Thu, Apr 30, 2009 - Page 13 News List

Trinidad, beyond the carnival, calypso and cricket

Trinidad is famed for its annual carnival, but the lush scenery, gorgeous beaches and lip-smacking street food are there all year round

By Amanda Smyth  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

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We stood at the edge of the lookout and gazed at the land where it reached into the sea like an animal’s paw. There were no clouds and the air crackled with heat. We were on our way to Maracas Bay, but had stopped at a hut where tall jars were filled with tamarind balls, salt and sweet prunes, pickled plums, dinner mints, sugar cakes and bubblegum. We bought a plastic bag of pineapple soaked in pepper, vinegar and chadon beni — a coriander-like herb — to eat in the car.

Maracas Bay is glorious: long and wide with off-white sand, lined with coconut trees and set against a backdrop of dark green mountains. We parked and headed over to Richard’s Bake and Shark. The fish was fried in a dough-like bake, served in a basket and topped with all the trimmings: tamarind, lettuce, pepper, onions, garlic, mayo, chadon beni, tomatoes, pineapple. “Make a tower,” I said, piling up my plate. We found a shady spot to eat, ordered two ice-cold Carib beers and spread out our beach towels.

I had five days to show my guest that Trinidad, although not an obvious holiday destination, is just as worthy of a visit as her smaller sister island, Tobago. My family has lived in Trinidad for many generations, and I have lived there, too, at different times. Vibrant, colorful, humming with creative energy and famed for its carnival, calypso and steel pans, it is a country in which I feel at home. I go back at least once a year but these trips are typically taken up with family visits, and the role of tour guide is an unfamiliar one.

Maracas seemed a good place to start. The water was somehow more refreshing and invigorating than the sea in Tobago, where it feels like stepping into a warm and soothing bath. Here, the waves were bigger, the current stronger, and it was easy to get tossed about.

After Maracas we drove on towards Yarra, over the rough little plank bridges and through a teak plantation. For a moment I remembered the douens I was told about as a child: the little Trinidadian folklore creatures with no faces and feet that face backwards. If they find out your name they will call you away forever. I imagined the forest must be full of them.

Marianne Bay is the longest beach in Blanchisseuse. In the late afternoon light the sand was dark gold, and the big rock jutting out ahead made it seem wild and uninhabited. Racing to the point where the river met the bay, we found two or three people bathing in the clear, olive green water. The sky was splashed with pink and orange.

Over the following days, we went home only to sleep. My mother complained she had hardly seen me. Where were we going now? “Sightseeing!” I said, dropping my overnight bag into the trunk of her car.

We set off straight after lunch. It was going to be a long drive — three hours or more. We followed signs for Valencia, and took the road that led to Matura. Citrus and cocoa trees grew on either side, and in between there were wide, green spaces.

Suddenly we could see the Atlantic on our right, and the road began to climb and twist. I turned off the air-conditioning and it felt good to breathe in the sea air. The ocean looked like a ream of sequined cloth under the bright sky as we drove close to the cliff edge. Patches of beach showed between the craggy rocks below, and waves crashed and sprayed as we came into Sans Souci, well known to surfers. On a field so green it seemed almost luminous, a group of young men were playing football.

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