To our South African minds, just the name Trinidad sounded exotic. At last we were going to enter the Carribean – that elusive body of blue–blue waters that the Beach Boys sing about.
Well………..Trinidad is certainly exotic. Life here is different and beautiful. But, blue-blue water? Uh…….no.
The seawater here runs all the way from the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela and brings with it the green, brown water so typical on this side of the Island. The water is not always this colour. When it rains, the earth leaks into the sea and forms a wide band around the land that reminds of coffee with lots of milk.
Our very first impressions of the people of Trinidad were when we decided to try to join the Independence Day Celebrations in Port of Spain. There was going to be a big parade and it sounded interesting. We piled into a Maxi-Taxi (just like a minibus taxi at home) and the taxi driver deposited us “near” the parade. No matter how fast we tried to walk, or how many shortcuts we took, we never did catch up with the front part. We ended up seeing the back part THREE times which consisted of a display of all the different types of emergency vehicles in Trinidad.
The Trinidadians love loud noise and these vehicles were outdoing each other in broadcasting their alarms etc. as often and as loudly as possible. The highlight was when the Fire Engine lifted up its hose to the sky and a great body of water rained down on us. Refreshing J. It was a hot, hot, hot day.
Which brings me to our next observation. Although the weather was every bit as humid and sultry as in Brazil, Trinidadians wore more clothes. Once we noticed this, we actively sought for scantily clad women and I think in the whole crowd we might have seen two. Their tops were modest and very few wore shorts. If they did, it was the long type and certainly not the skimpy denim shorts we saw everywhere in Rio.
The language spoken in Trinidad is English. At first, all we could think was : “You’ve got to be kidding me!”. This was NOT English. We were prepared to believe that English was the OFFICIAL language, but that Trinny’s couldn’t speak it. It takes quite a while to recognise that they ARE, in fact, speaking English. Later, we found that if they were talking to you directly, it was possible to follow and that not all people speak with the same strong accent. One of the words they love to use, is “aks” instead of “ask”. You can aks anyone for anything. If we staid any longer than we did, I might have started to aks nicely too.
Trinidadians are very friendly and helpful. Frans has so often heard the words “Take your time”, that we have started to repeat it in our own conversations. They never get upset when you fumble your change or when you don’t know exactly what you want when you get to the front of the queue. “Take your time, man, take your time.’’ Even their traffic reflects this attitude. It is possible to cut into any line of traffic easily and all cars are very considerate of pedestrians crossing the road. The downsize is that they also stop easily in the middle of a traffic lane to drop people off or to pick up parcels or to just chat to someone walking past.
There is a one lane road leading into Chaguaramas which is where all the yacht activity is situated. On a certain stretch of this road they have boards that announce very clearly “No stopping for the next 5 km’s” This has always baffled us as there were so many cars pulled off onto the shoulder in that specific stretch. This was until we figured out that they must be referring to that Trinidadian custom of stopping in the middle of the traffic lane.
The Trinidadians might not get upset when you fumble your change, but they dislike the use of coins. They do not respect it as money and will let it drop into the street or at the tills in shops. My girls got into the ‘coin collecting’ mania even before leaving South Africa, competing to see who can spot the largest coin lying around. In Trinidad they hit the jackpot. There are coins everywhere!! They picked up the equivalent of 26 TT dollars (about R60.00) over our three months’ stay. They had no problem to exchange this at the bank, so it still remains a mystery that Trinny’s themselves would not collect the money.
Maybe they do not need the change as badly as in South Africa. The official unemployment rate in Trinidad is 3 % !!!! Everywhere we went they had posters up in front of businesses advertising that they were : “Hiring staff – apply within”. In South Africa they wouldn’t dare to put up a poster like this for fear of a stampede.
During our 3 month stay in Trinidad, we went to the movie theatre once. It was a real treat and the first time since leaving South Africa. They do things slightly differently here. When we entered the Cinema Building, they immediately showed us where we were obligated to leave our bags. This was not a security measure as we initially thought. Our bags were just placed onto an open rack behind the counter with a number attached to it. It would have been so easy for anyone to snatch something – but, nobody did.
The reason that they do the bag-taking is to prevent people from smuggling food into the cinema. It is not that they don’t like people eating while watching a movie, they just want you eating THEIR food. In the place of just the normal popcorn and sweets stall, there were about 3 different fast food outlets. You could choose a meal from any of them and they even provided you with a special tray to take it inside the theatre. The result is such, that in Trinidad, movie theatres are filled with the smell of French fries and burgers – not the usual popcorn fare :).
There was one more thing that would never work in South Africa. To the one side there was a stand that glowed with fluorescent lights and was made up of little compartments. On closer inspection it turned out to be a free “cellphone charger machine”. Each little compartment had a plugpoint and a see-through door that opened with a code. You inserted your phone and closed the door. Now you insert your own code to lock the door and only your code would unlock it again. (Marike reminded me that occupied boxes actually glowed red and turned green when the cellphone is charged). You were now free to enjoy your movie while your flat phone battery is being charged!
In the next instalment, we’ll share some more of our Trinidad experiences.