Dennis on the Road

Monday, September 05, 2005

Trinidad & Tobago arrival

Normally the first day in a new country can be disorienting. But coming to Trinidad had a strange feeling of coming home. I had contacted several folks though Hospitality Club before arriving, including one woman who I later found out works for T&T Immigration. Through an email we discovered that I would be arriving while she was working. With my bright green t-shirt and being a tall white guy, I was pretty easy to spot. Before even officially entering the country I hear, “Dennis”. And I’m waived over to one of the booths. There is the person I’d emailed. A smile, a stamp of the passport, and a cell phone number so we can meet up some time during the week.

The baggage arrived quickly and in tact. Outside of the airport Rishi and Heidi found me… now even easier to spot with the huge bike case in tow. We drove directly to the Trinidad and Tobago National Criterium Championships. The masters categories were racing when we arrived and I had time to meet my new teammates before the elite race began. Except for the temperature, the palm trees, and a significantly more racially diverse field, the race felt like a small-town Midwestern, with a tight group of friends, families, and cycling fans cheering on the field as it circled a park while a rugby game went on in the in-field. There was some drama in the final laps and allegations of an intentional crash caused by an opposing team. After the race two riders were nose-to-nose in argument and later a protest was filed. Ahhh… feels just like home.
Rafael, my Trini teammate and host, saying a few words to Gene Samuel, former Kilo world record holder on the track.

I’m staying in the home of one of the team’s sponsor, whose son is on the team. They are warm and generously hospitable. We ride early here, both to beat the heat and traffic, and so that everyone can get off to work at a reasonable hour. We were on the road by 6:00 AM (which was 3:00 AM on my internal clock. I am still making the adjustment to this time zone). About 9 of us did a two-hour ride, most of it flat, out past the airport with a climb at the end through an area called Santa Cruz. The roads here are narrow and cars pass in seemingly impossible places, but it feels strangely safe. That’s the way people drive here, not anything rude or reckless. I feel respected on a bicycle. This is a country that loves it sports. Saturday Trinidad beat Guatemala in soccer and the country still seems to be celebrating.

Trinidad is by far the least “foreign” feeling (from my perspective) Caribbean country I’ve visited. It is not simply that it is English speaking (I’m still only understanding 80% of what is said as I gain an ear for the accent) but even the Supermarkets, interiors of homes, and fashions are not far off from what I would experience in Oakland or Miami.

I love the racial diversity here. There is a large African and Indian influence, and it seems that everyone is mixed. Even my “white” teammate and host, whose Scottish genes appear dominant, is 1/4 Indian and all of his cousins are black or Indian.


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