Monday, November 16, 2009

A Hash House Harriers Hash

We heard about the Hash House Harriers from Manuela and Sid in the Testigos. It was new news to us, but this is a fascinating organization that's been around since 1938. I highly recommend you check out the Wikapedia entry by clicking on phrase Hash House Harriers in the first sentence. It is very funny! The organization is one of drinkers who have a running problem! There are over two thousand local kennels in the world (one is in Burlington, VT).

The Constitution of the Hash House Harriers is recorded on a club registration card dated 1950:
To promote physical fitness among our members
To get rid of weekend hangovers
To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
We attended our first Hash on Saturday, leaving Crew's Inn at 3:3O PM. Other cruisers who often attend arranged a maxi taxi for about 10 of us and a few others took a car.
We joined the hundreds of people gathered at a nearby beach in the Chagaramus National Park. Free bottles of water were given out and then the Kennel Grand Master gave the Chalk Talk introducing the types of markings on the trail for us. Ours were made of shredded paper or occasionally flour. The hares had already been out marking the trail which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the Pack or Hounds). \
The trail often includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together regardless of fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the "true" trail, allowing stragglers to catch up. Basically we Hounds were either runners of walkers - our group was mostly the latter.

We got talking with Rick, Sue & Mike, whose boats were at TTSA and the story of Rick's partner Rob came out. He had been at a previous Hash and got lost. He spent the night in the jungle! When Sue showed us her portable GPS, I decided to keep her in view! Getting lost turned out not to be a problem on this run. The trail, for us walkers, was pretty clear. The runners did a lot of the backtracking already by the time we showed up.

We started straight up a steep hill with lovely views of the bay and beach. For the first hour we could see the ocean off and on through the trees, although way down. Then we cut back through the jungle and then down to the golf course. We stayed along the greens for awhile and then cut into a trail through a bamboo forest. The sun had already gone down by the time we emerged back at the start.
Most people were already ahead of us in the drinking section of the hash. We weren't by any means the last ones out however (everyone did return this time). Our cruiser group reassembled for some cold beers and laughter. It was a LOT of fun and exercise. We did however miss the Circle and the Down Downs as our taxi returned before it started. As virgins we would have received free beers with immediate public consumption requested. If you can't down the beer, you end up wearing it. Well, next time...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Open Air Market in Trinidad

You need to get up early in the morning to visit the Open Air Market in Trinidad. Jesse James picks you up at your marina at 6:30 AM! On this day I had little shopping to do but instead wanted to take some photos - and of course have some fresh doubles for breakfast. The line is so long for the latter at the most popular spot that we haven't always had enough time to get them.

There are hundreds of stalls selling produce of all types. Many specialize, only displaying a few items. For example, green herbs are often grouped together; thyme, celery tops, shadow bene (like cilentro) etc. One person was selling baby chicks.

Another table might have various size piles of seasoning peppers - very pretty arrangements of small green and red peppers, some mild and a few hot. Potatoes, yams, and onions might be grouped together on a number of tables competing for the same trade. Pumpkins are very popular throughout the islands, usually sold cut up. The woman to the right below is selling calaloo leaves only. When she saw me taking pictures she asked to be included. On the other hand the young woman on the left was carefully constructing little piles of limes and although she agreed to be photographed, she certainly doesn't look happy!

My first purchase was some lettace and watercress from the man above right. Later I bought a cauliflower from one woman and some zucchini from another. Twelve seasoning peppers (see them just below) were enough for me with three little cucumbers thrown in.
Of course I needed a little sustenance to carry me through. The two doubles stands are in the middle of the market, between the produce and the fish/meat areas.

Both have their admirers; I prefer the woman (seen here making one up for me below on the right). A double is two fried dough pieces about 6 inches in diameter filled with chickpea curry. Various condiments are added, varying slightly per vendor. These had a tamarind sauce, green mango chutney and "green" sauce (mostly shadow bene).

I have my breakfast ones without hot sauce! It's a long wait as each one is made up individually and most people order two or three! These are yummy - take my word for it, or come to Trinidad and try one.

After my breakfast I can handle the meat and fish market. Everything looks pretty clean and fresh but there are a lot of cuts of meat that aren't very attractive. Lots of varieties of fish are on display, or parts of the fish, plus shrimp, squid, octopus and crabs.

These last are caught in the mangroves and look very different from our salt water crabs, more like hermit crabs. Big slabs of meat and offal hang from hooks and are custom cut. I generally only buy stew meat at these markets but it is possible to buy a whole beef tenderloin for example. The prices are fixed not bargained and cheaper than in the supermarkets.

In addition to the meat, fish and produce, vendors sell clothing, toys and household goods. Pirated DVDs and CDs are a hot item for sure. Popular singers and athletes urge Trinis not to buy them, but there are a lot of them on display. The cost is $10 Trinidad dollars, or about $1.75. Some copies are quite good. With others you might get a person standing up and leaving the row in front of you on the screen!

On the way back to Chagaramus we also stop for just a quick visit to the HiLo Supermarket. Jesse has a number of supermarket trips organized during the week and I like the Tuesday run to the Circular Mall and Malabar Meats. We leave at 9:30 AM for this trip, a much more civilized time of day. It also gives me time for my laps in the pool. I try and do a half hour each morning at about 7 AM. The water is the coolest in the morning for exercise and the pool is still in the shade.

We're back at the pool at sometime after 4 PM for another swim, and a beer or cold drink. This is a good time to meet some other cruisers or guests at the hotel. After sundown we can return to a cooler boat. The heat here is the hardest from 11 AM to around 4. The evenings have been very pleasant and we sleep quite comfortably.

We've been interviewing contractors for two projects; varnishing the interior of the boat and new curtains and pillows for our stateroom and the salon. All of them were recommended by YSATT. We really liked Pat & Fred from General Upholstery and Draperies and decided right away to have them sew the curtains. Both the varnishing companies seem very professional and reliable so we're waiting for their quotes before deciding. This latter project will be a very expensive one. We expect it to be completed during our time home so they will have the keys to our boat during our absence.

We've decided on hauling the boat at Coral Cove. We looked at Power Boats as well but they use the measured length of the boat to calculate costs and Coral Cove uses the documented boat length. With a big bow sprit and dinghy davits the difference for us could be as much as 7 feet! Our appointment is Thursday at 10 AM. We'll stay on the boat that night and then clean and close up the boat on Friday, staying at a motel unit on premises Friday night. Jesse is picking us up at 5 AM Saturday morning for our flight home.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bake & Shark

Only Trinis or those who have visited Trinidad and tasted them know what these two words denote. You might have read about them in the NY Times Food Section. They said it was the "best fish sandwich in the world"!

Not a bad recommendation huh? Those in the know like Jesse James claim Richards on Maracus Bay is the best place to eat them (everyone agrees Maracus Bay is the place to eat them).

The original schedule for the trip to Asa Wright called for returning through Arima but it didn't take much arm twisting to get Jesse to change the plans. Instead we continued on across the mountains and over to the north coast. Then turned left and drove to Maracus Bay.

The road is very poor and we didn't see another car until we reached the coast road. Another ten miles further and the road suddenly turns modern and well paved. That's of course where an "well connected individual" has built a condo complex.

Maracus Bay is a very popular beach and on the weekends or holidays it is packed. On this week day however there were only a few people enjoying the water and the small restaurants. The specialty is Bake & Shark but they also serve hamburgers and fries etc. The Bake is a deep fried round soft dough which makes a delicious light roll. This is split and filled with deep fried shark meat, sweet and white. Then you proceed over to the condiment bar to make your choices.

I took tamarind sauce, green mango chutney, lettace, cucumber, tomato, a cabbage slaw and creamy salad dressing. Yummy or Yummo, as Rachel Ray would say!!! You can see how much Scott and Jesse are enjoying their sandwiches!
We walked over to the beach for a brief visit.

Last time we were able to swim but our time was short as Russ needed to check in with Immigration by 4 PM that day. He was leaving the next morning to fly home. There was time however for a brief stop at the candy stand high on the hill above the Bay. The picture below shows the view and that's Jesse checking out the candy. He has a real sweet tooth. That's Jesse cleaning the bottom of Scott's shoes before getting in his new van - all that sand makes a big mess for sure!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Asa Wright Nature Center

We spent three days at Asa Wright last time we were in Trinidad and loved it so much! So once we knew we were arriving on Monday and Russ didn't leave until Friday, it became theatrically possible to spend a night there. Still it was an amazing coincidence that Jesse had scheduled a trip leaving Wednesday and returning Thursday. Perfect! With a small amount of persuasion he included returning via Maracus Bay so we could have a Bake and Shark at Richard's.

Our last time there we took a lot of pictures of the birds but to be honest our camera equipment isn't really adequate for this type of photography. Once in a while we get lucky as this shot of a tiny hummingbird Scott took shows. Walt and Honoree came with us before and Walt's amazing pictures can be seen in my blog entry on the visit October 2006.
We left Crew's Inn at 9 AM with a full van. Only one other couple were staying the night with us, the rest were there for the day and then going on to the Caroni Swamp to see the scarlet ibis. Around 10 AM we stopped in Arima at Jesse's favorite doubles stand. Scott and I love doubles and sahimas. The former are a Trini favorite snack - fried dough stuffed with chickpea curry, chutney and herb sauce. Scott and Jesse were the only ones who had these with hot sauce. Sahimas are fried dough with callaloo leaves chopped up in it. Yummy! Jesse had Scott & I try the eggplant fried appetiser too - good but spicy.
Then we started up the steep narrow road to Asa Wright Bird Sanctury. The road has many hair pin turns and isn't in the best of condition - like most roads in Trinidad. Trinis will tell you that the only time roads are repaired is right before an election. We passed a number of slopes planted with christophenes. This delicious vegetable is a bumpy green squash type that can be eaten cooked or raw in a salad. It's a cross between a zucchini and a cucumber (but no seeds). It needs to be protected from the sun and grows hanging from its' vines. Like coffee plants it is grown on steep slopes under nets. It looks like a huge challenge to crawl under to pick them!
This property began as a cocoa/coffee plantation called Spring Hill back in 1905. A German immigrant built it for his oldest son. Later during WWI all his other properties and businesses were confiscated by the English government in Trinidad but luckily the son was a Trinidad citizen and kept the property. Not for long though as cocoa prices plummeted and he lost it to the bank.
In 1936 Joseph and Helen Bruce-Holmes bought Spring Hill Plantation from the government, which acquired it in default of taxes. They renovated the plantation house, and lived there until after World War II, when they returned to the United States. They had become good friends with Newcombe and Asa Wright who bought the plantation and eventually the house from them. As Mr. Wright was an invalid his wife Asa, originally from Iceland, managed the plantation. At the same time the Wrights bought Spring Hill, William Beebe of the New York Zoological Society, acquired the adjoining plantation, Simla, as a Field Station for the study of the New World Tropics. Asa acted as a hostess for many prominent ornithologists such as David and Barbara Snow who came to study the birds, particularly the oil birds in a cave on the property.
About this time, Newcombe died, leaving Asa Wright with dwindling financial resources. As she aged it became difficult for her to maintain the plantation, a source of concern for the many conservationists from around the world. William Beebe died and Simla fell into disrepair. Fortunately, a small group formed to do something to save these treasures. In 1967, Don Eckelberry, a renowned wildlife artist, Erma Fisk, a prominent ornithologist and conservationist, and Russell Mason of Florida Audubon Society raised money to buy Spring Hill. A non-profit Trust administered by the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Co., and an international Board of Management composed of 11 Trinidadians and 10 foreign members was set up to establish the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Its purpose was to provide a Centre open to the public for recreation and the study of tropical wildlife, as well as to preserve the wildlife and rainforest of the Arima Valley. The Centre is one of the top birdwatching spots in the Caribbean; a total of 159 species of birds have been recorded there. Asa lived there until she died.
The original plantation house is now the restaurant and hotel. The living room looks like Asa just stepped out and a wide lovely porch stretches out towards the view down the valley and of the birds.

Many cottages with four rooms each surround the main house. There are walks with excellent guides available a number of times during the day and again after dinner. Miles of trails honeycomb the property - you can hike for hours and should as the food is delicious and plentiful.

At 6 AM coffee is served on the veranda which fills up quickly with bird enthusiasts. The coffee beans are grown on the property! Breakfast is at 7:30 AM, lunch at 12, tea at 4 PM, rum punch at 6 and dinner at 7. Shown here are the trays coming out for tea with pizza squares and shortbread cookies.
There are guided walks given twice in the morning, once in the afternoon and in the evening after dinner. Denise was our guide that morning and it was a lively session. She talked not only about the birds and flowers but some of the most interesting facts were on the insect life. We spent some time watching the army ants and the leaf cutter ants. These latter are a fascinating life form. One queen forms the colony and has thousands of children. She can live 30 years and when she dies the colony gradually dies as well - not new babies. We saw ant hills of various ages.
We spent a lot of time out on the veranda interspersed with hikes and in the afternoon a dip in the pool.

The stream has been dammed and made into a semi natural pool with a waterfall at the end (photo show Scott and Russ there). There is a changing room and steps to enter. What a lovely place to cool off after a hike. Although in our case we found another lovely pool and waterfall on the Bamboo Valley Trail (photo shows me in there).
In the evening we went out with Harold, a very knowledgeable guide. We were walking along the road in the pitch black when Harold flashed light on a bamboo stalk and there was a HUGE tarantella, 6 or 8 inches long. That was the beginning of a very interesting hour! We saw sleeping birds, insects and several snakes (that's Harold joking around with a small snake that looks a little like a pit viper).

The huge hanging white flowers seen here smell marvelous at night. Harold warned us not to sniff too long - hallucinogenic.
It was lovely having a relaxing morning watching the birds - and no boat chores! Jesse picked us up at noon for the trip home - another blog entry!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Returning to Trinidad

The dawn found us 8 miles off Venezuela with Trinidad ahead in the distance. We could see the coast of Venezuela all night after leaving the Testigos. There were very few lights on shore in this area but many boats. The main activity of our watches was keeping track of other boats.

Our radar makes this reasonably easy. None came very close. The view is beautiful as you approach Trinidad. A series of island stretch south from the mainland and form three gulf entrances between it and Venezuela.

We took the last, the Moro, and these pictures show the rugged deserted coastline. Further inside vacation homes start to appear on the islands. On the mainland this area is part of the Chagaramus National Park and undeveloped until you get near the bay. This was an important U.S. Military Base during WWII and many of the buildings are still standing from that time, although empty now.

It's been over three years since we've been here. We spent four months over the summer of 2006 here during the hurricane season. We stayed at Crew's Inn Marina that summer and hoped to get a berth there again. Russ was salivating at the thought of the large swimming pool for laps in the morning.

The large harbor was packed with big cargo ships, oil rigs, and cruising vessels. We passed them all and proceeded down to the end and tied up to the Customs Dock. After hours of waiting in line at Immigration, Customs and filling out form after form, it was a relief to find out there was room in the Marina. After getting all snugged in there we were all ready for food and cold drinks. That's "Scott Free" at the dock in the picture of the left, the second boat on the left.

The cook rebelled at the thought of working down in the very hot galley so happily the lovely Lighthouse restaurant was close by. "Three specials of the day please" was the cry. Big pieces of fish, provisions au gratin and salad, plus of course a few beers, made this crew very happy. That's the restaurant under the lighthouse and the interior shown here.
We plan to stay at Crew's Inn until Thursday Nov. 19 when we will be hauled out in one of the boatyards. Russ will fly home this Friday morning and we'll follow him a week from Saturday.