Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s “A little bit of India in the Caribbean“, a travel piece about Trinidad & Tobago.
Click here to read coverage of “Bollywood Weddings” in Trinidad & Tobago’s “Sunday Guardian” (December 13, 2009).
India Abroad” 30 October 2009
“A little bit of India in the Caribbean” by Kavita Ramdya
They say “there is no place like home,” but Trinidad is a great alternative for South-Asian Americans looking for a taste of India without forsaking the conveniences of the western world. Trinidad’s capital city Port-of-Spain bubbles with urban energy, Chaguanas is as rustic as an Indian village, the Northern Range teems with wildlife, and Tobago radiates of white beaches and emerald palm trees.
Trinidad & Tobago are two islands which sit a little north of Venezuela and directly south of Grenada in the Caribbean Sea. Port-of-Spain is on the west coast of the island; it is where you will begin your visit if you arrive on one of the many cruises destined for Trinidad. For years, indentured servants from India migrated to Trinidad to work on its sugar plantations, and although the food looks Indian, the taste has been modified over the years by Spanish and English ingredients. Bar-b-q chicken, a favorite among Trinidadians, looks like tandoori chicken only it is baked in bar-b-q sauce and offers a sweet taste rather than a typically spicy one. British dishes such as shepherd’s pie and upside down cake are common in South-Asian Trinni households.
South of Port of Spain is Waterloo and to the southeast is Chaguanas. Beat-up bicycles litter the non-existent sidewalks, shanty structures double as roti shops, and Bollywood advertisements decorate storefronts. Along with partaking in the local cuisine is the opportunity to visit spiritual sites such as the Hanuman Murti on Prasad Drive in Waterloo. An eight-story statue of Hanuman made of sand, cement and gravel towers over the local temple; Hanuman is painted in such vivid colors that he’s visible to the naked eye for miles. In close proximity to the statue is the pink Dattatreya Yoga Center and Ashram. The Waterloo Temple pays homage to Krishna, and his image is captured in a statue that sits along the Gulf of Paria.
Driving up Lady Young Road, you can see a view of Port of Spain before descending into the city. The Red House parliament building, a British-looking structure faces Woodford Square, a perfectly manicured English park. Nearby is the Lapeyrouse Cemetary noted for its above-ground tombs and mausoleums. On a busy street in the nation’s capital is the Paschim Kaashi whose white marble reflects the sunlight.
Port of Spain’s Falls at West Mall shopping center sells the same mass-produced household items and clothes you’d find in any typical American suburban mall. Rather than waste time searching for bargains that don’t exist, head east to the Asa Wright Nature Centre in the Northern Range. Once an estate home, it is now a nature reserve worthy of any serious bird-watcher. Over a cup of tea, observe the quiet toucan perched on a tree while a bird the size of an adult man’s fist chirps.
Tobago is only a twenty-minute flight from Port of Spain, but it feels like a world away from the capital’s crows and humidity. Coco Reef is the island’s number one resort. The three-minute cab ride from the airport to Coco Reef ends with a drive through the resort’s manicured lawns and a complimentary non-alcoholic Fruit Frost, a deliciously cold pineapple and cherry drink. Guests stay at the Coco Reef Resort in rooms overlooking the beach and poolside. Breakfast and lunch are outdoor buffets. Every evening the resort provides live entertainment such as the local band “Overdrive” that performs hits by legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton as well as reggae music by legends such as Bob Marley. The resort even contains an upscale hair and make-up salon as well as a spa.
Popular among the Brits and Germans, Coco Reef’s beach is densely peppered with palm trees that offer shade from the sun’s rays. The beach is quiet; tourists are usually reading or sunbathing by the water and few children, stay at the resort. There’s plenty opportunities for adults to participate in water sports such as water skiing and canoeing. For the less motivated, you can take the three-hour Bucco Reef tour of underwater life where you can spy baby sharks, stingrays and tropical fish through a glass bottom boat. When finally at the reef, tourists snorkel and observe these underwater creatures and the coral up close. Further on is the famous “nylon pool,” named for the nylon-like appearance of the water and fabled for blessing married couples with eternal happiness and the elderly with youth renewed.
Trinidad & Tobago has the foods, flavors, cultures and sights reminiscent of North American life, Indian temples, and Caribbean resort life. All told, where else are you going to find the cultures of three different continents in a single Caribbean country?
Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html