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by Dan and Jan Ahart
Trinidad and Tobago have interesting approaches to public education. School attendance is mandatory only through the equivalent of our elementary grades. Advancement through the equivalent of our high school is dependent entirely upon competitive exams. Those who don't advance go to work or to a private school. It sounds like a tough system, but those who stay in school want to be there. There are also no school buses. Both public and private buses transport children. As one would expect, the buses are small, with the largest seating 28 passengers, which include the use of jump seats in the aisle. All buses, whether public or private are required to transport school children. Therefore, those adults, who must get to work via bus, must do so during hours when the buses are not transporting children. The school children in Charlotteville must commute by bus for one hour each way to and from their school. They leave Charlotteville at 0645 and return at 1745. It makes for a long day for them. The system seems to work well, but if you need to get somewhere and you don't get on a bus before the buses start transporting children, it could be two hours before a bus is again available.
One day we took a private bus to Scarborough, which is the capital of Tobago and also its largest city. The bus was a very well maintained Japanese vehicle that seated 25 passengers including six jump seats in the aisle. The price was right, only a dollar seventy-five for the 25-mile trip over the mountain range. The trip took and hour and a half. The driver was very courteous, but drove very fast on what was hopefully a road with which he was very familiar. Most buses provide recorded music or a local radio station over the speaker system for the enjoyment of the passengers. In this case our driver had chosen an album of spirituals by the late Patsy Cline. I must say it was reassuring, while careening around a precipice with the ocean hundreds of feet below to hear the familiar strains of "A Closer Walk With Thee."
Having arrived safely in Scarborough, we first headed to an ATM booth where we used our debit card to obtain cash. ATMs have revolutionized foreign travel. It is no longer necessary to carry lots of cash or travelers checks. Plus, the machines also provide our current bank balance. Debit cards are also nice because they automatically transfer funds from the bank account to the organization being paid and therefore no monthly bills are sent out. Our shopping consisted of a new frying pan in that the Teflon on our old one had finally reached that stage in its life where retirement was its only option. We also picked up some paint and brushes. No matter how much stainless steel, aluminum and fiberglass is used on boats, there are still items that need painting now and then. In this case it was our steel propane tanks. Stainless steel or aluminum tanks are available, but they are very expensive, so we have chosen to stay with our three steel ones even though they get scratched when we haul them in to town for re-filling periodically. And in a saltwater environment, even a tiny scratch seems to rust overnight. Scarborough seemed like a bustling metropolis after sleepy little Charlotteville even though its population is only about 20,000. Typical of Trinidad and Tobago, it was very clean and the people were very polite. The locals are proud of their islands and they post slogans to remind everyone to keep things nice. We have seen "Keep the Scene Clean" and "Do Something Nice for Someone Today" on storefronts and public bulletin boards.
We had lunch in Scarborough at a roti shop. A roti is a type of meat or vegetable pie. A regular roti is made with vegetables and chicken, pork, beef or no meat and just vegetables. The wrapper is like a tortilla, so in some ways it is like a Mexican burrito except that it is folded square instead of round. Most are very good, but if you don't specify boneless, you will be picking bones out as you eat. The locals don't seem to mind the bones at all, but if it's an option, we pay the extra 15 cents for boneless. The roti can also be obtained in a "buss-up-shut" version, which means the ingredients come on a plate and the "tortilla" is separate. The English language can be very versatile apparently. Favorite local drinks are coconut water, which is the water from inside a green coconut. It tastes like slightly sweetened water with just a hint of coconut. One of my favorites is peanut punch, which tastes like a peanut butter flavored milkshake. Eating out is sometimes an adventure.
That ubiquitous American invention, the hamburger is also available, but in addition to the usual pickle, lettuce and tomato, the locals add cucumber, carrots and a local spice that gives it that distinctive Caribbean aroma and taste. A popular and very cheap (about 50 cents) snack is chicken feet stew. The stew is a chicken broth with peppers and cucumbers and of course chicken feet, claws and all. Jan tried one and decided the taste wasn't bad, but there really isn't a lot of meat on a chicken foot. Seafood is by far the best bargain in the islands. A huge shark steak with French-fries (chips) rice and a salad can be had for five dollars. Shark doesn't really sound great to most Americans, but it is quite tasty in that it is flaky white meat with no fishy taste at all. Not quite like chicken, but very good anyway.
On the bus trip home, the diesel engine stopped twice. The owner/driver
was able to get it going both times by using the hand primer pump
to re-establish fuel flow. The driver and his bus are based in Charlotteville,
so when we arrived, another cruiser and I offered to help him locate
the problem, which turned out to be a leaking connection where the
fuel line enters the fuel filter. For some reason, diesel fuel lines
don't use rubber gaskets. Instead they use crushable copper washers
that are designed to be used only once. In this case, the old washers
had been re-used. Having no new washers, we solved the problem by
coating the old washers with some "forma-gasket," which I had aboard
Sojourner. The owner/driver was grateful and hopefully we made a
new friend for America. We learned from him that he makes four round
trips to Scarborough every day, plus separate trips for the school
children. One day another cruiser rewired the night-lights on the
pier, which had been out of commission for some time. This made everyone
happy as we cruisers appreciated the light when getting in and out
of our dinghies at night and the locals were able to fish at night
again off the pier without the use of flashlights or torches as the
English say. Such is life in the fast lane in the bustling village
of Charlotteville, Tobago, the West Indies. Stay tuned.