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Monthly Archives: December 2010

So you think can swim … Tobago Style … Castara Bay, Englishman’s Bay, Parlatuvier Bay, Bloody Bay

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When you’re from Trinidad, you think that the world has things that are better, prettier and more well known. I can safely say that driving along the Leeward Coast of Tobago has to rank amongst the prettiest drives with some of the beach vantage points in the world. Many Trinis/Tobagonians take these things for granted, as most do not have a basis of comparison to other more celebrated places.

The stretch of four large beaches after Moriah that are easily accessible by road … there are a couple other more remote beaches, but for a long day trip (8am – 6pm) from Crown Point, if you take a swim at these 4 beaches

  1. Castara Bay : The home village of T&T’s 3rd Prime Minister is in a small friendly village with a decent beach facility and villagers who actually welcome a tourist or two, unlike places in Trinidad. The village itself is known for the fish and there is a fishing facility in the middle of the beach. While you’ll always see some fishing activity, please ask before you run over and volunteer your muscles in the search of a great story to tell your friends at home. There is another smaller beach, known as Heavenly Bay, just around the headland on the northern end of the main beach, but I personally have never made it over there.

  2. Parlatuvier : This beach is surrounded by the village itself. There is a school that is practically on the beach – how cool would it be to go swimming instead of playing cricket or football at recess and lunch time as a young boy. The bay is quite the photographed princess with her rugged rocks closing in from the sea. The water does get deep rather quickly though but this is good since there is excellent jumping and diving from the long pier.

  3. Englishman’s  Bay :  This is probably my favorite beach in Tobago. It’s definitely not touristy like Store Bay or Pigeon Point, since you have to drive down a dirt track to get there (if it rains, the track can be muddy) – there is good snorkeling and generally calm seas – depending on the day of course.  Although it’s gotten a bit more developed in recent years, it still feels like the complete deserted beach you could imagine if you were shipwrecked on a Caribbean island.

    It’s a lovely green-blue sea surrounded by a wall of shady almond and coconut trees. When it rains, the Rockly River that runs at the back seems filled with energy and sandflies *lol*. The beach slopes steeply down to the sea which has short but often large breakers, which is challenging for the new sea bather but if you’re a good swimmer and adventurous, this is definitely Da’Beach.

    By the way, Eula’s is the only restaurant around these parts, but remember you’re only 45 mins away from fresh food in Pigeon Point or Store Bay. Is convenience worth the risk of no running water around your food? Just my thoughts!

  4. Bloody Bay : This beach for all its natural beauty is set a little way from the main village, unlike most other beaches, hence it seems always deserted, except for yachties and fishermen. The beach facility here is almost brand new with a “tourist” office … that never seems to be open.

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Heading to Speyside & Little Tobago

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The drive from Crown Point to Little Tobago or Bird of Paradise Island, involves going down the Windward Road through Roxborough into the sleepy village town of Speyside. Once you’re there, there are two ways you can get to the Little Tobago island reserve.

  • Hire a fishing charter that will cost about $350 ($58USD) each. They will offer a nice guided tour around the island and information you can download from the internet
  • Hire a local fisherman to take you in one of the little pirogues for an adventure filled, bumpy ride across the channel to the private beach and nature reserve. You can negotiate a price with the fishermen for the tour also, in the little pirogue between 150 and 200 TT ($25 and $32 USD) for two people. On a slow day, you can surely bargain harder but do you want to piss off the fisherman who is going to ferry you over rocky waters?

Guess which one, I preferred?

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Store Bay, Tobago … nothing much needs to be said …

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Getting from Trinidad to Tobago is an easy plan; no hassle, short flight, no crazy drivers that one has to worry about in Trinidad. If you’re in Tobago, after taking the 14 minute flight from Trinidad, your next steps should go something like this …

  1. Call pre-arranged taxi rental company to pick you up from airport and head straight to the rental company. Fill out paper work and take car out.
  2. Depending on what time you get in, there are two logical options
    1. If you come in anytime BEFORE sunset, go directly to the beach – Store Bay or Pigeon Point. They’re close (2 min drive in either direction) and proceed to eat and get your water or tan on.
    2. If you come in anytime AFTER sunset, go directly to the hotel, check in and go for dinner and check back to hotel for drinks. If you’re new, you won’t know any places to go for drinks. (MyTobago.info maintains an excellent listing of places to eat in Tobago – updated every three months and has pertinent info.)

In High Season (Christmas time [Dec 15- Jan 3rd] or the two weeks after Carnival) Always prearrange your accomodations and rentals from Trinidad … if you don’t, you will probably not have availability or you will be charged a king’s ransom – either way, not a great start to a trip.

We couldn’t find a taxi, so I went up to a guard, asked him where to find a taxi, he directed me to another guard booth. She said there was none, but then asked a friend who with her liming to give us a lift to our homestay. Of course, he couldn’t do it immediately as he was looking in the parking lot for his keys to his house (seriously!) … so now it is the three of us (female guard, her friend, and me) looking through an empty parking lot for a bunch of keys. After we found the keys, the friend gave us a lift to the hotel … no cash, compliments of the car keys 😀

After getting to the hotel, it was late – hence dinner and drinks – however trying to find an open bar on Christmas night is next to impossible – but we were quite lucky to find a local bar that was serving.

In the morning, we collected our car and went off to Store Bay for a couple hours in the water. The other thing about Store Bay is that it is the collection point for tours to the Buccoo Reef, Nylon Pool and Coral Gardens. Driving into Store Bay, many guys will wave at you trying to sell you tours at different prices – there are only 4-6 boats that do the tours on any given day – twice daily (leaving between 11 and 11.30am or 2 and 2.30pm).

The tours consist of the following sequence of events:

  • Journey to the Buccoo Reef
  • Snorkel in the Coral Gardens
  • Swim in Nylon Pool – use the coral sand to exfoliate your skin
  • Stop off at No Mans’ Land for some BBQ and Rum Punch (optional and usually on a weekend, depends on weather, and depends on nice you are to the tour guides)


If you want to get a decent price – talk to a couple guys. They’ll give a piece of paper with their names and phone numbers and ask them their price (a good price is something between $50 and $70 TT ($8 – $11 USD)). All the boats are fairly do the same route, all have glass bottom sections and they all leave around the same time.

Once you’re set, then you’re off for breakfast at the Store Bay food sheds and then hit the beach and go on your tour. BTW – if you’re in Tobago, you have to do the tour – it’s completely worth it, just to bathe in the Nylon Pool.

Store Bay

Nylon Pool

No Mans’ Land

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Trinidad’s Pitch Lake with a side of Debe Doubles …

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It’s been about 20 years since I last went to the Pitch Lake in La Brea. One might ask why I haven’t been back to this geological phenomenon located right in my “backyard” in Trinidad in so long … well it’s simple really … it’s always been there and will always be there.

As for the facts

  • The Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world, located at La Brea in southwest Trinidad.
  • “Discovered” by Sir Walter Raleigh in the year 1595 … never mind the local people knew about it before time.
  • Can be used to pave roads … except that the roads leading the Pitch Lake are amongst the worst in Trinidad.

There are various legends associated with the lake. Local tribed believed that it was the wrath of their Gods that was inflicted on them after killing a Hummingbird – to punish them, the Gods sank their village into the pits of hell and what bubbles up are their spirits and remains.
Getting to the Pitch Lake is easy trip from Chaguanas, but when hunger strikes, it calls for a sidetrip to Debe – the capital of all things fried – Indo-Trinidadian style.

First on the menu was Saheenas. Look at them .. so sad … being trapped in their oily prisons … we had to release them … in our bellies 😀

Next on the hit list was the various other friends and family of the Saheena

  • Aloo pies (Fried dough stuffed with seasoned potatoes, curried chick peas (Channa), mango pickles (Kutchela) and two types of mango chutneys)
  • Baiganie (Fried dough stuffed with strips of whole eggplant, curried chick peas (Channa), mango pickles (Kutchela) and hot sauce – like an eggplant fritter)
  • Multiple doubles … no explanation required

For those uninitiated in the Trini protocol of anything

  • Nothing – Plain, boring and the mark of the utter tourist
  • Slight – a touch of pepper and sweet chutney – typical tourist order
  • Regular – Typical Trini order – a little bit of all chutneys and pepper sauce
  • Heavy/Plenty – Venturing into no man’s land, unless you the know “Doubles man” chutneys well and know that he doesn’t have a really hot pepper sauce.
  • Kill It – The mark of the expert white rum drinker aka Alcoholic (no more taste buds), the mark of the “Iron Stomach and Rectum” or a “Doubles man” with the hottest hot pepper sauce possible. The “Doubles man” will give you a slight nod of recognition.

Then it was time for a sweet or two …

Starting from the top

  • Above the glasscase (from the left)
    • Rice cake : Rice Krispy squares with Cinnamon
    • Jalebi :  It is made by deep-frying batter in a kind of pretzel or circular shape, then soaked in syrup. Sometimes rosewater or lime juice is also drizzled over it.
  • First shelf of glasscase (from the left)
    • Chocolate Barfi : Carmelized condensed milk, with sugar, chocolate and nuts
    • Jam Cookies
    • Kurma : Muslim sweet that has now become ubiquitous all year around in Trinidad
    • Regular Barfi : Carmelized condensed milk, with sugar and sprinkles
  • Bottom shelf of glasscase (from the left)
    • Coconut sugar cake: Carmelized condensed milk, with sugar, chocolate and nuts
    • Almond Fudge
    • Nut cake
    • Some unknown thing at time …

So after our early lunch, it was on the Pitch Lake. A tour of the Pitch Lake can be as long or short as you want it. Our tour guide Jonnie was an affable fellow with a big toothless smile … well his first two teeth were missing … we assumed that it was to pay the pimp of the lake. However, he took his time and showed us all around and took us on the paths safely.

So the first pass around is to see the machinery used to harvest the Pitch from the lake. The story is that the labourers would have to fill 24 of these trolleys in a given day for the work to be completed.

After the trolley was filled, it would hauled up to the refinery to be processed. Again was a semi-manual process with hitches having to be attached to each trolley.

The top layer of the lake looks like an old parking lot. However, unlike any regular parking lot, the surface yields very easily. On hot days, it can be quite unsafe to walk on certain areas and of course driving on the top is forbidden, as a car or even a cow would sink into it fairly quickly.

The top layer of the lake is known as the skin. It can be easily peeled off and is quite dry and flaky.

The tar is also over 350 feet deep at the center of the lake, which is shaped like an inverted cone. The Trinidad Geological Society has a nice amateur rending of what it looks like.

So continuing on, we went to the most famous part of the Pitch Lake. As well as regular tar, there are also lighter distillates visible on the surface of this waterhole, as well as the soft creamy colored substance at the bottom of the hole, which is known at the “Mother of the Lake”.

After walking around the rest of the lake, then it was time to wade through the sulfurous waters in and around the lake. The gas action and methane bubbling through the lake is always evident.

The waters themselves are quite clean and are supposed to be very good for the skin.

And of course, you can pick up a water lily or two.

And you can always grab a 6 pack of Carib, park your car and head back into the pools for a relaxing bath.

Tadjah night hunting in St. James

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This is the reaction I got tonight from the folks at home (note Trini English)…

  • <Dad> Where are you out to tonight?
  • <Me> Hosay
  • <Dad> Huh? Yuh mean in St. James? But it not safe down there … it have so much crime there
  • <Me> I’ll be fine …
  • <Dad> Who yuh meeting?
  • <Me> People ….

Anyway for years I’ve heard about Hosay in St. James, but it was one of those things you learnt about in your Social Studies class, but no one I knew ever went to Hosay, especially as it was in “North”.

In a nutshell, Hosay is observed with a parade full of colorful tadjahs in commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussain (Hussein), the grandson of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, in the year 680 AD. There are 5 families in St. James that each make their own tadjah in their own idiosyncratic style.

Hosay parades take place in two Shiite communities in Trinidad: St. James, in the western section of Port-of-Spain, and Cedros, in the South. The colorful procession in St. James is the largest (five tadjahs) and draws thousands of spectators of all religions every year. The Shiites of St. James spend a considerable amount of time and money in the building of miniature temples (tadjahs, taziyas, hosays, mausoleums) with bamboo, wood, paper, and tinsel to depict the tomb of Hussain.

These tadjahs range in height from 10 to 30 feet and are hauled through the streets on parade days accompanied by the beating of drums (tassas) and two standards in the shape of half-moons, each carried separately on the shoulder of one man at a time. The half-moons (one red and one green) symbolize the deaths of both Hussain and his brother Hassan; red for the blood of Hussain that was shed at Karbala and green for the poisoning of Hassan, 11 years earlier. The drums and flags are symbolic of those used in wars in the 7th century. (I’ve lifted the history and account can read from Best of Trinidad)

So back to the hunt, so armed with knowledge for our local expert Anisa, we went walking through St. James for all the other Tadjahs. Some tadjahs were already locked up behind bars, but with Anisa’s help, we were able to stroll around and walk into people’s yards to take pictures.

Anisa also explained the family history and the order of the tadjahs in the parades. It’s based on longevity as follows:

  1. Panchayatee (Bay Road) Hosay – belonging to the entire Shiite community and located on Mathura Street (previously on Bay Road)
  2. Ghulam Hussein Hosay – named after one of the local icons of Hosay and located on Western Main Road
  3. Cocorite Hosay – belonging to the community of Cocorite at the western end of St. James
  4. Balma Hosay – belonging to the Emamali family and located on Clarence Street;
  5. Bisnath Hosay – belonging to the Bisnath family and located on Bournes Road.

Definitely enlightening to find out the process, the number of volunteers and the overall cost to upkeep this tradition. Each family raises money to build their particular Hosay – which is no mean feat in itself.

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Don’t touch my junk … bro!

As part of the Monday morning commute to the client site, we in the consulting business undergo the “Monday Morning Blues”. However our commute isn’t just only traffic and dumb drivers on the snowy highways of Toronto, Montreal or some random North American city, we also have to go through the US Customs process and the Security check.

Want to know how your day is going to go? When you check into the the Super Elite desk and the conversation goes something like this …

  • <A/C Agent> Good Morning, Mr. Sankar. Pleasure to see you again …. <Pause while she checks you in and reviews documents>
  • <Me> Morning Alice, working the early shift again? Sucks, eh?
  • <A/C Agent> Yeah kinda sucks, but guess what? <Her eyes crinkle up>
  • <Me> Oh boy, lemme guess? The SSSS hit me, didn’t they?
  • <A/C Agent> Yep. I have to give you the standard message.
  • <Me> No, Alice, let me do it … ” Dear Mr. Sankar, you been randomly selected for the “enhanced” security process. Upon passing through customs, you will have to go through the “enhanced” security process. Please have your documentation ready
  • <A/C Agent> Well at least you’re in good spirits about it…
  • <Me> Well you know me, I always have fun with this stuff.

FYI, When you check in for a flight at Pearson, check the Remarks in the bottom right hand corner of your ticket. If you see a code : S S S S – then you’ve been “randomly” selected for an enhanced search.

Now the questions that used to go through my head were some of the following …

  1. Why was I selected for this enhanced security?  I know now, that is it the computer that selects someone …
  2. Is there no system in place to check friends or travel partners also because they are travelling with me, they could also pose a “Risk”? Nope .. nothing in place for this scenario … smart eh?
  3. Was that GE machine the ones in which they can see me naked? It does, but I am always opting out … I get enough radiation in the airplanes, no need to add more to my cancer bag.
  4. What was the purpose of taking everying thing out of my bag and wiping each thing with this piece of paper and putting it in a machine? Supposedly to see if one has some type of residue, used for ulterior purposes.
  5. I have travelled to and from the US and other countries about 100+ times in the last years, does my previous record not hold for anything?  Nope .. doesn’t count for a damn thing.
  6. Does the colour of my skin have anything to do with this? Nope … not a damn thing. Profiling might exist in the minds of some, but “enhanced” security is an equal opportunity inconvenience.

So basically continuing on … I get to the “enhanced” search area and they go through the procedure with me and the conversation went like this …

  • <Guard 1> Morning sir, I have to search you and pat you down.
  • <Me> Dude, do what you want, just don’t touch my junk.
  • <Guard 1> Sir, this is a secured clearance area.
  • <Me> Is my junk secure here?
  • <Guard 1> Sir, this language is not acceptable
  • <Me> No, rent a guard … this whole charade is unacceptable and we don’t have choices in it. So do what you have to do as long as you don’t touch my junk.
  • <Guard 1> … calls supervisor
  • <Guard 2> Hello Mr Sankar, is there an issue here?
  • <Me> Hey Asif … no issue here … your guard Iqbal here has clear instructions and I’m complying and I give an indication of what I think is acceptable <insert laughter>
  • <Supervisor> … <who clearly gets the joke> No problem Mr. Sankar … would you like someone else to search you?
  • <Me> Yes, Asif. I would someone who is better looking. Iqbal here isn’t my type of man. He has too much of a beard and wants to touch my junk badly. I would replace him with someone who doesn’t give me nightmares.
  • <Supervisor, along with other staff and guards, howling with laugher now> Ok Mr Sankar, I’ll give you the pick of the guards
  • <Me> Can I have the Jamaican girl over there … she seems fun.
  • <Supervisor> Well Mr. Sankar, you know it has to be the same gender.
  • <Me> Ok … then I’ll take the white dude over there. He seems like he doesn’t like lots of junk feeling up.
  • Moral of the story … if these guys are going to make my life miserable … I’m going to have fun at someone’s expense. It might be mean … but the process is a charade and stupid.

    Who makes the best Shish Taouk in Montreal?

    Best Shish Taouk in Montreal? There are very few things that will drive people in Montreal to violence …for instance, saying one of the following  in Montreal will almost surely lead to a “Big Momma Beat Down”

    • Saying that the Toronto Maple Leafs are better than Les Canadiens
    • Saying that Toronto or Parisian Bagels are better than the Montreal version.
    • Wondering in public, how the hell is “poutine” not a registered food group
    • Saying/thinking/implying that there is a better “Shish Taouk” sandwich anywhere than the version that’s inhaled on a daily basis in Montreal.
    • The best Shish Taouk in Montreal is … and you don’t offer a great answer.

    I for one believe after 12+ years in Canada, 60+ countries of eating strange and insane foods, there is no better fast food chicken sandwich in the world than the ones you can get in Montreal. The same way I believe that there is on better fast food fish sandwich than Bake and Shark in Maracas Bay, Trinidad.
    In Montreal, there are three brand name contenders for this honor :

    In fact, there is a facebook group called “Instead of Having a Cigarette after Sex, I have Sex after Boustan!” After these three brand names, there’s really a bunch of individual “Shish Taouk” vendors, who also have decent or good “Shish Taouk”. In addition, to the discussion, there is even questions about what to call the damn chicken sandwiches … I’ve gone to Israel to ask for a “Shish Taouk”, only to be told it was a “Chicken Shawarma” that I was looking for.

    Imad Smaidi, the normally genial proprietor of the downtown Lebanese restaurant Boustan, veritably bristles at the mention that his shish taouk is considered by many to be the best in the city. It’s not the rating that irks Smaidi. It’s the appellation.

    “Please,” he implores. “Call it its true name: chicken shawarma. This has gone on too long.”  The whole article can be found on Canada.com

    Does that stop the “Shish” machine? Nope … it will always be a “Shish Taouk” to me.
    As for finding “Shish Taouk” in Toronto – don’t bother, it’s horrible and pathetic. I’ve tried looking for years and there is really no comparison, so don’t bother. Toronto shawarma places are not Lebanese operated. It is possible to find better “Shish Taouk” in Ottawa, but if you’re going to Ottawa to find it, you might as well drive along to Montreal and get the real deal.
    The best Shish Taouk places in Montreal are:

    1. Abu Elias on Cote Vertu in Ville St-Laurent
    2. Boustans is the best downtown – no exceptions (Amir’s on Crescent St. used to be phenomenal, but then the whole McDonaldization of Amir, merely lends itself to being average). Below is the famous trio (Shish Taouk Sandwich, Garlic Potatoes with extra garlic sauce, grilled eggplant, pickled turnips and hummus.)

    Places like Basha and Amir are good but they are not the best. They’ve becom the McDonalds of Lebanese fast food, though still good but not nearly the best.
    One can also ask the question, “Is Shish Taouk, all you can get in Montreal?” … obviously not …  one can find all the familiar Lebanese/Middle Eastern staples (Merguez, Falafel, Brochettes, Fatouche, Taboule, Humus, Shawarma, Shish Taouk, etc)
    As for authentic  Lebanese cuisine in Montreal (outside of Shish Taouk), a good selection list would be the following:

    • La Sirene de le Mer (Good Lebanese seafood restaurants)
    • Restaurant Daou (More Lebanese good cooking)
    • Restaurant Souwar (On Cote Vertu with a speciality in Lebanese & seafood)
    • Le Petit Alep (I’ve yet to figure out the difference in Syrian vs Lebanese food)
    • Nuits d’Orient Restaurant (Great Leb food in Laval, if you’re venturing that far outside)