Iere – Land of the hummingbird
by Lucy Gilliam
According to our local guides ‘Iere’ means Land of the hummingbird in local ancient tongue
Wow. From start to finish Trinidad has been a feast for the senses. Between visits to eco projects, chocolate tastings, tapas parties on the boat, beaches, swimming, waterfalls and of course ships repairs, the New Dawn Traders haven’t stopped for a moment.
We arrived in Chagauramus to tropical rain and sweltering heat. The first priority as always was getting the ship stowed correctly while the Captain ran the gauntlet of customs, immigration and harbour officials.
Next up was several rounds of celebratory rum cocktails to toast our success at crossing the Atlantic in one piece.
We were immediately joined by a friend Stefan from the Trinidad Slow Food Community. Stefan had arranged a series of social engagements for us with the first taking place that very evening; a BBQ complete with local beers and produce from the island including some of his own handmade sausages and pesto made from the local herb Chadon beni, similar to cilantro.
We were joined that evening by a number of slow food community from the island including Akilah who runs a Reforestation project called Fondes Amandes and Isabel who makes her own fine single estate chocolate branded ‘Cocobel’ and is investigating the properties of different strains of cocoa bean to their preserve genetic diversity.
Also present were a couple of Students from the local University studying Food production systems within the Geography department. Damian explained how the island isn’t particularly green at present but that there is a growing movement of activists pressing for change. For example there is no recycling or ecological waste management system in place on the island. Everything goes to landfill or is incinerated which is good for the poor communities downstream of the facilities. A local campaign called RegreenT&T is pressing for better municipal waste systems and some communities are pulling together to establish recycling for paper, cardboard, glass and plastics.
It’s frustrating for us onboard to put all our waste in one bin. We have complete waste segregation in the galley to separate out all materials. Serves as a reminder me how far we have progressed in Europe.
Our celebratory Crew Dinner in Port of Spain
Stefan, our local contact recommended the restaurant ’Chaud Creole’ for our crew dinner. The restaurant is reputed to be one of the very best on the island. In order that we could try lots of tastes and styles the chef arranged for a taster menu of his interpretations of the classic recipes from Trinidad. Trinidad has a rich history due to the repeated invasions and waves of settlers arriving on the islands from Spain, England, France, and India. This has created a melting pot of diverse cultures and is reflected in the foods and dishes created.
We kicked off with a delicious soup of Sancoche, sweet corn and dumplings accompanied by Choka sliders and Crab dumplings. The Choka sliders resembled mini crispy chickpea pancake topped with delicious herby minced tomato, pumpkin or melongene. The crab dumplings were delicate minced freshwater crab with herbs and coconut broth.
The main course consisted of the local style Goat curry (I can’t comment on it but Jamie said it was his favourite dish!), Beef burnt sugar stew (Damon’s favourite) and a creole tomato bell pepper and onion stew with a fish, Brochet, that was described as similar to pike. Our main courses were accompanied by a medley of vegetable side dishes including the most incredible spicy corn coated okra (ladies fingers), melting cassava and spicy fried plantain. We also had the popular local dish Macaroni pie which is essentially macaroni cheese! We have seen it advertised in all the little street shacks everywhere.
Over dinner Stefan gave us the low down on the local food culture. Sadly the development of the local agriculture sector has been ignored, meaning that much of the food on the island is imported. This is partly due to oil industry as Trinidad has its own oil reserves so oil is very cheap.
I was shocked to see a picture of oil rigs on the 100 Trinidad dollar notes. We have Charles Darwin. Trinidad has an oil rig…
In fact we sailed passed the gas rigs as we made way to Trinidad.
Many of the old plantations have been left to ruin. The big thing food wise in Trinidad is KFC and fried chicken. KFC is literally everywhere, even in the little rural villages. Apparently KFC here make a local ‘Trini’ style with special extra spice. At one point driving through the capital Port of Spain we passed a KFC every 200 metres!
Our meal was completed by a light chocolate mousse made from Cocobel chocolate, our new friend Isabel’s handmade brand. Absolutely divine! From humble beginnings selling her chocolate on market stalls, she is now supplying the fine restaurants and delicatessens across the island.
Asa Wright Nature Reserve
The following day we hired a car as this was the only realistic way to get into the jungle and visit the reserve which was highly recommended to us.
Yes I know… A car does require fossil fuels… If the electric renewable revolution hasn’t made it to Europe then it sure as hell hasn’t made it here.
Anyway we hired a really beat up old car from aptly name Econocar. With 260000 miles on the clock and a squeaky back axle we set off with some trepidation to find a nature reserve deep in the jungle. It was quite an adventure. The drivers here are fast, aggressive, erratic and the surfaces of the roads incredibly poor. It was a gamut of pothole dodging and narrow escapes.
Eventually we found ourselves on a one way tracking weaving our way through a dense vegetated valley passing lots of brightly coloured houses and plantations. There is a significant Indian population here in and we passed a great number of houses with beautiful brightly coloured prayer flags dotted around gardens, their silver beads glittering in the sunlight.
It was well worth the trek. Asa Wrights consists of a number of lodges for overnight guests with a large guesthouse looking out over the valley. A large verandah over looking the estate provided the perfect spot to view a great number of the native birds including hummingbirds.
We arrived just in time to join a guided walk through the jungle. As we wandered through the estate we spotted Agouti (a large rodent), a Golden Tegu (large lizard), and many different types of birds. As we meandered through the forest our guide pointed out the native flora and fauna.
Apparently there are a lot of snakes and we were warned not to stray into the undergrowth as the island has a number of very poisonous snakes.
I could of spend many hours there watching the birds and wandering through the forest and vowed to return on my next voyage.
It was back to work the next day. We had a ship to provision for! Our next adventure was to the local food market bright and early on Saturday morning. Antoine was raring to go and dragged me out of my hammock at 6:15 am. I stumbled bleary eyed to get my bag and went with Jamie & Antoine to meet up with Stefan.
The market was situated in downtown Port of Spain near to the shore. Stefan took us around the stalls pointing out all the local fruits and vegetables giving us some top tips to produce some delicious fusion foods for our voyage.
We also got some top tips from the locals. The banana seller was particularly enthusiastic in regaling his favourite ‘Oily dong’ recipe which is spicy pig tail stew with breadfruit. The salt of the pig tails perfectly compliments the squishy blandness of the breadfruit apparently. I might leave Jamie to experiment with that one…
While wandering around the fish market I was horrified to stumbled across a young hammerhead shark.
There is a local dish here called ‘Shark and bake’ which is a essentially a fried shark sandwich. I couldn’t believe that it could really be shark but was enthusiastically informed by local Trini’s that it’s not catfish as one person had claimed while trying to reassure me. Apparently there are Taiwanese shark fin fishermen that fish of the water here and do deals with Trini fishermen to sell the finless shark corpses for their local dish. According to one concerned local that I met, the shark populations around here have almost disappeared. He is sending me further details.
We eventually left the market after 2 hours well stocked with a delight of local vegetables including a huge rucksack filled with pumpkins which we have discovered store excellently on the Irene and can be used in a myriad of different recipes. By this point we were absolutely ravenous so Stefan took us to try the best Trini breakfast, ‘doubles’ from a street vendor.
Doubles are a chickpea pancake topped with spicy chickpea and pepper and mango sauce. At under 40p (GBP) each they are an absolute bargain.
Once we’d had our fill of street food we headed out to visit the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation project (FACRP) on the outskirts of the city in the area of Maraval. FACRP is a community base agro-forestry project that started in 1982 by a group of grassroots farmers living in the Fondes Amandes Watershed.
The seeds for the FACRP were sown in by Akilah Jaramogi and her late husband the late Tacuma Jaramogi. The project has succeeded in planting over 35,000 trees and has transformed the degraded landscape into a viable fruit bearing organic agro-forestry project. FACRP uses the permaculture model of ecosystem regeneration and does not employ any petrochemicals, pesticides or fertilizers.
As we toured the site Akilah explained how she has been developing fire control strategies with local communities which have drastically reduced the incidences of bush fires in the region. The Project itself has been fire free since 1997. Each year the project receives many visitors including local school groups which benefit from the beautiful outdoor classrooms.
As we wandered Akilah pointed out key plants and features stopping periodically to grab a leaf for us to smell or shave off some bark from a tree that is used as incense. We spotted a little iguana shuffling through the undergrowth as well as many different beautiful butterflies and moths including the Emperor butterfly a large iridescent blue butterfly. As we passed the nursery Akilah signalled to me to choose a tree to plant.
Girl. What do you wanna plant? A fruit or a nut?
I’ve planted fair few fruit trees in my time as my mother has an orchard so figured a nut would be nice change. We settled on an almond tree as we found a pot that had 2 seedlings in so Jamie and I could plant one each. As we planted out trees we sang the song that the school kinds sing to Mother Earth to bless the roots and make the tree grow strong.
The project benefits from a number of university students that visit each year to carry filed work and take samples for projects studying social aspects of the project, to the more applied environmental sciences, such a soil monitoring, biodiversity monitoring or watershed management.
They have a weather station on the site and various points for collection of water samples. As we wondered back to the main offices I spotted a large hole and asked Akilah what was likely to be living in there.
I don’t know. I don’t want to know sometimes. I just want to know the natural biodiversity can thrive here. And as long as I leave them be they will leave me!
There are many different lizards and snakes on the project amongst other things that take advantage of the abundance of insects and small mammals which thrive in the pesticide free conditions. Once after a fire had raged on a neighbouring hillside Akilah spotted an Ocelot (dwarf leopard)!
As we left we stopped off the nearby river to cool off. By this point we were all dripping in sweat after our hike up the hill and the midday sun was blazing.
On our way back to the ship we popped in briefly to meet with the local fine food importers to make an introduction and get an idea of the kind of products that would make for great cargo. You may be surprised to learn that olive oil is rare and prized here and sold alongside the wine. And it is also subject to the same levels of taxation as wine. To our chagrin.
We were also incredibly fortunate to visit the Cocobel laboratory where Isabel invents all her masterful hand painted creations. After sampling a range of chocolates on the first night we were all chomping at the bit to see behind the scenes of her chocolate paradise.
Cocobel chocolates are made from single estate cocoa beans grown on the islands. Isabel handles the whole process from bean to box and even makes her own candied fruits, syrups and fondant fillings. Many of her fruit filings are derived from local fruits harvested from friends gardens (with their permission of course!).
Isabel is so clearly passionate about chocolate but also about biodiversity and food culture. Since making her own chocolates she has become fascinated by the range of different beans that can grow and how different varieties or even different strains of the same variety can have different properties.
One of her trademarks flavours of chocolate is made from the Tonka bean, a black wrinkled seed which has a spicy fruity aroma and is highly sought after.
We couldn’t help but source some delicious ‘samples’ for our onwards journey. But sadly for you I don’t think this package will make it home (Conditions onboard presently are not suitable for processed chocolates at this time – but check out Tres hombres who are carrying Grenadan chocolate by sail!). A must have Trini treat that we hope to bring in larger quantities to the UK someday.
Trinidad is a birdy paradise. I have never seen so many different brightly coloured birds. Trinidad also has the largest number of bats of anywhere in the Caribbean. It’s been a real joy watching them all dart backwards and forwards between the ship at night.
I’ve been sleeping out on deck in my hammock. The first night I got woken up by a flock of pelican’s darting by. We have iguana’s wandering around the harbour also. I nearly stepped on a baby one.
They eat iguana here. Although many wild meats are banned, there is still significant trade in wild meats hunted in the jungle. Apparently there is significant trade in endangered species and there are campaigns to put a stop to it. I met a number of people working locally to educate about the Trinidad’s ecological riches and inspire action to save them.
Whining and dining
We’ve been so well hosted by new Trini friends. On Saturday night we were taken on a bar crawl of the diversity of Port of Spain nightspots. We experience the Soca and carnival vibe and got the low down on how to ‘whine’ like a local.
We toured a diversity of bars from the street bars where you dance in the street, including a famous one called Smoky and Bunty’s to bars with large verandah’s with beautiful gardens attached. Halfway through the night we got doubles from a street vendor.
At the end of the night our hosts dragged us to the local gay club. As per usual the New Dawn Traders were up to their old tricks. Us girls kicked off our shoes and danced like absolute lunatics. We even had Damon and Ville dancing which is no mean feat! The music was great and the atmosphere really friendly and relaxed. Probably because the guys were more interested in each other which gave us the chance to dance with complete abandonment.
The following day we made an arrangement to head to the beech with our new buddies. We headed to Maracas and Blanchieuse. Both were stunning beaches surrounded by jungle and rainforest.
But Blanchieuse was much more secluded and deserted. Absolute bliss.
So once again some flavours of our adventures. Our next stop is Grenada where we are sourcing our Rum and collecting some new crew for our return voyage. Fresh blood!