Rambling Around Trinidad’s Second City
by J. Wynner
The sun gave us its brightest smile. The ferry was not rescheduled. It left the island’s capital, Port-of-Spain, at the appointed 10:50am time, and did not break down in the gulf. There were no rags stuffed in the gas tank that Friday in April. The boat was spotlessly inviting; the crew, as well as the terminal staff, were impeccably polite and courteous. I thought to myself, what’s going on here? This is Trinidad! I shook my head to make sure I wasn’t still sleeping.
The sea, though not absolutely flat, was calm enough to provide a smooth ride, and we crossed the water between Port-of-Spain and the southern city of San Fernando in about 45 minutes.
On disembarking, the geography leader of our group of eight asked at the terminal for a city map of San Fernando. “Map?” replied the stunned recipient of such an outlandish request. “Try the library.”
We had planned a walking tour of the sister city. The idea had been to take a maxi-taxi from the dock to the heart of town, and then foot it around to an East Indian restaurant on Cipero Street. But we began to think that, regarding maxi taxi and ferry, the twain shall never meet in the southland, at least for the noon arrival, since only a few private cars could be seen parked in the compound.
The next noticeable difference between the POS and San Fernando docking areas was in the nature of the environment. San Fernando’s quiet, country feel, provided by the beautiful wall of nature’s green that greets the eye on Lady Hailes Avenue, was quite a contrast to the spanking modern high-rise cityscape of the capital city.
Leaving the terminal compound, we turned left on the extremely quiet Lady Hailes Avenue and walked. At the first junction, we saw a man who we thought of asking for directions. But one of our fellow ferry passengers, a young woman heavily loaded with bags and with two children in tow, beat us to it. We walked up in time to hear her enquire, “Where am I? How do I get to the main shopping area and High Street”? Pointing to the street he said, “Just go there, past the bus terminus and you will come to High Street and the shopping area.” “What about a park where the children and I can have our food?” “You can go to Harris Promenade,” he replied.
It did not take us long to realize the inadequacy of the street signs. Though there was not a complete absence of signposts, too many were missing and we found ourselves continuously having to ask for directions.
Nevertheless, soon we were on High Street, the street with many levels where pedestrians were continuously ascending or descending two or three steps — reminiscent of St. John’s, Antigua. We tried taking in the sights as much as possible but the uneven ground distracted us, forcing us to be constantly aware of our footing. However, in a mall, one of the clothes shops caught our attention, and on browsing through the store, it was discovered that the prices were more reasonable than in POS.
Two of the group remained behind looking at some outfits while the others proceeded onward, thinking that those in the store had already left and were ahead of them. When the realization hit, do you think the cell phones helped? Of course not! Nobody heard each other’s cell in all that road traffic noise.
Not even the cells’ vibrators were felt. One of the guys had to walk back and locate the stragglers.
We pressed on, passing inches from the DJ noise booming from one of the music shops. This had some moving rhythmically to a reggae tune, while the others were in a hurry to move on.
Then we were at the famous Library Corner, where three or four streets converge in a mini-radial city design of sorts. The bold colour of the Carnegie Free Library dominates on three sides. The geography man told us he was going into the library to find a map and pointed us to a street on the left, down which we were to continue walking slowly until he caught up with us. Halfway down the street, and with the library still in view, we waited in front of a small pharmacy. Some of us tried to steal a little cool-off inside the air-conditioned pharmacy, but when an elderly, stern-faced man asked, “What can I do for you?” we decided we had better go back on the verge, and brave the heat of a sunnier disposition.
While waiting, my cowboy hat succeeded in gaining a passing Rastaman’s attention, “Mam, I went to Texas too, yuh know.” I took off the hat, pretending to swat a fly, only to notice the label says, “Made in China”. I wondered if he had such a hat, too!
Eventually we saw our leader walking towards us with empty hands swinging. The library had no maps.
Transportation is an important element of a country’s development strategy. Whether for business or pleasure people have to get around, and they have to know how to get around. Maybe in future, little maps can be provided for passengers when purchasing ferry tickets. Or failing that, the respective terminals could have their city map posted on notice boards. Or better yet, have maps of both cities clearly displayed on board the ferries, which are fulfilling a vital role in bringing the two cities and their citizens closer.
Finding out which way is up and which way is down proved challenging in San Fernando. We seemed to be going around in a circle. POS by comparison is a square city. Despite the capital’s latest waterfront high-rises, from the shoreline the eye can seemingly take in at a glance the sprawling, flat, open, city that is Port-of-Spain. The southern city is a hilly, circular, contained city built to the southwest of the well-known landmark, the San Fernando Hill.
But we persevered. We walked on, and at the next corner we turned right, but not before observing Presentation College on the street high above us. “Looks terribly run down,” someone commented. At the next junction we swung a left and through a large open lot, the San Fernando Hill is smack in the face.
Eventually we got to Mucurapo Street, where we knew we were to turn left at the market corner. But when we got there we decided to take a little stroll through the market and were amazed at its cleanliness.
On exiting the market, we made a left, and then a quick right and left at the first corners and walked straight until we got to Cipero Street. There we made a right turn and proceeded until we arrived at our lunch destination. Appreciation prevailed for the cool, clean place and comfortable seating after almost an hour and a half of walking on hilly terrain. We ordered our meal and took a long time enjoying it before recommencing our tour, continuing along the street facing the restaurant’s entrance, going forward, in a circle so to speak.
By this time, it was the hottest part of the day. The unrelenting sun was beating down unmercifully on us and there were no trees to provide shade. We found ourselves on a street parallel to The Original Charlie’s Black Pudding, which we could see across a small, flat open piece of land. Some of us detoured to patronize Charlie.
The peace and quiet of several of the nearby streets, and the delightful old buildings seen along the way, provided a pleasing change from the pre-lunch excitement of the city centre. Two places in particular caught the eye. One was a simple, colourful, blue wooden structure built flat at street level, with vivid red doors and windows, and which looked as if once upon a time it could have been a business concern — either a shop or a rum-shop. The other was a small wooden white cottage with a rusty galvanized roof, and red steps leading to an open gallery with plantation-style railings. The front door had one side open. Facing us on the left, gold drapes highlighted a closed window. These delightful old structures are relics of the past. Nobody puts up these types of buildings anymore (at least not in Port-of-Spain). If anything they are being torn down to be replaced by modernity.
After our nostalgic interlude, we were soon in heavy traffic in which we twisted and turned our way to the long, narrow, Harris Promenade slightly above street level so unlike the flat, wide, tree-planted Brian Lara Promenade in Port-of-Spain.
On the promenade we walked facing the San Fernando Hill as far as St. Joseph’s Convent on our right. The promenade is a scenic place, but there were no benches and the only trees providing shade were at street level. The thought of taking refuge from the sun in the church on the opposite side occurred to us, but a funeral was taking place there, so we made our way back to the bandstand where we had noticed benches. In doing so, we passed in front of a life-size statue of Mahatma Gandhi on a colossal pedestal.
The bandstand is straddled by the crisp, clean, cream-painted City Hall with brick trimmings on one side, and the just as immaculately kept silver-grey building of the Supreme Court on the other. We relaxed on the benches by the bandstand, laughing and chatting and generally killing time until we were ready to leave. We’d had an interestingly different, fun day, regardless of whether we turned right or left.
Finally, still accompanied by our smiling companion in the sky, we headed towards the $732M Chancery Street project and turned right, walking at the side of the building on our way to Lady Hailes Avenue and back to the ferry — in Trinidad, a great means of getting from one city to the other.
The cost of a one-way ticket on the ferry is TT$15, a little less than US$3. The ferry service only operates on weekdays, between 6:00am and 6:00pm. Schedule enquiries can be made at the water-taxi terminal in Port-of-Spain (east of the new waterfront project) and in San Fernando.
Street maps of San Fernando are available from the Google maps website, so readers desirous of making a similar trip can download a map and plan their own route — or just enjoy the adventure.
Copyright© 2009 Compass Publishing