You’re in your element, comfortable, content with life, not a care in the world. The modern worries (e.g. food, transportation, etc.) that linger are entirely manageable, just a short list of to-dos to systematically scratch from your brain tomorrow. The lighting is just right; the temperature a non-issue. The background music is a whisper, then eventually a faint buzz in your ear, like an after-concert reminder that life can be an intense orgy of feeling. You’re surrounded by interesting people who do interesting things, perhaps immersed in one of those rare discussions where two contrasting perspectives slowly walk hand-in-hand toward mutually agreeable terms. You’re too large and alive to care about anything besides the movie before your eyes, with even quick glances of the mystery behind the visible revealing itself in a child walking along a solitary road, a man painting his house at sunset, a smile. Yes, life is good….
Then someone surprise photographs you mid-conversation, the blinding white light like the reset button, bringing you back to normal living, erasing the high you were riding so effortlessly.
This is how I felt during my stay on the little Caribbean nation of Trinidad, just add a pinch of sunburn and mix with the normal awkwardness that comes with being a foreigner in a foreign country. I was having a wonderful time, exploring back roads that hug mountain slopes and curve around fruit farms perfectly angled to soak in the sun, beaches where an overwhelming sense of relaxation is as unavoidable as breathing, and waterfalls with rock walls seemingly made for horseplay. The names of foods—roti bus-up-shut, phlulourie, geera chicken, kachorie, bake & shark—were just starting to fall from my mouth without wrinkled forehead confusion from servers and bar maids.
I was just beginning to understand on a non-straining level Trinidadians’ English accent which is neither British nor Indian (despite these main immigrant influences), but a patois island mix that makes perfect sense in its tropical context. The sign language used to wave down taxis was just beginning to reveal its subtle complexities, the radio politicians their poetic use of the English language to say the same thing hundreds of ways, the drivers their creative use of shoulders and sidewalks to by-pass traffic. People had just begun to include me in their daily lives, inviting me on weekend trips to the countryside and to open-air bars in Port-of-Spain. I was just becoming tempted to call them friends instead of acquaintances, a jump in terminology I take as seriously as dishing out the L-word. My new family with whom I stayed for the entire nine days was just beginning to feel like a family. In short, I had just begun to break the “tourist” barrier and enter the more fulfilling realm of accepted visitor.
Then I left, the camera flash a slow boat to Venezuela.
Trinidad became more than just a primary-colored country on a paper map. It’s now a colorful memory I’ll never forget. Flash. South America. Flash. Soon I’ll pedal through borders (six countries before 2010) like an aerophobic chain smoker through duty-free cigarettes. A paparazzi flood of flashes and epileptic fits of creative rage will be upon me as I pass through a whole new set of stimuli, then interpret, process, and blog my thoughts in such a way that entertains (hopefully) while helping me understand my travels.
Before I begin writing about my time in South America, I wanted to give Trinidad its well-deserved place on my blog.
Trinidad—never before had I received such consistently incredible and self-less hospitality anywhere else in the world. There are endless examples, but my first introduction to the country set the standard of generosity that would not let up until an exit stamp inked my passport. Despite having Couchsurfing member Stanton Taylor’s contact information, no plans were confirmed beyond a check-in call upon arrival to Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport, and even this shot-in-the-dark connection was relayed second-hand by another Couchsurfer I had never met.
Raleigh to Miami, Miami to Port-of-Spain, long immigration lines, then a pack of taxi drivers welcoming me to their country with a barrage of inflated prices. It’s 1:00am, dark, humid. Since a taxi cost US $53 to Port-of-Spain’s city center I decided to sleep in the airport to save money, which I did after a hurried, not entirely clear phone call to Stanton explaining my situation. Exhausted dreams. Two hours later I awoke from my hidden nest on the second floor stairwell to find a man standing over me, his rescue car outside, with a big smile of relief to find me after an almost aborted airport search and a smirk of disbelief that an American would sleep in such conditions. In that strange airport, at an un-Godly hour, with an unlikely smile began everything you’ve read in this short post about Trinidad. Stanton, thank you friend for the ride and showing me the Trinidad I guarantee you will miss when you leave.