Seven miles off the Venezuelan coast, the island of Trinidad lures cruisers with its low prices, vibrant and cosmopolitan atmosphere, below hurricane-latitude location, and full-service marine industry capable of any sort of repair or refurbishment. The 1864 square mile island bustles with vitality, international commerce, and huge petroleum and natural gas industries, but offers touristic charms, too.
Although the sister island of Tobago is best known for its uncrowded, Robinson Crusoe-style beaches less than a half-hour’s flight away, Trinidad has its own palm fringed stretches of sand including Maracas Bay, one of the most popular beaches on the north coast, reached by good roads from Port of Spain with sensational views on the way. Don’t bother lugging lunch because you’ll want to sample the “shark and bake” outdoor restaurants (or, “bake & shark” depending on whose stand you are patronizing).
Watch the cooks roll out fresh dough and fry up your fish in hot oil, pay your 20 Trini dollars (about $3 US), then pile on extras at the condiment bar—lettuce, tomato, onions, even pineapple—splashed with all manner of sauces: tamarind, garlic, mango chutney, and locally-made hot sauce. Messy, but delicious. Wash it all down with an island-brewed Carib Beer for about $1 US. Then pick your palm tree and nap away the day.
“Listen to the oil drums talk,” as Trinis say. What are the drums saying? That you should plan an evening at one of the larger pan yards that allows visitors—there are many and some are listed under “Pan Yards” in the T&T Boaters’ Directory. Trinidad is the place, after all, where the art form got off the ground after World War II when the US military left behind a plethora of 55 gallon oil containers. With lots of free raw material to recycle into instruments, clubs and contests sprung up and the mellow pan sounds have been the voice of the Caribbean ever since.
At the simple courtyards, steel pan musicians set up nightly year-round to practice for February’s Panorama competition at Carnival. While dozen or more musicians work through their repertoire, you can relax, listen, and buy refreshments from a little snack bar.
For another great evening experience, head east from Port of Spain straight across the island to Matura to see leatherback sea turtles come ashore and lay their eggs on the Atlantic coast from about 8 to 11 p.m. nightly. The island is one of the world’s top nesting colonies, with more than 6,000 of the turtles nesting annually. Nature Seekers is a nonprofit, community-based organization that launched an effective program to protect leatherback turtles from poachers back in 1990, long before “ecotourism” became a Caribbean buzzword for tourism. From their efforts, killing of the egg-bearing turtles has been reduced from 30% or more a year down to zero. It is well worth the two-hour trip over bad roads and the modest permit and guide fees (about $11 total) to meet up with the group’s guides (some are former poachers or children of former poachers) during turtle nesting season, March to September.
If you go, apply a little insect repellant, bring bottled water, and wear sneakers or sturdy sandals for a short hike from the ranger station out to the beach where you’ll stumble around through hills of sand studded with coconuts and other obstacles invisible in the pitch black darkness. (Lighting on beaches can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings.) After a few minutes when your eyes adjust available starlight, you’ll notice a few other groups of a dozen or so people gathered in quiet clumps up and down the beach.
From the surf, creatures that seem as large as Austin Mini Coopers emerge and work their way up the sand along the beach. Over the course of an hour or two, each turtle digs a nest, lays the eggs, covers them up, and sweeps sand and debris around with flippers to camouflage the nest location from predators before returning to the sea. Baby turtles will hatch in a couple of months, dig their way up to the surface, and head down to the sea themselves to start the cycle over again. You’ll be allowed to take photos once the egg laying begins.
Nature Seekers people accomplish numerous tasks: tagging and monitoring the turtles and nests, patrolling the beach, educating the public, and much more. Their next Annual Beach Cleanup at Matura Beach will be February 24, 2008 and volunteers are welcome.
To learn more about Trinidad for boaters, see the web site for Yacht Services Association of Trinidad & Tobago: www.ysatt.org.
Chris Goodier is the editorial director of All at Sea and a St. Croix-based freelance writer. Her articles and photographs have appeared in various publications including Caribbean Travel & Life, Discover St. Thomas/St. John/St. Croix, and Caribbean Meetings & Events.