Our guide in Port of Spain, Trinidad, pointed to a concrete lot as we drove past it on the way to our hotel. "That's one of the panyards."
Which explained nothing at all.
It wasn't until a couple of days later I understood. Steelpan is the term for steel drums in Trinidad and Tobago. And panyards are where steelpan band members set up their steel drums and practice.
You do need a whole vacant lot in a city because these are big bands playing big instruments. Bands and instruments that don't fit into your average garage.
We did motor by boat through the mangroves of Caroni Swamp. The swamp opened on a lake surrounded by trees that are home to thousands of scarlet ibis, the national bird. What a wonder that was, watching hundreds of big, scarlet-red birds fly overhead at sunset to roost for the night.
In this country composed mainly of people of African and East Indian descent--but with Spanish, French, British, Dutch, Chinese and many more influences--there were many new dishes to try.
And the island's brand of Caribbean rum. Two kinds recommended to me: Angostura 1924 and Angostura 1919. We tasted one of those rums mixed with LLB - a lemon-lime soda with bitters--yes, Angostura bitters. Because, you guessed it: The Angostura company is based in Trinidad.
But back to steelpan.
Many people know Trinidad for its over-the-top Carnival celebration with crazy complex costumes and street partying. There's a months-long windup to the event.
As part of Carnival, there's a steelpan competition among about 160 bands. Called Panorama. I'm told the competition is as fierce as any sports tournament.
Bands are gearing up now. I watched as the "pannists" of the Caribbean Airlines Invaders pounded the concave interior of pans of various sizes. Some made from the whole oil drum. Others a fifth the depth.
It was a sight to see. And hear. Maybe they'll win it all in 2017. And I can say I knew them when.
Photos and video by Ellen Perlman: 1. cocoa pods in Tobago 2. scarlet ibis at sunset (will ask for zoom lens for my birthday 3. The Caribbean Airlines Invaders practicing for the big time