Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Trini Christmas!

Today was the day I got to experience Trini Christmas. Twice! 

First, in St. James - quietly and in a small circle. And then in Glencoe - with music, a big tree, the biggest pile of presents I have ever seen and a whole bunch of nice people. 

A little while ago my friend Andrew asked me what my plans for Christmas were and I told him I didn't have any, that I was going to spend as much time as possible with my family (via the internet, of course) on the 24th but the 25th would be a day like every other. He said no. He said Christmas was about family and that nobody should be alone for Christmas and I would come to his house to have Christmas lunch with him and his family. Honestly, how in the world do I even deserve friends like that? I must have been extremely nice in a previous life... 

And of course there was also Christmas here at the house. To me that meant, that I had an opportunity to give a teeny tiny bit back to the people who are making me feel at home every day by giving them a little something. 

In the morning I handed out the presents. Bernie and Richard got a little fruitcake each, not a big thing but for me it was really more about the gesture than anything else. Those two have been taking care of me the whole time since I moved in here, partly since before then. It's not like living with strangers at all, it's like I moved in with my uncles over here. Absolutely wonderful. 

Next was Saviour, Richard's little son. I snuck over to where Richard had set up a little Christmas tree for the boy with his presents hidden behind my back and put them under the tree. Then I told him I'd seen a big fat man with a red hat and a red coat come out of the house and that maybe he should go check what that was all about. We went over to the tree and he saw the presents and looked at me with huge eyes that were saying "Wow, is it really true?". Then he ran back to me and gave me a big hug before fishing the presents out from under the tree. He got a football that my last surfer, Catherine, left for him. That one was for him in combo with Bernie's son Hassan, so the two of them could play together. I hadn't wrapped it, because... well... how do you wrap a ball?! But it did have a big green bow on it, so he got to tear that off. The other present that I'd gotten him - the day before, because it took me forever to find something for him that I liked - was wrapped in blue paper, so he got to rip that open. You should have seen that kid's face when he saw his toy truck with a jetplane on the trailer! Pure joy and happiness, which in turn made me really happy. 

The next step was chopping up all the veggies for the salad I was to bring to Andrew's Christmas lunch. I shredded the lettuce and then cut up the cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots. Then I added some cheese and a bit of chicken ham and put everything into a plastic container and into the fridge. Then, shower. Then, getting dressed and ready. 

Around noon, Andrew came to pick me up from my house and we went to his place, where his dad and sister were getting ready, his great-aunt was hanging out and his cousin, who's a chef in training, was preparing the delicious lunch. We sat together chatting about all sorts of things for a while, Andrew told me everything about the time he visited Vienna and people started arriving. 

This is sorrel, you can have it in Carib Shandy or as a soft drink but around Christmas it's consumed in its most traditional form: as a juice. Well, a tea really. I topped mine up with water, because I was so thirsty and it didn't mix right away which left me with this pretty looking drink.

Yay, Andrew's map of Vienna.

Serious sound system for the party.

At around 2 or 2.30PM all the food was ready and the rest of the family (lots of people!) had arrived - time for Christmas pictures! 

This handsome young man is my good friend Andrew!

Then, the food was ready, so we all sat down and ate and drank and chatted. 

Lamb and turkey, potato and sweet potato pies, beans with tangerine and cranberries, salad and sorrel pepper. Yum!

Everything was really tasty and for me it was even somewhat exciting, because I haven't had lamb in ages (and I don't usually like lamb, I was surprised how good this was) and I've never had a Christmas turkey! And later, there was cheesecake for dessert. It is now past 11PM and I still feel stuffed... stuffed but happy. 

After "lunch" came the time for presents. I had a blast observing it all, watching them handing out presents and opening them and sharing their happiness with each other. They reminded me so much of the way my own family interacts with each other, it was wonderful to watch. 

And I also really enjoyed the view over Port of Spain from up on the hill where his house is. 

Played around with hand-made special effects for a bit. 

But, suddenly, Andrew stood before me with a gift for me. I got a present! A real, tangible one! I mean, I got presents this year, of course I did, from my wonderful family. But they came through the internet, because it wasn't possible to send anything here to Trinidad. And then today I got a present from my friend, which was 100% unexpected! And on top of it, I didn't have anything for him, because I hadn't thought we'd "do" gifts. And I'm really bad at giving gifts too, when they're for an occasion. I'm good at getting people things and make them smile, but not when it has to be for a certain date, like Christmas or Easter or even people's birthdays. 

Wrapped up and everything!!!

Now it was my turn to make the face Saviour had made earlier: incredulous, overwhelmed, happy! I got to rip open the paper and then open the little box and then go Woooooow! after discovering what was inside. 

Andrew is amazing. This guy noticed how ragged my approximately 15-year-old wallet was and got me a new one. He noticed that! And then he went and got me a new one! Can you even imagine that? How amazing is that?! Very, let me assure you. Very. 

I was just completely blown off my feet. 

For me, it was already absolutely incredible that he'd have me over and I'd get to spend Christmas with him and his family, who were all so very nice to me the whole day and did not treat me like an intruder even though I was the only non-relative there. But no, he went one step further and got me the only tangible present I received this season. 

I don't have words for this. I really don't. 

A long while later, after more pictures and more chatting and some coffee and a lot of cleaning up, everybody went home and Andrew dropped me back to St. James. Now here I am, reliving the day in my head and reliving yesterday in my head and wondering how come there are so many amazing people in my life. I hadn't expected much from this holiday season, what with being far from home and in a pretty much completely new place. But even if I'd had expectations, the reality would have exceeded them by so far... just off the charts. 

My eyes aren't closed in this picture, they're beaming at my new pretty little wallet. 

I'm in heaven, guys. 


Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Skypemas!

It's that time of the year. It's that day. December 24th. Christmas. 

It was my first Christmas away from home today, the first time didn't spend it with my family, the first time I wasn't there or didn't fly back. Last year I came home on December 24th at 2.25PM, went from the airport straight to my grandma's house and got to be with everyone. Not this year. 

It was a conscious decision. I bought a one way ticket and that's good. But today I honestly wished teleportation existed in real life. 

I would have gone home to Illmitz in the late morning of the 24th, taken a little walk around the frosty vineyards around the village or maybe driven out to the lake to stroll around there, because where I'm from is so incredibly beautiful, I'd want to say hello to every inch of it and smell the clear, cold air. Then I'd have spoilt my appetite for dinner by having lots of cookies instead of lunch. And a huge cup of tea, probably Winterzauber or Hagebutte. I'd have spent an hour in the afternoon getting ready for the evening, getting dressed and putting on nice make-up to look pretty for all the people I love so much. I'd have sneaked into the living room at one point to put all my presents under the tree while trying not to see anything that was already under there, so as not to ruin any surprise. I'd have gone around the house with my uncle blessing every room with incense and holy water, like we'd do every year. Then I'd have sat around the Christmas tree with my grandma, my mom, my two pretty cousins and my wonderful aunt and uncle. And their loved ones, too. I'd be all nervous because I'd know I'd read the gospel or a Christmas story for everyone, one of three texts that my grandma picks every year for my cousins and me to read. One for each. Nervous, because I want to read it perfectly for them. We'd sing then, Silent Night first and then Kling Glöckchen and Oh Tannenbaum and what have you. We'd sing the first verse of each song perfectly and then forget the exact words and hesitate and jump back in when the first person remembered how the song went on. Somebody would laugh. All of us would laugh. Then it'd be time for presents and I'd moan and groan because being the youngest I'd be fishing the presents out from under the tree and distribute them around. But I'd love it anyways. I'd be excited for everyone every time they'd open a package. I'd be happy that one of my presents came in a bag, because I'd put everything I got into that bag and keep it next to me for days. Then, dinner. Then, the annual discussion about whether or not we could have Balasn that day. Yes, we can. Thank you, Sarah. Then, I'd call my dad to find out if I could already come over. Get in the car and drive to Pamhagen, smiling the whole way at the decorated houses and the smoke in the air. Listening to Christmas songs and singing along loudly, and falsely. Thank God mom didn't accidentally leave our Ö3 Christmas Hits Vol. 1 and 2 in Vienna! I'd be sad that I'd miss the first visits by relatives, but it'd be OK, because I'd see everyone the next day. In Pamhagen, it'd be a smaller and more quiet celebration with my dad and my grandparents. After, my dad and I would sit together in the living room, next to the tree, and ignore the television and eat peanuts. Lots of them. The next day, first we'd go visit my grandma's sister and look at her tree and have a cup of coffee or tea. Then, after lunch, I'd go back to Illmitz and we'd all spend an hour trying to coordinate the order of family visits - who will visit whom when and when will they come to our house and is that really a good idea, because if we go to that house first will we still have enough space for those other really good cookies in our bellies... oh my. Then we'd go everywhere and sing carols for everyone and chat and admire their trees and hear about their presents and their celebrations and be happy that everyone's well and get tons of hugs. Late that night, on the 25th, when everyone's asleep, I'd snap my finger and be back here. And go to bed happy to dream about those beautiful people I'm so lucky to have in my family.

Every year, my favourite Christmas song in the time leading up to the 24th would be this one: 

Because every single year, for as long as I can remember, we used to drive home for Christmas. From Vienna to Illmitz and Pamhagen. I remember those drives. The way the landscape looks and the sky. And I'd listen to that song and look forward to that feeling of sitting in the car, driving home. 

This year, for the first time, I didn't do that. 

All those things I described, that I would have done and I used to do, I couldn't do. 

I thought it'd be fine; after all, it was my choice not to go home. I had not imagined it to be this hard. I've been having a wonderful time here and I love being here and I'm happy I'm here and I would make the same decision again if I had the chance to change anything. But today there was a lump in my throat. 

But, here comes my little Christmas miracle and the best present in the whole world, I got to be there. Right there, with my family. Via Skype. 

I got to say hello to my grandma and my mom and my mom's boyfriend and my aunt and my uncle and my cousin Sarah and my cousin Diana and her husband Sigi and not only did I say hello, I saw them all. I could smile at all of them and see them smile at me. And they all looked so pretty and handsome and festive and happy! I got to hear my grandma pray for all of us and listen to my cousins read and to Sigi who read my part. I got to sing Silent Night with them, as if I wasn't not there at all. And we sang Oh Du Fröhliche and at the beginning of every new verse I stopped for half a second along with everybody else and we all started back up when we heard how Diana sang, because she's the one who knows the lyrics best. Sing, pause, sing. Laugh. I got to be there when they opened their presents, I got to hear the Thank Yous and the Oh Wows and I got to see huge happy smiles and hugs and great, now I'm crying again. Just like this afternoon. 

I love these people. So. Much.

They then went to have dinner and I went on to call Pamhagen, on the phone. I talked to my grandma and my grandpa and my dad and heard about their Christmas tree and their presents and how they all were doing and I got to tell them I loved them and that I wished I could be there but that in my heart, I was. 

Then I went out to buy some food and wine that I can bring to my friend Andrew's house tomorrow, because he is a sweetheart and invited me to Christmas lunch with his family tomorrow. Then I'll find out what Christmas in Trinidad is like. And I got some small gifts for Bernie and Richard and Saviour to give to them tomorrow morning, because that's when Christmas happens here in Trinidad. I even did some laundry and cleaned up my room. 

Then I got to go on Skype again, to be there when the first visitors came by. The ones that always come by our house on the 24th (while I'd usually be in Pamhagen and who I'd then see at their houses on the 25th). Extra special for me, because my godparents Irmgard and Herbert and my cousins Karin and Iris were there. And so many others! During that call I could hardly understand what anyone was saying, because we're a loud bunch. Everyone talking to everyone at the same time, everyone happy and chatty and, again, I got to be there! And remember how I said that we go caroling within the family, my aunt Christl and my cousin Elisabeth sang a song for me. My family went caroling in Trinidad today! We made history this afternoon. Oh, you can not imagine how happy they made me, they sang a song just for me! 

I wish I could say THANK YOU FOR TODAY to everyone in person, but I did put my mom to the task of individually hugging every single person there in my stead. If I saw you and talked to you today on Skype, I thank you for that. If we talked on the phone today, I thank you for that. If we talked or exchanged a comment via e-mail or Facebook today, I thank you for that. And if we didn't talk at all and just thought of each other, I thank you for that too. Dear family, I love you. All of you. You are special, you are beautiful, you are appreciated. 

And all my friends, you are special and beautiful and appreciated too. I might not have sent out Christmas cards or put up a special message on Facebook or anywhere else, but I still hope that every single one of you had exactly the day you were hoping for. 

It's not about Christmas, it's about the fact that no matter where I am, I'm with you all the same. 

Home is wherever I'm with you, even via Skype.

You made my day. 

Happy Christmas. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Spontaneity rocks!!

About a week ago, I went on a spontaneous adventure. Very spontaneous, very adventurous, completely nuts. But loads of fun. So here we go, here's what happened. 

I was going to hang out with CS friends one evening when one of them, Michael, asked if I wanted to come along out to Toco, in the far top right corner of Trinidad. Another CSer, Robert, his dad has a house out there and the plan was to go there and kind of camp for the night, as the house is basically abandonded and there's nut much there. 

I said "sure". Then I said "what have I done?!". I never go camping. You've read the stories on this blog, the closest I ever get to camping is when we go to The Island in Colombia and we stay at Ana Rosa's cabins instead of the Cocoliso. Still, I wanted to hang out with people, do something I don't usually do and get closer to my personal limits. Leave the comfort zone and just see how far I can go. 

I didn't have to go very far, because it really wasn't like camping and even though we were out in the jungley woods of Trinidad there were no crazy wild animals or loads of insects or anything. It was just fun and I saw a lot of new things, an experience for which I am grateful. 

First, Michael picked me up from my house and then we went and picked up another CSer, Sophie from Australia, in Maraval and then all of us went to Robert's place close by UWI. On the way out, we also picked up Michael's sister Mari. When we got there, Michael's surfers and Robert were already waiting for us. All in all the group consisted of: Robert, Michael and Mari, Marco Che, Luisa and Paula, Sophie and me. We all got ready and loaded pillows and blankets and some food and ourselves into Robert's van and started out. Here's why I said it was completely nuts: when we left Robert's place, it was after midnight. 

You go to the other side of the island in the middle of the night to camp in an abandoned house and then just drive back the next day? Who does that?! 

We do!!!

It is a two hour drive out to Toco from Port of Spain, provided you go straight and don't stop on the way. But this was an adventure: of course we didn't go straight and of course we stopped on the way. 

The first stop that counted (because getting a portion of fried chicken doesn't) was by a beach that I don't know the name of, on the top eastern coast of the island. When we got there it was somewhere between 3 and 4AM. Two hours, right? The beach was incredibly beautiful, though. Not so much because of the sand and water or the little fisherboats that were rocking on the waves a few metres from the shore, but because of the sky above. There were few houses and few streetlights out there so once you looked up you saw such an inmense amount of stars... and there were no clouds that night! That first look upwards just took my breath away. 

From there we went somewhere else where Robert wanted to show us all something and for that we got to try out the car's cross-country driving abilities. Which are impressive, by the way. 

It was an extremely bumpy ride and then suddenly we stopped on what seemed to be a little peninsula (I really don't know where it was or what it was, because it was completely and utterly dark aside from our not very powerful sources of light and all the fireflies) and the idea was to go out to the edge and take pictures there, in the dark. A picture was taken by where we left the car, but the light used to illuminate all of us was pointed directly into my face and I look really weird with my face all lit up and my eyes shut, in the middle of a bunch of happy smiling people, so I'm not going to make any effort to get that picture from Robert. You're welcome. 

We all used whatever lights we had - flashlights, headlamps, phones - to illuminate the way out to the edge of the little peninsula and we all climbed over rocks and up and down mini-cliffs and I did that part barefoot, which was cool. Yes, guess who was the only person there in flip-flops. Me! Well, what am I to do, I don't have any proper shoes. But I enjoy being barefoot a lot, so it's fine. And this also wasn't the first time I had to sort of "brave the wilderness" in flip-flops or barefoot, I do that kind of stupid thing all the time. Just like getting in a car with people and drive out to random places and run around in the darkness and then come back the next day without ever finding out where it was I've been (Just to make sure my body will never be found, right?). I do that. And guess what, I like it. 

So, back to the pictures. There are no pictures. We got out to where Robert had wanted to take us, but we saw strange boats down in the water and suddenly it was all "lights out, get back to the car, lights out, be quick" and we had to rush back to the car and then from there rush back to the real road. The only problem here, because we couldn't turn the lights back on (it seems there was a chance those boats were linked to drug trafficking, I don't really know, it all happened so fast) we had to stumble back to the car in the complete dark. I was not wearing glasses. I honestly had no idea where I was stepping and was just following voices through a world of vague outlines and blurred silhouettes. That moment was not much fun to me, but everything before and after made up for it. 

We did make it back to the car OK, but the next adventure was just waiting around the corner.

That road was pretty wet in some parts so, of course, water got into the motor and the car stopped in the middle of the road and wouldn't start again. We got to push it! And I actually do mean got to and not had to and you have to read this in an excited voice, not a sarcastic one. It was such a comical thing to be out there in the middle of the night (5:18AM), all of us pushing the car while Robert tried to get the motor running again. Comical, because on the way out we'd been joking that this would happen on the way back in. Thanks for listening to our conversation and making it happen, Murphy, you rock! (Again, no sarcasm.)

Here's a really shitty picture I took of our surroundings. 

Told you, it was dark. 

Thankfully, we had rum and beer and it didn't take the motor long to start back up so we could continue our journey. 

From there, it wasn't a long way to the house anymore. We left the car by the roadside and from there walked through the woods to get to the house and - surprise! - my feet got very dirty again. So while everybody else set up the mattress camp, I had to wait outside for water to wash my feet with. Unfortunately, that meant that when I got back upstairs I only found a little space at the very edge of our rough camp and so I had to lie half on a mat and half on the ground and I couldn't cover all of me in blankets which resulted in about 5 million sandfly bites on my right arm and leg. Dear mosquito net, thanks for nothing... 

The camp and the downstairs.

Nobody really slept much, apart from Robert who was exhausted from driving, and I didn't sleep at all, but we still all got to rest for a little bit before starting out again and making our way back down. 

By the house. 

By the house. 

I can't really continue with the words "The next morning..." because everything kind of was that morning, having started our adventure after midnight, so I'll just call it the second half. 

The car. 

The space Sophie, Mari and I shared with cushions, mattresses, blankets, our bags and sacks of produce. 

For the second half, there was a bit of tension in the air, from many sides. A few people were lightly bored (or so it seemed), others really needed to get to Port of Spain for work-related reasons (Michael and myself). So the mood in the car wasn't that great during the second half. But there was no changing the plan, apparently, so we all just hung in there and tried to make the best of it, swallowing the stress and trying to smile as much as possible. 

Our first stop was the house of one of Robert's acquaintances where we used the functioning kitchen to make some really good (Trinidadian!) coffee. Boy, that coffee was good. Like, seriously good! I need to buy some of that before I leave the country so the time until I come back here is more bearable. Or, maybe I'll have another cup of it before I go buy it by the bulk. After all, maybe it just seemed so incredible because it was sorely needed... I'll check. 

There was a whole bush of these by the house where we had coffee.

Stop number two was actually a beach. Some people got in the water, some people just walked around and took a few pictures (that'd be me, pictures below), Robert took another nap because all that driving and the lack of proper sleep really was getting to him. 

Stop number three was somewhere close by that river-hits-sea beach area, where we stopped to get food. Chicken and salad, which was very good. I hadn't realized I was hungry until I saw the first people come out of the place with their lunch - then I had to go get some too. The original menu was chicken with rice and lentils (I think) and salad, but I got them to just give me chicken and salad, and lots of it, all fresh and green. 

Strengthened, we continued our journey - first, right back the way we'd come because Robert had left his shoes at the beach. So happy to find out I'm not the only person who would do such a thing! 

Then we actually started driving back towards Port of Spain and even though we hit traffic on the way we made it back to the city by around 5PM. Six hours later than I'd thought it would be when I decided whether or not to join the trip. That was the reason I couldn't enjoy the daytime part of Sunday, thinking of work and what was waiting for me when I got home had my thoughts reeling and my stomach churning and me in general just on the edge. Everything worked out in the end, I could get my task done when we made it back to Port of Spain; had I known that before then the whole day would have been different. But the way it was I don't think I was very good company for everybody and for that I'm sorry. I did apologize, I can only hope I didn't affect the quality of their weekend too much. 

Stress aside, it was a trip I wouldn't want to have missed. I'd never been to Toco before, at least not knowingly, and I tasted Trinidadian coffee for the first time and then there was the narcs-in-boats adventure and the car-is-stuck-let's-push adventure and washing my feet in a river and climbing around in the forest and spending fun times with cool CSers.

I hope more things like this happen in the future. 

When I'm off work. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

12/12/12 and the end of the world.

Since I got to TT, I've finally been able to become more active on CouchSurfing again. After months, if not years, of almost silence and rarely hosting or even attending CS events, I'm now back in the game. 

That means sending messages to people who will come to Port of Spain and offering them help and information, trying to host people whenever I receive a couch request and Bernie allows me to accept it and let that person stay in my room for a few nights, and posting in all sorts of threads in the Trinidad and Tobago group: our local forum. 

And another thing is organizing meetings and events: parties and limes. 

The first such event I organized here was the 121212BBQ, a lime on the Savannah where everybody who attended brought something to eat and/or drink and we just hung out, had some food and drinks togethere and celebrated the fact that it was the last repetitive date in our lifetime. Because the next time there will be a date like 7/7/7 (the first CS Vienna Stammtisch), 11/11/11 (200 years of Independence for Cartagena and the most epic beginning of carneval ever at 11:11 on 11/11/11) or, like just now, 12/12/12, etc... well that will be in 2101, when we see the next 1/1/1. 

Of course, there are dates like 2/2/22, but deep down we'll know that those don't count, because we're just fooling ourselves by ignoring the zeros. 

So, obviously, that called for a celebration! And according to Pernell, another trini CSer, the fact that I think so means that I'm becoming a trini myself - which is a good thing! 

Unfortunately, the 12th was a Wednesday and it had rained in the afternoon, so not too many people showed up, but there were around 20 people there so I'd say it was a success. Pernell brought his big grill and some meat and fish, I brought two fresh quiches I'd made for the occasion that same afternoon and some soft drinks, Nku brought rum and others also brought more food and more drinks, including more rum and beer. All in all, we were set for a nice BBQ in the park with locals, visitors and good vibes. 

The noms.

The limers.

Today was the second event I organized. Well, yesterday, because it's way after midnight already. I actually started writing about this before the second event, some time in the early afternoon, but things got in the way - strange things! 

See, the second event was an End Of The World Lime, because according to everyone on the interwebs, the world was supposed to end on December 21st 2012 - yesterday (today)! 

Of course, that too was a reason to get people together and have a few drinks, so I posted in the Trinidad and Tobago group again and created another CS event for the occasion and we all started counting down to our last day on Earth (not) and the last CouchSurfing lime (definitely not). 

Gotta love the interwebz...

Here's why today was crazy after all: In the middle of the day, the lights went out. Completely. All of a sudden, there was a huge blackout that left St. James, Maraval, Woodbrook and other parts of Port of Spain completely without electricity. For a second there, when everything grew really quiet with the energy being gone and before a car drove by to make the world noisy again, it felt like the end was really happening. That was when I realized I spend way too big a portion of my life online. 

Funnily, I'd seen lots of pictures online (on 9gag and tumblr and Facebook) where people said the power companies should shut down for around 10 minutes on the 21st just to freak everybody out and I thought TNTech had seen one of those posts and thought "This is funny, let's do that!" - unfortunately, that was not what was happening. The electricity was out for waaay longer than ten minutes. It was hours - long and hot and uncomfortable and boring hours - before the lights came back and when they finally did, around 8.30/9PM it was almost too late to go out already. And what made that whole experience even crazier was that some of the neighbouring houses (four or five on our block) had had electricity already for a few hours while we were still sitting in the hot dark (no fans... no fans!). That felt like a big in-your-face by the universe, but the good thing was that in the end, we were saved. As in, the fans work again! 

The lime was set to start at 8PM and people had been calling and texting since before that to find out if it was happening even though the power was out, only I had no idea where the affected areas were until I spoke to a CouchSurfer who was already at Brooklyn Bar, where we wanted to meet, and said that it was dark but still full of people. I couldn't inform anybody, though, because I didn't have all the phone numbers and I couldn't post any updates on CS without internet access. That sucked, because I didn't want anybody stranded and I really felt responsible, being the organizer and all that. 

In the end, although I'd already given up on the idea of going out and had actually already fallen asleep, my friend Andrew came to pick me up and while he was at the house waiting for me to get ready, the lights came back on - after I had taken a shower in the dark. Thank you, timing. 

At least we didn't have to sit in 100% darkness. Boy, am I glad I bought those Skittles scented candles two weeks ago! (Yes, really.) 

So we texted around then and called a few people whose numbers we had and found out who was going anyways and then we headed out to go straight down to the Avenue to get food and then up to Brooklyn Bar to meet everyone and even though the group was small it was great after all! Yay! 

It was a crazy day and night, so I made the colours all crazy to fit the circumstances. 

See, CouchSurfing is pure win and CouchSurfers are all made of awesome. No light? Who cares, we go out and party anyways. I'm already looking forward to organizing more events and seeing lots of amazing people there! 

With all this liming and actually being able to organize events I feel like I'm really becoming part of the local community, I really live here now. It's wonderful. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Song Of The Rain - 100th post.

I am the silver threads
The gods cast down from the heights,
And Nature takes me to adorn the valleys.

I am the precious pearls
Scattered from Astarte's crown,
And the daughter of morning stole me to beautify the fields.

I weep and the hillocks smile;
I am abased and the flowers are lifted.

The cloud and the field are two lovers
And I a messenger bringing one to the other;
Slaking with abundance this one's thirst
And healing that one's sickness.

The voice of thunder and lightning's blades
Herald my coming;
The rainbow proclaims my journey's end.
So is earthly life,
Entering between the feet of wrath,
Departing between the peaceful hands of Death.

I rise from the lake's heart
And glide upon wings of air
Until I am verdant garden.
Thereon I descend
And kiss the lips of its flowers
And embrace its boughs.

In the stillness, with my gentle fingers,
I tap upon window panes:
The sound thereof is a song known to feeling spirits.

I am created of the earth's heat
And I am its slayer__
So is the woman who prevails over a man by the force that she takes from him.

I am the sigh of the ocean
And heaven's tear,
And the smile of the field.
So is love__
A sign from the ocean of feeling;
A tear from the heaven of thoughts;
A smile from the field of the spirit. 

This is my 100th post on isaontheway.com and I wanted to share something somebody else wrote instead of words of my own. They are Khalil Gibran's words. I haven't read anything else he has written, I don't know if he's famous or not as I only know this one poem of his. But for this one poem I am grateful. 

A poem or song about rain has nothing to do with traveler's stories? This should not be on the blog, because it's not one of my adventures (or misadventures)? Well, you're wrong there. This has everything to do with me, my travels, my whole life. 

I've told you this often, I've talked about this many times, you know it to be true: I love the rain. I love the sound rain makes on windows and roofs and on the leaves of the trees outside my house or above me, when I'm outside. I love the feel of raindrops on my skin, the taste of raindrops in my mouth. I love standing in the rain, barefoot, letting it soak me from head to toes and fill me with it's old and powerful energy. When I'm tired and can't sleep, I listen to the rain and let it soothe me. When I'm troubled or confused or simply all over the place with my emotions, I listen to the rain and let it calm me down. When I'm not sure anymore, what it's all about, listening to the rain will make everything else go away so I can focus again on what's really important to me. 

When there is nothing else, there is still the rain. 

On the road, or ontheway in my case, I'll often be alone. But never completely, as there is always the rain. Right now, for example, Christmas is coming up. My family is far away, most of my friends are far away, my new friends will spend the holidays with their own loved ones. I have no idea what I'll do for my first Christmas away from my true home. But I know I'll be fine, because I'm sure it will rain. And in the rain I'll remember all the beautiful moments it has brought to me in the past, I will imagine the beautiful moments it will bring to me in the future and I'll feel closer to you, because, who knows, maybe it's raining where you are as well... 

If you want to listen to the rain too, but it's snowing instead or the sun is shining, you should enjoy that first. And then go to rainymood.com for a little droplet music. 

And that way we can be together for a little while, joined through the Song Of The Rain. 

I wanted to share this with you to celebrate one hundred stories... thank you for reading. 

Here's to one hundred more. 

And to the rain. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

To beach or not to beach... that should not be the question!

Or, if it is, the answer should always be: TO BEACH!!! 

Since I got back to Trinidad, I've gone to Maracas Beach twice. Definitely not enough times, but also definitely better than not at all, so I'm happy with it. The first time, I went with my friend Fletch, a fellow Trini CSer, his guest Ivo and a surfer from Germany who they'd met partying, I think. Yes, me and three guys. Oh boy... The second time, I went with Fletch and Ivo, again, and Fletch's housemate Anthony and my surfer, Nadav from New York. Yes, me and four guys... I know... it's getting a little weird now. But it's not my fault no other girls wanted to go to the beach! It was fun anyways, though I could have done without all the constant references to balls (not billiard). 

No, right, as I just said, I'm not complaining. 

The first time we went, it was a gorgeous day. It was sunny, but not too bright, as a few clouds were blocking the light and we could enjoy the day without having to run for the shade or hiding behind sunglasses. Often, the sun over here can be pretty strong and you can practically feel your skin burning, even if you're only exposed for a few minutes. Not that day, that day was great for sitting outside. 

Fletch and Ivo came to pick me up in the morning and then we went to Maraval to pick up the German dude and from there we went to Maracas. Or, rather, we tried. There was a lot of traffic on the road so it took us a while, and we also stopped at a HiLo Express on the way to get something to drink. I was really looking forward to my first Shake and Bark of the new season and hadn't yet eaten anything that day, so therefore I was, of course, getting grumpier by the second. But, thankfully, HiLo sells Hershey's milkshakes so I was fine 5min later. 

There was, however, another reason for my mood not to be the best that morning... something terrible had happened. I broke a fingernail. Well, I didn't. Fletch's car did. It's all his car's fault. Or his mom's car, really, as it was only borrowed. But no matter whose it was, it was all the car's fault. 


No, that's just kidding. That didn't really bother me for more than about 3 minutes, then it turned into a pretty dumb running gag that lasted way longer than it should have - me telling the car that everything was its fault every time anything happened and Fletch telling me to make sure I didn't break a nail every time I picked something up, opened or closed something or even touched something. Yay for not being funny! (...so much that it actually gets funny again.)

On the way to Maracas Bay, we stopped by the panorama lookout on the mountainside road so that our guests could see the beautiful view of the northern coast of the island. It amazes me every time I pass there, no matter how often I've already been there and no matter what the weather is like... 

I love this view.

I've never before paid much attention to what's sold at these stalls/huts, because it looked like just sweets from afar and I figured they'd probably be too sugary and sweet for me to enjoy them, like most of what's sold in the street in South America. This time, though, Fletch showed the other guys what they were selling and so I learned it too: CHOW!!! 

Chow is spicy fruit. There's mango chow, pineapple chow (my personal favourite) and many others, even cucumber chow. They chop up the fruit and basically marinade it in a mix of cilantro, lime or lemon, salt and garlic, sometimes also other herbs, and lots of pepper. See, pepper in Trinidad isn't your regular black pepper that you buy ground or grind fresh to put on your food as seasoning. No. Pepper is hot sauce. Very, very HOT sauce! 

The mango one is made with unripe mangos (in Colombia that would be mango biche) and that mixed with the fact that the fruit is drowned in the spicy hotness that is chado beni (the name of that marinade type thing) means that the original flavour of the mango is almost undetectable - I can eat mango chow despite the fact that I hate hate hate mangos! But my favourite is still pineapple, because the sweet and sour of the fruit itself is added into the explosion of flavour. I'd tried chow once before at a party in Cascade, this August, but I only found it "OK" back then, because that was with ripe mangos. This time, my mind was definitely blown. 

Pineapple chow, my newest passion. 

After the short stop by the lookout and getting some chow for everyone, we got back in the car and drove the rest of the way down to the Bay. When we arrived, it was honestly all I could do not to just jump out of the car and run straight over to Richard's to get my shark. It was very difficult, but I did manage to wait for everyone, even though I'd been looking forward to having my first shark of the New Trini Era (because I live here now, I'm more than a visitor this time) since the day I arrived, all the way back in November! 

Then, the glorious moment finally arrived. 

Oh, yes... 

Look at my face to see true happiness. Look at the food to see what causes true happiness.

Then, after enjoying the food and feeling the shark power spread through our bodies as it filled us with new energy and bliss, we headed over to the beach and got ready to dive into the water. Or, well, most of us did. Ivo immediately lay down to take a nap and relax, planning on going in the water later but never actually doing it - the shark affects us all in different ways, I guess. German guy, Fletch and I, however, did get in the water right after all of them had taken their look-mom-I'm-at-the-beach pictures. Here is mine: 

Maracas Love.

There were strong currents that day and the beach was full of red flags where you had to make sure you were in the water between them and not right in front of them, because they marked exactly where the pull was strongest. Also, there was a lot of wind and the waves were pretty high. Therefore, we didn't stay in the water very long, although it was still refreshing and revitalizing - as my dear sea always is. 

We were really lucky with the weather too, as I've mentioned above. The next time, not so much. 

Four days later, I went to Maracas Beach again. This time, we weren't as lucky with the weather. We got chow, we got shark and then we got rain. Dangit. No swimming. It wouldn't usually be a problem, because swimming in the rain is actually pretty great, but we all had stuff and so it just wasn't practical to stay. We'd already seen that it was very cloudy and that the likelihood of encountering rainy weather once we got to Maracas was very high, but that didn't stop us. It was just rain, that didn't mean we couldn't go to the beach! Because when asked the question "To beach or not to beach?" the answer is always "To beach!!". Even if you don't go in the water, even if you don't lie in the sand, even if you don't stay as long as you otherwise would. 

Instead, we went back to town and up to Fort George, where I'd never been before. The "fort" itself is really just a pretty basic little wooden house, painted white, on top of a mountain/hill (what you'd call it probably depends on where you're from). It was built to defend Port of Spain against attacks back in the 19th century (I think, might have been the 18th), but there never wa an attack so it was never used as the fort it had been built to be. So much for its exciting history. But the view over Port of Spain and Chaguaramas is absolutely spectacular. That's why I'll stop writing now and instead show you some pictures of just that, the view: 

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my new temporary home: Port of Spain.

By the group of tall buildings, that's downtown.

Somewhere behind all those clouds there's Venezuela.

Two days planned as beach days, with two different outcomes, but both totally awesome. Gotta be crazy about CouchSurfing, without the local CS community, life here would not be the same. At all. 

I love you, all my CS friends. 

And I love you, Trinidad!

And of course I also still love you, Colombia. 

Fletch's blanket. Awww...

All the Fort George pictures were taken with Nadav's camera, who was so kind as to let me use his when I didn't have mine with me. Thank you! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Couldn't find one. Made one.

I came here to Trinidad without my two bags that have been traveling with me, one for a loooong time and the other only since April, but still to lots of places. I'm talking, of course, about my beloved Bodyshop bag, designed by my friend Karen Gómez, and my black and white Istanbul bag that I bought this spring when I went there with my best friend Carolina. 

They were both already very worn (the bags, not the girls), they wouldn't even come out clean when I washed them anymore. Honestly, they were actually pretty gross... Well, I decided not to take them with me. It hurt to let them go, but it was truly time. I figured, I'd come to Port of Spain and find a cute new bag that would be my new travel companion instead of the two old ones. ...Thus creating the perfect excuse to go shopping - something I don't usually enjoy, but sometimes the girl in me just takes over and then all I want is shoes and bags and nail polish! Nail polish!! (I get that anyways, no matter who's sitting at the steering wheel of my brain - a few weeks ago I actually spent 75 Dollars on nail polish in one go. Not US but TT, thank gods.) 

So, there I am, roaming the streets of Port of Spain, entering every single shop that looks like it might have some (any!) bags and what do I find? Exactly. Nothing. 

Then I sat down to think (because I really can't think standing up) and after a while came to the following conclusion: If I can't find a bag I like in any store, I'll just go and make it myself. 

Cos making a bag is, like, totally easy, right? Wrong, but still, I did it anyways. Step one was to go to a fabric store and get some nice fabric for my bag project: one colourful one for the outside and one matching plain-coloured for the lining. Yes, because I'm fancy like that. First bag I ever make in my life and it has to have lining. The next step was to figure out how to make a bag. My solution here: I'll just not google it or anything and just do what I think might work. Let's see what happens! 

This is pretty much how my life works. 

The outside fabric I bought is light with brightly coloured flowers - yes, perfect for daily use because it'll show every single little stain! But it's pretty and I like it, so shut up. It's a pretty thick material so I'm thinking it's probably meant for upholstery, but it works great here, because it makes the bag more stable. The inside is a thinner material in a beautiful dark red, combining with parts of the flowers. 

Gillian, who I was still living with at the time, is an avid seamstress and has everything you could ever need when working on a project like that, and she was so sweet as to let me use her needles and threads and scissors and measuring tape, etc. So I sat myself down and I actually did it, I made a bag. I had to ask for her help twice, because I wasn't sure how to make the shoulder strap and she saw me through that - with so much patience! - so there was no problem. It took me three days, if I remember correctly, and now that it's all done and ready I just love that bag so much. It's already been out in Port of Spain, it's gone shopping with me and it's travelled to friends' houses with me - never breaking, always holding my things for me and looking pretty. 

I know you're not supposed to be proud of yourself, but I actually am here. I've not held a needle and thread in my hands since primary school, other than for stitching up holes and re-attaching buttons and suchlike to my clothes, bags and whatever else might need fixing. I've never made a bag myself, I had no model to copy and nobody actually explained to me how it works (apart from the handle). So, yes, I'm proud. 

Not the best picture, but at least you see the bag properly.

I put in a little label with my butterfly. That means it's really mine.

I'm so happy with my bag, it's exactly what I wanted, exactly how I wanted my bag to be. And on top of being a good bag, it has the added bonus of making me feel good about myself because I made it. I made it! Various people have said it's pretty and well worked, some of them themselves really good at sewing. And here's my favourite part, I only used needle and thread. As in, it's handmade. Not with a sewing machine. Yay. Somebody said, that's impressive. 

And because that bag got me so excited, I went and bought more fabric and my own needles and scissors and a measuring tape and a little box of pins and some clips and thread in different colours and I plan on making more things! Not for myself, but for friends. Maybe for Christmas, which is coming up as people keep telling me, maybe just so. But I'm very happy and very excited about my ongoing arts'n'crafts project(s).

I even bought butter cookies so I could use the cookie tin as my sewing box.

Now that I write about my bag, I realize that I left it in a friend's glove compartment. Great, now I feel horrible! I put it in there so nothing would happen to it when we went to "kind of camp" in Toco last night and on the way back to my place this afternoon I forgot to take it out. I didn't mean to leave it, it's not like I just forgot, just like that. No. It was a stressful day and my head was just somewhere else at the time. But the bag... Now it's in there, all alone, probably feeling scared and abandoned. 

My poor bag, worry not, I'll come for you!! 

And you, worry not either - I'll be posting more stories soon. For example about "kind of camping" in Toco. And other things.