With over 700 islands in the Caribbean family, how does any one stand out? Especially if you’re Trinidad and Tobago: like a distant second cousin with a wild reputation, who’s probably the coolest relative and claims to throw the biggest Carnival party, but remains an un-visited mystery.
Yet the country is such a composite of Caribbean life – idyllic, untamed, cosmopolitan, under-developed – that it should be the first country you visit in the region. And the one that leaves the biggest impression.
Trinidad & Tobago was my first introduction to Caribbean life, and I can’t imagine finding the same warm, un-staged welcome anywhere else.
If all you know about the country comes from news headlines, you’ll never visit. Murderous stories in the national paper don’t explain that violence is drug-related and rarely affects foreign visitors.
While the absence of a large tourist population makes it difficult to blend in, use common sense and you should never feel unsafe. Especially with so many helpful, chatty locals to look after you.
(Plus, all those deadly things in other places – malaria, venomous spiders, large predators, holes in the ozone layer – don’t exist here).
Like many Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago’s history is an explosion of colours and cultures.
The islands’ outlying location, some 7 miles off the coast of Venezuela, made it the first stop for slave-trading ships heading up the Atlantic. Common belief holds that plantation-owners had first pick of slaves; and, naturally, they chose the strongest, most attractive people off the boat. Factor in another few hundred years, and the current population resembles an ongoing audition at a fashion magazine.
(Think I’m exaggerating? Check out this year’s – or every year’s – entry for the Miss Universe pageant, where Trinidad and Tobago often places in the Top 10).
The original flakey Asian pastry is popular throughout the region. Yet Trinidad and Tobago’s version, introduced by Indian workers in the mid-1800s, makes the original dish look like boring dough.
Double the size, flood with roasted vegetables and ground split peas, wedge in hunks of meat still attached to the bone, and you’ve got the world’s greatest stuffed meal since The Taco.
There are other Trinbagonian specialties (Creole chocolate, the world’s…