the students are “streamed” into all science and math courses, or all language courses, etc. If the student decides later that he or she does not like that stream, the student needs to start all over again. Diana explained that the teachers typically recommend the stream to the parents, who usually go along with the teacher’s recommendation.

After O Level, there are two years of A Level that can provide additional courses the student was unable to take during high school.

On a separate subject, I asked Diana about marriage ages in Trinidad. The Children’s Act sets the legal age for marriage at 18. However, Islamic girls of 12 and boys of 14 can get married with parental consent. The Hindu religion allows girls of 14 to get married.

There are a lot of babies having babies…

The sun came out so we headed to Marrakesh through villages with many charming homes and gardens- through a rainforest. It was foggy, so I wasn’t able to see the ocean until we got to an outlook at the very top. It was spectacular. We had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. It was a white sand beach with very little shells or sea weed- due to a great extent to the rock outcroppings at the entry to the cove and also to the nets that the fishing trawlers put out, which scoop up everything.

It wasn’t until we were in the water (it was low tide, with the tide coming in with some pretty high waves) that Diana mentioned the flags out indicated a dangerous undertow. However, we had no difficulties and it really was glorious to be out in the ocean. Then we walked on the beach (I was trying to find shells for Jenny and only found two tiny ones). The sound of the wind through the palm tree leaves was very new to me- somewhat like the sound that dry leaves make in the fall.

There were some very stunted and twisted trees that Diana told me were sea coconut trees.

Richard’s Bake and Shark is a very popular delicacy, but we didn’t partake since Diana couldn’t eat solid food. She explained that the bake is a Yorkshire pudding like bread, on which is placed breaded baby shark. Then you go to a condiment table and choose from lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mustard, mayonnaise, etc. Diana said it was “lovely!”
I actually would have tried one (and I’m not just saying that because I knew we weren’t going to eat there!)

We journeyed back to Port of Spain to go to the bank and then to Buffo’s Italian restaurant. You should see how difficult it is to park anywhere. There simply is not room, even in dedicated car parks. But after going around the square twice, we lucked out.
The food was wonderful. I was finally able to “treat” Diana, because we exchanged money at the bank. I must admit that it is strange to see a bill for $421 TT for lunch!

I wasn’t able to get a picture of it, but Diana pointed out a sweet little gingerbread house, which she said was an example of a traditional Trinidadian home. I’ll try to get a picture tomorrow.

When we got back to Diana’s home, I went to take a shower (I was absolutely covered with sea salt). I was also covered with sand, which I discovered to my chagrin when I took off my bathing suit! I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. After all, I grew up swimming at salt-water beaches.

For “light” reading, Diana loaned me a book titled “The Family,” which is an expose of “the secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power” by Jeff Sharlet. It is riveting and terrifying. I highly recommend it!

This evening, we went to see Hairspray. The lead was terrific, with a great personality and a lovely voice. All of the acting and singing and dancing was wonderful. My only complaint is that the mikes were set very high, so I’ve been back at Diana’s for over an hour and my ears are still ringing.

It’s a good thing that I’m starting to get a tad acclimated to the heat and humidity, given what I’m reading about the 104 temperatures in Madison. Good grief!

Oh, a funny story about how Trinidadians love to party. Diana knows of some folks who stopped by the side of the road so one of the men could take a leak in the forest. Another car stopped to see if they were all right. They then asked if they had any rum- and getting an affirmative answer, pulled out glasses and snacks. Then another car stopped and joined in- instant party with people quickly no longer strangers!

I’m still getting used to my scarlet toenails. I’m startled when I look down!

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but whatever it is, I know I’m going to enjoy it.

Day 6 in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Hello.

This is going to be very brief, only because my day was jam-packed and we’re going to a craft fair early this morning (which is actually Day 7 as I write this).

Friday, it rained all morning, so I did a lot of reading (both my mystery and all of the email that I had saved for a rainy day ☺).

Then in the afternoon, I went on a tour of Port of Spain. This included seeing the magnificent seven. These are beautiful old mansions built in 1906 or earlier- all of which are undergoing restoration, which is greatly needed.

Then to the historical museum, where I saw pictures and learned a great deal about Trinidad’s history- occupation by the French, Spanish and British- and 50 years ago, becoming its own country. Sugar, cocoa, rum, oil- all has played a large part in ensuring that Trinidad is a very wealthy country.

We went to the botanical gardens, which were amazing- with palms and flowering trees from all over the Caribbean. I’ll have to send photos, because trying to describe them will defeat me.

Then to the zoo. Not my favorite place usually, this one had animals in very small cages. I couldn’t bear it. But my guide has three little children, knows the zoo like the back of his hand, and had to stop and chat with each animal (we’re talking at least an hour and a half for this visit in the very hot sun!!!). He, like other Trinidadian males I watched, would poke his finger through the wire to stroke large birds whose beaks could have had his finger for lunch. We even watched cringing as a man, who I do think was mentally challenged, poked his fingers through the cage of a cougar, who let him stroke his ear and head!!! We moved on before we could see the accident that was dying to happen occur. We didn’t want to be witnesses!

We drove to the top of a very very steep hill that overlooked all of Port of Spain. Magnificent, from mountains to the right (I’m not going to pretend to use north or south…) the ocean, the port, very tall buildings, small and large homes and estates. Lush foliage and blossoming trees everywhere.

When I got back to the house, Diana asked me if I wanted to go to the flower show. My goodness, you can’t imagine the displays of exotic flowers. Not just orchids of every size, shape and color, but all sorts of other flowers I have no name for and again, can only describe through photos. Brilliant scarlet falls of blossoms, all types of fragrant lilies. If only I could pack them in a bag and bring them back. Just spectacular!

I’ll write more this evening, my last day here in Trinidad

P.S. Diana told me that calypso music and lyrics are Trinidad’s oral history!

Day 7 in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Hello. This has been my last day in paradise and it has been a very very long day. I set my phone alarm for 7 a.m. and it went off at 6 a.m. I didn’t realize this, of course, so rushed to get through my morning ablutions so I could eat some breakfast and be ready to leave at 8 a.m. to go to the craft market.

So, I ended up having a leisurely hour and a half, which gave me time to write and send my Day 6 message.

We got to the craft market early, because a friend of Meryl’s had promised to bring earrings that she imports from Indochina that are very unique. Meryl had worn one for the pot luck- essentially shaped like a swan’s wings in white bone, which was striking against her olive complexion.

The earrings were lovely and I selected a number of very graceful wooden earrings to bring back as gifts- only to realize that they were impossible to put on. If you imagine a horse shoe shape (which it really wasn’t, but the example works), each end of the horse shoe had a hole in it and a small sliver of wood that was to go through one hole at the end of the horse shoe, then through the hole in the earlobe and through the hole in the other side of the horse shoe. That meant lining up three holes! No way!!! So sadly, I had to put them back.

All of the vendors were welcoming (of course) and had lovely wares. Besides jewelry, there were fabrics and foodstuffs. I tried a gluten free carrot cake that was out of this world and pesto. Meanwhile, Diana and Natalie were doing their own shopping and greeting people right and left. Diana ended up buying tons of cheese (I now know what to send her in thanks!) We both tried a spoonful of homemade coconut ice cream, which was incredibly delicious. Diana decided that we would come back after shopping elsewhere so that we could buy some to take home.

Then, on to Hi Lo to grocery shop, except that Diana couldn’t find her shopping list so we went down almost every aisle- again greeting people. One fellow, Lennox Raphael, was someone she hadn’t seen for about 20 years. He was visiting from Denmark, where he produces musicals. He apparently had a musical similar to Hair on Broadway years ago.

That is one thing that becomes clear- this is a very cosmopolitan city, with people who come and go to Canada, other islands in the Caribbean, the States, England and other places in Europe.

Shopping at Hi Lo took probably an hour longer than necessary because of some hold up with the cashier and someone in front of us. I kid you not. A woman in line behind us went up several times to complain to management, to absolutely no avail. You definitely have to learn patience. Since I was tired and hungry, mine was at a minimum…

We went home to unpack all the groceries and have lunch. Then Diana played some steel pan doing classical music! It was astounding what they could accomplish with the steel pans. A funny thing- when the music went into crescendo, the rain poured down as if in sync with it.

Next, we went to the Long Circular Mall to replace a kitchen clock that had ticked its last tock- and get the rest of Dale’s list. We got the four items and toted them back to the car. Then after we found a clock, I decided while there that I should replace my leather watch band because it was so brittle I was afraid it would fall off in the airport. While I did that, Diana got her ears re-pierced above her current piercings (which were starting to droop). She didn’t even make a peep!

Next, to a bookstore where the owner had books ordered for Diana, as well as a pile of books he thought she might like. It was a charming tiny bookstore, where the young Guyanan sat playing chess with an elderly man. We spent quite a while there and Diana left with a pile of books. I purchased them for her as a small token to pay her back for her kindness and generosity.

Next, to an art gallery that had some very nice paintings and wood sculpture.

Then we went back to the craft market to purchase the ice cream, but sadly they had closed up 45 minutes before.

Next, to a gift store in a different mall where Diana told me all of the arts and crafts were made by people from Trinidad or Tobago. There were wonderful paintings and photographs, books, jewelry, and clothing- but all very pricey. I really wanted to get a picture of a waterfall in the rain forest, surrounded by flowering trees. But it was too large to carry and much too expensive to purchase.

Next, we went to the Normandie hotel, which is where Diana’s company lodges trainers they bring into the country. It was lovely and we had a nice time in their bookstore, where I was able to get a Trinidad magnet. I like to get one from every place I visit. I find it is an inexpensive way to remember my visits- and since I see them every day because they are on the refrigerator, I get to “vacation” each time I open the refrigerator door!

Then we went across town again to find someplace that might have coconut ice cream. We ended up at Haagen Daz, where we both had one scoop- Diana of mango apricot and I with chocolate chocolate chip. Both were excellent and definitely hit my spots (as I’ve taught my little granddaughters to say).

By the time we got back to Diana’s, I’d been up for over 11 hours!

This evening was a stitch! Kelsey will be leaving to go for her MA in British Columbia, so Diana was teaching her the protocol for diplomatic dinners. There is no immediate need for Kelsey to know this, it was just in case she was invited to dine with the Queen or the Prime Minister! Diana has moved in diplomatic circles for 40 years, so her instructions were very detailed. It actually boggles the mind! Probably all I’ll remember is that, when you are finished, you place your knife and fork together on your plate.

Well, I have to go pack, take a shower and get to bed, since I have to be up at 3 a.m. Good grief!

It has been an amazing vacation and Diana and her friends and family have all been wonderfully loving and dear. I will definitely miss Diana and her children.

Day 8, Leaving Port of Spain, Trinidad

Good morning. It is almost 5 am and I am safely to the airport, checked in and waiting at the almost empty gate. What is amazing is all of the shops that are open at this hour. I had expected there to be nothing and that’s hardly the case. All the duty free shops, the fast food places and gift shops are open.

I thought I’d tell you about the good and the ugly of Port of Spain and Trinidad.

The good: up to age 65, all health care is free. If you have an accident, the ambulance will take you to the nearest hospital for free. I’ve already mentioned that attendance at secondary schools and universities is free. Seniors get all public transportation (buses, water taxi to Tobago) free.

The ugly: two nights ago, one street above Diana’s, a man was shot and killed. Neighbors heard the shots. Everyone believes that it was a drug hit. He was left with 100TT in his outstretched hand. Diana thinks that this is to serve as a message that other members of the family will be killed if the drug money is not paid. I didn’t want to mention this while I was still at Diana’s home.

Although Ken was supposed to drive me to the airport this morning, he called Diana to say that his truck wasn’t working. So, Diana drove, awakening N’gosi (Jamie’s close friend who lives there often) to accompany Diana on her way back because it is not safe for a woman to drive alone.

Diana said that she was going to “risk” driving up the mountain and when I asked her why it was risky, she said that was where the bandits are on the move at night. They squat (living in rough looking “homes” on government land along the road at the top of the mountain. At night, they go down into the city and rob people. So, even taxis don’t like to drive this way because if they get a flat tire or have an accident, they are at the mercy of these criminals. Yikes!

Diana has tried to have the government do something about them, but officials say that poor people have to live somewhere. Since they all have cars, Diana questions how poor they really are.

Crime is obviously not isolated in this area. A number of cars parked on the street that Diana lives on have had their batteries lifted and their cars broken into. Inez, who works at the art gallery, lives two doors down from where the murder took place. Her car was broken into and the battery stolen. Apparently her car is of a make and model that she cannot replace the side door or whatever else was smashed. As she described it, if it had just been the battery, she could have managed to replace that.

So, now it is very understandable why all the homes (at least the middle class homes) have gates and high fences with barbed wire and security cameras. At night, not only does Diana’s family lock all the doors, they padlock gates around the doors (with two padlocks).

More good: on the way to the airport, Diana pulled into the same or a similar overlook as the one I was at yesterday. With all of the lights twinkling blue and yellow, it was magical.

At the airport, I started to queue up with my luggage at the American Airlines counter. An official told me that it would be faster if I checked in at a kiosk near the door. An official was there handling it and I only had to wait until one fellow was checked in. Then all I had to do was bring my luggage and departure ticket to a counter with no line and I was done. No fuss, no muss. Very easy.

Again, I’m going to be in first or business class for the four-hour trip to Miami. Lovely, to quote Diana.

Tomorrow, Diana will be on a panel in front of the Chamber of Commerce. She will have 20 minutes to identify social concerns not addressed in the current budget and what should be done about it. She is really something else!

My mother would love Diana’s home with all of the artwork on every wall and orchids growing in pots. But she would particularly love Diana’s bedroom and office, which have wall to ceiling bookshelves cram packed (Diana says that instead of jam packed and I love it!) with books on poetry, philosophy, politics, social issues, self-awareness, business, classics, and current fiction and nonfiction.

I’m a pretender. I have bookshelves (definitely not as many as Diana) crammed with books but, unlike her, I haven’t read many of them. I certainly purchase them with good intentions, but then hope their wisdom will seek into me through some type of osmosis.

Diana has her pulse on international and local politics (and I mentioned was a Senator for many many years) while I go days without watching or knowing any news. Her treat is to read the London Guardian on the weekend, much as my mother reads the New York Times. Well, Mom reads the New York Times every day, but you get the picture.

Diana funded my visit because she was worried about me. Her heart is as large as the world. She tells people that she has four grandchildren living with her. Besides Kelsey and Morgan (who are her son Christopher’s children) and James (who is her daughter Natalie’s son), she counts N’gosi. She roused him from the couch to accompany us to the airport and he got up without a comment, took my suitcase down the stairs, over the courtyard and placed it into the trunk (boot) with a gentle smile. Then he lay down on the back seat and went back to sleep.

When I met him the other day and went to shake his hand, he gave me a huge hug because he said that was the Trinidad way.

And it certainly is. People I meet for the very first time give me hugs and kisses on my cheek. So, there is a seamy side, as there is in any large city. But Port of Spain is also very beautiful, with this enormous savannah right in the middle and the longest round about in the world (so I’ve been told). Modern buildings, traditional buildings, the magnificent seven buildings from the British imperial times, several two or three story malls with wonderful stores, cinemas playing the latest movies, and a rainforest and beaches.

As I sat in the living room at my computer yesterday afternoon, I was at treetop level and able to watch colorful birds and humming birds (just as I had seen at the zoo!) busy flying from branch to branch!

I leave somewhat tired (well, I did get up at 3 a.m.!) but filled with warm memories of people, places, nature, and long long chats with Diana. Trinidad (and especially Diana’s beautiful home) is truly a paradise and I hope to return soon.

P.S. I’m home safe. Travels were long and tiring but uneventful. A cute story: Landing in Miami from Port of Spain, we hit a very bumpy patch. A small voice piped up: “Hold on tight!” so we did.

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