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