Our visit to Trinidad & Tobago this January was definitely one of those unplanned, off-the-cuff type of trips. Last summer one of my favorite hotel reward programs, Club Carlson, was ending its buy 1 get 1 free award night program for credit card holders. Elliott and I had tons of hotel points, so I booked a bunch of hotels for the next two year period, in order to use up all of our points with that program while they still got us hotels at 50% off the award point price!
The Radisson in Port of Spain, Trinidad was one of those hotels, and Trinidad & Tobago, a small country consisting of two islands in the southern Caribbean, sounded very appealing. Trinidad & Tobago is so far south that it looks to be a stone’s throw away from Venezuela. We booked our tickets last year and figured we’d take lots of beach-y stuff for a super relaxing beach destination.
Only when we got there did we find that our hotel was located across the street from the cruise port in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Whereas outside the lobby there was a nice little pool and relaxing patio area, it was not even close to what I’d call a beach destination! (We were consoled by a plate full of little cakes in our room waiting for us.) We wanted to see what Trinidad had to offer. So we tucked most of our bathing suits back in our bags, put on some shorts, and started exploring.
Luckily, Port of Spain was very walkable. Unfortunately, our hotel staff neglected to mention that we were located on the border of the worst part of town. What looked like a nice double-wide street with a huge median containing a park area, turned out to be a somewhat dangerous area. We didn’t find out the hard way or first-hand; but after three nights of being warned by locals as we walked down this road (named “Independence Square” no less!), and the last warning having come from some policemen driving their local beat, we figured we ought to ask the employees at the front desk if all of town was this dangerous. They pulled out a map and showed us several other areas which are considered much safer – all within walking distance.
We first visited the free Royal Botanical Gardens. We walked there from our hotel, on the way taking some photos of the Magnificent Seven – a row of old houses and mansions that are slowly being restored.
At the gardens we found beautiful grounds with pretty flowering trees to give us a respite from the heat. We followed the walking paths, trying to avoid any large groups coming from the cruise ship that was in town. We enjoyed seeing flowers we’re familiar with from visiting Hawaii, some air plants and Spanish moss, and several different types of orchids.
There was also a pretty fountain, and a small cemetery where former governors of Trinidad are buried.
Next to the Botanic Gardens was the Emperor Zoo, so we spent some time there as well.
One of the highlights included flamingoes who were all puffed up, trying to attract mates – I had never seen that before. There was also a threesome (mother and two babies) of white Bengal Tigers – we had never seen those either! They were just gorgeous. They let us pay $1.50 to feed the giraffes out of our hands – fun! Last but not least, we watched the lion and tiger each devour a huge hunk of raw meat at meal time. It was really cute watching the tiger lick her meat over and over like it was a child!
The next day we visited the National Museum & Art Gallery, which I would describe as “a little random but interesting.” We learned about the history of Trinidad & Tobago as a sugar and rum exporter, as well as the very sad realities of the slave-trade. Trinidad is also rich in tar and natural gas which they export as well. The displays and details of the huge machinery was a bit on the technical side, but interesting nonetheless.
We also learned about one of the most fascinating aspects of Trinidad and Tobago – her people. Being a colony that was passed around a bit, there are the obligatory Europeans in the mix, but they make up less than 5% of the population. After the slave trade collapsed, the plantation owners (remember those Europeans we talked about?) were annoyed to lose their free labor. They lured hundreds of thousands of Indian people over with the promise of a better life, and promptly made them indentured servants (which was basically one very small step away from slavery). So today the majority of the people are of African and Indian descent. After marrying into each other’s cultures for over 150 years, I can honestly say that the blend of the two ethnicities has yielded one of the most beautiful peoples we have ever encountered.
One exciting thing that was happening on Trinidad while we were there, especially for Elliott, was the International Soca Monarch Semi Finals. Soca, short for the “Soul of Calypso,” is a type of music that blends Calypso with reggae, funk, and Indian music, and sets it all to toe-tapping rhythms. Think of it as Caribbean pop music. (It’s actually more popular in the Caribbean than Reggae.) Each year, in the lead up to Carnival, Soca acts from all over the world compete in Trinidad for the title of International Soca Monarch. We were able to walk to the event and get tickets at the door, so we figured why not? We love attending new and different events when we travel, and you don’t have to twist Elliott’s arm to get him to go see live music.
It was a blast. There were over 35 bands competing in the semifinals (the “semis,” as it’s known,) and for one low ticket price, there was music scheduled from 6:00 pm until 2:00 am. The place was filled with locals, whom I think got a kick out of the fact that we were there.
There were flag crews were out in full force. It’s their job to be on or in front of the stage and wave large flags to support their favorite acts. The music was jumping, the flags were waving, the local beer was flowing, and there was a lot of positive energy. Elliott came away with a dozen new bands to check out, but was disappointed to learn that his favorite act of the show didn’t win the title. You can listen to Chuck Gordon’s “No Jumbie Vibes” here.