There is excitement in the air. In the half-light of dawn, cruisers begin to congregate outside the gates of Power Boats boatyard in Trinidad. We are eager to visit the market in Port of Spain, get our shopping done, and enjoy the company of other cruisers. It’s a ritual, every Saturday morning.
The market trips take us to a world beyond the boatyard. And, we partake in the vibrancy of Trinidad. The central market is about 20 minutes from Chaguaramas.
We ride in a max-taxi passenger van, which holds about 12 people and the driver. I am struck by the enormous amount of sailing and life experience within our maxi-taxi. I feel fortunate to meet such exceptional and interesting people. Our driver is a character unto himself. He let me take his picture but asked me to wait as he assembled his long braids about his shoulders.
The van weaves along coastal enclaves. The chatter never stops. We pass emerging developments and coastal villages with vendors and tin roofs. Soon the dusty asphalt gives way to busy motorways with overpasses and fly-bridge walkways. We pass the cricket stadium and hotels with fountains that rise up like glassy cathedrals of modernity.
And then we reach the market. The market is from another time. Frankly, it feels like something out of a Dickens novel, but with greater flourish and color.
Now, I’m not much of a sporting person, but I’d reckon that the market stretches about the length of two football fields. It sells every fruit and vegetable imaginable, and more than a few that I have never seen before, or have only heard about in recipe books. Here, old people shop – shuffling about holding one flimsy grocery bag. Cars and trucks drive through the crowds.
Around the fish market, a few men stretch out and lime (which is a nice way of saying loiter, but here, they aren’t bothering anybody). Occasionally, they stretch up their heads to survey their surroundings. Their clothes blend into the concrete beneath them.
The meat market is enclosed in a long building surrounded by concrete. It provides my North American brain with everything I need to know about meat without visiting an abattoir. I will admit that a carcass of beef with the kidneys intact came as a shock to me. It looked so vascular. I haven’t yet ventured to see the pork and chicken areas though I’ve heard the chicken is excellent. Fish vendors whack fish with gusto and remove the scales, working with a fury. Fish scales scatter in all directions, pelting shoppers who are standing within range of the activity.
As I take in the counters of red snapper, small sharks, and groupers, a fellow Canadian cruiser catches up to me.
“Buy the medium shrimp, and always buy it first before it sells out. That shrimp is the best in the Caribbean,” she says.
Shrimp? I think. Heck, I’m on a budget. Yet, a moment later, I buy the shrimp. It is weighed, wrapped in newspaper, and put into a plastic bag.
The produce is outside, and forms the bulk of the market. The smell of incense floats through the air, mixing with lush green vegetables. The cabbages are so fresh that they bead with moisture when they are freshly cut. The onions are like apples. The pumpkin is orange and fleshy, cut into segments. The herbs and spice mixtures are new to me.
“What you lookin’ for, darlin’?” is a familiar refrain from shopkeepers, and I want to tell them I’m looking at everything.
I’m looking at a man selling goldfish and koi. I’m watching a man sell pig tails in large containers, and ‘cheese for pie’. I’m watching children sell pineapples from the back of a flat-bed truck. And, I’m meeting vendors, like my favorite green bean seller who tells me to hold onto my money – “people will part with it faster than you can, if you get my meaning.” The beans I buy are about two feet long, and I buy plenty. A banana vendor stuffs my bag with extra bananas, and flashes me a smile.
I play the game. I ask for prices before I commit to buying. I haggle a bit. Sometimes I walk away. It’s all part of the fantastic experience of being at the market in Port of Spain.
For a moment I am a local. I eat local foods. I speak to local people. I share a laugh with someone new.
Then I get back on the bus, and compare notes with the other cruisers. Someone always stumbles upon a really good find. And, before we know it we are back in the boatyard, saying our goodbyes, disappearing with our bags of produce, until we meet again the following Saturday.
Lorraine Escher is a cruiser and writer from Ottawa, Canada. Lorraine’s blog is at www.aphrodite.cat