TRINIDAD the most southern of the Caribbean islands, lying only seven miles off the Venezuelan coast, is one of the most colourful of the West Indian islands. It is an island of 1,864 square miles, traversed by ranges of hills, the northern and southern ranges, running roughly east and west, and the central range, running diagonally across the island.
Apart from small areas in the northern, forested range which plunges into the sea on the north coast, the main peaks of which are Cerro del Aripo (3,083 ft) and El Tucuche (3,072 ft), all the land is below 1,000 ft. The flatlands in central Trinidad are used for growing sugar cane. There are large areas of swamp on the east and west coasts. About half the population live in the urban east-west corridor, stretching from Chaguaramas in the west through Port of Spain to Arima in the east. Trinidad is separated from the mainland of South America by the Boca del Dragón strait in the northwest (Dragon’s Mouth) and Boca del Serpiente in the southwest (Serpent’s Mouth), both named by Columbus.
Trinidad has one of the world’s most cosmopolitan populations. The emancipation of the slaves in 1834 and the adoption of free trade by Britain in 1846 resulted in far-reaching social and economic changes. To meet labour shortages over 150,000 immigrants were encouraged to settle from India, China and Madeira. Of today’s population of approximately 1,276,000, about 40% are black and 40% East Indian. The rest are mixed race, white, Syrian or Chinese. French and Spanish influences dominated for a long time (Catholicism is still strong) but gradually the English language and institutions prevailed and today the great variety of peoples has become a fairly harmonious entity, despite some political tension between blacks and those of East Indian descent. Spanish is still spoken in small pockets in the north mountains and French patois here and there. Catholics are still the largest religious group but Hindus are catching up fast. The Anglican Church and Methodists are also influential. There are many evangelical groups. Spiritual Baptists blend African and Christian beliefs; the women wear white robes and head ties on religious occasions. They can be seen performing the sea ceremony on the coast to the west of Port of Spain late on Sunday nights. Most East Indians are Hindu, some are Muslim, others have converted to Christianity, particularly Presbyterianism (Canadian Presbyterian missionaries were the first to try converting the Indian population). Tourism plays a small role in Trinidad’s economy. In the 1960s and 1970s the official policy was to discourage tourism, and although this has now changed, visitors are still a rarity in some parts of the island, big hotels are set up for business visitors and some tourist services may be lacking. Nevertheless, Trinidadians are genuinely welcoming to strangers.