hindu wedding ritual

Experiencing Culture in Trinidad

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Last Updated on January 9, 2021 by Michelle Moyer

Why Vacation in Trinidad?

Ever since I can remember, Trinidad has been on my Must-See list.  I have a best friend named Deowatie that lives in Trinidad and has been my corresponding penpal all of my life.  Our parents signed us up in grade school so that we could get writing practice and learn about different cultures.  Deowatie sent me letters about her life in Trinidad and I gave her the details about my busy life in Midwestern USA.  Our letters traveled via the postman and seemed to take forever to arrive.  Her letters always gave me a taste of experiencing culture in Trinidad but I always dreamed of being there in person.

airmail from Trinidad

We were quite happy, finally, with the invention of the internet so that we could switch to instant communication via Facebook messenger.  We constantly talked about visiting each other and meeting face to face.  Invitations were sent back and forth for various events and holidays and it just never seemed to work out. 

letter

The Hindu Wedding Invitation

triveni mandir temple

Recently, I received an invitation to Deowatie and Mitra’s wedding, to be held at the beautiful place of worship called Triveni Mandir, which was built on the principle of Dakshina, giving back.

She gave me a couple of months’ notice.  Now is the time!  I didn’t want to have any regrets, so I jumped at this opportunity to experience her culture. I started making plans to not only go to finally go to Trinidad but to participate in her Hindu wedding traditions. 

wedding invitation

At the top of the wedding invitation is a divine Hindu mantra scrolled in elegant writing.  It reads in English: O Lord Ganesha of Large body, curved trunk, with the brilliance of a million suns, please make all my work free of obstacles, always.  Lord Ganesha, the beloved elephant god, is the remover of obstacles and this chant is used at the start of a prayer or ritual that involves new adventures, like a wedding.

Planning your own Vacation in Trinidad

Make sure to reserve one of these luxurious top hotels located in Trinidad from the ultimate list. OR choose a secluded AirBNB and make your vacation one to remember.

Travel Companions

My young adult twin daughters came with me on this new experience trip of a lifetime. It means so much to me that my daughters still want to vacation with their mom. Thank you, Marilyn and Maddy. I am learning how to successfully travel with them now that they are adults. There are several key concepts in mother-daughter travel that are important to realize as they get older and I have to learn to adapt to them.

Where is Trinidad and Tobago?

why is trinidad
Map of Trinidad, West Indies

Trinidad is located just off the northeast coast of South America.  It is in the southern Caribbean, in fact, it is the southernmost island country in the Caribbean, and is only 7 miles from Venezuela.  Trinidad is a country that is well-known for its mix of African and Indian cultures, as reflected in their Carnival and Diwali celebrations as well as being the origination of steelpan and limbo!

steelpan player
Steelpan began in Trinidad

Our Adventure begins

Experiencing Trinidad on a vacation with daughters

From Cleveland north to Toronto for a few hours layover, and then we finally flew south and made it to Trinidad.  We landed at 10:15pm, right on time at Piarco International Airport.  We de-boarded and took our first snapshots of the Welcome to Trinidad sign.

arrival at airport in Trinidad
Welcome to Trinidad!

We were all smiles until we saw the lines for customs and immigration.  The line snaked around endlessly and appeared to never move.  I discovered that Deowatie had already sent me 2 messages wondering where we were.  I quickly sent her an exclamatory message that we would not be there anytime soon.  In her calm manner, she replied that they were there waiting for us when we got through.  I needed to take a chill lesson from her and calm down or I wasn’t going to make it through this line. 

waiting in line

Suddenly, the security guard came up to the group in front of us and motioned for them and everyone behind to follow into a newly opened line! WHAT?  I felt bad for millions of people that were still in front of us….that were now behind us because in our new line we were NEXT to be helped! Well, THAT certainly sped things up a bit.

Happy greetings and introductions followed quite soon in the airport from Deowatie and her fiancé Mitra.  Snacks anyone?  After those miles of traveling we got some fast food to tide us over until we could have a decent meal.

meeting deowatie at the airport in trinidad
Happiness! Finally making it to Trinidad to meet Deowatie

They loaded us and all of our luggage into the car and drove to their house.  Driving on the left side of the road?  New experience for us!  We were quite tired.  We welcomed their hospitality and comfortable accommodations and fell right to sleep upon our heads hitting the pillows.

I am a really picky eater, so I was worried about meals in the Caribbean.  Isn’t the food supposed to be spicy?  Deowatie prepared our first home-cooked Trinidad meal.  The meal was vegetarian and I was pleasantly pleased that my taste buds cooperated. I loved it and actually wished that there were more leftovers.  We feasted on basmati rice, veggie chicken with pigeon peas.  It was delicious.

basmati rice, veggie chicken with pigeon peas

Indian Expo Shopping for Hindu Wedding Attire

Deowatie told us that Hindu weddings were fancy and most guests attending the wedding at the Beautiful Hindu temple would be in traditional Indian clothes.  We didn’t own any of those, so she took us shopping at the Indian Expo Center.  These are merchants from India who bring traditional clothes and items direct from India to Trinidad to sell.  With almost 50% Indian population in Trinidad, there is a large demand for Indian clothing, which is worn for most Hindu festivals like Divali, Puja, and weddings.  The colors and the glitter at the Indian Expo Center booths were astounding!  Sensory overload! 

Deowatie told us that nothing would be considered too fancy and we should get whatever we thought was beautiful.  Well, to me, it ALL was beautiful so it was really a difficult shopping experience for me and very hard to pick JUST ONE.  The twins seemed to quickly decide on saris and the shop owners were quickly whipping out different colors and patterns for them to try on.  A sari is a long single piece of fabric with a decorative endpiece that is worn wrapped around the waist and then draped around the shoulder.  Flashes of every color were being shown to each of the twins as the shop owners tried to position themselves for prime spots in the purchasing frenzy.  Bargaining was the norm here and Deowatie was a pro, so I was happy to have her on my side.  The twins’ saris were quickly decided and they both had smiles on their faces.

I decided on the color purple and wanted something that didn’t show my midriff.  I fell in love with all the gold bling on a certain lehenga that of course –showed the belly!  Oh well, I’ll just wrap the drape around myself and hike up my skirt!  We also purchased our shoes and gold bling jewelry at the expo.  What a fun shopping day! You will get to see our final purchases in the Trinidad wedding blog article.

One funny point of information here is the currency in Trinidad is dollars.  However, the exchange rate to our US dollars at the time was approximately 0.15 USD.  So, it was funny for us to see signs for a sandwich for $30 dollars!

Trinidad Street Food

On the way home from the Indian Expo, we stopped for some common Trinidad street food called Doubles.  It is a snack that is sold almost everywhere on the island at any time of day but is traditionally a breakfast food.  It is made from 2 pieces of fried dough (barra), hence the name doubles, and filled with curried chickpeas (channa).  You can order it anywhere from no pepper (which is my flavor!) to slight pepper, to lots of pepper (I was told this is fire engine hot).  We ate them on the side of the road with our fingers. The object was to break off pieces of the barra to scoop up the channa.  Even with the instructions on how to properly eat them, we got very messy but really enjoyed the delicious treat.

sampling Trinidad doubles street food
Sampling Trinidad Doubles
trinidad double street food
Trinidad Double

Mehendi for Hindu Wedding Ceremony Preparation

The Mehendi Ritual was to be held in the evening before the wedding ceremony.  The bride would have henna applied to her hands, arms, and feet.  It is said that if the resulting color of the henna application is dark and beautiful, then she will be blessed with a loving husband.  After this ceremony, the bride must not step out of the house until her wedding.

henna applied to hands during mehendi
Henna is applied to the bride during Mehendi.

The twins and I also took part in Mehendi.  The artist took her time in the application and she spent many hours free-hand drawing intricate designs.  Once applied, the henna took several hours to dry.  We were to sleep with socks over our hands so that we didn’t mistakenly sleep with our cheeks or chins on our henna, which would result in artwork on our face where we didn’t particularly want it.  The artist said that she made the henna herself with all-natural ingredients.  It should last on the skin a week or two depending on how much swimming we did.

Preparing some Indian Sweet Treats

One of the wedding preparations that we helped with was the making of Laddu.  Laddu is a traditional Indian sweet that is typically made of a flour base batter along with cashew, saffron, and cardamom.  They are rolled into balls and are a popular savory treat at engagements, weddings, and other special celebrations.

making ladu
Making Ladu

Sightseeing at Maracas Beach

One of the site-seeing trips that we were able to make was a trip to Maracas Beach.  This was an hour-long journey over the Northern Range.  On our way, we stopped to sample the local drink from a guy selling from the back of his pickup truck. He sliced open the coconut and gave us a straw.  I never drank from a coconut before!  It was warm and the coconut taste was a lot milder than I was expecting. 

trying coconut water in trinidad
Trying coconut water in Trinidad

We continued our way up the mountain with a quick look at the view at the top, but it was short-lived because the area is populated by lots of bugs.  The bugs chased us back into our car and drove on through the mountains, watching millions of the critters smash into the windshield.

posing at the northern range in trinidad
View on top of the Northern Range in Trinidad

As we drove on, we heard stories of all the rain that had occurred recently making the side of the range and the roadway very muddy. We came upon a pass that was one-way and we were worried that there would be a mudslide that would prevent our return home!

Travelling through the Northern Range in Trinidad
Thank you Micah for keeping us safe!

More Trinidadian Specialties – Bake and Shark

Upon arriving at the beach we staked out our spot and then went to grab some lunch.  Trinidad, and especially THIS beach, is known for the Bake and Shark dish.  It is a Trinidadian fast food of fried flatbread and yes…shark meat.  Additional ingredients like lettuce, coleslaw, pineapple, and other condiments are also set out to top the street food dish.  I went to the food stall but just could not order one.  I got a veggie bake instead and we went back to relax on the beach and enjoy the warm Caribbean air. 

eating trinidad bakes on maracas beach in trinidad
Picnic on Maracas beach with our Trinidadian Bakes
trinidad bake for lunch
I must have been really hungry because this is the only closeup I got of my Trinidad Bake before I ate it!

We all relaxed on the sand while politely declining the occasional passerby that wanted to sell us a beach chair or jewelry.  The wedding was coming up soon and the excitement was growing over this grand event.  We let the sun soak into our skin as we contemplated all the culture we were experiencing on this trip.

Maracas beach in Trinidad
Maracas Beach

Anticipating Deowatie’s Hindu wedding

Our experience attending the Hindu wedding was new and exciting for us and was the focus of a separate blog post so that I could devote the attention to detail that this beautiful event deserved.

Continue traveling to Trinidad and read the culmination of our trip by attending the BEAUTIFUL HINDU WEDDING CEREMONY. This post was completed to celebrate the anniversary of this sacred event!

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Trinidad street food
Learn about the customs and culture in Trinidad as we take a vacation to this southern Caribbean Island to prepare for and participate in a Hindu Wedding. Trinidad street food / Maracas Beach / travel to southern Caribbean / Hindu wedding / wedding preparations / what to wear in an Indian wedding / how to buy traditional Indian clothing for your first Hindu wedding / Travelling to Trinidad / Things to do in Trinidad / Trinidad vacation / #Trinidad # Hindu Wedding"
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roamy

I have always dreamt of visiting Trinidad and Tobago but never really made it, it seems like a long way away from Europe but after reading your post, this is sure going to my bucket list.I know they speak English in Trinidad so language will not be a problem.
thanks for sharing, really helpful and informative

Virginia Ng

What a great post combining travels in Trinidad and the popular Indian culture there. I used to be really close with someone who would travel to Trinidad every year, and thought about one day of maybe going with her. This reminded me that I still have to go to Trinidad and Tobago sometime in my life.

Tina Crum

What an amazing experience! And truly special to share that with your daughters. I look forward to travel getting back to normal in the future so I can experience beautiful cultures like this!

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