My first time in Downtown Port of Spain

I’ve been visiting Trinidad for as long as I’ve known myself (I took my first flight to TNT when I was 10 days old)..and yet I feel like..after all this time.. I still know nothing about this country. It’s frustrating, and sad.

For example, yesterday was the first time I walked around Downtown Port of Spain. There’s a valid reason for that, I guess – the fact that everyone has always told me to avoid Downtown at all costs because of how dangerous it is..and for years (25 years to be exact), I did just that. I stayed away,.. for fear of getting kidnapped, attacked, raped, mugged..because according to many Trinis ‘that’s what happens when white girls go Downtown..and don’t come crying to me when you get attacked‘ and ‘If you still insist on going,’ they would tell me, you must dress in very plain clothes (making sure not to show any skin), remove all of your jewelry including your watch, and keep your purse close to you at all times.

Downtown Port of Spain

Downtown Port of Spain - photo credit NatGeo

I mean, it’s pretty ridiculous what sites like Trip Advisor will tell you about Downtown. One traveller had this to say:

We went against all suggestions from Locals, Hotel and Police and went walking around during the day to get some sights and shopping in. When we went a HUGE cruise ship was in so the place was crawling with people, including police but we were still followed by a pick pocket in one of the shopping areas (although not a victim) and you could see tons of other just watching the tourists waiting to pounce (it was creepy). The recomendation from the police is do not carry any bags or wear and jewery they will snatch and grab in a heart beat. We kept our hands on our kids at ALL times even though they are 11 and 8. The police suggest to stay off the side streets however we did not (thats were the shops are). If the cruse ships has not been in we would not have braved it, There is nothing worth while to see unless you want lunch at the highest selling KFC in the world.”

(How could she know she was followed by a pick pocket if she wasn’t a victim? SMH!)

Downtown Port of Spain

The above mentioned traveller's photo of 'the busiest KFC in the world.'

source

But..you know what? I’m sick and tired of living in fear..and I refuse to put self-imposed restrictions on myself while I’m in Trinidad. So, yesterday one of my colleagues offered to take me on a walking tour of Downtown during our lunch break..and I went.  She had worked in Downtown for years before starting her new job in Woodbrook, and was probably the only (white) person I know who had no fear of walking around ‘one of the most dangerous areas of Port of Spain.’

I told her what people had told me about Downtown and she looked at me and said, “Of all people, you’re afraid of Downtown? Danielle! You lived in Lebanon with all dem Hezbollah and Hamas!” I couldn’t help but crack a smile (even though Hamas is Palestinian and not Lebanese.) I explained to her that living in Lebanon meant learning how to cope with a different type of fear – that of war (which is still very unlikely, even with all of the political tension)- but that for the most part, Lebanon is very safe..and that I felt comfortable ‘walking home at all hours of the night without so much as looking behind my shoulder.’ It’s incredible how people have such a skewed perception of Lebanon..but I won’t even go there. That’s for another day.

Anyway, I’m writing to say that THERE IS NOTHING SCARY ABOUT DOWNTOWN PORT OF SPAIN! While I would still recommend proceeding with caution (as I would tell anyone planning to walk around Downtown Miami) it’s not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I need to write a follow up response to that Trip Advisor contributor..like now. There are so many things worth seeing in Downtown (besides the ‘busiest KFC in the world!’). The area is home to numerous architectural gems like the Cathedral, The Red House, The Ministry of Information, the Anglican Church, Woodford Square, Brian Lara Promenade, and the Cathedral..to name a few. I snapped as many photos as I could during my one hour lunch break..but am not at all satisfied. I plan on going back sometime soon to really take in all that Downtown has to offer.

Downtown Port of Spain

Downtown Port of Spain..we went to have a Carib at Pancho's..

Downtown Port of Spain

walking down Frederick Street

Downtown Port of Spain

Downtown Port of Spain

Downtown Port of Spain

The Anglican Church

Downtown Port of Spain

Abercromby Street - was surprised to see the name written in Spanish, my colleague told me that these street signs were implemented under the last administration in an effort to make Port of Spain a bilingual city..

Woodford Square Trinidad

Woodfood Square..the sight of many political rallies in Trinidad

Woodford Square Trinidad

A late Victorian fountain in Woodford Square..beautiful!

Woodford Square Trinidad

Snow cone vendor in Woodford Square..snow cones are surprisingly popular in Trini..

The Red House Trinidad

A very bad picture of The Red House, which houses parliament as well as the other legal offices that handle marriage certificates, birth certificates, and other legal documents. The building, which was built in Greek revival style, is currently under renovation.

Had to find a picture that did The Red House more justice..here it is:

The Red House Trinidad

much better 😀

source

Downtown Port of Spain

Ministry of Information..

Downtown Port of Spain

Ministry of Information from another angle..I love this building!

Downtown Port of Spain

Old time police station..which is still in use to this day.

I asked some of my colleagues to explain to me how Downtown got such a bad rap. Some cited the presence of low income housing and ‘projects‘ that sprung up over the years due to governmental neglect..Others cited its proximity to Laventille – an area known for ‘poor communities (slums) covered with squatter settlements, tenement yards, and apartments.’ And yet others told me ‘Downtown doesn’t have a bad rap, it’s only white people who will tell you that.‘ (They might have a point there!)

Whatever the case is, I’m no longer afraid.

It was nice to meet you Downtown.

I’ll be paying you another visit soon. Very soon. 😀

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24 Comments

Filed under Life in Trinidad

24 responses to “My first time in Downtown Port of Spain

  1. Vladimir

    Another awesome post! Now I want to visit Downtown!

  2. Natasha B

    Love it! Especially what you wrote about Lebanon 😀

  3. Another great example of the fact that fear as an emotion is ridiculous! It´s only putting us back, to our safe comfort zone! Go and Explore 🙂

  4. POS nuh that bad as long as yuh keep yuh eyes and ears open and be smart. i am not tellin yuh to go on the drag by yuhself and ask where sellin incense and oils, but walkin down the main streets yuh aight. christmas time is a scene though. petty thieves out lookin to make that christmas dollar. but daz pick pockets and chain snatchers. like yuh say, no different from miami, ny, and almost any other big city. as is always the case, be careful… daz all.

  5. The funny thing is I know a few Trinis who have a similar perception of downtown POS even though some of them are presently working in POS!

    They’re in the minority though as lots of Trinis come to downtown to either shop or visit the gov’t offices. I’ve been working in POS and walking through downtown for the last 7 years and I’ve never been the victim of any crime or witnessed any incidents. Not to say that those things don’t happen, but u always need to be alert and aware of your surroundings.

    I’d recommend that you take a historical tour of POS as it is quite interesting to hear the history of this great city.

    • Do they offer historical tours,, or will it have to be another of my spontaneous adventures,,this time with a map and a mission? From the little I know POS is steeped in history and I would really like to know more!

      I can’t believe what your saying tho, about the people who work in town yet are still afraid of it!! THose people must run to and from their cars everyday! Crazy.

      Thanks for your comment Jerome!

  6. people make it out like as soon as you hop out yuh car into POS, a man with a blade would be standing up in the middle of the road sayin “aye gih mih all yuh money an den come leh mih rape yuh!” nah… iz not hell. is just a major city doin what major cities duz do. i was born and raised in morvant. i live in aranguez now. i feel safer in morvant than anywhere in T&T. just the other night, a friend who also grew up in morvant said to me that he was more comfortable being in POS than being in SAN JUAN. iz all in the mind.

  7. Michol

    Hey check out this site, it will help you with knowing some of our local architecture and history, you’ll find out about the Fort Andres which is downtown turned into a museum now, The Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Red House just to name a few, if you can’t visit all at least you can learn about them.. http://araneo.info/trinidad-tobago/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=19&Itemid=50

  8. nice read.

    the Ministry of Information building was an old Fire Station if i’m not mistaken. think it was also home to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop.

    and here is a view from 22 stories up

  9. Ceola

    Downtown POS is glorious. Anything East of Frederick is slight sketch but once you don’t look like a pommie-won walking round people won’t trouble you. I feel sorry for women who have never been to Pennywise on Charlotte St, it’s a mecca for toiletries and cosmetics, at much better prices than you’d find elsewhere.
    You should always be cautious though, especially at this time of year, there’s always a chance you could be a victim of petty crime.
    We actually don’t have a Ministry of Information anymore, the Information Division is now embedded in the Office of the Prime Minister. That building is the Old Fire Station and is affixed to the Ministry of Public Administration which is on the 5th – 7th floors of the National Library (just behind it) and it’s also where I work :). The Old Fire Station is mostly used for events and conferences now.
    But yes, Downtown is great and I feel sorry that people shy away from even the safer parts of it because of their societal prejudices. But then, more walking room for me 🙂

  10. Great post! I think there are so many places that are notorious for being labeled as unsafe. It automatically makes you cautious, but also nervous about going to those places because of all the stories you hear (true or not). It’s

    Even just traveling around Europe (particularly Barcelona) I was told to be careful because of the things that happened to people I knew (getting robbed, getting drugged and robbed), but when I was there there were very few times I ever felt unsafe. Just as much so as anywhere.

    Lebanon to. My dad, who’s lived in Lebanon his whole life was always so paranoid about be being out and driving late at night because “something could happen” – but I think that mentality has to do with his experiences during the war that he hasn’t completely moved past. And as soon as one little thing happens that he hears about he’d bring it up (I could only imagine what he would say if I was there these past few weeks with that girl that having been murdered at a monastery). But the reality is those kinds of crazy things can happen anywhere, even in the safest places, and are pretty rare. Sometimes, I just had to be like, “DAD, I LIVE IN OAKLAND… Lebanon is not so bad”.

  11. Just found ur blog and I love this post. I always found it strange when I was younger when students fom both convent and CIC of the paler hue would have parents picking them from the middle of downtown on upper Fredrick Streets which is completely safe. Going to school in the US and explaining to other Trinis I met, that I went to secondary school on Nelson Street(which I would NOT recommend u walk down) they would look at me in amazement or confusion as to where that was or or how could I possible have went to school there. But good for you exploring and getting to know all of what Trinidad has to offer.

  12. Pingback: My second foray into Downtown | This is Trinidad

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  14. bob smith

    Hi All does anybody know anything about the Pepper Pot and The Handy Hot Bed Hotel, they where in Downtown Port of Spain 50 years ago. Are they still there? chers bob smith desert_rat_57@yahoo.co.uk

  15. CS

    We have just comeback from a cruise which stopped in Trinidad right before Carnival time, while a local warned our friends to be careful, and they decided to go back to the ship, we kept walking and went to the shops in downtown, very crowded, very bad infrastructure as some sidewalks are almost un walkable, but as far as safety, not a problem! Everyone was very nice, we asked direction after our shopping as we wanted to go eat at Chauds Restaurant and a local told us where to take a taxi. We then went to eat at Chaud on Queens Park, the area was nice and the food at the restaurant pretty good.

  16. Sigi

    If you’ve ever been in a KFC in Trinidad, you know how slow and inefficient the service is compared with the rest of the world, making it virtually impossible that they could be the busiest. Perhaps the most crowded. “Fast” food in Trinidad is a shock when you place an order and have to wait ten minutes. Rest of world moves at a much faster pace.

  17. Debra

    I always visit Nelson street when im in Trinidad. I have to walk down because the taxis wont drive down. Ive never ever had a problem other than too many offers to come take a drink. I love Trinidad. People who contribute to the fear are preventing you from enjoying the very best thing about the place – the people.

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