Travel Diary: Trinidad
by Chrissana Wilmot - Follow her adventures here
I always return to the land of my birth for the typical reasons anyone would return home: to spend time with family and reconnect with friends. However, it occurred to me that I very rarely have the opportunity to venture outside of my usual spots, unable to truly appreciate what my home turf has to offer. There were still so many sites and experiences I was yet to enjoy, so my latest trip back was just about that: combining my typical movements with new adventures that would surely make me fall in love with my island all over again.
First, I found myself staying close to home, visiting my favourite place in the heart of the capital, The Queen’s Park Savannah. The second largest roundabout in the world, the edges of this space have found a way to combine history, nature, politics, art, food and fitness all in one continuous loop. To the West, is the Magnificent Seven: seven extravagant Victorian-styled buildings that are shrouded in history as they are in superstition. Admiration of these masterpieces are not solely left to architecture aficionados. To the North is the Emperor Valley Zoo, The Royal Botanic Gardens, The President’s House as well as Queen’s Hall, one of the city’s major performance venues. South side of the Savannah is the National Academy for the Performing Arts. Inspired by and constructed similarly to the Sydney Opera House in Australia, this site hosts everything from art exhibitions to performing arts productions both local and international. Early mornings and evenings belong to the joggers, walkers and cyclists as the 3.5km perimeter offers the perfect track to get your cardio on and heart rate up. The numbers of fitness enthusiasts are noticeably increased in the months leading up to Carnival, our top festival held within the first quarter of the year of which the Savannah is the main stage. On weekend nights, the Eastern end of The Savannah comes alive with food vendors ready to serve and satisfy many hungry bellies. The variety found in one location is actually quite impressive, like a carnival for food lovers if you will! Whether you’re vegan or meat eater, in the mood for Arabian or something typical like freshly barbequed chicken or burgers, this spot has it all! Freshly squeezed juices and homemade desserts are also there to complete every meal. The air around here is always aromatic and at times, teasing, a culinary reflection of the mash-up that is Trinidad.
Next, I ventured to Central Trinidad, an area where the population is primarily descendants of East Indian indentured labourers. Because of this, it is not uncommon to find mosques and Hindu temples scattered throughout, the most famous of which is the Temple By The Sea. This place of worship was the dream and product of an immigrant, Sewdass Sadhu, whose faith and love for his religion motivated him to single-handedly construct this temple, an undertaking that took him 25 years. Just a few minutes away from the Temple, I found myself eyes to the sky staring in awe at the towering Hanuman Murti. This statue, standing 85 feet high, is an effigy of the deity, Lord Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God. The tallest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, it is a symbol of courage, bravery and spiritual growth and his worshippers pray to him for exactly that. Soon I became equally mesmerized by the adjacent Dattatreya Temple. Everything about this property was without question, an exquisite architectural masterpiece! From the regally decorated elephants at the entrance to the colourful mandalas painted along the walkways and the intricate detailing of the walls and crown of the building, I found myself feeling both stimulated and at peace at the same time.
For some historical yet culinary immersion, I headed northeast to Lopinot, a village which perfectly marries both our French and Spanish heritage. Named after the Lieutenant of the French Army who once owned these lands, Lopinot is home to a once thriving cocoa industry. However, the cocoa that is still grown is naturally processed to make some of the world’s finest dark chocolate. The chocolate-making process is an incredible experience in itself where one has the opportunity to become novice chocolatiers converting dried cocoa beans to rich, edible morsels. Additionally, creative villagers like the staff at Mariposa Gardens have found ingenious ways to integrate this already mouth-watering snack into outstanding dishes, both of the sweet and savoury kind. Who knew cocoa and cayenne pepper would make such a superb combination for ice-cream?! At Christmas, the Village comes alive with the festive sound of parang, our traditional holiday music that is typically sung in Spanish. Simple acoustic instruments like the cuatro, box bass and maracas are used in sync to create the most jovial music that promises to put even the Grinch in the holiday mood.
My visit home would not be complete without a trip to the beach on the North Coast Road. The drive along the winding trail through the beautiful Northern Ridge always incites a sense of euphoria in me, not only for the opportunity to escape being landlocked, but for the imagery that exists enroute. Riddled with cliffs, the road slithers through the cascading rainforest gliding at a few hundred meters above the ocean. The cool green ambiance of the thick foliage contrasting with the deep blue of the ocean keeps one easily in awe, as you peek down into consecutive bays and coves that accentuate the intricacies of the coastline. A quick stop at the famed lookout offers a picturesque view of the Caribbean Sea and a chance to have a sip of freshly cut coconut water. It is a journey filled with shades of green from the rainforest that cascades the meandering roadway, freshwater mountain springs and visions of islets that hug the coastline. Several beaches are located on this stretch of the island, but my favourite is always Las Cuevas. Named for the many caves situated along this 22km sandy bay, I’ve spent many a weekend here either learning to surf or playing with the dozens of sand dollars that seem to favour these waters. This place is probably where I am happiest.
Who would believe that this little island sitting just 6.8 miles off the coast of Venezuela would be such a melting pot of history and culture? Where every creed and race have truly found an equal place... I started this trip with a simple goal in mind but ended it with so much more. Falling in love is one thing, but truly appreciating its significance is another. One thing is for certain though; I have resolved to explore at least one new place every time I return.
Oh Trinidad! You have been named many things in the past, but to me you will always be home!