October 29, 2004
Here's my first report about Trinidad, written after our first 4 weeks on the island. I flew from London on Sunday, Oct. 3 via Miami on American Airlines - which made for a very long day. I was picked up at the Port of Spain airport by a coworker from Fujitsu, who had been waiting at the airport for 7 hours, after receiving the wrong flight times from an inattentive secretary. He drove me straight to our apartment, where I collapsed into bed at 3:15 AM UK time.
Our apartment is in La Horquette Valley, Glencoe which is a peaceful suburb of Port of Spain, about 4 miles west of downtown. We have 2 bedrooms on the ground floor of a 3-storey building. It's our 3rd consecutive apartment that is located on the ground floor with the entrance door on the right off a central hall. The apartment has a big open-plan kitchen, dining area and living room with patio doors overlooking the hillside and the Caribbean Sea. There's a nice outdoor swimming pool on the grounds and plenty of parking. We go swimming at least once a day.
Louise came to Trinidad on Oct. 8, after tidying up our apartment in Guildford. (It's now being rented out.) She flew direct from Heathrow to Port of Spain on BWIA Airlines and had a superb flight - the plane was less than half full.
We're enjoying the nice warm weather. It's 32 to 34 degrees every day with very strong sun. There are frequent thunderstorms in the afternoon with torrential rain, which can flood the roads. My office is air conditioned, but we haven't bothered with air conditioning at our apartment; we just wear our swim suits.
My coworker Vlad gave me a ride to Fujitsu on my first day of work. The company is renting a warehouse in an industrial park in Laventille, a suburb of Port of Spain. I'm the Documentation Manager on a project to install E-mail and internet access for the Government of Trinidad. The project has been underway since 2000 but has now reached the installation and test phase. The project employs 25 people, including 3 from the UK. I supervise a team of 3 technicians and came in at the tail end of the project to help get stuff out the door. We should be finished in January.
Fujitsu has given me use of a car, a brand new Nissan Almera, as well as a maid who comes once a week to clean the apartment. Louise and she have nice visits and do some of the cleaning together.
Louise has met a few of the neighbours who include both native Trinidadians and a Canadian lady who's lived here for quite a while. The people are quite nice and the pace of life is more leisurely - except when they get in their cars, then they drive like maniacs. I was dismayed to discover that my half-hour drive to work can easily stretch to 45 or 50 minutes each way because of traffic jams in the rush hour. Even though Trinidad is fairly rich because of its oil, the roads are in poor repair and have lots of huge potholes. Some of the radio stations are promoting safe driving and there's increasing awareness about road safety, but unnecessary road accidents are one of the biggest hazards of living here. There's too much traffic and the roads are too chaotic to even think about bicycling. The local newspaper published a picture of a lady riding a bicycle with the commentary that she must be crazy - bicycles are just for kids!
With such a mix of rich and poor, we were worried about crime. We've been lucky so far and learned quickly which areas not to visit after dark. The owners of big houses in our area all have guard dogs and bars on their windows. At night, we are serenaded by frogs and crickets, along with dogs barking at all hours day and night, and roosters (which are kept by the poor people) crowing early in the morning. Even worse, we have sometimes been bothered by mosquitoes, so put a net up over our bed. Everyone gets up about 5:30 AM when it gets light.
We're a short drive away from quite a nice American-style shopping mall. The food store is called Hi Lo, which makes sense to me because the prices for brand-name foods imported from Canada and the States (like President's Choice, Kraft and IGA) are high, while the costs of local merchandise are much lower. One way that Trinidad is ahead of the rest of the world is having one set price for gasoline (54 cents a litre) at all gas stations throughout the country.
On our first two weekends, we drove with my coworker Vlad to the golden sand beach at Maracas Bay, which is only 9 miles away over a chain of big hills. It was very relaxing with nice warm water, very strong sun and for lunch, delicious "shark bake" sandwiches which are a local favourite.
Louise with Brian's co-worker Vlad at Maracas Bay.
We also attended an outdoor concert with steel drum, folk and jazz music. The tickets were only $5 each and it was a great concert. I have missed hearing and playing the theatre organ since coming here, but Louise found a neighbour with a piano so we might go and visit her. Our apartment came equipped with a TV with 70 satellite stations, so we've been watching lots of movies and cartoon shows. Our nearby movie Cineplex had a two-week festival of European films, so we went to see several ($2 each).
One Saturday, we took the local mini-bus to downtown Port of Spain (fare 60 cents each). In describing Port of Spain, the Lonely Planet guidebook says "what it lacks in charm, it makes up for in bustle". It's not touristy at all, more commercial and industrial, with a container port and fishing boats on the sea front, lots of office buildings and stores of various sizes and price ranges. We found a very good public library downtown so Louise plans to visit it on her own. The city has nice restaurants, a small zoo and a museum which we plan to visit when we get the time. Louise has been in touch with the Canadian Women's Club and hopes to meet more people. She's a bit cut off without a car but is now using the mini-bus network.
We're gradually getting adjusted to a new country, finding our way around and learning about Trinidad's history and culture. Half the population is black and half is East Indian. The people themselves get along very well, but we're told the government tries to stir up racial divisions for political reasons. Everyone says the government is corrupt. The country makes lots of money from oil, but the minimum wage is only $1.60 an hour, and groceries for example are very costly for people on low incomes.
We plan to fly to Tobago for the weekend, and hope to visit Canada after this contract finishes. Then I will likely look for more work in the UK or Europe.
Stay tuned for more updates and pictures. Til next time, Brian & Louise.
March, 2005 report
Pictures of our apartment building & neighbourhood
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