Friday, October 05, 2018

Tobago (and Trinidad)

Country #2 was Trinidad and Tobago, though we only stayed on the smaller, nicer island of Tobago. From Barbados we flew on LIAT via St. Vincent to Trinidad. The Grenadine islands south of St. Vincent look amazing and I can't wait to get there someday...
To get between the islands of Trinidad and Tobago there are 2 options.  A ferry between the two main cities of Port of Spain and Scarborough or a short flight. The flight is a domestic "air bridge" with hourly service on large turboprops at a set rate of $25US one-way. You don't have to worry about flight times and seat selection and if you really wanted could just show up at the airport and try standby. We had a connecting flight and gave ourselves too much time on our layover (to be on the safe side, especially when switching airlines) but fortunately, at no extra cost, they had extra seats on an earlier flight and we got to Tobago a little sooner than we expected.
Trinidad has a reputation as being a busy, crime-ridden, industrial island with very little tourism apart from its world-famous Carnival. Tobago on the other hand has a small tourism industry and is considered to be much safer and more laid back. The bulk of tourism is located at the southwest tip of the island, right beside the airport at Crown Point, where they have their nicest beaches and most amenities. It is the rainy off-season here too and after a quick look at "the strip" in Crown Point, it doesn't look like this is a huge booming tourist island in the Caribbean even at the busiest of times.
Tobago is still quite rural looking with chicken, goats and dogs wandering around people's yards or frequently on the side of the road, even in the towns.

Crown Point area

Typical around Tobago

We stayed a night in Crown Point because we arrived late and the next day took the bus (slow and inconvenient timetable but cheap) up to Castara via Scarborough. Locals will tell you that Trinidad = party and Tobago = chill. And Castara is very, very chill. This would be the closest thing you could find to a backpacker hangout town in Tobago, but, there were no backpackers.  There are a few older hippies and a handful of couples, but most of the plethora of accommodations are empty and many of the restaurants don't even bother to open every day. Castara's vibe is that of a fairly isolated fishing village set around a pretty bay that is divided into two unequal parts by a rocky outcrop. The sand is coarse and brown, unlike Barbados, but the more authentic local atmosphere more than makes up for it. Thick vegetation covers the steep hills leading up from the water and it was a sweaty 10 minute walk up the hill to our little guesthouse apartment.  We had great views but the workout necessitated a quick shower every time we came back home. You can swim, hike around, chat with the friendly locals or just relax and listen to the birds dropping mangoes out of the surrounding trees. We mostly opted to relax as the water was too rough for swimming and the weather would send periodic downpours on us throughout each day.

Castara beach


Little bay, Castara

There are a few bars right on the beach and they seem to take turns hosting weekly events (drumming sessions, bonfires, bbqs, etc). We went to see what the bonfire beach party was all about one night and as expected it was mostly locals with probably every tourist currently in the village in attendance.  Hassle-free, laid-back, rasta-ish, lots of drumming. We enjoyed seeing a real steel band playing as it is the local music that Trinidad is most famous for and has since spread throughout the region and world.
We walked up and down the hill and around the village.  We walked 3km or so to the isolated Englishman's beach for something else to do.

Englishman's Beach

Even more deserted than the others

We stayed 3 nights in Castara and on our last full day in Tobago, we checked out and were picked up by a local Couchsurfing guy, Kyle, and his girlfriend, who drove us in a complete circle around the island stopping off to see different points of interest, usually more beaches in more pretty bays.  Charlotteville at the far north end of Tobago was very pretty and we had a huge lunch on the beach at The Suckhole restaurant. It looked like a nice town to base yourself in for a couple days as well, though it is busier than Castara. After about 5 hours we were dropped off back at Crown Point where we spent the night again before catching a flight to Trinidad.

Parlatuvier beach

The sign that says you are somewhere nice ;)

We couldn't finish it.

Kyle and Jelese

We had not planned on visiting Trinidad and had given ourselves only a couple hours to layover en route to Suriname but the airline changed our outbound flight a few weeks prior and we found ourselves with about 7hrs to kill between flights. Fortunately I was able to get into contact with another local Couchsurfer who offered to show us around for a bit.  So at 9am on a Sunday we were picked up at the airport and drove northwest past the capital, Port of Spain, to the Chaguaramas area.  It is the peninsula pointing west toward Venezuela, and through the humid haze we caught glimpses of a distant shoreline. We drove along the coast, noting the considerable difference in the development, traffic and demographic compared to Tobago. Once slavery was abolished the British brought in thousands of indentured laborers from India to continue work on Trinidad's plantations.  For the most part the plantations on Tobago were abandoned and didn't receive the same influx of people.  Today people in Trinidad are roughly 50% of East Indian descent while Tobago has a much much lower percentage and is predominantly black. The hills are still very green and lush and we went for a brief walk along a trail through bamboo groves before returning to the capital and driving up to Fort George.

Fort George is great for a view over the capital and surrounding countryside though the haze and storms made it difficult to see too far off.  There are picnic tables and canons and some perimeter walls and a little white building (not very fort-like) at the top.  Built at the beginning of the 1800's, it used to be part of a chain of forts protecting the northern part of Trinidad from the Napoleonic fleet. Tobago has a few forts of its own but not much remains of most of them either so there was nothing really to do but relax and take in the views which was what we were looking for.

Overlooking Port of Spain

Fort George

We had a quick drive through Port of Spain on our way back to the airport, a nice 3hr excursion successfully completed.  It was a good thing we did it on a Sunday as the traffic is supposed to be quite bad the rest of the week and we wouldn't have been able to risk it.


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