For two weeks straight I danced until sunset, drank until sunrise, and ate all the hours in between. This all transpired during "The Greatest Show on Earth," no not Ringling Brothers but Trinidad Carnival. Many associate Carnival with Brasil's lively festivities but Trinidad is a different kind of beast. With parties (also known as "fetes") carrying on multiple times a day, blasting the latest Soca tunes with endless food and alcohol this can easily feel like a nation wide endurance test. For reference imagine the 90's show American Gladiators while wearing feathers, glitter and intoxicated. Although not all beasts are made to be tamed with enough preparation this one won't tear you to shreds.
Here are The Ten Trinidad Carnival Commandments
1) Plan Early! Seriously. After you finish reading this post go and set up an online savings account just for Trinidad. Trinidad isn't expensive but Carnival is very expensive. Fetes, transportation, costumes, etc ALL add up. The earlier you book your flight the better. The entire travel industry knows why you are visiting Port of Spain and they will price accordingly. Buying your ticket too late in the year and staying a short stay can cost you up to $1000. I purchased my ticket September 2014, which is late for $428. The length of time I stayed is how I saved money. I stopped counting but I say for about a week you will spend $2000. Consider Air BnB, hostels, guest houses, reconnecting with that long lost cousin to cut costs. Trinidad Carnival Diary does a great job of putting a timeline together. In your planning decide what do you want to experience: Carnival or Trinidad? During this season the people take partying seriously and doing two fetes will not cut it. If you truly want to "see the country" go during the jazz festival. I will add you will be missing a lot of cultural and historical nuances if you skip Carnival. Will you wear a costume? You will need assistance in choosing the best "band to play mas with." Fortunately, I have friends that live here but the awesome folks at lazymas.com can cut out a lot of the logistics for you. Tell them A.V. sent you. Once you pick your costume you can really let loose with the DIY. Nothing is too extravagant. I made my own boots, fannie pack and glitter body gel!
2) Get Accustomed To Soca Music. This is a MUST please don't be that American asking why aren't they playing Beyonce. Please don't. Don't even be the Caribbean person looking for reggae, I am looking at you Jamaicans. Soca music is the soundtrack during carnival. It plays everywhere loudly: the street, the mall, Popeye's Chicken, yes you read that correctly. I suggest you listen to DJ Private Ryan and DJ Bloc's soundcloud to familiarize yourself. Each year there are leading songs which are more or less theme songs for "Di Road," that you will hear about 1,000 times a day. There is actually apart of the festivities that counts how many times a song plays and the artist is awarded. It is call Road March. Imagine the last 8 summers where Drake had a hit on the radio, times ten. You aren't at liberty to say you are tired of the song but honestly you won't be. You can also follow Soca News for more insight. *Note* "Di Road," is the parade route for Carnival. Everything is in preparation for that. People will randomly ask you if you are ready for "Di Road." You can easily clock 20-30 miles over 2 days just on "di road," It is that serious. Working out ahead of time is a good idea not just to look good but to build stamina.
3) Rehearse Your "Trini wine," "Chipping," And Its Practices. *Note* wining is the rotation of the hips in a rhythmic motion, popular in the Caribbean not to be confused with "twerkin." "Chipping" is literally dancing while walking. It is a great recovery move and it will assist you in keep up with the parade. Personal space during "fettin' and limin" is an oxymoron, so if you have hangups about closeness stay home. If you are homophobic particularly "girl on girl," stay home. If you have a jealous streak PLEASE leave your significant other at home. This isn't a trip just for singles but if you have any slight insecurities you will be stressed. Everyone is tanned, toned, sweating, drinking, dancing with very little clothes on. Are you ready for that? No one cares if you are with your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Don't end up on YouTube fighting because you can't understand that this is the culture. If you need to know how much space you have for a "Trini wine" go into your kitchen, step on one tile and never move out of that square then fit another person in the square. Ironically, The Trini wine is actually an energy saver. Only your core is moving so leave the Sean Paul reggae dance moves at home. All the "Bogles, Thunderclaps, Butterflies and Pon di rivahs" will have you passed out from exhaustion. If you insist on doing The Running Man at carnival, keep a good Trini wine in your back pocket to recover from your aerobics.
4) Don't Try To Out Drink A Trinidadian. The Trini liver is out of your league, trust me. I don't care if you are Russian or anything else. Unlimited alcohol plus hours of dancing in the sun will hurt you. It is better to be the sober one than the dead one. You can still have fun but not while you are in the Intensive Care Unit, which will probably be playing Soca in the operating room. Pace yourself. You don't have to attend every fete but if you do... do it "Like Ah Boss." I will add that pacing yourself includes meeting men/women you find attractive, please be safe in all your "interactions" sexual and otherwise.
5) No Sticking. Don't procrastinate. Although many of the parties are all day, time is time and people will be upset if you are cutting into their fete time. Traffic is a problem so just get to the fetes early so you can enjoy yourself.
6) Stay With The Crew. Ok I will say I violate this rule religiously but my internal compass is "On Fleek." A.V. doesn't get lost, A.V. just always opts to take the scenic route. Now if you are the friend that is always stranded stay with the crew. No one has time to to act like Liam Neeson in Taken part 9 to find you. If you are on "di road" meeting at the drink truck is a good plan.
7) Vibes Cyaan Done. This means the party will not stop it doesn't matter if you are sick, pregnant, or dead "Vibes Cyaan Done." Keep that in consideration that the party will continue with or without you. Your friends will leave and boat ride party will let you drown, seriously.
8) Take Risks And Try Different Foods. Trinidadian cuisine has a nice blend of African, Caribbean, Indian, and other Asian countries' influences. My favorites are Goat roti, doubles (Is a sandwich made with two pieces of flat fried bread filled with channa which is curried chick peas), and crab with dumplings. I even tried horse and no it doesn't taste like chicken. Alligatordoes though.
9) Cool Down in Tobago Mainly because of timing this doesn't happen for most but it is so worth it. It is like having two vacations in one. Tobago gave me all the resort beach like relaxation an island gives you. During your cool down you can go sightseeing, snorkeling and jet skiing. There will be more "limin" than "fettin" Think of a "Lime" as a good lounge and a "Fete" as the club. The vibe is way more laid back in Tobago and the people know you are there to relax.
10) Don't Wait For Dr. Dre's Album To Be Released Before You Detox. If you did carnival right you have pushed your body in ways you have not done before. Let your liver know you still care about them and detox when you come back.
Be free, have fun, and leave your reservations at home! Gwaan Wotless!