Port Of Spain, Trinidad: logistics
I have not had a wireless connection in several weeks. This post is backdated to July 1.
I have begun seven weeks of travel, almost all of them to be spent in Venezuela conducting research for my dissertation. Among other things, I’m planning to visit multiple community TV stations in the hopes of learning how alternative production models might lead to increased opportunities for democratic dialog. Since one of the stations in which I’m interested is located on Venezuela’s Paria peninsula, and because the cost was less than flying into Caracas, I decided to fly into Port of Spain, Trinidad and spend some time getting to know that country. Unfortunately, the ferry across to Venezuela only runs once weekly, on Wednesdays, and I could only get a flight into Trinidad on Monday evening, so I had just thirty-six hours or so to explore. This first entry on Trinidad is meant to aid future travelers by providing logistical information that I found difficult to come by. I’ll write up my impressions in the following entry. I didn’t go to Tobago, so the only thing I can say about that is what I heard from some fellow travelers: There were almost no tourists there in late June, the hotel rooms were cheap ($40 US per couple) and luxurious, and the snorkeling was great.
My flight arrived after 8pm. Immigration (including filling out a H1N1 swine flu questionnaire and receiving a card with addresses for the hospitals I should go to if I developed symptoms) and customs were relatively brief and painless. There’s a currency exchange counter right outside customs that charges no service fee – I changed at one US to six TT dollars, which proved to be the going rate throughout the city. An official tourism office and taxi dispatch are located at the airport exit. The tourism office was very helpful – they have good maps and a booklet of reviewed and approved hotels, any of which they will call to check availability and confirm prices. I’d already made a reservation for my first night, but they found me something cheaper for the second night. They also confirmed the price of the taxi to my hotel, which was a standard rate of $27 US (and payable in US dollars).
Based on internet reviews and price quotes, I’d reserved a room at a “guest house” called Simple Escapes, in the Woodbrook district, which my taxi driver referred to as middle class. The trip from the airport was perhaps 20 minutes. This was, by the way, my first ever car ride in a country where the driver sits on the right and drives on the left side of the road. I made this realization when I threw my pack in the trunk and confidently walked toward (what turned out to be) the driver’s side door. The taxi driver kindly let me know I should enter on the other side. (As in the Latin American countries I’ve visited, single passengers [can] ride up front, next to the driver.) Only later did I realize that the opposite traffic flow also changes things for pedestrians – I kept looking the wrong way when trying to cross the street, and cars seemed always to be turning past (or at) me from unexpected and illogical angles.
A guest house, it seems, is a private house outfitted with rooms for rent. Simple Escapes is a yellow house on a residential street with eight rooms in a free standing structure in the back and at least one more guest room in the main house.
I paid $65 US (again, with US bills) for a very clean and comfortable room with a large bed, armoire, cable television, wireless internet, microwave, refrigerator, air conditioner, and private bathroom with hot water. There were also a coin operated washing and drying machines outside, though I didn’t use them. Needless to say, this was overkill for my purposes, but I’d wanted to be sure to have somewhere to sleep that first night and I’d read that Port of Spain could be a rough place. From what I saw, that’s not the case, and if it is, the Woodbrook neighborhood is certainly an exception – I was told there was no problem walking around at night, and I felt perfectly comfortable doing so. The manager of Simple Escapes is Claire Da Costa, but I was attended by her sister, Donna, who was very kind and helpful, explaining how to get the public transportation I needed and calling for information on taxis.
I spent my second night at another guest house, also in Woodbrook, called Ana’s Place – it’s named after the street it’s on, not the proprietress, who’s name is Lila (or maybe Lyla – it’s pronounced with a long ‘i’). Also primarily a private residence, Ana’s place has two rooms for rent. One is inside the house.
I stayed in the “apartment,” which is a free standing building with a living room, kitchen, large bedroom, and bathroom. The kitchen has a range, sinks, microwave, and fridge, as well as cooking utensils and tableware. The living room has a table and chairs, futon (convertible) couch, and cable television. The bed is large and comfortable, there’s an alarm clock, full length mirror, and hot water in the bathroom. There’s also a small patio outside with a bench. Again, I saw a washer and dryer unit and assume they’re available, but didn’t use them. In terms of facilities overkill, this was even worse than Simple Escapes, but it cost me only $45 US (also paid in US dollars). Lila, who was a bit more down to business than Donna but also kind and helpful, told me she usually charges more (I think she said $50) for the apartment, but since she had guests in the other room and had quoted the $45 price to the tourist office attendant, she gave it to me for that price.
Donna told me that when Clare’s around breakfast is included in the package, but she could only offer me coffee or tea. Ana’s Place does include breakfast, but since I left at 6:30 am to catch the ferry to Venezuela, I wasn’t able to take advantage.
I’d recommend either one of these guest houses for staying in Port of Spain and taking day trips around the island, but if I come back to do that, I’ll try to get the apartment at Ana’s Place first – it’s definitely the best value. That said, Simple Escapes does have the better location – 10 or 15 minutes closer to the downtown area by foot, and right between Roberts and Ariapita, each with multiple restaurants and bars.
For example, the Curry Corner – where $24 TT gets you a big plate of vegetarian food and a drink – and the Corner Bar are both just a block away, at the intersection of Ariapita and French Street.
Some final notes on lodging – I met a European couple on the ferry over to Venezuela that had stayed at Pearl’s Place, which they described as clean with access to a kitchen and washer/dryer, for $40 US per night. This was the lowest priced guest house I heard about, although I did see two supposedly cheaper hotels online: the Abercromby Inn, which got abysmal reviews, and the Copper Kettle, whose reviews were a mixed bag. Here’s the info for the places I stayed:
Simple Escapes – 25 Baden Powell Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Trinidad – 628.1283 – firstname.lastname@example.org
So now that you’ve got a relatively inexpensive place to stay, let me help you out with another aspect of the trip that I found difficult to figure out from afar: how to take the ferry from Trinidad to Venezuela.
The ferry is run by Pier One, leaves from Chaguaramas, which is a 15 minute drive north from Port of Spain, and will take you to Güiria, on the southern side of the Paria peninsula. (It will also take you in the opposite direction – I’m pretty sure the return trip is the same day.) A one way trip costs $92 US ($552 TT) plus a $12.50 US ($75 TT) departure tax. (The Pier One office in Güiria is downtown, not far from the Plaza Bolivar, and is where you pay the departure tax, apparently even if you’re returning on a round trip ticket.)
The ferry only runs once a week, on Wednesdays. It leaves Chaguaramas at 9am, but passengers are told to arrive two hours early. It’s also recommended that you buy your ticket in advance. If there’s space available, they’ll sell it to you on the morning of departure, but you’ll have to wait (as I did) for all of the ticketed passengers to board. Finally, they will not let you buy a ticket without your passport, which is why I ended up buying mine on Wednesday morning – when they told me to come on Tuesday to buy the ticket they didn’t mention that I should bring my passport. Also, if you are not buying a round trip ticket, you will need to show proof that you will be leaving Venezuela. Not sure what happens if your plan is to take a bus into Colombia…
When I took it, the ferry left on time. We were offshore of Güiria by a quarter past noon, but they idled the engines and we sat for an hour without explanation. Then a tug arrived, three health officials in face masks boarded, and we all had to show our passports and respond to questions about flu symptoms. As long as you didn’t admit to having a fever or cough, you were told to seek medical help and not self-medicate if you did develop such symptoms, and your name was checked off on the manifest. The Venezuelan officials were friendly enough, but it’s hard to believe that these measures, or the ones I encountered in Trinidad, will keep the virus from spreading. Nor am I clear on why H1N1 is being treated so stringently if it’s not more lethal than other flu strains. But that’s a different subject…
One last thing: how to get from Port of Spain to Chaguaramas. A private taxi (it’s license plate will begin with an H) will run $20 US ($120 TT) if you call ahead, but I flagged one on the street and paid $16.67 US ($100 TT). That was still a lame move given the least expensive option: the maxis. These minivan taxis with yellow stripes run regular routes, stop anywhere they’re hailed, and carry multiple passengers at a time. Catch one of these on the westbound lanes of Ariapita Avenue or Wrightson Road and tell the driver you want to go to Pier One in Chaguaramas. It’s doubtful they’ll take US dollars. I was told it would cost $7 TT to get to Carenage, which is a bit beyond halfway, and perhaps $10 TT to get to Chaguaramas, but I paid $5 TT for the entire trip in one direction and $4 TT in the other. I didn’t find any maxis on Ariapita at 6:30 Wednesday morning, though, which is why I paid for the hired car, but as soon as we got onto Wrightson, there was a maxi right in front of us, so it’s definitely possible at that hour. The final option is a large Port of Spain – Chaguaramas bus. If I understood correctly, you can also catch these on Ariapita Avenue, but you must already have a ticket. Otherwise, you have to go to the bus terminal downtown and buy a ticket. I assume they run on a regular schedule, but I have no idea what they cost…