When I stepped off of the airplane in the Port of Spain it was like stepping into a sauna even though it was almost midnight. The palm trees, sticky feeling on my face and arms, and the wet vegetation smell reminded me instantly that I was on a tropical island.
As soon as I cleared customs and made my way towards the exit cab drivers swarmed me asking me if I needed, “a drop?”
“No, no, I have a friend picking me up.” I politely told them. Just as I was finishing my sentence my Director of Trinidad and Tobago, Sarwan Boodram, walked up to me and gave me a warm welcome. We hopped into his SUV and took off. It had been several months since I was on the left side of the road driving the British system. The sensation was strange for a moment, like a parallel universe, but I had quickly adjusted like I had done many times before in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia.
We arrived at Sarwan’s spacious home not twenty minutes later, and within minutes I crashed on my bed; just enough to get six hours of sleep before my first class. At 0800 hours I was standing before my class. It was a Task Force made up of various law enforcement agencies at the SAUTT (pronounced “sort” and an acronym for Special Anti-Crime Unit Trinidad & Tobago) base. This organization is the equivalent of the American FBI or the German BKA. The base, guarded by the army, is located on an airfield adjacent to a mountainous jungle region. Housed there in SAUTT is an air unit, canine unit, forensic unit, Crime Academy, Special Operations unit, administrative offices, and the training unit.
All day long police SAUTT helicopters go in and out making me pause for a few minutes at a time as I am teaching to wait for the noise to die down. For the first two days we were bumped from our nice air conditioned large auditorium and forced to train in an aircraft hanger. I had never sweated so much in my life. Even the locals complained that it was hotter than normal; a sweltering 35 degrees Celsius in the sunlight. I checked the humidity, and it was at a constant 98%. It was oppressive, but for some reason I adjusted to the climate immediately. I had trained units before in this kind of climate before in Florida, Brazil, and Argentina.
SAUTT wanted my Reality-Based Personal Protection Police Program for four solid days. The system is to be integrated into the tactical operations training program.
After my first day of training, and having to replace a liter of sweat, I had to then teach a two-hour course in the Port of Spain, and hour away, for the Fight Club. It was a good group, and a big group at that. Fortunately, we had plenty of room in the workout hall. By the end of the course it was 7 pm. Sarwan and I, along with a few of his top instructors, raced over to the television station to make a live appearance on the Synergy Show, which is quite popular. An American equivalent would be like an MTV news program for a young audience. It was Sarwan’s idea to expose the next generation to the Reality-Based system in a country that is experiencing a crime epidemic. The producers of the show believed my program to be news worthy, because that week before the Prime Minister admitted to the United Nations General Assembly that Trinidad and Tobago had a growing crime problem. Of course, we were careful not to mention my training of SAUTT, even though my mission was to help fight crime. My interview was for the civilian side of the house anyway.
Sarwan and I were interviewed by the host of the show, Jason Titan, a friendly, funny, and articulate man, and then I finished up with a self-defense demonstration. The entire time I was on the air was about fifteen minutes. The program was aired all over the Caribbean.
Not minutes after the show ended, and we were saying our good byes to the T.V. crew, did Sarwan receive a bunch of text messages and phone calls from his students, friends, and work associates, saying that they saw the show and thought it was great. We also had a few sign ups for our civilian Saturday course because of it. One of the new sign ups was a prison guard.
The next day was again bright and early at the SAUTT base, and the sun was already cooking our hanger. However, by this second day I felt acclimated. The day was long and hard, but everybody was motivated.
For the evening session I had to teach at the Warrenville Combat Readiness Centre in Cunupia. There were approximately 30 students waiting for me there. I taught techniques from Ground Survival and Knife Survival. It was a good group eager to learn.
The next day we got our break and we were in the air conditioned auditorium. This day was devoted to police tactics. A few hours into the session a reporter and photographer came in from the SAUTT newspaper; an in house publication. They interviewed Sarwan Boodram and took several photos of the entire group.
That evening I taught a two hour Handgun Survival course at the Muscle Gym in the Port of Spain. It was a new group with a few followers from the last two civilian courses. My biggest handicap in teaching this course was not being able to use air guns (guns that shoot a plastic 6mm ball projectile at 1 joule or less). In Trinidad and Tobago air guns of any type are illegal and considered a “firearm.” I am still able to teach the course and pass on a lot of good information and do hands-on drill, but it is still none the less disappointing for a Reality-Based Personal Protection instructor.
For the third day of SAUTT training it was firearms training. It’s a day that I also had a good look and Trinidadian methods and tactics. Also, this was the only training day that I did not have an evening course. Sarwan and I took advantage of this down time and headed to the western peninsula of the island and did a moon light swim in Macqueripe Bay.
As we were driving through Port of Spain to reach our destination Sarawn told me that he had been reading Black Belt magazine for years, and that was how he first learned about me. He said to me, “For the first time I said to myself after reading the High Risk column, ‘Finally, someone who knows what they are talking about. I was tired of the gawd damn rubbish others were writing; people who had never faced a real gun or a knife in their lives.’”
Then Sarwan laughed and told me how cold he was in New York City when he took my Level 1 courses with me. When he received his Level 1 certificate from me it was December in the Big Apple. Compared to Trinidad and Tobago I knew exactly what he was talking about. The contrast is extreme; the island does not know the meaning of cold. There is either hot and rainy or hot and dry. There is nothing else there.
Macqueripe Bay is a beautiful spot in the Gulf of Paria. The jungle surrounds the water in a horse shoe shape with palm trees coming up to the edge of the sand. The water was calm and warm and the plankton in the water gave a phosphorescent light as you passed your hand through it rapidly. The bright moon rose over the land sending a silver stripe through the bay and out into the open waters of the Carribean. It was a calm peaceful night.
We swam for about thirty minutes and then headed to the Kentucky Fried Chicken about 10 minutes away by car. I had never seen so many KFCs in my life in one area. They seem to be as numerous as gas stations in Trinidad. In fact, there is a KFC that Sarwan pointed out to me in the heart of Port of Spain that is the most profitable KFC in the world. Even as we passed it one night it was jam packed with people.
My fourth and final training day at SAUTT was teaching Terrorism Survival. Trinidad and Tobago have not had problems with Islamic terrorist groups in over a decade, but they have a huge problem with narco-terrorism and kidnapping. My job was to give the operator hands-on training that they can pass onto their individual units. For many this was their first real hands-on course dealing with terrorism.
Upon the completion of the course every student received an official SAUTT certificate of training from the commander with a course number. As is customary with the unit each student gave a one minute debriefing on what they thought about the course. Every student stated, for the record, that the training I provided was “realistic” and applicable to their job. I received a Letter of Appreciation from the organization, which I was honored.
My fifth day in Trinidad and Tobago was once again at the Warrenville Combat Readiness Centre. I had 26 students for six hours of training. I covered a lot of material that is contained in my latest DVD series produced by Black Belt magazine (Reality-Based Personal Protection Series 2).
When I arrived at the facility one of the instructors said, “It’s going to be a hot one today. You see this tin roof? The sun is going to cook it and the heat will start pushing down.” The building was nothing but a three foot wall with a wire grid for windows and corrugated metal as a roof. Yet, God was good to us, for the entire day there was a thick cloud cover that rolled in early and provided shade and a cool breeze. Even as we walked to the lunch shack for our roti lunch, as soon as we had our food and sat in the covered patio a heavy rain came down and was over by the time we had to walk back. We ate at the Petal’s Rest & Bar down the street.
For the evening we went to a huge shopping mall in the Trincity area. It was a nice modern mall with soothing air conditioning. Sarwan even found it a bit too cold for his liking, but not me. Inside I had an Arabic dinner, which was fabulous. I knew that it would be authentic with all of the Muslim women dressed with the long colorful dresses and veils over their faces, and the men sporting long beards and skull caps. There are a fair amount of Muslims in Trinidad and Tobago. After all, the majority ethnic group in the nation is made up of East Indians who themselves are comprised of Hindi, Muslims, and Christians.
Trinidad is one of the few places where I have seen no racial tensions. The East Indians (40% of the population), Africans (37.5%), mixed (20.5%) and the 1.2% other, are harmonious. It is not uncommon to see a church, mosque, and Hindu temple on the same street block. When you pass by peoples homes you will see bamboo poles with colorful flags in the front yard that represent prayers to different Hindu deities. Then, the next house will have a sign that says, JESUS IS LORD. The cultures and races or well mixed. When I was walking through the mall, and I was literally the only white, not one person gave me a cross look. I cannot say the same when I am teaching in some parts of Africa or even many cities in the United States for that matter; stray into the wrong neighborhood in Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. and the tension will become painfully evident. For me it was refreshing to see the way groups are suppose to live together respecting each other’s skin color and religious beliefs.
On my final day, my one full day off on Sunday, October 4th, Sarwan packed up the family and we all went to the beach, and the weather was perfect. Once again it was blue skies with billowing tropical white clouds in the distance. It felt good to relax, especially after very successful courses.
We drove to the most popular beach in Trinidad – Maracas. To get there you have to drive on a serpentine road through jungle covered mountains. At the summit we stopped at a few food stands perched on the side of the mountain with a gorgeous view of the Caribbean. Sarwan bought us each a green coconut and the vendor chopped the ends off with a machete. We then drank the pure coconut milk.
In the United States the only coconuts we get are the over ripe ones. They are all brown with hard coconut meat inside. The milk of these over ripe coconuts are not really fit to drink since the liquid has absorbed all of the oils during the ripening process. However, Sarwan, with his Special Forces background, showed me how to know if a coconut is good or not for jungle survival. The coconut has to be green on the outside, and inside the coconut meat must be jelly like. The milk will be pure water with just a slight sweet taste. Sure enough, the coconuts that we drank had the good qualities he was after.
When we arrived at Maracas we stopped at Richard’s Shark & Bake; the most popular food stand in the region. Sarwan is a good friend of Richard, the owner, who was there serving people none stop. The place was packed. There must have been a hundred people go through that stand from our arrival until our departure, but it was worth it. The cooked shark sandwiches were out of this world; I loved it. We ate our sandwiches just looking out onto the deep blue waters.
Sarwan then took us to a bay just beyond Maracas that the tourists do not know about. Although there were not a lot of tourists to begin with on the Sunday we went, the beach we ended up at had even less people and it was even more spectacular. Huge jungle mountains rose high in the background covered with millions of tropical trees and vegetation with white mist floating through the draws. Along the beach edge were tall palm trees and two hundred meters of sand that gently sloped into the refreshing water.
I swam in the warm water for a good 45 minutes. Then, enormous rain clouds covered the mountain tops and moved like a huge blimp casting its shadow over the ocean were I was swimming dropping a heavy rain along its path. The sunshine cut a path underneath the clouds making the rain drops appear like silver coins falling from the sky and bouncing on a blue sapphire liquid. It was an array of colors that no camera could ever accurately capture, and a moment I will never forget.
Just so I would have the “tourist package,” Sarwan took me back to the Maracus beach and I swam there for 15 minutes. By this time the rain had stopped. Afterwards, we headed back up the mountain. Halfway on the journey Sarwan stopped so we could drink from a pure mountain stream.
The next morning, before sunrise, I was back at Picaro Airport and on an American Airlines flight to Miami and then to Los Angeles. Sarwan and I will be working on locking in training dates for 2010 for Trinidad and Tobago.
And, speaking of Sarwan Boodram, he is literally one of the most famous martial arts instructors in this country of 1,229,953 people just 11 miles off of the cost of Venezuela. Sarwan is well respected in both the police community and the civilian community, and he has literally trained thousands of people in the martial arts. I am proud to have Sarwan as my Reality-Based Personal Protection Director of Trinidad and Tobago.
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2021 All rights reserved.