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Greetings from sunny, humid, windy, rainy, dry, calm Trinidad.But wait you say, how can it be all those things at once? Simple. Weather potpourri. In any one day it can be any of a dozen climates, including a condition where the clouds, during an otherwise blazingly hot, bright day, will actually hide behind the hill top waiting for you to begin painting. They will then rush out and try their hardest to rain onto every exposed tool and into every open hatch. Once they realize you've covered up or closed every hatch, they rush off to sneak up on the next unsuspecting boat worker behind the next hill.
So, I arrived here last week and was promptly told to leave the country. Well, actually, I was asked by the nice British sounding lady at Trinidad Immigrations if I had "my letter". "What letter?" I inquired. "The letter from the port captain allowing you back into the country" she said, with that look and tone you use for retarded children and people in old age homes. "Um, well, um, no, I never got any letter" I told her. There was a long pause were she was clearly trying to assess whether I was very young looking geriatric, or simply a very mature child with Downs Syndrome. "I'm sorry dear, but without a letter saying you're coming back, we can't let you into the country. Please go sit on that bench over there" she said, probably assuming I was both mentally handicapped and senile (okay, so she was right about that, so what, it was a lucky guess).
I knew that if I went over to the Group W bench I was going to be stuck in the airport for a long time, if not be sent back, so I started frantically digging around and found a photocopy of an old letter between myself and the boat yard describing my itinerary, when I'd be back, etc., signed by the yard owner. I handed it to her, smiled and said, "Oh, this is from the yard, he said he'd be sending it along but I never got anything". I grinned my best "please let me slide by, I'm just an American moron (which, for most islanders, is probably redundant)" grin and within minutes I had a stamped passport. I was also told I needed to check in with customs in Chaguaramas (where the boat awaits me) and was then standing in front of the next nice lady at Trinidad Customs.
Now, if you want to come in to Trinidad, and you happen to be carrying several thousands of dollars of brand new boat gear in three FUCKING HUGE AND HEAVY suitcases, and the only other thing you have on your person is a laptop computer and three pair of black boxer shorts (they were on sale) don't open that first as they will look at you kind of funny. The nice woman at customs had a much different flavor to her speech. "Wats ol dis?" she said, looking at my underwear like I'd just exposed a bug by uncovering a rock. "Um, I'm sorry?" I replied, being completely unable to grasp the accent. It was only much later that I learned that this is actually an English speaking country. "Watchu gots der, chial?" Giving my now type casted infirm idiot performance I said "Do you want to inspect my luggage?" There was a pause, she shook her head in disgust and said, "Nohi dunt wanna beh lookin ender, ya needs to getcha ta de part captan, new stops foya". Nodding like I had even the slightest idea what she was saying I dragged my luggage out of the terminal and went looking for the taxi I'd arranged to have pick me up.
Which wasn't there. This really sucked, as I had gone to great efforts to arrange someone to pick me up at the airport, asking the office manager of the boat yard to confirm this for me. She had assured me that everything was on track and my ride would be there - this was only the beginning of a long series of disappointments to come from her. So, unless someone was intending on taking me via a flatbed truck with gardening equipment on top, there was no other vehicle within site, and no one holding a sign saying "Robb Triton" or even "Retarded American".
There are quite a few things in my life that scare me. I am not a courageous person, nor a coward, but I do have some quite rational fears. For instance, I'm afraid of IRS agents in any form, any police officer that walks up smiling at me, ex-wives with sharp knives who've been drinking tequila, and anytime a lover asks if I missed them. These are all things I have learned are very, very dangerous situations and should be handled with the utmost caution.
Then, there are things I fear for no good cause, which has been the cause of much embarrassment. Things like Realtors in blazers, making flight arrangements via the Internet, house cleaning of any kind, and being in any foreign airport (i.e. not Oakland International) without AnnMarie holding my hand, a personal guide who lives in the area, and Sherpas to carry my luggage. So, now faced with one of my worst fears come true, I was going to have to figure out how to get from the airport, to the port city, which was a staggering twenty five miles away, in an English speaking country, armed with only a thousand dollars in cash, several credit cards, a valid drivers license and my well honed ability to convince anyone to take pity on this poor retarded boy.
Thinking quickly, I asked the porter if there were any car rental agencies. After a few minutes of grunts, clicks and gesturing I managed to communicate to the person behind the counter my need for a vehicle, who explained that due to the current World Championship Cricket match, there were no cars available for the next three hundred years - which is apparently the length of a typical Cricket tournament. I was downtrodden, but did not give up the fight. My next stroke of genius was to ask a taxi driver for a ride. "How much will it cost?" I asked. "Wahyawannaga?" he said. Long pause, drool starts to form at my lower lip. "Chaguaramas?" I say, nodding profusely with and pointing at myself and my luggage. "No problem man". This might have been the only intelligible sentence he uttered that I actually understood without post processing.
We got in the car (well, actually, he watched while I dragged my gear and loaded it into his car) and we sped off for the port. "Yaha foda Crrrricket?" he asked. I thought I recognized the word cricket. "No, no, I'm here to sail a boat. I actually didn't know there was a match going on when I booked my flight (well, actually when AnnMarie booked my flights, having avoided yet another irrational fear) but to be honest, I don't even know how to play the game." Now, when I'd listed my earlier "rational" fears, I forgot to mention having the complete International Cricket rules explained to me while being driven by a chain smoking Trinidadian cab driver who believed that eye contact was important when speaking with his passengers, even if it meant turning completely around to look at the folks sitting behind him, even if this occurred while passing between oncoming trucks in their lane or forcing pedestrians to jump to safely while driving up on the sidewalk to avoid a double parked car. I'm not sure what they do to you if your taxi driver kills someone while you are in his cab, but I came very close to finding out. We arrived at the port, went straight to the customs agent, I got out, kissed the ground, then dragged all the gear into the customs agent.
This time the former East German boarder guard at the Customs agency wanted to go through every item. I had to explain what each piece was as if he'd never seen anything made before the thirteenth century. Anything that wasn't made out of a solid piece of wood, or had knobs, or was shiny seemed to completely mystify him. What was worse was the bizarre attitude he exhibitted, as if wanting to bring actual boat parts into the country famed for sailing ports was a novel if not suspect activity. He made me open all the suitcases, and layout everything, then he wandered around it all, kicking things with his toe and cocking his head as if to say "What, you think I'm going to believe that this fairlead is actually a boating part?"
I'd explain what various bits were, and he'd look at me like I was some kind of idiot trying to convince him of such nonsense. "Whasdat?" he'd say, pointing to a radio. "Its a SSB radio?" I'd say, wondering if this is the right answer. "ondat?" he'd ask, pointing at a roll of copper foil. "Copper foil?" I'd ask. He'd look at me and nod, as if he was putting up with my feeble answers. Eventually he got to the underwear. "Janeed disfo deboot?" he asked. "Um, no, um, I wear it" I said. "Whai tree?" he asked. "Um, um, um, I don't know?" I said, realizing that this might work as a possible answer. He shook his head, looked at me sadly, nodded over at one of his coworkers as if to say "Sad the way the Americans don't take care of their handicapped" and stamped my papers.
I repacked everything as quickly as I could, dragged it all back into the car, and resumed my cricket lesson on the way back to the yard. Two minutes and one life threatening near crash later we arrived at the yard which was closed. The guard wouldn't let me in without my papers. I showed him those that worked for immigration but he insisted that those weren't the right papers. Its nice to know that there is still some place with former Division of Motor Vehicle workers can get a job. No matter how much I explained that 1) it was my boat right there, 2) I was really tired and needed to sleep, and 3) I had FUCKING U.S. COAST GUARD DOCUMENTATION proving it was my boat, I couldn't convince him that I belonged on my boat.
It was Sunday night, I hadn't slept in two days, and smelled like a goat. They say that heroic acts of bravery are usually performed by people simply too hungry, tired or scared to care. It was certainly the case for me when I got back in that taxi and asked to be taken to a hotel. "Oh, and can you explain again what a sticky wicket means?" I said, throwing all caution to the wind.
That's all for now. Hope all is well with everyone else.
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