A Flashy Taste of Honey in the Caribbean

Sunday, January 28, 2007

While Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio are among the world's best-known pre-Lenten bashes, Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival is in a class all its own. "A taste of honey" is how many have described the event, an explosion of color, creativity, dance, art and music . While many of the towns in this twin-island nation get into the action, the main bash takes place in Port of Spain. In this city where rum, dance and singing flow freely 365 nights a year, Carnival draws by far the biggest and most raucous throngs of revelers, including locals and visitors from throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere.

-- Lystra Lashley

WHEN: Feb. 19-20

WHY GO: Visitors learn firsthand what makes this celebration the "Greatest Show on Earth," as it's known, when watching thousands of costumed "masqueraders" dance through the streets of Port of Spain -- and all of it accompanied by the music of steel pan and brass bands. While the costume presentations provide an exciting introduction to the islands' vivid culture, mostly it's a way to cut loose.

And once the two-day celebration is over and the Catholic season of Lent begins, many visitors stay to tour the flora- and fauna-rich countryside in Trinidad. Others head for Tobago, where the beaches are pristine and tranquillity is in abundance.

GETTING THERE: American, Continental and Delta airlines offer service from the Washington area to Port of Spain. Round-trip fares, with restrictions, start at about $800 in the weeks leading up to the celebration.

Once there, taxis and minibuses provide inexpensive transport, from under a dollar per trip, depending on distance. On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, there are restrictions for all vehicles coming into the center of Port of Spain.

WHAT TO EXPECT: If you get to the island before the big two-day celebration, don't miss the crowning of the king and queen of the masquerade bands at the Dimanche Gras show, which takes place on Feb. 18 at the Jean Pierre Complex (Wrightson Road, Port of Spain). Also check out the Children's Carnival, which also flows through Port of Spain on Feb. 17.

On Feb. 19, the fun starts early. Visitors can participate in J'ouvert, a French term that means "the opening of day." It begins before dawn, around 4 a.m., and lasts until 11 that morning. Partiers take off through Port of Spain and other parts of the nation in comical portrayals, including local and international political personalities, as well as celebrities.

Once J'ouvert is over, it's time to grab breakfast and perhaps get a bit of sleep before venturing out for the day's parades, which begin around 1 p.m. and end around midnight. Expect to see costumes -- some colorful, others that look as if they're torn from the pages of a fashion magazine. Again, thousands take to the streets and dance to pulsating music.

On Feb. 20, the street party continues. Be ready to start at 8 a.m. and keep it up until midnight. Now, though, thousands more are added to the masquerade bands -- which are judged by panels at various venues -- and the costumes are even more flamboyant. Stalls featuring Caribbean fare, soft drinks and more potent refreshments line the streets.

At midnight, the masqueraders disperse, the orchestras return to their camps -- and preparations begin for next year's Carnival.

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