Monday, March 26, 2007
The Future Looks Soggy, If Not Bright.
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Well, Mota arrived on Sunday. I drove to the airport to pick him up. My neighbors in the boat yard, a lovely German couple named Magrit and Wolfgang, who had built their own catamaran from scratch and who have lived in Trinidad for the last few years gave me excellent advice about how long the ten mile trip to the airport might take. Two hours. "But wait," I said, "if the airport is only ten miles away, and I'm driving most of it on highway, why should it take that long. Wolfgang just smiled and said "Oh, it shouldn't, but it always does".
So, I left at 6:30 to pick him up, assuming his flight would arrive at 8pm. When I turned left onto the little two lane road that leads to the highway I found myself in bumper to bumper traffic. No worries, I've still got lots of time, I thought. Well, I was right, but for all the wrong reasons. The trip to the airport took two hours. I drove 1 mile per hour for half of it. Apparently one side of the road had collapsed. It is the "Western Main Road" a two lane path which connects Chaguaramas with the capital, Port of Spain. Now if this had occurred in the states, there would be several local cops on scene directing traffic, a few fire trucks and at least three news helicopters circling overhead. In Trinidad there were only cars trying to squeeze by each other.
When I reached the point where the problem occurred, I could see another line of traffic from the other direction stretching just as far back. As each driver would reach the choke point they'd attempt to fight their way through the oncoming traffic. In Trinidad this meant a very bizarre, slow motion game of chicken. Once one line of traffic started flowing, the other side would have to fight their way into the flow and get a few cars through. Then the other direction would fight back. The net result being that the least possible number of vehicles passed the choke point.
After much gnashing of teeth I made it through, and then drove on towards the airport. I say "towards" because I didn't actually drive to the airport. I got lost. Now, considering that I only had to follow a single road there, you might think this was somehow foolish of me. Well, I need to explain about Trinidad's roadways. In California, any major highway would be marked with their numbers, and any time you reached a junction, there would be signs explaining which way to go to remain on that highway. In Trinidad, everyone already knows this, so there is no need for signs or any indication explaining that the major road you are on actually veers off to the left onto that smaller street, ducking under and away from the road you've been on, which continues to be a major highway for about 1 more mile. Then it dumps you into the heart of Port of Spain, which makes Boston look like a street planner's wet dream.
If you've ever been lost in a foreign city (or even a local one) there is only one thing to do: stop and ask. If you are in Trinidad, make sure you ask at least seven times. If any two of the answers you receive agree, there is a fifty fifty chance that it will lead you in the direction you need to go. After driving through several tiny, one way streets lined with vendors selling things out of cars and pedestrians walking through the traffic to buy them, I managed to get onto a major road. I stopped and asked a local how to get to the airport. He said "Oh, dats eeesa man, ja goo to da chickan, den left ann jha deer". Smiling politely, I drove off, looking for a chicken. A few blocks later I found a Colonel Sanders. In Trinidad there are more Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises than there are gas stations.I turned left. I then asked another person who explained that if I stayed on this road, it would merge back into the Western Main road. I would only need to drive a few more miles to get to the airport.
Realizing that I was seriously running late I raced on to the airport. When I arrived I discovered that Mota's flight was delayed. So I waited. And waited. And waited. No Mota. Since you can't go inside of customs/immigration at the airport all I could do is stand outside the doors and peer in as other passengers exited. Eventually I saw him. He explained that he had been held up because he didn't have the right paper work. Apparently the customs officials wanted proof that the boat was mine. I was allowed inside to provide it (which was no different then what he had) and we were allowed to leave, being told by the customs folks at the airport to go straight to the port to check in. We went back Chaguaramas and checked through customs there as well.
The customs agents in Trinidad are hand picked. They find those special people who can turn whatever small amount of authority they have into a means of fucking with everyone around them. Usually this type of person gravitates to positions within a bureaucracy where they can prevent pretty much anything from actually getting done. Every customs agent I dealt with was like this, with one exception, but he demanded a bribe. So, we showed the agent our paper work, which he stamped, then charged us for arriving after hours. This is a special trick they like to play in Trinidad. Customs is open 24 hours a day, providing you are willing to pay a charge if you show up before 8am or after 4pm or during lunch hour.
We went back to the boat and crashed. The next morning the boat yard workmen woke us up to begin the process of putting Triton back into the water. This is accomplished by way of a large trailer like device that is pushed underneath the center of the boat, which lifts it up. The trailer is then pulled out of the yard and across the street, and eventually down a boat ramp, by a tractor. The kind you'd expect for harvesting corn or something. It was a bit surreal. The interesting part was getting across the street. It requires a police officer from the local coast guard base, who gets paid about $50.00 US for stopping traffic. I thought this was just another Trinidad scam, but it was the one time it turned out to be a justified expense.
A Trinidadian does nothing quickly. Just buying a soda can take all afternoon - but that's only if it is in stock and you happen to have the exact change and a cricket match they're interested in isn't on the TV. There is no way to make them go fast, except, if you put them behind the wheel of a automobile. Then, their latent need for speed springs forth. They drive like maniacs. The worst are the MaxiTaxis (minivans with several people hanging out the windows) that specialize in passing cars on blind curves. I've seen them over take a long line of trucks with on-coming traffic. They live on an island the size of Berkeley, and they drive as if they lived in Montana and they will not slow down or stop for anything or anyone.
If you want to push a 45' catamaran across the main highway, the only way to do this is with an armed militia.The official stood in the highway wearing a very prominent sidearm and a look that said "I will shoot you if you don't stop". Traffic obeyed, and we pushed the boat into the water. Below is a picture of another catamaran that went into the water a few days before us. The owner of Aikane's, Philip, is the tall man facing back at the camera to the left. You can see the trailer and various workmen floating the boat back into the harbor.
Mota & I motored Triton over to the main harbor, just a few minutes away, and docked at Crews Inn, the Trinidadian version of a 5 star hotel and marina. You can just see Triton on the left in this photo, and the restuarant and in the background, on the second floor. The hotel is directly to the right, out of frame.
It was posh. There was a pool, the restaurant really was very nice, a pretty decent coffee shop and a 7-11 type minimart. Everything you could possibly need, providing you were willing to pay twice what it was worth.
The other thing worth mentioning is the woman. Trinidad is the tropical island version of Iceland. Almost every woman here is beautiful. Really beautiful. It is sometimes surprising how much so. There must be something in the water. None the less, every time we went to a store, or got something to eat, or had to deal with the officials, there would be some stunning beauty on the other side of the counter. I'm looking into the rules around showing up at another country with a waitress stowed in your locker. If customs in Panama is anything like Trinidad the paper work, bribery and smiling through your teeth probably isn't worth the effort.
So, we'd made the first step in our journey to Panama. The boat was in the water, I am only about a week behind schedule and there were only a few hundred small things to accomplish before we could set sail. I'm beginning to think I might actually make it to the canal.
The future looks soggy, if not bright.
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