Caribbean Travels: 5 things I learned in Trinidad & Tobago

To start- I won’t be writing about Trinidad & Tobago’s must-see tourist sites or top 10 beaches. While I could go on forever about the natural beauty of these islands, Lonely Planet or social media can give you the detailed guide. I’ll dig a bit deeper than the Instagram hashtags and talk about the local culture. #WeGood?

Earlier this year I visited T&T (shorthand for Trinidad & Tobago). It was my first time traveling to the Caribbean Islands, and I visited my friend Nadine. Though she’s lived in London for most of her adult life, she was born in Tobago. I really enjoyed getting a native’s perspective of these islands. Read on to discover my top 5 takeaways from T&T.

Before I start though, some of you may be thinking “Wait, I think I’ve heard of Trinidad and Tobago before. Where is it?”

No judgement. My geography skills are subpar, myself (Sigh, typical American). Here’s the map-

Trinidad and Tobago are two Caribbean Islands that are located close to Venezuela, off the Northeastern part of South America. To read more, holla at your best friend Wikipedia.

Now to begin. Here are 5 things I learned in T&T:

1. T&T Time Is A Real Thing.

Pigeon Point, Tobago during sunset
There is CPT.
There is island time.

And then there’s T&T time. It it something else.

Going to leave at 10am? That means 1pm. And en route to your final destination, you will stop by three people’s places simply to say hi. People are never rushed here.

2. No Stress. No Grudges.

Bamboo Cathedral in Trinidad
There is no reason to be worked up. What is there to stress about? Nature has that calming effect. People aren’t bitter or resentful here. Nice change from the fast-paced city life.

3. Everybody On The Island Is Your Cousin.

I stayed with Nadine’s actual cousins during my time in Trinidad and Tobago (FYI, I got to see both islands). We would go to the supermarket, restaurant, or beach. And at EVERY place I met another one of their cousins, someone they went to grade school with, or their mother’s hairdresser’s uncle.

Me with some of the cousins. I call us the “Trinidad Aviators”.
I equate this cousin phenom to every Asian elder being your “Auntie” or “Uncle”. Except times that by 102.
Pigeon Point in Tobago

4. People Help Each Other Out.

One cousin said she considered moving to Florida. But she then mentioned “the US is like dog eats dog. People are cut throat and don’t help each other out. Here, my neighbor walks in my house and brings me roti.”

Another case in point, I needed to use the restroom when we were driving in the car. In the US, I would stop by a local coffee shop or nearby store to use the nearest public restroom.

What happens in Trinidad? They call their cousin in the area and say “Hey, we are coming by to use your restroom.” So at 10pm, I step into a stranger’s home, introduce myself quickly, and then run straight to the toilet.

Apparently, this casual hospitality is a common habit. If you’re in the area, you stop by someone’s house to use the restroom, eat food, etc. In the US you never want to show up unannounced or with little notice. And heaven forbid going to someone’s house to only grub on their food. That would be called “freeloading”. Here, it’s what you do. (Side note- as a former master freeloader in college, I should really consider moving here)

5. The Food Is Delicious- With African, Indian, And Asian Influences. And There Is Never A Shortage Of Food.

What is travel without food photos.

(clockwise from top left) pigeon peas, breadfruit pie, grilled fish, jerk chicken, rice and peas, goat curry, & stewed veggies

We went to Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen in Tobago, and it did not disappoint.

(Clockwise from top left) i) salt fish buljol, mango amchar, coconut roti, salad & hot pepper ii) pigtail rice, callaloo, & salad iii) doubles iv) chicken curry and plantains

I loved eating all the local dishes and homemade food.

And finally, for all my Chinese folks out there…

Chicken feet!
Chicken feet!

Chicken feet, FTW. They cook it differently than that dim sum way.

Also, you will be given food everywhere you go. I kid you not. I went to a school around 3pm and received chicken and rice there. And everybody’s two refrigerators are stocked with meals.

Those are the top 5 cultural takeaways from my T&T travels. Yet, more than this place, it was great to see my friend. My travels here remind me of the beauty of friendship that transcends time and location. Nadine and I met seven years ago when I lived in London, and we’ve kept in touch since then.

What I really admire about Nadine is that she’s a woman of faith- and her life reflects it. She doesn’t waste time diddling away on her phone or social media. She wakes up early to pray, read the Bible, and get stuff done. She walks her faith out. Her actions speak louder than words.

Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.

I am thankful for people to do life with. I am thankful for T&T.

Forget the Top 5 List. Here’s The Key Takeaway: Every so often, slow down to T&T time and be present with those around you.

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