After spending a lot of time on my own road trip and then reading TTfootball's responses last week I thought I'd share a little about transportation on Trinidad this week.
It's a small island, 35 by 55 miles at its widest points. Due to the presence of the world's largest natural asphalt deposit in La Brea's Pitch Lake there is a high percentage of paved roads. There are a heck of a lot of unpaved roads too and some of the paved ones are anything but smooth.
Many people have cars but many don't. Public transportation in Trinidad is common, cheap and generally reliable as well as a bit adventurous. To be honest, it was a big adjustment to come back to rural Pennsylvania and not be able to 'find a drop' easily outside my front door.
There are several forms of public transport on the island. The one TTfootball mentioned was 'maxi-taxis' or maxis, for short, as you see pictured above. This is a smaller maxi but a good example. Maxis all have fairly set routes they travel and you can tell what direction they move by the color of stripe. The green on this one indicates it runs a north-south route. Red denotes east-west. Yellow taxis would designate that they run only to the extreme east of the island. Other colors would denote different regions. At the ends of each route they will park at 'stands' that are designated for the specific road or route travelled. 'Excuse please, where de O'meara stand? Dey does line up dere by de Scotiabank. Round de corner is de Demerara stand.'
You can catch a maxi at any point along its route, provided it has space, by mere eye contact or a slight downward point of your hand. As a newcomer I accidentally hailed a few simply because I was so curious and just watching the people and driver on them. And if you hail one that happens to be full, don't worry, in a minute or two another will come along. The roads are full of them. Likewise you can exit at anytime along the route.
Many maxi drivers also decorate them so that regular riders can recognize them from a distance. Anyone who relies on them heavily quickly develops favorite drivers. When we first moved to Trinidad in 1992 maxis also were allowed to play music. The volume at which the music was played was another identifying trait that announced the maxi long before it could be seen. Riding on a crowded maxi right next to the speakers pumping out a bass sound heavy enough to alter your own heartbeat and keep your ears throbbing for a long while after disembarking is quite a memorable experience. My Calypso has a very Trini sense of rhythm even though she has not been there since she was 2. I think 9 months in utero, riding loud maxis may have something to do with that. Shortly after we moved back to the States the loud music was banned from maxis.
Now the island has 3 main highways, two that run east-west along the foothills of the northern moutnain range, and one that runs north-south. There is also an east-west 'bus route' that is supposedly only for maxis and the large coach style buses that run to and from town. If you want to get the full maxi experience you need to ride Eastern Main Road. It is the original east-west artery that runs the width of the island. It winds and bumps through the heart of the population along the width of the island. It is full of potholes, bicycles, pothounds (stray dogs), people, and cars. Along either side there are large ditches. The first couple of times you make this run yo umay wonder if you'll get out alive. After a few more, you'll happily bump along as placidly as a local even as a pothole or a swerve to avoid one of the myriad obstructions throws you into the lap of your seatmate.
Now if I am scaring you I don't mean to. I actually love to ride maxis. This is where a great cross section of the population intersects and it is a great place to people watch. You can catch all the latest news and political debate from your maxi mates. You'll be crushed in with shoppers and people travelling to work, children on their way to school, people of every creed and race. Even people who do own cars may be inclined to catch a maxi because it is less hassle for the convenience of a quick errand where parking may not be too available. Considering that for the equivalent of a couple of dollars (granted this was way back when we lived there and I don't know what rates are these days) I could travel from Arima in the east to Port of Spain in the west it's a heck of a bargain too. And a Trini does love a bargain!
Happy Trini Tuesday!