gloria jean said...
What is the economy like? What kinds of trade/commerce do people participate in? How does the average joe in Trinidad feel about tourists?
Trinidad is rich in natural resources. The two main resources are oil and tar. In southern Trindad you can find the world's largest natural asphalt deposit (the other 2 are La Brea Tar Pits in CA and one in Venezuela). Pitch Lake, as it is known, has seen over 10 million tons mined since 1867. The tar is exported to over 50 nations and accounts for the high percentage of paved roads on the island, though locals and visitors will wonder what accounts for potholes. Pitch Lake is also a popular tourist destination because of its unique qualities.
The oil industry in Trinidad brought such wealth to the island that it was referred to as the Kuwait of the Caribbean. At that time the demand for imported cars was so great that supply could not keep up. Unfortunately, the oil glut in the 80s was quite detrimental to the nation and the resulting economic contraction put it in the top ten for shrinking economies of the world.
Agriculture and manufacturing are common industries. In the villages (small towns) it is also common to find places where the front room of a house has been turned into a small storefront, somewhat like a minimart. Basic staple supplies will be kept in stock along with some fresh produce and sweet drinks (soda) and treats. Although there are large grocery chains, these shops are handy for school children or families without cars.
In recent years the economy has picked up significantly. Trinidad is NOT the Third World. Technology and trade have been emphasized. During the oil boom years Trinidad prided itself on not having to rely as heavily on tourism as its Caribbean neighbors did. The sister island, Tobago, was developed as a tourist destination while Trinidad went its merry way. When the economy crashed, tourism suddenly didn't seem such a bad thing to encourage. The greater emphasis on tourism has encouraged a clean-up in the capital, (in unison my former trivvers...) Port of Spain. Local crafts have been promoted to sell as souvenirs.
Tourists can enjoy the capital, the beaches, and natural wonders. Although general tourists are only now discovering the beauty, birdwatchers and butterfly lovers have flocked to the island for decades because of the incredible variety of beautiful species that can be found in Trinidad. Asa Wright Bird Sanctuary and the Caroni Swamp are the two big attractions. At dawn and dusk the sky at the swamp turns red as the air is filled with innumerable scarlet ibis, the national bird, as they go through their daily migration between Venezuela and Trinidad.
Trinis have mixed feelings about tourism/tourists. They know it's important for the economy but they don't want foreigners regarding them as backwards natives (who WOULD want that??)or lumping them in as indistinguishable from other Caribbeans, especially Jamaicans. They are fiercely proud of their unique culture. Trinis are by nature very warmly welcoming and a little respect and interest in learnig without being patronizing goes a long way for a visitor. If a visitor projects a negative or superior attitude they should not be surprised to be given some crazy bits of information or scary warnings of local dangers or otherwise be toyed with, perhaps being unaware of what's happening.
To be honest, when we lived there I did everything possible to avoid being perceived as a tourist. No easy thing to do when you are white. Any time I went to town with a friend I'd have them check me over for telltale tourist signs. (Skirt not pants-check, shoes not sneakers-check, loose the American swagger and adopt a Trini saunter-check)That usually ended in all sorts of picong (good natured ribbing) about my whiteness. The day I passed as 'local white' I could have turned cartwheels. I stood at a taxi stand in a skirt, no sneakers, umbrella over my arm, net bag crammed full of veggies from the market. Another woman next to me went on about the rudeness of taxi drivers, the loudness of the music played in them, and the general demise of civilty. I nodded and steupsed (sound of disgust made by sucking teeth)appropriately. She continued her discourse and finally asked my input. When I opened my mouth and was betrayed by my American accent she exclaimed, 'Gosh gyal! But I took yuh fuh LOCAL white not American. I thought yuh was from de island! Yuh does look and move like yuh was born here!' All yuh can imagine de grin ah was wearin' when she say so!