Speaking of parking, Trinidad has a distinct and very unique driving culture. Parking against traffic on the opposite side of the road whenever one feels the need is the norm. The effect was that it always felt I was headed for an inevitable head on collision. The narrow roads with no shoulders made passing these parked cars a challenge.
Alas, after a short while I finally got into the groove and found the unwritten rules of driving in Trinidad. I also found that most Trinis are very courteous, often blinking their lights and softly tooting their horn to signal you to cut into traffic in front of them, etc.
In Port of Spain at least, they almost always stop for pedestrians, allowing them to cross. So unlike most of Latin America where I’ve traveled and it seems the cars are taking aim at you (one notable exception is Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay).
Waterloo Temple by the Sea
Luckily, the mirror scrape was the most serious mishap but there were other close calls. My general thoughts on foreigners not accustomed to left side driving, is don’t do it. But if you really want an adventure and are confident in your driving abilities abroad and have a good co-pilot (I had two), then go for it, but as I said, I’d check your insurance plan first.
Unfortunately public transportation in Trinidad leaves so much to be desired that if you want to see the beauty that is Trinidad beyond Port of Spain (and who wouldn’t) on your own schedule, then a rental car or a hired driver is really the only way to go.
Our first day we journeyed to the southern part of the island to see Chaguanas, the East Indian town a few minutes south of Port of Spain and then further down to Carapichaima to see the famous Waterloo Temple by the Sea and the Datta Yoga Center complete with an 85 foot Hanuman God statue.
did not disappoint but the weather did. It started raining heavily just as we arrived but we managed to get off a few decent exteriors and even one shot of the interior before being told by the groundskeeper no photos or video taping of the inside were allowed. Whoops! I made a nice donation in hoping to compensate properly for my happy mistake. The Temple by the Sea
The original temple was built by Sewdass Sadhu, a laborer, in the 1940s. He originally built it on shore on land that belonged to the local sugar company. After 5 years it was knocked to the ground and Sewdass was sent to prison. When he was released he decided to build a new temple in the sea, where no one owned the land. He spent over 20 years building the Waterloo Temple with whatever materials he could get his hand on. It was constantly eroding because of the water, so in 1995 the government had it refurbished to the temple you can see today.
On the way out we noticed a parked car with big loudspeakers blasting fundamental Christian music, seemingly to harass the visitors of the temple which belied the overall impression I have that all Trinis are very tolerant of other religions. Some are, some aren’t, just like everywhere else.
Next we searched for the giant Hanuman Murti statue and Davina yoga center in the rain but to no avail. Since it was raining hard by now and we were running behind schedule we decided to catch it on the return trip.
Pointe A Pierre Wildfowl Trust
We made our way further down south to the
, a lovely bird sanctuary ironically in the middle of an oil refinery. Pointe-A-Pierre Wildfowl Trust
By now the rain had ceased and it was nearing dusk, a perfect time to visit the trust. We were taken on an hour long tour and while I never really considered bird watching an exciting travel activity, but I may just have to change my mind after touring the Trust.
The dedicated group at Pointe A Pierre have done nothing short of an incredible job to to provide a beautiful sanctuary for birds, many of them endangered. The grounds are located ironically inside of a huge oil refinery and are alive with the squawking and beautiful sounds of birds everywhere. There are peacocks spreading their wings, the national bird, the scarlet ibis along with all kinds of other species of birds.
The folks at the Trust are true conservationists, breeding endangered species for release into the wild and taking in animals that are the victims of illegal pet keeping. Upon arrival you are met by a parakeet in a cage who will carry on a conversation with you. He’s the only bird kept in a small cage and that is only because he is unable to fend for himself in the wild after being permanently injured when someone tried to smuggle him out of the country to sell as an exotic pet.
Real Snake @ the Widlfowl Trust's Museum
They also have a small but cool Indigenous museum that features relics of the island’s Amerindian past as well as live reptiles and other wildlife found on the island.
It’s easy to see that Molly and Karilyn and the entire staff at Pointe-A-Pierre are true lovers of nature and are doing a good work at not only providing a sanctuary for birds (they tend to fill to capacity during hunting season as the birds seek the sanctuary out) but also in educating visitors on how we can change our ways to co-exist with nature.
Staff & Volunteers from Pointe A Pierre Wildfowl Trust
Their partnership with the oil refinery is perhaps the best example of how nature and commerce can co-exist. I hope for all our sake that organizations like the Pointe-A-Pierre Trusts will continue to flourish and influence the way we treat our planet.
The Scarlet Ibis - Trinidad's Endangered Official Bird
We spent the night in San Fernando, Trinidad’s second largest city. Next day we were up early to go see the ugly but amazing, naturally occurring asphalt lake,
. After driving down windy and ironically horribly paved roads we arrived at Pitch Lake to be accosted and gouged by not one but two tour guides (one was a guide and another a “demonstrator”), charging $45 U.S. each. We obviously screwed up by not getting an official guide, which are identified by their red shirts with logos identifying them as official tour guides. On closer observation after it was too late, our guide’s seemingly official red shirt had a Dicky logo on it. Very clever. Pitch Lake
The entire tour became a battle of the guides, as I suppose each was afraid they’d get cut out of the payment, so they yelled and tried to out do each other in demonstrating many of the lake’s interesting attributes. Despite the unofficial, unprofessional demeanor of the guides we did learn a few things.
Ugly but interesting.. Trinidad's Pitch Lake
The bad pavement on the way over was no coincidence, the lake sucks the ground and objects in an around in over 100 acre circumference. This includes the ground below the pavement and under some houses that live on a “vein”. The foundation on the houses on this vein must constantly be adjusted and jacked up every 3 to 4 months to remain level. Stationary objects like trees, or whatever you may leave on the ground for a few months will also gradually get sucked into the lake and make it’s way underground to eventually to be spit up by the lake.
There was also an asphalt version of quick sand. Our “guide” stood in it for a few seconds and was sinking steadily up to his kneecaps. Had he not moved, he would have kept on going and as he says “one mistake and it’s all over for me”. He told us a few months ago, 6 cows perished in the asphalt quicksand. Maybe he was worth the $45 U.S. after all.
After paying our two extortionists, excuse me, “guides” we headed back the way we came to make the drive to Grand Riviere for some turtle watching that evening. This is a hell drive by Trini standards as you are basically going from one corner of the island to the other, much of it curvy, windy almost one lane roads.
The 85 Foot Hanuman Murti Statue
So in order to break up the trip we searched for the Datta Yoga Center in
Carapichaima once again and this time, in hot, sunny weather we spotted the huge 85 foot or monkey-faced God, the largest outside of India. Hanuman Murti
The statue and surrounding temple area are nothing short of amazing. A colorful oasis in an otherwise hot and scorching day. It was pretty much deserted so we had free run of the place for photos and video and once again I made a nice donation in hopes of gaining favor by the Murti for a safe journey on the winding roads to Grande Riviere for some turtle watching.
Robert and Renzo at the Hanuman Murti
Tune in to see if it worked!