Carolyn Broadwell - Travel Tidbits - Dec 2003 - Jun 2004

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas in Trinidad

It's the day before Christmas in Trinidad, and all through the house there is frantic activity! It seems to be mostly about cooking. Several days ago, Phyllis, my hostess, and her cousin, and a close family friends met to discuss the menu, as well as to decide who was bringing what. Many of the contributors were not present, but from past experience, it was known what they could or could not prepare, buy, or already had....

The meal seems to center on ham, which was certainly the case when we lived here, also, so it must be the major traditional centerpiece for Christmas dinner. Several of the hams have been gifts. (I have no idea how many hams are on our menu!) It seems that businesses often order quantities of hams for all the employees, as sort of a Christmas bonus, with those left over going to friends. In addition, our dinner will also have turkey and pork belly.

Once the main dishes have been determined, assorted side dishes were decided upon, and nothing sounded very familiar to my American ears until someone mentioned cranberry sauce, almost as an afterthought. I was assured, however, that it is an integral part of the tradition.

It seems that only one of the participating families has an oven large enough for baking, so they are doing the all of the hams and turkeys, and will also roast the pork bellies, after Phyllis has finished preparing them. (The contribution from this household is pork bellies, rum butter, and rolls. The rum butter is to go with Christmas cake - which Americans call fruitcake - and there are always lots of those around; some left from past years, and some given as gifts each year.)

The pork bellies were purchased yesterday morning in the market (the old fashioned kind, with lots of vendors having individual stands), and last night they underwent partial preparation, and are now being finally prepared for the roasting. Phyllis is off doing that now.

Later today we are to visit an old family friend where we will have a drink, and collect a Christmas cake, I believe I was told. The traditional drinks here at Christmas are ginger beer, sorrel, and ponche crema. When I was here two years ago at Christmas, the markets ran out of ginger beer, so we stocked up when we found some in the supermarket a day or so ago.

Trinidad is very, very different than it was in the early 1970's when we lived here. At that time it was an adventure to search out all the makings for a large meal. Now, other than the ginger beer, which I am told is only available at Christmas (probably also true of other things; I'­m just not sure which to name) very thing seems to be available! There is even a "Price Mart" which is a version of Costco, carrying some of the same brands. Helene (Phyllis'­s daughter) got a "Subway" sandwich the other day. We've passed just about every chain fast food place imaginable, although I am told that MacDonalds closed down. And I haven'­t seen a Starbucks. There are several malls, most banks have ATMs, and Helene frequents the DVD store. There are Thai restaurants, a genuine Indaian restauant, besides the Trini Indian fast food take-a-ways, and an elegant French restaurant.

But there are many things that make Trinidad very special for me. All day yesterday the Chinese club, which is just below the building we are in, had a steel band playing. Great music! Several nights I'­ve gone to sleep with the sound of pan (steel band) coming from a practice yard or a hotel in the area. The hospitality is as warm as ever, the roads are still too narrow for two cars to pass in many places, the sense of style is alive and fun and colorful, the Savannah is the largest and most beautiful round-a-bout in the world, and there are still route cabs. Route cabs are a very practical travel solution, used in several places in the world.. They are licensed to pick up passengers wherever hailed, and drop them along the route wherever they wish to be dropped. One pays for just one place in the cab, and the fares are set according to distance.. They have specific routes, a little like a bus service, but they move along almost continuously, so that you almost never have to wait for a ride.

I could go one, but I've just realized the time, and I have to prepare to go out. So I'­ll send this off with all best wishes for the holiday season. I wish I could say peace on earth, good will to men, but unfortunately, that is not the case just now.


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