How it all Began
I was asked by a good friend to accompany him on a trip to the beautiful Island of Trinidad as he was accompanying Soca superstar Kes along a few shows for Trinidad Carnival. In true Border Nomad fashion, I agreed. Little did I know was I in for an experience of a lifetime!
Arriving to Trinidad
Arriving to the Island from the USA was fairly easy. We Hopped on a JetBlue flight from JFK to Port of Spain (POS). Since a Visa is not required for American Citizens, it was just matter of purchasing a flight. Arrived in the Island around 12am and I was ready to see what so many Trinis had spoken to me about for so many years. Let’s party!
Plan Ahead. Getting the best accommodation deals on the Island requires planning. If you prepare well in advance, say at least 6 months to a year before you can get a great deal on AirBnb or Hotels. We stayed at this Woman’s house in the neighborhood of St. Anne’s who came highly recommended, and it was around 10 minutes by taxi from all the action. She prepared breakfast for us and was flexible to us coming in and out of the house whenever we wanted. I will not share her info here but you can contact me, and I can recommend you as this something she does to make extra money. If you’re traveling on a budget, you may want to avoid staying anywhere in Port of Spain as they have “Carnival Pricing” in most major hotels. Instead I recommend Woodbrook, Belmont, Cascade or St. Anne’s.
Total cost of our stay: $125 for 4 days, breakfast included. She even had Wi-Fi available.
The Pre-Parties (Fetes). My advice? take some some multi-vitamins for about 60 days before you arrive. I am not kidding!! Having been a DJ & Club promoter most of my adult life, partying was something that came fairly natural to my body and I baffled at the idea of someone telling me these parties were different and that I needed to prepare. I know how to party I said! Well, the Trinis taught me that I was a High School rookie who had just entered the Major Leagues. These people can PARTY!! and that is an understatement.
Getting into the Fetes. While we had VIP access to most of the parties because KES is royalty on the Island and that facilitated us with access that otherwise we would have to have planned for in advance or would have been screwed and out of luck. I recommend a google search to see your options are but you definitely want to purchase these tickets ahead in order to attend the parties and participate in the parade Carnival Sunday or “playing mas” as the locals call it. As of this writing, the folks over at socalislands.com and nosleepmas.com seem to have good packages depending on your party appetite.
Best Fetes: Tuesday on the Rocks (KES concert), Soca Starter, and Shades in the City were all the fetes our bodies could handle. But there are many more. I even got to meet Alison Hinds.
Jouvert: This was my favorite experience. a True display of people united for a common cause, to celebrate life! It usually starts on 4:00 am on Carnival Monday and ends around 8am. Remember that part of me saying trinis can party? yeah…. that part.
The name J’ouvert originates from the French jour ouvert, meaning day break or morning. J’ouvert marks the official start of the two day carnival celebrations in Trinidad & Tobago. During these celebrations, you will get dirty! and splashed with paint, powder, mud, water, and everything else. The one thing KES kept telling us was you can get lost and we will meet at the end, but whatever you do, do NOT lose your blue cup! That is where the trucks of liquor pour drinks along the journey of J’ouvert. It has been the greatest experience I have had to date.
Playing Mas. The parade on Carnival Sunday and how your participation is referred to and It took me a few times to understand this. Carnival bands are organized groups made up of participants in full. Accessing the band’s entourage usually comes included with the packages you can get on the aforementioned websites if you choose to do so. The costumed participants dance through the streets to the sounds of a steel band, a soca band or a d.j. This is a must do for your complete experience in Carnival.
Costume. Since we didn’t have time for a costume, I made up one of some extra pieces offered me by the new friends we made. A costume is not required to play mas but you look pretty odd without one walking this parade. They take this very seriously!
Costs: A weekend from Tuesday to Monday not including Tobago (where everyone goes on Monday after to carnival to unwind and rest from the madness) will run you from $1000 to $5000 USD depending on the parties you go, and the most expensive item of all, the costume!
Food you can’t leave without sampling.
Doubles. Trini doubles are essentially chickpea sandwiches; a spiced chickpea filling called channa is nestled between fried pieces of bread called bara. if I get into this too much I am going to catch another flight. This was amazing.
Roti. Simply put, Roti is like a wrap that you can have with curry, chicken, potatoes, goat, beef, duck, or shrimp.
Bake & Shark. We made this long assssss line for bake and shark and it was so worth it! It consists of a fried flatbread (“bake”) filled with fried pieces of shark meat (“shark”) and various other ingredients and sauces. if you don’t have this, you didn’t visit Trinidad.
Corn Soup. While the name sounds generic, it’s a pure hangover helper after a night of partying. Corn soup is ram packed with split peas, corn, dumplings, provisions and the flavors are thick and heavy… and delicious. I liked mine spicy.
Special thanks to my guy Arturo for the invitation and KES & The Band for such hospitality and we look to return soon.