This Caribbean nation proudly celebrated 50 years of independence in 2012—but with its sublime landscapes, sensational food, riotously fun nightlife and vibrant culture drawing a new generation of appreciative visitors, the best is yet to come
Author Sam Polcer Photography Sam Polcer
DAY TWO Getting up isn’t easy, but Trinidad provides plenty of incentives—most notably the “doubles” carts, which serve fried bread wrapped around curried chickpea filling. Having knocked down three of these at George Doubles, a popular cart in the Woodbrook neighborhood with a line 20 deep, you feel ready to tackle one of the island’s extreme sports: driving. This takes place on narrow, potholed roads populated with motorists jockeying for the title of Most Unpredictable Driver. The key, as with most things in Port of Spain, is to stay sharp and go fast. You begin to enjoy it. Your rental car does not.
Heading south, you arrive in the town of Chaguanas, where you walk down a road that makes yesterday’s excursion on Frederick Street seem somnolent by comparison. You stop briefly to squint at the freshly painted Lion House, family home of Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul. You move on to the produce section of the Chaguanas Market, where a hodgepodge of vendors fills the cavernous space with the delicious aromas of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. You haggle over a bag of sapodillas, then munch on one of the soft, sweet fruits while strolling back to the car, resisting the roti shops.
Soon you pull into Carapichaima, a town to the west with large Hindu and Muslim populations, and make your way to the Waterloo Temple, also known as the Temple in the Sea. A causeway lined with tattered prayer flags leads to the teardrop-domed structure. You take off your shoes, enter the Hindu temple and sit, surrounded by stone statues and painted tiles. Through the open doorway, past the prayer flags twitching in the breeze, you spy a tiny fishing boat rolling over the waves. Serenity envelops you.
A few miles east, you spot a red humanoid figure looming in the distance. As you approach, you see it’s a monkey—a big one. At 85 feet, the Hanuman Murti is said to be the tallest depiction of the Hindu Monkey God in the Western Hemisphere. Supposedly the deity protects people from wrongdoing. Its right palm is held out as if to say “stop,” and your stomach is grumbling, so you begin to wonder if the Monkey God might be trying to protect you from your increasingly urgent compulsion to devour fatty food.
From here, you wend your way past the capital and up the twisting North Coast Road to Maracas Beach, a crescent of perfect sand and swaying palms with a picturesque mountain backdrop. Your real destination, though, is Richard’s Bake and Shark, whose specialty is fried shark served on fried bread (described by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern as “the best fish sandwich I’ve ever eaten”). The puffy bake proves to be the ultimate vehicle for the sauces you’ve chosen from the toppings stand, and one bite is all it takes. You’re hooked. The Monkey God has been defied.
Back in Port of Spain, you make tracks for the far less serene Tragarete Road, home to the “panyard” of the Invaders Steel Orchestra. The band is rehearsing a dynamic routine for the upcoming Panorama, the big steel pan festival preceding Carnival. The Invaders take their music very seriously—when you’ve heard them rehearse the same complex five-second phrase several times, you take that as your cue to return to the hotel to refresh.
Dinner is at Chaud Creole, a legendary outpost of Creole cooking in the affluent St. Ann’s neighborhood. Chef Khalid Mohammed’s gourmet take on oxtail burnt-sugar stew, paired with his melt-in-your-mouth breadfruit “oil down” (named after the process by which coconut milk is cooked into the fruit), makes you question your fealty to the fry bake.
You consider checking out the action on the Avenue, which will be hopping at this hour, but good sense prevails. The ferry leaves for Tobago around dawn.