The Caribbean is one of the world’s most diverse cultural and ethnic melting pots for such a relatively tiny geographical space. We speak four official languages, namely English, Spanish, French and Dutch, because of our dark colonial ties to the four main European metropoles of that era. As a Caribbean native, I grew up aware of our common history, origins, economies and challenges but that’s about it. There are a myriad of beautiful subtle differences between our cultures and people which we don’t and perhaps can’t learn about in the classroom. Also, I’m not sure how different it is in the rest of the region but in Jamaica, we scarcely learn about the non-Anglophone West Indies at all. I perhaps know nothing more about those islands than their names and capitals. The cost of a plane ticket to a nation just an hour away or less often ends up costing much more than a plane ticket to say USA or Canada. It’s such a shame and prevents us from getting to know our neighbours better. Nonetheless, here’s why I believe Jamaicans (and West Indians at large) should step over our picket fences and get better acquainted with our Caribbean neighbours for 2020 and beyond once you have the means with which to do so.
- To enjoy the delicious foods which make each island unique. Our islands share a common history so our food influences are the same, namely Amerindian, African, European, East Indian and Chinese. Our ingredients and spices are similar since we share the same tropical maritime climate and hence grow similar foodstuffs and have access to lots of fresh seafood. That being said, the combinations are endless and shape up to form dishes and flavour profiles unique to each country. Doubles from Trinidad, crab and dumpling from Tobago, flying fish and cou-cou from Barbados, oil down from Grenada and I could go on. There are lots of beverages to choose from too like Stag and Carib, the unofficial national lagers of Trinidad, and Pitons, the golden lager from St. Lucia.
- To enjoy the unique natural beauty of the islands. Most Caribbean nations are blessed with a similar diverse geography as Jamaica– rugged mountains and karst creating delightful cloud forests, swift flowing rivers, cascading waterfalls and numerous caves and sinkholes with impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The beaches are equally as stunning with some offering unique attractions like swimming with flamingos at Flamingo Beach in Aruba or swimming with pigs in the Bahamas. Antigua is said to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, and while that sounds too good to be true, wouldn’t it be exciting to see how many you can cross off the list on your vacation there? Many of the Eastern Caribbean islands have volcanic activity too giving rise to the world’s only drive-through volcano in St. Lucia, and numerous other sulphur springs and interesting sites. There’s also the Pitch Lake in Trinidad, the world’s largest naturally occurring source of asphalt, and Guyana has the world’s largest single drop waterfall which looks spectacular by air or land, the Kaieteur Falls.
- CARNIVAL! Carnival in the Caribbean is said to have originated in Trinidad and Tobago shortly after the passage of the Emancipation Bill in 1833. Before that, Blacks weren’t allowed to participate in the French festivities of joie de vivre which took place between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. Fast forward to today and there’s one on almost every island. The dates are nicely dispersed throughout the calendar year with one in nearly every month and Montserrat heads the list with their carnival on New Years’ Day, January 1. I’m a pretty conservative and introverted person so jumping half naked in the city capital, sweaty and wining on strangers sounds nauseating but the hypnotic pulsating beat of soca music and that glorious sweet sound of steel-pan could get me to do almost anything. With that said, you may find my alter ego at Jamaica Carnival in 2020 and playing mas in Trinidad Carnival 2021, a rather expensive undertaking these days though I’m afraid. Something about the darker beat of jab soca entices me too so Grenada’s Spice Mas is also on the list.
- Besides Carnival, there are many other island festivals and cultural experiences to get lost in. The greatest time to visit an island is when its best is on show. Similar to Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee which has finally gotten an annual festival in March, Grenada’s Chocolate Festival in May celebrates cocoa, its different varieties, blends and products. Visit what makes each island unique like touring the spice farms of Grenada, the tobacco farms and factories of Cuba and even learn how to cook another country’s national dish on a culinary tour.
- Brush up on your languages. Many of us have had exposure to Spanish and even French at the primary and secondary level, but those skills quickly vanish since we don’t get much opportunity to practice. Look no further than our closest neighbour Cuba to hone your Spanish, and Haiti to the east to hone your French. Yes they mostly speak Kreyòl, a French-based creole, but French is the official language of the country and is widely spoken especially amongst the educated. The regional variations in accents, inflections, dialects and creoles are delightful to hear too and for the English-based ones, are pretty easy to comprehend once the speaker slows down and enunciates. In 2014, the CNN even ranked the Trini accent as one of the world’s sexiest accents, the only West Indian accent to make the list (I’m offended!). They described it as “an undulating melodic gumbo of pan-African, French, Spanish, Creole and Hindi dialects that when adapted for English, can be sex on a pogo stick.”
Wow, I’ve said a mouthful. Have I convinced you to see more of the Caribbean yet? I’m all for regionalism but there’s a lot more which needs to be done to strengthen ties in our region such as the creation of a common passport, possibly a common currency, have all member states respect the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final appellate court for our region and making free movement from state to state easier. Our only true successes so far are the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC)’s creation of standard exit examinations for the region, the University of the West Indies, our only regional university, and perhaps in the arts and sports through CARIFESTA, cricket and the CARIFTA Games. Here’s to strengthening our regional ties through travel. 🥂 If we start demanding lower airfares to travel across our region and show the big airline bosses that regional travel is lucrative because we’re genuinely curious and interested in knowing our neighbours, maybe more direct flights and lower airfare costs will be the reward.
Are you a reader from the Caribbean? Drop your flag in the comments section.
‘Til next time.✌🏽