On this journey we head to TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO (02-06-16 to 02-13-16)!!!!! As today is Carnival Tuesday, the parties have been happening all week and everyone is on the ROAD!!!!
At the tender age of 30 my bestfriend decided the best way to bring in a new decade was shaking a tail feather at Trinidad Carnival. This was the experience of a lifetime. I had never in my wildest dreams thought that I would one day party up and down the streets in a bathing suit and dance ALL DAY. But, I did. It was amazing!! However, there were many bumps along the way that made this the worst trip I had ever been on lol. You’ll see how as you read along.
For starters, I have no idea how the planning goes when it comes to everything that is needed to have a successful Carnival experience. This area was the expertise of my best friend. Whatever she told me I needed, that’s what I got. The planning process for Carnival begins the year prior to the actual event. If you think for one second you are going to make a last minute decision about Carnival, you are very mistaken. There are Carnivals all over the world throughout the year. However, Trinidad’s Carnival is the largest of them all. With that being said, hotels book the year prior and Trinidad is NOT the land of options. If you are interested in going, then start trying to plan living arrangements ASAP. You’ll see why as I continue.
Next up is researching each Band that is participating in Carnival. By Band, I do not mean group of people with instruments playing music. When it comes to Carnival, if you are going to actually participate (dressing up in a costume and dancing) this is know as “Playing Mas” (Mas is short for Masquerade). In effort to play mas, you first pick a Band. People often base their selection of a Band on the costume options. Each Band will have an assortment of different colored outfits and different styles. Some of the outfits will be two piece items while others are full body. In addition, some costumes may come with feathers while others will not.
Picking a costume is important. This will be worn the entire day of Carnival, so you want to make sure it is something you will be comfortable in. Another thing that will determine your selection is pricing. Costumes can be very expensive ranging from $450 – $2,000. YES those prices are correct but luckily its not the only thing being provided. This price is determined by the details and type of your costume (jewels, feathers, bikini style or full body, etc). In addition, each Band is broken into sections (front, middle, back) and that’s how you would march in the parade with that Band, which also impacts the cost. One thing that rang true with my experience is the age old saying “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!”
The good thing about all of this is, the price doesn’t ONLY include just the costume. The price often includes a goodie bag that gives you your wristbands for both days (I’ll review the Monday events soon), personal items that will help you through the day (pain killers, towels, etc) the food for both days, unlimited alcoholic beverages and water, t-shirt, and souvenir cups. It also includes security for safety purposes on the road, bathroom trucks on the road, additional parties admission if being offered, and any medical assistance if needed. These added items makes the price worth it to some degree.
If you are not familiar with the Carnival culture I DO NOT recommend having your first experience on your own. If you don’t know anyone who is familiar, then make sure you research as much information about Carnivals as you can. You are never truly ready for a Carnival experience lol, but you can have some basic knowledge of what to expect. Here is a blogger who can assist in planning out your trip and give you an idea of the different Carnivals globalcarnivalist.com. Also use YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and other forms of social media in effort to get a full view of different Carnivals. (#TRINIDADCARNIVAL)
Now that we have hotel and costumes out the way, I will backtrack a bit to flights. I booked my flight to Trinidad in April of 2015 knowing I wasn’t going until February 2016. By doing so I was able to get a good price to Port of Spain for $370. For me this was good because if you wait too long, flights will increase significantly ($600 and up). So do your due diligence and get your flight early. The flight to Trinidad will be an experience. Everyone boarding that flight will be headed there to party and thus your Carnival experience begins the moment you board the plane. Enjoy it!
Now that you have a bit of background on how to prepare, I will tell you my experience. For starters this trip consisted of myself and three other women. This trip still remains number 1 on my list of all time WORST TRIPS EVER lol. In fact it is the ONLY trip on that list. Although at times I had great moments, this was an experience I don’t want to have again. First off it is very important that you are aware of who you are going on vacation with. Mixing friends can sound like a great idea at the moment but not all personalities will mesh well. I learned this lesson almost immediately after arriving on the island.
We arrived on the Saturday before Carnival. After gathering our bags at the airport, our ride took us to the location where would be staying. Even though we planned in advanced, it was still not far enough in advance, so we ended up booking through a site that was similar to what Airbnb is now. When doing so you go on the site and sort through all the options you have that are within a good travel distance to the parties and the road where Carnival is being held. Originally we booked a hotel that was closer to the airport. Do not stay near the airport, you will be at least 45min away from where all the events will take place, and your commute will not be enjoyable when you are leaving parties at 6am.
The house we ended up staying at was unfortunately not the one we originally thought we were going to get. When we booked there were pictures up from two locations, we noted how many people were in our party, however as the owner put it, that did not fully determine where we would stay because he had two properties available. Now at times like these you have to determine if this is a battle worth fighting. Was the advertisement misleading, absolutely!!! But here you are on foreign land, although you have the money to make changes unfortunately you don’t have options. All hotels within a convenient distance are sold out. So do you make waves which would cause your experience to be even more uncomfortable, or do you make do with what you have. We chose to make do. For me, given that I have traveled since I was young, my mother always taught me that everything is a temporary situation. You do what you need to in order to get through a situation until you can get back to your normal routine and do things the way you want. Thank God for that lesson!!!
After getting settled into our room, we headed back out to pick up our costumes. My best friend decided she wanted to be apart of the Band DREAMTEAM. This is not one of the most popular Bands but she liked that the costumes were cheaper. The rule of thumb is to go get your costumes as soon as possible to ensure you have time to try it on and to make sure you have all the items. Thank God we went straight there. It was a mess. Upon arrival it was people every where waiting to get there items. They did not have everything already prebagged and they ran out of sizes even though we already preordered it. Again this falls under the category of you get what you pay for.
Now I don’t consider my costume to be all that cheap because money spent is money spent. However, one could say it was still in alignment with the price. NOT TO ME!!!! First off, they were still making costumes when we got there. Just imagine witnessing someone using a hot glue gun on the very outfit you have to wear the next day. The outfit that’s already revealing and one wrong pop would leave you completely exposed to the world!!! Right, it’s not a good thought. Especially for me who is usually conservative and very fearful of my beloved goodies being exposed lol.
(Special Note: The most important thing to remember when it comes to your costume is NOBODY CARES! When my best friend first showed me the costume options I was a nervous wreck. Like OMG I have to wear this in public lol. When you go to Carnival its about celebration and having fun. You will be surprised how many people will have on a costume and carefree regardless of their size. Get the costume and go for it!)
So they gave us what they had of our costumes and our items needed for Monday festivities. We didn’t pay them the remaining balance until we received all of our items. The very unfortunate part about this is that, the very items we wanted the most (headpiece and shoulder feathers) were the very things we never received. We moved on and made due with what we had. Luckily everything we did receive fit and covered the most important areas lol. Believe me, I was still stressed but relieved I wouldn’t be naked. Due to the last minute put together of the costumes many of our stones started falling off before we even hit the parade. Ugh, talk about frustrated. In addition, we had to use pieces of t-shirts we wore the day before to make sure our straps were secure and would last the entire day. Again, you get what you pay for. Ours was a full total of $554. (my receipt was sent in TT)
Now that the costume debacle is out the way, we move on to the remainder of Saturday. Next was food lol. Whenever I travel I try my best to experience the local foods of the country. Doing this and meeting the needs of everyone you travel with can be very challenging. The amount of accommodating that we did for one person was beyond believable and utterly ridiculous. I don’t mind people having their preference, but when others have to miss out and accommodate your life choices you might need to remain home. At this point your family is the only ones that are willingly tolerate the foolery. By foolery I mean an individuals disregard of others and becoming completely inconsiderate because they feel their needs are all that matter.
So, in light of that, on the first night we ended up eating in the food court of the local mall. Even in this compromise there was still an issue and attitude that interrupted the mood of the trip. Later that evening we went to Queens Savannah Park and enjoyed the Panorama Steelpan Competition. Here is where you get to take in the sites of local culture and hear the music that is generated from the steelpans, with dancing, food, and fun all around. We enjoy the different bands playing, the street food, and the music of the night. It was only three of us at this time and things ran smoother with spirits a bit higher.
On Sunday morning we returned to the costume location and attempted to retrieve the remaining pieces of our costume. We already discussed how that went. So we left and went to see the sights of Trinidad. Now I don’t know if it was just our experience but to me there were no sights to see. Trinidad is truly designed for visitors during Carnival. If you are not still recovering from the parties the night before and looking to just enjoy the sights, there won’t be many. There are a few beaches in the area but unfortunately we were not near many of them that would have served our purpose. So instead, we went to a water front area in the city, where we hung around and just enjoyed the sun. I say waterfront because it wasn’t designed in a traditional beach style where you could lay a towel out and sunbathe. It was more like a local park area with water access.
Later that night we were ready to enjoy more music, dancing, drinks, and fun. We went to Machel Montano Mania 10 concert. The atmosphere was exactly what we were hoping for. The ability to let loose, enjoy the music, and let go. Now I will admit this is a different world of experience. I myself am not one who will chose soca music or reggae as my go to music, but there is no way you can not enjoy the energy that it brings. Luckily for me I was also prepared for the music I would encounter lol. Certain artist my best friend had already told me about and my several trips to Jamaica the previous four years had also prepared me. Either way these parties are truly a different experience all together. Whatever reservation you may have with dancing in public, or being carefree will go out the window. NO ONE CARES!!! This is the best place to go and be as free as you want without fear, judgment, worry, etc. LET GO!
Now is time for Carnival Monday. This is the first day of parade activities. This day isn’t the day you wear your actual Carnival costume. However, most Bands will have a specific attire that you can wear, whether its another form or designed costume or a t-shirt that represents your Band. This is a preview of Tuesday festivities. You line up with your Band and enjoy the dancing and music as you parade around Trinidad in celebration. You follow along with your Band trucks that provide music, food, drinks, and restrooms, and you don’t stop until the end. Let me say, please make sure you have sun screen and comfortable shoes. Carnival IS NOT the time to want to wear anything with a heel. You will regret it. The best thing to wear is either sneakers with your costume or nice boots that match the colors. Sandals can be wore but I still don’t recommend them. This is a time where no one will really care what’s on your feet. You will be walking through water, spilled liquor, and possibly even throw up. Plan accordingly.
Monday is an all day event. By the time its over the sun will be going down. After you have finished on the road you can either, go and prepare for day two, or attend any of the numerous parties (J’ouvert) happening around the island. The names of the possible events will be a good start for you to prepare. As for us we got prepared for day two. Now here is how our Monday night went. We got back to our room around 8pm. One would think this was plenty of time to rest and prepare for the parade on Tuesday given that arrival time wasn’t until 8am. Well, WRONG!! The process for us began at 12am. That was the appointment time we had to get our makeup done. Since there were four of us, the makeup artist allotted one hour for each.
Around 11:30pm we were picked up by the makeup artist’s brother who took us to what appeared to be a hair salon and we each took turns getting our makeup done. (Of course as I am writing this I am aware of how insane we were in getting in the car with a random stranger but I think the thought was there were four of us and he couldn’t take us all LOL!!! Who knows, we just knew we needed our makeup done!) Around 4:30am we arrived back to our room where we had about three hours to sleep before awakening to get ready for the day. When I say we slept pretty, that’s exactly what I mean. I slept on my back with not one shift throughout the night and prayed to God that my makeup remained intact lol. As you can see below. IT DID!!! LOL. We were cute and ready for trouble lol. Let me tell you this day is still one of the most freeing days of my life. There is not a care in the world on Carnival Tuesday. Whatever you were dealing with at home, the bills, family issues, job issues etc. All problems go out the window the moment you put the costume on and hit the road.
Throughout the parade there are moments when your Band is able to cross the “stage”. This maybe the liveliest point of the Carnival but also a lot of fun. This is when the judges see the costumes of the entire Band, where the DJ’s make sure the music and the Band is live, and you just dance and celebrate for that time you’re on the stage. You will begin to meet people along the road that you can continue to celebrate with. This is not the time to be afraid. As a female if you’re dancing, a random person just might come up and join in the dance. Enjoy it!! You can still be safe and enjoy wining up on someone’s son lol. This is not the time to be reserved.
Now I would be lying if I said this day went off without a hitch. It seemed only three of us were there to celebrate my best friend birthday and make her day the best she has ever had. For starters, when you go on vacation this is not the time to use all the medical remedies you might practice at home. This is NOT the time to drink something that would cause you to have uncontrollable diarrhea. Yes!!! That’s what happened. Because of this, she had to return to the room. Honestly, this was a God send for us who remained. We had the time of our lives with no worries and not a concern for nobody else’s issues. Now don’t get me wrong, if someone you are with falls ill while y’all are together, then you assist in whatever way you can. But If you are going to take this type of trip, please don’t be that friend who wants to be “so healthy” that you decide this is the time to try new things. The food, the water, and the overall environment may not be conducive to doing this, and honestly its not fair to others you are with.
At the end of the parade you have the opportunity to cross the mainstage. By the end of the night, all of the Bands end up back in Queen Savannah Park for this part of Carnival, and to hear the winning Band called. As for us we did not get to enjoy this experience. As we were ending the parade, we received a call from the girl that had left earlier indicating she had returned to the parade but had no idea where she was. Again, PLEASE DON’T BE THIS FRIEND. Safety is ALWAYS a priority. Do not be in a foreign country that you have never been to before and decide you are going to be dropped off somewhere and then find your way to meet up. We now spent the last two hours looking for her. It was dark and an enormous amount of people around. Again this was my best friend birthday and she now had to miss out on an important moment in order to look for someone.
Upon finding her there wasn’t even as much as a sorry. However, during the process of looking for her, she managed to find her way on the final stage that we had already missed. BEYOND PISSED is an understatement. This was the moment I learned that whatever foolery someone gets themselves into, I will require them to use that same energy to themselves out of it. I will not forfeit my opportunity to enjoy a moment simply because someone is being inconsiderate. I thank God she was MIA all day because the enjoyment we had throughout the day somewhat masked the end results.
Once the dust settled we hung around the park a bit longer and went to the different vendors, and eventually returned to our room. Being exhausted from the days activities and then highly annoyed, we were all ready to just shower, rest, and regroup. As much fun as I had, I was still happy the day was over. On Wednesday the tradition in Trinidad is to head over to Tobago where you can really kick back and relax from the previous day. The beaches are nice and you can have food and drinks while soaking up the sun. Unfortunately this was another missed opportunity. During planning we weren’t aware that a ferry ticket was needed to be purchased and the ferry leaves early in the morning and in the middle of the day. By this time the mood for us was a bit out the window so we never planned to go.
Wednesday night was another party. Yes another one! Carnival is a celebration, YOU WILL PARTY! This party was called Baewatch and was hosted by American celebrities Amber Rose and Black Chyna. We had purchased the VIP tickets for this event so the bonus was open bar and food. Thank God for both because we were able to enjoy native foods. Thank God for the spirit of going with the flow, as we had a great night. We indulged, danced, sang along, and had a grand time. This is what letting go is all about.
After Wednesday our trip was pretty much a waiting game to go home. I learned on this trip that you don’t need too much time in one location. Now, when I travel I look to be there between four to five days, if that. Because our living arrangements weren’t all we expected we were a bit defeated in what to expect the last two days of the trip. The island clears out after Wednesday. Luckily the owner was nice and allowed us to go over to the other property we originally thought we would have, and we were able to enjoy two pool days. We made things work.
On Thursday, we woke up and used it as a recovery day. The wife of the owner had made us a nice breakfast spread. We enjoyed sitting on the patio and walking around the neighborhood. We watched some tv and in the early afternoon we were transported over to the other property. This was what I needed. We hung out, soaked in the sun and submerged in the cool water. We then, were in walking distance of the mall. That gave us the opportunity to just walk over and look around the mall and just hang out until we were ready to return back to our room. We were even lucky to have a liquor store there so we purchased a few items, with the expectation of coming back on Friday.
On Friday we got up to another nice breakfast spread and headed straight over to the pool. We just enjoyed the time fellowshipping with each other, looking over the pictures from the week events, and just relaxed. We were all ready to go home lol. That evening we returned back and packed up to go. This was one of the first times I was completely over a trip. The final blow was the owner of the residence charging an additional $600 for all the transportation he provided. I clocked out!!!! Again, picking our battle and knowing we still had to get to the airport in the morning, the leftover funds we had from not paying the remainder of our costumes balance came in handy.
On Saturday morning, when I boarded my flight, I knew I would NEVER travel that way again. However, I WILL DEFINITELY have another Carnival experience.
My best lessons from this trip were:
- DON’T MIX FRIENDS!!!
- Everything is a temporary situation (Thanks mommy!!!)
- Sometimes shorter is better
I hope you enjoyed my crazy experience. Remember this is the time to LET GO!!!
Note: The morning after Carnival there was a news report of a woman whose body was found in the park still in her costume. Please remember when traveling to a foreign country, being a victim of a crime is still possible and more likely for foreigners. Be sure to monitor your surroundings, stay with the people you went with, and be SMART. Don’t take risks you are not willing to give your life for.