First things first: I don’t publish new blog posts here as often as I should. And this one probably should have been finished and shared sooner, but I was of two minds about whether to blog about the whole trip or just certain parts of it . . . and if only certain parts, which ones to leave out . . . and what was a reasonable amount of pictures to share . . . until finally I decided. Here’s one big chunky post about my 20 days in paradise, and (as always) you can read all, skip some, and/or visit my Instagram page for a super-quick photo recap if you’re short on time.
As some of you know, my father is Trinidadian by birth. This was actually only my second trip to the twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago, and although I’m an avid Caribana girl, this was my first Trinidad Carnival. I’ve spent years hearing about how T&T does it much better than we do here in Toronto, and of course I was excited to see for myself what it was like, stuff myself with delicious food, bake myself in the sun, and spend lots of time with family members I don’t see very often. I worked out a plan to budget for this escapade starting around the time of my last birthday (early March). This trip wasn’t cheap! It would’ve been easier if the Canadian dollar weren’t so dismal, or if this year’s Carnival season wasn’t so short (note: for 2017 it’s at the end of February instead of the beginning), and many friends and relatives who were originally planning to come decided not to, but I went for it anyway.
I basically spent my first few days sleeping in, sunning myself and eating my aunt’s delicious food, and my first nights being taken out by one or another of my local friends. Sidebar: I wish upon every person in the world a host as gracious and generous as my aunt and uncle, who gave me a room of my own, copied a set of keys for me, were always ready with advice and answers to my questions, and basically let me do as I please as long as I came back to the house to eat once in awhile. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
My first big outing was Tuesday on the Rocks. I adore Kes the Band so I was determined to get to this show, even though it was far away and I had no for-sure way to get there or back and I was going alone. After many frustrating interactions with would-be drivers and would-be companions, I can look back and say it was one of the best nights I had in Trinidad. KTB and their many musical guests put on a great show, I made a friend or two, and I was able to eat some legit Montreal poutine too!
Next up was a boat ride. Getting to the Harbour Master by myself from Arouca was a bit of a challenge (the second maxi taxi ride was challenging), but the Scorch DDI boat ride was worth it. Found an old friend, made some new ones, jammed to some sweet music while sailing “down de islands” on a big-ass boat, wearing a bikini in early February . . . it was a good time even though we left and returned to the dock late, which almost messed up my family’s plans for the night. My aunt and uncle and their friend (who was visiting from Jamaica to take in her first Carnival too) and I went to see traditional mas, where masqueraders portray certain historical characters, competing for their titles before a panel of judges, and often incorporating some form of social commentary into their performances.
It was important for me to get a taste of the culture behind Carnival, instead of just back-to-back-to-back parties. This may be stating the obvious, but I also went to the beach (ahhhh Maracas, one of my favourite places in the world) and spent hours lounging in the sun and reading.
Plus I did some other random things, like trying a couple of hot yoga classes and visiting and ashram and the Temple in the Sea, going into the city for one of the Kiddie Carnival parades, and getting up before 4am to go see the street theatre re-enactment of the 1881 Canboulay Riots. (No pictures, because even though we got there around 5:15am, all the seats with views were already gone!)
But don’t worry, I partied plenty! My favourite event was Bess Lime, which I was so glad to have my Toronto friends Kerron and Tiffany come to with me.
This was a Sunday cooler fete on the water where 3 boats were filled, sailed separately down the islands a bit, then dropped anchor and linked up so you could switch boats with the DJ’s music synched. The sun went down, the vibe was wicked, there was a fireworks display before we sailed back to the dock separately — and for only $300 TT (about $63 Canadian, and this party included food plus chasers and ice) the value was amazing.
I did get a few hours of sleep after finally getting home from Bess Lime, and then it was J’ouvert. Tiff and Kerron and I got picked up at something like 2am (budget extra time because of all the roadblocks) and met up with our Yellow Devilz crew at 4am, then partied through the darkened streets of the city dashing paint and water around until 8 or 9am.
My awesome aunt Giselle brought me to her place to shower and change, then dropped me off so I could meet up with my band and do Monday mas.
Full disclosure – I found Monday mas kind of boring and disorganized.
It felt kind of like a practice run for Tuesday, except most people weren’t in costume, which made it basically a huge mobile street party . . . which is cool, I guess, but I was pretty unimpressed by the time I got home that evening.
But of course the excitement came back when I got up before 4 on Tuesday morning to put on my glorious costume, get picked up at 5:30 (my driver is the bomb, you guys) so I could be on time to meet my band (actually early, since I had such an interesting time finding them the day before when I arrived late). Tuesday mas was everything I’d hoped for.
This would be a good time to compare a few notes. You can believe the hype: Trinidad Carnival is, in most ways, superior to Toronto’s Caribana. You pay WAY more in Trinidad (even taking into account that you have two parade days instead of one) but far more is included *if* you’re with one of the well-organized bands (not just a gorgeous costume and great DJs and unlimited alcohol, but nuff staff and nuff security and 3 meals over the 2 days and shaded rest areas in the Savannah at lunchtime). You can play with a monstrously large band in Trinidad, if that’s your thing (like, 15,000 masqueraders), whereas in Toronto I think we tap out at about 3,000 masqueraders in a large band. Both have celebrity guests, life-giving music, DJs who tend to talk too damn much over the microphone, a super-high ratio of women to men, locals, tourists, first-timers, veterans, well-meaning stormers, and the feeling that you’re living it up in this very moment so every other moment is inconsequential. (Come on, I know I’m not the only one who feels like that when I’m playing mas; that’s why we’re called “revellers!” A lie?!)
There are things I prefer about Caribana though. I prefer to run into tons of people I know in addition to meeting lots of new sexy friends. I like knowing exactly what the parade route is, and knowing exactly what the order of the bands is. I like not having any bands who are so unmanageably huge that they go off somewhere else so as not to interfere with the other bands. I like having only one stage, at the beginning of the parade route (Toronto, can we please go back to that???), and I like being asked by tourists and press people and amateur photographers for photos all day long . . . it seemed like there was a lot less of that for Carnival since they all had exponentially more people to photograph than they would’ve at Caribana. (I like living within walking distance from the parade too, but that’s not Trinidad’s fault!)
Anyway, my heart was full by the time night fell and a new friend helped me through the mobs of people along the Avenue to meet up with my driver and Kerron and Tiff. The two of them had invited me on a hike excursion the following morning but I’d opted out, since I figured my feet would hurt or I’d be tired. On Ash Wednesday I actually woke up fresh as a daisy, but too late to join them, so after aborted plans to go to the beach and a pool party I napped and then stuffed myself at a dinner party my aunt and uncle and their friend were hosting. While everyone else was flying back home and/or getting back into their work routine, I spent a lot of time with family, including a chartered boat ride to Nelson Island for a great lunch event put on by the African Women’s Association.
Even after almost 3 weeks, I wasn’t ready to come home. Even after a week back at home, I’m picturing myself in Trinidad and planning to bring a bunch of friends with me next time.
Under 2000 words? Not bad . . . because I could literally fill books with my memories from this trip. But I hope you got a taste of it here on my little blog, and if you want to join me for pretty much any Carnival anywhere in the world (I’m now itching not only to do Trinidad Carnival regularly but to check out Notting Hill Carnival, Brazil Carnival, Bermuda Carnival, Jamaica Carnival, Hollywood Carnival . . . ), drop me a line!