Welcome back –
On this trip I’m trying to see parts of the Caribbean I’ve missed before. I’m also trying to see them slightly differently, by picking a spot and focusing on whatever particular experience rises rather than checking off all the Highlights mentioned in Lonely Planet. I have few expectations. I’ll see what I see.
In Trinidad the prospect of visiting a monastery appealed to me so I spent three days on Mount Saint Benedict at the Pax Guest House. The monastery is almost a hundred years old, formed by a group of Benedictines seeking refuge from persecution in Brazil. Once there must have been hundreds of men living here, but now the count is down to less than ten, and half of those are quite old. They totter through the evening prayers at the monastery church – Our Lady of Exile. It is not a concert to remember.
The site is in the mountains south and east of Trinidad’s capital - Port of Spain, an area of rainforest that supports a wide variety of bird life. Birders visit here from all over the world. Hummingbirds and parakeets swarm the terrace at breakfast. And there are paths through the rainforest for solitary hikes. One afternoon I spent in a fire tower high in the trees, another, threading my way up to the water source for the monastery. It’s not Borneo, but still interesting, and very peaceful.
The first two days I’m the only guest. With no TV to remind me of the current unpleasantness in the U.S. for a few days I escape the constant media diet of fear and anger. Colette, in reception is a truly pleasant young woman who reminds me that some people are just naturally nice and we should all praise the few left lest we forget that being nice to each other is actually possible. What if? … Nah. But we should really consider dropping the “United” from our country's name, just for the sake of accuracy.
Gemma, the cook, delivers tasty three-course meals morning and evening. She has a way with spices and vegetables that is amazing. Her soups sing. Creole dishes she learned from her mother are the heart of the meal. We have the time to talk and get to know each other I’d never have in a resort or hotel. For lunch I drop into the Monastery gift shop and get their specialty – yoghurt - and find a quiet place to eat. Some monasteries do cheese, some beer, some champagne, some brandy. I get yoghurt. Figures.
At night I return to my cell and read, looking out the window at a flooding full moon. I think I’ll remember the Pax long after a lot of other places have faded. We all need a little Pax in our lives.
Back in the real world I take the ferry to Trinidad’s sister island of Tobago. TT is a profound mix of cultures - primarily African and East Indian with smatterings of West Indian, Spanish, and British elements. The Africans were brought as slaves. The Indians brought as indentured servants once the Africans were freed in the mid 1800’s. The latest addition seems to be middle-Eastern since there are three gyro restaurants here in tiny Crown Point. They come as entrepreneurs.
This is the original home of the steel drum, or as they say, the pan-drum. Food includes curries, salt fish, calaloo (Caribbean greens), shark and bake, but not much in the way of gelato. There are stands on the beach at Store Bay that serve a wide variety of local dishes. Miss Sylvia’s is my personal favorite.
For breakfast you can either eat the delicious cakes at The House of Pancakes or grab a few “doubles” from a street-side vendor. “Doubles” are two chapattis (Indian pitas, kinda) stuffed with a chickpea filling and topped with mango and hot sauce. Delicious and increases your resistance to disease. Perhaps it’s the hot sauce?
I have to admit that I miss Europe. I miss the museums and the concerts, the stimulation of a thousand years of culture. But, for now, I seem to be quite content to sit on the veranda of my little hotel and appreciate the rain.
That’s it for now. Next? I’m off to visit the locations of The Pirates of the Caribbean.