Port of Spain, Trinidad
I never thought I’d say it but I’m missing my Dad’s phone. Since my last trip I really hadn’t realized the extent to which technology had become integrated into the budget travel experience. The three-pronged attack of smart phones, wifi and Skype have revolutionized backpacking. With free wifi in most accommodations, one can call home anytime for peanuts. On my trip through India in 1998 I communicated with home via postcard and called once, I think, when my bank decided not to realize and I was stuck for cash.
As a writer as well, Dropbox is invaluable. I would seriously consider taking some sort of tablet on my next trip as, due to the ubiquitousness of phones and laptops, hostels are less and less providing actual computers for guests to use. In the whole of Paramaribo (the capital of Suriname) I could only find 2 internet cafes, both of which were closed at the weekend!
The connotations of this preponderance of technology are not only positive though: thinking about taking so-and-so day trip to the Whatsit Islands but not sure if it is worthwhile? No need to take a chance - whip out the iPhone, get on tripadvisor.com and read dozens of reviews. Obviously it does pay to check out a tour operator but removing all risk and spontaneity is not a good thing. Maybe such easy access to reviews will herald an uplifting of service in operators, eager for that ‘Check us on Tripadvisor’ sticker that seems to be in every window now from the Marriott to that wooden momo shack in eastern Tibet. Sure beats the old exercise book of hand-written recommendations by John, UK.
Anyway, I was glad in Georgetown, Guyana to meet up with Tom, UK. Finally I could call Gerda again with ease. I did enjoy Georgetown, as well as having some unexpected company. Being the only two tourists in the country we were naturally drawn to each other. Once we’d got over the novelty of being able to flush our toilet paper again, we toured the wooden colonial buildings, drank Banks Premium in the market with the locals and suffered hangovers under fierce sun and surprise showers. Then we went to Suriname and did the same thing in Paramaribo among seemingly hundreds of young Dutch girls on school trips or working for NGOs. Hard Times.
I left Tom there for a couple of days to try his luck and crossed into French Guiana (Europe! Baguettes! No transport!) to see the Iles de Salut, made famous by Papillon in book and film. Despite sharing the islands with a boatload of French tourists, wondering around the jungle-reclaimed ruins of the penal colony was an absolute highlight.
After one last raucous night on the Parbo with Tom I’ve come to Trinidad – the first of my Caribbean island nations – the ones that a lot of people thought I was going to be enjoying for the whole 3 months. In fact, I have just 2 weeks to get to Cuba and have been tearing out my hair trying to plan an itinerary that will take in a decent variety of countries but for a fair amount of time. There are 28 nations, states and overseas territories (excluding Cuba) which equates to about half a day each, excluding travel time, should I visit them all. Of course that would be ludicrous so difficult choices must be made: Barbados or Dominica? Haiti or Jamaica? Then there is the buying of flights, dependent on ferry schedules and ‘island time’ – the built-in lateness factor applicable to anywhere that reveres Bob Marley – and booking accommodation in advance. Out of my natural element of off-the-cuff dorms, buses and street food, the whole process is absolute anathema to me but I know that if I don’t book ahead airfares will double overnight and I’ll be forced to pay $100 per night to sleep.
So, the ongoing planning stage is admittedly a little stressful, not that I expect much sympathy, but hopefully I will reap the rewards with 2 weeks of some people’s idea of paradise. Or, this could end up being the hardest backpacking I’ve ever done.