December 2016, Sreeja and I traveled to Trinidad Tobago for a vacation. Tobago claims to have had inspired Daniel Defoe to write his epic novel – Robinson Crusoe. I had always dreamt of this desert island, where one could be alone with nature. One evening I logged into FaceBook and discovered that one of my cousins from India had moved to Port of Spain, as a visiting professor. My cousin sister, was on my side of the world!! I knew I had to see her!
Over the past two decades there was hardly any interaction between us cousins, but there are some bonds that stay forever. So, this trip in December was a bit of both nature gazing and family reunion. It was a week of nonstop talking, eating, selfies, catching up until we felt asleep.
As we flew over the Caribbean archipelago, I was trying to visualize the islands of Trinidad tobago as emerging summits of a range of drowned volcanoes, a submarine like continuation of Andes. It is almost impossible to make an agile summary of the origin of the inhabitants of these islands - The dead Arawak’s, dying Caribs, the Spaniards, Dutch, English, French, Danes, Americans; the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Azorean, Syrian, Chinese and the Negro population from the kingdoms on the sea and hinterland of West Africa.
Soon we were about to land in Port of Spain. My mind was overflowing with thoughts of anchored Galleons, caskets of gold coins, girls dressed in silken fabric, spurs and the sound of guitars. After few sultry hours spent for completing immigration protocol my dreams were all but blown to ribbons in the air. My sister had been waiting for four hours at the airport. She had booked a taxi and was concerned that we may not be able to get another driver during the festive season. Thus, she decided to wait at the terminal until we met.
A Calypso band dressed in traditional pomp and grandeur were playing strident breathless tunes with words and Creole beats just outside the terminal. It was an exciting first impression on the musical island, swinging to African tribal beats blended with French and Spanish music! Our taxi slowly cruised through the airport traffic and then through the Savannah of the cosmopolitan city of Port of Spain. The green trees along the road side were very soothing, especially after numbing months of cold grey winter in Canada. The weather in the island alternated between rain and debilitating heat. There were tall commercial buildings housing the oil companies and commercial banks, Victorian red brick buildings, churches, temples, mosques, and scattered worker flats. Overall it was an intriguing tapestry.
The Chinese shopkeeper with the red flag decoration on the walls, the Lebanese and Syrian grocers bargaining with the customers, the milk bars, drug stores, Indian stores and restaurants playing Bollywood music, Shopping plazas made up a startlingly busy city. The drive to Fort George and the view from the top overlooking the Gulf of Paria, gave us an idea of the enormous expanse of Savannah. It was compassed by race track, cricket patches, football grounds and a giant cemetery. The Fort George is another British legacy. It was built in 1802 as a major defensive position with all cannons and dungeons, but never witnessed any military action. A perfect example of – “Most plans are just inaccurate predictions”
We were driving up north to the Maracas beach, the lamp posts and the markets were looming through the downpour and I started having second thoughts wondering if the weather would hold up! Surprise! Surprise! As we neared the bay, the sky cleared up, the low clouds floated on the forest covered mountains, the waves hammered the yellow sand beach, a perfect spot for body surfers. While the kids continued playing and swimming, I drank a bottle of Carib local beer and watched the flamboyance of Trinidadian sunset and listened to my sister’s melody.
After a relaxed afternoon, we devoured the fish sandwiches slathered with exotic sauces and salad from a local restaurant “Bake and Shark”, a very popular meal by the bay!
The Northern ranges of Trinidad is a home to the birder’s Mecca. We took a boat ride on the Caroni river, through the mangrove forest on either side and some of them were inflated with huge termite nests. As the boat cruised through the maze-like waterways, we spotted some amazing reptiles and birds in their natural habitat. The green lizards gazed from the branches; a kingfisher perched on top of a tree, an owl rolling its eyes in the backwoods, couple of snakes wrapped around low branches, egrets, blue herons and the biggest draw – The Scarlet Ibis. The boat stopped in the middle of the river just before the sunset. The Scarlet Ibis haunt the meanderings of the Caroni river. They return to roost at dusk in the wonderful green labyrinth. Their red colour feather looks brilliant in the gathering dusk. The myriad of bright red birds on the green leafage presented us with a breathtaking vista of the tropical Christmas tree.
A few days later December 23rd, we boarded the ferry to Tobago. The three hours’ ride got pretty rough, especially for Sreeja and my cousin. The boat sailed through the Gulf of Paria. The gulf is only 15 kilometers wide with Venezuela on one side and Trinidad on the other. There were scattered offshore oil platforms on the horizon. We arrived in Scarborough (capital of Tobago) around noon time. Scarborough was a busy city compared to the rest of the island with taxis, spaghetti like traffic, vendors with piles of exotic fruits and vegetables. We checked into the Mt. Irvine Bay Resort located on the Irvine beach.
After lunching on Callaloo, a national dish which is a thick soup of Okra, chilli, peppers, coconut milk, garlic onion, crabs served with macaroni and beans, we boarded the glass bottomed boat and watched the Bucco coral reef passing by beneath us. The boat anchored for an hour on an offshore sandbank, to the south of the reef. This was a perfect refreshing treat- a splash party. The water was warm and the boats were playing music. It was an amazing experience, to dance in the waist deep turquoise water in the middle of the sea, away from the shore. On our way back, we stopped at the Pigeon point, host to one of the most beautiful beaches in Tobago. The palm trees hung over the deep blue waves lapping on the fringes of the yellow beach.
How do I forget the sumptuous traditional Bengali dinners at the residences of Mr Chakraborty and Mr Gayen? Gayenda, Kiritida, Chakrabortyda and other expatriate families embraced us with rare warmth and candour, treated us home cooked delicacies. The Bengali adda (intellectual exchanges) following the dinner at Gayenda’s house was ultimate home away from home experience! We discussed world politics, feminism, Tagore quotes and finally songs – my favourite “Aguner Paroshmoni” amongst others. What a lovely evening over the setting sun!
I looked out through the window to trace the places mentioned in Naipaul’s Magnum Opus – ¨A House for Mr Biswas”. “Certain emotions bridge the years and link unlikely places”- V.S. Naipaul.
Written byDebjani Mukherjee
A successful Management Professional with a Swiss Multinational – Panalpina Inc for over 19 years with varied experiences covering India , Central Asia , Middle East , West Africa and North America . She specializes in large project supply chain deliverables for oil and gas and energy segments. Married, mother of a 10 year old daughter and lives in Ontario Canada. She loves nature, enjoys adventure trips and expeditions, playing golf ,reading books and writing on her blog debzizhere.blogspot.com