Before I left Grenada last week I was chatting to the taxi driver on the way to the airport. I said I was heading to Port of Spain in Trinidad and the first thing he said was to warn me to be careful there. I’d not been before and was aware that Trinidad has an unwanted reputation among the Caribbean Islands, perhaps comparable with that of Jamaica.
Nevertheless, my arrival at the airport and immigration and customs processes all went very smoothly, as did hiring a taxi without getting ripped off. The drive in to Port of Spain passed without a hitch and from what I saw through the taxi window I didn’t get the impression that the place was quite as bad as my Grenadian taxi driver had thought. Indeed, my first tentative steps outside of the hotel took me on my way to the Long Circular Mall. Dangerous? Anything but, it seemed. The Maraval and St. Clair areas of Port of Spain, home to many of the foreign embassies, didn’t appear to be in the slightest bit dangerous. In fact, I found them to be positively pleasant areas to stroll around with leafy avenues and well-kept gardens blooming behind the gated walls of secure housing. Admittedly, I didn’t venture east of downtown which is supposed to be more perilous but then I wouldn’t have thought that expats would need to visit those areas particularly.
I stayed at the Kapok hotel, a renowned establishment in Trinidad’s capital. It’s just a short hop away from the ‘world’s largest roundabout’ which also happens to be a superb circuit for an evening jog. The Queen’s Savannah is a famed area of parkland and the traffic flows one way around the four kilometre loop (hence the claim for the largest roundabout boast). I stayed two nights and both evenings I donned my running shoes to join the hundreds of other joggers, walkers and runners, many of whom were clearly expats. While the FCO and the US department of State talk about high levels of violent crime, to me, Port of Spain, or at least the areas where the expats live, did not seem like a treacherous place with the threat of violence hanging in the air. Maybe I was just lucky – it was a quick trip afterall and certainly when my colleagues assess locations they take into account the experiences of expats who have lived in places for much longer than my visits allow.
Facing the Queen’s Savannah are the ‘Magnificent Seven’, a rather striking and unexpected site in the Caribbean. It is a parade of seven mansions built at the beginning of the 20th century as rival plantation owners tried to outdo each other in terms of opulence. Port of Spain is also home to many a property in the gingerbread house style, which I think is fast becoming my favourite architectural style – if one can have such a thing! The dilapidated but wonderfully creepy and decrepit Boissiere House is even up for sale. Just a shame I don’t have $3 million dollars spare to snap it up.
Trinidad, home to 1.3 million people, is larger than the other Windward Islands to the north and as a whole has more of a ‘working’ feel to it than the likes of St. Lucia or St. Vincent. Trinidad (or Trinidad and Tobago to give it its full name) does not rely quite so much as the rest of the Caribbean on tourism as it has booming oil and natural gas sectors. These natural resources and the fact that Trinidad is one of the area’s major shipping hubs have seen the country rise to second in the Caribbean in terms of GDP per capita, just behind The Bahamas. In recent years Port of Spain has also hosted the likes of Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II at its modern National Academy for Performing Arts centre.
So all in all, the country is a much bigger deal than I thought it was, and I didn’t encounter any of the dangerous situations I was half expecting – although admittedly I was there but briefly!