Trinidad and Tobago are names you may certainly have heard, but may not recognize right away. A twin-island Republic, these countries are the last links in the chain of islands that form the Caribbean. Definitely fraternal twins, the islands boast their respective charms, each shining for its own charisma, and both worth a visit.
Trinidad has been etching a name for itself for quite a while, as seen in its many achievements, and some recent examples include: its status as a powerhouse in the natural gas industry; the emergence of key players in various sporting domains (athletics - Ato Boldon, Richard Thompson, Darrel Brown; swimming - George Bovell; football - the Soca Warriors, the team from smallest country ever to compete in the World Cup; cricket - Brian Lara, the multiple record-holder); the homeland of several victorious Miss Universe beauties - Janelle Penny Commissiong, Wendy Fitzwilliam... Last but not least its world-renowned Carnival is a stunning display of creativity with sweet Calypso and vibrant Soca music and essentially a party that starts long before the official fete, and continues even beyond the season. Trinidad is the place to be for the Carnival season not only for Trinidadians, but for tourists who come every back every year and feel right at home, although a select few prefer a calmer getaway during the main festivities. Many people know the musical instrument the steel pan, though unaware of its Trinbagonian birthplace. Tobago, on the other hand, is its more relaxing complement - a touristic honeymoon destination with splendid beaches that tire you out one day and call you right back the next.
Trinidad is perhaps an exception to the norm when it comes to the typical portrayal of a Caribbean island. We can certainly hold our own. On a visit here, the capital city - Port-of-Spain will impress you as a deserving contender with other major business hubs, and the site of an International Financial Centre, whereas the mode de vie, business aside, will not leave you wanting. Trinidad’s night life is a vivid buzz, and you may dine out at an exquisite restaurant, enjoy some rich cocktails, or let the rhythm take you away at a nightclub. ‘Pelau’ - a delicious mixture of stewed chicken, rice, pigeon peas and carrots and coconut milk, as well as ‘callaloo’ - a local spinach soup that is a popular Sunday dish - are two examples of Trinbagonian must-haves. Ariapita Avenue is known for its string of bars and restaurants where a good time can be had by all.
The country is known for its melting pot of cultures after our colourful colonial history, as well as its embracing nature, and this is readily seen in the cuisine, music, language, and people. The population is a kaleidoscope of mainly Indo and Afro-trinis, with streams of Chinese, Syrian Lebanese, and Europeans who have settled here. Different religious festivals are celebrated throughout the year in communities that come together for the Hindu festival of Divali, and the Muslim observance of Eid-ul-Fitr for example. The Temple in the Sea is also a Hindu place of worship that is calming and beautiful, surrounded by water, as the name implies. You can also celebrate Christmas with a taste of black cake, sorrel, and a rhythmic backdrop of parang: a delicious fruit cake with a good dose of rum; a red tasty, tangy drink made from the Hibiscus Sabdariffa plant, and music that comes from our Spanish heritage.
Nature lovers will not be disappointed either as hiking trips and bird-watching on a boat ride across the Caroni Swamp are great activities to participate in. A stop at the Maracas lookout on the way to Maracas Beach will tease your taste buds with both sweet and peppery delights - preserved red mangoes, plums, cherries, pineapple slices, sugar cake, fudge, while you take in the mountainous, post-card view. On the beach a ‘bake and shark’ is a must! And to trinis and non-trinis alike, there is nothing like a coconut around the Queen’s Park Savannah. Don’t even get me started on ‘doubles’ - a cheap sandwich of sorts that you can buy on the street, made with chickpeas and garnished with mango, cucumber or tamarind chutney, and the amount of pepper you can handle.
Queen’s Park Savannah
Tobago, though only fifteen minutes away by plane, takes you to another world, allowing you to de-stress completely, and the Tobagonians will treat you with a certain old-fashioned, sometimes slow hospitality, while you put your feet up. Store Bay and Pigeon Point are among the most popular beaches but there are many other gems. The Coral Reef too is certainly a site to see as it is another example of natural marine beauty.
Another view of Pigeon Point
Having moved from the Caribbean, I look at my country with a sense of renewed appreciation, and sometimes, disappointment. I miss the warmth - both in terms of the people, and even the hot scorching sun. Hearing the ‘trini’ dialect always eases my nostalgia. We have our own version of our maternal English language, and even trini dictionaries to decipher our slang. Trinis are popular for an innate know-how to party, or ‘lime’ - nothing to do with a lemon, but it means any type of party or get-together, spontaneous or organized, or just sitting around for ‘ole-talk’ - topics about everything and nothing. Unfortunately, the increased crime rate for a nation of our size and enormous capacity - both in the business world as well as a prime tourist destination - has lost us points, understandably.
Regardless of our population which is just above one million, there is the common reflection that trinis are scattered just about everywhere in the world. You’re almost sure to find a trini involved in almost any event making world headlines as the five degrees of separation is alive and well, so you’re always in the know about what’s happening and with whom.
Another anecdote is our concept of ‘trini time’ so if you’re a bit late, it’s no big deal - because most likely we are!
As with any nation, it is the people that make TnT as special as it is. The red, white, and black colours of the national flag certainly embody the vivacity, purity, and strength of the people in a place you would surely return to!