Tobago – Hello Old Friend!
17/02/15 to 03/03/15 – Standing on our hotel balcony and looking across to a sea view made up of blue skies, coconut trees, and a pleasant sea breeze, we are so happy to be back in Tobago. It feels like an old friend. Brian and I visited this Caribbean Island in March/2013 for a one week holiday, but this time we will stay for 2 weeks and we are not alone, we have travelled here with our friends Mark and Marion.
The winter in the UK had taken its toll on us, we were both badly needing sunlight, we were also exhausted with our work commitments. Although I love my job as a Dietitian working for the NHS it can be very hard at times. Anyone who works for the health services will certainly understand how working looking after people with chronic conditions and some who are terminally ill can be very rewarding but also charged with ups and downs and emotionally draining. It reminds me every day that life is short and I should never take my health for granted.
Brian also has been working more than 12 hours/day and had just returned from a business trip to India which had left him very frazzled and fed up.
So planning this holiday has kept us going through the dark and cold winter days in the UK and we were so looking forward to the slow pace and relaxed vibe of the Caribbean, with lots of sunshine, good food, and good friends to share it all with.
Tobago has a tropical climate and there are two main seasons; a wet season between July and November, and a dry season between December and June. But somehow this time Tobago did not obey the rules and we had sunshine and showers every day, although the showers were usually brief and followed by brilliant sunshine we did have a couple days that the showers lingered a little longer.
The Island lies just south of the Atlantic hurricane belt, it has a land area of about 300 Km square and is approximately 40 km long and 10 km wide. It is part of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, with larger Trinidad a ferry ride away, there is a fast ferry service between Port of Spain, the Capital of Trinidad, and Scarborough and from our hotel balcony, we saw the ferry going past many times in the far distance.
We stayed at the Lowlands in the South-western and the more flat side of the Island, not far from its Capital city of Scarborough, which is more developed and has some of the larger resort type hotels. Our hotel was on the Atlantic side and from our balcony, we saw the sun rise every day.
Tobago’s economy is highly dependent on Trinidad with its rich liquefied natural gas and petrochemical reserves. Tourism is the main source of income to Tobago, although the tourism industry is not as well developed as some of the other Caribbean Islands and you can find many idyllic and deserted beaches along its coastline in particular towards the north of the Island. We managed to find quite a few.
Here are some of the highlights of our 2 weeks trip to Tobago
Exploring the North of the Island
We hired a car and drove north through the hilly spine of the Island passing the small village of Moriah, perched on top of the narrow ridge nearly 1 000 feet above sea level and vertiginous views of the lush green forest and sheer drops on both sides. The drive is quite the adventure, since the roads are narrow and with hairpin curves, definitely not for people of a nervous disposition. Marion and I at times felt quite scared in particular because Brian and Mark kept taunting us with tales that our car had a faulty brake and unreliable steering wheel.
The North offers more of the real Tobago with traditional little fishing villages where fishermen are still using their fishing nets to bring in the catch of the day, just like they have always done.
Discovering that life stood still in the little fishing villages in the North of Tobago was one of the main highlights for me.
From the viewpoint “Dylan’s View Point” we could see the pretty fishing village of Castara down below.
We drove down the winding road and parked our rented car next to the little and only local supermarket. Castara is a quaint fishing village, tucked away behind lush green hills. There is a local co-operative fishing market here to which the fisherman bring their catch of the day and sell to local restaurants. We decided to have a drink at a lovely beachfront restaurant and we spent some time there admiring the views and the birds that are abundant here. There is a special Village ambiance here, with very friendly locals, and on Thursdays, they have a bonfire and dinner and everyone is invited, though unfortunately, we were not able to stay for it.
We were happy to be under cover when the rain clouds appeared and a heavy shower came down fast and furious. It is a gem of a place, no big hotel resorts here and may it long continue. There are some apartments with verandas and great sea views. Properties that are owned by a local who wants to capitalize on this little piece of paradise and why not. We would probably like to stay here next time we visit Tobago and rent one of these apartments with sea views and a veranda.
Here we parked near the village school and as I started taking pictures, a friendly local girl in her school uniform enjoyed posing for me, she was standing at a side door of her school, Marion and I noticed that there was a class going on and we could see the pupils inside, there were children, but also a lot of adults and we wondered if in Tobago the parents can attend the school with their children? We walked around and towards an old pier were fishermen gutting some of the catch of the day.
Another charming little fishing village, with few cottages and small shops, a fish market run by a fishermen’s co-operative. It is located at the North-eastern tip of Tobago and reached via a winding and narrow road. The view of Charlotteville from a place called “Flagstaff Hill ” is great and we found it totally by chance since it is not very well sign posted. Although the drive up the hill is very treacherous it is definitely worth it for the amazing views.
Tobago has many lovely unspoiled beaches with soft sand, secluded bays and hardly or no one around. The South beaches are a little busier, but in the North there are some deserted beaches, on our car road trip to the north we explored some lovely beaches, two of our favorite beaches in the North of the Island were:
Englishman’s Bay, a delightful and quiet beach a little bit North of Castara, the rain forest comes from the hills all the way down to the beach and it embraces the little cove like a lush green blanket of tropical plants. We spent some time here until we had to run from another very heavy shower. In the day we visited, the sea was a little rough and although Mark did attempt to go for a swim he quickly realised it was going to be difficult and gave up, the waves and current were just too strong. Be aware that there are no facilities here and just one very small restaurant, we did not try the food or looked to see if there was a toilet inside the Restaurant? One would assume so (?).
Pirates Bay, we visited this little bay by boat. We hired a small boat, from a local guy, called Dash, who come over and introduced himself to us, as soon as we parked our car by the little fishing pier in Charlotteville. The Bay can also be reached by an uphill walk of about 20 minutes and 150 steps down into the little bay. We met a group of Americans here who were renting a house nearby, they told us that there was great snorkeling in Pirate’s Bay, the turquoise water had good visibility and the calm water made it perfect for it. Unfortunately, we did not have our snorkeling gear with us there. There are no toilet facilities here.
The south of the Island of Tobago is more commercialized and tourist geared, but still, has a laid back vibe and it certainly does not feel crowded at all. My favorite beach in the south has to be Pigeon Point – It is a National Heritage Park and therefore there are entrance fees to pay of 20 $TT ( £2.00 or US$ 3.00 ) per person for the day. For your money, you will get very good and clean facilities, shower and change rooms. A small restaurant and some food stalls with very nice Caribbean meals and drinks. It does get more crowded here in particular at the weekend or if there is a cruise ship in town. There are also beach chairs for hire. We came to this beach few times and enjoyed the soft sand and turquoise green and calm waters that are perfect for swimming.
It was great to spend the day people watching, windsurfers, paddle-boarders, sailing boats, jet-skis and power boats. There was a lot of activities in the water, but for us relaxing was a great treat. Although Brian and Mark made the most of the good fishing opportunities here also. The wildlife was also entertaining and we saw a massive lizard in and out of some rocks right in front of our sun chairs, lots of crabs of all sizes and shapes.
I love the hummingbirds and to watch them kissing the flowers as they fast move their wings to keep them hovering over a beautiful flower whilst drinking its nectar is just fascinating.
Pelicans are amazing, I love how they fly very low over the sea looking out for fish to eat and as they spot their prey they gain height, fold their wings and dart into the sea water very fast and emerge usually triumphant with a fish caught in their beak.
Goat Races and Sunday School
We were given a leaflet about the Goat Races and decided to check it out. It is a lot of fun and we enjoyed choosing our winning goats. Apparently, the races are an Easter tradition since 1925, but recently it is also on at other times of the year. These races are taken very seriously and there is a proper racing track at Buccoo a small village settlement by a lovely and calm bay.
After all this excitement we decided to go for dinner at a fishing restaurant that Marion heard was very good, called “El Pescador”, owned by some Venezuelans right by the bay at Buccoo, and it was simply delicious, my fish dish was cooked to perfection. As the evening fell, Sunday School came to life and there was music and dancing all around. Sunday School is a Tobago institution and nothing to do with religion, it is on every Sunday night taking over Buccoo village and gathering tourists and local people who enjoy the food and craft stalls. The music is played by the Buccooneers Steel Orquestra, but we also saw people dancing at a dance-hall to the tunes of hip-hop and R&B.
I love sunsets, there is something very calming and peaceful about watching the end of a day, as the sun disappears over the horizon and darkness takes over very gently. You feel the temperature starting to drop slightly, the birds go to bed and the night creatures start appearing as the sky gets sprinkled with the fairy light of stars, bliss.
We enjoyed some lovely sunsets in Tobago.
Fishing in Tobago
I don’t like fishing, but Brian and Mark love it and they made the most of the fishing in the sunshine as opposed to the cold British beaches and lakes. But I will leave this bit for Brian to give some of the highlights of fishing in Tobago.
Hi, Brian here, with a little taste of the fishing in Tobago. The first thing to say, for anyone coming from a country where any kind of fishing usually involves dealing with cold and rain, and usually both, Tobago is simply Paradise with its tropical sunshine, warm and crystal clear waters, and incredibly hard fighting fish. On our previous trip I’d only really started to scratch the surface but on this trip learned a bit more about where, when and how to open up the fishing and start to experience some of the potentials of this beautiful island. There were a few highlights which I will always remember; like catching my first bonefish, one of the holy grails of sea fishing. I’d often read about how spectacularly they fought, but nothing quite prepares you for hooking into one of these tropical speedsters as a gentle bite turns rapidly into a screaming run and 100 yards of the line gets ripped from your reel and turns you into a heart-pounding gibbering wreck. I lost my first one after the first searing run ended with the line getting wrapped around some coral and breaking off. It took me a week to hook another, in a different location, and this time I managed to land it. Probably about 7 pounds and one of the most memorable fish I have ever caught. Caught in about 18 inches of crystal clear water in the flats where we had waded a quarter of a mile offshore.
Other highlights were onboard Mama Mia, a fabulous fishing boat owned and operated by local experts fisherman and dive instructor Douglas with whom we had three trips. Catching tarpon, small barracuda and jacks from the mangroves, and mahi-mahi from 15 miles offshore in huge waves and rain filled squalls. All fabulous days out, catching hard fighting, beautiful, and fabulously tasty fish.
So some spectacular new species this time, and definitely learning more on every visit. Can’t wait to carry on the love affair with the fabulous fishing this paradise Island has to offer.
Walking through the mangroves
In the grounds of our hotel, there was a wooden walkway through the mangroves, a surreal place that ends with a small pier like platform and views out to sea, on the Atlantic side of the Island.
Been invited for dinner with a Tobagonian family
Meeting the locals is always a great way of getting under the skin of a place. Brian and Mark hired a boat to go fishing and befriended the boat owner who together with his wife owns an Eco-Hotel near Scarborough. They offered to cook us the fish that they all caught the day before. The Eco- Hotel was not easy to find, it is surrounded by lush green forest, a retreat paradise for wildlife lovers. It was already dark when we got there, but we could see from the dining room that the sea was just behind the infinity pool. One of their guests, a Canadian girl, also shared the delicious meal with us.
As our time in Tobago draw to a close we were sad to leave, but work and commitments will be waiting for us back at home along with the British winter, but I feel optimistic that spring will be arriving soon and I am already planning my next escapade.