Tobago & Trinidad
  
 "...we planned not to make any plans and let things happen as they might.  We were starting to get the hang of 'limin'. "
       

Dec 5

Named after the tobacco cultivated by the original Carib population, Tobago existed separately from Trinidad for centuries.   Long before Christopher Columbus saw the island in 1498 (he never landed on Tobago), it was the cause of dispute between the Caribs and other Amerindian tribes.  Later, in the 17th century, it changed hands more than thirty times between the English, French, Dutch and Latvians leaving a legacy of forts and batteries dotting the island. During English rule in the 1600s thousands of Africans slaves were brought in to work plantations of sugar, cotton and indigo.

It wasn't until 1889, during an economic decline, that Britain annexed the smaller Tobago to Trinidad.  The two islands became the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1976.   Hurricanes ravaged Tobago's early agricultural economy.  Today this beautiful, friendly island's economy is firmly based in tourism.

We walked from Crown Point Airport to the Toucan Inn.  We asked for directions twice ... they weren't too sure where the Toucan Inn was but they immediately knew when we mentioned the inn's restaurant, Bonkers. 

We were shown to our poolside cabana (they also have rooms away from poolside) and immediately felt comfortable. The room was well appointed (we don't require tv), spotlessly clean and filled with Caribbean charm in a classic and classy way.
   
We took the rest of the day 'off' and did some Caribbean 'limin' ... a little swimming, a little reading,  a little 'computering' under the shade of a poolside umbrella while sampling some Tobago rum and sharing fruit with one of the local inhabitants.  Ahhh, it's just one thing after another in the Caribbean.

In the evening a lovely dinner was had on the deck of Bonkers restaurant, which was festooned for Christmas.  The walk 'home' was only a few steps around the pool.  We repeat ... ahhhh.
Dec 6

It rained steady and hard as we ate breakfast at Bonkers ... it was just as good as their evening service.
 

Not letting the warm rain interfere with our day, we prepared to get wet (bathing suites on) and walked to Store Bay where any number of touts were prepared to sell us passage on the next glass bottom boat heading out to Buccoo Reef for a little snorkelling.  

Our boat took us a short distance north along the coast and around Pigeon Point. 

Often photographed for television and international magazines this famous beach was once part of the Bon Accord coconut estate and a profusion of towering palms still stand at the rim of the powdery white sand beach with its safe, shallow, turquoise waters.  

Should you want to have a room on a private beach at Pigeon Point, the Coco Reef Resort's rates begin at $483 US and head up past $3800-something (tv and breakfast included).  Although not on a Tobago beach, we were happy in our $90 per night Toucan Inn poolside cabana (breakfast included). 

At Buccoo Reef we put on snorkelling gear and went overboard.  They asked us to keep one hand on a rope which trailed from the back of the boat.

As a result of excessive exploitation, commercialization, pollution and the resulting destruction of this fragile reef, the entire area (made up of an arc of five reefs) has been designated as the country's only protected marine area.  Criminal charges can now be laid for any acts which contribute to its destruction. 

Nylon Pool, beside Buccoo Reef, was our boat's next stop.  It was named by Princess Margaret during her visit to Tobago in 1962, when she commented that the water was as clear as her nylon stockings. 

This lagoon in the sea is a natural, meter-deep (no greater than 3 metres at high tide) pool formed by an offshore sandbar with the deep ocean on one side and palm fringed beaches on the other.  Local folklore promises a dip in the waters of the Nylon Pool will make one look five years younger ... no noticeable effects as yet.   
 
Contrary to our normal travel-operandi, we were content to spend the rest of the day by the pool at Toucan Inn sharing the fruit from our punches with two of Tobago's fine feathered friends: the beautiful blue-gray tanager and the sassy black and yellow bananaquit. 
We received a very special email while we were 'limin' ... a ultrascan image of our newest grandchild to be born in February. 

Sherrie was so excited she called over complete strangers, "Oh, we just have to share with someone.  Please ... come see our newest.  So beautiful!"  Of course they agreed ... not because they had any fear of the crazy lady at poolside, but because, more accurately, the image showed the face of a beautiful baby.
 




Dec 7
 
If we had not already made arrangements to go north to Charlotteville, we could have happily stayed at the Toucan Inn for a few more days.  The atmosphere was relaxed and caring. The service at Bonkers, morning, noon and night is exceptional and the food of high quality. 
We have no hesitation in recommending this boutique inn to others.  Toucan Inn only has twenty rooms, so if Tobago is on your Caribbean travel plans, be sure to book ahead ... and leave some time in your itinerary to simply enjoy it.

The public bus is only a couple of blocks from Toucan Inn.  A fellow waiting at the bus stop explained bus drivers do not sell tickets on board.  We had to buy them from a store first.  Terry ran across the road, but the store did not have any tickets left.  The fellow told us there was another store down the road a ways.  While we were wondering if it was feasible to attempt a run to the next store our bus arrived.  We pleaded our case to the driver who, it was obvious, runs into this situation many times.  A few stops down the road a man got on and when the driver found out he had spare tickets he suggested he sell us two.  A woman who later boarded had the same problem and bought her ticket from the passenger as well.  She would liked to have bought more but the man was wisely keeping some for himself.

We were on our way from the southwest of Tobago to the northern end and Charlotteville.  In a car it would take approximately fifteen minutes to drive from Crown Point to Scarborough on an excellent highway.  It took us a little longer as the driver weaved his route through a couple of smaller centres.
 
It was Sunday.  There were numerous vegetable and fruit stalls set up in the market, but for the most part, the city was quiet. 

Scarborough has had a turbulent history with many historic twists and turns (understandable since the island changed hands 30 times during a ten year period in the 17th century).  Today, this administrative capital (pop approx 10,000) sprawls from the heights of Fort King George to the harbour which was recently dredged to create a deep-water port, capable of accommodating major cruise lines.  There is a sparkling new cruise ship complex to welcome visitors.
 
We had been told there were no ATMs in Charlotteville, so between buses in Scarborough, we had to find one and get cash.  While Sherrie stayed in the bus station waiting room Terry asked the bus driver who told Terry to climb back on board.  He drove a few blocks and let him off at the Scotia Bank.  What helpful, friendly people they have on Tobago.
  

Weather conditions were not doing justice to the beauty of Tobago as we skirted along its southern coastline.  It was raining as we passed Hope Bay (on Hillsborough Bay) where the beach is a long stretch of black volcanic sand.  It was deserted, as it normally is, because although the waves break over shallow waters, there are strong rip tides and it is not safe for swimming ... but does make for excellent beach walking.

We rode through stunning scenery and tiny settlements where some homes, churches and places of business were more humble than others; where people were going about their lives.

The road switchbacked up and  over the island's spine as we left Speyside and finally zigzagged down to Charlotteville on Man-o'-War Bay.

There are no tourist resorts or big hotels in Charlotteville.  There are some cottages, apartments and bed and breakfasts. 

Up until yesterday, we did not have confirmed reservations ... a person in the dive centre at Toucan Inn called someone they knew in Charlotteville who made arrangements for us to stay two nights at Man-O-War Cottages.

Locals directed us to walk along the beach front. 

After checking in, we realized quickly that the cottages were set up more for inexpensive long family stays rather than for two staying a couple of nights.

   

Man-O-War Bay Cottages is a five acre beachfront colony, part of the Charlotteville Estate purchased by the Turpin family in 1865. The 1000 acre estate was originally under sugarcane production which was later converted to cocoa and became a high producer until 1986 when economics forced the operation to close.  Cocoa is still picked by villagers for their own private use.  An environmental management plan, which began in 1930, is currently under review involving biodiversity, forestry and ecotourism projects for villagers of Charlotteville who reside on estate land.  The Cottages incorporate a marine laboratory with scuba facilities for visiting scientists and students.   We briefly met some of the students as we settled into cottage No 4.

There were two bedrooms (each with two single beds), a living-dining area, an equipped kitchen (lots of rust) and a bathroom set up with a toilet in one room, a bath/shower in another and a sink in the hallway.   Years of salty air and neglected upkeep have taken their toll and the cottage was badly in need of repair and care.  The only repair we requested was that the side door be secured so when it was locked it could not be pulled open with a tug.  They kindly arranged for one of the scientists with a screwdriver to come over.  He fiddled with it for a bit and seemed satisfied but a nudge still opened it with ease.

 
 
 
It is the remoteness of this small fishing village which has helped preserve it's 'realness'.

We stopped at Ayo's, picked up a beer and then walked out onto the pier.

Each day fishermen go out and do what they have done and their fathers and their father's fathers have done for generations.  Such bounties from the sea are fresh on many tables each day.
 
 
 
 
We met some spear fishermen on the dock; they were cleaning their catch of what appeared to be reef fish.   Scales from colourful parrot fish sprinkled the dock's wooden boards like mother-of-pearl confetti.
 
Tobago is surrounded by fringing reefs. Some are close to shore while others are in deep water.  No coral, sea fans or protected marine life such as juvenile lobster, female turtles or turtle eggs may be removed from the reefs. 
 
 
 
For dinner we went to Jane's Quality Kitchen.  It's a white hut on the beach with a covered eating area enclosed by a white picket fence.  It looked clean and a bit funky with tables and chairs that didn't match, an old drum-style bar-b-que, a tree truck through the centre of one table, strings of lights swaging from beams and a tv, in the corner up near the ceiling,  showing a football [soccer] match. 

"May I get you something," the 60-something man asked.  For dinner there was a choice ... chicken or fish ... we went for one of each.   It wasn't city-folk-fancy food ... just simple, good, down-to-earth (and sea) cookin', fresh, hungry-people quantity ... and excellent value.
 
 
 
 
As we ate waves made soothing sounds against the shore and a little rufescent tiger-heron (shorebird) kept his eye on us.

Dec 8

When we had checked into Man-O-War Cottages, we had put our money belt in their office safe.  The woman explained the office opened up at 09:00 and that we could get it at anytime during the day. This morning we went over to do just that, but the office was closed.  After waiting for some time and it still not open, we decided to walk into town. 
 
"Good morning," an English accent greeted us on the street.  It was one of the Coral Cay science group staying at Man-O-War who were engaged in charting and studying local reefs.  "Where are you going today?" she asked and we explained our dilemma at not being able to get into the office and that we had not yet had breakfast.  "Oh, let me lend you some," and she took out her wallet and handed over a $100 TT ($16 US). "That should get you by until the office opens.  Do you have any plans for tonight?  We have been evaluating the health of the reefs here and are putting on a presentation tonight in Speyside.   Think it will be good ... if you are interested in that sort of thing."  A car approached and she put out her arm and pointed to the ground ... it's the hitchhiking signal on the islands.  She continued to talk about the presentation as a car pulled over.  Without skipping a beat she opened the car door and interrupted her conversation with us by asking the driver, "Are you going to Speyside?" ... the driver said yes and with her hand still on the open door she continued to talk with us, "If you are interested we are having a special bus leave from the gas station at 7:00.  That is seven o'clock exactly ... not island time.  We have arranged the time precisely with the driver ... for certain 7:00.  We are expecting lots of people so if you are coming be sure to be there on time."  We felt a little guilty, because during her ongoing presentation pitch to us the driver waited unable to move with this woman holding onto the door. 

"Great, we will be there," we broke in, "we'll return your money then." 

"Whenever," she shrugged it off, finally getting into the car and beginning a whole new mainly-one-sided conversation with the driver. 

We inquired in the village about snorkelling.  "Not very good right now," they explained.  "We've had a few stormy days; sand has really churned up making the water around the reefs pretty murky.  Can't see much." 

Other than getting some breakfast, we planned not to make any plans and let things happen as they might.  We were starting to get the hang of 'limin'. 

We went up the hill to Top River Pearl cafe and met the vivacious cook, Mary. 

She started us off with a glass of Sorrel. Christmas festivities in the Caribbean would not be complete without this traditional drink made from the flowers of a species of hibiscus, also known as roselle.  
While waiting for our brunch the cafe filled with students in blue and white uniforms.  One young boy saw our camera and passed our table saying, "Cheese." 

"Would you like your picture taken?" we asked.   He nodded and posed.
One girl was watching intently ... a natural beauty who stood out from the rest ... and we asked if she would like to have her photo taken too.  She nodded, stood still and looked at the camera.  Her name is Shania. 

The flood gates had been opened and others wanted their photos taken as well.  Two of the older girls, Gladis and Jileen, were particularly friendly.

They left to return to school but by the time we had finished our breakfast, they were back on their half hour lunch break and more photos were taken. 

Not only were we taking photos but we offered the camera so they could have the experience as well.   It was a lot of fun and a terrific souvenir memory.

    

Gladis and Jileen
Shania
The owner of Top River Pearl Apartments and Cottage took the time to show us their rooms not occupied at the moment.  They really were attractive and the pricing is right ... it would be our choice of accommodation should we return to Charlotteville.

When we returned down the hill passed the Methodist school, the older girls came out and greeted us as though we were old friends.  It's a nice thought to consider these young people as friends.
The rest of the daylight hours were spent trying to perfect the art of 'limin' [doing nothing particular].  The day was bright and sunny and a breeze off the water kept things comfortable.

After retrieving some money from our money belt, we returned to the village to purchase bus tickets for the morning bus back to Scarborough.  The store at the gas station/bus stop did not have any but expected they would by morning.

We spent some time walking on the beach and admiring views we don't have at home ... like bananas growing.

Just about 18:45 we went through the picket gate in front of our cottage and headed into the village.  We didn't want to miss the bus as the Coral Cay lady had emphasised it would not be running on island time and would not wait.

We thought perhaps we had misunderstood her when we arrived in time and there was no one else there.  We walked down to the bandstand ... no one.  Perhaps we had missed it.  We started walking back to the cottage and met up with a whole group of Coral Cay folks so we did an about-turn and joined them.  
 
The bus arrived as time was pushing towards 20:00 ... 'island time' rules.  The presentation was interesting; as was the question period and open discussion afterwards.   We appreciate ecology and managing fish stocks is difficult to grasp for some multi-generational fishermen whose territory has been 'invaded' by 'do-gooders' who want them to alter their traditional way of feeding and caring for their families.  As Canadians we witnessed cod fishermen on the east coast bring up similar arguments. 
 
 
   
Dec 9


We woke to a beautiful day.  They still did not have tickets at the bus stop store, but we were not the only ones needing them.  Buses run on island time so they get there when they get there.  We passed the time by visiting with a delightful lady who has seen plenty of changes on Tobago in her eighty-something-year lifetime.  She agreed to have her photo taken "if you make me look like twenty," she said.

"Deep in your eyes, you are twenty."

"Isn't that the truth," she laughed, "it's just the body that gets older."

We had enjoyed our time in Charlotteville ... it was the friendly people who made it so.
Back through Speyside and south down the coast we caught a glimpse of Little Tobago.  The driver had to stop at a couple of stores before we were able to find one with tickets.  

In Scarborough, we said goodbye to the Charlotteville lady and changed buses to go to Crown Point Airport ... we were off to Trinidad for the night.

We won't write too much about Trinidad because, for us, it was just an overnight stay between Tobago and Curacao as we couldn't fly direct. 
 
We had reservations at the BelAir Airport Hotel and called, from the airport's tourist information office, for their courtesy pickup from the airport (the hotel is not within walking distance of anywhere) and their "We'll have someone there in five minutes", turned up an hour and a half and four phone calls later.   

We had made reservations at the BelAir based on their website.  The website (since changed), to be kind was, at best, misleading ... the ground for the new hotel hadn't even been broken yet.  Our time at the BelAir was spent sitting across the runway, from the beautiful Piarco International Airport terminal, in decaying army barracks (hotel) amidst a mishmash of make-do furniture.

The bartender overcharged us; and after we got the acting manager to straighten things out, the same bartender tried to cheat us again.   The food in the restaurant was okay and the waiter we had was friendly and courteous.  


The most positive experience we had during our overnight stay on Trinidad was meeting Amira Salim (right) and Tamika Keane (left) at the airport's tourist information office [phone 868-669-644 or 868-669-5196]. They were so helpful. 

Wish we had met them first and let them find us a room for the night.  If there is a next time ... we'll do just that. 
   
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