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ISLAND PROFILE 40 lime October - December 2008 Richard's Shark'n'Bake; it's an institution in itself. The crowds decline the further along the coast you travel. Las Cuevas and Tyrico Bay have their devotees but it is Blanchisseuse where you're most likely to enjoy the magnificent solitude of a Caribbean beach to yourself. On the east coast, Mayaro and Manzanilla are long, wild and windswept expanses of sand and battering waves, with a rawness which appeals to many. The Manzanilla coastal stretch, characterised by huge swathes of towering coconut forest, is worth the drive for the scenery alone. l Sports The most popular sports are football ( the national team, the Soca Warriors, played in their first World Cup in Germany in 2006) and cricket. Don't miss a day at the cricket. Relax beneath clear Caribbean skies ( at Guaracara Park or the Queens Park Oval), have ice cold beer brought to you in a bucket, watch the nuts sellers arc unerringly accurate bags of cashews into the stands and enjoy their interaction ( picong) with the crowd: " To all my international customers, I am delighted to announce we now accept US dollars, pound sterling and all major credit cards. Please form an orderly line". The players are not spared the chat either, as I discovered when a boundary fielder failed to dive for a ball which passed him. " What de arse, like yuh mama say she not gonna wash yuh trousers!" l Touring and Exploring Trinidad's 50 by 30 miles are as diverse as its culture, and its ecosystems are some of the Caribbean's richest. Because of its location, Trinidad enjoys a unique and considerable blend of South American and Caribbean flora and fauna ( there are over 470 bird species alone) which draw visitors from across the world. Watch the country's national bird, the vibrantly- plumaged Scarlet ibis, fly into roost in its thousands at Caroni Swamp; listen to booming howler monkeys, see anaconda and search for the elusive manatee in Nariva Swamp's vast marshlands; discover the mysterious oilbird at the Asa Wright Nature Centre; take a dip in La Brea's Pitch Lake; and observe giant leatherback turtles nesting at Matura and Grande Riviere. Hiking is a great way of seeing the country and is popular in the Northern Range, particularly in areas such as Brasso Seco and El Tucuche. Be sure to hire a guide though as local knowledge is essential. The Coat of Arms of Trinidad and Tobago includes Columbus' ships on his voyages of discovery to the New World – namely the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Use of the name Courland in Tobago dates back to the mid- 1600s, when Tobago was briefly a colony of the Duchy of Courland, now part of Latvia in Europe. Red faces all round if you're unable to recognise which one is the scarlet ibis. GETTY IMAGES did you know?

October - December 2008 lime 41 Festival of Lights October 28 Diwali, otherwise known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most popular events in Trinidad. Although it is a Hindu festival, in the island's multicultural and multi- religious society it is a national holiday observed by people of all denominations. The day is marked by prayers, feasts and the lighting of thousands of deyahs ( small clay pots filled with oil in which a wick is immersed and lit) all over the country. Diwali, or Deepavali, has been celebrated by Hindus throughout history and is the most important event in their calendar. The festival signifies the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, justice over injustice and intelligence over ignorance. Like other cultural events in Trinidad, Diwali is celebrated in offices and schools all over the island. Employees and even government ministers dress in East Indian garb, and variety shows featuring aspects of Indian and Hindu culture are staged. There is also a Diwali Nager ( a spacious expo type facility) where thousands visit each night to learn about aspects of Hindu culture and buy trinkets, books and food. A community event, after pujas ( Hindu prayers) have been performed, Hindus throw open their doors to welcome all non- Hindus to partake of delicious sweets and Indian cuisine. The climax of Diwali, however, is the lighting of deyahs after sundown. In yards, open spaces, staircases, roundabouts and porches, deyahs are lit by the thousands. They are usually placed on bamboo stalks bent into fantastic shapes and designs. If visiting Trinidad during Diwali, it helps to have a vehicle to travel to many of the areas where the glittering displays can be seen. In some villages, one may have to join the throngs of people walking through the streets in order to get a first-hand view of the lights and to receive sweets that are handed out. Alternatively, gaze up at stunning rainforest- cloaked mountains and listen to the chattering of orange- winged parrots above as you cycle through towering bamboo cathedrals in the nation's only national park, Chaguaramas. Otherwise, rent a car and explore the nation's highways and byways with map in hand. Be careful if you're driving though, you're more likely to be raising your hands to cover your eyes than in acknowledgement of a fellow driver's courtesy. Maxi Taxis ( public service minibuses) are the most flagrant offenders, taking a laissez- faire approach to road regulation. Watch as the drivers – who rejoice beneath monikers like ' Temptation', ' Pretty Boy' and, more worryingly, ' Stalker' – hurtle along sorting their cash whilst controlling the steering wheel with their elbows; blanch at the thumping volume of the ' tunes'; and wince in expectation of imminent impact as they veer across three lanes to pick up a late- hailing Tanty. l Conclusion Trinidad is truly an experience unlike any other. Trinidadians have been blessed with a beautiful country and are some of the friendliest, most down- to- earth people you are ever likely to meet. When you mix this with a natural flamboyance and joie de vivre you have the recipe for a dedicatedly fun- loving culture. It's loud, it's colourful and it's vibrant: one thing it is not is dull.