28 th March 2004
After several months cruising the islands of the Caribbean , we will soon be heading west for a new ocean. From mall filled St Maarten to the tropical perfection of Barbuda ‘s coastline every island has had its own character and memorable moments. Trying to describe them all would require a book, so instead I’ve decided to stick with describing a couple of events that give an idea of what we’ve been up to in the Caribbean .
After a 3 day sail from St Maarten, near the top of the Caribbean chain, dawn on the 16 th February gave us our first sight of South America , with Venezuela lying off the starboard (right hand) bow. To port lay Trinidad , and in between a strait dotted with small islands. As ever the sight of land was welcome after days of water, and we were instantly struck by the differences in the geography of Trinidad compared to the other islands we had visited. Spawned by the mainland, it’s continental heritage gives it a feeling of ‘proper’ land, rather than a volcanic accident sitting in the ocean.
Our arrival was timed to coincide with the final run up to Carnival, and as we pulled into the amusingly named Chaguaramas Bay , it became apparent that about half the people cruising the Caribbean had had the same idea. Anchored yachts filled the bay that lies just off the jetties, but we were heading for the luxuries of unlimited freshwater and power that can only be found in a marina. After completing the well-practiced ritual of clearing customs and scrubbing the boat, we started to explore the island that would be home for the next few weeks.
Initial impressions were of a bustling, hectic island. The discovery of oil in the brackish, tea coloured waters of the Gulf of Paria meant that the island has never relied on tourism leaving it with a sense of reality that other islands lack.
For many people Carnival is the culmination of a years work, and travelling around the buzz of activity as costumes were finished, pans (steel drums) practiced and floats laden with huge speakers was incredible. In shops, on buses and walking down the street people would ask us about our plans for the next few days, where we were staying, whether we would be playing mas (getting dressed up and dancing through the streets with a band) and then telling us how to recognise them on the crowded streets in Port of Spain.
And so a week after we arrived, Carnival started with the 4am J’ouvert procession. One of the great things about travelling is that experiencing new cultures allows a different The J’ouvert parade was certainly unlike anything I had seen in England .
J’ouvert was no exception to this rule, teaching me that drinking a bottle of rum by sunset does not lead to a fruitful day; that as you get more drunk, covering yourself in paint and mud seems like an increasingly good idea (despite the assurances you had given the taxi driver two hours ago that you could remain clean for the return journey); that using a swimming pool to wash off paint and mud will briefly leave it looking like the tiled psychedelic canvas of a madman; that passing out on a jetty in tropical sun is not a good idea; and that if you make a complete arse of yourself in a crowded marina everybody will laugh at you for the following week.
After J’ouvert everybody gets a couple of hours to recover, and then the parades proper start