February 2001: Trinidad
All the Caribbean islands we've visited have been different, but Trinidad is so different it might almost not be in the Caribbean -- which it almost isn't. For one thing, the island lies only 30 miles off the Venezualan coast, in the mouth of the Orinoco River, so there's no crystal clear water. There are jellyfish -- not like the Chesapeake varieties we're used to, but more compact, with little short tentacles that hardly sting at all, and they zip around, swimming almost as fast as fish. We wonder where they're going in such a hurry, as they have no brains or anything to tell them where to go.

The differences between Trinidad and the other islands don't stop with the water and fauna. The culture here is like something that would come from crossing the Islands with, say, New York City. For example, everybody here is in a hurry. Car horns, which are used elsewhere in the Caribbean to say "Hi" with a short toot, are used in Trinidad for what God intended horns to say, "Get that ****** thing moving!"

When you ask about getting work done anywhere in the Caribbean, you're always told that the job will be done in a few days; you quickly learn to discount or even ignore these estimates. Not so in Trinidad, where a busy craftsman is likely to say "There's no way I can get that job done in a reasonable amount of time." And at least most of the time, if they say the job will get done tomorrow, it gets done tomorrow. All sorts of stores and shops abound, and Chinese restaurants are almost as common as Creole and Indian ones. The Trini people are really friendly and nice. Despite the closeness to Venezuela, there isn't much Spanish influence here. It's formerly Brit, but the population is primarily black and East Indian. Apparently, when slavery was abolished, someone got the idea of importing lots of Indians and Pakistanis, so the population now is about 45% black, 40% Indian and the rest mixed or white. Unlike several other islands we've visited, there's virtually no racial tension that we could discern.

Trinidad seems fairly prosperous, though there are some panhandlers and homeless in evidence. They have a booming natural gas industry, some big plants for processing alumina and ammonia, lots of shipping (6 or 8 ships in port at any given time), and the Caribbean's largest rum distillery, where they make Cruzan, Bacardi, and of course their own Fernandes Black Label, which is cheap and excellent. We met the manager of the Fernandes distillery, and when we asked how they compared in size with Mount Gay, he laughed, saying that Mount Gay was a small blip on the horizon compared to Fernandes.

The Trinidad boat storage and repair business is incredible. The yards are enormous -- easily the largest we've ever seen -- immaculate, and well run. One couple we met had just bought their boat, and, after starting a list of things that needed to be done, went to the yard for help. The next morning a gang of workmen showed up and accomplished the repairs so fast that the owners were unable to add items to the list fast enough to keep ahead of them!

There's a maxi motor yacht here that has just had a complete refit, meaning everything is new -- wires, hoses, engines, the works. To accomplish this, the workmen gutted the interior entirely, and as of last week all the wiring and new engines, etc. had been installed, but there were no decks, furniture, or even bulkheads. Despite this, the crew assured us that they would be ready to sail in one week. Less than a week later, all the new teak decking, bulkheads, and cabinets have been built and installed, and it looks as if they'll really make it.

All this, and beers cost US$1.20 a bottle -- in a restaurant. At the Carnival sites, they're 70 cents US. A good lunch is US$3.00, including beverage. .