It’s hot in Trinidad. No shit, it’s July. Sure there are breezes but when you have to make your way across town, looking for an Airbnb that you only have the street name for and not the address, put on shoes not sandals. Unless you want your feet to look like partially maimed, boiled lobster claws.
“What brings you to Trinidad?”
“Where is home? You look like you aren’t from around here.”
I kind of hate the Caribbean, if I’m being honest. I am not the beach-and-margarita type. I hate flying halfway across the world to meet retired white couples from Westchester.
Trinidad, or at least Port of Spain, is not that kind of place.
In preparation for this two day excursion to the island of Trinidad, I talked with Seraiah, a security guard at the library where I work. She swooned when I mentioned doubles, a flatbread covered in chickpeas similar in style to channa masala. She also mentioned kidnappings in the same breath.
“Be careful. Tourists get kidnapped sometimes.” Finally, this Caribbean tourist trap was taking on its own form, its own edge, unlike what I’d seen in Barbados and the Bahamas: an impoverished native population drawn almost entirely into dead-end service sector jobs at the whim of white tourists. I disembarked the place at Piarco Airport, made it through customs, and found my driver. For $35, my Airbnb for the first night supplied a ride from the airport to the guest house. My driver was Nathan, a finance major who studied during the year in Tampa and was spending his summer back home. We drove to the property, talked about language learning (Nathan has a tendency to date Spanish women so I recommended Duolingo) as well as the local food, clubs and culture. Before pulling into the drive, my driver took me down the Avenue, the strip of nightclubs and restaurants that was anything but dead at 2 am. People were out, still clubbing and hanging out on street corners, which made me uneasy.
“Should I be alright, you know… walking back to the guest house alone?”
“Like, ‘is it safe?’. Totally safe, people will be out until 4 o’clock probably”
I know this is a blog, and not a therapist’s office, but you need to know something about how I was raised. I moved into downtown Wilton in sixth grade, with ice cream shops, restaurants, a movie theater etc. I started meeting friends in town, at Starbucks usually, to my mother’s dismay.
“What are you doing in town for three hours?”
“We were just hanging out,” I’d say.
That upset her every time. “What is this hanging out business?” she’d yell, as if she had never heard the phrase. I could have been smoking crack, I guess was her logic, and so she needed detailed accounts of what I did in town. Hanging out was like code for getting high or having unprotected sex. If only sixth grade had been that fun.
I only tell this story because I want to articulate the prejudice against “hanging out” that my mother has imparted on me. If a group of people are on a corner, doing nothing, something must be up. If you’re reading this, Mom, thanks for demonizing friendship in my formative years. But in Trinidad, hanging out is like a sport. No that’s not true. Hanging out is like the pregame festivities, the sport itself, and then the drinks after the game all rolled into one in Trinidad. It is known as “liming” there. The simple act of sitting around or standing, maybe listening to music, usually drinking rum mixed with Coke or ginger ale and talking is having a “good lime” or a “Sunday lime.” I love a good Cuba Libre, but unfortunately all the liming I partook in was limeless, but not necessarily fruitless.
On the first night I walked to Tzar, a nightclub close to my Airbnb, and paid 40TT$ (about $6) to get in after Nathan's suggestion. Slow green and purple lights scanned the crowd, while a DJ played a mix of Trinidadian Soca music and American hip hop. People were swaying slowly, doing nothing but liming, while a couple of male strippers gave lap dances to women who were queued on the side of the stage awaiting their turn. The heavy bass made the room shake, and the cigarette smoke added a hazy allure to what was essentially a few dozen people standing, maybe grinding a little if paired with a significant other, but otherwise listening to the music and swaying imperceptibly. The line for the bar was about 25 people deep, about a third of the people in the club, and I eventually decided to cut my losses and leave.
The next morning I awoke dry as a sponge left in the sun. I found a grocery store, with a doubles cart next to it, and bought a powerade and a “reggae medley”-flavored juice. I figured the latter would pair better with a traditional Trini breakfast, but I needed as much water as possible so I got both.
While I ordered and scavenged in my pocket for 5TT$ for breakfast, I heard someone say “hey man” or “how’s it going?” or some other noncommittal display of comradery. There were a dozen people on that corner, in the shade by the doubles stand, so I paid the man, took my food, and left, assuming I was not the one being greeted. After all, who would say hello to me? I did not know anyone in Trinidad.
I strolled around Queen’s Park Savannah, which Trinidadians claim to be the world’s largest roundabout, with my heavy backpack while I waited for the 2pm check-in time at the hostel for the next night. I walked along a row of wagons selling coconuts, which have their tops chopped off and a straw placed inside for a refreshing drink of natural coconut water. My eyes connected with a small Indian man standing below in a drainage ditch.
“You Spanish?” He yelled up to me.
I replied “Un poquito,” I called, used to being asked as a passport agent if I knew Spanish well enough to help a Spanish-speaking family. For the record I am not even remotely Spanish.
“I said good morning to you earlier today and you ignored me. That is very disrespectful.”
Damn. I’d been here 10 hours and I already made someone hate me. He figured that a person that looked like me had better only speak Spanish. That was the only excuse for ignoring him. He told me about his coconut stands and I told him they were very nice. I regret not buying one.
“I’m sorry I didn’t hear you earlier. Have a good rest of the morning and a good afternoon, too!” He seemed to brighten up at that weak excuse for being a dick.
I walked the remainder of the perimeter, burning my sandaled feet in the hot sun, and ran into another vendor, this one selling soda. He didn’t have a cooler, so the bottles were like eighty degrees, but I felt guilty for being so cold to the coconut man from before.
I walked and burned all the way to the ferry terminal, where a small food court called ‘the breakfast shed’ sold Caribbean delicacies. I had lamb in a rich brown sauce over rice, a green callaloo-type of sauce, and macaroni pie. My feet reddened more as I hiked across town to that night’s Guesthouse. Drenched in sweat, I finally made it to Rust Street, and discovered that Hotels.com didn’t have the address, just the street name. I was in the open sun, pacing back and forth on the block until a man called from a house.
“You looking for something?”
“Yeah I’m supposed to be staying somewhere around here.”
He came up and opened the door and introduced himself. He looked like the guy on the website, so I figured this was it.
We walked through the gate and introduced me to three of his friends, all men in their 50s or 60s. He explained they were “just having a Sunday lime,” and if I wanted I could join them. I jumped into the shower and cooled off, then left my room to get a drink. I politely asked if they wanted beer, starting to sense that this was an unusually friendly country and so I should at least act conventionally friendly.
Returning from the store, the limers doubled in number, and I failed to learn even one of their names. Some were Indian, some were black, proving the diversity of Trinidad which is about a third Afro-Caribbean and a third Indian. We limed for a few hours, and then they invited me to play pool at a local bar. Trinidadian 8-ball, interestingly enough, is governed by a slightly different set of rules compared to those I grew up with. First, one cannot scratch by not hitting a ball, hitting an opponent’s ball first, or not hitting a bank. The second, more interesting rule, is that one does not call any of their pockets. Not even the eight ball. Instead, the eight ball must go into the same hole as the winning player’s last colored ball. What results is absolute madness. One can be 5 balls ahead, but while they continuously try and fail to move the 8-ball somewhere else on the table, the obvious loser can easily catch up and win the game. More often, however, the game is decided by a player’s wayward eight ball, accidentally entering anything but the prescribed pocket.
I returned to the B&B early, sobered by 8-ball exhaustion and by almost losing my driver’s license, and got started working on my homework. I resented myself for leaving homework for the last minute-for having to do homework while on vacation in Trinidad-then I felt it. Something moved in my stomach and I felt a bit of nausea. Phlegm was growing in my throat, and I coughed to remove it, triggering my gag reflex.
I ran, mid-sentence, from my laptop to the bathroom, and unloaded a day’s worth of rum, doubles and macaroni pie. Admittedly, they were dicey doubles, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was raw egg or some disgusting bacteria in that curbside chickpea-juice.
A wave of depression ran over me. Why was I there? Why did I do this? I ask myself these things every time. I thought of how jealous my coworkers were of my travelling. If only they knew. If only they knew the loneliness, the sicknesses of home and stomach alike, and the feeling of being nothing. I was no-one, and I was no-where. I still think about this. Does traveling make me interesting, more approachable? Or does it distance me from all the normal people who just content themselves with dreaming of travel? I don’t know. I still don’t know, and I may never understand it entirely. Why do I find my head in a toilet bowl 2000 miles away from home on a given weekend? And why can’t I spend my money on normal things? I need a girlfriend, I tell myself. I need a life. But every time I think of that, I know I don’t. That is the last thing I need. How can I love someone unselfishly if I don’t love myself?
The next day I spent the entire morning, and some of the afternoon, drinking with the Trinidadian men, liming and trying to feel like I existed. I’ll never get satisfaction from hanging out or liming. I’ll never be in a place where I love those around me, and they love me, and we can just bask in each other’s love over a couple of beers. That afternoon I left the men and walked east, to a Starbucks in a mall to do some homework, and get online and in air-conditioning. I spent the afternoon in coffee shops and watching movies at the theater in the mall, as alone as ever. I sat for hours, reading browsing Trinidadian Tinder (which I was surprised by my popularity on) and watching ambiguous pre-movie ads about women who worked at Ruby Tuesdays and now worked as caterers. This was country number 22, I thought to myself. With over a hundred and fifty countries left it seemed impossible to visit every one. But as I always say: I don’t really have anything else going on. Why not try it? I know I’ll get a lot worse before I get better. I feel like I have nothing. No purpose but to wander the globe until I run out of world, or the world runs out of me. Either travels kills me, or I kill me, and to be honest I’m too much of a wimp.
My perception of Trinidad will never be the same as Seraiah’s. Doubles will make her stomach rumble, and mine just a little queasy. On the other hand, some of the beauty is inevitably lost of the local Trini. It is a nation with crime problems, and with poverty. I was taken, kidnapped one might say, by the charm of Trinidad’s people. I could not say this about any other place I have been to thus far. Where else will the cheapest option of Hotels.com gain you access to a full day of partying? Nowhere else I’ve been. It’s been eleven months since I started this thing, but one thing’s for sure: it’s far from over.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.