What’s Port of Spain Like?

We asked celebrated writer Shinie Antony, who flew there for a literature festival

Shinie Antony

What took you to Port of Spain?

Port of Spain is on Trinidad’s northwest coast and is the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago. It is also known for its huge carnival, with calypso and Caribbean Soca music. I was invited to the BOCAS Literature Festival since I have just had two new books out: Eden Abandoned and Can’t.

    First impressions?

        Port of Spain

        The view from the airport to the hotel was all clear blue skies, a glimpse of jade green waters. In addition, all roads go via the Savannah, which is 260 acres of level land, totally open to the public.

          Sounds great.

          Yes! The Slam poetry contest was held at the Queen’s Hall – this was nothing less than a Bollywood spectacle. While the themes tackled domestic abuse, aliens, and workaholism, were put up in a way to guarantee goosebumps and electric charge.

          I mostly hung around the beaches, besides the festival venues. Also, the botanical garden right next to where I stayed, Kapok Hotel.

            Nice hotel?

            The hotel is located mid-city, not far from the town centre. It’s got a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by a staircase garden and a small pond with fish. It is close to the writer’s centre, which has a charming bookshop. And it’s adjacent to a lovely Botanical Garden.

            The breakfast buffet was quite interesting. Every day, there were delightful tomato and vegetable-based dishes, alongside savoury options such as Salt Fish Fry and Herring Salad.

            Tomato Choka

            Did you engage with local writers or literary communities?

            I did get to listen to and speak with many writers who were at the festival. Two who stand out especially are Karen Lord and Irenosen Okojie.

            I found some of the writers who spoke very feminist and futuristic. To hear about literature from that area, about their politics and history, especially about Haiti, was all very new and touching.

              Lunch at Kapok Hotel with Nicholas Laughlin, Sinead Russell, Natalie Fiawoo, Angela Wachuka, June Aming and Amilcar Sanatan

              How long was the flight?

              I took the most visa-less route I could, so no layovers. I took KLM from Mumbai via Amsterdam both ways. Over 23 hours of flying! The food on the flight from Amsterdam to Port of Spain was really good.

              What was the weather like?

              I went there towards the end of April. The weather was on the hotter side, but the nights were cool.

              How expensive is a trip to Port of Spain? How many days would be ideal?

              Apart from the tickets, which are the biggest spend, nothing is too expensive here. I think one should also visit Tobago since Trinidad and Tobago is a two-island nation. Also, there are more beaches in Tobago. So perhaps a week in each island?

              What did you buy?

                African mask from Port of Spain

                I got a beautiful wooden African mask and a painting. Also some footwear, very specific to here.

                A unique food you tried?

                Bake and shark is a kind of fish burger, it also has a raw mango garnish. Potato pie is like our aloo-puri and Doubles is like chole-bhature.

                Is it safe for solo travel?

                Well, this area is crime-prone, so go out in groups and don’t dart through the city on foot.

                What stood out for you about the local people?

                They have lovely dreadlocks flowing down their back. And all have calypso music running in their veins. Certainly, everyone I met was a dancer.

                A special memory?

                My driver, David, treated me like a family member. He was considerate and friendly. He even made a keychain with our group members’ pictures as a parting gift. Such was his love for his wife that he mentioned winning the lottery would be the second-best thing that could happen to him.

                Finally, what advice would you give aspiring writers who wish to explore new places for
                inspiration, drawing from your experience in Port of Spain?

                We all know VS Naipaul was a Trini. To me, this was as exotic a trip as it was an education. On
                money (colourful TT dollars), on such a long flight, on similarities in food, and also to be in a
                place where many have Indian ancestry – as so many Indians, along with Chinese and
                Portuguese, came here a long, long time ago.

                Shinie Antony spoke to Tara Singh from Team Travel Secrets

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