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Saturday,  July 13, 2024 8:13 AM 

Trinidad & Tobago: the Caribbean with a twist

  • Air
  •   05-22-2015  10:45 am

Trinidad & Tobago: the Caribbean with a twist

Maracas Bay BeachJust three nights after arriving in Trinidad, I find myself wrapped up in the laughter and cheer of a home-cooked barbeque feast, served beneath a mango tree in a tropical backyard garden. The larger-than-life exuberance of my hosts is contagious, as is the feel-good rhythm of the soca music — making it impossible not to “wine” my hips as I take a bite of stewed chicken and a sip of rum punch.

The scene is the essence of the country’s national pastime. “Liming”, as they say, is a lively hangout in honour of the best life has to offer: friends, food, and fun. The Trinidadian spirit is undeniably invigorating to the senses and the soul.

This backyard lime is just one of the authentic touches that our gracious dinner host, Suzan Gail Mohammed, director of Gail’s Exclusive Tour Services, offers guests looking for a Caribbean experience like no other.

Dahlia Zaida Mohammed, destination packaging specialist from the Tourism Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago, prepared us for the overwhelming hospitality we were to receive that night — but as the days continued, this quickly became advice I took to heart each morning of the trip.

From the street food, to the seafood, it’s a sin to leave Trinidad without trying their world-renowned rotis, beachfront Bake & Shark sandwiches, and curried chickpea drenched doubles. This eclectic array of cuisine is a reflection of the island’s multiculturalism — a tropical metropolis that rivals the ethnic diversity of Toronto.

Unlike most urban playgrounds, Trinidad has the favourable advantage of rich soils and a warm yearlong climate that produces an abundance of organic produce. A visit to the San Antonio Green Market off the Santa Cruz Valley was a vibrant exhibit of the all-natural meats, fruits, and vegetables that add an unmistakable freshness to every dish.

Trinidad’s abundance in oil and natural gas reserves created a Caribbean business hub and cultural melting pot of settlers from African, European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Indian decent — flavouring the region’s mix of culinary spices and rich history.

Driving through St. James, passing street signs named Agra, Bengal and Calcutta, it was easy to forget this was the Caribbean and not the far east of India as we visited the island’s Karya Siddhi Temple — a yoga centre housing the world’s largest Hanuman monkey statue at some 85 feet high, and the Temple in the Sea — a mesmerizing Hindu worshipping site with an equally enchanting story behind its 25-year creation.

Generating 90 per cent hotel occupancy each February, Trinidad’s world-class Carnival festivities have been the destination’s most prominent attraction, but the country’s colourful parade of wildlife has been alluring a new kind of traveller to the growing eco-tourism market.

Having split off of the Venezuelan coastline into the Caribbean Sea, the island contains many of the flora and fauna of a South America jungle. The migration of main land birds over the past ten years, has made Trinidad a bird watcher’s dream. With over 450 species of birds and 630 species of butterflies, the skies of the country’s jungles, beaches, caves and waterfalls are graced with dashes of brilliant colour from its diverse ecology.

San Antonio Green MarketNever considering myself much of a bird-watcher, I was blown away by the daily 6 o’clock spectacle that brings tourists of all likes to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. The grand crescendo of the sanctuary’s tranquil mangrove boat tour is a must-see-to-believe display of hundreds of crimson coloured Scarlet Ibis birds dancing above with flocks of snow-white Egrets. It’s a site I can best describe as an exploding Canadian flag of birds painting the sky at dusk.

Trinidad’s famous Barcant Butterfly Collection can be seen within a distillery tour for the books: the House of Angostura — famous for its top-secret bitters ingredients, known only to five people in the world who are sworn to a secrecy not even airport customs is allowed in on. The company’s historic production of fine Caribbean rum was put to the test and its extensive line of flavours pleased every taste bud in the group.

One thousand feet above this city in the sea, the Fort George military lookout point invites you to take it all in; the multicolored city skyline and coastal beaches backdropped against 19th century cannons and the faint hint of Venezuela in the distance. I’m told the sunsets from this viewpoint are mesmerizing.

And to think, I’m just a twenty-minute flight away from sinking my toes into the pristine beaches of Trinidad’s tropical twin, Tobago.