Roland was quite the happy man. Carib Lager – arguably Trinidad and Tobago’s (TAT) most popular beer – was giving him a nice buzz as he walked the streets of Port of Spain camera in hand. It was 3.15am on Monday morning. – that moment of stillness before dawn. The time of day when the human body and mind is supposed to be in the state of deepest repose.
But this was Trinidad during the time of Carnival and sleep was as far a hope as water in the Sahara. Even though Roland walked a deserted street, the deep-pounding, ribcage-rattling bass that had been the brain numbing aural signature of Trinidad over the last three days was omnipresent. It was as if the gods above had turned on a celestial stereo, cranked the volume the maximum and then forgotten about it.
Rounding a corner, Roland was greeted by the sight of the Cocoa Bunnies – a band of revelers with chocolate as their medium of getting down and dirty to J’Ouvert – affectionately called Dirty Mass.
Roland dressed in a spotless white t-shirt stopped startled right under a streetlight like a hare in a beam of light, the Cocoa Bunnies rushed to him with unabated glee and smothered him in chocolate in exactly 7.5 seconds, their humdrum of happiness drowning out his pleas “I don’t want to play, I’m a press photographer”. The carnival had officially begun in Trinidad and no one escaped the revelry.
J’Ouvert (daybreak in French) marks the official start of the carnival when revelers smear themselves with mud, paint or chocolate and dance to calypso on the streets. It starts before dawn and go on well into the day.
This was the first of the street parties that would go on one after the other for two days. Every group of people (Cocoa Bunnies, Mud Angles etc) carried their music with them. And I am not talking pocket sized iPods or flashy mp3 players pouring music privately into the owner’s ears. There is nothing private about the way the Trinis play carnival. A truck with a tri-axle trailer accompanied each group and on this trailer was a high output generator supplying the electric juice to a DJ with a console that would make a professional recording studio’s mixer look like a hobby harmonium. Of course the sound was blasted out through a dozen loudspeakers the size of closets. And to the foot-tapping music the DJ pumped everybody danced. From graceful twirls to raunchy thrusts to some very suggestive pelvic swaying everybody was slave to the rhythm. The DJ truck had company. It was followed by a truck that, you could say provides fuel to these uninhibited gyrations – the bar truck. Atop these, generous bar maids handed out stiff drinks that comprised of flavourful and forceful Trinidad rum mixed – rather ‘mixed’ is misleading, I would say garnished – with Coke or Sprite. With so much alcohol, high spirits and energy all around it is understandable that you have to pay for water, but condoms are free.
While J’Ouvert marks the official start of the Carnival that runs from Monday to Ash Wednesday that marks the beginning of Lent, there are enjoyable events on the days leading up to J’Ouvert Monday.
After J’Ouvert, the finale was on Tuesday with the Parade of the Bands. Where in everyone gets dressed in wild and whacky costumes and struts their stuff all over town. The music on this day was even louder and the vivid and varied colours of the costumes would make a rainbow run away in shame.
But what really amazed me is the energy on that day. It was as if there was an invisible electric field around Trinidad and everyone plugged into it. The festive atmosphere and the energetic dancing went on and on nonstop tirelessly through out the day, even though the sun was beating down hard.
On Ash Wednesday I woke up to a deathly silence as if someone had pulled the plug on the celestial stereo. There was no more deep bass which had been the heartbeat of Trinidad over the last three days.
In the departure hall of the airport hand luggage mostly consisted of fancy headdresses of carnival costumes, dark circles underlined bleary eyes and a whiff of rum hung in the air as most people ventilated out the excesses of almost a week of partying. In a corner sat Roland wiggling his ear with his little finger, trying to get the last of the chocolate out of it.
Carnival was over!