Most people who know me think I’m either a workaholic or a lazy so-and-so: the ones who know me really well know that I’m in fact both. I swing between the two extremes, though not in any predictable, pendulum-like fashion. I make no apologies for this. The moments when my mind and body slip into slow-motion are a survival mechanism. Which is exactly why Tobago fits me like a glove. Tobago suits my meandering ways, my love, as we say in the local parlance, of a good drivé. But it also accommodates my occasional need to get the blood pumping.
Tropical languor is one of the classic Caribbean clichés, of course, but anybody who’s experienced Tobago’s particular brand of dolce far niente will tell you that the island is genuinely, authentically, indisputably low-key. Ask the scores of ravaged party animals who flock there on Ash Wednesday to lie comatose on the beach after a frantic Trinidad Carnival. Or the people — visitors and residents alike — who, when you ask them to name their favourite part of the country, inevitably point to some off-the-beaten-path locale like Pirate’s Bay in Charlotteville, or a little cottage perched above a bay in the middle of nowhere, or an obscure guest house tucked away on an exquisite patch of beachfront. But I’ve also met rugged individualists who swear you haven’t lived till you’ve mountain-biked the gruelling nine-mile trail from L’Anse Fourmi to Charlotteville in the rainy season; I know folks who roll out of their beds on a morning and begin their day with a brisk windsurfing session at Pigeon Point; and there are those for whom Monday through Saturday is simply a prelude to the weekly street revel in the village of Buccoo known as Sunday School. And, of course, divers from all corners of the globe have been coming to Tobago for years for the world-class walls and to commune with the manta rays.
The Bwee Express Dash-8 left Trinidad under a light drizzle; 15 minutes later we landed at Crown Point airport in radiant sunlight. It had rained in Tobago too, but that was minutes earlier — ancient history, by Caribbean weather standards. It was going to be a brilliant day.
To tell the truth, I’d secretly been hoping for rain. I was looking for any excuse to hole up for the day in my on-loan villa, reading the gripping new book I’d started the night before. And, once I did arrive there, it was difficult to tear myself away from the big, airy porch with its ceiling fans and bananaquits coming in to snack from the bird feeders on the balustrade. But the good weather got the better of me. I hopped into the car and headed down to Mount Irvine beach to take up an offer made to me some days before: I was going Hobie Cat-sailing.
It used to be that water sports in Tobago meant mainly the world-class diving to be had on the north-eastern coast, with a few surfers jealously guarding the reef break at the end of Mount Irvine Bay. The less intrepid settled for sea-bathing and trips out to the reefs of Buccoo and Speyside in glass-bottomed boats, or snorkelling. A reef tour is still a must-do for anybody visiting Tobago, of course, but today there’s a much wider range of water sports available, some of which you may never even have heard of. Wake boarding? Imagine snowboarding on water, I was told. There’s also windsurfing, parasailing, kite surfing and sea kayaking, bumper rides, and, of course, Hobie Cats.
I wasn’t a complete catamaran virgin. I’d lounged on a few big, lazy charter cats in my time, and back in the eighties I’d help sail a small racing cat on the south coast of Martinique. As I recall, it was a piece of cake. What then, was this implement resembling a cross between a chastity belt and an adult diaper? It had a big, dangerous-looking steel hook on the front. Apparently I was to put the thing on. “It’s so you can go in the trapeze,” my host said. Trapeze?!! I have issues with stepladders, far less with dangling off ropes and wires. “It’s the best way to experience it,” he said cheerfully. Reluctantly, I put the thing on and waddled off behind him towards the vessel, where he gave me a crash course in ropes and seafaring principles, which to me, a spatial dyslexic, was pretty much gibberish. “One thing I should warn you,” he said, “is that these things have a tendency to capsize.” He made a tipping gesture with his palm that wasn’t exactly reassuring. “But that hardly ever happens . . . And you’ll take charge of the jib.” The jib? Fortunately for me my host pointed at the same time at the sheet behind the mainsail. My mind went back to my last sailing experience; my main recollection is of being scolded by the skipper for pulling left when I was supposed to pull right or not pulling hard or fast enough. As I recall, I was eventually banished to the cabin. And a Hobie Cat has no cabin.
My only consolation was that the sea was calm as a lagoon. Mount Irvine beach on a good day is hard to beat, with its balmy, golden-green waters clear as crystal near the shore. Operative words: near the shore. As the vessel crossed the breakers, the sea did a dramatic Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde number on us: the wind whipped up and the water was suddenly a deep emerald green, and the Cat began skating along the wave crests and suddenly dropping into troughs, all at a precarious tilt. These were not the silky waters of Martinique. From the rodeo-cowboy whoops coming from my host perched on the prow, however, I gathered this was the real deal. For my part, I was concerned mainly with keeping a grasp on the wire which was my only reliable connection with the boat, since my bottom kept slithering off the hull.
The Cat was tilting at a horrific angle and the wire was threatening to slice through the flesh of my fingers when my host yelled “Trapeze!” I made a frantic grab for the loop I was supposed to pull down and attach to the hook on my adult diaper. The thing wouldn’t budge. “Pull hard!” he yelled, like I wasn’t already doing that. It took all of my body weight to move the loop about an inch. “Now raise yourself up and hook it in!” I tried several times to hoist my body up so the hook would meet the loop, but that was not to be. Exhausted, I flopped back down on the hull and gestured weakly to my host that there’d be no trapezing for me that day.
I’d like to say the rest of the trip was plain sailing, but that would mean omitting the part where I had to scramble across the slippery trampoline to the other hull and take charge of the jib, which was another story. But all in all I was glad I did it. It reminded me what a relatively risk-free life I lead from day to day, and I resolved there and then to engage more frequently in activities which test my mettle. As my host and I hauled the Cat back to shore, a craggy South African sea dog was waiting to take a spin. “I hope you know how to sail,” my host told him as we handed over the reins. He whistled through his teeth. “It’s going from zero to 20 knots in seconds.”
Parno P the Food King runs a grocery stall on the Roxborough seafront. He’s one of the people you might run into on a drive up the windward coast, and it’s possible that he might offer you some dandelion root, which, he told my photographer friend David, is useful as a blood cleanser, then pulled him out of earshot, presumably to reveal its other properties. I was having one of my favourite kinds of Tobago days, the kind where you simply get in the car and see where the day takes you. The island has a habit of waylaying you with its small charms — the bits of history tucked here and there, small forts (Tobago changed hands a record 31 times during the colonial period) and strange little graveyards like the Mystery Tombstone in Plymouth, or the burial crypt of Gang Gang Sarah, an African witch who, according to legend, flew to Tobago centuries ago and was unable to fly back because she had eaten salt.
Both the leeward and the windward sides of the island lend themselves to long, leisurely drives, through quiet villages and along stretches of coastline and stunning fishing bays. I’ve in fact done both leeward and windward drives twice over the past few months, each time setting out with different company and a different agenda. The time I went with David, we stopped periodically, of course, to take photos. At Barbados Bay in Studley Park, it was to photograph the fish vendors at the roadside. While David tried to persuade a woman to let him immortalise her goat-mouth snapper, I talked to some of the other vendors, who tried to sell me a few grunts, which, they assured me, provide “lead for the pencil, lots of iodine, and calms the nerves.” I passed on that one.
Another trip up the windward coast with my friend Grace Goddard entailed a stop at the First Historical Café in Mount St George, whose founder, a Mr Washington, has painstakingly recorded various aspects of Tobagonian history on laminated cardboard sheets which adorn the bamboo walls. You could spend hours there reading about everything from the origins of the tambrin drum to Calypso Monarchs. There’s a lovely sea view, and it’s a great place to stop for a drink and a snack (and a spot of history) on your way up the coast. Grace, a plant fanatic whose Mt Irvine garden is the envy of all who visit it, couldn’t resist passing in at the Government Farm in Louis D’Or, where we spent a cool half-hour picking out new additions to her collection which filled the trunk and back seat to overflowing. Later, we stopped in at the atmospheric Richmond Great House, an 18th-century plantation house which has been converted into a guest house by owner Dr Hollis Lynch. For a fee, visitors can tour the house’s public areas, which are filled with Dr Lynch’s eclectic collection of African and Asian artefacts and furniture.
Most visitors travelling up the windward coast are probably heading for Speyside or Charlotteville, and so they should. These two communities on Tobago’s north-western tip are among the most charming places in the entire island, and well equipped to receive visitors. Speyside proper is a neat little village centred upon a well-tended cricket green. Tobago’s dive capital, it’s home to a number of dive shops and some choice inns and eateries. Jemma’s Sea View Kitchen, also known as The Tree House (it’s built partly among the branches of an old almond tree), is one of the country’s most popular restaurants, and having partaken of the ocean-fresh seafood and lively creole sides, I can say it lives up to the hype. Another of the area’s winners is the Blue Waters Inn, a serene haven on an exquisite patch of beachfront called Batteaux Bay.
Even more inviting are Speyside’s waters, which abound with an astonishing variety of fish, manta rays, richly overgrown coral reefs and impressive drift dives easily accessible from the shore. Non-divers can explore the reefs via glass-bottomed boat, which can be hired at the seafront. Birders will want to visit Little Tobago (also known as Bird of Paradise Island), which was developed as a sanctuary for the Greater Bird of Paradise in 1909, and remains the only spot in the world where the Bird of Paradise has ever existed outside of its natural habitat in New Guinea. While the eponymous species hasn’t been sighted there since 1981, the island is still one of the most important sea-bird sanctuaries in the Caribbean, home to species like Red-billed Tropicbirds, Mot-Mots, feral fowls, Pigeon Boobies and Sooties.
The next community over from Speyside, and the last one you’ll meet along the windward road, is the fishing village of Charlotteville. There’s a surprising range of guest accommodation in this intimate little hamlet, which has become a favoured holing-up spot for Tobago residents escaping the relative hustle and bustle of the south-west (there’s even a government rest house for civil servants). Just around the point from Charlotteville’s central stretch of Man O’ War Bay is the secluded and gorgeous Pirate’s Bay, which, in my informal survey of preferred spots, appeared near the top of practically everyone’s list. The Bay is accessible only by footpath or boat, but Charlotteville’s fishermen are very obliging.
Another day, David and I began a trip up the leeward coast with a stop at the Family Farms greengrocer’s stand in Grafton. Over cups of ice-cold juice made from local fruit, we had a quick chat with owner Lisa Marsh, who also runs a farm in Les Couteaux with her husband Pepe, about their efforts to organise local farmers into a cooperative of sorts. Then we hit the road again. Tobago’s leeward side offers your classic Caribbean coast scenery — tranquil blue waters, curving bays. The coast road will only take you as far as Plymouth; you travel inland at Arnos Vale — Culloden and King Peter’s Bays are accessible by minor roads — until you emerge again above the breathtaking crescent of Castara Bay, where we had to stop for a photo before descending to the beach. Castara’s beachfront is quite the happening place, with a number of bars and restaurants, a beachside tour company, a spanking new primary school, and a herbal sauna, which unfortunately was closed when we got there.
Things get quieter as you move further up the coast. Englishman’s Bay and Parlatuvier Bay are havens for seekers of solitude, though we were able to find a stand at Englishman’s Bay serving decent curry next to one selling souvenirs and beach wraps. If you’re a complete recluse, you couldn’t get better than Bloody Bay, where our only company that afternoon was a couple of cows. L’Anse Fourmi, the last village on the leeward road, is a surprisingly thriving and self-sufficient community. There, we visited the tiny art gallery and workshop run by Earl Manswell (fellow artist Jason Nedd has another a gallery up the road). The nine-mile trail connecting L’Anse Fourmi with Charlotteville is currently accessible only by jeep, but efforts are under way to turn it into a proper paved road.
The station to listen to as you’re driving around Tobago is Radio Tambrin, 92.1 FM. Started in 1998, the station is housed in former military officers’ quarters in upper Scarborough, which, according to Managing Director George Leacock Jr, is great for the acoustics — the walls are made of 18-inch fire-proof brick. Leacock describes the station’s format as “old-fashioned radio, not niche”, but for news of what’s happening in Tobago, as well as a sampling of local concerns, Tambrin is a must. Just above the station, in his home on Cuyler Street, Leacock’s father, George Sr, has established the Scarborough Heritage Parlour. Eighty-nine years old, Mr Leacock now rarely holds court at his small museum, but he has an interesting selection of Tobago artefacts, including the oak barrel, or hogshead, in which five-year-old Lydia Martin’s parents rolled her down a hill in 1874 to protect her from a hurricane.
Tobago’s more official museum, the Tobago Trust Tobago Museum, is located above the city at Fort King George. The well-presented collection is rich in pre-Columbian and colonial artefacts, as well as coral and fossils and a good selection of old maps. The fort proper, which comprises a powder magazine, bell tank, cell block, military hospital and officers’ mess, is under renovation and scheduled for reopening in March 2003, but there’s nothing to stop you wandering among the ancient samaans and royal palms and taking in the views of Scarborough’s harbour and Bacolet. Renovations are afoot as well in busy lower Scarborough, which awaits the completion of a waterfront esplanade.
It was with some trepidation that I wended my way, on my last evening in Tobago, to the village of Les Couteaux. Trepidation, because Les Couteaux is Tobago’s obeah capital; and trepidation, because some years back some friends and I had done a video shoot there with a drummer who claimed we’d short-changed him, and who we later learned was one of the local obeah-men. Who knew how these things worked? Are obeah curses governed by a statute of limitations? And would the individual dare to cast a whammy on me in front of the crowds at the Folk Tales and Superstitions night, the reason I was heading to Les Couteaux in the first place?
Flambeaux along the pitch-black Arnos Vale road and the plaintive strains of a distant fiddle set an appropriately eerie atmosphere as I neared the Table Piece Recreation Ground, which was already packed. The Folk Tales and Superstitions night is one of the most popular events of the Tobago Heritage Festival, the two-week showcase of the island’s traditions which unfolds from mid-July to the beginning of August. The action moves nightly from village to village, and most people you meet during the Heritage season are either raving about the Old Time Wedding at Moriah or the Salaka Feast at Pembroke they’d attended the night before, or looking forward to the one they were going to attend that day. Tonight it was Les Couteaux’s turn to show off its dark knowledge.
Les Couteaux’s presentation was a play which promised to demonstrate “the good and the bad uses of obeah”. I scanned the cast to see if my drummer was among them, but he didn’t seem to be, so I spent the rest of the evening trying to follow the play’s involved but hilarious plot, which involved, among other things, a speech-band presentation, a Baptist procession, lots of conch-shell blowing and fiddling, and the efforts of a pair of gossips to unravel the mysteries of the local Obeah rites, including how to “tie your man”, “tie belly” and “cook sweat rice” (if you don’t know what the latter is, ask a Trinbagonian). Interestingly enough, given that one of the event’s main sponsors was a major bank, one of the main characters was a malevolent bank manager. Though I suppose this is just the sorts of liberty a place calling itself the obeah capital can take.
Since my return from Tobago, now several months ago, I’ve been too busy to keep my promise of engaging more regularly in mettle-testing activities, though a few recent events have made me wonder whether my drummer might in fact have spotted me that night in Lescouteaux. But I can’t wait to get back to Tobago, where I can wake up in the morning and simply follow the day where it takes me.
JUST THE FACTS
Cigar-shaped Tobago lies 21 miles north-east of Trinidad. Seven miles wide and 26 long; a central forested ridge rises to 1,800 feet (570 metres). Population 50,000; English-speaking; an integral part of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
• First settled by Amerindians.
• Constantly fought over by European powers; among them British, French and Dutch.
• Courlanders (from the country known today as Latvia) settled in 1642.
• The island changed hands 31 times before being ceded to Britain in 1814.
• British Crown Colony in 1879.
• Joined with Trinidad in 1899.
• Trinidad and Tobago became an independent state in 1962; adopted a republican constitution in 1976.
• Tobago House of Assembly was restored, with a degree of self-government, in 1980.
BWIA and Tobago Express operate several daily return flights between Crown Point, Tobago, and Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. BWIA also offers convenient connections from Miami, New York, Toronto, London, Manchester and Caracas, as well as Caribbean territories, and is introducing direct service from Washington, DC (Dulles).
Crown Point International Airport, on the south-west tip of the island, must be one of the friendliest in the world; 10 km from Scarborough, Tobago’s capital. Taxis and car rentals. Most hotels and guest resorts offer airport pick-ups. Direct international flights to and from Europe.
• Departure tax TT$100 for international passengers.
• Passports and onward tickets required by all visitors on international services.
Tropical, daytime temperatures around 30°C (86°F); cooler nights. Even through the rainy season there is sunshine every day. January, February and March are cooler.
Trinidad and Tobago dollar (TT$6.20=$US1). Major credit cards are widely accepted.
English, with lyrical Tobagonian singsong. Heritage events feature “speech-band” performances, a form of traditional music which draws upon the oral traditions.
Tobago’s largely Christian population worships in Methodist, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, and Roman Catholic churches, as well as those of other smaller denominations.
10% government tax at hotels and restaurants; occasional 10% service charge. 15% VAT on most goods and services.
Atlantic Standard Time (EST+1, GMT-4).
• Electricity 110v/50 cycles.
• Telecommunications include international direct dialling, credit card calling, phonecards, cellular phones and pagers, Internet; international access code 868.
Tobago offers a wide choice of luxury all-inclusive hotels, exclusive and elegant villa resorts, villas, guest houses, apartments, and bed-and-breakfast guest rooms.
Trinidad & Tobago Hotel & Tourism Association (Tobago Chapter): tel./fax: (868) 639-9543.
Department of Tourism, Tobago House of Assembly
197 Dorreta’s Court, Mt Marie, Scarborough
Tel.: (868) 639-2125/4636
Fax: (868) 639-3566
Crown Point International Airport
Tel.: (868) 639-0509
Tourism and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (TIDCO)
Head Office: 10–14 Philipps Street, Port of Spain
Tel.: (868) 623-1932/4, 623-6022/3
Fax: (868) 623-3848
TIDCO Mall, Sangster’s Hill, Scarborough
Tel.: (868) 639-3668/3151
• USA: 1-888-595-4TNT, (305) 663-1660
• Canada: 1-888-595-4TNT, (416) 485-8256
• UK: 0800 060 057, (208) 350-0225
• Germany: (49) 06-131-73337
• Italy: (39) 1-678-77530
BWIA WEST INDIES AIRWAYS
Crown Point International Airport; tel.: 627-BWIA (2942) (reservations), 639-8741/2 (flight information).
THE YEAR IN TOBAGO
• Carnival season
• Turtle nesting (March–August)
• PGA Golf Tournament
• Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Liberation Day, public holiday (30th)
• Good Friday, Easter Monday, public holidays
• Carib International Game Fishing Tournament
• Angostura Sail Week
• Indian Arrival Day, public holiday (30th)
• Tobago Plantations Invitational (Golf)
• Labour Day, public holiday (19th)
• Corpus Christi, public holiday (22nd)
• St Peter’s Day: fishermen’s festival at Charlotteville (29th)
• Tobago Heritage Festival, recreating Tobago’s traditional arts — storytelling, dance, drama and music — starts mid-July and culminates in street carnivals at Plymouth and Scarborough at month-end. Ask about the Salaka Feast and the Old-Time Tobago Wedding
• Great Fete Weekend
• Emancipation Day, public holiday (1st)
• Carib Great Race, annual powerboat classic, from Carenage in Trinidad to Store Bay in Tobago
• Independence Day, public holiday (31st)
• Tobago Fest, Carnival-style festival
• Tobago International Cycling
• Tobago Open Golf Tournament
• Bum Boat Sailing Festival, traditional boat regatta
• Blue Food Festival, showcase of traditional culinary skills in L’Anse Fourmi.
• Christmas Day, public holiday (25th)
• Boxing Day, public holiday (26th)
Seven perfect places to while away the end of a glorious day
The Pavilion, Stonehaven Villas This hilltop bar feels like something out of the 1920s, so if you brought your Panama hat you’ll feel at home. A dramatic infinity pool gives way to a fantastic view of the sun heading below the horizon. Open from 6pm; closed on Mondays.
Mt Irvine Golf Course Bar Great view after an afternoon on the fairway. The bar stays open until 7pm and has a good selection of cocktails.
The Seahorse Inn Happy hour runs from 5:30 to 6:30 — great timing for sunset; the palm trees in the foreground add to the atmosphere.
Robinson Crusoe’s, Hilton Tobago There are better sunset views, but with happy hour running from 6pm to 7pm daily, and 6pm to 8pm on Fridays, who’s complaining? Pop in there after a round of golf on the nearby Tobago Plantations PGA-designed course.
Petunia’s, Lambeau Stunning Lambeau views and teas on weekdays; hopping on a Friday, when a mature crowd gathers for drinks and music and general good times.
Ocean View This rum shop in Pleasant Prospect doesn’t do cocktails, but you’ll find, alongside many cheery locals, the best sunset view of them all and the coldest beers on the island. A must.
Grange Beach A popular spot with locals partial to afternoon swims; the stone wall at the roadside is a fine place to sit and watch the sun go down — some smart friends of mine enhance the experience with currant rolls from a nearby bakery.
Seven ways to get the blood pumping in Tobago
Horseback riding Ever galloped along sandy beaches, cantered in Caribbean shallows or trotted through old coconut estates? In Tobago such exhilaration is easily available from Inn On The Bay.
Surfing Mt Irvine bay has one of the best right breaks in the Caribbean, and the winter season brings out surfers of all levels and nationalities. But when the big swells come in and the waves start to push beyond 10 feet, you’d better know what you’re doing — fire coral tends to shoot first and ask questions later.
Mountain biking Tobago’s terrain — spectacular ridges, lowlands, rain forest trails and sweet downhills — is made for mountain bikes. With a good guide there are few better ways to explore the island.
Hiking and bird watching Do you feel more at home on a forest trail than on a highway? Does the sight of a Mot-Mot make you swoon? Tobago abounds in good hiking and bird watching terrain, easily accessible from several parts of the island. Always go with a guide, however.
Pool diving Tobago is blessed with many great waterfalls, and where there’re waterfalls, there are often deep pools to swim and jump into. If you plan to dive instead of jump, do remember to check the depth first.
Windsurfing The Bon Accord lagoon on Tobago’s south-west corner is both windswept and calm; the Buccoo Reef means breakers stay way out. Such conditions make it the ideal spot to test your cutbacks and flares.
The Tobago Wine A few rum punches or virgin coladas alongside good company and local riddems is all that’s required to loosen up the body and get the blood pumping in preparation for a good wine-down. An assortment of great local venues ensures that while this may not be Clubland, nightlife here certainly is a whole lot of fun.
All around the islands, from Charlotteville in the north to Store Bay in walking distance from the airport. Other suggestions: Mt Irvine Bay with surfing and water sports facilities; Grafton/Stonehaven; Englishman’s Bay; King’s Bay; Pigeon Point. Snorkelling and scuba diving at Speyside. Hike from Man O’ War Bay to Pirate’s Bay.
World-class diving with good visibility, rich marine life, wreck dives, plentiful reefs, manta rays at Batteaux Bay, and a wide range of dives from easy to very difficult. The most popular sites are off Speyside and Charlotteville, the west coast from Mt Irvine to Englishman’s Bay, and the south-west tip. There are well-equipped professional dive shops and a compression chamber.
Self-drive rentals at the airport or from your hotel or villa. Drive on the left. Your country’s driving permit is valid.
Buccoo Reef is the most accessible and popular of Tobago’s many reefs, but there are also well-established reef tours from Speyside. Birders head for Little Tobago Island, the St Giles Islands, the Grafton Nature Reserve and the Bon Accord lagoon. The best hiking area is the forested Main Ridge Reserve — Gilpin Trace is the easiest entry point. Argyle Falls, just south of Roxborough, are the most easily accessible waterfalls, but there are plenty of others. There is no zoo, but several small projects are building animal collections, and there are pleasant Botanical Gardens in Scarborough. Several companies offer good nature tours.
ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
For nightlife, try Diver’s Den (karaoke on Tuesdays), Copra Tray, The Deep, Robinson Crusoe’s at the Hilton Tobago, Bar Code in Scarborough, Petunia’s in Lambeau (Fridays; mature crowd), and Buccoo Village’s ever-popular Sunday night party, Sunday School. Scouting for Talent, a local talent contest, takes place at Golden Star on a Wednesday. Light jazz at the Kariwak Village Hotel and Blue Note. The party scene gets a boost during special events like Angostura Sail Week (May), Great Fete weekend (July) and the Carib Great Race (July). Local art can be seen at The Art Gallery, run by artists Martin and Rachael Superville, Tobago Fine Arts and the African Art Gallery, all near the Claude Noel Highway. German artist Luise Kimme shows her life-size wooden sculptures based on Tobago life and traditions at Kimme’s Sculpture Gallery in Bethel. The Genesis Nature Park and Art Gallery in Goodwood has a selection of paintings and sculptures.
Though on a much smaller scale than Trinidad’s, Tobago’s Carnival is a lively community event, and the Tobago Heritage Festival in July is a showcase of authentic Tobago tradition. Tobago Fest in September livens up the quiet post-summer season with seaside sporting events and a Carnival-style street parade. Harvest festivals are held in villages throughout the year, a fishermen’s festival in Charlotteville in June, and if you are in Tobago at Easter, don’t miss the goat and crab racing at Buccoo and Mount Pleasant.
Tobago has over 30 good restaurants, quite apart from the hotels, many of them lovingly converted houses with open-air seating and views of the sea or forested hills. Menus are basically creole in style, with some specialist cuisine: good fresh seafood is everywhere (lobster, crab, kingfish, grouper, dolphin (the local name for mahi-mahi, no relative of Flipper), as well as tasty steaks and chicken dishes, plus rewarding desserts, including home-made ice cream. A few restaurants offer indigenous dishes like curried crab and dumpling.
All Tobago’s military forts are worth visiting — not because there’s much left of them (except for Fort King George above Scarborough, which houses the Tobago Museum; an extensive renovation is scheduled to be completed in March 2003), but because they all have superb views and are lovingly maintained, signposted and landscaped. Fort Bennett is just outside the village of Black Rock, Fort James is on the headland at Plymouth, Fort Granby is on a breezy peninsula at Studley Park, Fort Milford is the most peaceful spot in Crown Point, and Flagstaff Hill, high above Charlotteville, has the best panorama of them all.
The Courland Monument in Plymouth is a striking 1978 sculpture commemorating the Latvian settlers who occupied the area for much of the 17th century, and the site of Tobago’s oldest colonial fort and settlement. The Mystery Tombstone, also in Plymouth, is the 1783 tomb of Betty Stiven and her young baby, with the inscription that “she was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgence to him.” This has puzzled generations of visitors, though the meaning is obvious enough.
There is a good range of visitor accommodation in Tobago, from family-run bed and breakfast guesthouses to luxury hotels, eco-resorts and exquisite villas. For more information on accommodation, contact the Department of Tourism of the Tobago House of Assembly, TIDCO, or the Tobago Bed and Breakfast Association.
• Daily newspapers: Newsday, Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad Express. Weekly: Tobago News.
• Radio Tambrin is the “voice of Tobago”. Numerous other stations are Trinidad-based.
• three local and numerous cable television channels.
Good buys include wood carvings, jewellery made from natural products, paintings, handmade soap, sarongs and beach wear. There are several art galleries and good craft stores, a craft market at Store Bay, and you’ll also find vendors near tourist sites and the more popular beaches. The larger hotels have in-house boutiques. Don’t leave Tobago without stocking up on benne balls, the local sesame-seed confection. Other good buys include local preserves like pepper mango, tamarind balls, sugar cake, pawpaw balls, and toolum. The vendors at Crown Point airport offer a good selection.
- Cricket: the most popular land sport, January to June
- Cruises: sailing and powerboats available for charter
- Fishing: there’s great deep-sea fishing, especially around the islands off the north coast, near Charlotteville. Some operators offer day charters and fishing trips with equipment provided. The Carib Game Fishing Tournament is held in April–May
- Football (soccer): widely played, July to December. The Dwight Yorke Stadium, an ultra-modern facility in Bacolet, is the venue for more high-profile matches
- Golf: two outstanding 18-hole courses at Mount Irvine and Tobago Plantations, with a 9-hole course scheduled to be opened soon at Plantations.
- Health clubs and spas: available at some hotels
- Hiking: excellent trails through Main Ridge to waterfalls, and on Little Tobago. Go with a guide
- Mind/Body: Kariwak Village has a regular schedule of yoga, tai c’hi, qi gong and stretch relaxation. Massages available by appointment
- Riding: horseback riding available
- Sailing: outstanding. Trinidad is a hurricane haven for Caribbean-based sailors. Secluded bays around Tobago offer serenity. Angostura Sail Week in May
- Tennis: at larger hotels
- Volleyball: growing in popularity. Courts at Aquarium Beach Club
- Water sports: windsurfing, water-skiing, parasailing, kayaking, sailboats, sunfish, wake boarding, bumper rides, snorkelling, Hobie Cats
Only three full working days’ residence is required to apply for a marriage licence. Remember to register your arrival with the Registrar’s Office on Jerningham Street in Scarborough. Application for a special marriage licence at the Warden’s Office at the IDC Mall costs TT$300 (cash only). Make sure you have a valid passport for identification, and documentary evidence if you are divorced or widowed.
Several hotels offer wedding and honeymoon packages. There have been beach and boat weddings, as well as one performed underwater!
AQUAMARINE DIVE LTD
Blue Waters Inn, Speyside PO Box 402, Scarborough
(T) 868 660 5445 / 4341 (F) 868 639 4416
BAIRD’S (AUTO) RENTALS LTD
Lower Sangster’s Hill Road, Scarborough
(T) 868 639 2528 (C) 868 684 0979
“Looking forward to serving you”
GENESIS NATURE PARK & ART GALLERY
Grandy Gully, Goodwood
(T) 868 660 4668 F: 868 660 5628
A place you must see!
LAGNIAPPE DUTY FREE
Crown Point Airport
PO Box 335 Scarborough
(T) 868 639 7516 (F) 868 639 7984
Incoming and outgoing duty free shopping
Seagrape Villa, Inn On The Bay
Little Rockley Bay, Lambeau
(T) 868 639 1400
(near golf course & golf club)
(T) 868 639 9441
Affordable quality accommodation
BLUE MANGO CLAY KITCHEN
Blue Mango Cottages, Castara
(T) 868 639 2060 (C) 868 759 4686
Local Cuisine: Hot, Spicy & Creamy
Open for Breakfast & Dinner
GOLDEN STAR RESTAURANT & BAR
AND ENTERTAINMENT CENTER
Crown Point (T) 868 639 0873
Open Daily for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner and the best live entertainment !
KARIWAK VILLAGE RESTAURANT
Storebay Local Road, Crown Point
(T) 868 639 8442
A little bit local and a little bit international using fresh herbs from our own garden
LA BELLE CREOLE RESTAURANT & BAR
Old Donkey Cart House
72 Bacolet Street, Scarborough
(T) 868 639 3551 (C) 868 639 6124
Open for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
PANACHE CREOLE RESTAURANT
Pigeon Point Rd., Crown Point
(next to Surfside) (T) 868 639 9866
Lunch & Dinner, inc vegetarian specialities
Featuring the ‘sweet han’ of Carla Sobers!
Opp. James Holiday Resort
(T) 868 639 8046
Homestyle cooking with international flair!
Pump Mill Road, Scarborough
(T) 868 639 1522 (C) 868 766 8992
The best tapas to be found in
the southern Caribbean!
SHUTTERS ON THE BAY
Blue Haven Hotel
Bacolet Bay, Scarborough
(T) 868 660 7400 / 7900
International Cuisine using
West Indian ingredients
THE BLUE CRAB RESTAURANT
Robinson Street, Scarborough
(T) 868 639 2737 Lunch Mon to Fri
Dinner – Call for reservations
Shady terrace with a view of the bay
Local dishes served in family tradition
THE FISHPOT RESTAURANT
Blue Waters Inn, Speyside
(T) 868 660 4341
Specializing in Seafood & International dishes
THE ORIGINAL HOUSE OF PANCAKES
Cor Milford Rd & John Gorman Trace
(T) 868 639 9866
THE 19TH HOLE
Tobago Plantations, Lowlands
(T) 868 639 0103
Open for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Fine or Casual Dining
The Villas at Stonehaven
(T) 868 639 0361
A romantic setting, a fantastic view
A dinner to remember forever!
THE SEAHORSE INN
Grafton Old Road, Black Rock
(T) 868 639 0686
From Seafood to Steaks
Creole & International Style Cuisine