Caribbean Trinidad & Tobago

Slavery, Cricket and the Steel Pan

Cricket @ Queens Park Oval (Not me!)

Our first day of filming in Port of Spain proper and we started the day by visiting Andres, a former cricket pro who owns the cricket store at the Queens Park Oval, one of the oldest and finest cricket clubs in the Caribbean and former home to the greatest Cricket player in the 20th century, Brian Charles Lara.

In addition to being a cricket expert Andres is also a really nice guy. He’s also very patient. He helped explain the history as well as some of the rules of cricket to me, a guy whose eyes glaze over at mere mention of baseball, the New York Yankees or “Spring Training”. Despite being a really slow game (some matches take up to 2 days!), I found many elements of cricket very fascinating.

Andres & his lovely daughters in front of his store

When he hooked me up with some cricket gear (about $1,000 worth) and bowled (pitched) to me, I saw first hand that the game has a real element of danger as well. The small red ball can be bowled  really fast (sometimes up to 90 mph) and it is very unpredictable as not only can the bowler put some mojo on it similar to a baseball pitcher, it also usually bounces before you get to swing and can bound off in any direction.

Anyway I got a chance to try my skills at the game and combined my knowledge of golf (nil) with baseball (close to nil) but after about 4 or 5 slow pitches I finally made contact with the ball and felt pretty good about things.

Brian Charles Lara is a hero in Port of Spain

After Cricket, the crew and I tried one of the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants. Chinese food is very popular in T&T and Asians are a considerable cultural influence on the island, many having migrated there as the East Indians, as indentured servants.

The Chinese food in Trinidad seemed so much healthier and less greasy than the Chinese fare we are so used to in NYC.

After lunch we headed over to “African Trophies” and incredible store on the main thoroughfare in the Woodbrook section of POS. The store’s owner is Mr. Fitzgerald Francis, an Ex United Nations executive and also a really nice guy. Are you sensing a theme here?

African Trophies with Mr. Fitzgerald Frances

Fitzgerald is trying to help reinstate African history to the island after decades of attempts by the ruling classes to separate African slaves and their descendants from their ancestral heritage.

Fitzgerald graciously filled us in on the significant African history and contribution to present day Trinidad & Tobago (T&T)  then he toured us around his store which is nothing short of amazing.

This African Drum retails for over $25K U.S.
The power of unity. Each piece is individual but interconnected.

There are 4 floors of incredibly, beautiful, authentic handicrafts direct from almost every country in central and southern Africa. From huge, incredibly detailed woodcraft African drums that go for $25K U.S. to smaller handcrafts around $20-$30 (more my speed) to complete furniture sets, clothing, books, DVDs, visiting Mr. Francis’ store is like visiting the continent itself.

They even have a small display of real ivory that Mr. Francis acquired by special permission in order to showcase to people and hopefully educate them about the dangers of poaching elephants for their ivory.

I’ve always wanted to visit Africa and now I’m afraid it’s a permanent condition. If you are ever in Port of Spain and have 2-3 hours to kill, African Trophies is the spot.

African Trophies has real Ivory for display only

Next up was a brief meeting and interview at the National Carnival Bands Association of Trinidad and Tobago, the people who help organize the massive Carnival celebration. Mr. David Cameron was extremely helpful in getting us access to video footage from past carnival celebrations and perhaps most importantly we were able to dig into the deeper, more historical meaning of carnival in Trinidad which is one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world.

Ready for Carnival? At the NCBATT offices.

It started to rain (hey, I thought this was the dry season!) so we took some time off and had a quick dinner of jerk chicken before heading just down the street to the famous “Invaders” steel pan orchestra practice.

Prodigy Luke Walker

I had stumbled upon the Invader’s practice a few days ago while hunting dinner and I just followed my ears to their rehearsal space, a big lot in front of the Queens Oval Cricket stadium. One thing I love about Port of Spain is the fact that you will hear live Calypso music wafting through the streets on almost any given evening. It’s a huge part of the culture here and not just a style of music you hear during Carnival time.

The Invaders are the oldest steel pan band in the world (having formed in the 1940 as “The Oval Boys” shortly after the steel pan was invented) and they tour all over the world. Indeed, ironically enough some of them were in my home state of Tennessee, touring Dollywood when we shot.

Invaders Steel Pan Orchestra

After hearing them play I can understand why. Jason is the leader and he ran them through a couple of songs for us including an original tune they had composed that had won them a high standing in the latest Panorama competition, an event that brings together the best Steel Pan in Trinidad (and thus the world).

The Invaders, like most steel pan orchestras, has a diverse mix of male and female, young and old playing together. One impressive young player, Luke Walker, was just 10 years old and had been playing since the age of 3. He was a true pleasure to watch.

After playing a few very simple tunes on one of the drums myself, it was now past 10PM and we headed back to the hotel to try to get at least 6 hours of sleep before we do the dreaded “car rental” and I drive on the left side of the road for the first time. Should be interesting. Stay tuned to see if I survive!



Sinking Our Teeth Into Salta & Cafayete

Visiting Buenos Aires is an easy decision. But one of the toughest decisions when visiting Argentina is figuring out where to go when you are ready to venture outside of Buenos Aires and experience the rest of this fascinating country.

You can do as we did and take easy day trips to neighboring towns Tigre and San Antonio de Areco, but to really get a feel for this country, you need to travel further outside the capital city where nearly half of the country’s inhabitants live.

There are so many choices. You can head to the edge of the Amazon to take in the incredible Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil; Or take in the beautiful lakes and natural wonders of San Carlos de Bariloche; or head down to the end of the world to the incredible Patagonia region; or if you are craving to soak up some vitamin D and it’s summer, how about the beaches of nearby Mar Del Plata? Don’t forget the wine region of Mendoza! Unless you are visiting for 3 months or longer, you’ll have to make some hard choices.

On the way from Salta to Cafayate

Even if you have a 6 to 8 weeks, you can probably get to most of these wonderful spots without feeling like you are rushing through them.

But alas, like most people, we were on a bit tighter schedule (10 days) and an even tighter budget. So little time, so many places. We had to pick one destination, so we turned to our trusty friend, part time resident and  Argentina travel expert and writer, Michael Luongo. Michael admitted these were all tough choices but recommended the Salta Province.

Historic Churches in Salta

We took Michael’s advice and man are we glad we did. By traveling to the Salta Province we got a more indigenous take on Argentina. The city of Salta itself is beautiful with historical buildings and beautiful old churches and the pace of the city is worlds apart from bustling Buenos Aires. You can get a great view of the city really quickly by taking a ride on the city’s metro cable overlooking the surrounding area.

We arrived around 4 in the afternoon which was siesta time. We were amazed at the quietness and tranquility in the streets. But that all changed when the sun began to set, the city began to cool down and people came out to resume their day/evening.  Historic downtown Salta suddenly became a beehive of bustling activity.

We were there during Carnival month so we were able to take in some indigenous dancing on the main square each night, a type of dancing that you may have a tough time finding in Buenos Aires with all the Tango parlors and modern discos pumping salsa and electronica music.

The other great thing about Salta is you can take a very scenic and easy drive to wine country Cafayate, which is just a few hours away by car and most importantly, has some of the most stunning desert landscapes known to man. If you make the drive you want to definitely schedule some time to stop along the way and take photographs. The scenery is absolutely stunning and the traffic when we went at least, was very, very light on the winding roads.

Grapes of Bodega El Esteco

When we arrived, our first clue that this was probably the tranquil little town that had been described in the guidebooks, was when we spotted a donkey roaming the streets.

The altitude in the Calchaquí Valley mixed with the desert weather helps this region grow some of the best grapes for wine in the world. So after spending the night in Cafayate, we visited one of the many wineries around town, Bodega El Esteco.

El Esteco was founded in 1892 and distributes millions of bottles of wines a year. Andres Hoy from El Esteco toured us through the winery and took us through the process of growing the grapes all the way to bottling. After the tour we did the customary wine tasting. My favorite was the organic white wine but it turns out even non organic Argentine wine is the closest thing to “organic” in the world, with very little pesticide spraying going on compared to other wine producing nations like the U.S. or France.

Carnival Time in Salta

Also, since the weather is very consistent, almost any year is as good as the next. This is is very different from wines grown in the U.S. or Europe, which may have one outstanding year out of five or ten years, so you need to really know your stuff when ordering those wines.

Wide Open Spaces on the Way to Quilmes

Just a short drive out from Cafayate are the fascinating Quilmes Ruins, where the Diaguita people lived between 800 and 1665 AD. At one time over 6,000 people from the tribe of Quilmes lived in this stunning city on a hill, now know as Quilmes. The ruins were discovered in the early 1900s and restored in the late 1970s.

Quilmes Ruins


The Quilmes Ruins are the only remaining, fully restored ruins in all of Argentina today. The descendents from these original settlers still live in the city today and if you go, you’ll find them selling their crafts and conducting tours a to the smattering of off the beaten path daily travelers. While Quilmes is indeed slightly off the beaten path it’s well worth the relatively short drive from Cafayate in my opinion.

If you have the time, take the drive north of Salta towards the town of San Salvador de Jujuy. On the drive there it’s the direct opposite of Cafayate’s desert climate, with lush, green hills and chilled, mountain air. We were limited on time, so essentially we made it to San Salvador de Jujuy for lunch and had to turn around and head back to Salta to get ready for our trip home, but not before witnessing a very cool little Carnival street parade which resulted in the crew getting doused with flour, which is evidently part of the tradition and definitely part of the fun.

Carnival Procession in San Salvador de Jujuy

Salta Province was a good call. We were able to experience a different side of Argentina that you could easily miss if you remained in the more populated areas surrounding Buenos Aires. Most people don’t realize the influence the indigenous people have had and are still having on the culture of Argentina. Salta is a good place to visit to gain a perspective often given short shrift in some guidebooks and many travel blogs.




Colonia Del Sacrament, Uruguay

Today packed up to make our way over to Colonia Del Sacramento by bus (2.5 hours from Montevideo).

But first we took the morning to wind up with a few last shots of Montevideo. We really wanted to shoot this lovely, antique bandoneón store in Cuidad Vieja. We had seen it on multiple occasions but it had always been closed.

This morning we were in luck. The store was open!  Mario, the proprietor has been refurbishing musical instruments for decades, since he was a child. His father began the store in another location a few blocks away.

Mario was very gracious and gentle older gentleman who patiently told us about the history of Tango and the relationship with the bandoneón.  The store had some beautiful, refurbished bandoneóns, some worth over $5,000, as well as accordions, mandolins and other musical instruments.  But all were old and refurbished and the store resembled a museum more than a place of business.

Mario allowed me to “play” a bandoneón. It was very difficult with a lot of hand/eye coordination going on.  After this weak showing I decided to let the experts take over, so Mario and a client who happened to be there  demonstrated for our cameras how a bandoneón can and should be played. Best part of the trip so far.

Carnival was in full swing in Uruguay where we were there and it’s a very unique celebration compared to other carnival hotspots like Brazil and Trinidad, so we hit the Carnival museum as well. Then we headed to the hotel to check out and taxi over to the bus station to catch our bus to Colonia Del Sacramento as we wanted to get there with enough daylight to shoot.

Colonia Del Sacramento has lots of cool antique cars

We had about 10 minutes to choke down a quick lunch at the bus station before our bus left. This bus ride was one of the worst I’ve ever taken and I was not expecting it given the general good infrastructure of Uruguay. .

The bus ride was a non air conditioned, unventilated, stop and go hell ride that made a direct  2 ½ hour trip turn into 3 and ½ hours thanks to so many unscheduled stops and pickups.

Colonia Del Sacramento

This was such the opposite of my ride over from Buenos Aires a few days earlier on the Buque Bus. The Buque Bus had Air Conditioning, lots of leg room and even wi-fi on the bus. Most importantly it didn’t make any stops. Next time it’s Buque Bus all the way for me.

Colonia Del Sacramento is a small but beautiful and very historic town with cobblestone streets, old forts and an interesting if bloody history as the Spanish, English and Portuguese wrestled for control of this little town by the Rio Plata. It was so very tranquil and relaxing with the river beaches and an incredible sunset that it was hard to believe so much blood had been shed here.

You get an idea how life is here when the cars actually come to a full stop for pedestrians in the middle of the street, allowing them to cross first before they carry on their way. Such an incredible contrast with 99% of Latin America (or for that matter the U.S.), it really was shocking at first. We walked our way around town but if you’re tired, in a hurry (why would you be?) or just a little lazy, well then you can rent little golf carts to tool around town and see what you need to see

Later that night I ran along the beachfront road which is really the Plata River, not the ocean and then off to bed fairly early because we had to catch the ferry (45 minutes) to Buenos Aires the next day with a full day of shooting.

Colonia Del Sacramento

Colonial Del Sacramento is a day trip for many people traveling between Buenos Aires and Montevideo but I really recommend you consider staying one or even two nights, so you can really appreciate the beauty of this tiny little gem.

For more pics of Colonia Del Sacramento, visit our FLIKR PAGE.