Carnival is Bacchanal - February 21, 2002
After all the drama we did eventually make it to Trinidad. My parents who where scheduled to meet us in Chaguaramas, Trinidad flew instead to St. Vincent and took a ferry to meet us in Bequia the day after Miranda was released from the hospital. They joined us for the 26 hour sail to Trinidad (pictures). It was delightful to have them along, and made the short passage much easier for both Miranda and me.
We arrived in Trinidad on February 8th, just as the festivities for carnival weekend were shifting into full gear. Of course preparation for carnival is a year long process beginning as soon as the previous year's carnival is over. Things really get going after Christmas, and then the week before carnival day everything in Trinidad centers around the approaching fete.
The night we arrived we were able to head downtown to the main venue of the carnival, the Queen's Park Savannah Grandstand, and see the Queens Contest. The Soca music we would come to know so well over the next few days played through massive speakers as women in fabulous costumes paraded around the stage. As we watched the show we enjoyed our first Shark and Bake, fried shark sandwiches which we quite enjoyed. This was also our first taste of the sounds and sights of carnival, but it was just a small taste of what was to come.
The following day my parents flew out, Miranda and I anchored out in Chaguaramas harbor, and that evening we again found our way to the Savannah Grandstand to hear the Panorama, the Steel Pan Orchestra competition. There were 12 orchestras and it was amazing just watching them wheel all the shiny pans: the tenors, the doubles, the basses and more, on and off the stage between each group. But, even more incredible were the sounds that came out of the instruments. The power of the music was amazing, at times quiet and calm, most of the time loud and energetic. The judges had a hard time picking a winner and in the end only a few points separated the top 5 bands. Phase II came in first, with the All Stars following close behind, third were the reigning champs, Exodus, and in fourth place was Miranda's and my personal favorite, Redemption Sound from Tobago.
We took a lay day to rest up for carnival was approaching quickly and Monday morning at 3am we were going to be in Port of Spain to take part in J'Ouvert, the official opening of Carnival. We slept as much as we could Sunday night, but the anticipation made us restless and we were up by midnight getting prepared to head into town along with everyone else. We joined an organized group of yachties for J'Ouvert and were provided with transportation to and from town, a pre-parade party, a steel pan band, free drinks throughout the night, costumes, and all the mud and paint with which we could cover ourselves. We arrived at the meeting ground and promptly were given our costumes which each consisted of a flour bag and a rope to tie it on. We just had time to grab some corn stew and a drink when the paint and mud was opened and started flying everywhere. People were quickly splattered in red, yellow and blue paint, and simply covered in mud. One man came up behind Miranda and emptied a full bucket of mud onto her head... we laughed and kept dancing to the pan music. Once we were all muddied up, the band which was on a large cart pulled by a tractor, began moving down the road. All of us revelers followed after it. We soon met up with other bands flowing through the streets, some with steel pan bands, some with large trucks with huge speakers blasting Soca music.
People whined (Trini for dancing in a sexual manner) all around us, while we flowed down the street dancing, singing, and drinking. We were able to grab beer, rum punch, and water from the truck that drove along with the crowd. We talked to the others in our band as we moved along, and soon struck up a conversation with a couple of friendly locals named Don and Emily and their Irish friend Jon. We had a good time dancing with them, and decided to go together to look for other good bands to join. All we had to do was stand on the curb for a few minutes to let the band we were currently dancing with pass and another would be right behind. If we liked it we would jump into the crowd and follow the truck. At one point a water truck passed and we all ran into the stream of water that was raining down on the crowd. Now we were muddy, painted, soaking wet, and loving it.
Time was flying by and dawn was already approaching. Emily, Don, Jon, Miranda and I kept a look out for each other all through the night, and amazingly did not get separated for long. Miranda and I had to be back at our meeting point at 7am to catch the bus back, and Don offered to get us back to where we needed to be because a night of wandering through unfamiliar streets while drunk had left me pretty disoriented as to where I was. But, we were all starving so we decided to stop into a pizza shop for a quick breakfast.
The pizza we shared tasted wonderful after a night of non stop partying, but by the time we had finished it off we realized we had missed our bus. "No, problem" said Don, who offered to take us in his car back to where our boat was anchored. We carefully lay down towels in the back seat of Don's car so we wouldn't get paint and mud on the upholstery, and in the bright light of the new morning drove back to Chaguaramas.
When we got to the dock we met a Swedish couple spraying each other off with a garden hose, trying to remove the mud and paint. We joined them in the shower, spraying ourselves and each other until we thought we were mostly clean. Then it was back to Baggywrinkle for a few good hours of sleep.
Most people get up Monday after a short rest and head into town again to see the parades that begin after J'Ouvert and go through Tuesday night. We decided to stay on the boat Monday get more sleep and go in early Tuesday.
When we got back to town Tuesday morning the scene was quite different. The same catchy Soca tunes were still blaring, but the streets instead of being filled with muddy people were filled with beautiful costumes everywhere you looked. Vendors selling Roti, Shark and Bake, Snow Cones, Coconuts, Corn Soup, and more lined the streets. The streets themselves were swarming with people wearing every color imaginable, some in simple yet elegant costumes, some in huge elaborate contraptions that were basically human powered floats (pictures). Huge trucks stacked with speakers were interspersed with the people, and the music emanating from them shook your whole body. By this time we knew these songs by heart, since they had been playing over and over for the past week, and we sang along with everyone else as we walked. We spent a wonderful day wandering the streets in awe, taking needed breaks from the action every once and a while to sit in the park and relax. The whole country was out partying, enjoying themselves, celebrating another carnival, knowing that at midnight it would all stop.... until next year.