You'd better join this festival of music, costume
parades and dancing, or else you'll be taking a mudbath --
and probably a mud shower, too
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad » The hotel manager's notice was
slipped under my door: "We are pleased to inform you that
outdoor shower facilities will be provided on Carnival
Monday morning. We encourage you to use them as you will be
held responsible for any damage to linen, furniture or walls
caused by oil, tar, paint or mud."
I suspected then that the next few days were going to be
different from the usual casual Caribbean experience.
If You Go ...
Airlines serving Port of Spain, Trinidad: Delta
(nonstop from New Orleans), American, Caribbean
(formerly BWIA) and Continental
Tourist office: Trinidad and Tobago Tourism
Development Co., Maritime Centre No. 29, 10th Ave.,
Barataria, Trinidad. Call (868) 675-7034, e-mail
» Courtyard by Marriott. Call (868)
» Crowne Plaza Trinidad. Call (868)
» Hilton Trinidad. Call (868)
On the Net
» Trinidad Carnival 2007:
Unlike some other pre-Lenten festivals in the world, the
Carnival here in the capital city welcomes the participation
of all comers in several events. This includes the opening
madness called J'ouvert. It begins at about 4 a.m. on
Monday, and if you don't "play with a band" (parade with a
club) wearing old messy clothes, someone will make sure that
you that you are pelted with as much gooey stuff as they can
find before you return to your hotel by around dawn.
It's all in good fun, of course, but I have to admit that
at my advanced age, I skipped that part of the adventure,
limiting myself to hearing firsthand reports from more
athletic and happily soiled friends.
The spirit of Carnival constantly pervades on this small
(50-by-37-mile) island. Those who know it best say that
there are only two seasons in Trinidad -- "Carnival"
(February) and "Getting Ready for Carnival" (the other 11
months of the year). The "mas bands" (costume clubs) spend
much of their waking hours over that time planning their
elaborate outfits, new music and general merrymaking. To a
visitor it seems as if the entire population takes part.
There are certain well-defined events that will take
place this month. Although my own experience was in 2006,
here are the dates keyed to the lineup for Carnival 2007.
Although that muddy Monday is the official opening, three
important events come days earlier, on Feb. 17 and 18).
During the day on Saturday is the Kiddies' Carnival, a
costume parade of youngsters through the downtown city
streets, accompanied by their proud parents. Then, on
Saturday night is Panorama, the final steel-pan musical
contest in the grandstand on the Savannah, the great open
parkland in the center of the capital city.
Generally speaking, the music is composed not of the
gentle calypso songs I remembered from my youth. When I
first thought about attending the Trinidad Carnival, I
imagined some melodious steel band favorites of long ago --
ditties like "Rum and Coca Cola," "Mama Look a Boo Boo" and
other Harry Belafonte tunes. That kind of thing is all but
extinct now in favor of an outgrowth of Calypso called soca
-- a hard-thumping, rhythm-happy music.
FEB. 18 will see the Kings and Queens Costume Competition.
Some might consider the large, colorful creations that float
and flutter across the stage as something more than a
New soca songs are written for every carnival, but in the
days prior to Carnival, one or two of them win so much
popularity that they are heard almost nonstop, day and
night, on the radio and in the street. I recently found that
one infectious song from Carnival 2006, "Max It Up," can be
heard on the Web at
"Everybody start de jumpin', jumpin'
Max it up and keep de party pumpin' pumpin'
Take it to de limit 'til we reach de top
'Cause we deserve to max it up, max it up, max it up!"
Or something like that.
They can weigh as much as 200 pounds, extend as high as
30 feet in the air. Some contestants are aided by
articulated outriggerlike wheels so they can move across the
stage. Many are inspired by such creatures as fire-breathing
dragons and outsize butterflies, and sometimes feature
special effects such as laser beams, fog or even falling
After the aforementioned mud and oil madness on Monday
morning, thousands of citizens and even some tourists who
are going to "play mas" might get a few hours' sleep before
donning glittery, often revealing, costumes to begin the mas
(masquerade) parade throughout the streets of the capital.
The dancing is pretty much instinctive. If you can jump
forward, backward, sideways and turn around now and then,
you're qualified to play mas. Some of the movements are
described as "chipping" -- a sort of bent-knees shuffle
forward, which is all the dancers can do anyway when the
crowds are too heavy.
Carnival begins in earnest on Feb. 20 this year. All day,
thousands of costumed dancers begin jumpin' and chippin'
along a 3-mile route until they finally cross the stage in
their bands, saving their most dramatic moves for the judges
in the reviewing stand. It's a process that takes all day
and runs into the night.
Then at midnight, everything stops cold -- no more music,
no more dancing. Lent has begun. For some it will be their
first good night's sleep in several days.