A Rookie’s Suggestions for Trini Carnival

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the pleasure of attending carnival in Trinidad earlier this month.  Although my stay was short, I have a number of tips to offer those who would like to not only attend, but participate as well.  Please note that these are merely suggestions based upon my personal experience and are not meant to be taken as gospel or law.

  1. Decide NOW.  Decide whether or not you would like to just be a spectator or if you want to actually participate in the various activities and events.
  2. Start planning NOW.  Carnival dates for the next decade can be viewed by visiting the http://www.gotrinidadandtobago.com/events/trinidad-tobago-carnival/ site.  Please note that the dates posted on this site only reflect carnival Monday and Tuesday.  If you want specific information for the white party, sunny side up, or other events, you will have to check with one of bands or groups.
  3. Reach out NOW.  If you decide that you wish to participate in some of the activities, visit some of the various sponsor sites to contact the various bands for packaging information and prices.
  4. Save NOW.  Carnival is not cheap.
    • Airfare, as one might expect, can range anywhere from $600 to well over $2000 depending on when you purchase and which carrier you choose to fly.  As of March 2014, a third US flag carrier was added to the list of those permitted to fly to the Port of Spain (POS) airport, so that should help with some the costs.  Airline tickets for various destinations are typically available 335 days out from your initial date of travel, so airline tickets for next year’s event are available now.  If you have a voucher or credit on one of the airlines that fly to POS, considering using that to offset the cost.  A friend of mine allowed me to use their voucher for American Airlines and I only paid $113.00 round trip for my ticket.
    • Unless you are booking a package, inclusive of hotel accommodations, check hotel rates now and make your arrangements accordingly.  Moreover, if you are one of the few lucky business travelers who has racked up tons of points and free stays at chain hotels, consider using them (if that particular hotel or chain is located in Trinidad).  I was actually able to use my Hilton Honors points for my stay this year.  Therefore I didn’t have to pay for my room.  The room rate at the time that I booked my stay was $299.00/night without taxes and fees for a king bed.
    • Unless you are on a package that includes all or some of your meals, allocate enough money in your budget to to account for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Even though some of my meals were covered at the various activities in which I participated, I packed some instant meals and snack bars in my suitcase to keep me satiated during my stay.  I am a very picky person and it is often very difficult for me to find something I like to eat.  Food is not expensive so you can probably get by on $40/day depending on your dietary needs.
    • If you planning to play with a band on Carnival tuesday, please know that the costume alone for this year’s celebration ranged from $700 to over $1200, depending on the band.  Keep in mind that these costumes are poorly made and pieces of the costume will fall off prior to you even getting on the road.  So, you can take a glue gun to try to salvage your jewels, but do not expect the costume to be nowhere in value near what you are paying for it.  You are paying for the experience.
  • Brainstorm your outfits NOW.  Whether or not you decide to participate in all of the events, some of the events, or just carry on as a spectator, plan your wardrobe ahead of time.  Trinidad is located in a tropical temperature and individuals who are sensitive to heat and humidity need to wear cool, light clothing.  Additionally, this is not the time to buy a new pair of shoes and wear them for the first time upon arrival.  Break in your new boots, heels, or even tennis shoes NOW.  Additionally, if you decided to play Mas, gel inserts will be your best friend.  If you decided to do Jouvert, this is the time that you want to pack your dirty t-shirt, throw away shorts or pants, old, stinky tennis shoes and a scarf to protect your hair.
  • Leave the inner germaphobe  and xenophobe at home–especially if you participate (willingly or otherwise).  There is a reason why you bring throw away clothes with you, if you participate in Jouvert.  You are going to be covered from head to shoe in mud and paint.  Prepare to get dirty.  If the thought of being gooed up with paint and mud bothers you, stay away, far far away from Jouvert.    If you do not like people (yes I said people meaning men and women) invading your personal space, or if the thought of a random stranger wining on you gives you the creeps, DO NOT participate.  Wining is cultural and, unless you want to look like Wanda the wall flower, wine yuh waste or stop wasting space.
  • Consider the weather.  Although we do not know what mother nature may or may not do, one thing this year has shown us is that you can expect the unexpected.  Therefore, in the unlikely event that Polar Vortex part deux happens next year, I would highly recommend that you consider purchasing travel insurance less you experience a travel interruption, or even worse— your flight is cancelled in its entirety.
  • Convert some money, but not all of your money.  Although Trinidad has its own currency, the US dollar is readily accepted around the island.  US currency was accepted by the taxi drivers, the various market vendors and at the hotel.  The exchange rate during this year’s carnival was $6TT to $1US.  Thus, a bowl of soup that would run $8US would be $48TT.  A bottle of rum at the airport would run $12US or $72TT.  Learn from my mistake and DO NOT change money at the airport.  Although they do not charge a commission, they do not exchange money at the best rate either.  The rate that I was given was $5.75TT to $1 US; the hotel exchange rate was $6TT to $1US.
  • Get your cardio on NOW.  With the exception of traveling to the various parties and to and from the airport, you will probably end up doing a lot of walking.  Therefore you want to be in very good shape.  This is especially true if you decided to play Mas.  You can bet that you will be dancing, jumping, walking and masquerading for at least 8 hours/day.  Stretch ahead of time, if necessary.
  • Make sure you know where your phone and camera are at all times.  Unfortunately, during some of the revery and wining, a few of the individuals in my group lost their cameras and cellphones.  If you plan to take items of value, make sure you have a wrist strap or some way to secure the item with you.  If you are traveling with a friend or group, consider asking someone to keep the item in a purse or bag for you.  There is nothing worse than taking a lot of lovely pictures and videos only to not be able to view them when you return to your destination.
  • Pace Yourself.  It’s often been said that you should “go hard or go home”.  Well, in some respects and circles that is true, but when you are exposed to heat and on your feet for long periods of time, you need to mind your consumption of the lovely beverages.  Hennessy and orange juice became my best friend on this trip and prior to it, I never had Hennessy in my entire life.  When I felt myself getting “nice”, I had enough common sense to start drinking water because I the standing rule in my group was “no one is toting a load.”

If you want more information, feel free to visit sites such as GoTrinidadandTobago, Lehwego, and Trinidad Carnival Diary for more information.  Consider reaching out to some of the various groups and bands using social media as well.  Regardless of what you decide to do, be it spectate or participate, just check your ego at the door, let your hair down and have a good time!!

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I didn’t see the triangle, but met nice people

So, my most recent sojourn took me to the tiny island of Bermuda for four days. Growing up I kept hearing about this mysterious Bermuda triangle where planes entered, but never exited and was always fearful of going there. However, when you find a good deal on Groupon and there is a cheap airfare, how can one resist? So, off I went to see this little island and brave the weather.

Day One After a long day of travel I arrived at my temporary residence which was located a very short distance from the airport and a 30 minute bus ride from the city of Hamilton. After a two-hour nap I ventured to the local Jamaican restaurant for steamed fish and rice and peas. On the way back, I visited the gas station next to my dwelling to grab a bottle of water. Normally I travel with some canned goods and food; however, since I am on a pretty strict diet, I have to watch what I eat. So, I had a little bit of food and so that I could just relax for most of the evening until it was time to go out again. While relaxing I checked out a couple of the NBA All-Star activities and just enjoyed my time doing absolutely nothing. Later that evening, I donned my “Tina” wig, get it girl jeans, and headed out for a night on the town with my new bestie (Vanessa) from the island. She took me to a few local hotspots and to a local bar where the had a valentines event that was attended by a handful of people. But, we were given a really kewl gift bag and were able to have a few laughs. After leaving that spot, Vanessa gave me a tour of the major spots around the island. She provided so much detailed information regarding the history of the island, various laws and regulations, and the culture of the people. Around 1:30a.m. we called it a night and headed back to our respect abodes.
Day Two
I awoke around 10a.m. and made my way to town in an attempt to visit the local Saturday Market. Unfortunately, the market closes at 1p.m. and I made it just in time to see the vendors pack up. So, I journeyed to the local grocery store in Hamilton and picked up some munchies, found a local tourist shop where I picked up my souvenir shot glass, and proceeded to the local museum where I waited for my new friend. Upon her arrival, we hit a few local shops in search of some travel gear for Carnival in a few weeks (See Live Mi Life) and had a bite to eat before heading out. I was treated to a tour of Hamilton and surrounding areas during the day time. We also visited the beach which is located near the hotel where Vanessa works as the Chef Concierge. Although it was pretty windy and chilly, we stayed for a while to watch some wind surfers and just chat about our mutual interest regarding travel, our career endeavors and dreams. The day ended with a little more sightseeing before the torrential downpour put a cap on the day. Vanessa dropped me off at my hotel and I called it an early evening after having dinner.

Day Three
Day three was a pretty easy breezy day for me as most of the shops are closed on Sunday. So, I headed into town around noon to catch a ferry to Dockyard. There was approximately an hour wait until the next ferry was scheduled to depart, so I bummed around in town, found a restaurant that was open and had vegetable soup and took a few pics of the local buildings. On my way back to the ferry dock, I passed through one of the alley ways that Vanessa and walked through a day earlier and was greeted by the BIGGEST damn rat/mouse I have ever seen in my life. Like I almost lost my liquid at the sight of this thing. And it did not even bother to scatter or flee when it saw me. I think that critter looked at me and said, “chick you are in my country, let me pass by first.”

After surviving rat/mousegate, I went back to the dock to wait for the ferry to arrive. The ferry ride takes approximately 15 minutes from Hamilton to arrive at the destination. Dockyard is home to a few restaurants, shops and some historical buildings. There is a local vendor who makes (and allows you to sample) rum flavored chocolate. Woiiiiii. I stopped by one of the smaller restaurants prior to departing Dockyard to purchase some soup and grab a drink– non-alcoholic of course (I was saving all drinking for Carnival). I made it back to Hamilton around 4p.m. and hiked my wait up the road to the bus depot to catch the bus back to the other side of the island. Instead of immediately going back to my resort, I went to one of the neighboring communities that Vanessa pointed out the first day we went out. This area was home to a stockade, a dunking chair and a replica of one of the ships that traveled to Jamestown. I grabbed a couple of photos, checked out the local architecture, enjoyed the sunshine for that day and headed to the bus stop to go back to the resort and call it a day.

Day Four
Since this was my last full day on the island, I did not have much on my agenda. I just felt like taking it easy. However, I had plans to meet Vanessa at her job for lunch at 12:30p.m. Considering the fact that it typically took 30-45 minutes to get to Hamilton, I figured that it would take a little over an hour and one half to get to Vanessa’s hotel since it was a little further out from Hamilton, so I departed my resort at 10:30a.m. to allow enough time to get to the resort. As it turns out, it did not take that long to get to her resort; I actually arrived an hour ahead of schedule. Since I was so early, I killed 45 minutes playing candy crush and used the last 15 minutes to walk up the hill leading to the resort (The resort has a shuttle that would take me up the hill, but I figured I could get in some cardio by walking up the hill).

Vanessa was just finishing up with interviews when I arrived, so we proceeded to the hotel restaurant for a nice lunch and some chit-chat. I am an extremely picky eater, so I was a bit concerned that I would not find anything on the menu to eat. The entire time that I had been on the island, I craved soup, but apparently most of the restaurants serve “fish chowder”. I mentioned this to Vanessa and she said, “Oh no. Our fish chowder is not like what you are thinking about, it’s not the white based soup.” So, since she said that it was very good, I was trusting her word and decided to try it. Lo and behold, this was the BEST soup I’ve ever had. I cannot believe that this yummy stuff had been within my grasp the entire time and I didn’t eat it because I thought it was like the regular new england chowder. I darn near licked the bowl because it was so good. I could not believe how good this stuff was. Vanessa mentioned that some of her guests told her that the gas station next to my resort sells fish chowder as well. Who knew?

After lunch I went outside on the patio and checked my email while Vanessa completed another interview. A hour or so later, we regrouped and went to one of the lounge areas to chat and surf online for more caribbean fetes. We chatted for about an hour and made plans for what we would do when we arrived in Trini and made plans to keep in touch. I headed back down the hill to catch the bus ride back to the resort— BUT, before heading in for the resort I made a beeline to the gas station next to the resort and purchased a large to go cup of fish chowder. The chowder was good, but not as good as the bowl of soup at the restaurant. The rest of the evening was spent watching television, sending a few text messages and packing.

On the day of my departure, I arrived at the airport two hours prior to departure, proceeded through the multiple layers of security and grabbed a bottle of the local rum for the road. My flight departed on time and off I was back to the freezing cold, snow and land of no beach. All in all, the trip was relaxing and went well. I met a really awesome person and discovered my new favorite soup.

Takeaways

Bermuda is pretty pricey, so you need to be prepared to spend a pretty penny for accommodations and food. However, you can save some money on accommodations by checking out Groupon, Travelzoo and Livingsocial deals.
Bermudians are UBER friendly. So, if you are one of those uppity people from the mid-atlantic or north east who are not accustomed to greeting people with a simple “good morning”, “good afternoon”, or “good evening”, you may want to re-tool yourself. Bermudians believe in civility at a minimum.
If you are taking public transport (i.e. the bus), they only accept exact change, tokens or bus passes. If you are going to be on the island for a while, I would recommend that you invest in getting a pass which can be purchased at your local hotel.
– With respect to the directions. If you need to go in the direction of Hamilton, you stand on the side with the pink poles. If you are going away from Hamilton, you stand on the side with the blue poles. A good way to remember the difference is “the wind blew (blue) the bus away from Hamilton.”
– Note that the bus pass is good not only for the bus, but also for the ferry. So, you can definitely save some money if you have a number of stops to make throughout the day.
If you want to go to the Saturday market, know that they start at 8a.m. and it ends at 1p.m. The market is located in a building near pier 6.

Live Mi Life… I’m the happiest woman alive meh sey

I have traveled near and far. Experienced many highs and lows. I’ve been in the presence of a former president, met the queen of England and even performed during the French bi-centennial commemoration activities in 1989; however, never have I experienced energy like that during the 2014 Carnival activities in Trinidad. As I thought of the title for this post, so many things swirled around in my head. So many soca songs came to mind as part of the deliberative process; however, only one seemed to sum up what was in my heart. Why live mi life? Other than the fact that it is a lyric in a soca song, I am just so blessed by God to be able to have the experiences that I have. Everyone is not able to enjoy what I have been blessed to enjoy; go where I have been blessed to go; see what I have been blessed to see and meet people who have been a blessing in my life. And I do not take this for granted life is short and tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Hence, this post is an ode to my appreciation for the opportunities I have in life.

Disclaimer. I was looking forward to my trip to Trinidad and was hoping the experience would be nice, but really hoped not to enjoy it enough to want to go back again. I was pretty certain that I was going to visit the country, get my shot glass, have a few wines, avoid the paint, and call it a day. After all, I was only going to be there for 2.5 days. Surely Trini carnival was not going to be “that” great of an experience. But what I experienced cannot be put into words. I have some pictures and videos documenting the experience, but nothing can quite describe The Experience.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon and quickly processed through Trini customs and immigrations. No random bag checks or endless questions about why I was traveling by myself, who I was meeting, if anyone has given me anything to bring with me. Just a question about the nature of my visit and how long I was staying. Then stamp, stamp and off I went to collect my baggage and head to the taxi bay. After a quick 30 minute drive I arrived at my temporary lodging where I would spend a total of 10 hours during my short stay. Thank God that I did not spend a time for my accommodations. It helps to have a slew of hotel points

Once checked in, I proceeded to my room, unpacked my bags a little and headed back downstairs to get directions to another hotel where I would meet up with my group- LPTS. There hotel was only 15 minutes away; however, the directions I was given actually took me up into the mountains on a two hour hike with no rendezvous spot in sight. Since I had been up for more than 40 hours by that time, I decided to get a cab to take me to the actual hotel.

Upon arriving at the group hotel, I met up with the LPTS team lead, collected my costume for Carnival Tuesday, met a few people and visited one of the women in the group who I met two weeks prior. I ordered some food prior to returning to my hotel and packing a bag for an overnight stay prior to Jouvert (paint party) at 3a.m. on Monday morning. So, I was able to get a few winks of sleep (about four hours) on my friends couch before changing into my throw way clothing. Yes, I said throw away. Being covered in paint from head to toe does not allow one to salvage an inch of clothing.

Jouvert started with a pre-party of sorts.  Our group walked from the hotel to the meeting point for the “Dirty Dozen”– the group we were going to follow for Jouvert.  Along the way, i donned my plastic shower cap and throw away scarf to protect my “protective” hairstyle from the paint and mud.  When we arrived at our meeting point, the party was in full effect with the DJ pumping soca and hundreds of people enjoying the vibes naturally and courtesy of the special punch.  Now, I am normally a very reserved person, but after one cup of the punch, I became Ferrell like— HAPPY like a room without a roof.  The next thing I knew my legs, waist and bumpa started moving without me instructing them to do so.  The punch must have been very strong because I actually too pictures and videos— and I don’t do that at all.

So, after an hour or so of pre-partying (I really do not know how long because of the punch), we hit the road following the designated truck pumping soca.  So far, so good. But this was like one of those horror movies where you know something is about to happen, you just doing know what or when, but you can feel it.  The next thing I know, I am feeling rain.  Is that rain?  No, that is a splattering of paint raining down in the crowd.  At first, I become a total girl and am like, “ewwwwww”.  But then I relax and am like, “this is kewl.”  Seconds later, more paint is on me, but this time, it is more deliberate.  The paint is courtesy of a man just smearing it on me.  Now, where in the states would that happen without someone allow that to happen without slapping someone?  Nowhere that I can think of.

This loveliness of smearing paint on random strangers, while dancing in the street to soca music, and drinking more happy juice continued for almost four hours.  When we reached the end of the route, there was a man on a platform with a giant hose dousing people off.  Unfortunately that water was a little too cold for my liking, so I made sure to steer clear of that.  Food was provided, but the lines were very long, so most of our group basically bypassed the food and headed back to the hotel to clean up and change for day 1 of (Carnival Monday) on the road.

Day 1 on the road is very laid back.  Some people are wearing costumes that they’ve made, some where traditional carnival costumes, while others wear shorts and tanks or other tops.  I chose to rock some pink pum pum shorts, a black lace top (with bikini top underneath), some fish net stockings and chucks.  Again, I am a reserved person and was worrying about the costume for Carnival Tuesday, so I played it safe.  The walk to meet up with our band took about 30 minutes and we were able to see a lot of the other groups along the way.  When we found our group, we fell in line and the party was on.

We partied on the road, danced, and took pics for approximately four hours before our lunch break.  There were three choices for lunch and I chose the fish paired with a sprite and some ice cream.  The fish was not that great, but I was hungry, so I ate as much as I could stomach.  Of course I ate all of my ice cream, even though it tasted a little “strange”.  Like there was a little coconutty/twangy taste to it and I just could not put my finger on it.  I liked the white one, but I really like the red one better.  But now, I am feeling a little… free. I am feeling a little giddy.  Why I am feeling like I am about to laugh at myself.  Well, as it turns out, the ice cream was “special”.  Special as in it had alcohol in it.  Oye vez.

Break time was over and it was now time to continue with part two of the trip on the road.  Or not.  Several members of the group decided to head back to the hotel rather than continue on the road.  Since most of the women with whom I had met and established a bond were heading back, I figured I should go as well.  Once we got back to the hotel, I went to my friend’s room to collect my belonging and head back to my hotel.  Before I set out on my way, i placed an order for a little food to go.  Of course it took me double the time to get to my hotel since my legs were completely gone and I had to trek up a steep hill.

Once back at my hotel, I quickly jumped into the shower to let the warm water rush down the back of my legs and soothe my aching muscles. Although I workout periodically, I am not used to being on feet for a good chunk of the day.  Especially not in chucks.  After my massaging shower, I ate a bit of the food that I purchased and settled in for the night.  Since the sandman was sitting on my eyes, I made sure to contact the front desk for a 4:30a.m wake up call since I needed to make it to the rendezvous hotel at 5:30a.m.  Once my head hit the pillow, it was truly lights out.

Four thirty seemed to come so quickly and totally did not want to get up because this was D-day.  Well, actually it was carnival Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, but it was D-day for me because I had to put on that skimpy costume.  There wee many little pieces to the costume and I am not the most skilled person at putting together an outfit.  So, I put on the bikini top, necklace, and bikini bottom.  The rest of the costume was thrown into a bag so that I could change into it when I caught up with my friend at her hotel.  I threw on a pair of shorts, my boots, and a tank top over the outfit so that I could not be totally naked walking by myself.

Once at my friend’s hotel, I changed into the rest of my costume with the help of my friend and enlisted the help of one of her male roommates to help me put on the arm bands.  TRUTH MOMENT– with the amount of money you spend for costume, you would think that the construction of it would be better than it was.  We had not even left the hotel and some of the jewels were already falling off.  But, they were able to be salvaged  because my friend had a hot glue gun and was able to secure the jewels that were falling off.  Once the hot glue dried and the last armband was tied, it was time to make the trek for the road.

All I can say is that the energy in the air at the various staging points was off the meter.  As we made our way through the crowd to catch up with our group (Yuma) and prepare to cross the stage at the soca dome, I could not help but shed some of my apprehension over wearing the costume.  There were women of all ages, stages and sizes wearing their costumes with such pride.  Women who were three times my size ROCKED that two piece and had faces that were BEAT!!  The sea of colors and costumes was just beautiful.  I could not help but to think, the world would be a better place if it reflected the spirit of Carnival.  We waited approximately an hour or so before we “crossed the stage” (almost reminiscent of crossing the stage at graduation, just a little more festive) and it was a true party in and of itself.  After crossing the stage, we filled our cups with some refreshments and prepared to take the road.

The road experience was like one other.  Thousands of people following large trucks pumping soca music, spectators joining in on the fun and enjoying a random wine from two wayward souls (no name no blame), and tons of smiles all around for the entire day.  We jumped, stomped, wined, and scrubbed the ground for well over eight hours, only taking a break for lunch.  I tried the creole dish for lunch on this day and, although it was some jazzed up version of fish, it was much better.  After a rather lengthy break, we were back on the road for more dancing, more wining, and more excitement until approximately 10p.m. when we reached the end of the road.  Sadly, but happily, we headed back to the hotel, stopping along the way to laugh and sing and dance and just reminisce.

I made it back to my hotel just in time to grab a bowl of corn soup, cancel my car to the airport, and catch an hour of television.  I was smart enough to schedule my 4:30a.m. wake up call so that I could meet up with my ride to the airport by 5:30a.m.  I arrived at the airport in enough time to check-in for my flight and quickly chat with my trainer who just happened to be there and get my bottle of rum and shot glass before boarding the plane to the cold chilly states.  So, I will sum up my experience with some “modified” lyrics from Machel Mantano (soca artist):

You see me, I’z a woman
Love to play, love to jam
You see me I’z a woman
I always happy once money in meh hand
But I don’t got no time for no worries
I don’t got no time for no stressin
Ah had rum on my mind so ah ready
To go on the road

Ah come out to live meh life
Live meh life
Play ah mas and live meh life
I’m the happiest woman alive