"South America on $320" story # 4

down the islands, Trinidad & Tobago           May 1, 2002

So, my fantasy girl went on her way. It's only logical that Katarina would continue her figure skating tour briefly before returning for me and going to live forever together on our Bavarian farm.
     And if she wasn't going to be around St. Petersburg, Florida, there was no point in me being there, constantly haunted by memories of all the good times we'd had together. All twenty minutes of them. Well, I figured, might-as-well go to Trinidad.
     I soon split town, heading south for a few days with roadtrip buds, Cory "Johnny" Anderson, Lucas "Johnny" Seipp-Williams, and Paakow and Derrick. We left one tired night after midnight, and Johnny Anderson and I stayed awake to drive.
     To stay focused, my fellow comrade and I recited communist slogans as we drove. "Let the workers of the world unite!" said Johnny, raising his fist. "And un-shackle themselves from the tyrannical chains of their proletariate oppressors!"
     "Who needs sleep?" I said. "We don't need sleep! I'll tell you who's sleeping right now, that miserable rat, Pansyckas! Sleep is a luxury not all our brothers can afford. Brotherhood equals togetherness, togetherness equals strength, strength equals communism, and communism equals NOT SLEEPING like that weakling, Pansyckas!"
     Our strong roadtrip (we spent only $30 each) took us to Key West, South Beach, and finally the Miami Airport, where I flew to the Caribbean on Easter Day.
     It's as a changed man that I've embarked on my latest travels.
     Firstly, my hair hasn't been cut in months, and it's as overgrown as Dave Spivy's frontyard. (Dave Spivy, for reference, was the slightly irksome, lazy lawn-care commercial character notorious for his shoddy landscaping.) "Johnny's Magical Hair", I call it, because if it has a nice name then at least there'll be something nice about it.
     Secondly, I have a new necklace. My artist friend, Sarah "Johnny" Burns, mounted a crocodile battle-beast onto some hemp for me. Battle-beasts are tough-looking animals in body armor. They were the favorite toy of my best friend, Chris, and I as kids, and we spent eight hours a day creating Tolkien-like worlds with them. The crocodile represented my character, and though he was often up against a whole world of cobras and piranhas and weasels with machine gun arms, I never lost. It was a great era.
     Thirdly, I came with $320 and hopes of taking myself around South America with it.
     I was well-prepared for when my college friend, Brendan, picked me up from the Trinidad airport. He took me for ice cream, then wanted the pleasure of pouring me my first rum drink in Trinidad.
     The next morning, Dexter picked me up to go "down the islands." Dexter wanted the pleasure of pouring me my second-thru-seventieth rum drinks while in Trinidad. I'd met Dexter through college, like Brendan and about twenty other Trinis. Like Brendan, Dexter was a big, Caribbean-skinned guy with a big heart and smile. They spoke as if they were too busy laying on a sunny beach to pronounce their words effortfully. And like the other Trinis, they were people you could count on - who just wanted everyone to have a good time - which is why I came to Trinidad.
     If ever there was a guy who knew how to have a good time, it was Dexter. He keeps his head shaved for low maintenance. He's witty. And his two favorite shirts read "I'm not an alcoholic:" and "AA:" on the front, and "I'm a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings." and "Alcoholics Always" on the back.
     We drove to his uncle's boat. We left the forest-conquered green mountains of Trinidad's main island and sped to a smaller, more peaceful island and its clear blue Chacachacare Bay.
     In this setting, we "limed," which means we hung out. Helping Dexter and I make quick work of the rum and scotch in the cooler were Dexter's parents and a crazy Canadian named Shawn.
     I hadn't seen Shawn since I originally went "limin' with the Trinis" with Dexter and friends at Shawn's house in Miami. It was a rum-stuffed weekend in 2000 in which I puked, passed out, and propped my chin over the sink as I slept. Dexter's parents just now recognized me from photos taken during my sink-sleeping night, and all laughed at my expense.
     I pointed out that several other people had puked that night.
     "Yah, but none of them slept in the sink!" said Dexter.
     Drinking attitudes are certainly different in Trinidad than in the States. As I've noticed before, Trinidadians rarely complain or fight when they drink, they just get happier. Secondly, it's common for young Trinis to drink and lime with their parents. Thirdly, you can get plenty inebriated in Trinidad, and it's still legal for you to drive a car. Dexter drove me home from the marina, holding a rum and soda in his hand!
     And fourthly - especially difficult for somebody of my upbringing to get used to - Trinis apparently don't sleep in the sink after they've drank a lot. Somebody could've told me.
     We went down the islands again the next day. Beforehand, I got my first Trinidadian roti, a food wrap introduced by India. These things are absolutely astounding. The roti bread was dusty and soft and moist. The mustard-green curry seasoning gave the potato and pea filling a sweetish taste and the texture of cake icing. Mine was made with powerful pieces of good boneless chicken. Mmmm. Roti is the meaning of life.
     But, don't forget rum. Dexter's friends joined us at sea that day. We limed, snorkeled, took turns failing on the kneeboard, and boated through a rough, very bumpy, fun island gap called the Bocas.
     Dexter's friends were all very cool, especially a little guy named Johnny who managed to stay positive a week after his mom died. But the Trini social order is very aggressive. When liming in a big group, say what you have to say or forever hold your peace. Nobody's going to ask for your input. Nobody's ever going to ask when they can "tell."
     The good times continued the next night, when Dexter and friends went clubbing to a place called Coconuts. The percussive, energetic soca music of the Caribbean got you moving. The "wining," a dance in which girls wind their butts in other guys' laps, was prolific. And the rum and Cokes - free all night with US$12 entry - tasted like candy. Wining, rum, and soca are the perfect equation for a good time.
     Five hours and a dozen rums each later, we left the club. "Well, Dexter," I said, "I've been in Trinidad three days now, and you've already got my veins pumping rum."
     "There's blood in your alcohol system," joked Dexter.
     After two more days of about thirty rum and sodas, Dexter left us to return to the States and study. I crashed at his parents' house a few more days, and I got invited down the islands once more.
     We went to a bigger hill-hidden bay with lots of boats, called Scotland Bay. I entered the dark green water to explore.
     Some coral bits dotted the bay's floor near where the boat anchored. In fifteen feet of water, a white, brown-spotted moray eel was tangled beneath a rock. He wore the mean-looking frown of someone gasping for air, and he wasn't afraid of anything.
     Reaching forty feet of water, I took big dives into the green nothingness. A still channel in the depths seemed like a place big sharks might travel. Surfacing took a while.
     Some preying birds circled above. The dark water began teeming with small silver fish whose scales flashed the sun's rays as they scurried for safety. A slightly bigger school followed them. Those were in turn followed by bigger fish with yellow back fins, and the water around me twinkled like diamonds as they wiggled by.
     I also saw a large, slow, spiky, brown pufferfish with searching, fat eyes. And then I saw a dog-faced white fish resting on the bottom. When he saw me, he got a worried look in his white eyes and began WALKING on the sand using three pairs of spider-like legs that pivoted from his blue-edged fins. I don't know if it unsettled him more to see me swimming or me more to see him walking. I needed some rum.
     Yep, the islanders know how to have a good time, if you overlook the rum and club soda mixture some of them drink (which tastes like gutter water) and the rotis that sometimes come with bones you must sort through as you eat. A good time could especially be had staying with Dexter's friends and family. I was lucky they had a spare sink for me.
     I mean, bed! Bed ...

"Later, dreds" - Modern Oddyseus

Keep smiling, Johnny!

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