Three flights and 21 hours later, I finally crash on my hotel bed in Trinidad. Delhi to Port of Spain was quite a journey, but successful in more ways than one. Case in point – my newfound Danish and Australian friends. As a bonding exercise, I helped them pick the right SIM card (Indians are the best with deals).
Live to lime
Nick, my chatty guide, introduces me to the ways of the Trinidadians, especially their fondness for ‘liming’. Loosely translated, it refers to the locals’ love for hanging out with friends and alcohol. “You work to lime,” Nick explains.
A nearby cricket pitch leads to a discussion on the sport. “The champion gets a lot of beer. But the underdog gets beer too, so everyone wins,” he chuckles. This underlying sense of celebration can be felt in all conversations and it isn’t even carnival season yet.
We are at our river liming spot, enjoying the music, the barbecues and the Caribbean rum. Trinidadians have a habit of greeting everyone they meet, ‘good day’. That little courtesy bags me an invite to the liming party at my neighbour’s shed. Through this interaction, I learn and appreciate how Trinidad lives to live, with its liming, leisurely lunches, jovial strangers and friendly locals.
Turtles and humming birds
During my tea break at the hotel, I run into my friends from the flight. The good-looking Dane offers me a glass of Champagne that I happily accept. Champagne never hurts. Next up is a visit to the Matura Beach, famous for the leatherback turtles who lay their eggs here once a year.
Trinidad is home to another kind of gem too: the famous Angostura distillery, which was once visited by Queen Elizabeth. You can taste, buy or browse, depending on the depth of your conscience and pocket. Their native beers, Carib and Stag, are great, though I ended the shopping spree with rum (single barrel reserve at a fraction of the usual price) and some valuable Angostura bitters.
I listen to the locals and plan a visit to Yerette: home of the hummingbird. The spot is a mix of a sanctuary and a residence and is known for both – the hosts, Dr Theo and Gloria Ferguson – and for the amazing birds. I am welcomed with a symphony of chirps, toots and singing, deceptively coming from nowhere. These are among the smallest birds on the planet, so unless you are up close and personal, you may miss them. Fortunately, I find these fairy-like creatures, fluttering all around me.
Dr Theo Ferguson takes our group through a short, yet enlightening talk about the birds and how Yerette came into existence. There were many fun moments in this session, but my favourite was when the biggest gentleman of our group was asked to imitate a hummingbird.
The tour and the facts-filled session is followed by a decadent home-made meal consisting of corn soup, salad, fish, vegetables and a sorrel cooler, all prepared by Theo’s wife, Gloria. Dining among the birds is an experience on its own.
Later that evening, as I poke my fork and knife into the delicious oven-roasted Chicken Al Matonne at a restaurant named Chaud, I listen to Nick’s insights into Trinidadian cuisine: meat-oriented, but incomplete without some pigeon peas, plantains and vegetables on the side.
Shacks and sharks
More food awaits me at the food market, including a local breakfast of Venezuelan empanadas, cow heel soup and the Indian-inspired ‘Doubles’ (similar to our choley bhature). A 40-minute drive from Port of Spain takes us to Maracas Bay, a wide, white sand beach, impermeable with palm trees and set against a background of mountains. It’s here that I discover the famous ‘Bake and Shark’ shacks. So we load up the toppings on the sandwich, of which the key ingredient – the shark – is caught just offshore.
There is no justification for why it takes over two hours to eat an average Trinidadian meal. No justification at all except the importance of enjoying your meal, say Trinidadians, and they are absolutely correct in my opinion. diving and driving.
With gorgeous golden sand beaches, distinctive angling villages and rare rainforests, Tobago is perfect for a tranquil beach break. My first stop is the Pigeon Point. I set out on a glass bottom boat tour drifting over Buccoo Reef to the well-known Nylon Pool, a gargantuan sandbar constrained by the Caribbean Sea. This implausible waterbody is flush with antioxidants that benefit those who swim in its waters. The beach is known for its extraordinary diving spots and its birds, especially those found in the rainforest and in the seabird sanctuary, Little Tobago. I skip the diving as I don’t know how to, enjoy the barbecue at No Man’s Land, and call it a day.
At Native Abode in Bon Accord, homestay-owner Stephanie Trotman takes me for a tour of the gardens, followed by a local breakfast of salt fish buljol and cocoa tea. Served on custom-made fine china with silverware, together with the mangoes I had plucked, a perfect ‘farm to fork’ experience indeed.
Next, I meander around the cocoa groves at The Tobago Cocoa Estate concluding with testers of cocoa nibs, hot chocolate tea and some exquisite rum. Then I decide to just drive (actually, be driven) aimlessly and get down wherever I please. As we drive north, the backdrop becomes alpine and plush, steeper and breezier, with outstanding views along the coast. I come across an enormous cotton sil tree, which is supposed to have some mystical influences, and visit outstanding inlets and beaches like the Paradise Peak, Castara Bay and Englishman’s Bay, to name a few. We stop for lunch at Jenna’s Tree House Restaurant, which offers gorgeous views and delicious local food. The winner here was the breadfruit pie, a clear star.
Sealed with a steel pan
I return to Trinidad for a night before I head to Miami, and return to lime one more time. I bump into the Dane yet again and join him and Nick to play pans with the locals. The pans are possibly the only sound gadget in the world fitted with trash cans, oil casks and biscuit containers. We leave the bar and gather on the beach near our hotel. The night is cool and breezy, and there is wine in our glasses. A fitting end to a beautiful journey.
From HT Brunch, March 12, 2017
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