An introvert’s approach to travel

Toco, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

A lot of people think they know me but don’t really know me at all.

People think that because I’m Trinidadian that I must be an extrovert. Firstly, they assume I’m loud.

Not loud or even Loud.

L O U D.

Bubbling with scandalous kya kya kya laughter.

Secondly, they think I must be easy-going, like a coconut tree on a breezy beach.

Thirdly, they think I must be a big time limer (party animal) because Trinidad and Tobago is the home of Kya-nee-val (Carnival, to the more refined folks out there) and that I’m comfortable with friends, acquaintances, and strangers wining on meh bumsee (gyrating on my butt) in public.

Sorry folks, I am none of the above.

I’m one of a rare breed: the introverted Trini who grew up in an extroverted Trini culture. I hate sweaty crowds so you’ll never find me in a fete or chipping dong de road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Even though I may seem talkative at a party, the day after, all I really want to do is go to the most deserted beach possible with my husband. No cooldown lime at Maracas Beach for me, thank you very much.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a pretty well-known personality test, I’m an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging). INTJs are bookworms by nature. They think strategically and move through life as though they’re playing chess. Sore points: they don’t like small talk and hate the spotlight. Also, they can also come across as insensitive because they don’t allow their feelings to sway how they relate to people.

If you read a lot of travel blogs, there is a prevailing paradigm that travelers have to be super-extroverted and open to anything in order to maximize the travel experience. Travel bloggers, Two Drifters, have challenged this notion and applied MBTI to travelers. They write (tongue in cheek) about sixteen travel personality types.  That’s right: sixteen. And guess what? Not every traveler’s an extrovert.

Under their system, I  could be classified as an INTJ traveler. Here’s what Two Drifters have to say about the INTJ traveler:

The INTJ loves to create ideas and possibilities and then capitalize them. Not content with daydreaming, INTJs know how to turn their goals into reality, and they proceed with ambition and strategy. The INTJ is highly intelligent and insightful. This type works hard to understand everything they encounter, with keen observation and an interest in understanding inner workings and patterns. The INTJ travel personality is likely to be found exploring foreign cultures with depth and passion, moving past “touristy” distractions and seeking authentic immersion.

Spot on.

As an INTJ traveler, I like to quietly observe a place and its people. To do this takes time. I have had my most rewarding travel experiences when I have spent a long time in a country. Long enough to immerse myself and peer under the glittery, touristy surface.

As a student in London, nothing made me happier than walking along the Thames or exploring the city’s dusty churches and cobbled alleys. I would spend hours on my feet, sometimes missing meals because I loved to explore the city alone. I saw a side of London few tourists ever see: a money-grubbing city, a city swollen with cultural diversity, a historical city sometimes struggling to stay relevant in the 21st century.

Introverted travelers also tend to see a country from a different perspective. Unlike many other millenial travelers, my Instagram feed shows what the place actually looks like. You will never find a picture of me in a bikini on a boat over crystal-clear water looking dreamily in the distance while clutching my partner’s hands.

I like to travel (or specifically, live in a foreign place for an extended period of time) because it challenges my natural INTJ qualities. It forces me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. For example, when I’m abroad, I rarely pass up chances to have a genuine conversation with locals. Not questions about what I would like to buy or why I love their country but stuff that transcends the usual tourist/local spiel.

When I spent some time in Japan teaching English, I had a few opportunities to make real connections with strangers. Once, I was buying lunch in a busy bakery and there was only one seat left. A distinguished-looking older woman removed her jacket and motioned that the seat was available.

I was crunching down on a pastry when she just started talking to me. In English. I thought, “Oh well, here’s another Japanese person trying to practice her English with a foreigner.” Imagine my surprise when the conversation took many turns and corners and we ended up talking about waka poetry written about her hometown in Wakayama! If I had just sat there quietly, I would not have discovered a fellow poetry lover in a perfect stranger.

If you’re an introverted traveler, you’re not weird. Celebrate your difference and share how you see the world.

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Deep travel: 5 books to help you understand the Caribbean

Think the Caribbean is just a sun, sea, and sand playground where rum flows like water and sunsets make you cry?

Trinidad and Tobagowww.hotfoottrini.com

Think again.

As a traveler, if you really want to understand the region more deeply, read Caribbean literature by Caribbean authors. Dig below the Instagrammable surface of street parties and deserted beaches and you’ll find a very strange place. It’s a place where many were forced to come, whether as slaves or indentured laborers.  Here are my picks to understand the people, the landscape, and culture of the Caribbean.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea tells the backstory of Bertha Mason, a minor character from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre, Bertha is portrayed as Rochester’s mad first wife from the tropics but Rhys goes deeper. She tells the story of Antoinette Cosway (her real name) and Rochester’s inability to understand his Creole wife and the tropical landscape of the Caribbean. Here’s one of my favorite quotes.

 “I hated the mountains and the hills and the rivers and the rain…I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness.”

Mimic Men and A Way in the World by VS Naipaul

VS Naipaul is an award-winning writer who often effaces his Trinidadian roots. Some may say that Naipaul has a nihilistic vision of the West Indies. Others say he’s spot on. Take it or leave it, here are my favorite quotes from two of his best books.

Mimic Men

“To be born on an island like Isabella, an obscure New World transplantation, second-hand and barbarous, was to be born to disorder.”

“We pretended to be real, to be learning, to be preparing ourselves for life, we mimic men of the New World, one unknown corner of  it, with all its reminders of the corruption that same so quickly to the new.”

“I have also hinted at the easiness with which on the morning of arrival I saw through each porthole the blue, green and gold of the tropical island. So pure and fresh! And I knew it to be horribly manmade; to be exhausted, fraudulent, cruel and above all, not mine.”

A Way in the World

“We didn’t have backgrounds. We didn’t have a past. For most of us the past stopped with our grandparents; beyond that was a blank…We were just there, floating.” 

“But we go back and back, forever; we go back all of us to the very beginning; in our blood and bone and brain we carry the memories of thousands of beings…But that would only be a fragment of his inheritance, a fragment of the truth. We cannot understand all the traits we have inherited. Sometimes we can be strangers to ourselves.”

The Sea is History by Derek Walcott

St Lucian-born Derek Walcott was a literary genius who wrote several poems and plays. His work reflects razor-sharp insight into the region’s divisive colonial and postcolonial past. Although it’s technically not a book, here are a few lines from one of Walcott’s most famous poems about Caribbean history.

“Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.”

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

Roffey is a Trinidadian-born writer based in the UK. Her descriptions of Trinidad and Port of Spain, its capital city, are faultless.

“How he loved this city. Port of Spain. Poor blind-deaf city. It spanned back, in a grid, from a busy port and dock; worn out now, ruined and ruinous and suffering, always suffering…parts of the city still renewed themselves, rising up against the odds.”

“George liked it so, that this island was uncompromising and hard for tourists to negotiate. Not all welcome smiles and black men in Hawaiian shirts, playing pan by the poolside. No flat, crystal beaches, no boutique hotels. Trinidad was oil-rich, didn’t need tourism. Trinidadians openly sniggered at the sunburnt American women who wandered down the pavement in shorts and bikini top. Trinidad was itself; take it or leave it.”

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It’s not a typical Trini Indian Wedding unless these 9 things happen

It's not a typical Indian wedding unless these 9 things happen If you’re ever in Trinidad and Tobago, don’t miss the bacchanal of a typical Trini Indian (usually Hindu) wedding. Here are 9 things that may happen while you’re there.

1. The wedding lasts a long time.

Unlike traditional Western-style weddings that wrap up in one day, Hindu weddings in Trinidad and Tobago are marathon affairs. The wedding ceremony will be long and seem never ending so bring something to keep you busy, especially during the frequent wardrobe changes of the blushing bride or dulahin.

2. Guests, please dress to kill.

Ladies, now is your time to shine. Literally. Go bold with blinding, sequined shalwars, gharasas, and saris that you can pick up at any Indian expo that dot the big island. Guys, wear whatever you want.

3. Maticoor night is when ladies “get away.”

If you’re invited to Maticoor night on the Friday before the wedding ceremony, prepare for some raunchy action. On Ladies Night, mommies, aunties, and grannies can get very creative with baigan (eggplant) to show the bride what she can expect on her wedding night.

4. The groom arrives in style.

On the day of the official wedding ceremony (usually a Sunday), the groom or dulaha will arrive at the bride’s house in style, in a souped-up Benz, Audi, or traditional bull cart garlanded in marigold flowers, accompanied by a banging entourage that includes a music truck and full tassa band.

5. The plates are biodegradable.

At the wedding meal, take a freshly washed banana leaf, find a seat at the table, and wait to be served handfuls of silky paratha roti,  huge dollops of rice, dhal, vegetable curries, even dessert (sweet rice) on any free space on your leaf-plate. Go easy on the mother-in-law. This homemade pepper/chili sauce can be lethal. When you’re done, fold your leaf and throw away in the bin/bag provided. Now isn’t that easy and environmentally friendly?

6. There’s always tassa.

Learn how to throw waist to the beat of tassa. Don’t worry, you’ll hear the boom and crashing cymbals from a mile away. If you’re young, single, and female, you will be pulled on the dance floor and you will be expected to rotate your hips and wine down to the ground to the throbbing drum beat.

7. The rest of the playlist is nothing short of eclectic.

The hired music truck will blast Bollywood songs, chutney, dancehall, soca, and 80s rock until the wee hours of the morning. It will be more bass than song so that everything vibrates, even your teeth. Car alarms will go off nonstop. The rest of the evening will be punctuated by the DJ shouting, “Wheel!” P.S. if you weren’t invited to the wedding and you call the police to shut off the music on a Sunday night at 10pm, the DJ will say, “I is a registered DJ and I playing until 1am!”

8. Drinks are stored in car trunks.

If it’s a strict Hindu wedding, that means no alcohol on the premises. However, leave it to Trinis to find a loophole. If you see a group of men standing around the back of someone’s car parked right in front of the bride or groom’s house, you know they’re knocking back Forres Park or Johnny Walker from styrofoam cups. Drunkies may end up dancing in the middle of the road or fighting in a drain.

9. It ends in (happy?) tears.

When it’s time for the bride to leave her family, expect to see her mother clutching her dramatically and bawling her eyes out while the dulahin fights back tears and tries not to smudge her fahbulous eye makeup.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

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Spending Christmas abroad

For many Trinis, spending Christmas away from home is nothing short of sacrilegious. No one disagrees with Susan Maicoo when she sings, “Oh yes! Trini Christmas is de best!”

Spending Christmas Abroadwww.hotfoottrini.comFirstly, why would anyone want to skip the food: rum-soaked black cake, meaty pastelles, pineapple-studded ham, roast turkey, sorrel, wild meat, ponche de creme? Then, there’s parang music and carols on the radio, Soca Santa on trucks and fire engines, Christmas Day services that finish at sunrise. And oh! The preparations for the Big Day: dressing the Christmas tree, putting up new curtains, whitewashing the palm tree trunks and rocks that circle the Julie mango tree in the front yard, licking the bowl clean of raw sponge cake batter, trawling the Christmas flea markets and city streets for bargains, buying Red Delicious apples by the box. Children looking forward to Christmas treat in primary school, Sunday school, and in the villages, comparing and trading snacks, balloons, and toys. The annual pilgrimage to the big malls to see which one had the best Christmas decorations. Was it the elves and cottony snow at Long Circular, the sparkly Christmas trees at Trincity, the blood-red poinsettias in Gulf City, or the giant baubles hanging from the roof of West Mall? 

But I did. I skipped Christmas at home a couple of times.

First snow

Christmas was the first time this tropical girl saw snow. On a road trip from Toronto to Montreal, my uncle stopped the car and woke us up to see piles and piles of white stuff gleaming along the highway. Tiny flowers frosted with ice. Sunlight sparkling on the white. It was so still. Then, on Christmas Day, there wasn’t any real snow, only flurries that melted as soon as they hit the window panes.  That didn’t stop me and my cousin from making a snowman or rather, snow creatures: solitary heads with twig hands and stone eyes, that lay flat on a picnic table in the backyard. We were so proud.

A very British Christmas

There were times as a uni student in the UK when I couldn’t afford to go back home for Christmas so I spent the season with my friends and their families.

In the flat, before everyone went North or South for Christmas, we strung fairy lights and paper chains from the ceiling, made Christmas cookies, mulled wine, mince pies, and roast dinners, and sang along (sometimes, terribly) to the entire Lion King and Les Miserables soundtracks. There were Christmas markets too, stalls selling mini Dutch pancakes flecked with powdered sugar, chocolate and banana crepes, pork sandwiches smothered in warm applesauce, and real glühwein.

Ellie was adamant that I should spend Christmas as I did at home so together with her Uncle Bill, we went to Coventry Cathedral on Christmas Eve. I know they meant well but we left before the service ended because I couldn’t understand the complicated traditions. Plus, the church was rather cold and I was rather sleepy.

On Christmas Day, we popped Christmas crackers to don silly hats and read silly jokes. Afterward, we stuffed ourselves with roasted meat, roasted vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings smothered in gravy. But Christmas dinner was all about Ellie’s masterpiece, the trifle. Thick layers of custard, jelly, whipped cream, and cake, sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Surprisingly, no one (except Uncle Bill and I) touched the traditional Christmas pudding: doused in brandy, set alight, then served with warm custard. I loved it because it reminded me of a Trini black cake. After the meal, we didn’t go to bed like in Trinidad. We went walking! To Kenilworth Castle, sliding down the green hills and skipping between the ruined stone walls on a cold, gray Boxing Day.

Then, in London, when everyone left during the Christmas break, I headed North to celebrate the season with Dan and his family. Just like at Ellie’s, after Christmas dinner, we galumphed around Manchester’s suburban fields and muddy roads, chatting about philistines and Sigmund Freud. The cold air whipped my nose into a runny mess but I was happy moving about the landscape. Although Dan’s family also asked whether I wanted to go to church for Christmas, I chose to spend this holiday watching a play about an imaginary rabbit called Harvey.

Another Christmas I spent at Becky’s house in Kent. We watched Christmas shows on the telly and played party games with her grandparents and younger nieces and nephews. However, later on in the day, I started to feel ill and felt so bad that I took the train the next day back to Leamington. Becky later told me that her grandmother wanted to know whether the “island girl” was okay (bless her heart!)

Spending the holidays in rural Japan

Spending Christmas in Japan was different. People still went to work on Christmas and Boxing Day even though the department stores were stuffed with Christmas decorations, lights, and fake snow.

Kunito sensei invited Jesse and I over for a holiday dinner where we drank lots of sake, shared our first Japanese Christmas cake, and chatted to an old guy who had climbed snowy Mount Daisen that morning (he had pictures on his phone to prove it). Ayaka, Kunito sensei’s daughter, was the perfect diplomat, switching seamlessly from Japanese to English and back again so that everyone at the table knew what was going on. I also practiced my Spanish, chatting with a neighbor who had lived in Mexico for many years.

On Christmas Day, I took the day off work and Jesse and I went to Mount Daisen. We left the mud and sludge of Yonago for the crisp, white blanket on the foot of the mountain.  It was eerie, the quietest we had ever known Daisen to be. For Christmas Day dinner, even though we couldn’t bake Christmas treats because we didn’t have an oven, we invited our friend, Fernanda, over for Trini fried chicken and fried rice, fresh strawberries and the most Christmasy-looking pastries we could find for dessert. She brought fresh bread rolls, wine, cheese, and presents and we passed Christmas in a very quiet yet sublime way.

Photo: © Linc Designs

Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? What was it like?

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Traveling with a passport from a country no one’s heard of

Have you been traveling for a while and every time you cross a border, someone looks at your passport and scratches his or her head? Are you accustomed to shelling out lots of dinero to get travel visas to visit certain countries?

camels

 

If you answered yes to the above-mentioned questions, guess what? You’re not alone! As a Trinidadian with just a Trinidadian passport (there are Trinidadians who have dual citizenship but that’s another story), I have had my fair share of travel woes. However, I haven’t let that stop me from trying to explore the world beyond my islands’ shores. Read about my experiences in Wanderful: Please stop telling me that my country does not exist.

 

Have you had similar experiences? Share in the comments below!

Photo: © Live Lyfe Photography

The story behind the Temple in the Sea, Trinidad

Did you ever listen to the words of the song, “The impossible dream?” Little did I know that the words I sang applied to Siewdass Sadhu, the folk hero of the fishing village where I went to primary school.Temple in the Sea, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

Never heard of him? Let me fill you in. Sadhu migrated to Trinidad from India with his parents at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, Trinidad was a British sugar colony so he and his family came to the sugarcane fields in this part of the Caribbean to work as indentured laborers.

Sadhu and his family settled in Barrancore and worked on the Waterloo Estate in Central Trinidad. After fulfilling his indentureship on the sugar estate, Siewdass returned to India many times. He visited Hindu temples there and vowed to build his own in Trinidad.

In 1947, he purchased a plot of land near Waterloo Bay from the estate owner, Caroni (1937) Limited, and built a temple on it.Villagers freely held prayers in this temple for four years. Then in 1952, Siewdass was ordered to demolish the building. He refused and was fined and jailed for trespassing on state lands. His temple was then torn apart by the colonial authorities.

You would think this would have broken his spirit. Not Siewdass Sadhu. Shortly after his release, he declared that he would build the temple in “nobody’s land,” the sea, where no one could destroy it.

Sadhu got broken bricks from the brick factory in Barrancore (now known as Brickfield) and dumped them into the ocean to create a path stretching some 500 meters from the coastline. Every day, for seventeen years, he carried buckets of cement, gravel, sand, and stones on his bicycle to build the path. Then, he filled steel oil drums with concrete and tied them with steel to make the temple’s foundation. People laughed at him and called him mad. In the end, he built a simple structure with a prayer room, kitchen, and a small room for guests.

When I visited the temple in the late 1980s and early 1990s with my classmates, this story seemed too good to be true.  At low tide, we walked the pathway of barnacle-covered boulders and tires to reach the temple. The air was thick with the smell of mangrove mud. The building appeared quite small and solitary against the wide, gray Gulf of Paria. Inside the temple was empty and abandoned. Our faces fell.

Near the temple, children dug for oysters in the sticky, gray mud, amid the hibiscus flowers, deyas, and religious murtis that washed ashore from the cremation site nearby.  Then in 1994, the government finally decided to rebuild the temple in honor of Sadhu.

Today, colorful prayer flags line the tiled pathway to the temple, flapping rhythmically in the sea breeze. All you can hear are black birds quarreling in the mangroves and the water lapping the mud flats. Boys squeal with laughter as they help their fathers prepare nets for the evening’s catch. It still smells strongly of mud. And the blue and white temple still stands, a testament to one man’s realization of the impossible dream.

Photos: © Hot Foot Trini

Have you ever been to the Temple in the Sea? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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The bucket list: must-see places in Trinidad and Tobago

If you’re Trinbagonian or yearning to travel to Trinidad and Tobago in the south of the Caribbean, here are some must-see places and things to do that should be on your bucket list. Castara, Tobagowww.hotfoottrini.com

1. Go turtle watching.

If you’re into nature and animals, then you will love this experience. Imagine witnessing a mammoth leatherback turtle laying her eggs in the sand on a wild, windy night. The moment is nothing short of breathtaking. Go with responsible, local guide groups like Nature Seekers, based in Matura. You can also spot leatherback turtles at Grande Riviere in Trinidad and Stonehaven Bay/Turtle Beach in Tobago.

2. Go beach hopping in Trinidad.

Big sis, Trinidad, and little sis, Tobago, are blessed with miles and miles of sandy beaches. In North Trinidad, think beyond Maracas and head to Las Cuevas, Tyrico, Blanchisseuse, Balandra, Salybia, and Grande Riviere beaches. In the southeastern part of the island, drive through the Cocal, a coconut plantation that runs parallel to Manzanilla Beach. Stop at the boardwalk, then continue to Mayaro to dig for chip-chip (tiny clams) and to rent a beach house for the weekend. In South Trinidad, bubble a pot at Quinam, Granville, and Columbus Bay.Mayaro, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

3. Go beach hopping in Tobago.

Tobago is so much more than Store Bay and Pigeon Point. Drive along the Leeward coast and hit the Grange/Wall, Englishman’s Bay, Castara, Bloody Bay, and Parlatuvier. Then head to the Windward coast and take a dip in King’s Bay or Speyside. In the most northern tip of the island, be sure to check out Pirate’s Bay, in Charlotteville.

4. Hike the Northern Range and the Main Ridge.

If you’re craving an unspoiled piece of paradise on any of the two islands, head to the hills! In Trinidad, the Northern Range offers many beautiful waterfalls, rivers, and clearings, only accessible by foot. For beginners, head to Rio Seco Waterfall, where water cascades into an emerald pool in the deep of the forest. For more experienced hikers, head to Paria Beach and Waterfall or do an overnight hike from Matelot to Blanchisseuse. Remember to keep a clean scene, carry lots of water, and wear sturdy shoes. In Tobago, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve runs within the island’s interior and offers many nature trails to explore. It also claims to be the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere (protected since 1776).

5. Hit the lighthouse and forts.

One of the most exciting places in Trinidad is Galera Point/Toco Lighthouse, located on the northeastern tip of the island. Here, a piece of rock juts out between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a sight and sound to behold as the waves clash and crash in the holes in the rocks below. Tobago, on the other hand, is a treasure-trove of forts. Head to Fort King George near Scarborough, Fort Milford near Crown Point, Fort Bennett on the Leeward Coast, Fort Granby on the Windward Coast, and Cambleton Battery in Charlotteville for superb views of the coastline.Bake and Shark, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

6. Sample the street food.

Both Trinidad and Tobago are blessed with a diversity of cheap street food. Sample hot doubles, corn soup, chow, pudding, bake and shark, Indian delicacies, and crab and dumpling. Read more about each dish in my article, 10 unforgettable street foods to try in T&T.

7. Mount Saint Benedict.

Even if you are not Catholic or especially religious, many Trinis can attest to the beauty of “the Mount.” Step into the church to experience a rare oasis of calm in the always busy East/West Corridor in northern Trinidad. Outside, enjoy expansive views of the Caroni plains while having a spot of tea at Pax Guest House. Or, stay overnight at the guest house and go hiking and bird watching in the Northern Range. Don’t forget to pick up some fresh Pax yogurt before you leave.

8. See the sunset at the Temple in the Sea.

Although located right next to a Hindu cremation site, the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo in Trinidad is well worth a visit. The story behind the construction of the temple is nothing short of inspirational. Siewdass Sadhu, an indentured laborer in Waterloo, initially built a Hindu temple on land but it was destroyed by the British colonial government. He then decided to build a temple in the sea, where the colonial authorities could not reach it. It took several years and today, a new temple stands on the site.

9. Go zip lining.

Imagine being suspended from a metal cable up to 100 feet in the air and flying through the rainforest canopy at lightning speed. If this sounds right up your alley, head to Chaguaramas for zip lining tours, which include dizzying views of Macqueripe Bay.

10. Go bird watching.

Trinidad and Tobago is literally a bird-lover’s paradise. There are so many species here, from tiny hummingbirds and to regal scarlet ibises. In Trinidad, Asa Wright Nature CentrePointe a Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, and Yerette are known for bird watching. If you’d like to see the scarlet ibis, one of the national birds, in its natural habitat, take a guided tour or go kayaking through the Caroni swamp at dusk. In Tobago, spot rare species on Little Tobago or in the Main Ridge Nature Reserve.

Photos: © Hot Foot Trini

Did I forget anything? Share your suggestions!

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16 tips from a local: how to stay safe and healthy when traveling in T&T

Usually, when you read about travel in the Caribbean, you only hear the good stuff: the beaches, the food, the rum, the parties, the “friendly locals.”Sea Urchin, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

Although considered a high-income non-OECD country by the World Bank, the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago is not perfect. On a daily basis, Trinbagonians face real issues: crime, environmental degradation, traffic, political corruption, power cuts, and water shortages.

As tourists/travelers, we must never turn a blind eye to the problems of the countries we visit. Also, as travel writers and bloggers, we shouldn’t sell the Caribbean as idyllic, “sand, sea and sun” destinations immune to serious problems. Instead, we should tell the truth.

With that in mind, here are 16 tips from a local to stay safe and healthy when traveling in Trinidad and Tobago.

1. Always research your accommodation.

Don’t stay somewhere just because it’s cheap. Check TripAdvisor or myTobago for the most recent reviews. Ensure that the room or apartment doors and windows are well secured, the locks work, and the gates (if any) close at night.

2. Bring an unlocked GSM mobile phone or buy a cheap one when you get here.

Then get a prepaid SIM card from any of two mobile phone providers on the two islands: bmobile or Digicel. You can even buy data packages to stay online anywhere on the island.

3. Like anywhere else in the world, Trinidad and Tobago has its fair share of street criminals.

Be street smart. When in public, don’t carry a lot of cash and valuables on you. Don’t wear your expensive camera like a ridiculous necklace while walking in downtown Port of Spain and other urban areas. You’re just making yourself a target.

4. Go sightseeing with a local you trust.

There’s a lot to see and do in T&T: party ’till dawn, visit temples, trek through rainforests, kayak rivers, chill on beaches, or go bird watching. However, always try to travel in a group or with locals you trust, especially when going to isolated destinations like Fort George or when liming at night. 

5. It’s illegal to wear camouflage in Trinidad and Tobago.

Leave the camo bikinis and board shorts at home. You can only legally wear any camo wear if you’re in the local regiment or in Trinidad and Tobago on official military business.

6. It’s also illegal to possess or consume marijuana (and other illicit drugs).

Don’t believe the lies the media tells you about the Caribbean. It’s not as laid back as you think it is. Taking certain drugs is against the law. Trust us, you don’t want to pay a heavy fine or make a jail. Local prisons are filthy, scary places you want to avoid.

7. Don’t go topless or nude or any beaches in Trinidad and Tobago.

You will offend the locals’ delicate sensibilities and attract unwanted attention. However, anything goes during Carnival time.

8. Although Trinidad is a tiny island, brace for the traffic.

Traffic on the highways usually starts as early as 5:00 and continues all day, even after 20:00. It only gets worse if there’s an accident or it rains heavily. To avoid wasting precious time in crowded lanes, go against the grain. Head to more off the beaten track destinations and start early on weekends. 

9. Travel smart.

If you choose to use public transport, never travel in a PH taxi. Although you will never actually see a PH license plate, it refers to a private vehicle trying to hire passengers. You never know what can happen to you in a PH taxi and you’re not covered by insurance if the car gets in an accident. Only use taxis with an H license plate. P.S. If you’re traveling really short distances, don’t ever pay with a TT$100. Local fares never cost that much and the driver will b**** about getting it changed. Alternatively, you can take the bus but they can be unreliable and infrequent. Maxi taxis also frequent both islands but many drive carelessly. 

10. Rent a car.

If you don’t want to use public transport, why not rent a car? Always fill up before driving to remote destinations. Reckless driving and road rage are also very common in Trinidad and Tobago so drive defensively. Don’t leave any valuables in the car and lock up when you leave. Park in highly visible, well-lit areas. Finally, don’t drink and drive (even if locals do). 

11. Dress appropriately.

If you wear skin-tight, very short, or otherwise revealing clothing, expect lots of male attention. Also, remember to dress appropriately if you plan on visiting any temple, church, or mosque on any of the two islands.

12. Stay hydrated.

During the day, temperatures can reach as high as 34 degrees Celsius. Always keep a bottle of water. Water from the tap is generally safe to drink but those with sensitive stomachs should stick to bottled water.

13. Bring insect/mosquito repellant.

With a year-round tropical climate, Trinidad and Tobago has a lot of mosquitoes.  Also, watch out for sand flies on the beaches. Those bites can itch like crazy and can get infected.

14. Public toilets can be gross.

In many cases, public toilets are poorly maintained. Instead, use the bathrooms in malls or restaurants. If you do have to use a public toilet, check whether the doors lock properly and carry your own toilet paper, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer.

15. Nature is lovely but be careful.

On the beaches, look out for Portuguese Man of War jellyfish, sea urchins, and fire coral and pay attention to red flags and signs that warn of strong rip tides and undercurrents. Avoid manchineel trees. They have shiny green leaves and the fruits look like little green apples. Although these native trees appear harmless, the bark, leaves, fruit, and sap are very poisonous.  Don’t even stand under the tree if it’s raining as any contact with the dripping sap can blister your skin. If you plan on hiking in the rainforest, you may encounter dangerous snakes such as the Fer de lance, Bushmaster, and coral snakes. Always wear long pants and sneakers/hiking shoes.

16. Remember to get travel insurance and to bring any prescriptions you may need.

If you do get ill  or injured, beware that public health facilities can have long wait times. Private hospitals are also really expensive and are often unavailable in remote areas. Bring any essential medications you may need as pharmacies tend to close early and may not sell certain drugs.

Photos: © Hot Foot Trini

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