Sharing great advice by fellow Trini-Expat Nicola Farris.
Trinidad and Tobago can be difficult, dangerous (in places, sometimes), exasperating, but for me I’ve loved these last two and half years so very much, more than I could ever have imagined. In no particular order I’m sharing my top ten tips for new arrivals; by the time you leave you’ll have your own top ten, these are the ones I’m glad I learnt along the way …
1. Visit the turtles in Grande Rivière. Stay at Mt Plasir. Upstairs. (Every year everyone asks for details on the three hotels, what’s the difference, which is best, blah blah blah, just trust me, on your first visit, stay here. Keep expectations low on accommodations, but this is the best.) Stay two nights. Don’t go on a holiday weekend, try to go during the week. Plan on going to bed late and getting up early. Enjoy it. Hands down it’s one of the most magical experiences in Trinidad. The drive is long and twisty, but it’s worth it. Book a trip in late June to see the huge mamas laying and the tiny babies emerging (the season roughly starts in late April, ends late August – but typically in late June you can enjoy both phenomenons.)
2. Find your person. A fixer. A driver. That one person that can organize a tour, a shipment, a delivery, procure an Angostoura rum barrel. Whatever you need. For us we were blessed to have Jesse James; he was our first friend in Trinidad, who watched out for us and helped take care of us. His family became our family. You’ll find your person through work, or friends or luck. But find someone, they’ll guide you through some of the T&T bureaucracy when you need that most. They’ll also bring you curry and bus up shut – and you’ll give them your most prized possession when you leave because you know they’ll love it and think of you when they use it. It’s a two way relationship, one you’ll carry with you when you leave.
3. Find your crew. You move, you find a friend, you’re fine. If you had lots of friends at home, you’ll find lots of friends here. If you’re a one-on-one type of friend, you’ll find that too. Like attracts like. So go out and do the things you like to do and try new things. I tried everything, but ended up gravitating back to all the thing I always like: hiking/yoga/Pilates/swimming and wine club (ok, so that’s not a thing, but it can be a thing every night here if you want it to be). I tried Ladies-who-lunch, coffee mornings, AWC, cooking club, book club, craft group but in the end it came back to two things: work out hard every morning with a group of friends, which led to opportunities to plan ladies nights out, Friday Limes, fetes, beach days, long weekend trips. And don’t forget to volunteer. At school. Or a local charity or through a club. It will make a difference in your life and the lives of others.
4. Hiking. Although I mention it in #3, I think hiking deserves it’s own category. It’s pretty great here, but you’ll need to push for it. You must hike in groups of 3+ to be safe, and more off the beaten path hikes require a guide. The crew that’s been here a long time are in it for the exercise – they’re going to choose the nearby, good workout hikes because they need to exercise and then get on with the dozen other things they need to do that day. But you’re new with less demands on your time (trust me in a year you’ll also be frantically running from event to event too); so push the old crew or hire a guide to take you on some of the more exciting hikes – the river/waterfall hikes, the ridge hikes with terrific views, the hikes that lead to secluded beaches. Do the Lady C, Goodwood, Bamboo hikes to get in shape (don’t worry you will be able to keep up, get out there, do it, you won’t regret it), but also push for the Paria, Paramin, Paria Falls hikes, the list goes on and on. Make a list and do them all…
5. Caroni Swamp. Nariva Swamp. Asa Wright. Yrette. Pitch Lake. Hanuman Monkey. Temple by the Sea. The pottery shops in Chaguanas. Doubles in debe. Shopping downtown. Maracas, Moruga, Macqueripe, Mayaro, Blanchissuse, Las Cuevas, Tyrico. Toco. Mud volcanoes. San Fernando. Fort George. Chaguaramus. The list goes on and on. Go go go. You think you have forever to see it all, but you don’t, you’ll start picking your favorites and start going back with friends and you’ll stop being a tourist. Of course you’ll have visitors and they’ll want to go visit your favorite places and after your 2nd, 3rd visit you’ll be calling your person (see number #2) and sending them with a driver. But until then, go out and see all these great places in Trinidad.
6. Tobago. On your first visit go for 4/5 days, rent a car, drive all over, hike to Argyle Falls, snorkel in Speyside, eat lunch at Englishman’s bay, eat dinner at the Seahorse Inn, ride horses on the beach, spend a day at Pigeon Point and go out on the glass bottom boat and the nylon pool. There you’ve done it. You’ve seen the whole island. It’s lovely. You can go back anytime, send your car, your husband, your dog on the ferry, fly over with friends and family, rent a villa (be careful where you stay); on these return visits you can truly relax because you’ve seen it all and can go back to the places you loved or see new more remote gems. Or just drink cocktails by the pool.
7. Don’t take all your trips to Tobago. There are so many fabulous nearby countries to explore. In two and half years we went sailing in the Grenadines and the BVI, visited Grenada, Dominica (briefly), Panama and Guyana. I’d highly recommend ALL of these. We also had two fantastic long summers traveling back in the US, although in retrospect I might have just returned to the US once and the other summer would have been spent exploring somewhere new (Galapagos, Peru, Columbia, oh I could go on), but maybe we needed the time back in the US to appreciate our time here even more.
8. Down the Islands. DDI. Gasparee. Monos. Scotland Bay. Turtle Bay. Chacachacare. Anyone invites you to go, go. Initially you might be like me and think, where’s the beach? What’s the fuss? But the more you go the more you realize you’re there to Lime. Yes you’ll see dolphins and probably loads of babies in May/June, you’ll spot rays and turtles, birds and boats. And trash (that’s the worst part.) But your focus will slowly turn to liming, eating and drinking, dancing to soca on the deck, enjoying playing with your kids in the water, long swims across the bay with friends, relaxing. It’s glorious once you get it. (Thank you @Naureen – Wednesday boat limes were the best!!) And if you can rent a house with friends, spend a long holiday weekend, BBQ, swim and lime, you’ll have discovered one of the very best parts about life in Trinidad.
9. Carnival. Fetes. Pan. J’Ouvert. Stick fighting. Omg, you just don’t know until you do it. If you’re like me, do it all. Every bit you can do, do it. Start training in August, 6 months in advance (you can thank me later for this most important tip) because the day after Christmas the carnival season kicks off; the fetes, pan, parties start and you need to keep up your work outs and going outs and it’s hard, exhausting, overwhelming, but oh SO worth it. Do it. You’ll find out what all these words mean as it comes along, just say yes to everything and soak it up. If you’re not as extreme, just try a few things, a pan yard tour, one fete (Vic Gardens is an easy one), J’Ouvert, a King and Queen competition, something will be fun for you (and worst case if the noise just becomes too overwhelming, book a ticket to somewhere, see #7 and get out of town – just book early because half the population is also escaping and more than double the number are flocking here to get in on the action).
10. Say Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening. Or Good Day. (Thanks for this tip Rachael Ashley – I didn’t know everyone didn’t know this. You should.) Do it when you greet someone, when you walk into the doctor’s office (yes, to the whole room of strangers), to the Massey checker – she looks grumpy, but she’s not, she’s West Indian and your Good Day might just get her to talking and smiling and laughing as you start up your banter with her and the bagger. It’s important and it opens doors and hearts. We’re foreigners here in this beautiful country and it’s us who must see things differently and appreciate the people of Trinidad and Tobago are sharing their small island nation with us.
Trinidad can have it’s frustrations (as can anywhere you live), it can be dangerous (be aware, be smart, be safe) but with an open mind and an open heart you can love it and have some of the best times of your life. Soak it up. Drink lots of (coconut) water. Play Carnival, you won’t regret it!
ON CARNIVAL, PARTIES & TRINI FETES: http://www.trinidadcarnivaldiary.com/?p=11958