I thought I had gotten the hang of this whole driving in Trinidad thing.
My initial fears were many: the left-hand driving and the utter lack of road signage were a bit nerve wracking. There’s also the speed limit that seems to be a mere suggestion rather than a hard-fastened rule. And I can’t forget to mention that someone dies via traffic accident every two days.
Oh yeah – and I haven’t driven in almost a year and a half. Not exactly a recipe for success.
But after several weeks of riding shotgun while consciously memorizing landmarks and routes, I thought I could do this. And I did.
Once upon a time, on the way back from a town called Chaguanas on the central western coast of Trinidad, I turn onto the main artery just like I had on the way there. I feel a little bit cocky since my sister and I arrived without hiccups.
There was only one major turn onto a different type of highway to get to the shopping plaza we had been in – which I totally forgot about on the way back.
Soca music blasting, we sail past a huge intersection with roads forking left, right, and center. I barely get a peek at the road signs until I pass them. There is no way for me to figure out what lane I am supposed to be in until it’s too late.
I look warily from side to side, the confidence draining from my body like dirty sink water after a hairball has been yanked from the drain. My surroundings look very unfamiliar.
Trying not to frighten my sister, who is a lot more excitable than me, I calmly state that we’ve made a wrong turn but it should be easy enough to get back onto the highway. I’ll just make a big loop – right?
When I see signs for the Eastern Main Road, I know I’m REALLY turned around because we live in the west. Then I saw signs for a neighborhood called Laventille, which I had only heard about via a song by Mr. King called Oh Laventille, with lyrics that go:
Pickin’ up shells was never part of my plan
Put down the guns we need some love ina the land
I keep this fun fact to myself as I look for another road that will empty out onto the highway. I finally see a sign with an inconspicuous arrow and breathe a sigh of relief.
I take the next turn and follow the direction the arrow was pointing to, until the road parts in three like a little girl’s hair about to be braided. Neither of which display road signs.
I take a quick guess and end up even more lost than before, not knowing how to find my way out of the maze that I’ve gotten myself into. I try to go around the loop again and take a different route, which proves to be another futile effort on my part.
Calling for Backup
At this point, I’m more than a little nervous and my sister has urgently suggested that we call a family friend of ours who will be able to guide us. I scan the area for landmarks as I bob and weave through skinny stretches of road meant for two but that fit three. He offers words of advice as I get my side window popped in after practically scraping a truck parked in the middle of the road.
I finally feel like I might have some way to get back to the highway, until the road I’m on turns into a one-way that’s not going my way. I figure this out thanks to the few caring pedestrians who thump on the trunk and say, “Hey lady! Wrong way!”
I flash a wavering smile and a thumbs up. Several more dodgy turns and a thousand surges of frustration at the sheer madness and lack of signage on the streets later, I manage to get back to where I’m supposed to be.
What should have been a 45-minute drive turned into 2+ hours.
Tips for my Fellow Tourist
You really want driving tips from me after that story? Are you feeling okay?
The first piece of advice I would offer you is DON’T DRIVE. If you know somebody who knows a Trini in your area who says you can stay with their cousin/mom/aunt, then DO THAT. Ride with them or let your feet do the walking. If you’re balling out of control, you could hire a taxi and get driven around everywhere.
For you, brave soul, who will chuck caution to the wind and attempt to tame T&T’s roads, I suggest you don’t skimp on the insurance, get familiar with landmarks before you hop in the driver’s seat, and have a local friend or 10 on speed dial so they can try to talk you out of the web if when you invariably make that wrong turn.
And a little praying/chanting/offerings to the road gods won’t hurt either.