Too Many Drummers.com - my music website
Journal 1 - The Land Downunder
Journal 2 - Indonesia
Journal 3 - Singapore & Malaysia
Journal 4 - Thailand 1
Journal 5 - Thailand 2
Journal 6 - Indian Ocean
Journal 7 - Red Sea
Journal 8 - Egypt
Journal 9 - Suez to Israel to Petra
Journal 10 - Turkey
Journal 11 - Greece & Italy

Journal 12 - Balearics, Gibraltar, Canaries
Journal 13 - Canaries to Cape Verde to Atlantic
Journal 14 - Barbados to Grenada
Journal 15 - Trinidad
Journal 16 - Bahamas DC-3 Plane Wreck

Journal 17 - 34 Things I've Learned in 33,000 Miles


We timed our arrival in Trinidad to coincide with the build-up to Carnival. Thanks to some last minute reservations we were able to squeeze into a slip at Coral Cove Marina for the duration of the festival, which made it easy to come and go from the boat at all hours.

I’d been looking forward to Trinidad because:
1. Carnival is one of the biggest parties in the world
(and hey, I’m a party animal. I wonder what museums they have here….)
2. It’s the birthplace of steel drums
3. Sarah’s visiting!

Almost all cruisers stay in the yachting town of Chaguaramas. On the advice of dozens of cruisers we hooked up with a local taxi service called Member’s Only, which is run by a Trini named Jesse James. Jesse did an awesome job of organizing the Carnival madness into bite size chunks so we didn’t get overwhelmed by options.

Carnival Overview

Carnival is part of Trinidad’s national identity. Although English is the official language there are a few Carnival-specific local phrases to learn in order to immerse yourself in the culture:

mas - costume (masquerade)

play mas - the way each individual acts while in costume is how they “play mas”

band - troupe of people playing mas in the parade. Each band has its own theme and they vary in size from a few hundred to 8,000 people.

parade of bands - on Carnival Monday and Tuesday the bands put on their costumes and march through the streets of Port of Spain. They stop in five places to play mas for judges. Also called the "road march competition".

band of the year - The winner of the road march is crowned “band of the year”.

wine - style of dancing involving lots of hip motion. Use your imagination but you won’t have to try very hard. Often referred to as “wining”.

chip - favored style of dancing which basically means stepping in time to the music. I’m not sure why they bothered making up a word for it.

soca music - the hippest, hypest music genre in Carnival. It’s calypso on speed.

bacchanal - a local told me it means “confusion”. All I know is that every single soca song includes “bacchanal” in the lyrics because it rhymes with “carnival” (so does “root canal” but for some reason no one uses it).

rag in de air - spinning a rag in circles while holding a corner of it. Another frequent soca lyric.

jump up - party

Mas Camps

Carnival costumes are made in mas camps. Each camp supplies a range of costumes specific to their band’s theme. For example, if you want to march with Poison (one of the most popular bands) then you go to one of their mas camps to sign up for a costume. If Poison’s theme is “The Roman Empire” your costume choices may range from gladiator outfits to emperor togas. The more elaborate the costume, the higher the price.

There are price brackets for every wallet size. If you want an ultra expensive outfit, local banks offer loans specifically for carnival costumes.

Monarch Competitions

Each band crowns a king and queen to represent them in the Carnival Monarch competition. Monarch costumes grow more elaborate as they advance through rounds of judging until they peak in the finals. By this point the surviving costumes feature sparklers, streamers, fireworks, strobe lights, mirrors, and shiny things designed to shock and awe.

Kiddie Parade

One of our favorite events of Carnival was the Red Cross Kiddie Parade. The kids costumes were awesome and they loved dancing to the loud music and enthusiastic applause. Well, most of them did. Some of the smaller age groups appeared bewildered by the whole ordeal.

One of the funniest parts of the show was watching the parents shadow their children across the stage.

Parent: “Stop in front of the judges! STOP! Jump up and down! With the music! No, WITH the music! One, two, three (jumping to demonstrate)! We’re signing you up for music lessons when we get home. OK, time to stop jumping…stop jumping….STOP!”

Seriously, though...all of the costumes were incredible and most of the kids were thrilled to show off their cool outfits. The Kiddie Parade was one of the most fun events we attended.

Viey la Cou

Modern costumes tend to revolve around sex appeal (how many themes can you create with a bikini, really?) but early costumes were rooted in mythology and social commentary. One of our most interesting side trips was to Viey la Cou, a celebration of old Carnival traditions. Carnival originally was the one time of the year when Trinidad natives could publicly challenge and lampoon wealthy French estate owners. Old school costumes often recalled Trinidad’s African heritage and mythology.

Viey la Cou was fun. Minstrels sang social commentary. Moko Jumbies danced across the lawn on stilts. Pierrot Grenade challenged each other to battles of wits and wordplay. Jab Jabs cracked braided whip ropes far too close for comfort. Fancy Indians came out in full traditional Native American headdresses and cackled challenges over microphones at each other for 10 minutes. Midnight Robbers fleeced the crowd for cash as they drug coffins while boasting of fearsome deeds over the PA system, punctuating their claims with ear-piercing whistles.

And then came the Blue Devils….

The Blue Devils got annoying quickly. I don’t really want to go into it…suffice it to say that they waved enormous toads, frothed at the mouth, and shrieked loudly until the object of their attention gave them money to go away. It could have been fun but they went way too long and I felt they bullied the audience for money. Not cool. Some traditions die for a reason.


One of the highlights of Carnival for me was the annual steel pan band competition called Panorama. Pan bands are divided into three categories based on size. The smallest bands contain 60 players or so and the largest have up to twice as many. That much metal pounding is an impressive assault on your eardrums.

Pan bands are based at a panyard. We visited five or six yards during the buildup to the Panorama semifinals. It’s amazing how different each group sounds even with roughly the same instrumentation. In the world of steel pan competition, musical arrangement is everything.

Every January a new crop of calypso songs are released for the upcoming Carnival (which changes dates every year but typically comes at the end of February or early March). Arrangers choose the songs they want to rearrange and immediately get to work. They only have a few weeks to write 8 minute arrangements and rehearse their players.

Most pan players don’t know how to read music. They learn by watching someone else demonstrate their parts. Arrangers have to understand how to play all the voices in a pan band and be able to hear, isolate, and correct mistakes through a maelstrom of noise. These guys know their stuff.

Steel Pan

Steel drums (or “pans”) were invented in Trinidad. There is no better place on earth to learn about these fantastic instruments so I immediately bombarded every local I met with questions about pans…which is a bit like going to the subway in New York and asking random people about saxophone technique. As it turns out, not everyone in Trinidad is a pan player.

A knowledge vacuum could not contain my excitement and after exhaustive research I bought my first steel pan, a set of double tenors.

When my initial euphoria wore off I realized I had no clue how to play my shiny new instrument. Since the notes are not written on the pans, I resolved to buy a book and teach myself. The first music store didn’t have my book but I met Dougla, the manager of a pan band called the Merry tones (who have won the small band division in Panorama the last three years running). Dougla invited me to a rehearsal at the Merrytones panyard that night. Excellent.

At the panyard I met Kendall Lewis, a Merrytones arranger who agreed to come to the boat and give me a pan lesson in our cockpit. Most excellent.

Kendall brought diagrams of all the steel pan instruments and their note layouts to the lesson. Much to my surprise I learned that double tenors are the only pan instrument with randomly laid out notes. All the other pan voices use some form of logic in their note patterns. Oops...

No worries. After a few weeks of practice I learned where the notes are.

Sarah’s Visit

Sarah had the most brief Carnival experience known to man. Schedule constraints meant she had to squeeze her visit into three days. She arrived on Sunday night at 8:30 and left early Wednesday morning.

Still, she got to see the March of Bands on Tuesday. You can read about her impressions of Trinidad on her journal page.

Gorge Explorers

After Sarah flew back to the states I went on a series of hikes with friends (Joe and Amanda) from another yacht. Trinidad has some killer trails. It also has a widely acknowledged crime problem so it is important to exercise common sense. For example, the time Joe’s local friend warned us off going to a certain waterfall because “bodies have been found there”….we didn’t go. Our strategy was to explore relatively inaccessible places on the basis that most thieves or would-be evildoers aren’t willing to expend the energy it would require to ambush us.

We found our greatest adventure by following a riverbed upstream until it came to a series of three gorges. Each gorge had swimming holes fed by a steady stream of water. The upper two gorges featured natural waterslides perfect for anyone with extremely durable tailbones or high thresholds for pain.

Two days later we returned with a rope so we could take turns sliding. Amazingly, no bones were bruised or broken. Click here to watch extreme waterslide video footage (Quicktime format) taken by Amanda's camera.

My best efforts to write and record on the open
seas are laid bare for your listening pleasure....

Click here - March the Unafraid (it's danceable!)
Click here
- Carousel/Move to Sever
Click here - Sarah's Song
Click here - One Less Kangaroo (just the song)
Click here - One Less Kangaroo (with explanation)
Click here - Picasso

There were at least 100 of these speaker trucks
in the Parade of Bands. "Loud" does not begin to
describe them...."Seismically Dangerous" is close.

Carnival costumes take all different forms.....

Fancy Indian

Girls Attacked By Tribe of Potato Chips

This is what happens when your parents are
extremely health conscious

This is what happens when your parents are
trying to get an endorsement deal with Hershey's

This is what happens when your parents are
bad at converting metric waist measurements
(my favorite costume....look at his shoes!)

This is what happens when your parents have
a sense of humor

This is what happens when your parents are
brilliant costume designers
(seriously, how cute is that?)

Viey la Cou minstrels

Fancy Sailor

Midnight Robber

Blue Devil training for career in politics

Blue Devil drooling "blood"

Panorama Finals

Single tenor - the most popular pan instrument

Reason #539 Why I Love Steel Pan:
You can stand on them while you play

You have been warned

The crabs have organized a resistance....

....and they show no mercy.

SO cute....uh, aren't some of these poisonous?
I'm sure I read that somewhere.

When in doubt apply Life Rule #525:
Don't lick small (possibly) poisonous animals.

Hiking Buddy Extraordinaire Amanda

Hiking Buddy Extraordinaire Joe

Hiking Buddy Extraordinaire Me

That's right. We're hardcore.

The Waterslide of DOOOOOOM.

This web site is a companion to Outback and Beyond.com.