Ticket to anywhere
Where would I go with a ticket to anywhere?
Honestly, I’d stay here, unless I could take Hubby and our two adopted kiddos with me. With four tickets to anywhere? I’d take us all to Trinidad, an island off the coast of Venezuela. (Okay, let’s be real. There are some days I’d be fine with just two tickets…)
The summer before college, I flew to Trinidad with a stuffed Christmas bear. You know the one; the big, white bear in a cheery red velvet vest and bow, sold at Leggett, Belk or Thalheimer’s in the 80’s and 90’s. (I didn’t like red, so I cut off the bow sewed under his chin and dropped the vest off at Goodwill. Some less fortunate bear was thrilled with the hand-me-down, I’m sure.) My guy flew in the nude. Well, in the fur. The soft white fibers tickled my cheek; I hugged him to me and we looked out the window, down at the sunlight-frosted clouds. This first time on a plane, first trip out of country, first full month away from family on an island with a group of people I barely knew, was something of a leap.
Our crew was motley, to say the least (we even had a drummer). Middle aged professor, rebel hippie (not me), country girl (also not me), picky eaters (definitely not me), college students, island residents, karate expert, audio/visual technician, Barbie-body chick (again, not me), and a very sheltered bear (with a very sheltered me) comprised our group. Diverse, but like-minded. A church needed rebuilding; we arrived to help.
Newly seventeen, I’d seen several other states on family trips, mostly as we drove through on the way to a relative’s home. Trinidad was different. Twenty years later…is yesterday.
I stepped from the plane. Humid, with breezy currents, the enveloping warmth conjured the feeling of walking under a warm ocean. Well, if the ocean smelled like asphalt after the rain. Bear watched my back, head poking out of the nylon pack slung over my shoulder. Pretty sure I was walking into the best time of my life, I grinned at the security guard. He raised an eyebrow at the bear. And proceeded to search all my belongings. (What, an almost-adult with a bear is a red flag?)
“Sun-drenched” is overused in advertising. Trinidad was sun-soaked. Sun-saturated. Sun-soggy. And, at 3 pm every day, soggy-soggy. The beautiful dark clouds rolled across the sky with alarming speed. Within a few days, we understood that “alarming speed” in North Carolina is “daily grind” in Trinidad. Nationals barely looked up…until they saw the crazy white girl out in the church courtyard, dancing in the rain. Every single day. The rain back home was cold and piercing, even through most of the summer. In Trinidad, the rain was friendly, warm and welcoming. It fell in sheets, sopping my clothes and drenching my long brown hair. Traced the contours of my cheeks, ran in tepid rivulets down my back. I danced and played and invited the children to join me. Luckily, no security guard was present; I’d likely have been searched again.
Thirty minutes after the deluge, everything dried (including me). Most days, entrepreneurial children stopped by with coconuts, mangoes and other fruit, and they left with our cash. Local friends poked holes in the coconuts. Unlike the small brown, hairy things at American grocery stores, tree-fresh coconuts are football-sized, with a smooth hull. (Yes, I know the fuzzy brown ball is inside.) There’s nothing in the world like holding the cool green coconut between your hands, drinking the silky coconut water straight from the hole. There’s also nothing like spilling it stickily down your chin and chest, prompting wide white smiles and friendly laughter from every direction. My best friend called me Grace, an ironic nickname, thanks to both my propensity for stepping out into traffic and my inability to properly drain a coconut.
Trinidadian Mangoes deserve an entire post to themselves. Before the trip, I thought mangoes were…well, mangoes. A medium-sized fruit with green skin, yellow flesh and a big fuzzy pit. Nope. Mangoes come in many colors and sizes. I know, because I tried every single one. Not too sweet, not too tart, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Pretty sure I ate the cost of the flight in mangoes. Peel back the skin and bite right in; the fibers get stuck in your front teeth, but hey, that’s why we all brought floss, right? And the bananas. Oh,the bananas. Like mangoes, not uniform. Bananas in Trinidad are red, brown, yellow, green. Big plantains, teeny “figs.” Just-right sweetness, mellow and satisfying.
The only things I would describe as “not my favorite edibles” (and I do mean the ONLY, evidenced by a 15-lb weight gain) were cows-foot soup and a small green fruit. Cows-foot soup is, well, soup made by boiling a cow’s foot, hoof and all. The gelatinous broth tasted of beef, but I couldn’t handle the goopy texture sliding over my tongue. No seconds, please. I don’t know the name of the green fruit, but it was the size of a large marble and had a thin, hard shell. Everyone else loved them. The first time I cracked the shell with my front teeth and popped the fruit into my mouth, I liked the zingy tartness. I did NOT like sucking the fruit off the pit. It was thick and reminded me of (sorry, delicate stomach warning) snot. I gagged, almost choked, and that was that. No more slimy fruit for me. Also, no soup. No soup for me.
The best part of Trinidad? The Trinidadians. I had never before and have never since met anyone as warm and welcoming. We were brought into homes as family, loved as family, fed (oh, yes) as family. The lilting accent added to the charm, and I loved to imitate it. Once, I repeated a phrase I’d heard (with accent) and got a cheer from the local group for “being Trini.” I absolutely loved them and wished to stay forever. Alas, college plans were set, and at month’s end I boarded the plane with a very wet face, this time not from rain. One thing made the departure bearable: we brought a bit of the island with us. A member of the church we helped rebuild returned with us; she wanted to attend college, so our college provided a last-minute scholarship.
Halfway home, I realized that I’d packed Bear in the checked baggage accidentally. Or, maybe, not such an accident. After all, what almost-adult travels with a bear?
An opportunity to see Trinidad again soon is unlikely, but last year Hubby and I took the kids on vacation near my Trini friend. On a whim, I called. She had time to visit. Memories refreshed, we laughed and reminisced.
And, happily for all of us, she cooked.
Reposting as a post (originally posted as a page). Assignment for Writing 101.
Posted on February 28, 2015, in Blogging101, Writing is fun, Writing101 and tagged beach, blogging101, coconut, dancing, Mangoes, ocean, plane, rain, travel, Trinidad, writing101. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.