Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nariva Swamp

I just got back from the three day 6th grade trip to Nariva in southeastern Trinidad. Since all the industry in Trinidad is in the north, the southern areas are still quite untouched.

My students interviewed village residents about life in a wetland, including their system for collecting rain-water, their use of the powerful buffalypso (named in honor of calypso after a scientist figured out how to create a breed of water buffalo that was healthier than the original), their pets, and their traditional hunting and farming methods (mostly blue crab for curry) and watermelon for exports).

More importantly, they witnessed lives for the first time without malls, fast food, and money.

The experience can be quite profound; upon arriving back at school, one of my students said, “Wow. It doesn’t even look like the same place to me anymore. It’s changed so much.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

International Festival

We celebrated our second International Festival again this year with a fantastic flag ceremony, a Chinese dragon, Blackout (T&T's Best Dance Crew--my top choice from the beginning!) and way too much food.

This day is one of my absolute favorite things about working at ISPS. The students are so used to ignoring cultural differences on a daily basis, in the name of polite behavior, so it's fun to see them move beyond that and actually get to revel in their differences for a day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coast to Coast

Our second year here, the heat and driving don’t faze us, we have our favorite doubles stands, and we know more about what’s going on around Trinidad. Last year, we celebrated Diwali by lighting off fireworks. This year, we propelled ourselves from the north-eastern tip of Trinidad to the north-western in an adventure race called Coast to Coast. As race day approached, I still wasn’t convinced I could do it, but Aaron’s enthusiasm and my curiosity got us and our relay team mates, Mark and Karen, to the debriefing meeting. Of the 40 competitors, three were women, four had come from other countries to compete (from Australia, St. Maarten’s, the UK, and Canada), and nobody’s body fat was over 10%.
The first leg started in Toco at 6AM. As the sun pinked up above the water, at the point of the peninsula, the cyclists gathered on a quiet road surrounded by banana and haliconia plants. It was a small and tall enough crowd that my chances of coming in last were distinctly possible.
We ran 1.5 k to our bikes on the beach, put on our bike gear, and began the 32 k ride to Matelot. The road felt more like a single-track mountain biking trail; taking your eye off the road for one second meant a flat tire. For most of it, the beach was on my right, giant green leaves drooped in a canopy over the road, and I was happy. And then I reached the “Do you believe in God? Hill” that the bike shop guy had warned us was right at the end. Only the adrenaline of knowing I was nearly done got me to the top, where people pointed to a bridge so narrow we were required to carry our bikes across it. Karen tore off my Velcro timer and took off for the 32 k bush-and-beach hike to Blanchisessuse.

Aaron had finished the bike leg before me, but paused briefly to drop his bike gear before starting the run himself. We’d all done this leg last year, but to run it solo increased the challenge immensely.
Six hours later, they finished, and neither could talk much. We filled them up with Gatorade while we waited for Ashmir. Eventually, he appeared and told us that he’d gotten lost and had flagged down the Coast Guard. They’d offered him a ride but noted that that would disqualify him, so he asked them to take him back so he could start over from the beginning. He said that he couldn’t, as the ISPS athletics director, tell his kids he’d given up.

Sunday morning, the 62 k bike ride started at 5 AM. Right at 4:30, it started to pour rain. The hills started right away; I had to wonder what I was doing on this steep, slippery, and holey hill, all by myself, soaking wet, and completely blind since my bike light was too dim to be helpful. I didn’t start enjoying it until the sun came up around 6:30 and I began to pass familiar beaches. About halfway through, as I climbed up a 500 ft. hill at a grandma pace, I looked up and saw Aaron’s giant grin framed by the window as he yelled at me in Trini, “Push it, gyal!” (He’d started strong, but had thought that 2 extra tubes would be enough. The roads were so bad that he got three flat tires.)

I reached the top, only slightly teary, and stretched my legs and back while I cruised at 50 km/hr down-hill. I started to think I might be able to finish. And then I reached the final hill: Morne Coco Hill. The second I looked up, I was no longer on my bike; my body decided on its own that more was insanity. I stood there, in the road, for about 20 seconds, self-talking myself back on my bike. It worked, barely, and slowly, I reached the top. The last 5 k required soca—music designed to keep people going during the long hike of carnival. Finally, I reached Karen and she took off, slapping the bracelet on her wrist. Then, we had to go find Aaron, who had hitch-hiked back to town, and drive to Macaripe, where Karen’s 10 k running leg ended.

As we refueled and shared stories, The potholes! The dark! I passed that guy! I didn’t come in last!, we watched other competitors jump in kayaks to finish the last 32 k. The sweat and smiles, the perseverance and pride—every time it made for fantastic entertainment.

When Karen appeared, sprinting to the beach, I couldn’t stop hopping. She handed the bracelet to Mark and we all stood knee-deep in water to watch him paddle out of the bay and into the sky.

At the finish line, there was curry, a cricket game blaring on TV, and a masseuse. For the first time, the first place solo competitor was Trini. As he crossed, drummers drummed and people applauded and placed a medal around his neck. When Mark finished, Karen, Aaron, and I ran to meet him and run across the finish line with him. We were all a bit wobbly, especially Mark after sitting cramped among 7 foot swells for hours, but ecstatic that we finished. At the after-party, the announcers gave kudos and awards. One superwoman had completed the whole thing by herself. Karen and I looked at each other as we realized that spots 2 and 3 for Coast to Coast 2010 were up for grabs.

Monday, October 5, 2009

We had a three day weekend (thanks to Eid) and so we went to Tobago to complete our Advanced Diver Certification: three dives the first day, three the second, and two the third. On one, we had to measure a wreck underwater using our arm-widths, which is difficult to keep accurate when you’re hovering in water, on another, we landed right in a swarm of jelly fish that we tried to fight off, video-game style, by spraying the air in our regulators at them, and, on one other, we had to abort the dive completely when the dive master disappeared. We had to spice up our dives somehow, because up until this point, our diving experiences have been pretty calm.
We stayed in Charlotteville, a sleepy fishing town just past Speyside. I love it there. One of the nights, all the electricity in the town went out and we went outside and watched the sun fall and the moon rise.
On our way back, we decided to just do the two dives instead of three….which turned out to be a good move because the ferry, the last ferry of the day, decided to leave an hour and a half earlier than the stated departure time. We just made it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

School Starts Tomorrow

We’ve been taking advantage of living in the non-resorted Caribbean. We make and eat slow breakfasts, finding ourselves lazily drinking coffee and bird-watching (Aaron just bought a humming bird feeder and a seed feeder for other birds so he’s been trying to wean the regulars onto those). When we finish, there’s some reading to be done. In the afternoon, right when the rains fall, we start to get itchy for some activity. It would make more sense to be outside during the sunny morning, but I’d rather be wet than be woken up by the alarm clock if I get a choice.
There’s a 10 mile hike round-trip up to a Doppler tower that we often walk/jog up and jog/run down. At some points, on clear days, we can see the southern tip of Trinidad, poking far out to the west, and the multitude of islands between the north and south. Up at the top, there’s a sign that says, Congratulations! Any and all encouragement helps. There are always vultures, called cobos locally, on this hike, and sometimes we see howler monkeys, the little reddish-brown ones that sound like grizzly bears as they hop from tree to tree. One time, an orange-winged parrot flew right by us, just under eye-level and we realized that they are much more intricate up-close. More than just the sqwuaky, green couples that fly above us during out weekly ultimate Frisbee games, on top they are actually mini-rainbows with orange wings with purple streaks.
Another option is to bike the 20 K route between Macaripe, a quiet, small cove of a beach deep within Chaguramas and the end of the peninsula. We usually do this for a few hours. Aaron recently found a hilly trail from Macaripe to the Chaguramas Golf Course. It’s 5 K both ways of jungle ridge-running at its best: bamboo splitting around us, mini streams and giant roots to jump over, and once we heard owls hooting. Then, we change into swim suits, tricky when you’re covered with sweat, and descend down the steep and tilted stairs to the beach. More often than not, there are circles of senior citizens, heads bobbing in the water near the sand. Sometimes there are toddlers chasing the waves as they crash. On weekends, older kids come and play soccer on the beach. It’s a perfect spot for getting wet in the Caribbean Sea. We swim back and forth from one side of the cove to another—300 meters maybe? Hard to tell. It just takes a couple minutes to swim one way, but we get to watch schools of fish swim with us (which sometimes is cool, but sometimes is nasty when you can’t see or feel anything but fish). I wear regular swimmer-goggles, but Aaron and Tom wear scuba diving masks and snorkels, and if you ask me, look kinda dorky. But, yesterday Aaron saw a huge Southern Stingray (Effin huge, he says, at least 8 feet, maybe 11) on the floor of the ocean. Tom saw a Spotted Eagleray, the rays that are covered in white polka-dots. And I see the same parrot fish every day, the iridescent ones, except once I saw a turtle.
Easy days include one or two activities, or maybe yoga at my favorite yoga studio in the world: Moksha Yoga. Big days include the biking, running, and swimming/snorkeling. Thursdays are Ultimate Frisbee days. Rest days include more reading and more cooking. Friends here, Trinis, are surprised we didn’t stay in the states all summer. But I feel very lucky to live in the Caribbean and get to play in its massive, natural playground.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wild Fowl Trust

Oil plays a major role in Trinidad’s economy. There are international oil companies everywhere to exploit this natural resource. The Petrotrin Compound resembled Microsoft—houses, tennis courts, soccer fields, churches—anything a person could want. It’s as if someone living and working there one day noticed that there were fewer animals and birds and created a haven to atone for the destruction of so many natural habitats. The Wild Fowl Trust surrounds two small lakes and serves as a breeding ground for endangered, almost endangered, or important species like Trinidad’s national bird, the Scarlet Ibis.

It took Aaron and I three hours to walk around the 2K loop because it was a birder’s paradise. Beyond that, we survived a frantic five minutes where we heard wild splashing not more than a foot away from us. Three times in a row, we must have woken sleepy caiman, which made us run like the three stooges into each other.