February 4, 2010

November 1, 2009, we flew back to our boat in Trinidad.  This was to be the final season of
our eight year voyage, and we were looking forward to enjoying it to the fullest.

We spent 45 days in Trinidad before starting our voyage north toward home through the
eastern Caribbean Islands.  As we were still in the rainy season, our days in Trinidad were
hot and humid.  It rained often, and torrential downpours were not uncommon.  In late July
Phil had an operation to reattach the tendon in his right thumb.  Although given the OK by his
doctor, he still had to take it easy.  Luckily, Phil was able to hire Trinidadian workers at a
reasonable price to help get our boat ready for its final season.
Besides working on the boat, we took time to experience Trinidad.  Chaguaramas Bay where our
boat was located was about 20 minutes northwest of Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital.  Luckily,
a maxi-taxi driver named Jesse had created a taxi service to support the cruising community in
our remote location, and it was invaluable.  Without him, our visit would never have been as
enjoyable.  He coordinated group grocery trips, outings, and tours.  He loved Trinidad and
enjoyed sharing his country’s history, traditions, and local food with all of us.
Port of Spain
Jesse James
Saturdays at 6:30 am, Mary would head to the large public market in Port of Spain to pick up
fresh produce for the week.  The produce was so bountiful and inexpensive; it was a fun outing.  
In late November bountiful supplies of sorrel were being sold at the market.  This flower was
used at Christmas in a variety of dishes, but most popular as a beverage.
Sorrel
Papaya
Trinidadians love Christmas.  By mid-November, we heard almost continuous Christmas music on
selected radio stations, much to Mary’s delight.  Even with a mixture of different religions
(Christian, Hindu, and Muslim), the Nativity scene was still displayed in public places right along
with the Christmas tree, unlike here in the United States where it’s unfortunately not “politically
correct” to do so.  Also heard in November was parang music.  This Christmas folk music had
been brought to Trinidad by early Venezuelan immigrants; consequently parang was mostly sung in
Spanish and accompanied by Latin instruments.

Two Saturday evenings while in Trinidad we attended concerts with other cruisers.  The first
concert was in a local nightclub setting at the Silver Stars Pan Yard (the steel band’s official
rehearsal site) where we heard both the Silver Stars Steel Band and parang music.  The second
concert was a Christmas concert at Queen’s Hall in Port of Spain where we listened to the
beautiful voices of the Marionettes Chorale and the amazing solo pan performance by Johann
Chuckaree, an East Indian.
To be in Trinidad was to feel the pulsating beat of the steel pan.  Trinidadians invented the steel
pan.  It was their national instrument, and they were very proud of this fact.  One Monday Mary
visited a local pan factory with other cruisers.  At this small home-grown factory, personalized
steel pans had been made by one person for almost 40 years.  He loved to tell about the steel
pan from its beginnings in Trinidad in the 1930’s to the polished instrument that it had become.  
He informed us that the length of the side of the pan determined the range of its sound.  The
shorter the side of the steel pan, the higher and greater were the range of notes, often up to 32
notes in a tenor pan; conversely, the deeper the side, the fewer the notes, with the full size bass
drum having just 3 notes.
He constructed each pan by hand.  Basically, each top was first formed into a concave shape
using a ball and hammer.  Then, the different notes were marked onto the surface using different
sized magnetic templates for each pitch; the larger the oval size, the lower the tone.  Although
there was no standardized arrangement for the notes, usually the larger (lower-pitched) notes
were situated near the edge of the barrel and the smaller (higher) notes toward the center.  The
area around each note was then flattened to isolate the note, causing the note to protrude slightly.  
Following that, each note was fine tuned using a small tuning hammer and a musical tuner.  
Finally, the drum was set over a fire to re-temper the steel and later chromed or painted.
After visiting the pan factory, we cruisers stopped at the House of Angostura.  Here we visited the
rum distillery and the place where Angostura Bitters was produced.  Its museum displayed some
of the equipment used by Dr. Siegert, the creator of Angostura Bitters.  He was a doctor in the
early 1800’s in General Simon Bolivar’s army of liberation in Venezuela.  After four years of
research, he created an aromatic bitter useful against the debilitating stomach and digestive
disorders experienced by soldiers at that time.  Before long, his bitters became popular as a
versatile food and beverage flavor enhancer.
Birdwatchers rated Trinidad high among the top bird-watching spots of the world as there were
more non-migratory species in Trinidad than in any other Caribbean island.  With our cruising
friends, Uli and Imke, we took a two day trip to the Asa Wright Nature Center and the Caroni
Bird Sanctuary, both well-known bird watching destinations.  We stayed overnight at Asa
Wright, and while there took guided nature walks, swam in its waterfall pool, and basically
became amateur birdwatchers.  It was fun to sit out on the veranda of the lovely old estate house
and watch the many variety and species of birds come to the feeders and nearby vegetation
during the day.  Usually there was a naturalist on hand to help with questions and sightings.  One
of our favorite birds was the crested oropendola corn bird with its yellow tipped tail.  This bird
reached its nest by flying straight down from above.
Along our walks at Asa Wright we observed up close the leaf-cutter ants at work.  These ants
were basically underground fungus farmers.  The leaves they collected were actually fed to the
fungus, which in turn broke down the cellulose into nutrients which the ants could then digest.  
Each colony had three different groups of ants:  soldiers, which guarded the colony; workers,
which did most of the cutting and carrying of the leaves; and miniature workers called minimes
which often rode “shotgun” on top of the leaves to keep parasite flies from laying their eggs on the
cuttings, thus protecting the colony from extinction.
Chaguaramas
beyond last hill
After leaving the Asa Wright Nature Center, we headed to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary to see the
scarlet ibis, Trinidad’s national bird.  Each evening just before sunset, thousands of scarlet ibis
would fly back to roost amongst a few selected mangrove islets in the Caroni Swamp, and with
the setting sun the bird’s gorgeous scarlet color became even more brilliant.  It was a beautiful
sight, and it just kept getting better as more and more flocks arrived.  The scarlet ibis stood out
like beautiful red Christmas ornaments against the dark green mangrove foliage.
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Templates shown here are examples;
not really meant for these notes.