Trinidad & Tobago
– visited October 2013 –
I started this trip in Puerto Rico and to avoid problems with US immigration I had booked a flight out of the Caribbean (that is their requirement!) before I left home. I had not planned my journey in any detail, I just knew the date I would fly from Curacao to Venezuela and I had a rough idea which islands I wanted to visit along the way. I knew it was a tight schedule but I didn’t realize that it was too tight. I will have less than 48 hours on Trinidad & Tobago, one of the bigger Caribbean Islands and less than 48 hours on Curacao.
I like Port of Spain. Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, Martinique and St. Lucia are beautiful islands with wonderful nature but they are also kind of boring as a by-product of their smallness. Compared to that, Port of Spain is full of energy, the agglomeration has half a million inhabitants, that is more than Antigua, Dominica and St. Lucia have combined. That also shows in the prices, Trinidad & Tobago has a decent-sized market and prices are a lot lower as in their northern neighbours.
I head to the Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis. Slowly the boat glides through the mangrove forest, a fish eagle is waiting for prey, soon the guide spots a Boa Constrictor above our heads resting in the tree. As the day fades the show starts, the ibis feed all over the coastline but as night falls, they return to sleep in the trees in a certain area deep inside the swamp. Because of their diet of red crustaceans, they are a glowing bright red. We sit in the boat and just watch the trees fill up. In the end, some trees are really full of birds. I made the right friends, they offer me a lift back to Port of Spain, that spares me the wait in the dark for a passing minivan.
Some more exploration in Port of Spain. Trinidad has a sizeable community of Indian heritage, about one-third of the population have Indian ancestry. How does that come about? Slavery was so abhorrent that eventually a movement formed that sought to outlaw the practice. As this movement succeeded a new source of labour was needed as the newly freed slaves proved unwilling to work for the puny wages offered to them. An old concept was reinvented, the so-called “indentured servitude”, whereby poor and desperate Indians were contracted to work for a certain time (usually seven years) in Trinidad without receiving any wage. After the seven years, they usually received a certain amount of money and were free to pursue their own goals in a place that seemed to offer more opportunity than their homeland. In many cases, working and living conditions were little better than during slavery.
I leave my guidebook in the hostel, my backpack is heavy enough. I am off to the airport. Up in the air, the South American coastline comes into view, a mighty river flows into the Caribbean Sea. Consulting a map, it turns out to be a minor side arm of the Orinoco.