It is under a disturbing grey sky that we sail into Devil’s Island, a trio of islands once infamous as a French penitentiary colony. Their notoriety was further accentuated by Henri Charrière’s “autobiography” Papillon (it was later found to be at least partly fictitious), based on his imprisonment and attempts to break free. In the film, Steve McQueen played the part of Papillon, who escaped on a flotilla of coconuts on the “seventh wave”. None of that grim history (real or imagined) is on display in the rocky cliffs and coconut trees as we enter the bay, but in the early dawn, the waters are so restless that the ship lurches dangerously. Startled passengers watch as a forceful swell scatters the cutlery and glassware off the breakfast buffet tables. An hour later, it is still impossible to board the tenders to go ashore.
Devil’s Island now houses a few prison cells, the ruins of a church and a desolate cemetery with many tombstones commemorating infant deaths. When we sail away from Devil’s Island, the sky mysteriously clears to reveal another beautiful day.
Two days before Devil’s Island, we dock at Trinidad and Tobago. Wayne Mohammed, the driver of a taxi we hire, turns out to be of Kashmiri origin. A cocktail of religions (Muslim father, Catholic mother, Hindu wife) has resulted in a charming, Indian-looking man. There is, incidentally, a sizeable resident population of Indian origin in Trinidad.
Photograph: Wendell Rodricks
On a sightseeing trip around the island, he asks us about Bollywood and shows off the new National Academy for the Performing Arts, a modern statement in glass and metal. Skirting around the Queen’s Park Savannah—sometimes dubbed the largest traffic island in the world—Wayne drops us off at the Botanic Gardens. Exotic trees and flowering plants are set in more than 50 acres of lush tropical land. Clouds of red and white poinsettias glisten in the clean air. From a vantage point one can see the entire bay of Trinidad.
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With Carnaval round the corner, the streets are already festooned with decorations. I ask Wayne if he can take us to see where they make the grand costumes. In a tiny studio, girls are assembling sequins, feathers and tonnes of glitter. Overhead, racks of feathered headdresses sway in the tropical breeze. “Look,” says the excited salesgirl next door, “we even have a Bollywood costume.” The woman’s costume, rich with Indian motifs, and the man’s dhoti pants in tangerine satin do look Bollywood indeed.
Photograph: Wendell Rodricks
Trinidad is also home to the famous Angostura Bitters. The secret of its composition is so closely guarded that seven persons do their parts of the concoction at separate times of the year to ensure that they never meet each other.
Back at sea, I register for Portuguese classes to brush up on the way Brazilians speak (which is distinctly different from the Portuguese spoken in Goa). The first port of call in Brazil is Fortaleza. It is just a day away and the thrill of Brazil has already infected the ship. When we cross over the Equator, the ship’s team performs a ritual. Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, arrives at the pool with an entourage of toga-clad staff. Passengers are subjected to punishments for various crimes: Lingering too long at the parlour, order ing too much foie gras and for just being “too good”. The hilarious punishments include blindfolding a hapless passenger and forcing him to kiss a fair maiden (a gigantic raw salmon). In the revelry, guests order glasses of the celebrated Brazilian Caipirinha cocktail (cachaça, lime and sugar) to toast the impending arrival of the Brazilian coast….and Carnaval.
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks writes a cruise column exclusively for Lounge from on board the ‘Silver Spirit’. (www.silversea.com )
This is the second of a seven-part series.
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