As I geared up to do my squats this afternoon in the gym I pressed play the newly released Private Ryan Post Carnival Relief. To my surprise, it starts out with a stripped down version of Kes’s ‘Savannah Grass’ with little more than his vocals and a backing Piano. IT GAVE ME LIFE! Knowing the tempo would soon change into the song I loved from the instant I heard it, sent a wave of emotions that overcame me. I understood, if even just for a moment, the comments I had read previously of what this song meant to so many. I was transported back to the streets of Port of Spain a month ago where we all were chipping and feting down the road as one big Famalalala. Soca is more than just music and Carnival is more than just an event. For Trinidad and Tobago, this is life, and for those who have gotten to experience it, we can attest to it being one of the greatest events in the world. One of my personal favorites for describing it is Maria who says Trinidad Carnival = Christmas for Adults. Perhaps its because I’m still on a high from experiencing it just a month ago but I can honestly say it ranks up there with the most fun times of my life. All this to say if you never ever jump up inna carnival you better find yuself right here!!! And if you’ve already done it then I don’t need to go further cause ‘if you know yeh, then you know yeh hmmmmm’ 🙂
To help you on your way I’ll share a few tips of things I’ve learnt since my very first road march!
1. It’s expensive. Really Expensive. I suspect that’s the major deterrent for most people who would be interested to go. The bad news IS it won’t ever get cheap. The good news: You can reduce a lot of the costs. With airfare, accommodations and the costume being the three major expenses, two of the three variables are controllable. If you preplan loooonnnnggggg in advance you can cut airfare by a few hundred. Even better yet, if you’re an Aero card holder and have 20,000 points laying around USE THEM for this trip. its 20,000 points for a roundtrip Caribbean ticket and the more expensive the ticket is (in my case over $700 USD when I still hadn’t booked it in January) is obviously the more value for money that your points will get you. The second hurdle being accommodations, I don’t have to tell you that if you have any friends over in Trinidad make sure to stay with them. Even if you’ve fallen out of touch or you’re only Facebook friends or they live in a shithole it’s worth it cause chances are you’ll barely even be there anyway. If you’ve overcome the first two hurdles and slashed your expenses in half and you’re still grumbling that your costume costs hundreds of dollars take solace in the fact that it’s a premium all-access pass to two complete days and average the cost out per day. I’m pretty sure it will work out cheaper than a costume to any of the bands in Jamaica, but I’d say do all the carnivals all the chances you get!
2. Which brings me to ‘Two days is not enough!’ Before my first carnival experience (in T&T) I could not wrap my head around the thought of two days on the road! What were we possibly going to do on the second day, wouldn’t we be so sick of soca music by then! It turns out this is the opposite of the truth. On Monday everybody puts on what they call ‘Monday wear’ which is usually not their actual costume and basically do a warm-up for the next day to come. I’ve heard many a people say that Monday is actually their favorite day on the road but then Tuesday you get to cross a stage and there is a Champagne Hour so it’s truly a toss-up for me. What no one will argue, is that by the end of the second day you too will be screaming ‘Two days is not enough!’
3. Which flows into… Don’t expect to get any sleep when you get there. You literally fly in and go to a fete back to back to back fete and you’re sprung into a tailwind of fetes and road march and before you know it you’re on a plane out. Trinidad Carnival is no joke! Its soca on crack and the week leading up to the road has every imaginable party you can imagine and usually two or three happening at the exact same time so you can pick choose and refuse. Seriously there is a niche for everyone! Bouge, they got you. Hotlanta, they got you. Down and Dirty with paint and mud. Check Check. Boat cruise YASSSS! If I knew the way to train for a marathon party I’d surely give it but the only advice I can say is let the vibe guide you, drink water in between and nap on the plane!
4. The crowd in Carnival is overwhelming and with Bacchanal going on you’re sure to lose your squad at least once or twice while you or someone else is ‘tiefin a wine’. Just to ease your mind and worries about getting lost I’d insist upon getting a sim card. This MUST be done in the airport simply because when you leave there you may not get another chance (READ #3). On a personal note, I’m going to highly recommend you go with Lime over Digicel on this one. The woman who works the Digicel desk did her best to ensure she’d be rated amongst the top of my worst customer service experiences ever. On top of completely ignoring my questions after having me wait for almost half an hour, she also thought it was appropriate to check her Instagram stories and facebook feed in plain view of me. Regardless of her, Lime’s rates were actually cheaper and the Data gave me no issue during my stay there. Oh yeh, before I forget, right before road march share your location with your squad and don’t lose your phone!
5. I would never have guessed this before going but some Trinidadians take the road march more serious than Venezuelans preparing for a beauty pageant. Did you know that they book makeup and tan appointments, sometimes months in advance for the odd hours of say 4 am to get ready for the road march? If this is for you I cyann knock you, I mean I’m guilty of spending an inappropirate time in the gym trying to get ready for carnival myself! It’s just a reminder that ultimately we are doing these things mostly for ourselves as no one is watching you on carnival day. They’re either caught up with themselves or having the time of their life. It’s a simple reminder to check those things at the door and give yourself the freedom to relax and get mad which is what its all about IMO!
6. Some say crossing the stage is overrated but the energy is too infectious and wild to miss for me. The first time I did it, I enjoyed it so much that we stormed (slang for snuck in) another band and crossed the stage again with them. You can imagine my surprise this year when we went to cross the stage with a different section (same band) and got plucked out by security (despite our best efforts to outrun them) as our ‘section’ of yellow shorts had already crossed! We were told to basically go around the stage and exit. Who the hell wants to do that! Instead, we went several sections back to find a group of Yellow feathered ladies with accompanying orange short lads and camouflaged ourselves as best as we could! Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that my shame tree is relatively low, but the thought of getting kicked out AGAIN gave me immense anxiety. I think between that and the red bull I was drinking my heart rhythm was slightly off. Alls well that ends well and I’m happy to say that we got to cross the stage. For future tho I’d definitely cross with my section first and leave the possible flops for stormin opportunities!
7. The first time I was introduced to social politics was at a Halloween party a number of years ago. I had dressed up in a fat suit (the kind that keeps blowing itself up) and so many people came up to me wanting to take pictures that I mistook myself for a celebrity. My costume definitely stood out. Yet when it came time to vote for best costume I wasn’t even a nominee! What a bitter pill that was to swallow. That all too familiar feeling crept back when I found out the Wednesday that Famala had won official road march song. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Famala, and its a catchy beat. But simply put, it was not the crowd favorite. I chipped that road for two days and there was no competition as far as I was concerned. Apparently, the winner is the song that gets the most plays during the judging stations. I was oblivious to where any of these ‘stations’ were and it’s clear that outside influences beyond what the people wanted to hear where at play. Not so much a tip, but there is something called the Soca mafia and apparently they will do more than just wine you to death!
And before I forget, if you’ve missed Trinidad and the energy i’ve described it’s still not too late to catch Jamaica’s carnival which is getting bigger and badder every year! If you never ever jump up inna carnival YOU BETTER FIND USELF RIGHT HERE!