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T & T Chronicles: Dancing with Lady Chancellor

While we were in Trinidad, it was quite clear that Carnival was right around the corner. The steel pan drum competitions were in full swing as teams practiced for the finals, Soca artists were performing for free in the main square in Port of Spain, and every other radio announcement was advertising a Fete (think GIANT party with live music). Perhaps the most noticeable sign of the impending festivities was the plethora of activity on the Queens Park Savannah. The Savannah is a large park and open-space located in Port of Spain. During Carnival, performances and vendors set up shop and it becomes party central. Vendor space is at a premium, and although it is supposedly a democratic selection process, it sounded like knowing someone in the Ministry of Tourism certainly didn’t hurt.

All smiles before heading up the hill!

All smiles before heading up the hill!

Around the outside of the Savannah is a large walking/running path. The elaborate and revealing costumes of Carnival mean people love showing off their bodies, and subsequently become quite focused on making their bodies as attractive as possible. The fitness industry is huge in the months leading up to Carnival, but for those who don’t want to drop a nice chunk of change on equipment or classes, running around the Savannah works quite well. In the evening, once the sun has gone down, the paths get pretty darn crowded, as we learned during an evening stroll to work off a delicious dinner.

Just off of the Savannah pathway is Lady Chancellor Hill. This 2.0 (I measured it at 2.2) mile hill ascends 700 feet to a lookout point that provides absolutely stunning views of Port of Spain and the Gulf of Paria. Whereas most of other roads in Trinidad & Tobago lack sidewalks and any room to run, Lady Chancellor Hill actually provides a bit of room to move out of the way when a car is heading straight for you. This is a good thing considering the high speeds and blind curves that seemed to characterize Trini drivers and their roads! The hill is typically more quiet since it is a residential area, so it has become a focal point for Trinis looking to test their athletic ability or simply shed a few more pounds before Carnival.

Port of Spain the the Gulf of Paria

Port of Spain the the Gulf of Paria

While on the way up, I saw a few other walkers/runners, but I basically had the hill to myself. The incline was definitely intense and it never really let up. At times, I felt like I was running up a treadmill that wasn’t going to give me any sort of break. As I ascended the hill, the views to the right became more and more breathtaking, although I wasn’t fully taking them in because I was extremely cautious of drivers and trying to actually maintain a running pace.

Views on the path

Views on the path

However, when I reached the top, the view was everything I was hoping it would be and it made the killer run completely worth it. I’m sure I’ve commented before about how flat Iowa is and how I wished I had more choices for hill work. More than that though, I was just struck by the natural beauty of my surroundings. Perhaps Trinis eventually take the beauty for granted after living there for a certain amount of time, but I almost don’t know how that’s possible. There is just so much to stimulate the optic nerves and keep you engaged with your surroundings. Although the path was paved, I felt just as engaged in my surroundings as if I had been running a trail race. It was absolutely incredible!

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How can you compete with views like this?

How can you compete with views like this?

After some time at the top to take in the view, I began my descent. I knew it would be a whole lot easier going down than it was coming up, but I don’t think I was prepared for just what a difference it made. I would describe the run down as more of a controlled fall than anything else, and it felt great. I knew my quads would be screaming at the bottom, but I didn’t care. I was flying 🙂 I had averaged about 9:58/mile on the way up, and about 7:23/mile on the way down. That should tell you everything you need to know.

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When I reached the bottom, I continued around the Savannah, taking in the people, the traffic, and all the glorious sounds of a bustling urban environment. I passed by children in their school uniforms, food vendors getting ready for carnival, and folks out for an afternoon run/walk in preparation for the upcoming week. The loop took no time at all, in part because I was so enthralled by my surrounding. I simply didn’t want to stop running and I probably could have continued running around the Savannah for hours.

Still smiles at the end!

Still smiles at the end!

When I reached my starting point, the beautiful epicurean and our amazing friend turned tour guide were waiting to greet me. Now, if only I had a bottle of water or something refreshing to finish off my run. Oh wait, I just walked over to the nearest coconut vendor and bought a cold nut! He lopped off the top with his machete so I could drink the deliciously fresh water straight from the nut, and then he opened it up so I could eat the delicious coconut jelly and flesh hidden inside. Yes please! I’m pretty sure that if every run ended with fresh coconut water, I wouldn’t have a job because I’d be running all the time. Except then I couldn’t pay for the coconuts, so that would be awkward. Just sayin’.

Fresh coconut water...amazing!

Fresh coconut water…amazing!

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T & T Chronicles: Oceanfront Running in Tobago

I’m sure you have all been eagerly awaiting the updates on my much-anticipated trip to Trinidad and Tobago. This was my first experience with international travel and it was an absolutely amazing experience. Thus, the next several posts will be dedicated to a more in-depth running recap of our week in the Caribbean. After the cold and snow this winter has brought, 85-degree temperatures and sunshine provided a well-timed week of relief!

Tobago FAW

Two of our first days were spent on Trinidad’s sister island of Tobago. Despite being so close, the two islands have very distinct cultures and natural wonders. We took a quick 20-minute flight over and set up shop in a small hotel near the airport, and more importantly, the beach! We of course immediately dropped off our bags and headed for the beach, and it did not disappoint.

Good morning, Tobago!

Good morning, Tobago!

The sand was clean and smooth, the water was a beautiful shade of blue, and small boats and glass-bottom tour boats lined the shore. Small bars, and homegrown food vendors were everywhere, and we definitely ate our way around both islands quite thoroughly. You can check out the upcoming posts from the beautiful epicurean for reports on our culinary adventures. The roads were quite narrow and the drivers quite agressive, so if I wasn’t running on a path, beach, or sidewalk, I wasn’t running!

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I normally cringe at getting up early to head out the door for a run in January, but that was far from the case in Tobago. I was out the door by 7AM, and I of course headed straight for the beach. I ran past the beach on Store Bay, and down to Pigeon Point. This is a private beach that usually requires an admission fee, but the beach didn’t open until 9AM, and the security guard let me run in and explore. I pretty much had the entire beach area to myself and it was absolutely amazing! I’ve never seen such beautiful views and I felt as though I was on a completely different world. As I ran down along the beach and looked out into the Caribbean Sea, I was pretty sure I could have stayed there forever and run the same route. I’m sure it would have gotten old eventually, but at the time, I couldn’t imagine when.

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I did eventually leave my beach-front view and ventured further inland to explore the island a bit more. One of the main reasons I love running in a new location so much is the visual stimulation in the environment around. Tobago did not disappoint  and I soaked in the scenes. Everything from small store fronts to children in uniforms heading to school to the daily hustle of the beginning of the work day caught my eye as I made my way.

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I made it back to the hotel to shower, and head out for a wonderful day relaxing on the beach and exploring the Buccoo Reef in a glass bottom boat. If only every run and every day could be so wonderful 🙂 Stay tuned for the next installment of the T & T Chronicles!

Coconut Bake & Flying Fish- a perfect T & T breakfast treat after a hard run!

Coconut Bake & Flying Fish- a perfect T & T breakfast treat after a hard run!

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