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T&T’S MINUS TOUCH
It’s early in the morning. I’m making the most of a cool sea breeze wafting off the still waters of Maracas Bay. Gently swaying palm fronds conduct a symphony of birdsong in concert with the whisper of backwash.
Overhead, two resplendent scarlet macaws soar, their brilliant colours ignited by the morning sun. Here on Maracas beach, for the first time in several years, I look out to the sea, tilt my gaze to the sky, but I dare not look behind me.
Stories about the decline at Maracas Bay have been well publicised. This has been achieved, in part, by horrified beach goers chronicling their disgust through cellphone videos and Facebook posts.
Seeing video or reading newspaper reports is one thing, witnessing Maracas Bay’s steady slide into decrepitude first-hand delivered a visceral gut-punch.
Most noticeable was the proliferation of unsightly tents, galvanize walls, and concrete structures complete and incomplete, but all completely aesthetically offensive.
Those bloody tents are everywhere; in the flood-prone car park and scattered across the beach. These tents offer respite from the merciless sun, no doubt. It’s not surprising that it hasn’t dawned on those responsible for putting them there that they are completely incongruous with the beach environment. As a feeling of nausea typically associated with vicarious embarrassment welled up in my stomach, I wondered at the first impressions tourists would have of this, our premier tourist destination in Trinidad.
Additionally, concrete benches and tables appear to be victims of some allied bombing campaign. Many of them are broken or toppled over.
Workers busily collect garbage callously strewn about the beach by litterbug Trinis who revel in filth. Some of the garbage swirls in a standing putrid morass of drainage ditches; black, fetid water that flows neither left nor right but seems to stay in place, an apt metaphor for Trinidad and Tobago society.
Ageing vending booths in the car park house the frustrations of vendors cursed with perennial inundation, an ever-present miasma, and rubbish which attracts a standing army of vultures and stray dogs.
Apart from the obvious outrage over the dominant aesthetic of abandonment and neglect, it’s even more unsettling to contemplate that someone thought it a good idea to put up multiple concrete structures on a beach. But then, that’s so Trini isn’t it? Our interpretation of development, it seems, can only manifest itself in unsightly concrete structures that clash with the landscape.
It’s a symptom of the post-colonial disease. In our desperation to escape the associations of our history we chase some misguided notion of progress, because other people must see that “we is people too”. We are afflicted with a dim understanding of our origins as an island nation, and a potent desire to close chapters on our past that we’ve never read. The result is a rudderless ideology, of the variety that builds concrete monstrosities on a once, beautiful beach.
As corruption and incompetence are our national watchwords, these buildings couldn’t even be taken to their sickeningly repugnant conclusion.
Still, visitors to Maracas Bay are given a preview of how we Trinis do things as they arrive at the Maracas Bay lookout. An entrenched settlement of vending stalls obscuring the pristine view sprang out of nowhere some years ago and it appears to remain unchallenged.
Many of these vending stalls are cast in steel no less, the permanence of ignorance. The signposts to the Maracas Bay shanty town begin at the ruined lookout/lookaway.
There can be no doubt that there is an engineering solution to the long-standing drainage problems at the beach. It simply requires sound procurement procedures, proper vetting of contractors and a by-the-book execution of the project.
So while a happy solution for both beach goers and vendors isn’t impossible, it is most certainly improbable. With respect to the proliferation of concrete structures on the beach, the rot goes much deeper.
I recently watched a documentary that profiled the famous Brighton Beach in the UK. Particular attention was paid to the dainty, minimalist beach huts, which are governed by strict rules, the most important of which is that they must be made of wood.
There are also codes that guide the painting and use of these structures. Most notably, these huts are designed to work in harmony with the seaside aesthetic.
It isn’t unreasonable to assume that visitors to this country, many of whom come from built up cities, are seeking the escapism of that Caribbean feel. Instead of quaint carat sheds, we give them a tent city and concrete mayhem. While it is understandable that some facilities, such as restrooms, require more permanence, the concrete eyesore has overwhelmed this beach.
The minister of works Rohan Sinanan recently announced that upgrade works at the beleaguered beach will be resumed with a $60 million dollar investment.
While that may provide solace for vendors and beach goers fed up with the filth, the look of Maracas Beach isn’t likely to change much. It is the curse of a nation that has always had more money than identity: everything we touch turns to concrete.
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