Tales of exotic adventures, humorous anecdotes,
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January/2007 * 01/30/2007
This is the second part of our feature on the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago. In this installment we focus on Tobago. In the first installment we explored Trinidad.
Trinidad’s little sister, Tobago, a short 20- minute connecting flight from Piarco International Airport, is a popular vacation destination for Trinidadians, as well as many visitors from the U.K. and Germany. Explore the northern wilderness of Trinidad, with its more strenuous hiking and biking adventures, and then head to Tobago for some R & R. With its picturesque beaches, laid back vibe, and great snorkeling and diving, Tobago offers the best of Caribbean lifestyle in a decidedly non-touristy environment.
Devastated economically by the loss of the sugar industry in the late 1800’s and physically by Hurricane Flora in 1963, today, Tobago is building a reputation as a travel destination, winning awards in 2003 as the #1 Eco Tourism Destination from both the World Travel Awards and the Caribbean Travel Awards. A premiere birding destination, Tobago and its ancient rainforest are often used by ornithologists as a primer for South America.
When we reached the Arnos Vale Resort (www.arnosvalehotel.com) , it was easy to see why many fans of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe have long thought that Tobago was the inspiration for the setting of his classic novel. Located on a former sugar plantation, the grounds are tropically lush and filled with exotic birds, embraced by a crescent of private beach that offers some of the best diving and snorkeling on the west side of the island. Low-slung hammocks strung between the palms offer a silent invitation for a lazy afternoon with a good book, and Tobago Dive Experience has an office on the property, offering lessons and excursions exploring the Arnos Vale Reef or other locations around the island (www.tobagodiveexperience.com) . The open-air British Colonial-style dining terrace fills up every afternoon for “tea with the birds”, hosted by resident parrots Pirate and Spike who, literally, join guests at their tables. After a quick evening swim, we headed to the Kariwak Holistic Haven and Hotel for a Caribbean-style whole foods dinner made with all local ingredients from the fish and poultry to the herbs grown in the back garden, ending with homemade coconut ice cream, a Tobagan favorite. (www.kariwak.com) Also offering Ayurvedic spa treatments, the Haven will appeal to travelers with an organic lifestyle.
Dawn comes early in TT, and by 6 a.m. the next morning, we were on our way to hike the ancient rainforest with local guide, Harris McDonald of Jungle Tours (www.harris-jungle-tours.com). McDonald, whose deep and frequent laugh reminded us all of the 7-Up “Un Cola Man”, has perfected the calls of many of the exotic birds, whistling them into camera range for us as we hiked through the dense, green forest. We were fortunate to see many rare species including a white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird, a pair of blue-backed manakins engaged in a mating dance, and two spotted owls. A stop by one of the many live termite nests that decorate the trees became our mid-hike protein snack, as McDonald showed us how to entice the bugs onto our fingers and lick them off, although most of the group disagreed with his claim that they tasted like carrots.
After our hot and sweaty hike, we headed to the northeast corner of the island to cool off with some incredible snorkeling at Speyside. Angel Reef, in the crystal clear waters near Goat Island and Little Tobago, is filled with hundreds of varieties of hard and soft coral, and hundreds of species of brilliantly colored fish, including my favorites, the parrot fish and the cobalt blue Cherubfish. Several diving boats dotted the area, as this reef is a “must do” , ranked with other world-class dives like the Great Barrier Reef. By the time our glass bottomed boat, The Fear Not, had docked, we had worked up an appetite for lunch at Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen, a local beach eatery that has to-die-for homemade macaroni and cheese, baked spicy chicken, lobster, and fresh vegetable platters, all served family-style at long tables overlooking the water. We worked off our mac and cheese with an afternoon hike to the Argyle Waterfall, visited the Buccoo Reef by glass bottom boat to see some of the Western Hemisphere’s largest living brain coral, and had a fabulous farewell dinner at local restaurant MeShell’s.
Live Like a Local
A common site while hiking around the island are the large, cast iron cauldrons that were used on the sugar cane plantations. While making refined sugar is no longer a big industry for TT, Angostura still makes fabulous dark rums and its namesake bitters. Bring home a bottle of 1824, a cognac-like 12-year-old dark blend that’s smooth enough to drink straight up.
While the atmosphere on Tobago is much more relaxed than on Trinidad, don’t let your guard down entirely. Driving is hazardous on the mountainous roads, and tourist robberies are common, so use the same common sense that you would while walking around New York City. For the most part, the people of Tobago are warm, welcoming, and fun-loving, and the biggest daily danger is burning your mouth on the delicious, but incendiary, hot sauce that accompanies every meal.
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