Trip Leader: Michelle Brown

Sunday, March 18, 2012

For Free

We last reported after returning on Thursday evening to Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city, following a three-day excursion with the wonderfully informative and witty Andy Whitwell, A.K.A. The Pathmaster, across the island. We'd traveled end to end--north and east--and back again in a giant lumpy circle through points including Manzanilla Beach, Galera Point, Sangre Grande, Grande Riviere, and Arima. 

We learned about all of them because our teachers--Andy, Manesh, Cristo, Ivan, Richard, and Elroy--were generous with their copious knowledge. 

While in Grande Riviere, Mike had accompanied Andy and me to the leatherback turtle conservation center. Our group members wanted to make individual donations to the conservation effort over and above the turtle-watching permit fees that the GCP program was funding, and Mike was elected Donation Representative. Richard, the conservation officer on duty that evening, was pleasantly stunned by the number of permits we purchased coupled with the generosity of our individual contributions. "Since you'll be in town for two evenings, I'd like to invite you back tomorrow night for more turtle watching," Richard breathed happily.

"For free?" Mike asked, excited that maybe Grande Riviere was like the Trinidadian Vegas and we'd just been comped by the House. 

Richard's response suggested that Grande Riviere is not the Trinidadian Vegas. Mike, however, is clearly the Trinidadian Jerry Lewis. "Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha!" Richard pealed, losing his balance and slumping over the counter. Mike looked at me and Andy. We looked at Mike. We'd be paying for our permits the next night, and Mike had a sure-fire way of getting three more guffawing collapses out of Richard before we left the office.

We were to have two full days in Port of Spain before leaving for home. Friday morning was, according to the itinerary, a day trip to Trinidad's second-largest city, San Fernando, via water taxi. Fun!

We bagged it. And I'll tell you why. Rewind to pre-Vegas-Lewis-turtles.

We were on our way into a grocery store to buy bottles of water and trail mix for hiking with Andy... er: The Pathmaster. A man on the street asked where we were from and, over the course of conversation, offered to introduce us to his friend, the captain of a steel pan band when we returned to Port of Spain. Steel pan is Trinidad's national instrument. Remember Mike? He's a graduate student in percussion. Mike salivated for three days about steel pan. We decided to make ourselves available to our new friend Martin upon our return in the event that this dream might actually come true. Being jaded Americans, some of us doubted.

Doubt not, my friend.

Early on our first morning back in Port of Spain, we were on our way back from breakfast when Martin called. "I'm at your hotel with my band friend," Martin said. We ran back, met the gracious bandleader Nestor Sullivan, and agreed to a dream of a plan: the all-Caribbean top-five ranked Pamberi Steel Orchestra would give us a short concert and lesson that evening in their pan yard.


All we had to do was wait until evening.

We did a walking tour of Port of Spain. San Fer-who?

Mike, Nirvana
That evening, our new BFF and maxi cab driver Ken drove us to the pan yard where five hours flew by in about 10 minutes. Pamberi kicks butt on pan. A steel pan band can number 20 or 30 players and this band was tight. We were dancing to their music and then they invited us to take over their drums! We practiced, and practiced, and practiced. ToddNick, and Layna learned one harmony while Sarah and Rosa learned another. Mike glued his butt to the drum kit and forgot the rest of us were even there. We struggled, but the band was patient beyond measure. Then, just when LaVonda was sure the band must be getting tired of our untalented selves, they led us through another couple of tries and we rocked "Bacchanal"! Amanda and Erin on lead looked ragged tired but also jubilant. Valerie and Michelle on bass showed that with age comes rhythm.

Amanda, Erin: Fearless Leaders
How do you feel when you have just accomplished something you never thought you would or could? That's how we felt. Then the band invited us to hang out with them for awhile and we had some great conversations with them about being musicians and our cultural differences. When it was nearing 11 p.m., we remembered that we hadn't eaten dinner and Ken suggested we get going before everything closed. We bade goodbye to our new friends and headed to....

KFC.

I fought it. Valiantly. "I am NOT taking a cultural immersion group to freaking KFC in Trinidad!" I huffed. This was no EVOLUTION. It was not REVOLUTION. It was revolting.

Nothing was open. I made Ken drive twenty minutes out of his way, looking for local food before Todd put his hand gently on my shoulder and said, "Layna's looking peaked. You're going to have to feed them KFC."

I relented and Ken banged a U-ey. Then we hit the fifth largest-grossing KFC restaurant in the world, according to Lizst, our friendly and business-savvy hostelier. It is open twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and packed at 12:30 in the morning. All eight registers had lines at least a dozen deep. I had to grudgingly admit that my fish sandwich was delicious.

Saturday, we visited the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. Founded by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, TTW is now an independent non-profit theatre that runs solely on donations. It offers acting classes and houses a troupe of actors who stage frequent productions for the local community as well as abroad. We were thrilled to be educated by the director on the Theatre's history and its offerings. We also participated in a youth acting class. It was thrilling to learn about and participate in two of Trinidad's national arts.

It has been said that the best things in life are free. Like, for example, a GCP trip. Now, I know that those of us who traveled to Trinidad and Tobago purchased our own passports, souvenirs, a lunch or two, and possibly pre-trip vaccinations. But none of paid a dime for airfare, in-country transport, hotels, meals, admission fees, educational guide or workshop fees, or tax and tips on any of the above. We all got free cultural educations, new friends at SU and abroad, learned about ourselves and the world, and it was the best! 

video

I would like to turn around this "free" idea and suggest that the best things in life are given. SU gave us the opportunity to learn about Trinidad and Tobago in numerous ways. But we also gave back: to the turtles, to the friends we made in country, and to you who are reading this blog. I hope you've learned through our adventures. Maybe you'll learn a bit about the exciting country we visited, its people, wildlife, and its culture. Or maybe, at least, you'll learn that you'd like to take a trip, too. Maybe you can give and receive across national lines, too.

Until next time, ciao!

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