Icacos in 2024: Nostalgia, Neglect and a Dismal Future?

Revisiting the past is hard. Especially the happy places of my youth, to see how much the familiar faces have aged, how much they’ve greyed and slowed. Growing up in the 80s, I loved Icacos. Loved it and hated it. Hated it because of the mosquitoes. Loved it because of my aunts and uncles, the villagers, and the endless miles of coconut trees. As a boy, I felt like the people of Icacos emanated love, contentment, and courage you couldn’t find anywhere else in the world.

Years passed. I am embarrassed to admit I neglected Icacos. Family. didn’t visit as much as I should have. Didn’t stay in touch. In January 2024, on a whim, I drove to Icacos. Everyone is older. A little bit slower. Body parts don’t work like they used to. It feels like Venezuelans outnumber locals. There’s little evidence wooden houses ever existed. The love is still there. What terrifies me the most, though, is that the goodly fire that raged inside villagers doesn’t burn as bright as it once did. There’s joy, content, and friendliness but underlying uncharacteristic despair tarnishes the air. I think it has something to do with the torrents of terrible news from other parts of Trinidad.

At a parlour, I met an old woman who immediately told me about the water crisis in Icacos. It isn’t a new story. It’s been going on for years. “Just last I paid my water bill I don’t even get water,” she said. “I’m paying for a service I don’t get. Water is the real issue. Since Covid, we haven’t gotten water in Icacos.”

“Since Covid,” I exclaimed.

“Since Covid,” she echoed. “December 2019 was the last time I got pipe-borne water to fill my tanks.”

I exclaimed again but she ignored me.

“We’ve protested. To no avail. WASA stands for failure.”

A Venezuelan woman walked past the parlour. Six children between the ages of two and five followed her. One was barefooted, another wore diapers. The sun shone brightly and the asphalt burned hot, but the barefooted child walked unbothered.

The old woman craned her neck and watched the Venezuelan woman and children until they disappeared. Then she went on to tell me how the prime minister scares her. She was listening to him talk on the evening news and couldn’t believe how he spoke for a diplomat. I didn’t ask for details but I gather she was referring to a press conference about the Paria Diving Tragedy.

“The prime minister scares me very much,” she said again.

For some reason, the sentence is still stuck in my head.

At the same parlour, I met three fishermen, older men more familiar with the colonial order. They wore caps and were talking about how the price of Cavalli had dropped because of an islandwide overabundance of Cavalli.

“The vendors don’t even want the Cavalli,” said the fisherman in the red cap.

The fisherman with the black hat was tall, slim and mumbled. “And the price of gas is killing fishermen.”

The fisherman in the white cap was in a hammock. The hammock swayed just slightly. He bobbed his head but said nothing.

“Don’t talk about gas,” said the fisherman in the red cap. “It costs about one thousand dollars to fill up the boat with gas.”

“A thousand dollars!” I exclaimed. “How long does that gas last?” I expected the answer to be a week.

“One day,” mumbled the fisherman in the black hat.

“It depends on where you’re fishing,” said the fisherman in the red cap. “Let’s say you’re fishing about six miles from here, and you’re fishing salmon, first we have to go to Erin for bait then we have to go to start the day work. Easy-easy you’ll use one thousand dollars in gas. “

“The government doesn’t care about fishermen,” said the fisherman in the black cap. “I remember when it cost twenty dollars to fill a pan of gas.”

The fisherman who was wearing the white cap swayed gently in the hammock. He nodded then said, “And we don’t get paid if we don’t clear the one thousand dollars.”

“What,” I exclaimed.

“That is truth,” mumbled the fisherman in the black hat. “Before we get paid, we have to catch enough fish to make the money we spend on gas.”

I tried to picture one thousand dollars in fish. “So you could work hard for an entire day and go home empty-handed?”

The fisherman in the red cap smiled contentedly and said, “We might get a fish to carry home.”

On Constance Beach, I met a writer named Michael Cozier. He was dressed like a salesman, selling his books on the beach. He wore polished black shoes and carried a laptop bag with books. When I first saw him, he was talking to a couple sitting in a car. The couple bought two books and the car drove off.

“What I’ve noticed,” Michael Cozier told me, “is that since the Point Fortin Highway opened more people from the north are coming down to Icacos.”

I wondered about the disadvantages that came with the ease of access to Icacos but said nothing.

A pickup truck pulled up to the beach. The driver got out and two tourists. They looked like Canadians. Michael Cozier excused himself.

At the top of Lalla Road, there’s zero evidence of the two-storey dry goods store that once stood tall. I met an old man with a great white beard. He was smoking a cigarette. We spoke about the past, and how I remembered Icacos growing up in the eighties.

“When I was a boy,” the old man said, “Icacos only had about 5 or 6 wooden houses.”

“Do you miss the Icacos of your past?”

He signalled that he didn’t quite get the question then said, “No I don’t miss it. Icacos has progressed a lot since then. I’m happy that the village has progressed. The years have brought education and progress. What troubles me is that I’m paying for water and we don’t get water. What troubles me is the killings that are happening all over Trinidad. Every evening I sit down and watch the news. Did you see what happened to that family in Mayaro? They were robbed and when the man went to the police station to report the crime he recognised a soldier as one of the bandits.” The old man chuckled then suddenly got serious. “People are living in serious fear in this country.”

“Are you living in fear?”

“No,” the old man said. “I feel safe in Icacos. Outsiders have a very different perception of Icacos. They think every fisherman is trafficking drugs and women. But the reality is very different for people who live in Icacos. I go walking on the beach and feel safe. My sons, daughters and grandchildren go walking on the beach every day. I go out and I leave my doors and windows opened.”

“Where do you see Icacos in twenty-five years?” I asked.

“Honestly?” the old man said and flicked away his cigarette. “Drugs are licking up the place. In twenty-five years I think Icacos would be one big drug den.”

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