Island Beat (Autumn 1994)

The adventures of Brian Lara, Caribbean bobsledders at the Olympics, a new suspense movie, new ways to explore Barbados, a new horse-racing track...

Antigua’s resident cricket humorist, Mayfield. Photograph by Allan AflakEvil-doers, take cover: here come the untouchablesIllustration by Eddie BowenJustin and friend get a ride on the “donkey bar” which carries juice and water for the hikers. Photograph by Roxan KinasLara with Sir Garry Sobers, whose record he broke. Photograph by Bertrand De PeazaLaramania: players form a triumphal arch after Brian Lara’s record breaking Antigua innings. Photograph by Allan AflakPallas Athaena, Goddes of War and Wisdom, the queen of Wayne Berkeley’s 1989 band Heromyth. Photograph by Noel NortonRacing on the new Santa Rosa track. Photograph by Cyan StudiosRiders head for home after a morning’s trip. Photograph by Roxan KinasSince April, the international press has been queuing up for a word with Lara. Photograph by Allan AflakTaking a breather on the way to the east coast. Photograph by Roxan KinasThe Merry Monarch was the king of Peter Minshall’s 1987 band Carnival is Colour. Photograph by Noel NortonThe parade ring, behind the new grandstand. Photograph by Cyan StudiosTrinidad and Tobago hopefuls: pilot Gregory Sun (right) with brakeman Rodney Woolford practising in Calgary

Laramania

The world knows that the West Indian cricketer Brian Lara set a new world record for the highest score in a test match in Antigua last April (375), then in June made the highest score in any first-class match ever (501), breaking more records in the process than anyone could count.

But that was the easy part. The young batsman’s powers of concentration were tested far more severely in the weeks that followed. From the moment he left his wicket in Antigua on April 18, Lara was subjected to the unrelenting surveillance and demands of the media of three countries, the governments of two and virtually the entire population of one.

When the BWIA plane in which he was flying back to Trinidad from Antigua made its scheduled stop in St Lucia, only one passenger was allowed to disembark: a group of government officials including the Prime Minister, John Compton, came onto the tarmac in jackets and ties to whisk the dazed and unsuspecting Lara off the plane and through a maze of passageways and red carpets to a crowded VIP room where, with cameras flashing and popping all around him, he was officially presented with a gift.

That was merely a hint of what was to come in Trinidad, where Lara was born. From the bottom of the aircraft steps at Piarco airport, he was propelled forward by a flood-tide of people that refused to ebb. The VIP lounge was so crowded with VIP well-wishers that the TV crew was shut outside the door and had to wait with everyone else in the car-park.

Over the next four days, Lara was driven from one end of Trinidad to the other in motorcades and was officially hosted, toasted and boasted by local government leaders of Arima, Port of Spain, Chaguanas, San Fernando and Tobago. He was received by Prime Minister Patrick Manning at a jam-packed cocktail party at the Prime Minister’s official residence and by President Noor Hassanali at the President’s House, where he was given Trinidad and Tobago’s highest honour, the Trinity Cross. His gifts included TT$375,000.

Only on the day he left was there time to visit the offices of Angostura Limited, the company that has paid him a full-time salary since 1991. (The company willingly waived any claim on him: Lara, said Angostura’s CEO Clive Cook, belonged to the people that weekend.)

Even on the BWIA planes in between destinations, Lara was not left alone. His sleep time was reduced by a steady flow of autograph-seekers who, on the journey from Antigua to Trinidad, included the pilot, captain Rory Lewis, and the entire flight crew. Whatever hopes Lara had of snatching a few minutes’ desperately-needed rest were shattered by BWee Caribbean Beat’s own correspondent who, without noticing the irony at the time, repeatedly asked Lara how he was managing to stand up to the unceasing harassment.

His reception in England was no less frenetic, and the Laramania continued as Brian scored a record seven centuries in eight first-class innings including a debut of 147, as he warmed up for his historic 501. Every major newspaper in Britain — and many of the minor ones — did feature stories on him and his achievement. Warwickshire broke its tradition of not giving a new player his cap until the moment he actually took the field, and went to the trouble (and cost — vanity plates are expensive in England) of securing the registration number L375ARA for his club-supplied Peugeot. (Lara modestly declined this gift, and took the ordinary sequential number instead.)

B. C. Pires

A Showpiece Race Track

Santa Rosa Park, just outside Arima in eastern Trinidad, is the newest showpiece of Caribbean horseracing. Begun in 1992 and opened last February at a cost ofTT$25 million, it replaces the three separate tracks that have existed in Trinidad for decades. And, unusually for the Caribbean, it’s a left-handed (anti-clockwise) track.

This brings Trinidad in line with Puerto Rico, Venezuela and other members of the Caribbean Racing Confederation, and marks a break with the long-standing British tradition of clockwise racing on turf.

There is also a 1,500-metre turf track on the inside at Santa Rosa, but most of the races will be run on the American-style all- weather main track, designed by Canadian Arthur Read of RVA Technisports and using all the latest technology. It’s a1,700- metre track, 23 metres wide, with a straight run of 308 metres. According to Richard Trestrail, CEO of the Trinidad Race Club: “The track is the finest racing surface you will find anywhere in the world.”

With this top-class track in prospect, Trinidad was given the responsibility of hosting the 1998 running of the US$255,000 Clasico by the Caribbean Racing Confederation last December, even before work was completed. Santa Rosa was the venue for the Confederation’s mid-year conference. Among major races in the next few months are the Royal Extra Independence Cup (August 31), the Royal Oak Trinidad Derby (September 10), the Republic Bank Caribbean Champion Stakes (September 24), the CLICO Stewards Cup (December 10), the Carib Gold Cup (December 27) and the Benson & Hedges Cup (January 1).

The Santa Rosa Grandstand holds almost 6,000; the top floor is for members and guests, the Clubhouse level for paying patrons, and there’s a spacious forecourt with minimal admission charges. The ultra-modern electronic Tote Board displays betting odds, results and payments along with electronically recorded timings taken at every quarter mile. The landscaped site also has two beautiful lakes, with Trinidad’s Northern Range as a backdrop.

The day after the new track was opened by Prime Minister Patrick Manning on February 25, the inaugural race was won by an American-bred horse called Time for a Trick, which seemed to be in keeping with the new racing style.

Marlon Miller

SLEIGH RIDE

You heard about Cool Runnings, the Disney movie about the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, one of the most implausible athletic bids ever. Well, now they’re all at it. Not only Jamaica went bobsledding at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, but Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago too.

The Jamaican 2-man team finished 24th out of 43, and was disqualified for excess weight. But their full 4-man team actually beat the Americans by a hundredth of a second to finish 14th out of 29. The fun-loving US Virgin Island team gave the crowd plenty of excitement, managing two crashes, and finished 28th in the 4-man competition.

Puerto Rico has been in the Winter Olympics since 1984, when it entered a lone luge athlete, to the amusement of the Sarajevo crowd. It entered two bobsled teams at Albertville in 1992, and in Lillehammer this year its 2-man team finished 40th on a rented Italian sled, while the 4-man team borrowed a sled from Prince Albert of Monaco and finished 25th – three tenths of a second ahead of the Prince, who had to settle for 26th place behind his own sled.

The Trinidadians appeared in a rented ornamental sled. Their 2-man team, led by Greg Sun, originally from Port of Spain and a research assistant in animal diseases at the University of Idaho, finished 37th in the 43-sled field, ahead of American Samoa, San Marino, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The Trinidadians managed to find a sled for rent at $200 a week; it was on top of an Esso gasolene station where it was serving as a decoration. “At least I had something to go down in instead of a plastic bag,” Sun said. The team got the sled in working condition in time for the race, though they were stuck with the nickname Team Esso; they had to go without food for two days to offset the sled’s weight, but they finished well ahead of other teams who had bought expensive sleds.

There’s still some suspicion among the regular athletes that qualification for the bobsled competition is too easy, letting “tourist teams” in with no experience. But none of the new tropical teams disgraced themselves, and the traditional 25 flags at the bobsled track have increased to 40. “This is good for us, good for the sport and good for the Olympics,” says the Puerto Rican bobsled manager Rich Kolko, a journalist with CNN. “The countries that win have been racing for over 70 years. We have only been here six. We’ll get better.”

LaNae Quast

FLIGHT OF THE IBIS

Trinidad is the setting for a high-flying action movie, Flight of the Ibis, the sequel to the television movie Men of Gray. JoMox Productions, a Trinidadian-American outfit, is behind the venture; it was formed by two friends who met at the Van Mar Academy of Motion Picture and Television Acting in Hollywood. Trinidadian Gerard Joseph is well known in local martial arts and drama circles; American Ric Moxley is the director.

Flight of the Ibis is about the nightmare job that police have in controlling powerful drug lords in the Americas. It focuses on a special law enforcement team of “untouchables” as they set about cleaning up the region – and here’s the big difference without taking a single life. Action-lovers, don’t be disappointed: there’s lots of martial arts fighting and hand to hand combat to keep excitement levels sharp.

The supporting cast is supplied by Trinidadian actors and actresses, and the music was composed by a young Trinidadian musician, Sean Bartholomew. An enterprising dream has become a reality.

Simone Aché

IN DEEPEST BARBADOS

If you’d really like to get to know Barbados, close-up and first-hand, seek out Highland Outdoor Tours, the island’s newest nature attraction. Covering some 1,500 acres of privately-owned lands, Highland takes visitors on two hour jitney and horseback tours through deep gullies, scenic and historical sites, rural villages, and working cattle, horticulture and sugar farms.

The jitney tour, with its ongoing commentary, passes through four of the island’s parishes, travelling mostly along cart tracks and gullies. You come face to face with just about everything from tropical farming to the island’s unique geology and plant life. The two-hour horseback rides travel into many of the same areas, but negotiate terrain the jitney cannot, so horseback riders enjoy a closer look and take in some additional sites.

While both these tours are proving popular with adventure-minded visitors, perhaps the most adventurous tours are the daylong hiking and horseback trips. Armed with locally-made woven reed hats, hand-hewn walking sticks, bamboo drinking vessels and black-belly sheepskin packs, hikers embark on a safari-style five-mile trek through virtually every type of terrain Barbados has to offer.

It’s “over the river and through the woods” as the hikes travel down into gullies, up to the island’s highest point and through Turner’s Hall woods before reaching the east coast’s little known Long Pond river where the fun really begins.

And as a little security blanket, Highland’s Why Worry bus is always nearby to pick you up if you get tired.

The all-day horseback trips lead riders on a spectacular three hour ride to the east coast, where they meet up with the hikers to enjoy a three-course planter’s lunch and an afternoon bareback jaunt in the rugged Atlantic coast surf.

Long Pond is the site of Highland’s bamboo huts, where hikers and riders together feast in Carib style, using hand-made coconut utensils and calabash bowls. Afterwards, the group enjoys a relaxing break before taking part in afternoon activities that range from river rafting to beach cricket. At day’s end, the adventurers return to base on the hikers’ Why Worry bus.

It’s a real experience, well off the beaten tourist track, and the genuine friendliness and expertise of the staff help to make it a memorable day.

Roxan Kinas

CARNIVAL ROYALTY

Plans for the international Carnival Kings and Queens competition in Trinidad’s National Stadium (September 17-15) have been shaping up well. Carnival royalty expected to converge on Port of Spain, the birthplace and home of Caribbean Carnival, from most of the major Carnival centers. That means everywhere from Germany to Grenada, Brazil to Sweden.

Winners will be crowned Carnival King and Queen of the rid, with prizes starting at US$15 ,000 and rising. Festivities last for a week, and with well over 120 Kings and Queens on show, competition is going to be tough. Two nights are given over to preliminaries, followed by a Carnival celebration on the third night, with pan, calypso, traditional characters and stage entertainment. On the final night the winners will be crowned, and celebrations end with a public holiday – Republic Day, marking Trinidad and Tobago’s republican status, achieved 18 years ago. The day will be given over to traditional carnival action the streets.

The Stadium seats 17,000, with tickets ranging from US$3- 35. An international seminar will take place at the same time, as a forum for exchanging ideas about the way Carnival has taken root and developed in centres around the world. International Carnival organisations – the International Caribbean Carnivals of America and the Federation of European Caribbean Carnivals – are participating and spreading the word among their members.

FOOTNOTE

Anyone passing Freud’s bar on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue (no. 198) in September should stop and have a drink and look at the exhibition inside. It’s by Trinidad artist Eddie Bowen, alias the “architect of impossible physics”, one of the most original of the new generation of Caribbean artists. Eddie promises “20 odd pieces, graphite on paper with painstaking eye-straining detailing, objects, strange machines and an outrageous woman pinching a man’s head, like stumbling across secret designs in an underground chamber of intrigue”. Opening time is 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays (12 noon to 10.30 p.m. Sundays), from September 6 to October 1.