02/28/2007, Trinidad, West Indies
There's an ad in the paper, listing fruit and vegetable prices at a local market: sorrel, paw paw, dasheen, melongene, pomme cita, cassava, eddoes, green fig, plantain, patchoi. Huh, where are the apples, oranges and bananas? Rick looks at me and comments, "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!"
No, we're in Trinidad, and spending several months here each season for 6 years, we now feel quite local. We eat pelau and roti, we know most of the maxi taxi drivers, and are hard pressed to drive through Carenage Village without bouncing up someone we know. We have our favorite local radio stations, know most of the local popular songs, and are friends with the singers and band members. Our cell phone rings off the hook. Local friends call to ask where the hot pan and calypso events are. Cuz we know. And when we go to these events, we hug up the band and the performers, cuz Trinidad is a small island, and if you stay open and friendly, you soon know everyone.
It's Carnival season here, and that means that the streets are pulsating with the rhythm of steel pan and calypso. It is just indescribable. There are festivities everywhere, with primal music and vibrant colors and dance and art and creativity and song. There are Calypso contests, pan competitions, children's parades....what a celebration of life! This is our 4th Trinidad Carnival, and each year we discover several new treasures.
Just imagine dozens of steel bands playing in the streets, while thousands of fans dance to the rhythmic and magical music of the pan, with broad smiles and eye contact with every stranger (have you noticed how Americans often avoid eye contact with strangers?) These happy islanders are beaming with a love of life that fills your heart and intoxicates you. I am close to tears many times for the joy of it all. We have never seen such pure and heartfelt happiness as we see here.
Every night there are dozens of spectacular shows to choose from, exhibiting local cultural arts born in Trinidad, including calypso, steel pan, chutney, soca, chutney soca, limbo, and tassa. Chutney is a beautiful form of East Indian singing and dancing, and soca is Trinidad party music, so chutney soca is East Indian party music. Tassa is drumming that takes you to other worlds, other times. Amazing that so many wonderful and different musical art forms were born here.
We love the competitions for King and Queen of Carnival, with the amazing 40' high costumes. They are incredibly creative, colorful works of art.
One of our favorite Carnival events is the 'Talk Tent', a showcase of AfroTrinidadian oral tradition, which is old time storytelling at its best, African style.
But really, there is no other musical art form that defines Trinidad like Calypso, which is the ultimate AfroTrinidadian oral tradition. It's a combination of social and political commentary, all set to a lively rhythm. Calypsos typically have clever and humorous lyrics, and are sung by well dressed gentlemen in 50's style fedora hats. They say that if you want to study the history of Trinidad, just listen to the lyrics of the Calypso songs. Harry Belefonte popularized his own form of Calypso in America, but he learned the art form from the Calypso icons of Trinidad.
Two years ago, we met and quickly became close friends with "Lord Superior", the granddaddy of Calypso, or "Kaiso", to use the traditional Patois term. He is one of the most loved and respected Caribbean entertainers here and abroad. He introduced us to his world of Calypso, which we adored. He brought us everywhere with him, introducing us to other Calypsonians, and inviting us to intimate gatherings, where these old guys sat around singing old Calypsos, and we just absorbed it all with our mental video cameras, treasuring these experiences that possibly no other foreigners had been exposed to.
When Lord Superior decided to produce a Carnival show with vintage calypsos, to be called the 'Vintage Kaiso Brigade', he asked us to help. Working with him, and all of the other calypsonians in the cast, has been a wonderful and rewarding experience, taking us 'backstage' in a way we never thought possible. Talk about 'immersion' in another culture!!!!!
It's funny. When we first planned to sail around the world, we dreamed of exploring rain forests and hiking up volcanoes and snorkeling in warm, clear water. We looked forward to learning about other people and other cultures. Never really thought we'd be producing a cabaret-style show in a developing nation! Few, if any, other foreigners have ever become immersed in Trinidad's culture like we have.
With Lord Superior, we produced a total of 9 shows last season and 14 shows this season, and the show was televised, and will air from now until next Carnival season. Though it was a lot of hard work, it was a very rewarding experience.
Lord Superior has now adopted me as his goddaughter. That makes it even harder to leave this island paradise. Trinidad has truly become our second home, and we have so many wonderful friends to say goodbye to. But after Carnival, it's time to wrap up some boat projects, and get ready to set sail again. This time we're really leaving the Eastern Caribbean, heading toward Central America, looking forward to exploring the islands off the coast of Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama, as well as Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and finally Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. We have the books and charts, have been reading up on where were going, and are getting so excited.
Take care, sweet friends, and write to us about your lives and what's new, we miss you very much....love always, Ami and Rick
|Where We've Been||
12/23/2005, Trinidad, West Indies
The lights dimmed. The band captain tapped his pan sticks against the side of his pan....one, two, a one two three four....and the band started the first set of the concert with a lively version of "In The Mood". The audience could not stay in their seats, moved by the song, driven to get as close to the band as possible, shouting at us, screaming gleefully, dancing and laughing and loving the music. In Trinidad, people don't just listen to music. They participate in it, become part of it. Especially when the band is the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra, known as the best dance band in Trinidad.
In August, I was asked to join the "stage side" of Silver Stars, which is a selected group of 15 players who play at engagements. It was a huge challenge for me to learn their repertoire of over 50 songs, mostly complex original arrangements of popular songs. Rick was so patient and understanding, as I was spending every night and most weekends at the pan yard, practicing. Oh, but what fun! We perform at concerts, weddings, festivals, and private functions. This time of year, we are doing a lot of Christmas parties.
Rick has a new passion....he is teaching himself to play the saxophone! He's really doing quite well, and loves it! He spent the month of August in Europe with his mom, sister and her husband. They visited relatives in Sweden, explored the Fijords in Norway, and stayed at his sister's place in Rome. It was a great vacation for him!
In September, Rick and I celebrated 20 years together....yes, can you believe it! We went to Tobago for the weekend, stayed at a quiet resort on the beach, and just had a wonderful time!
We've completed a lot of our planned boat projects, in preparation for extended offshore cruising. We've replaced our standing rigging, have had a new main sail made, and have installed a radar system. We're going to install a wind generator to supplement the electricity we currently get from our solar panels. We have worldwide charts and cruising guides, and lots of reference books. We hope to start heading west after Carnival, to visit the Venezuelan islands, the ABC islands, Cartagena, and then go on toward Panama. This planning phase is really very exciting, and fun, but a lot of hard work and difficult decisions, too.
In the meantime, we're thoroughly enjoying the Christmas season here in Trinidad. Trinis celebrate every holiday with music; in the streets, on every corner, downtown, everywhere! Small neighborhood bands form, and go from house to house, playing music, and being rewarded with love, rum, and sweets. It's a truly joyful time!
We reflect on this past year with fond memories. Memories of zipping along under full sail, sea spray on our skin, delighting in the dolphins dancing alongside our bows. Memories of discovering a rare and beautiful "magnificent urchin" while snorkeling in the Grenadines. Of swimming with a pair of stingrays, in among the coral bommies. Remembering sunsets shared with friends. And dancing in the streets to sweet sweet pan music. Of all the fetes and festivals in Trinidad. Of the wonderful people we've met here. All in all, it's really been an incredible year for us!
We hope that everyone is enjoying a joyous season, and hope that the New Year brings love and laughter and adventure to all!
|Where We've Been||
It's great to be back in Trinidad. Feels like home. We know so many people here; can't go anywhere without running into friends, though admittedly, they are mostly pannists.
We've really fallen in love with the people of Trinidad. These happy islanders are beaming with a love of life that fills your heart and intoxicates you. I am close to tears many times for the joy of it all. We have never seen such pure and heartfelt happiness as we see here.
This is our first summer in Trinidad. We are amazed that there are so many fetes, festivals, concerts, shows and competitions. And it's not even Carnival season! These Trinis sure know how to have fun!
The captain of the band that I played the Panorama competition with, SilverStars, invited me to join their "stageside" group! Every steel band has a smaller "side" of the band, about 20 pannists that are hired to play at functions, mostly weddings, funerals, festivals and private parties. SilverStars has perhaps the best, most highly paid and most often asked for stageside steel band in all of Trinidad!!!!! I have been practicing like crazy, trying to learn their complex repertoire of songs, which has been extremely challenging, but I am just having a blast!!!!! And to fill the time while I'm away in the pan yard, Rick has taken up the saxophone with a passion! His first real try at a musical instrument, and he loves it! And I'm amazed how good he sounds
It's gonna be hard to leave Trinidad, but we are working hard to outfit the boat, and are preparing to start out on our circumnavigation. We're installing some new equipment, getting charts and cruising guides for Central America and the South Pacific, buying spares and medical supplies, making minor repairs, doing annual maintenance, and reading up on stuff like heavy weather tactics and recommended world cruising routes. We've had the opportunity to talk with other circumnavigators here, and learn from them. It's really exciting!!!! Barring any unforeseen problems, we should start sailing west by springtime, with new rigging, new sails, and a boat well outfitted and provisioned for extensive offshore cruising.
We go for long periods of time living in remote areas, where products and services are scarce, or non-existent. So once we do arrive someplace like Trinidad, where there is more of a marine services industry, inexpensive internet cafes, and more availability of products, we have a long list of things to do that we've been adding to for months! But each day, no matter what work we're doing, is still an adventure!
While we both love this cruising lifestyle, it certainly is not easy or convenient, like life ashore in California was. We are constantly fighting the effects of this harsh tropical climate. The salt corrodes, the sun damages, and the movement of the boat is conducive to breaking and chafing things. The high humidity causes all kinds of green growth everywhere, and drains our energy. We're living on a small boat, where space is at a premium, yet we need to carry with us everything we need to survive for months at a time. We have to monitor our water usage, as well as our energy usage, and are constantly devising ways to make more, and use less, of both of these precious commodities!
We're living in different foreign countries, without a car or an address or a phone, and each new place we visit we need to learn about public transportation, pay phone services, local shopping and internet cafes. We have to remember whether to divide by 2.65 or multiply by 1.27 to determine what a product would cost in U.S. dollars, just to judge the value of that product in the local currency. And which way to look when crossing the street! It's not easy and comfortable, but it's the adventure and new experiences that we seek and treasure, and the rewards are indescribable.
While in Peru, even in the most remote villages in the Andes, we saw children wearing Nike caps and Rebok sneakers. On the secluded island of Marie-Galante, we were surprised when someone joked about "Jacobi & Meyers". Satellite TV is bringing American shows to every corner of the world, and it's going to become harder and harder for different peoples to preserve their own cultural expressions. We are anxious to travel the world before this happens.
|Where We've Been||
07/14/2005, Trinidad, West Indies
"....National Weather Service Forecast Advisory #13...Tropical Storm Emily has been upgraded to a Category 1 Hurricane...current position is 11.9 north, 62.3 west, moving WNW at 20 knots per hour...sustained winds of 80 knots, gusting to 105... uh,folks, it's gonna be a rough night..."
We turned off the SSB radio at the end of the transmission. We sat in silence for a few moments. The eye of the hurricane was now only 80 miles from us. The good news, for us, was that she was veering slightly to the north, away from us. The bad news was that she was strengthening, and becoming more organized. The very word "hurricane" struck terror in us.
We were exhausted. We had worked hard over the past 48 hours to prepare for the worst, and now it was here. We felt fairly secure in our marina slip, with double lines forward and aft, and extra fenders on both sides. Our sails were down, decks cleared, dinghy hauled up on shore and filled with water to weigh it down. Everything inside was secured, VHF handheld radios and spotlights were fully charged. We were able to get reliable updates on the radio every three hours from the National Weather Service.
We kept our VHF radio on station 68, monitoring the communications between vessels, to see if fellow cruisers needed help. We periodically checked our lines, and the lines of the boats on either side of us, for chafing. We were up most of the night, just keeping watch, monitoring the conditions.
We were lucky. The winds were not as strong as projected. The swell bounced us all around quite a bit, but our lines held us well. The torrential rains made the conditions seem worse than they really were.
It's just starting to get light. The worst is over. Ok, we've just been through our first hurricane, and have learned a lot. It was a rough night, but other than a few new leaks around hatches and portholes, we seem to be just fine. A lot of other boats had problems, but many were just not as prepared as we were. There are still high winds in the mountainous areas of Trinidad, with flooding, and loss of electrical services in some parts, but no reports of other damage. We have not yet heard reports of damage on Grenada or the other Windward Islands.
|Where We've Been||
06/28/2005, St. Lucia, Eastern Caribbean
Friday night, we went to a Calypso Tent, here in St. Lucia. St. Lucia's Carnival is July 19-20, rather than February like Trinidad. They changed it from February 6 years ago, because too many local people were leaving St. Lucia to go to Trinidad's Carnival. So they are in the midst of all the pre-Carnival fetes, with the pan bands practicing for St. Lucia's Panorama, and the Calypso tents open every night. A Calypso Tent is where 20-30 Calypsonians compete with their original Calypso songs, all new for the 2005 Carnival season, hoping for the most coveted Calypso Monarch title.
It was wonderful, the songs were brilliantly clever, and the audience was rowdy. Anyway, near the end the MC picked ME out of the audience, (we were sitting in the front), called me on stage, and asked me where I was from, thinking he'd make a spectacle out of a tourist. Of course, as always, we were the ONLY white people there. Though there are a lot of tourists here in St. Lucia and throughout the Caribbean, they are mostly on cruise ships and in all-inclusive resorts, which they only leave for group excursions, always very protected. They never venture out on their own or go to local events, especially something like a Calypso Tent. Even the Yachties don't go to the local events, just a few restaurants or stores or hiking to a waterfall that is listed in their Cruising Guide. That is why when we seek out and go to these events we are always the only foreigners AND the only white people, as the whites on these islands are, for the most part, not so interested in the blacks' culture.
Well of course, I said I was from Trinidad (the land of Calypso). Everyone roared with laughter. The MC said, "No, really, where yuh born ahn grow?" which, in Trini English, means "where were you raised". I said "I born ahn grow California, but now I live Tree-nee-dahd". Turns out the MC was also a Trini, and he challenged me, "OK, sing us a song from yuh country, Tree-nee-dahd." Well, with my terrible voice and all, I started belting out "Trini To The Bone", a Calypso song which, for all intents and purposes, is the unofficial Trinidad Anthem. The band immediately joined in, and the MC started singing with me, thankfully, as he helped keep me on key, and then about 400 people in the audience started roaring with laughter and singing along!!!! How odd for them to see someone who so obviously looked like a tourist, but was proudly singing this very local song that was also very popular in St. Lucia. Rick and our friends in the audience were hysterical! After the tent finished, lots of people came up to me and "bounced" me, that's where you offer a knuckle tap, you know, like a handshake but with your knuckles, and claimed, oh, me mama a Trini, or oh, I born ahn grow Trini, or whatever. (Trinis are very proud.) The next morning, when I stopped by to see a local friend of ours at work, everyone in his office claimed that they saw me on TV last night!!!! Anyway, what a fun experience!
We have a friend that plays the double pan in a cool little reggae band, last night we went to hear the band, and after their break, our friend invited me to come play his pans, just strumming cords, very easy, so I played most of the second set with them, it was sooooooo cool. We were there with about 8 friends. The sax player is a friend of ours too, and we've invited him to the boat, Rick wants to have a sax lesson, he's thinking of taking it up. What a great night, but it's kinda sad, in 4 seasons we've made so many friends on each island...oh well, lot's of great memories...
|Where We've Been||
The white foam formed a beautiful contrast to the rich deep blue of the sea, as the cresting waves rose high around us, tossing Tara Vana like a toy boat. As expected, Tara Vana handled the 8 - 10 foot waves like a champ, and we marveled at how comfortable we were, despite the rough conditions.
It looked like a squall was forming ahead, so we reefed the jib to help slow down the boat; we had started the crossing with 2 reefs set in the main sail, anticipating the strong winds that were forecast. St. Lucia, though only about 10 miles ahead, was not visible in the dark, cloudy conditions. That's ok; checking our electronic chart plotter, we confirmed that Tara Vana was right on course.
As if to brighten our trip, a pod of dolphins came to frolic in our bow waves, bringing instant smiles to our faces. What a treat!
We had left Martinique just a few hours ago, with a tinge of sadness. Of all the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, the French Antilles islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe were among our favorite. We had been visiting many of the same places over the past 3 seasons, saying hi to friends made the prior seasons, and anchoring in our favorite spots. Now we were really saying goodbye....
Before we even bought Tara Vana, we dreamed of sailing around the world. We knew that we had a lot to learn before starting such a challenging trip, though, and planned to spend a few seasons in the Eastern Caribbean, learning more about the boat, improving our skills, and equipping the boat for extended offshore cruising.
After much preparation, we've decided to start heading west on our circumnavigation after this hurricane season. We'll take our time in Venezuela, using it as a base while we do some trekking in South America. The offshore islands of Venezuela are fantastic, or so we've heard, and we're looking forward to exploring them. Then on to the Dutch Islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. We're looking forward to visiting Cartagena; other cruisers rave about this safe and historic capital of Colombia. And we'll make sure to save plenty of time to explore the San Blas Islands, a group of islands off the east coast of Panama, where the native Kuna Indians' lifestyle & culture has not changed much in 100's of years.
And though the plans of sailors change often, we're tentatively planning to go through the Panama Canal in the spring of 2007, fully prepared for our 25 - 30 day crossing to the South Pacific.
We have installed a watermaker, which converts salt water to drinkable fresh water. We've installed a single sideband marine radio that allows us to get extensive real-time weather information, as well as communicate with other cruisers. We're buying a new life raft, and some additional offshore safety equipment. We're adding more solar panels, and are considering installing a wind generator, to provide us with more electricity. In Trinidad this summer, we will have our standing rigging replaced, and buy a new main sail and a new jib. We've installed an EPIRB, or emergency positioning radio beacon, which allows us to transmit our exact position, via satellite, to the local coast guard, and all ships in the area, in the case of an emergency. We have books on everything, from weather forecasting to medicine at sea, from sail handling to boat maintenance to conjugating Spanish verbs. And we have enough novels to entertain us across the Pacific.
Though we still have some things to buy and some preparations to make, we are feeling ready to set out.
We've thoroughly enjoyed our cruising in the Eastern Caribbean. We've sailed about 4000 miles, and explored 26 different islands in 13 countries. We've spoken 6 different languages (if you include Trini English!), used 5 different currencies, identified dozens of kinds of reef fish and coral, collected lots of cool shells, eaten many exotic tropical fruits, enjoyed wonderful sunsets & rainbows, and made countless friends. We enjoyed 17 months total in our home base of Trinidad, where we were very involved in the music culture and Carnival festivities. We've enjoyed getting to know many other cruisers, who have accepted the same challenges and are living the same dream. We've learned so much from them. We'll take wonderful memories with us as we set sail for this greatest of adventures....
|Where We've Been||