Originally written for and published on the Discover Trinidad & Tobago website in 2016
There are many people and things that have landed Trinidad and Tobago in the history books…or which are just plain cool! Here are just some. And if you know more that you think should be here, feel free to give us a shout! We always love to hear from our readers.
The oldest evidence of human activity on Caribbean soil is in Trinidad: the archaeological site at Banwari Trace has yielded artefacts dating back to 5,000BC, belonging to the Ortoiroid people (named after the Ortoire river). “Banwari Man”, the human skeleton found lying in a crouched burial position by the Trinidad & Tobago Historical Society in 1969, is preserved at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine. Banwari Trace was included in the 2004 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. Access requires permission through the National Trust (which a tour guide can arrange).
Ye olde Main Ridge Reserve
The 14,000 acres of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve in Tobago (rising to 876m/1,890ft) encompasses the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere. It became a reserve in 1776, and is full of hiking trails and opportunities for eco adventure.
A turtle nesting site of global importance
Grande Rivière (in northeast Trinidad) is the second largest leatherback turtle nesting site in the world, with 18% of the total global population nesting here. During turtle nesting months (March to September, and sometimes as early as January) — Trinidad and Tobago become two of the world’s most important turtle nesting grounds, and not only for the endangered leatherbacks. Hawksbill, green turtles, and other species — all of which are legally protected on our shores — come up on north and east coast beaches to nest during nesting season.
Steelpan to the world
Steelbands exist all over the globe, from the US to Japan and Australia. Local ones have performed at prestigious venues world-wide. In 2015, a steelpan concerto (the second ever composed) was premiered at the Kennedy Centre in Washington by the US National Symphony Orchestra, featuring pannist Liam Teague. And in case you need the refresher, the steel pan — forged in the Laventille hills above Port of Spain, Trinidad some 80 years ago — is the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century.
One big brain…coral
The largest live brain coral (about 3m/10ft by 5m/16ft) has been has been recorded off Speyside in Tobago.
De Trini accent
In 2012, CNN Travel listed Trinidad as having the 10th Sexiest Accent in the World (MSN Travel actually had us in the fourth spot!), saying: “For fetishists of oddball sexuality, the Caribbean island of Trinidad offers an undulating, melodic gumbo of pan-African, French, Spanish, Creole and Hindi dialects that, when adapted for English, is sex on a pogo stick…” Ent?
Long before Sam Mendes and Steve McQueen (both British directors of Trinidadian descent) won Oscars for American Beauty and 12 Years a Slave, Scottish engineer John Logie Baird is said to have produced the world’s first television set on a cocoa estate in Santa Cruz, Trinidad around 1920. There are also several actors of Trinbagonian descent who have made their marks in Hollywood — not to mention the ones that have also done well in places like the UK and Canada. We look at some of those well-known actors here.
Stuff of literary legend
It’s almost certain that Daniel Defoe used Tobago as the basis for the island in his classic novel Robinson Crusoe; some claim Robert Louis Stevenson did the same for Treasure Island.
There’s even a spot near Crown Point that pays homage, called Crusoe’s Cave.
The ghost of Lopinot
Legend has it that on dark, stormy nights the Compte Charles Joseph de Lopinot appears on a black horse, dressed in military regalia, and gallops across the Lopinot savannah — the site of the cocoa and coffee estate he established around 1806 after he fled to Trinidad to escape the Haitian revolution. He died in 1819. After a visit in 2011, TV show Ghost Hunters International (SYFY Channel in the US) reported that they had found more evidence of paranormal activity here than anywhere else in the world. Incidentally, the Ghost Hunters also tracked down some spine-tingling phenomena Down the Islands in Chacachacare, Trinidad…
Film location Trinidad & Tobago
But ghosts aren’t the only reason that film crews come to Trinidad and Tobago. A range of local and international films have been shot on location here — Fire Down Below (1957), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Hummingbird Tree (1992), The Mystic Masseur (2001), Limbo (2010), Home Again (2013), among others.
The Swiss Family Robinson
The classic 1960s film Swiss Family Robinson was shot entirely on location in Tobago. The iconic treehouse used in the film was constructed around a majestic samaan tree that is said to still exist near Goldsborough Bay, on the property of Roberts Auto Service and Tyre Shop in Goodwood. The film’s director, Ken Annakin, instantly fell in love when location scouting, after also visiting Jamaica and Trinidad and finding them unsuitable. Lead actot John Mills was also in high praise of his Tobago adventure: “I’ve been all over the world to shooting locations, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more lovely location. … Unlike a sugar island like Barbados, it was lush; the scenery was varied and very beautiful. I was lucky to see it before it became popular, with the inevitable golf course and noisy water sports. It was simple and totally unspoilt: miles of empty golden beaches lapped by the sea which was full of exotic and highly-coloured fish that, as they were never shot, were so tame they poked their noses against our facemasks as we swam amongst them.”
The Trials of Life
Sir David Attenborough filmed many bird sequences from his acclaimed documentary The Trials of Life here in Trinidad. It’s one of many documentaries that have been shot here which explore T&T’s wildlife and natural environment.
The Minshall effect: AirDancers to the world
AirDancers? What are air dancers? Also known as “SkyDancers”, these inflatable, dancing, icons may now be best known as dancing baloons that are often used as eye-catching advertising and branding. They were originally conceptualised as “Tall Boys” for the 1996 Summer Olympic Opening Ceremony by Trinidadian artist Peter Minshall, with a team that included Israeli artist Doron Gazit (who controversially patented the “flygyuys” concept in 2001 — without Minshall).
A very special pitch lake
It might, to some, just look like a giant car park. But the Pitch Lake at La Brea is one of only three natural asphalt lakes in the world (the other two are in Venezuela and California). The result of a fault in the sandstone 250 feet down, through which crude oil or bitumen seeps, the pitch has been exported for decades, for use on roofs and road surfaces. Though you can walk on its surface, objects have been swallowed up, sometimes reappearing years later as the pitch slowly swirls. The island’s First Peoples are said to have believed that the Pitch Lake was created by the Good Spirit to drown a village whose people had sinned by killing too many hummingbirds.
The third most spectacular reef in the world
The Buccoo Reef/Bon Accord Lagoon Complex is the island’s first Ramsar Site, recognised as a wetland of international importance. Buccoo Reef was once rated by legendary French oceanographer and explorer Jacques Cousteau as the third most spectacular reef in the world. Plans were announced in 2015 for an underwater sculpture park.
Trinis to the bone
Multiple award-winning rap/hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj; Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Angela Hunte (who co-wrote “Empire State of Mind”, performed by Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys); Tony and Grammy winning singer/actress Heather Headley; and the late, celebrated performer Geoffrey Holder are all Trinidadian.
The Moruga Scorpion Pepper
The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper was ranked as the world’s hottest pepper by the Guinness Book of Records.
Tobago has won many awards as a top destination for eco-tourism, including four World Travel Awards (two for being the world’s leading eco-tourism destination).
The name originally given to Trinidad by the First People was “Iere”, which some say means “Land of the Hummingbird” (other says it just means “island”). There are 17 species on the island, and Trinidad and Tobago remains a prime destination for bird watchers.
Men of science
Trinidadian Dr Joseph Lennox Pawan discovered the transmission of rabies by vampire bats to humans in 1933, leading to the development of a vaccine for the virus. Other Trinis have made significant contributions to modern science, including Dr Bertrand Achong, co-discoverer of the Epstein-Barr Virus.
Still on the science front, British-born naturalist Robert John Lechmere Guppy (whose father served as Mayor of San Fernando) is credited with discovering the girardinus guppii (commonly known as guppy fish) in Trinidad in 1866. As you probably guessed, the fish was named after him. While in Trinidad, he married Alice Rostant — the daughter of local planters descended from French aristocrats who had fled to Trinidad during the French Revolution. Guppy died in San Fernando.
About the Nylon Pool…
The Nylon Pool’s name is said to have come from Princess Margaret, who claimed the water was as clear as her nylon stockings. We’ll also bet money that when you take a tour to Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool, your tour guide will tell you tales about the power of the waters to keep couples in love forever, to help you find your soul mate, and to heal the sick. Which certainly can’t hurt, can it?
The recently refurbished George Brown House and Gingerbread House (near All Saints’ Church) have delicate wooden filigree, jalousie windows, peaked roofs, dormers and a gallery. George Brown, a Scottish architect who came to Trinidad in 1880, created the “gingerbread style”, which can be found across the island, in remnants of stately mansions once owned by planters and merchants, as well as the cottages of the poor.
The world-renowned Angostura Bitters, while first formulated by Dr JGB Siegert in Venezuela, it has been manufactured in and exported from Trinidad since 1875. Siegert and his family — and the family business — migrated to the island around that time. The Port of Spain company, the House of Angostura, has kept their legendary recipe a secret since 1824.
Trinidad & Tobago’s fine flavour cocoa is some of the best in the world. It won first prize in the category of “spicy” in the prestigious Salut du Chocolat in Paris, France, in 2011. Entrepreneurs, particularly in Tobago, have been working on creating delicious, locally branded chocolate from cocoa grown right here.
Trinidad & Tobago has an impressive record in the petrochemical industry. The largest oil and natural gas producer in the Caribbean, with one of the largest natural gas processing facilities in the western hemisphere, T&T was identified as the world’s sixth largest LNG (liquefied natural gas) exporter (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015), and the largest exporter of LNG to the USA, accounting for 71% of their LNG imports. The country also is the world’s largest exporter of ammonia and the second largest exporter of methanol (IHS Global Insight 2013). While this industrial strength has made T&T the wealthiest nation in the Caribbean, and the third richest in the Americas after the US and Canada (by GDP per capita), emphasis on oil and gas production and consumption has also made the nation the second highest per capita producer of greenhouse emissions (after Qatar), and the second highest producer per unit of GDP (after Uzbekistan).
“Marisa’s Move” — into the gymnastics history books
An 18-year-old Trini-Canadian gymnast Marisa Dick, who has been representing team Trinidad & Tobago in international competition (and became the first local gymnast to represent T&T, albeit under controversial circumstances), debuted a mount on to the balance beam at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland that had never been done before. The move bearing her name gained became part of the official Code of Points, which governs the scoring systems at each level of competition in gymnastics.