Talkin' Tobago ~ 4

Tobago really spoke to me.  The island has tucked-away coves lined with golden sands and overhanging palms.  It boasts numerous waterfalls with inviting fresh water dipping pools. Underwater there are reefs dotted with hundreds of sponges the size of Smart Cars, colored in red, green, gray and blue. Those and other marine wildlife are all due to convergence of the North Equatorial and Guyana currents plus the caloric stew drifting north from Venezuela’s Orinoco River. I was besotted with the place’s beauty and its gregarious people.

Little Tobago off the coast at Speyside.
Sugar mill ruins.

Caribbean islands are known for repeated conquests by European powers ever since the time of Columbus.  Tobago, however, holds the record for it had power change hands a whopping 31 times!  There were the usual suspects: the British, French, Spanish and Dutch.  Even the Latvians got in the fray establishing two colonies in the 1600s.  The first was done in by the Spanish.  The second met its end by the spear tips of the fierce Caribe Indians. I guess the Europeans were just as enamored by Tobago as I am.

The island is graced with over 200 species of birds, many of which are common to South America. I chalked up 50 species myself, which is pretty amazing considering  I am a ‘bird looker’ rather than a full-fledged birdwatcher.  I spotted the rare white-tailed sabrewing, one of six hummingbird species on the island.  Others included the rufous-tailed jacamar, blue-crowned motmot, red-crowned woodpecker, blue-backed manakin and the Venezuelan flycatcher.  The list goes on.  What a bird land.

Spotted Sandpiper

But my Pisces blood drove me repeatedly back to the shore.  My favorite spot was Englishman’s Bay, a secluded cove on the Caribbean coast that seduces like a ripe mango. Fringed with palms, dotted with pelicans and marked by scimitar-shaped beach, it is a tropical trifecta made for limin’ the day away.  Its soft sand, warm sea and blue skies are embedded forever in my mind.  Plus, there is Lula’s, the ultimate beach bar at water’s edge.  What more could I ask for?

Englishman’s Bay

But the 10-day visit finally came to an end.  It was time to fly home.  So, the question remains; Did we make the right choice 20 years ago to live on Bonaire?  Well, yes.  And we will be staying.  The hypothetical question, however, is would we have been happy if we had chosen Tobago instead?  Most definitely. It is a unique, beautiful Caribbean island, one in which I believe I would have thrived. There are always those crossroads in life when one must choose one direction over the other.  They are keystone moments that shape one’s destiny. Living on Bonaire has been deeply rewarding.  Tobago?  It now holds a special place in my heart.  But it will always conjure up thoughts and images of what might have been.

Speyside
Laundry Day

Talkin' Tobago ~ 3

The Last Lime on the Island. Again!

We arrived on Tobago in the dark. Before driving an hour to the coastal village of Castara, our driver Shaq suggested we stock up on some basic food items.  “There won’t be much to buy in Castara.  It’s better to shop here.  I’ll go in the store with you.”.  We bought bread, snacks, cheese, peanut butter, guava jam and Schwepps club soda.  “Do they sell any limes here, Shaq?”  “I haven’t seen any.”  A knot in my stomach quickly formed.  This was deja vu all over again.  Loyal Island Note readers may remember the 2016 blog titled, The Last Lime on the Island.  That writing was about my quest to find limes on Bonaire, which was quite understandable since my home island is known for its lack of agricultural produce at times.  But surely a verdant, fertile island like Tobago would not experience such scarcity. Perhaps this was just a bump in the jungle path, a hiccup in the fruit bowl of life, an anomaly in the tropical balm of the evening.

The next morning I walked into the seaside village of Castara from our hillside digs. I went straight for a food stand called Dah Truth Fruitman.  It looked promising.  Golden bananas swung in bunches. Papaya and paw paw were on display. I even got a whiff of overripe mangoes behind the counter.  “Good morning.  Do you have any limes?”  “No, mon.  No limes today.” “You gotta’ be kidding.  All this nice fruit and you have no limes?”  The man scanned the shelves behind him.  “Oh, here’s one.”  The vendor grabbed the fruit and presented it to me with a smile.  It was about the size of a small walnut and had the hue of pale-yellow kumquat.  But I was desperate.  “How much do you want for it?” Why I asked I haven’t a clue. I would pay anything at this point.  “I give it to you for free, mon.  I tink you need this lime more than me.  It’s the last one on the island and dat’s dah truth!”  I thanked the Dah Truth Fruitman repeatedly and headed back up the hill.

During my three days in Castara, I never saw another lime.  I even went into a few rum bars and was told, “No limes here, mon.  Wrong time of season.”  I also returned to the fruitman a couple of times to no avail.  This became survival mode. I ensured every drop of the last lime on the island would be used wisely.  I cut the small globe in eighths. I pinched the ends. I squeezed the middles. I poked each slice with the back side of a spoon.  Every drop of that lime dripped into a tumbler of Angostura 1919 golden rum with ice and Schwepps. It was heavenly.

Three days later we traveled to the Atlantic side of the island to village of Speyside. I soon discovered it was a diving town with a lime problem. I carefully unpacked two slivers of the Castara lime upon arrival, the last of the last lime on the island.  It was precious cargo.  I knew the next day, I would be forced to continue the quest for lime.

I explained the imbroglio to my dive master, Sean. “OK, we’re on a mission.  Hop in the car.  We’ll get you a lime or two.”  We stopped first at Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen & Bar. No Limes.  Then to Pablo’s Supermarket.  No limes. Finally, we rolled into Dave & Daughters Hardware Store.  I’m not sure why.  Again, no limes.  “Sorry, mate.” said Sean. “I guess there’s not one bloody lime on the island today.”

The clock was ticking toward 5 o’clock somewhere and I was in deep kimchi. Just then Kathleen from Cleveland, manager of the apartment we were staying at, showed up with three gorgeous limes.  “Sean told me you might want these.”  “Unbelievable!  Where did you find these gems?”  “I got them from my friend, Hazel, who lives down the road.  She has a lime tree in her backyard.”  I was spared.  With just under a week left on Tobago, limes were not going to be my problem.  I was happy as a clam, so to speak.

After four awesome diving days at Speyside, we relocated to Crownpoint for some serious beach time.  We dined on roti, doubles-that quintessential T&T street food, and a famed Tobago specialty, crab & dumplings.  And there was always the obligatory rum drink to salute the sunset, garnished, of course, with the delicious Speyside limes supplied by Kathleen.

Mission accomplished.

Upon leaving the island, our Caribbean Airlines flight to Trinidad was delayed for the fourth time that day.  An announcement was made that the plane wouldn’t depart until 8:30pm.  Since most of us had been waiting since one in the afternoon, we quickly flocked to the airport bar like a gang of seagulls descending on a fishing boat.

“I would like an Angostura rum, club soda and a lime,” I said to the bartender.

“We don’t have any lime.”

I looked at the man in disbelief.  “Okay, then.  I would like an Angostura rum with club soda and hold the lime.”  The bartender smirked and went to mix the drink.  No matter. Just like the Dah Truth Fruitman told me back in Castara, I was the chosen one to have the last lime on the island. And I believe he was right. True dat.

Talkin' Tobago ~ 2

Doin’ the speak…

English is the official language of Tobago.  And then there is Tobagan Creole.  It’s a pidgin language spoken by most locals, a rapid-fire patios that left me repeatedly dazed and confused. I listened to it for over a week and only could pick up a few words.  Here are a couple of examples of why it is so damn hard for a gringo like me to understand.

•Dig out meh eye. (to be taken advantage of)

•Yuh go put fowl to watch corn?  (Would you put a thief to guard your money? That’s like having an alcoholic to tend bar.)

•Ello. Wen di bot goh inna di beh mi na waant ta get damage. Mi waant ya fo goh an kom bak gud. (Hello. When the boat goes into the bay, I don’t want to get any damage. I want you to go and come back good (safe).

Frog smoke your pipe. (You are in big trouble.)


Tobagans also enjoy giving each other weird nicknames.  Unlike the residents on the island of Antigua who relish giving their cars monikers like Give Thanks, Mister Bliss, or Dem A Watchin’ Me, people here concentrate on making up new first names.  Some are inspired by American culture.  We met two drivers; one called Shaq after NBA great Shaquil O’Niel and the other was the Hulk or Hulky.  The big man’s real name was Allan.

The manager of our lodging in Castara was Porridge.  Why?  He loved eating porridge as a kid. Endlessly. Same goes for our driver called Milk.  “As a kid, I ate everything that had milk.  That’s how I got my name.”  “I have a story to tell you then,” I replied. “Shaq told me this the other day.  There was a Castara boy named Donald.”

“One day in school his teacher gave him a riddle. ‘Donald, I would like you to solve this riddle, so take your time.  If a white cow gives white milk, what kind of milk does a black cow give?’  Donald, thinking he nailed the answer, immediately yelled out, ‘Black Milk!’  Our driver, Milk, laughed so hard he nearly ran off the road while taking us to Charlotteville. With tears in his eyes he spouted, “That po’ boy is going to be called Black Milk the rest of his life. Forever. Black Milk, ha ha.  Forever, mon!”

On the road to Charlotteville.

And then there are the signs.  They tell a lot about a society’s language.  I see a old, beat up pickup truck roar by.  At the wheel is a wild man with a flowing white beard down to his chest and dreadlocks hanging out the side window. The black sticker in the rear window shouts out, Outta’ De Jungle.  Later that morning I’m reading a breakfast menu on the wall.  One of the entries says, Topless Eggs.  The description below (scrambled, fried or poached) doesn’t reveal a clue.  I reluctantly ask the waitress, “What are Topless Eggs?”  “Those are eggs that don’t have nothin’ on top—no hot sauce, no curry sauce, nothin’.”

Okay, then.  But the most confounding sign that I saw at a gas station.

I just couldn’t figure this one out so I asked my driver, Hulky.  “Naked lights?  Oh, that’s when some people have arc lights instead of normal headlights. If they don’t have a glass cover in front them, that’s dangerous with the gas fumes.”

Argyle Waterfall.

A few days later we were on a rain forest trail going to Argyle Waterfall.  It a seven-tiered cascade that pours out of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, established in 1776.  At streamside, we stopped to talk with a woodcarver named Raj.

“All the carvings I make come from the bamboo here in the forest,” explained Raj. “These here, the smiling fish, are just natural bamboo. But with others like the African masks or the mot mot, I burn the bamboo black and then carve the design out from that.”

The Mot Mot.

Raj’s work was masterful, and on the way back down from the waterfall, I bought one of the smiling fish.  “Good choice, mon.  A lot of people like the smiling fish.” “I’ll use it to serve snacks during happy hour,”  I replied. And in saying farewell added in some Creole, “ Ma goh bek a tong nah.”  (I go back to town now).
“You doin’ the speak nah, mon.”
And so I was, with a smiling fish in hand.

Talkin' Tobago ~ 1

Almost Home…

The search began about twenty years ago.  We knew that the Caribbean was the region where we wanted to land, but which island?  French, Dutch, American, Spanish, British?  Small or large? Many residents or few? Out of the hurricane zone? There was a lot to consider.  So, we started a list of places and began the hunt. We took chartered sailboats and visited a half dozen islands each trip always with an eye out, “Could we live here?” We cruised Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, the Exuma chain of the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands.  We also made visits to the Turks & Caicos, Belize and Jamaica, mon.

After extensive research, Tobago, the little sister of Trinidad, was still on the list and a potential choice. But then Bonaire got in the way.  We took two trips there in six months, and soon after, put money down on a property to be built. The dream of living on Tobago drifted away like a puffy white cloud in a blue tropical sky.

Now two decades later, we finally arrive on the island.  Talkin’ Tobago is about our ten days there. Did we make the right choice moving to Bonaire?  Or is it now time to relocate to this lovely Caribbean gem known for its lush rain forests, golden sand beaches and mountains tumbling down to the sea?  Read on, if you will, and find all about this sweet island that at one time was almost home.

Castara, Tobago

Lost, on the Island.

Another bloody island note…

“You need to go to the police station,” said my normally well-informed spouse. “You can sort it out there.”

No, it’s not what you are thinking.  I didn’t witness a midnight drug drop on the shores of Bonaire.  Nor did I commit a crime of passion or otherwise.  What actually happened was that I lost my driver’s license.

It was innocent enough.  The other day, I drove to Coco Beach to take a morning swim. Rather than take my entire wallet, I just grabbed my driver’s license and put it in the dash compartment.  When I got back, I threw snorkel, mask, fins, wet dive boots and the license in a waterproof bag to haul into the house.  After rinsing everything including myself, a half hour had passed.  It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed my driver’s license was missing.  I looked everywhere to no avail.  As a last resort, I waited a few days hoping the damn document would just show up.  It never resurfaced.

“Oh, we can’t do that for you here,” replied the young, polite police agent behind the window.  “You need to go to the bevolkingskantoor.  They will issue you a new one there. It’s easy.”  I thanked the cop but got a tingling feeling that this would not go as smoothly as promised.  I had been numerous times to the bevolkingskantoor.  It’s a palace of bureaucracy where I got my original license, two boat titles and various other documents necessary for a nice island life.  But it is also trouble in paradise as the people working there often send us poor souls to other governmental offices far away only to pay a fee here or get a signature there.  A one-stop-shop it is not.

I was already stressing downtown for it was cruise ship day.  That means traffic goes half speed and I was suddenly on a deadline.  Locals stare in disbelief at half-dressed tourists.  Tourists, many of who leave their minds at home, take selfies in the middle of the street.  When I slowly approach them with the bumper of my car, accusatory looks are flashed saying, ‘How dare you!’.  Today I am stuck behind the blue choo choo train that hauls sunburned visitors through town at a speed approaching that of a well-fed iguana.  I glance again at my car’s clock.  It’s ten-to-eleven.  I just might pull this off before the bevolkingskantoor slams its doors at noon for a two-hour lunch break.

“Before we can issue you a new license, you have to have your doctor sign this form,” instructed the bevolkingskantoor receptionist.”

“My doctor?”

“Yes, without this form, we cannot move forward. And it will cost you $16 when you return for the new license.”

I glance at a list of questions that I need to answer before the doctor signs.  It is the kind of form that if you don’t’ check ‘no’ in every box, you will fail.  Inquiries like: Do you get epileptic fits? Have you ever been arrested for illegal drugs?  Do your arms and feet not function properly? 

I glance once more at the car clock.  It’s 11:15.  I just might have enough time to drive to the doctor’s officer and get back again before high noon.  But maybe not.  I immediately get stuck behind the car of a courteous local who encourages a massive group of obese cruise ship passengers to cross the street.  They move very slowly.  The driver of the car in front of me must work for the tourism bureau.  Meantime, I start checking ‘no’ blocks on the form. Is your eyesight poor? No. Do you get unexpected headaches like migraines? No. Have you ever seen a psychiatrist? Hell, no.

I rush to the nurse behind the counter as I yell out the obligatory Bon Dia! to the patients in the waiting room.  “Bon dia, señora.  Can you have Dr. van der Post sign this form for me?”

“Sure.  That will be fifteen dollars.”

“Fifteen dollars?  I already have to pay $16 for the license!”

“I understand.  And you can pick up the signed form at 5 this afternoon.”

“Can I just wait while you have the doctor sign?”

“I’m sorry.  Dr. van der Post is very busy today.”

Defeated, I slowly point my car homeward.  Surprisingly, there is hardly a tourist on the street.  My normally well-informed spouse greets me at the door upon arrival.  “I was doing some wash this morning and heard klunk-klunk in the machine.  Is this what you were looking for?” 

Story of my life. Lost, on the island.  Again.

Flori-days

I have a lifelong association with the Sunshine State.  When I was eight, my vacationing family crossed from Georgia into Florida, immediately pulling over for a much-needed rest stop.  While Mom and Dad sipped fresh-squeezed orange juice, I ran over to the first palm tree I could find.  It was time to live out my boyhood Tarzan fantasy.  I scrambled up the tree for only a few seconds before experiencing extreme pain.  Tiny thorns on the trunk had shredded my hands into a bloody pulp within seconds.  Later that day my sister and I ran up to two public water fountains to quench our thirst. I immediately started gulping down the cool agua.  “Pat!” screamed my sister. “Your drinking from the colored peoples’ water fountain!”  I sheepishly looked up to the sign above that read, For Colored People Only. Being from Cleveland, I had never seen such a thing.  This was 1956 and discrimination in the South was on full display.  Welcome to Florida, Yankee boy.

I was hoping for a more pleasant visit this time as I booked a flight to Tampa.  My 89-year-old aunt was down from the North, staying with my cousin. I made a surprise visit, which was way overdue.  We had not seen each other for years. 

Downtown Tampa, freeway flyin’ .

I also had a chance to see New Mexico friends who now reside in trendy South Tampa and dropped in on an old college buddy at his beach side digs just north of the Saint Petersburg beaches. Seeing family and friends again was awesome and we enjoyed delightful Flori-days together.

Dalí Museum

I also finally reached the Dalí Museum in downtown Saint Pete.  Salvador Dalí was the worldkid of the Surrealist movement in the last century and this gallery holds the largest collection of his works in the world. His brush plays with geometrical forms, spiritual images, sexual subjects, and melted clocks. As a young man, I was fortunate to spend a few hours with the master.  To see his work again was awe-inspiring.

And, of course, there was the obligatory beach time.  This island boy can’t be away too long from the sea and the beaches at Pass-a-Grille fit the bill.  I spoke with a local fisherman as he shore casted two rods for snook and pompano.  We watched a dolphin cruising back and forth just yards from the shore in search of breakfast.  Spurred on by Flipper, we dined on blackened shrimp omelets at a tables-near-the sand restaurant. 

Dah Beach

I’m glad to report that ‘Old Florida’ establishments still exist.  Ma & pa motels adorned with turquoise paint and plastic pink flamingos staunchly hold on to their precious shoreline property while modern condos and glassy apartment tower over them.  My beach-loving friends took me to the 11th floor of the 1970s kitsch Grand Plaza Hotel for happy hour. The building looks like something out of the Jetsons TV show complete with Spinner’s Bistro revolving restaurant above. There we drank Mount Gay Black Barrel rum on ice while watching the sun sizzle into the golden Gulf of Mexico.

The weather for the week was delightfully nice and friends claimed that I brought the warmth up from Bonaire.  But the low angle winter rays here at 27 latitude were soft and lovely compared with my island’s full blast sun at 12 degrees north of the equator.  Snowbirds were busy riding bikes, collecting shells, reading books or just chillin’ in quintessential beach chairs.  Most were retirees enjoying the balmy days that are so gentle on old bones. 

So as I drift 30,000 foot over the Bahama blues, azules and aquamarines, I am southbound heading home to the island.  I think of Confucius, that 1st century B.C. wise guy that made sense of a mad world for us mere mortals.  I paradoxically end this Flori-days piece with a quote from the ancient Asian.  It is one that I have used before, but it is so appropriate that it deserves repeating, Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.

The Second Day

Another Island Note...

It’s another beautiful January day on the island. It is the second day of the year. And I own a sailboat. What to do? We go sailing.

Sailing off the coast of Klein Bonaire

The winds are light, 12-14 knots. We have full sails up. My boat, Padilanti, drives through the cobalt blue water with ease.

My friend, Michael, at the helm. He is suppose to be at work. The smile on his face tells me he doesn’t really care.

And so it goes at the start of 2020, down island. It’s going to be a wonderful year.