It’s always good to wake up at 05:50 to an ear-nipping message on the BlackBerry – but that’s life, I’m in Paradise for the Beacon Cycling Festival but life goes on back in the ‘real world.’ Where, I’ve just been made aware, all of the airports are closed due to the hazard of ash from the volcanic eruption in Iceland – they’re hiring at Burger King down town Port of Spain and I have my application in.
It’s appropriate that the local coffee shop is named ‘Rituals’ – it’s part of my ritual, now.
Rise at 06:00 or just before, have a shower, reply to the emails and SMS on the BlackBerry then amble down here for 07:00 for coffee and to send my pictures – the connection is super fast; if you’ve ever sat in a press room where the pictures creep out of the room, you’ll know how much a good connection means.
I met Christopher Sellier in Rituals this morning, the latest in a long line of rapid Trinidadian track riders, he’s spent time at the UCI track school in Aigle and will be riding all of the races we’re here for, so we’ll be able to see how his form is.
My mountain bike was delivered today, courtesy of Michael Phillips bike shop – I just need to change the pedals and blow up the tyres and I’m out there, man.
Michael’s colleague, Richard Dickie took me around the Savannah criterium circuit in the car, it’s wide, well surfaced, fast and safe – unless it rains when it becomes a 3.6 kilometre skating rink, let’s hope not.
There was more meeting and greeting today, all of the visiting riders clicked round The Beacon insurance offices to meet the staff – unfortunately main man Gerard Hadeed was tied up in a meeting but we met the rest of the staff.
Gerry is an avid Tour fan, watching it live every day, in the office then recorded high lights when he gets home at night.
The guys met the mayor but I had to pass on that one; my driver took me back to my digs and I just couldn’t translate ‘mayor’s offfice’ from Fife to Trini – never mind.
Around lunch time, I had an great urge for a refreshing beer – it’s so hot here that even the locals are complaining – and headed off to track down a bar we passed the other day.
The Brooklyn bar was duly located and a bottle of Carib complete with icy mist covering was slid under the painted steel grill – which separates clients from staff – in my direction and I slid back $9:00 TT, that’s Trinidad and Tobago dollars, of which there are around ten to the pound.
It hit the spot and there was a nice breeze blowing in the door, giving ten minutes respite before it was time to face the blast furnace again.
It was ‘beach day’ today, the guys rode over, but since getting to Maracas Bay involves a climb that even Alberto Contador might wince at, Peter and I decided to take the bus.
There are two types of mini bus, the ones with the stripe operate around town, the plain white ones take you out of town.
Try as we might, we couldn’t get one; but transport is never really a problem in Trini, some enterprising soul will always stop and offer you a lift – and so it was.
Our man was a Rasta and had his mum in the car for company; Pete did the deal – $100 TT, that’s around ten pounds Sterling.
Port of Spain is a vibrant place and the road out to Maracas is straight out of a movie – stalls selling fruit, cool drinks, coconuts and snacks perch inches from the kerb, there are bars right beside the kerb and there’s a constant tide of colourful folks ebbing and flowing.
Our man wasn’t the fastest driver so we had plenty of time to take in the view – however, his lack of speed was compensated for by the fact that he missed the driving lesson where the instructor dealt with traffic lights and we sailed through one red after another.
It was a bit of a relief when we left the town to tackle the climb over the saddle to Maracas; a really atmospheric drive up steep hair pins through the tropical forest before plunging down to the beautiful expanse of sand that is Maracas Bay.
But not before I’d sampled ‘pineapple chow;’ that’s fresh pineapple marinated in a spices containing salt and garlic – Pete warned me off it, but I had to try it, it wasn’t to my taste but Franco and Dominique liked it.
The water at Maracas are a pleasant surprise for someone used to Arctic chill of the North Sea – fall in the water off an oil rig out there and your life expectancy is five minutes.
This was more akin to a huge bath but with foaming breakers crashing in to keep you on your toes.
Splashing about in the water duly completed, it was time to eat – ‘bake and shark.’
Some locals say that the big strips of battered, deep fried fish on your home made, fried bread may or may not be shark, it could just be what had the misfortune to swim past at the wrong time – but whatever it is, it’s delicious, especially when topped off with piquant sauce and salad.
Pete reckons it is shark though; ‘but not like a Great White – little ones!’
The journey home was an interesting one for Franco and Zak.
Zak, by the way, is an ex-cycle courier out of Pittsburgh Pa. who now lives and races out of Portland Oregon, he has the ‘ati-tood’ tattoos and the haircut but is actually a nice guy.
Franco had decided that after his ‘shark and bake,’ the last thing he needed was to scale a Giro montagne prime.
The plan was drawn up; Pete and I would go on the mini bus with Zak and Franco’s bags whilst the intrepid pair would take a tow to the top of the mountain from the mini bus – and yes, it was as crazy as it sounds.
Zak blew it though, telling Franco they were at the top and dropping the tow, but there were still a few savage lifts to go – which Franco had to tackle in trainers and pink beach shorts – if only the hard core fans at the Gent Six could see him now.
We all made it home in one piece; the driver charged us nine $TT each for Franco and Zak, albeit they never set foot in the bus.
Doubles? save that ’til tomorrow.