On February 11 and 12, my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago will be in the throes of Carnival madness. I will be on my couch in Chicago, wistfully looking at tweets and updates from home. I’ve made a promise to myself that 2014 will be my year!
For those of you headed there this year, there’s a really helpful Huffington Post article on 7 Things to Know before heading to Trinidad for Carnival. Carnival is by far the thing we’re most known for and most of Trinidad and Tobago are caught all the way up in the frenzy. And I wouldn’t be a good Trini if I didn’t mention the fact that there is MUCH MORE to Trinidad than Carnival. Much more. So whether you’re visiting my homeland in time for our biggest cultural celebration or visiting at any other time of year, here are three things you MUST do in Trinidad.
1 – Discover Trinidad’s artists.
Trinidad is a diverse melting pot and it has a thriving artistic scene on so many levels – in theater dance, visual arts, music, and also clothing and jewelry design. I really appreciated that on my last visit home, when I was invited to participate in Style Spirit Weekend, (an event that was less well organized than I hoped it would be if I might be completely honest). However, what the event lacked in organization, it made up for in creativity and talent.
I spoke to a small group of very passionate fashion fanatics, and the next day I attended the Style Spirit accessories show. I was delighted by the variety and quality of the work by these young, local, up and coming designers. While I was there, I discovered SO many jewelers. Ready? Check out these links!
Koko Karibi, African Ark Jewellery, Vyombo Designs, Rachel Rochford, The Oblique Imp, Sandalias, Ottoman Chic, TradeMark Designs, Fetarah Designs, Glam Tropic, C.L.A.S.P., Rocks, Frocks & Cocktails. Whew! Above you’re seeing jewelry by Vyombo Designs and Rachel Rochford. Can’t recall who those earrings are by…
And I met Misa Hylton-Brim. She was very sweet.
While in Trinidad I learned about Flower Child Designs, Janice Derrick, Rachel Ross, Beids by Chuff, Cocoa Vintage, Loud by Afiya, and Betchbum. And I met the incredible women behind Wadada Movement, love their style! It made me happy to see that Trinidad’s fashion scene has evolved to include so many young, vibrant contributors. And while I was there, I learned about UpMarket, a popular monthly market where local chefs and artists sell their wares. Next time I’m home, I am SO THERE.
So if you visit Trinidad, look to see if UpMarket or GreenMarket in Santa Cruz is happening. Stop by the pan yards. Look to see if any plays or art exhibitions are happening. Visit a local gallery or two. There are hidden gems to be found.
2 – Seek out Trinidad’s finest foods
When I go home, any semblance of a diet I may be on goes right out the window. There’s too much delicious food in Trinidad, and too many of my favorite things that I don’t get to have abroad! When you visit Trinidad, you absolutely must stop by a vendor for doubles (right by the airport is a great place to do it). Trinidad’s most popular national dish is roti, and there are several different kinds. Paratha or Buss Up Shut is my favorite. Dhalpurie might be the most popular. Sada is most often served at breakfast with vegetable chokhas, and dosti, and the best place to buy that is late at night by a woman named Kanhai in St. James who sets up shop (near the corner of Western Main Road and Mooneram Avenue, to be specific).
If you’re visiting Trinidad you are likely to eat street food, it is everywhere and it is GOOD. Gyros are insanely popular in high traffic social areas. So is Trini corn soup, one of my favorite local dishes. You can find pholourie and fresh coconut water around the Savannah.
Trinidad also has incredible fine dining and high end restaurants like Jaffa, Hakka, Joseph’s, Veni Mange, Chaud, and Flair (which came recommended by United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine). The culinary scene in Trinidad is thriving. For a unique spin on an American-style sportsbar, stop by Trotters (and say hello to my brother who might well be at the bar)!
My other must-have foods when I visit home steer towards the homemade. We usually get a black pudding (blood sausage) from Charlie’s in St. James. Someone at home usually makes a pelau. Last visit, my dad was proud to make his pommecythere chow (and it was DELICIOUS).
Another thing you MUST do when you visit Trinidad — go to Maracas Bay for bake and shark. YOU MUST. Come with me!
At the end of that incredible drive, along Trinidad’s northern coastline, you will park in the Maracas Beach parking lot and have the most delicious sandwich EVER.
Bake and shark (or shark and bake) is a popular fish sandwich that is primarily made right there at Maracas Bay. Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel once described it as the best fish sandwich he’s ever had, anywhere in the world.
Richard makes the most popular ones. Meet Richard.
He’s such a nice guy. And I have no idea how many sandwiches he’s selling in a day but he must be making money hand over fist. EVERYONE loves bake and shark!
If you’re visiting Trinidad for the first time, I encourage you to step out of your culinary comfort zone and try the local delicacies as much as you can. If you absolutely must have McDonalds or KFC for that familiar taste of home, fine. But when in Trinidad, do as the Trinis do and eat some good Trini food!
3 – Lime. As much as possible.
Liming is Trinidad’s national pastime. It is what we DO. There are academic treatise written on the subject. What is it? To lime is to hang out with friends. Hanging out, kicking it, socializing in an informal manner, whether it’s at someone’s house, at a bar, or on the sidewalk somewhere. For example, every time I visit home I must go and lime by my best friend Jolie. We sit on her patio, drink her mom’s homemade wine, and reminisce.
Currently the most popular liming area in Port of Spain is on Ariapita Avenue AKA D’ Avenue or WeAvenue, as this social-life-in-Trinidad website calls it. There’s fun to be found there almost every night of the week, but Thursdays and Fridays are packed with people. The bars and outdoor restaurants are overflowing with Trinis and tourists, socializing, drinking, buying food from street vendors….liming.
My best advice to tourists visiting Trinidad for the first time – be safe. Read all of the warnings available on international sites, just so you know where to avoid. Don’t be foolish and think all Caribbean islands are crime free paradises – just like cities in big countries, they aren’t. Don’t go strolling around downtown Port of Spain with a fanny pack and a big camera around your neck, educate yourself about where you are and where you want to go first. But once you’ve figured things out, and know how to move about the country – relax. Have fun. Make some new friends. Try some new rum. Try some new foods. Enjoy Trinidad for all it has to offer. It is a beautiful country with a unique, vibrant culture that you won’t find anywhere else. And I’m not just saying that because I’m from there and I’m proud of it (even though I might be a touch biased). Trinidad is a beautiful, special travel experience. I highly recommend that you visit, even if it’s not for Carnival.