Saturday, 11 January 2014

Tobago - 2013/12

Tobago is a small Caribbean island, measuring only 42km in length.  Since 1962 it forms an independent republic together with a larger neighbouring island of Trinidad.  Strangely it's located just outside the boundaries of the Caribbean Sea on the Atlantic Ocean and is the closest Caribbean island to mainland South America.

There are about 60 thousands people living on the island but thousands more visit the island every year as tourists looking for some sun and relaxation Caribbean style.  Since the Fiona hurricane in 1963 destroyed most of the agriculture on the island the government turned to building back the tourism as leading industry on the island.  You would be mistaken to think that it resulted in luxury resorts and world class facilities.  Unlike on other Caribbean islands bustling with night life and covered by all-inclusive resorts Tobago surprises with low key laid back atmosphere small hotels, pensions and private accommodation and narrow windy roads.  It's a place for holidaymakers looking to kick back and relax on a sandy beach with a book and a beer and enjoy some rum and some roti in the evening. 

There are a few good restaurants but they tend to be quite pricey, not easy to find, the menu can be quite limited and generally they all have their own opening times. Nobody is usually in a hurry and everything takes its time so don't expect a western style service.  Aside the expensive tourist restaurants the is a multitude of small food kiosks and bars serving fare based around chicken, fish, chips and roti.
Due to the colonial history of Tobago most of the names of places originate from England, France or Holland.  The main town is called Scarborough. It's busy with traffic and it's a location of the main port on the island.  Not many tourists stop there, instead option to head straight from the airport, located just a few miles away, to one of the destinations on the north shore.  The Northern beaches tent to be nicer, wider and made of a golden colour sand as opposed to the Southern beaches which are narrow and dark.
Below Charlottesville in north-east part of the island:

We decided to spend the first two days in a small village called Castara.  It's a working fishing village located one hour drive from the airport across the mountains covered in tropical rainforest.  The distance is actually only 20 miles but the road is very narrow, hilly and the surface quite bad in places.

We stayed in a Angels Apartments located right on a small beach and overlooking the bay.  In the morning you can observe the fishing boats returning from the sea, during the day the village life seems to be very slow and laid back and in the evening all the small bars open and you can hear Caribbean reggae and R&B music streaming from the bars and big loudspeakers installed in the cars parked in the port.  Our two days passed very quickly with long swims in the sea, a walk to the nearby Englishman's Bay and sitting on the balcony drinking cold beer.

After two days we headed back through the mountains to a small fishing village called Boccoo.  Our apartment, The Nest, was actually located by quite a busy road about 15 minutes walk from the village.  The view from our balcony from the hilltop was spectacular and the lush surroundings were very pleasant but unfortunately we also experienced quite a lot of noise from the busy road and a nearby bar which disturbed the idyllic nature of the place.  The village was nice enough with some shops, a port, a few food stalls and a couple of restaurants which came highly recommended.  We tried both and the Italian was disappointing but the El Pescadore was very nice, if somewhat pricey.  

The Boccoo village also hosts an annual goats race at the especially made for this purpose stadium and every Sunday evening it hosts the famous Sunday School.  Every Sunday evening the village bursts into action with outdoor barbecues and live drums music played by the local Steel Orchestra.  Both tourists and locals after some rum and a few beers take it to the dance floor to show off their best moves.  When we were there coincidentally when the party was just warming up a big storm closed in and the power got cut off which just added to the surreal atmosphere of the event.
The rest of the 5 days we spent mostly on the beach soaking in the atmosphere, drinking cold beer and enjoying the ocean.  One day we took a glass bottom boat trip to the Boccooreef for some snorkelling and visited a bird sanctuary nearby. 

In contrast for New Year's Eve the celebrations were limited to the tourist's resorts with not much happening in the village.  The locals don't really seem to party on that day instead opting to spent time singing and playing music at one of the many gospel churches.  Our New Year's Eve ended up being quiet too with some roti on the seafront and some beers and watching the fireworks from our balcony at midnight toasting with rum instead of champagne.  In a way that was much more fitting than a big party.

On the penultimate day we hired a taxi driver to take us across to the other end of the island to Charlotville, took a glass boat trip to the nearby island of Little Tobago, stopping on the Angel Reef for snorkelling and on the way back hiked to the Agryl waterfalls.

The last day was spent on the beach at Pigeon Point, swimming, drinking cold beer and relaxing in the sun.  It was a perfect end to the holiday.

In the end we are returning much more relaxed, so mission of the holiday accomplished as it was quite a busy year for us.  Would we return?  Probably not, we had a great time and in a way the holiday was perfect for what we needed but as a destination Tobago lacks any special "wow" features that would really amaze you that you could not find anywhere else in the world to make it stand out and make you want to return.

PS. In Trinidad (neighbouring island, 2 hours by ferry) is the largest tar pits (asphalt lakes) covering 40ha and 75m deep. Pennsylvania Ave next to White House in Washington DC is paved with the asphalt from Trinidad. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go and see it ourselves.

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