09/30/2006, Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
This picture was taken at the Asa Wright Nature Center, one of about two bird pictures I took that were in focus. It's an Oropendula bird and is commonly found in Trinidad
After returning from 10 weeks in the states, we spent a month in Trinidad finishing projects on the boat and doing some sightseeing. I'll skip most of the project details because they involved delays and generally weren't fun or interesting. The end result is that the boat has a new coat of bottom paint; the fiberglass has been compounded, waxed and polished; the teak has been varnished; we have a new DC refrigerator (which means we will need to run the generator only every three days instead of 5 hours every day); a bow eye was made and installed which means we won't be listening to the anchor chain bang against the bow all night (hooray!); and we have a wonderful sun shade over the upper deck, some very convenient new shelves in the galley and salon, and built in shades/screen combination for the hatches over our berth replacing the fabric and velcrow version I fixed up in desperation. The desperation was caused by the light streaming in at dawn, or about 5:30 am, much earlier than retired people want to be getting up.
Trinidad has a unique culture which blends historical influences from the indigenous people, various European colonists, African slaves, Chinese imigrants and a large number of people descended from East Indian indentured servants who came to Trinidad after the slaves were freed. In fact the East Indians make up almost 50% of the population and their influence is seen in all parts of Trinidad life. During our visit we attended both Dragon Boat races (celebrating the arrival of the Chinese people on Trinidad 200 years ago) and Duvali (the Hindu Festival of Lights). As a result of so many cultural influences, Trinidad has a lot of holidays. There were probably five official holidays during the month we spent there.
Weather -- VERY HOT We were in Trinidad during the rainy season with an average of 2 or 3 showers each day. The showers were welcome because they cool things off, at least for a short time. Also, the frequent showers slowed down some of the work on the boat. One worker was trying to finish a gelcoat repair before it started raining. Looking at the clouds, he predicted it would be raining in 20 minutes. Guess what? He was right. We had a few cloudy days with a nice breeze, and I always looked forward to them. Since we were tied up to a marina, we had to use the boat air conditioning. During our stay in Trinidad I spent more time inside the boat than at any other time during our cruise. Usually we are outside most of the time, but in Trinidad being outside meant getting wet, either sweating profusely or getting rained on! It didn't help that the marina had a ridiculously small swimming pool, about 10 ft by 10 ft, too small to actually swimm and too deep for me to stand up. About all you could do was hop in, get wet, and sit in the shaded gazebo. While we were there the pool ladder broke, so getting out was something of a project. If Paul wasn't around to help me, I would ask someone to put one of the plastic chairs in the water so I could use it to climb out.
Food -- VERY GOOD Local Trinidad food is a delicious blend of all the various cultural influences and is readily available from street vendors several of whom will often be congregated together at a wide spot in the road. Our cruising guide stated that food service is regulated and inspected by the government and is, therefore, safe to eat. I only had one bad experience, which might have been the result of too much spice. On one of our tours, the driver stopped at one such place and we sampled several local treats. Everyone especially liked the doubles, potato pie, and rotis. Shark and Bake (or sometimes Bake and Shark) is another popular item. It is a giant sandwich with breaded and fried shark served on a fried bun with a choice of several condiments. No one claimed the food is low calorie. Meals are usually a choice of a main course and several sides which are all carbohydrates (e.g., rice, beans and lentils), sort of like a plate lunch. The easiest way to describe them is "fish and carbs", "chicken and carbs", etc. Stewed goat is frequently served, and Paul really liked it, but I found it too spicy. I considered most food to be very spicy even before adding any of the condiments or curry sauce, which were usually lethal, with the exception of the salad dressing. A lot of the eateries close to the marinas had non-spicy versions available for our sensitive palates.
Debbie, the swim suit lady came to one of the marinas every Thursday. You purchased your own fabric and she would make swim suits, wraps, and sun dresses. She could copy a suit you especially liked or have you pick a pattern. Bernice and her daughter come with Debbie, and they can do almost any kind of sewing. Their creations were really cute. As a result I have three custom swim suits (are you jealous?), one with a matching wrap and a cute sun dress. In addition to being a highly skilled seamstress, Debbie is a truly nice person. While she was working on my things her youngest child came down with chicken pox and then Debbie caught it. After they recovered, she put forth an extra effort to get my clothes finished.
Maxi Taxi trips Maxi Taxis are vans holding about 12 people which run on regular routes. You wait at a stop, and one will usually pick you up within 5 minutes. The fare is very reasonable, and they are a good way to travel around, especially to the places directly on a route. In fact, most of the islands we have visited have some version of these.
An enterprising businessman, Jesse James, operates a tour service using Maxi-taxis. He has weekly trips to various groceries and other stores. These were very useful because he has a second van come in order to take all the groceries back to the marina. We took several of his tours and really enjoyed them. Jesse is an enthusiastic tour guide and a terribly nice person.
Overnight to Asa Wright Nature Center This was fantastic. The Asa Wright Center is housed in a former estate in the mountains with amazing views. There are about 25 rooms in several buildings scattered through the woods. Meals are included (very delicious) and are served cafeteria style in the large dining room. In addition to meals, early morning coffee and tea are offered to the bird watchers who get up at dawn; afternoon tea is available; and rum punch is served before dinner. All in all a very pleasant environment. Trinidad has a huge number of different bird species and many of them can be seen at Asa Wright. We met a couple from England who were spending a whole week bird watching at Asa Wright. They have knowledgable guides who are very informative and helpful. We hiked some trails and took a dip in a fresh water pool. Asa Wright is located at about 2500 ft elevation in very steep rain forest. It is hard to imagine making a living from agriculture in such a rough environment, maybe that's why it's now a nature center. But it was much cooler and very comfortable up in the hills. Next time we will stay longer.
Visit to village of Felicity for Duvali Duvali is the Hindu Festival of Lights, and the entire village was decorated with both electric lights and small clay bowls with wicks in burning oil. Our visit included a terrific tradational Indian dance performance, a tasso drum band performance (LOUD), and a tradational meal served on palm leaves (no plates). We also strolled around the town after dark to view the lights which were everywhere. People would offer you sweets and we had nice conversations with several. It was interesting that some of the electric lights definitely had a Christmas theme (e.g., Christmas trees and Santa Claus). Maybe this isn't too surprising is such a multi-cultural society.
The Steel Drum Band/Jazz Festival Steel drums were invented in Trinidad. During World War II the U.S. had a major base in Chaguaramas Bay and left over 55 gal drums were used to make musical instruments. They and tuned by heating the metal and dropping a rock on it creating a small indention. This process is repeated until the "tune" is correct. We saw four groups; all were great. Two smaller groups were led by ex-pat Trinidadians who returned for the festival. One of the bands had fifty pieces, about thirty-five of them steel drums accompanied by some percussion and horns. Although a little loud for my taste, it was an impressive performance. The steel drum sound is truly unique, and the musicians really get into the grove, sort of dancing in place.
Really wierd toilets -- While the toilets all worked, they had the most complicated flushing mechanism Paul and I have ever seen!!
In summary, Trinidad surprised me by being such a unique place. Since we intend to comtinue boating and will probably end up here again, I am glad there are still things I want to see and do, including visits to the bird sanctuaries we missed and the pitch lake, where asphalt literally oozes out of the ground. Instead of grass the houses have asphalt patches.
|F. Windward Islands||
07/09/2006, Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
We arrived in Chaguaramas Bay about 9:00 am after a night crossing from Mt. Hartman Bay, Grenada. There was a small amount of excitement involving one of the boats in our group. Delilah's motor died and it was some time before Dean and Jill could coax it back into action. While they were sailing this didn't matter much, but there are strong currents and a narrow passage approaching Trinidad where a motor is almost esential even for the most ardent sailors. Another sailboat we met lost their motor in the same area and spent the next 36 hours getting into Chaguaramas. The wind would pick up during a squal and they would be able to sail. Then the wind would die and they would drift back with the current. Anyway, our friends avoided that problem and we were happy when they arrived safely. It's always been hard for me to quit mothering people even adults who aren't related to me; so I was ready to send Paul out in our large dinghy to rescue our friends. Luckily, that wasn't necessary.
Most of our first few days in Trinidad were spent getting the boat ready to be hauled and left "on the hard" (for the non-yachties, this means being on land proped up on tripods). We arranged to have several maintenance jobs completed while we visited family and friends in the states. Therefore, we were very busy with all these details and didn't really see much of Trinidad until we returned on September 30.
The major part of the hurricane season is from July through October, although hurricanes can occur as early as May or as late as December. Most boat insurance policies require that the boat be either north or south of the hurricane zone, which is defined differently by different insurance companies. In our case we had to be south of latitude 10 degrees, 50 minutes which is just north of the island of Trinidad. So to maintain coverage during the hurricane season we needed to stay in Trinidad or go further south (i.e., Venezuela). Although Venezuela has terrific cruising, we decided not to venture there this because of the worsening political situation. We hope the situation will feel better to us next year.
|F. Windward Islands||
06/29/2006, St. Georges lagoon; Grenada
On the way to Grenada, several of these birds were flying frantically around the flagpole on our bow, and one of them tried to bite it with its beak several times! Paul even went out to check that the flagpole was fastened securely to the boat. I tried to take pictures of this unusual behvior, but was not quick enough to get the bird with its beak actually around the flagpole.
St. Georges is a very busy port with large ships frequently coming and going. Anchoring in the lagoon gives cruising boats great protection while keeping the cruising boats out of the way of the commercial traffic in the Carneage. A very nice beach was a medium dinghy ride away.
Grocery with it's own dinghy dock made getting provisions very convenient.
Friday street festival in Gouyave was a real experience. We accompanied a group on the public mini bus to Gouyave, a small town on the west coast of Grenada about 45 minutes north of St. Georges. The ride was kind of scary because the road is steep, narrow and in bad repair. But the end result was worth it. Every Friday about 6:00 p.m. a large number of local vendors set up booths along several of the streets and offer local food and some crafts. We sampled our way along and really enjoyed the evening.
We took a bus tour of the interior with King Elvis Tours (really, I kid you not -- he even talked like Elvis on the phone). One thing I had almost completely forgotten was the U.S. participation (along with other members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) in a "rescue" mission in 1983 which resulted in the ouster of the government and has ushered in a period of peace and prosperity. The Grenadians still appreciate the U.S. efforts, and I saw a hand lettered billboard-size sign thanking the United States for the 1983 intervention. This was VERY interesting to me in light of current events in Iraq. Other highlights of our tour: Visit to the River Antoine Rum factory which still uses a giant water wheel originally built in the mid-1800's. The tour was interesting, but the rum isn't really that good (VERY strong!).
The Grenada Chocolate factory makes organic chocolate bars and is powered by around 50 solar panels all over the yard.
The Spice Factory was a huge operation where all kinds of spices are first dried on large wagons with railroad wheels. When dry the wagons are rolled into the building for final processing. All over Grenada fresh spices are plentiful and cheap.
Swim in a fresh water pool and waterfall -- a refreshing end to a great day.
|F. Windward Islands||
06/26/2006, Carriacou Island, Grenada
We spent a pleasant three days anchored in Tyrrel Bay in Carriacou, a small island about 15 miles north of the main island of Grenada. This is a large harbor and there is a lot of commercial activity. It was interesting watching the large ships come and go. As with most islands, the harbor also had a lot of activity from the small, colorful local boats, some of which offer goods and services to cruisers.
Good deals on wine. Here we met Simon who has the BEST wine prices anywhere. We weren't sure how he was able to sell wine at such good prices, so we didn't ask where he got his supplies. The deals were so good that some of our friends who had already left Carriacou emailed and asked us to bring them some more of Simon's wine, resulting in our buying all he had! Great party when we arrived at our next stop!
Mangrove swamp. There is a very large mangrove swamp on the north side of Tyrrel Bay which is great for dinghy exploration. This particular area is a well known hurricane hole and about 150 boats sheltered inside during hurricane Ivan two years ago. Ivan caused a lot of damage all over Grenada, but all the boats in the mangroves were not damaged.
Mangrove oysters are found in the mangrove swamp and one of the boat boys would deliver and shuck them. The price also included 1 or 2 cold beers for the boat boy (actually, he was a grown up who, aparently had received and consumed beer from several other customers). The oysters are tasty, but very small so having someone else shuck them was a really good idea. Even a small batch needed a LOT of shucking.
|F. Windward Islands||
06/22/2006, Tobago Cays, The Grenadines
Beautiful beaches EVERYWHERE
Fantastic snorkeling EVERYWHERE
No need to say anything else. Did I mention that I really love the place?
The Tobago Cays must be the ultimate cruising experience -- the perfect picture of what comes to mind when thinking about spending time on a Caribbean island. This is especially true if you want to get away from civilization altogether because these islands are so small there isn't any with the possible exception of some boat boys offering fresh fish, etc.
One fact of interest to movie buffs. Some of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie was filmed here. In fact we looked out on the island where Johnny Depp swam ashore which was kind of surprising because it is surrounded by a shallow reef. But, I guess having Johnny walk in a few inches of reef wasn't in the script.
|F. Windward Islands||
06/18/2006, Bequia, The Grenadines
Bequia is the start of the Grenadines, a group of small islands south of St. Vincent which offer terrific cruising. It is also one of my favorite anchorges with great beaches and places to explore in the dinghy in addition to a charming town which is awfully nice for shopping and simply walking around.
There are very interesting vehicles which take small groups on tours. They are sort of like converted pick up trucks with covered, open air seating where the bed of the truck used to be. We visited several interesting places:
The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctury -- is privately run by a man named Brother King. Because most newly hatched turtles are eaten by predators, he keeps them for several years so they will have a better chance of survival in the ocean . He works mostly with Hawksbill sea turtles which do not repreduce until they are 25 years old. Since he has been operating the sanctuary for about 15 years, it will be awhile yet before any of the turtles he has released will begin reproducing. I think his work may prove very important because he told us he has been seeing fewer and fewer turtle eggs in the wild in recent years.
A lovely pottery making business operates out of an old estate house, and we picked up a nice gift. When you live on a boat, shopping is an interesting experience. I love to look, but rarely buy anything that isn't a gift because we would soon run out of places to put things.
Snorkeling is surprisingly good in Bequia. I saw an enormous variely of fish and other creatures.
The vegetable market run largely by rasta followers was a unique experience, but not very pleasant because they are such agressive salesmen. This attitude is very unusualy to what I have experienced in other places. Fortunately, there are other places to shop where the experience is much more plesant.
|F. Windward Islands||