In 1980 a friend of mine married a Trinidadian girl and two years later they invited me to visit them in St. Johns, Port of Spain for a three week holiday taking in the world famous annual Trinidad Carnival.
My wife and I stayed with the family and became totally immersed in the whole Carnival tradition and atmosphere at grass roots level. From the day we arrived until the day we left the island to return to England, we were involved in virtually every aspect of the Carnival, which was in full swing.
We even made enough time to visit the beautiful sister island of Tobago where, I believe, a version of Robinson Crusoe was filmed. I remember finding a massive conch shell on the beach which I managed to lug all the way back to England. It sat in my fireplace for years and when the fire was blazing on a cold winter’s day brought back memories of the tropical heat on the day I found it.
Digging out old pre-digital photo prints brought back the memories. They obviously weren’t too good after a few decades in the attic but nevertheless I dusted them off scanned them into my PC and went to work. Using the modern post processing technology at my disposal (mainly Lightroom 5 and Topaz) I managed to bring enough pictures back to life to give you a glimpse of a great experience.
Dating back to the 18th century, the Carnival is a major part of Trinidadian life. So much so that no sooner has one Carnival finished than the people are planning the next one. It is held just before Ash Wednesday which usually falls in mid-February, a very hot and dry time of the year.
A cacophony of music fills the days and nights for several weeks as Carnival day closes in. Endless rounds of house parties kick off the celebrations as Calypso bands practice in readiness to compete for ‘Band of the Year’ in televised music competitions held in small venues all over Port of Spain.
King and Queen band members work frantically putting the final touches to the elaborate floats and costumes, they have worked on for months, which will be paraded through the streets on the final day. The slow procession starts, at 3am in the morning, in the many roads leading from the edges of Town to the central Queens Park. Band participants stop periodically along the route for liquid refreshments which, because of the heat should be mainly water, but more often than not are alcoholic. Locals are out on the streets firing up barbecues and preparing food to sustain the revelers all day long.
Some of the bands have many participants who dance (chip), in colourful costumes, through the streets, followed by a huge truck of musicians and the sounds of steel pan music. This is called ‘Playing Mas’. Locals and tourists will join one of the bands, either at the start or en route and follow them all the way. Each band is led by a King and Queen wearing massive costumes, sometimes with wheels to help them carry it through the streets. By the end of the day they are usually on their knees with exhaustion. On Carnival Sunday, as the bands arrive one by one at Queens Park, judges gather to choose the King and Queen of Carnival.
At the end of an exhausting day everyone attempts to make their way home. Many don’t make it and it’s nothing unusual to see costumed or un-costumed revelers still in the streets the next day or longer. No one wants a good party to end too soon!