Cascaduras and Carnival in Trinidad

She gazed at the turquoise sea below as their plane descended to Trinidad’s Piarco airport. A short story.

“Déjà vu?” she asked?

They were through customs quickly; the airport much as he remembered it, small and friendly.

The taxi driver leaned back, “So weh’ yuh from mon?” he asked as they drove into the capital city, Port of Spain.

“South Africa”, he replied. “We’re here for Carnival”.

The taxi driver decided to give them some home-spun advice.

“Remember now wen you follow de ban’. “Don’ attempt to “trow waist” on ah young girl wit’ ah 6′ 6″ ignorant boyfren’…funeral home close up for de season!”

She chuckled at the thought of him “throwing waist” at his age.

“An’ don argue wit’ ah drunk coconut vendor because “it eh have no jelly”… de man obviously know how tuh use ah cutlass! “

The taxi wound its way up Lady Young Road to the small hotel in the Laventile hills high above the city.

“Make mas man; an’ don’ argue wid de man wid de cutlass”, the taxi driver grinned as he waved goodbye.

They unpacked and sauntered out to the garden.

“What made you book into this hotel,” she asked, “I thought the Hilton was more your style?”

“No brainer”, he said. “I often used to come up here with Pete and Dave for a few chilled Carib lagers. You can see clear across the Queens Park Savannah and the sugar cane flats to the pitch lake near San Fernando”.

Pete and Dave had been his best mates back then; the three musketeers, up to all manner of mischief.

She sipped her first VAT 19 rum punch and gazed out over the sausage trees in the beautiful Botanic Gardens to the city far below. “I could get used to this”, she said as she kicked off her sandals.

He told her about VAT 19. “It’s a Trinidad Demerara style rum, golden yellow rum and soft, not at all like those dark, evil smelling, Jamaica rums. We used to joke that VAT 19 was the Pope’s telephone number”.

A typical Trini day. Cloudless and sunny, a light breeze drifting in from the mountains carrying the forest smells while the humming birds buzzed busily in the hotel gardens filled with frangipani and tree orchids.

“Here’s a plan”, he suggested, “how about we pick up a bottle of bubbly from the hotel and some Julie mangos and spend a couple of hours enjoying the hibiscus at the Blue Basin waterfall”. “It’s just up the Diego Martin Valley, easy drive”.

“Sounds good”, she said.

He hired an open buggy and they set off for the falls.

“This must be the best kept secret on the island”, she said as they dangled their feet in the clear crisp mountain water. They were the only people there.

Later, he suggested that they take a taxi into town to find a good steel-band to follow.

That’s how to do it at Trini Carnival. Choose a steel band, take off your shoes to feel the warmth of the tar and join the dancers as they follow the band wherever it leads through the streets. The dance is an easy sinuous swaying two-step known as ‘jump up’. Curious name, as it doesn’t involve jumping and it certainly isn’t strenuous.

He slipped seamlessly into the easy slow rhythms of his youth.

“The costumes are amazing”, she said, as she marvelled at the extravagant headdresses reaching many feet into the sky. “And the girls are so beautiful” she added.

They stopped occasionally for a cold Carib lager and a fresh coconut. She remembered the taxi driver’s sage advice as the vendor topped the green coconut with a couple of deft slashes of his razor sharp cutlass.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“I haven’t a clue,” he replied, “we’ll just follow the band to the Queens Park Oval and take in the calypso tents this evening”.

The leisurely stroll/dance through the streets lead them eventually to the Oval where they wandered around enjoying the laughter and the music as the Calypso singers vied for supremacy with their impromptu performances.

“Let’s go and see if ‘The Mighty Sparrow’ is still the genius Calypsonian he was back in the 1960s”, he said.

Late that night they enjoyed a night-cap on the hotel veranda and took in the sounds of all-night revelry drifting up from the valley below.

“The Mighty Sparrow was very sharp to pick up on that guy’s extravagant moustache”, she said. “It only took him a couple of minutes to string together 4 very funny verses about borrowing his air force special to sweep out the yard”.

“He’s still the best”, he said.

Next morning, he woke to the sound of running water and some nautical language from the bathroom.

“The soles of my feet are trashed”, she muttered, as she tried to scrub the tar off.

“What’s on the agenda for today?” she asked as she emerged, barely covered by the small (regulation small) hotel towel.

“I thought we could join the crowds for the judging of the Carnival floats and the costumes. There are serious prizes for the King and Queen of Carnival”, he said, “and we mustn’t miss the ‘war of the bands’”, the Best Band Award is highly contested.

“That will be brilliant”, she said. “I can’t get enough of steel-band music. It’s hard to believe that some bands have over 100 players, no formal musical training and yet they can play right the way through Sheherazade.”

“It’s a unique sound”, he said, “and the months before carnival are seriously noisy as they tune their tin pans, up in the hills behind Maraval”.

“Well worth it on the day”, she said as she reflected on the skill of turning old 55 gallon petrol drums into lyrical musical instruments.

“How do you fancy a light brunch at the Pelican Inn?” he asked, adding “it used to be ‘home’ to the Caribs rugby team”.

“OK by me, but with one proviso – no VAT 19 until at least mid-day. I’m not as strong as I look and that stuff punches above its weight” she chuckled.

At the restaurant they chose a balcony table overlooking the valley.

He tucked into a plate of pelau with chicken and pigeon peas while she tried a rare local delicacy, cascadura, a small fresh-water fish, lightly curried.

He smiled, “local legend has it that if you eat cascadura you will return to Trinidad again and again”.


Boney M. & The Original Trinidad Steel Band with Don Mellow (1979)

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