Trinidad - Now with more lime!

Friday · February 20, 2004 · 03:15 AM

I’m back. The trip was so much different than I had expected and it’s going to be impossible to update you with everything that happened. Instead, I encourage you to make the trip to Carnival in Trinidad and experience it for yourself. And if you see my lost shoe, let me know.

What I’ll do is give you a few pieces of advice, so that you can learn from my mistakes. First off, a Baz-like suggestion to wear sunblock. I will dispense my advice now.

Listen to Meh Nah

I gotta say, the thing that make me most vex with Trinidad is my inability to understand the people there. Some natives talk with such a thick accent that I have to ask them to repeat what they’re saying until they get bored and wander off. Sadly, this happened more often than I’d like. Once again, I wish real life was more like a movie – I’ve wanted to have a sound track, but now I’ve update to also wanting subtitles.

I spent some time (well, pretty much 24/7) listening to Soca (fast-paced Calypso music) and don’t understand any of the lyrics. One of the more popular songs was Soca Train and I went around singing: “Nananana nanana. De Soca Train, de Soca Train…”

Play Mas

Important advice: pick a costume to wear before you get there. The good ones sell out and you don’t want to get stuck with something that makes your butt look fat (not that I’m implying anything). They’re a little expensive, but it’s really the way to experience carnival – without one you’re a spectator.

It’s a two day parade. I mean it’s two days straight – expect to skip sleep. In fact you’ll want to give up sleep on the entire trip. I suggest you hit the gym for a couple months before you go – put a Stairmaster in the sauna and work out until you can go for 20 hours straight, then you’ll be prepared.

The two biggest bands are Legends (3,800 members) and Poison (11,000). It’s usually a cinch that one of them will win the Parade of the Bands competition – this year it was Legends. This wasn’t surprising since the lovely Cheryl, Nikki, Sally, and Wendy were all part of the band (see the “I Had a Dream” costume for idea what they looked like).

The Legends band had the theme of Freedom this year.

Look de Band Comin!

I have to explain what a band is. It’s a truck carrying speakers that are bigger than my apartment and there’s a DJ that plays a song. Sometimes just one song. Seriously. If they want to branch out they’ll cycle the top three songs. This can get old after 12 hours –
I heard the most popular song around 100 times.

Bring your Walkman and listen to Aqua, which is less likely to get stuck in your head “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world…”.

Hotter Than a Radiator

If you’re expecting Trinidad to be a tropical paradise, you won’t be disappointed. Unless you want it to be a cool tropical paradise, in which case you’ll run screaming from the island.

I can ignore heat for the most part, but it does start to wear down on you. Partying and dancing and drinking for 30 hours at a stretch tends to make me a little tired – the heat doesn’t help. I suggested they put a dome over the entire island and air condition Trinidad once and for all. Someone complained about not seeing the sun, but that’s what fluorescent lights are for, right?

The heat is truly insane and there are no air conditioners available anywhere – the crazy houses have holes under the eaves to allow a cross breeze.

Those people seem to love de Craziness.

Would you like to chip with that wine?

Don’t miss the Soca Monarch. That’s a battle of the bands sort of thing, with the performers trying to outdo each other with fireworks and great performances. We got there around 11pm and missed a couple acts, but spent the next four hours dancing and enjoying the spectacle. Luckily it was in the evening so it had cooled to a brisk 80F degrees.

We would have gone out to another party after the Soca Monarch, but some of our group had drank (drunk?) a bit much and we had to carry him home. Luckily all that sweating is a great weight loss plan and he was pretty easy to deal with. I didn’t see him for the rest of the trip, however.

Bunji won, by the way – he had a great show, with a huge dragon that blew flames out over the crowd. He sang his hit Warrior Cry.

At this point I was draggin’...

Bunji’s dragon was a costume on it’s own and we saw it as part of a calypso contest, called Dimanche Gras. Each calypso performer sang and there was also a costume parade (two contests for one $100 ticket, what a bargain!). The head of the dragon took part in the contest and then took part in the parade with one of the bands. Note that this costume came in second for the men’s competition – the number one costume was part of the Legends Band. The number one women’s costume was also part of Legends. It’s no wonder Legends won, despite the fact that Greg was dancing with them.

The Dimanche Gras was a contest of traditional calypso and the acts are judged based on the performance, but more importantly on the message that’s written into the song. Some compared WMD to AIDs and implied that money spent on the war in Iraq would have saved more lives applied elsewhere. A woman sang “Collateral Damage” (while wearing a flak jacket!) and there were several other up-lifting tunes about children being murdered. Shadow performed “Sing Boy Sing”, a song denouncing pirating.

Chalkdust won with a song called “Fishmongering”, which was about Cro Cro, a small fish that nobody really wants. At the end, he had CroCro, a singer that nobody wanted to play the competition appear as part of the act. It was clever – the song stood on it’s own (“want a bigger fish, try this octopus it’s got 8 feet”) and then the song also was a commentary on CroCro’s ban (he sang a song that denounced Trinidadian kidnappings and implied that the corrupt politicians should be kidnapped – the politicians said they weren’t corrupt and put pressure on people to disallow him to perform).

The contest started at 7pm or so and lasted until 1am. We had a quick dinner (“Kentucky”, aka KFC) and went to meet some other folks for further partying.

Piece of advice: If you get invited to a party that starts at 5am and they tell you to show up two hours earlier to get rubbed down with Vaseline, politely decline.

At this point I’d wine’d so much that I could understand the Bumpa Ketch ah Fyah song. It made me giggle. It could have been the sleep deprivation, though.

Holy Hell, a Talking Pizza Roll!

Well, the bad jokes started flying. We’d been up for a days straight and the 5am street party was exhausting and dirty. We got home around 8am, in time to shower and head to breakfast. It was a great breakfast, but I had a hard time staying awake. This was one of my saddest moments of the trip – I loved Miss Jordan, our hostess and wished I could have visited without interrupting her stories with my snoring.

She was colorful, for sure and wanted to make breakfast for us Sunday. Her daughter reminded her about church and she said, “I can’t go to church, I lost me spectacles”. Best. Excuse. Ever.

Anyway, after breakfast, we started the first of the two-day parade. Think the Bataan Death March and you’ll be close to what I was feeling at that moment. I wussed out and took a nap for a couple hours, which meant I didn’t get to hang with the others.

Separate and you’re doomed. This event is the entire city of Port of Spain, with winding 20-mile parade and streets blocked off in weird ways. Stay with the rest of your party and take care walking through the crowds when in Carnival Country.

Chocolate Chipping

One thing that I always do when I travel is try the local treats (part of my “pop-culture” tour). Candy isn’t really very different from country to country, but I went kookoo for “Coco Crisps”, sort of like a macaroon covered with rice krispies and chocolate. Yum and a half.

I also picked up some HobNobs, but I’ve already posted about my insane love for those treats, so I’ll skip it here.

Anyway it’s worth the trip to Sugar Island.

A Man’s Beer

Milton had a great time in Trinidad, but that’s mainly because he’s a bit of a boozer. Mulligan, by the way was left behind and spent the time practicing his free-style gymnastics for the next Olympics. Milton fit right in with the carnival atmosphere, which seems to dictate that you drink a continuous stream of alcohol. I’ve never drunk so much beer in my life, luckily it’s so hot that you sweat it all out. Unfortunately, we mostly drank Carib, which tastes like it was made from recycled sweat.

My picture taking was sparse, but I more than made up for that with the amount of beer I drank.

The natives like to drink hard alcohol in an attempt to reduce bathroom visits. While it looks like fun when they pee on any available surface, it seems they don’t really enjoy it. Personally, I think vodka tastes like isopropyl alcohol and I’m not a fan of whiskey in that heat.

My advice is to have a spare liver on-hand for your return home and then you can Celebrate (my favorite Soca tune) like a native.

Take on Me

Try to get to Trinidad without flying. The airlines are evil, the airports a mess, the other passengers annoying. I’ll skip the details about the 5 hour delay and the kids climbing on the airport art like it was a jungle gym.

Instead I’ll tell you that they’ve stopped serving meals, so bring your own. This is a logical decision from the people that saved $50k a year from removing one olive from each salad served – removing the entire meal is an obvious cost-saver. Someone told me it was a security issue as well, but I saw First Class get a meal. If it’s security related, then I guess First Class won’t be getting meals when a terrorist replaces their foie gras with C4 plastic explosives.

The airlines have also started charging for headphones. Bring your own and pack something that blocks external noise – like crying babies and people ordering Mai Thai’s from the flight attendant (the attendant actually said “Listen lady this is a beverage cart, not a bar”).

I also suggest you only travel to countries that will stamp your passport. One of the great things about going to foreign countries is getting souvenirs (well, that and making fun of the natives). A passport stamp is like a free souvenir.

My next stop, India, where I can hear the musical inspiration for Chutney Soca...

Hot Steppin’

You can ignore all of this, but trust me on the sunscreen.