We always arrive in a port city with a list of things we are interested in doing. When the geography of the port requires transportation we find a taxi – usually for the whole day. Although hiring a taxi for the day may sound extravagant – the price is usually less than we would spend on two or more people to participate in a hosted shore excursion that might take us to only one place.
In 2007, after our voyage down the Amazon River, we stopped at the Island of Trinidad – on our way back up to Florida. We read that Trinidad may not be safe – so with list in hand we found a driver to take us where we wanted to go… Of course all of our destinations were centered on seeing the Architecture, and in turn the culture and countryside along the way.
We had our daughter Suz along so the first place we visited was the Nanan’s Caroni Bird Sanctuary, where we rode in a boat through a swamp of mangrove trees to see the large flocks of Scarlet Ibis. These vibrant red birds inhabit tropical South America and islands of the Caribbean. For nearly two hours our taxi driver waited patiently while we went on our boat trip. The boat guide stopped the boat in a canal…asked us to look strait up at a huge snake curled around a tree branch “see – he’s sleeping” said our guide… While I wondered why we had to be right under him…..
Next we were off on a drive to Mount Saint Benedict, or the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile – is a Benedictine abbey located in northern Trinidad. The Abbey complex consists of several buildings, among them a church, a monastery, a seminary, and a yoghurt factory – situated high in the Northern Range, visible for miles around, with its landmark tower and distinctive red-roofed buildings that offered us a view of the island from the top!
Our guide / taxi driver was awesome!! He was very knowledgeable, and always shared with us the points of interest we were driving by; like the University of West Indies, School of Medicine. We also stopped along side the road to purchase some nutmeg and a coca cola from a local roadside vendor.
Next we took a ride through a park of some kind… In it were some buildings, including a picnic shelter, and a small house. I can’t figure out what or where it was – but what I do remember is that our driver stopped at a place where there was a local family picnic going on. He approached the father of the family and asked if we could join them to say hello, telling him that we were Americans. They welcomed us; offering to share their food, and soda while the father proudly shared with Rob that his company made Trinidad Hot Sauce that was served in KFC’s all over the West Indies. What an experience – such nice people! And yes – we have seen the hot sauce since then!
After leaving the park there was but one remaining thing on our list. We knew of an area of the city “Port of Spain” where there is a row of mansions that we wanted to see – we had asked the guide about it a couple of times throughout the day and he had not responded favorably. We weren’t sure if we were understanding him – so asked again. We suggested that he drop us off at the row of mansions and we would make our way back to the ship from there. We could see the ship, and town less than half-a-mile away. Walking is always the best way to get an authentic experience. This time he clearly said “NO – It is NOT safe I am responsible for your safety. I could lose my taxi license if you don’t make it safely back to the ship after touring with me.” After some very persuasive conversation he agreed to let us walk the block of mansions while he followed in his car, so long as we would get back in the cab to return to the ship. A half block into our walk we noticed two “hoodlums” that were headed directly toward us at a brisk pace – but then we saw the taxi driver pull up to them, say something as they turned and headed off….. Whew! I guess he was right! Not safe to walk – it is blatantly apparent that we are tourists – it is a ship day and everyone knows it – tourists have money…. Perhaps if not for our driver something bad would have happened. So trust your guide.
We were surprised to see that most of the mansions were boarded up or vacant, a few may have been inhabited, Stollmeyer’s Castle, the office of the Prime Minister, the Queens Royal College and a handful of private homes called North Block and others. We were told these properties were left behind by the plantation owners when the plantations closed. No one currently has the means to turn them around and restore them.
When we travel we keep reminding ourselves to use caution – tune in to our intuition and stay aware of our surroundings – but we will always trust: trust in our driver, trust in local advice and trust in a higher power to keep us safe! Our memory of Trinidad is complete with a “Steel Drum Band Competition” that we enjoyed hearing on our taxi ride back to the entrance to the port area!! And as always we asked our driver to pose for a picture with us!
Lesson – Amazing memories last a lifetime! This trip was in 2007. I typed the material from memory in July of 2015!
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