Tobago, the spirit of the Caribbean

Grocery store in Plymouth, Tobago

Arrival to Tobago proved to be fairly simple. At first, I did not believe that my luggage would so easily find its way along an intricate route. I grab my backpack shortly after leaving the plane. The immigration officer asks, “Do you have a return ticket?”, my straightforward answer – “Sure I have“, brings a reply, “Welcome to Tobago”. I admire the countries in which the relationship between a man and an official is trust-based. The time is 4:30 pm. I note there is a regular party right outside the airport. People dance, drink White Oak rum and cold Carib beer. Nicely dressed Toboggan girls are talking on the phone, arranging themselves hair and shaking their bodies to the rhythm of music.

On the other side, the Toboggan guys have different aspirations. It is all about their cars. It has to be the loudest in the neighborhood! Many times expecting a loud bar one block away, it turns out to be just another car passing. Using travel fatigue as an excuse and not thinking too much, I decide to stay in the Crown Point area, the most popular part of Tobago.

It is hot and stuffy, the air sticks to the lungs. There are two options, either take a shower three times a day or do not bother at all. In the Crown Point area there is not much interesting going on. It is rather a place for Europeans looking for some relax, but also local people willing to show off a bit. Besides it is all about bars, restaurants and bars again. However, it is not that bad. Store Bay and Sandy Bay are the places where you can swim in the the Caribbean Sea. This time I once again realize I am not a big fun of spending time on a beach.

I start exploring the area around. The cheapest form of local transport is a bus. To counteract the corruption, the tickets are not sold by drivers. However, the most convenient form of transportation and at the same time most interesting is a car called shared-taxi. You have to practice to flag down the car first, at best by observing residents how they in an appropriate way make a car come to a stop. It amazes me that people use these services even if they want to ride literally for 200 or 300 meters.

Every day I get to know different Toboggans who speak a dialect of English incomprehensible to me. Sometimes it sounds like English and I manage to understand something, but it requires a lot of patience from both sides. As I have learned, the Pidgin Polish is simplified version of the language allowing for local influences, mainly in commercial use between the mother state and the former colonies. Within a few days I manage to catch up, switch to some level of understanding, therefore conversations with residents are becoming increasingly more interesting.

Other interesting thing about languages is that in one bar I meet a guy who lived several years in Germany. I had not idea that even in the Caribbean an opportunity to talk German will happen to me. It is definitely easier than Pidgin English!

Breakfast, what do you eat for breakfast? I get Bake & Shark, which is a fat cake with vegetables and a piece of shark.

Dinner? Syrian cuisine, Arabic rice, choices are vast. Besides, in Trinidad and Tobago is obsessed with chickens. This is a country which ranks first worldwide in terms of number of KFC per capita and yet the dozens of local networks selling breaded chicken come on the top of that.

The real side of Tobago

It is easy to feel the unique atmosphere of Tobago

Eastern part of the island is getting increasingly wild, mountainous and lush. In Charlotteville I am right in time for the opening of a new medical clinic with a concert, live drums and lots of dancing.

In the morning I go to the vantage point of the bay Man of War Bay and then swim in Pirate’s Bay. A few days ago someone told me that he can’t understand the tourists, who come to Tobago with their “big binoculars” to watch birds. He definitely was right. Tobago is a paradise island for bird-lovers, but you do not need any binoculars, all birds are visible with a naked eye, almost every step you take.

Children go to school, people prepare to work, everyone seems to be happy and busy with doing something. Just as Morgan Caesar local construction site caretaker, who I met while he was waiting for his late staff reading a newspaper.

On the east coast of the island you can also eat well, but according to the local preferences it will be chicken, however this time served with roasted rice, chick peas in a sauce, local salad with fresh greens and roasted bananas.

None of the places I visited in Tobago so far had any sort of menu. Everything is prepared with hands and sometimes you can even see birds flying through a hole in the wall to grab a small bit while the chef is not looking.

Fishermen in Charlotteville are getting ready in the morning for fishing. The most popular fish are blue marlin, tuna and barracuda. There are also many other smaller species. Almost all of the fishermen I talk to are Rastamen with dreadlocks. I listen to incredible stories about fish weighing several hundred pounds, proof of which are numerous scars and yet even new, unhealed wounds. The dominant technique here is fishing with a line and hook, with two long bamboo stalks on both sides of the boat serving as rods.

Because of coastal waves and tides, the boats are moored a few dozen meters from the the shore. In the morning, one of the fishermen grabs an old surfboard, kneels on it and rows the first boat. He starts the engine, comes ashore and takes a few fishermen to give each one a ride to their boats.

Wandering around the island

I choose Roxborough as my next, random target. There I happen to meet a street parade. I order a great chicken roti, which is chicken curry with potatoes, vegetables and hot spices wrapped in tortillas. I wait here for find an accidental transport to drive me across the Tobago Forest Reserve .

This way I get to know two Hippy Rastamen listening to Bob Marley. The driver and passenger, sipping rum just ask “U drink? U smoke?”. This completely random inquiry turns into a half-hour meeting. These guys are the best, just a pity that they were going in quite the opposite direction.

An another relaxed guy, this time sipping dark stout, drives me through the reserve forest. I see that Tobago is quite liberal when it comes to driving under a moderate consumption of alcohol. We keep on trying to skip holes in a road at 5km/h and eventually driving into them anyway. “Do you like politics?”, I have no idea why I asked this question – “No, I am more spiritual”. On Tobago it is easy to find a soul mate.

The scenery is changing and so are drivers. This time I’m going with a Portuguese guy, who grew up in Mozambique, was born in the Azores, lives in New York and is currently shooting a movie on Tobago. Therefore he has time to wander through various parts of the island.

In the end I got to Parlatouvier . It’s a quiet village so I take a short break. My plan is to reach Castara tonight.

Castara

Caribbean sunset in Castara

I do not know yet where I am going to spend the night, but first I’m going to walk around the town and something will eventually happen. If not, there is always a possibility to sleep in a tent on the beach. I admire the Caribbean sunset in the scenery of palm trees.

I visit D Lime bar, where Jim, the owner’s brother has birthday. Jim’s mom is preparing food according to the yearly tradition. At this point I meet April and Derek, two travelers from Minnesota. Everyone in the bar gets something a’la flour noodles in sauce, a piece of pork and cooked vegetable, resembling a potato with some purple spots. Besides Carib and Stag beer, there is White Oak rum as well as the other, much more powerful rum having 70% alcohol whose name escapes me. Hours go by and when I realize that someone has just put a three-liter Johnnie Walker on a table it comes to my mind that if I will not do it now, I am never going to pitch my tent.

Throughout the night it does not rain, which is rather unusual these days. In the morning I go for a swim in the sea and pack my tent.

I watch the village coming back to life. In various corners there are people waking up. The first fishermen show up, while someone is still sleeping in a chair. Someone else cleans the fishing nets already and several guys fire up the first joint in the morning, one opens his first beer and someone sweeps the entrance to the store. That is how a new day comes by in the Caribbean.

It starts to rain and continues heavily all day.

Buccoo

Nicolas is boat shaper, in other words he builds boats. This charismatic character comes from Guyana and has two children, aged 24 and 25. His son, according to tradition cherished from a few generations back, is also named Nicolas.

Nicolas has worked in Venezuela 13 years, then several years in Barbados, a few years in Antigua, Guyana, Suriname, as well as several others countries making a total of eight. He is fluent in four languages ​​and what is most important, he loves his job. Quickly we make friends and even the idea of becoming his helper in the workshop comes by. It’s hard to predict what would have happened if my time in Tobago hadn’t been limited and I got a boat-shaping bug. Nicolas is a bit disappointed, so he suggests a homework: “If you want to understand the boats, buy an aquarium and watch a fish inside. Observe and think".

Sunday School is an outdoor party and a popular attraction among tourists in Buccoo, I think it is definitely an overrated and overpriced thing, so we spend most of the evening with Nicolas, walking around the area, or in his garage drinking beer in a not-yet-finished boat.

Trinidad

In Scarborough I meet a girl who just as she saw me, said “Estoy perdida” (“I’m lost“, in Spanish). This way I meet Fannie, a lost character from France, who in six weeks has sailed a yacht from Salvador in Brazil to Tobago via Guiana. On the top of that, she doesn’t speak English. We take the ferry together and as arrive to Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, to my surprise there is Richard and Mark waiting for us, the two friends of my friend Paulina, who has lived some time in Trinidad.

La Calypse, the hotel to which we come, is just like a prison, so is the way of talking at the reception resembling a police investigation in a guarded cell with silver mirror and a tiny window through which nothing can be seen. Port-of-Spain is a city just like little New York, completely opposite to the atmosphere of Tobago.

The next day we go to the airport. And at this moment I realize that Nerissa, whom I met in Castara, lives nearby. We meet, together with Fanny and Jason for liming’ night. Lime is the essence of a unique combination of Caribbean partying, this is neither sitting in bar, nor a big party, just limin’.

Thus, not planning at all, just before heading to Venezuela I fell in love with Trinidad and Tobago.

November 2011

tobago