A Travellerspoint blog

Trinidad and Tobago

The Candid Photo

The Composition of a Seemingly Natural and Organic Photo

sunny 25 °C
View Trinidad and Tobago November 2007 on GregW's travel map.

A man is walking down a beach in the sun, his sandals in his hands so he can dip his toes in the warm surf of the Caribbean Ocean. He looks out towards the water, letting the light breeze kiss his face. He is oblivious to the photographer up ahead, and can’t hear the snap of the camera as his image is captured on the digital memory card. Posted on the internet, web surfers come across the candid photo of a man on a beach.

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Not all, however, is as it seems. Let us return to November 19th, 2007, and examine the events leading up to the photo.

I am walking along the beach beside the road that leads to Pigeon Point. The beach is a thin strip of sand running beside a paved road, and I haven’t seen another human since passing a few booths selling trinkets about 5 minutes ago. I am wandering along, sandals in my hands and bag (containing my camera) slung over my shoulder, letting the waves run up and over my bare feet.

“God, this is beautiful,” I think to myself, and my gaze glances up from my toes in the wet sand to the sandals in my hands, swinging lazily as I meander along. “Wow, this would make a really cool picture – a guy on the beach with his sandals in his hands.” So I decide to get that picture. However, because I am alone and there aren’t any other tourists around to impose upon to snap a photo, I will have to take the photo using the timer on my camera.

I look behind me, and off in the distance I can see a few boats moored near the shore, and a sliver of the rock breakwater built by the Coco Reef resort. “Hmm,” I think, “I don’t want all those signs of civilization behind me.”

I look ahead of me, and see nothing out in the water except a few white caps as waves crash over shallow sand bars. “Much better if I take the photo when I am walking in the other direction.” So I make a mental note to snap the photo on my return from Pigeon Point.

A few hours later, after lounging around at the beach and the bar at Pigeon Point, I am heading back the same way I came, along the thin sand strip of beach along the Pigeon Point road.

“Now, where should I take that photo?” I mentally check off what I need. A nice background, something with a couple palm trees would be nice, and no signs of human constructions (or, god forbid, other humans). Some place where the beach isn’t too covered with flotsam and jetsam. Some place where I can find a flat surface to put my camera on for the photo as well.

I round a nice looking palm tree jutting out over the water, and see a fence post which has been flattened, but which is still anchored in the ground. The fence post, parallel but a few feet off the ground will make a perfect spot to set up my camera. I wander over, get out my Joby Gorillapod tripod and set up my camera, taking time to ensure that the picture is nice and level. I snap a few test shots, making sure that the lighting is decent.

Once I am sure that the setting looks good, I set the timer. I remove the sunglasses and hat that have been offering my pasty white skin sun protection for the last few hours, and leave them with my bag and my 2 litre bottle of water on the end of the fallen fence post. I hit the button to start the timer, and sprint to get into position.

After running what I think is a decent distance, I turn around, and slowly walk forward, ensuring that my sandals are hanging lazily from my fingertips. After counting in my head to 10, I walk back to the camera and check the picture.

“Nope, no good,” I say. I’m looking straight ahead in the photo, not longingly out to sea as originally envisioned. I reset the camera position, set the timer again, and press the button. Again I sprint into position, and take up my slow amble.

After a few seconds, I go to check that picture. “Nope, no good.” This time, my right hand is up near by face. I take a swig of my water, and recompose the shot in my head. “Okay, Wesson, this time you’ll nail it. Hands at your side, look out to sea, walk with big exaggerated steps so that your foot is posed nicely in the air. Let’s get it done!”

Pep talk complete, I reset the timer and sprint into position again. Returning to the camera, I see I have nailed the shot. “Third time is the charm,” I say, admiring my work. The shot looks pretty natural, like it was captured in a complete and total spontaneous moment.

My spur-of-the-moment photo took a good 10 minutes to structure, plan and execute, but it sure looks good.

At least I didn’t photo shop it, though looking at it, I could probably use a little photographic tummy tuck. If I give the guy in the photo better abs, maybe I could sell the photo to a resort for marketing purposes. Though he’d probably need a little more hair as well to be a real beach body walking along the beach…

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An actual candid photo. The tree didn’t pose or anything for this shot.

Posted by GregW 19:52 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Tagged photography Comments (0)

The Wild Chickens of Tobago, Part II

Revenge is a dish best served fried...

sunny 28 °C
View Trinidad and Tobago November 2007 on GregW's travel map.

Continued from The Wild Chickens of Tobago: Part I

  • * *

The next day, after a good sleep in, I rented a car to head out and see the island. Tobago is small island, only 31 kilometers from one end to the other, but driving there can take a while. The roads follow the natural contours of the hilly terrain of the island, so roads switch back and forth up and down the rainforest covered hills.

I picked up my car, a Nissan Almera at the airport, and opened up the door on the right hand side of the car and took my seat inside. I took a deep breath, putting my hands on the wheel. This was the first time I was ever going to drive a right-hand drive car. Like many ex-British colonies, Trinidad and Tobago drives on the left side of the road.

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I was nervous about driving on the right. I reached down and turned on the car, and then without thinking raised my right hand above my left shoulder to grab my seat belt. It wasn’t there. That’s where it would have been in a left hand drive car like we have back in Canada, but here I had to reach up over my right hand shoulder to find my belt. My belt securely fastened, I reached down to put the car in drive, and hit my right hand against the door. I looked to my right to see the door, and then looked to my left to see the gear shift. I was not off to a great start so far.

The first few minutes of driving was nerve wracking, my hands gripping the wheel in a death grip as I reminded myself over and over again to drive on the opposite side of the road that every ingrained instinct told me to. On making my first turn, I reached over to put on the turn signal, and found my windshield wiper blades going instead. Sweat covered my brow as I spoke to myself aloud, “Turn into the LEFT lane, turn into the LEFT lane.”

Ten minutes into the drive, however, I was starting to relax. I’d negotiated my way out of Crown Point and made a number of left and right hand turns without smashing into oncoming traffic, so I was starting to feel pretty relaxed. It turns out that driving a right hand drive car wasn’t that hard after all. Heck, millions of Britons do it every day, and some of them aren’t all that bright. If the inbred royal family of England can do drive a right-hand drive car, then it should follow that I shouldn’t have a problem.

I drove up along the north coast of the island, which locals call the Caribbean side. After passing by the nice Mount Irvine beach, my first stop was Plymouth. Plymouth is the oldest European settlement and is the host of the international renowned for its Jazz Festival, which last year included acts like Elton John and Gladys Knight.

The biggest draw in Plymouth when the Jazz Festival isn’t on is the “mystery grave.” Inside the tomb is one Betty Stiven and her child. No one knows the story behind the very strange inscription, which concludes with the words, “What was remarkable of her, she was a mother without knowing it and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgences to him.”

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I wonder if I have any wives out there that haven’t let me know about it. More importantly, I wonder if the 3 women I am secretly married to (at least in my head) know they are married to me. If it wasn’t for those damn restraining orders…

The other thing that Plymouth has is the creepiest cemetery I’d ever seen. Overgrown with undergrowth, trees toppled over to smash headstones, goats wandering around in the cemetery eating the grass. Bear in mind that this is no historically untended cemetery, but a still active and used graveyard. I saw graves from as recently as 2006 in the yard.

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Look at that place!

Imagine it at night, a fog rolling in. You are walking through the cemetery, tripping through the undergrowth. Soon the fog closes in and you lose your sense of direction. You walk, hands out in front of you to try and feel your way, but find yourself stumbling over a toppled headstone. You hands become tangled in the thick undergrowth as you try and stand when suddenly; you feel the hands of an undead zombie grabbing at your leg. You try and move, but can’t. Your heart races but can’t take the stress and soon fails. Your heart stops, your face frozen in a death mask of shock and horror, the last thought in your mind of the zombies tearing at your flesh.

The next morning, the Plymouth chief of police looks at your body. His deputy approaches and asks, “What happened here?”

“Heart attack. Strange to be wandering around a cemetery at night.” The chief of police and his deputy walk away as the cemetery caretaker uses his machete to clear some undergrowth and starts to dig a grave for you as the undead zombie that had your leg last nice continues to munch happily on your leather shoes. Goats will eat anything.

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After leaving Plymouth I had one goal in mind, to find the perfect, deserted beach. As many people who head south from the cold and snow of the Canadian winter, all we want is a little piece of paradise to be alone. We want a deserted beach, all our own. It’s impossible to find in the developed tourist spots like Cancun or the beaches of Varadero, Cuba, where you need to dodge beach chairs and tourists to find a spot to put down your towel.

Some of the beaches along the Caribbean coast held the promise of the desired emptiness. After a quick lunch in Castara Bay, I was off to Englishman’s Bay, which was described in 2004 as being a place where no one else was.

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Arriving though, I find that while the hordes haven’t exactly found Englishman’s Bay, there were a good 10 to 15 other people on the beach and a few food and drink vendors. While it was still possible to find a good spot of beach to myself, it would be impossible to not see other people, so I moved on.

Parlatuvier Bay was nice, with no other tourists in town. As fishermen cleaned their daily catches and school children learned how to play Christmas carols on the steel drums, I took a quick dip in the ocean. It was nice, but I was basically swimming in the backyard of the residents of Parlatuvier, and my protestant work ethic of trying to relax as others worked soon took the joy out of the experience, and so I moved on again.
My final hope was Bloody Bay before the sun would be fading into the sea and my dream of finding a beach to myself would be lost. Arriving at Bloody Bay the looks didn’t look promising. The road down to the beach was a mire of red muddy clay, and a man was shutting down a large earth mover. I stopped my car and walked a few feet down the road, my shoes soon covered with the red mud. I wasn’t sure if the road was passable, or even open, when the man climbing out of the earth mover said, “it’s passable by car.”

So I went down the road to Bloody Bay, the car slipping and sliding through the muddy bits before coming around a corner to display what I had been hoping for; an empty beach.

As I got out of my car, I realized that along with the road, the facilities at Bloody Bay were also under construction. There were 3 half-built buildings on the grounds, and the sounds of hammering could be heard from inside the buildings. As I was standing surveying the long sweep of the beach and trying to figure out if I wanted to take a dip at a construction site, the hammering stopped. The men working soon walked out of the buildings and started cleaning up for the day. A truck came down the hill, and the men piled into the back of the truck. I looked at my watch – 3 o’clock. It must be quitting time.

Soon the workers were all gone, and the beach was left to me and an old Rasti who was wandering around the site with his dog. He was either the night watchman or an old homeless dude the slept in the construction trailer at night. Perhaps both. He walked into the trailer and took a seat, leaving the beach to myself.

So my empty beach was found. I swam in the warm Caribbean waters for an hour, the only person on the entire length of the beach.

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Soon the sun was getting low in the sky, and I wanted to get back to Crown Point before dark, unsure of driving at night in a strange country on the wrong side of the road, so I started to pack up. I was about to wrap a towel around myself to change from my swimsuit into my dry shorts when I realized that modesty wasn’t called for on a beach where no one else was around, so I just changed in the open in the parking lot, not a human eye upon me.

Generally, I wouldn’t tell you all about this find, saving it for myself for future trips. But soon the construction of the widened road, bathrooms and restaurant will be complete, and Bloody Bay will be, if not exactly teeming with tourists, at least not empty for me. So my next trip will have to be somewhere else where I can find an empty beach to call my own.

  • * *

Leaving Bloody Bay I took the Roxborough-Parlatuvier road through the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. Back in the 1700s, the land proved so fertile that soon the sugar planters were cutting down more and more of the rainforest. The government acted to ensure that some of the natural rainforest was preserved, and in 1765 declared 3,958 hectares as protected, and oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere.

As I approached the rainforest road, I soon came across a blockage in the road. A gang of them, the wild chickens of Tobago, standing in the middle of the road, unfazed by the approach of my car. Sweat covered my brow, would these chickens alight upon me, pecking me to death and devouring my carcass?

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Luckily, a kindly old farmer happened upon the scene, and threw rocks at the unruly mob screaming at them, “get from the road, get from the road,” until they dispersed. Saved by the kindly local, I waved him a thank you and sped away, before the mob could reform.

  • * *

Friday was my last day in Tobago. I had to catch a flight at six PM back over to Trinidad, and on from there to Toronto, landing on Saturday morning. With a long night of flying ahead of me, I decided to take it easy on Friday. I planned to spend some time swimming and then just liming at a local bar. In Trinidad and Tobago, the word lime is a verb, which means to just hang out.

I chose to do my liming at the Land’s End bar along the Pigeon Bay road. I took a seat on the patio, sipping on Caribs and watching as the waves crash against the sea wall and splash up onto the sea-side patio.

Soon the day has ticked away, and I need to head to the airport, taking one last chance to walk along the beach, enjoying the feel of sand between my toes before having to wear winter boats back in Toronto.

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After showering and checking out of Mike’s Holiday Resort, and went to check in to my flight to Tobago. After getting my boarding pass, I still had an hour and a half until the flight, so I went to the nearby Cutter’s bar and restaurant for a beer and some dinner.

I looked over the menu and saw the ideal meal. After being tormented by them all trip long, there on the menu was my payback.

“I’ll take an order of fried chicken wings.”

The plate arrives, 6 wings, deliciously fried.

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Forget everything I said earlier about the best meals being the local food, or even the two AM greasy meal, the best food is REVENGE food. Not only did I get my retribution on those that tormented me throughout my trip, but I also made things little bit safer for the next group of tourists, who will have 3 less wild chickens of Tobago to deal with.

Posted by GregW 12:16 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

The Wild Chickens of Tobago, Part I

Dodging the surly foul in the sunny Caribbean

sunny 28 °C
View Trinidad and Tobago November 2007 on GregW's travel map.

I was wandering through the streets of Port of Spain, the largest city and capital of the island archipelago nation of Trinidad and Tobago, located on Trinidad the largest of the 21 islands that make up the nation, when I saw the first of them. About a foot and a half high, his feathers were ruffled and matted, indicating a life lived on the street. He stood definitely at the corner of Edward and Independence Square, and despite his motley appearance, you could tell by the way he held his head high that he was a leader. He raised his head and let out his battle cry.

“Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

Three more of roosters appeared from nowhere swaggering towards me, their bright red comb swaying as their heads bobbed. It was my first run in with the largest gangs in this nation.

The wild chickens of Trinidad and Tobago.

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  • * *

The US Thanksgiving holiday occurred on Thursday, November the 22nd and most people in the US take off Friday, and many of them take off the entire week. I am back working in the USA in Houston, Texas, and instead of having me come down to Houston for a week when most people would be only in for 3 days, it was suggested I take a week off. So I started looking at places to go for a quick week away, and based solely on the fact that the flights worked out well with my scheduled, booked a week in Trinidad and Tobago.

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I knew very little about Trinidad and Tobago, or T and T as the locals call it, other than their pre-lent Carnival is one of the most famous in the world, along with Brazil’s Carnival and New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festival. Given that those festivals occur in February and this month is November, I had to find something else to do.

Some quick online research indicated that while Trinidad is the largest of the islands, and one of the large economic drivers of the nation with their oil reserves and tar pits, the island of Tobago was much better for a vacation. Tobago boosts unspoiled beaches along her coasts, with rainforest covered hills making up the interior of the island. The islands, the southern most islands in the Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela, used to be part of the South American continent and shared more geography in common with the northern nations of South America than with her more northerly Caribbean neighbours.

So a plan was born. I would fly into Port of Spain, Trinidad, spend a day there before heading out on the ferry to Tobago.

Trinidad is often described as being an “industrial” island with it’s oil and tar production, and Port of Spain certainly portrays that image well. The city is completely cut off from the water by industrial ports, there is a power plant right in downtown Port of Spain and barbed wire is everywhere.

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The entire city is an assault on the senses. To start with, it smells. Sometimes it’s nice odors, like the smell of barbeque chicken coming from stalls in the bustling market streets, but often it’s bad odors, the smell of open sewers or belching industrial plants. The markets spill out into the streets, such that I was constantly ducking and zig-zaging around passing cars, browsing shoppers and plywood tables filled with goods.

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The final assault is on the ears, as portable CD and DVD vendors bring monstrous speakers and play rap, calypso and reggae music at full volume. Cars pass by, windows down with stereos blaring at full volume. The stereos cause car alarms to go off, with the alarms set off to run through every single sound. “Whoop-whoop-whoop, whir-ooo-whir-ooo-whir-ooo, zurrrr-zurrrr-zurrrr, zin-zin-zin-zin-zin-zin-zin-zin, deen-deen-deen-deen-deen-deen…” It sounds like a movie of New York City from in the 1980s.

I found respite from the assault down at the eastern end of Independence Square, where there are a number of the government buildings that weren’t filled on the Saturday. I then headed north to the nice Woodford Square, a patch of green in the otherwise grey city.

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After a few minutes of relaxing, I was off to the port to secure my tickets for the ferry on the next day. I arrived at the ticket office and after a short line up, approached the desk. I started into my request, “I would like one return ticket for the fast ferry tomorrow to Tobago, returning on...”

The woman behind the counter interrupted me. “That’s not possible. Tomorrow is all sold out.” I stood silently looking at the woman, unsure of what to do next. She sensed my inaction, and made a suggestion. “If you come tomorrow, you could get on stand by for the ferry.”

Oh, I thought, a solution that requires me not to do any thinking. “Okay, let’s do that. How do I get on the list?”

The woman shook her head, “no, you need to do that tomorrow. Come at seven in the morning, and you can get on the stand by list.”

“What’s my chances of getting on the ferry?”

She grimaced, “I don’t know how to answer that. It might be good, but I don’t know.”

Instead of taking my chances, though, instead I book a flight online with Caribbean Airlines. I seem to have awful luck with ferries. I tried taking the ferry from La Ceiba to Roatan in Honduras back in 2005, and was denied twice, and now this. Perhaps I am not meant to get on the ocean.

  • * *

With an early flight the next morning to Tobago, I spent Saturday night in an Irish pub near my hotel. The pub, in a massive mall complex called “Movie Town,” presumably because of the movie theatres, seems to be a big draw for the hip residents of Port of Spain. I, dressed in my shorts, day hikers and t-shirt, was seriously underdressed as compared to the well attired patrons of the bar, however no one kicked me out so I sat at the bar drinking a beer and admiring the beautiful Trinbagonian girls.

The majority of the residents of Trinidad and Tobago (called Trinbagonians) are descended from African salves and East Indian indentured servants, with smaller populations of Arawak and Carib natives, Portuguese and Chinese brought originally as labourers, and descendents of the British that controlled the island until 1962.

Within cosmopolitan Port of Spain there are a number of mixed race couples. A friend of mine has a theory, based on observation alone that mixed race women are hotter than children of single race couples, and the mixed raced beauties of Trinidad seemed to hold up that theory. Upon sinking another beer, I came up with a genetic explanation. Perhaps, I thought, it is in fact a Darwinian trait of reproduction. Children of mixed race couples get all the best genes from both races, thus ensuring smoking hot chicks that will be desirable mates in the future. It ensures a good spread of genes and reduces inbreeding.

Of course, reading that sober, it explains why most scientists don’t sit around coming up with theories drunk.

Outside of the Irish pub though, it seems that Trinidad and Tobago is a little less accepting of their differences. There is tension between the two largest racial groups in the nation, the descending of the East Indians and the descendents of the Africans. The people on Tobago don’t think much of the people from Trinidad, thinking them too violent and intense. The people from Trinidad apparently don’t think about Tobago at all. In the recent November 5th elections, the United National Congress, one of the larger parties, ran no candidates in Tobago’s 2 ridings, knowing they could win the election by just winning in Trinidad. In reaction, the Tuf DAC (a joining of the Tobago United Front and the Democratic Action Congress, an Tobagonian independence party) was started to bring back Tobago’s voice to the parliament.

The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that nobody likes the dogs.

Like many places in Central and South America I’ve been, dogs roam the streets. The dogs in Tobago are pretty laid back, but the dogs in Port of Spain cringed every time I approached, tail between their legs, their ears back and head down, looking up with pleading eyes. It’s the kind of look a dog gives you when it knows it’s about to be scolded or hit. That the dogs did this at every approach made it pretty clear that it was a common occurrence.

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Even the chickens, terrors that they are, took advantage of the dogs. Later in the trip, I saw a rooster staring down a dog. The rooster stood his ground, and the dog soon turned and walked away, head down and tail between his legs. The dogs are the whipping boys of T and T. Poor little guys.

I have a soft spot for dogs. On my first “big” trip away from North America down to Chile, I arrived in Puerto Varas in the southern Lake District of the country. The overnight bus from Santiago dropped me off at six in the morning. I pulled out my massive “Lonely Planet South America On a Shoe String” and consulted the listing of accommodation in the town. As I was reading, a golden furred mutt came up beside me. I subconsciously started petting him as I read about the places to stay in Puerto Varas. Deciding on a $5 a night hostel, I started following the map from the bus stop to the hostel. My new four legged friend started following me.

Somewhere along the walk the dog wandered off, and I thought I’d seen the last of him. However, after checking in to the hostel, I went out for a wander. Soon enough my four legged friend was back beside me. For the rest of the time I was in Puerto Varas, the little dog and I would keep finding each other, and would wander for a while together before parting ways, only to meet up again later.

This experience has always stuck with me, and so I always try and take a minute out to pet the dogs of Central and South America, if they’ll let me. Sometimes when surrounded by touts and worried about pickpockets or scammers, and all a dog wants is a little pet and a small piece of your chicken, they really do feel like the solo travellers best friend.

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  • * *

The next morning it was out to the airport and onto a plane. The flight was less than half an hour, which was good because the man sitting beside me was 500 pounds and smelled like a mixture of vomit and pooh, and soon I was wandering out of the airport in Crown Point on the island of Tobago.

Tobago’s main industry is tourism, and it is much more laid back then the “industrial” island of Trinidad. While tourism is the main industry and despite direct flights from London and Germany (including a 3 times a week Virgin Airlines 747), the island is very undeveloped by Caribbean tourism standards. This can be both frustrating and endearing.

Despite having some amazing beaches and figuring out that they can charge to use the beach chairs and bathrooms at those beaches, there are very few hotels or restaurants that face onto the water. Most places are situated on the main roads, which means instead of waves lapping on the shore to lull you to sleep, you get traffic, horns and the ever present booming Reggae coming from the car stereos. As far as I can tell, there are only two types of music that gets played in Tobago, reggae and Christmas carols redone with a reggae back-beat. Not sure if other holidays’ music gets the reggae treatment as well. How would Handel’s Messiah sound with backing bass and drums for Easter?

I checked into Mike’s Holiday Resort in Crown Point, a short two minute walk to the nearby Store Bay Beach and about 30 seconds from the airport. Mike’s offers self-service apartments with a stove, microwave and fridge. I soon stocked the fridge with the essentials – milk for cereal, bottles of water, tins of tuna and a few Carib beers.

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Great thing about self-catering is it keeps the costs down for meals. Eating breakfast and lunch at the hotel means that you can go out for a nice dinner. I shouldn’t have bothered though, as I soon found out that food was cheap in Tobago, and the nice restaurants weren’t really worth the extra expensive.

Trinidad and Tobago’s currency is called the dollar, though most people refer to them as TTs (tee-tees) to differentiate them from the USA dollar. The unofficial rate of conversion that most people use is about 6 TT to 1 US dollar. My first meal in Tobago was a Shark and Bake that cost me $TT 16 ($US 2.75). Shark and bake is a sandwich of deep fried shark meat in a piece of cut fried bread called "fried bake", and accompanied by a garlic sauce. The shark was fresh, having been taken from the sea that day, and the sandwich was outrageously good.

As I ate, I couldn’t help but compare that meal to a $TT 300 meal I had the night before in Port of Spain at a Sushi restaurant. The fish was pale looking, almost as if someone had blanched the colour out of it, and tasted like they had taken all the flavour with it in the process.

This is why local food is the best thing to eat when you travel, not just because eating local cuisine gives you an experience of the culture and people of a place, but because it’s most likely the freshest and tastiest stuff around, not something that’s been flown in freeze-dried from a factory in Kansas City or Taiwan.

In Tobago though, the best food comes not from the most expensive restaurants. In fact, I found the exact opposite. The less formal a place was, the better the food was. The best food seemed to come from places with no seats at all.

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In contrast to the roadside food, the most expensive restaurants were a let down. On my second night I ate at a highly recommended seafood place. I ordered a Calaloo soup and the filet of snapper. Calaloo is a soup made from spinach and spices, and along with the snapper the food was okay. However, the service was dismal, starting with indifference and ending with downright incompetence, which included serving me moldy bread.

The bill came and I noticed that they hadn’t put the soup on the bill. I called over the waitress and said, “You didn’t add the soup on the bill, can you add the soup on the bill and then charge it to my Visa card?” I asked, handing her my Visa. She shrugged and walked away.

Upon returning, she handed me the bill. She hadn’t added the soup and had already run the Visa through. “You owe another twenty-three TTs for the soup,” she said. I looked incredulous at her, but she shrugged again and walked away. I left thirty TT on the table for the soup and left the restaurant, with a grunt of goodbye from the waitresses.

“No more nice restaurants,” I vowed to myself, which unfortunately would prove to be a vow I wouldn’t keep.

  • * *

The first night I was in Tobago was Sunday, and the one recommendation I got on Tobago was going to Sunday school in Buccoo. Sunday school is not a religious educational experience, but rather a weekly street party that based on the online reading I did sounded like the Caribbean’s version of Thailand’s Full Moon Parties.

Upon arriving, though I found it more like a street fair from back home, with local artists and food vendors hawking their wares and local musicians playing in the street.

The Trinbagonians are an inventive people. They looked at oil barrels, one of the cast offs from one of their major industry, and said, “Hey, if we cut those in half, shine them up really nice and dent them in just the right way, I bet that would sound really good.” And so, this…

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…turns into this.

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At Sunday School, one of the best steel drum bands in the region played for a few hours. I’d heard steel drum music before at the Caribanna festival in Toronto, and had always associated it with upbeat, hip-shaking dance music. The steel drum band at Sunday School showed me a different side of the music, though, presenting a melancholy and depth I hadn’t believed possible.

The steel band wrapped up, and I headed up to the local market to get a refill of beer. I was walking back to the main street along the sea side when I heard someone call me over, “hey mon, everything cool?” He was sitting on the railing with his long Rasta locks.

“Yes, everything is cool.” I replied.

“What you looking for tonight? You want a girl?” he asked, a broad smile crossing his face. “I know the best girls.”

“No, I think I’m okay,” I replied.

“How about some smoke?” he asked. I figured he wasn’t asking if I wanted to buy some tobacco cigarettes.

I laughed and shook my head. “I’m good man.”

“How about some Charlie?” he asked. I was perplexed. “Charlie,” he repeated and then made a sniffing noise while blocking one nostril. Enlightened, and without any need for cocaine either, we parted ways, not with a handshake, but with the Tobagonian traditional touching of closed fists.

I finished up my beer, and grabbed a taxi back to Mike’s Holiday Resort. The hotel room was hot and humid, even with the windows open, so I turned on the Air Conditioning. Mike’s has two setting for the Air Conditioning, jungle humidity (aka off) or meat-freezer cold (aka on). With no blankets and only a thin sheet to keep me warm, I shivered myself to sleep.

  • * *

Other than Sunday School, the Sunday and Monday were spent hanging around on the beach, checking out both Store Bay and Pigeon Point in Crown Point. The beaches were nice, but come Tuesday I was ready to do something different. I headed into Scarborough, the largest town in Tobago.

I checked out local open air market, that sold everything from staples like fruit and meat to other necessities like chrome rims. Heck, you can’t have a booming stereo if you don’t have tinted windows and shiny rims too.

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After checking out the market, I headed up the hill to see Fort King George. The island of Tobago has changed hands over 30 times since Europeans first arrived in the Caribbean, as the French, Dutch and English fought over the fertile rain forest land that was perfect for clear-cutting and planting sugar cane. All of the countries built, attacked and rebuilt forts around the island. Fort King George was one of the largest and the best preserved of the forts, and includes nice displays both on the military aspects of the fort as well as information the history of the slave trade and information on what parts of Africa the Tobagonian were originally from.

I headed back down towards the market area to catch a cab when I came across another display of violence and terror from the crazed chicken gangs of Tobago. I was walking down Piggott Street when I soon found myself in the middle of a gang war. Two opposing gang members, let’s call them Kenneth and Biff were fighting on the left shoulder of the road. Kenneth was taking quite a beating as Biff pecked at him and jumped up and down, his sharp, long talons coming down on Kenneth’s back.

Kenneth finally managed to escape, crossing the road in typical flying-hopping combination that chickens seem to do and solving forever the riddle of “why did the chicken cross the road?” To escape Biff’s beating.

Unfortunately for Kenneth, he flew-hopped right into the hands of Big Red, an opposing gang member and comrade of Biff. Kenneth tried to escape by running between two sacks of grass seed, but Big Red came down hard upon him from above, slashing with his feet and pecking with his beak on poor Kenneth’s back. Kenneth squealed in terror, squirming impotently trying to get away from Big Red. After taking a series of blows along his back, Kenneth was able to move forward enough to dislodge himself from the grass seed sacks.

Big Red followed, smelling victory, but didn’t see what was coming from his side. Little Jerry, a fellow gang member of Kenneth’s came flying in from the side and laid a flurry of pecks along Big Red’s side. Big Red had no defense but to run, and flew-hopped across the road to join Biff.

Little Jerry stood triumphantly while Kenneth cowered beside him, head held low. Poor Kenneth looked defeated, perhaps realizing that he was now going to have to be Little Jerry’s chicken yard bitch, and rooster equivalent of a prison yard bitch.

I was so surprised and frankly frightened by the action to get it caught on camera, but for those that want to see chickens brawl, I instead present this video of two chickens pecked at each other through a chain link fence. The chain link video was taken a few days later in Plymouth, and though it was a cage match unsanctioned by the either the CFF (Chicken Fighting Federation) or RPA (Rooster Pecking Association), it was still quite a fight.

* * *

After another night in the deep freeze, I was up early on Wednesday for a Jeep Safari. The Jeep Safari was a second choice, I had planned to take a day long rainforest hike, but the next available one was on Saturday, the day after I left.

No wait, plan isn’t really the right word to use in that last paragraph. I use it way too much. I “plan” to go on the ferry, I “plan” to do a rainforest hike. In fact, “planning” this items really consists of me reading about it online and saying to myself, “I’d like to do that.” I then take no more action until the whim hits me the day before, or I suddenly remember it half way through the trip. Ideally I’d start actually taking some action on these ideas, but more likely I’ll just stop using the word “plan” in my blog entries.

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So, the Jeep Safari, while a second choice, was still pretty decent. It included a couple 30 minute rainforest hikes, so I still got to see the rainforest on foot, just with less walking. We got to have a nice swim in the absolutely majestic but freezing pool underneath the Highlands Waterfall, saw a cayman, the smaller relative of the alligator in the bogs around Hillsborough Lake and had a nice lunch at a true “Rainforest Café” out in the bush.

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As we were driving through the forest, our guide Lorrie pointed out some of the indigenous species of birds. I was only interested in one bird, though.

“Lorrie,” I asked, “what’s the deal with all these chickens walking around in the city streets. Are they wild chickens, or does somebody own them?”

“Some of the chickens are wild, but some are owned by people. The chickens have little shacks to live in, but they roam around during the day to eat, and come home at night to sleep.”

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I had no idea that chickens had a such a sense of direction, that they were the homing pigeons of the barnyard. Tobago is a good deal for those who like their chicken free-range, as it seems that all chickens roam freely here. However, I more than once saw a chicken pecking through a garbage can looking for food to eat, so perhaps free-range chicken aren’t better for your health than those who grow up eating farm feed.

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  • * *

Coming back from Scarborough on Tuesday, my cab driver happened to be a Canadian pensioner who returned to T and T to open guest house, run a restaurant, work as security guard at the port and also, occasionally, run tourists between Scarborough and Crown Point as an unofficial cab driver. Official taxis in T and T aren’t marked in any obvious way, but their license plates are start with an “H”, whereas private cars license plates start with a “P.” My Scarborough cab driver was driving a “P” car, so he wasn’t officially licensed to carry passengers. These “PH” cabs, as the locals call them, aren’t generally any cheaper than official cabs, and provide a danger in that their insurance coverage doesn’t cover carrying passengers (assuming they have insurance at all), and so in the event of an accident you as a passenger could be screwed. But a few times I couldn’t find any official cabs, so I took them.

The driver on Tuesday, after I caught him up on the politics back in Canada, suggested that Wednesday I head out to the Golden Star for the Tobago wide talent contest. So after getting back from the Jeep Safari, showering and having a nice meal of chicken roti from a roadside stand, I headed over to the Golden Star.

Up until 10 o’clock, a steel drum band played on the street, entertaining both patrons on the patio of the Golden Star and passer-bys.

You will note that I don’t have any pictures from the Golden Star contest, nor from Sunday School. That’s because I don’t take my camera with me for night time events. This isn’t, as one might expect, because I’m afraid of getting mugged, but rather because I’m afraid of having a repeat of an event that happened to me in San Antonio, when I broke a pair of $200 Ray Ban sunglasses during a “White Boy Dancing Contest” at a local bar, and I didn’t even win the contest. So, not trusting myself with expensive items after a few drinks, I leave the camera at home on nights out when I travel, including my Wednesday night out at the Golden Star.

As the steel drum band packed up, the crowd moved into the outdoor courtyard of the Golden Star and took their seats. A buzz of anticipation swept through the crowd as the lights dimmed and the host bounded onto the stage. Dressed in a one piece, body hugging, brown jump suit with a large studded belt, the host looked like he’d invented a time machine, went back in time to 1976 and stole James Brown wardrobe.

“You are lucky people to be here to see the final…” the host paused, and I thought to myself that I must be a lucky bastard to have stumbled into the final of the island wide talent contest, until the host continued with “…quarter final round of the talent contest.”

The contest was set up like American Idol, with a panel of judges and a camera crew (who, according to the host are also available for wedding or Christmas parties) taping for broadcast on one of the local TV stations. Between the contestants, the host would make a few jokes, and then run through a list of sponsors.

“Everyone, cheer for our sponsor, R&R Construction Limited. For all your construction needs, from planning to building, extensions on our house, repairs to your buildings, everything you would need. Please, show your sponsors you appreciate their support of this night by your applause.” I wondered if this is what Ryan Seacrest does during the commercial breaks during taping of the American Idol.

Most of the contestants sang, and of course it was mostly reggae music. One girl bravely came out and did a Arabic belly dance, which I much appreciated (mostly because she was very pretty) but didn’t really excite the crowd. After all the contestants, the judges conferred and moved 3 contestants onto the semi-finals.

The host whopped the crowd up into a frenzy as he introduced the special guest star of the evening who came out and sang 3 reggae songs and bounced around in her tight, tight jeans and 6 inch stiletto boots. I was smitten, but after her set she quickly hustled away and I quickly forgot her name.

The disco started up at this point and most of the people moved inside. A few folks, though stayed outside, including one of the contestants, a jerry-curled, tuxedo wearing Michael Jackson wanna-be who wore white socks with his Tuxedo. He complained bitterly about not being in the final 3, but frankly anyone who wears white socks with a tuxedo doesn’t deserve to win anything. I wonder if the cast-offs from American Idol complain that much after getting voted off?

I wandered around the disco for a few hours, downing inexpensive Carib beer. Carib beer is one of the two local brews, the other being Stag beer. Stag is, according to most of the folks I talked to, the preference of the locals. However, I found it too acidic, and liked the Carib’s smoother finish. Carib tasted like warm Corona (even when ice cold), but it was better than drinking the sulfuric acid that made my esophagus burn called Stag. However, I did feel a bit emasculated not drinking Stag. Their slogan was “a man’s beer,” which of course implied that Carib was a sissy’s beer. To counter the marketing genius of insinuating that a man’s masculinity is linked to drinking Stag beer, the good folks at Carib came up with “Carib… the best reason for beer,” which doesn’t even make any sense and didn’t make me feel like less of a sissy for drinking it. Those folks at Stag should win some sort of marketing award.

Anyway, I didn’t pick up any women at the disco, no doubt because they saw me with Carib and figured me to be not very manly, and after more than a few Caribs, was ready to call it a night.

Now, forget what I said earlier about local food being the best food. The best food is whatever greasy concoction is on offer right outside a bar after a night of drinking. I ate a greasy cheeseburger as I walked back to my hotel on a warm, clear night and contemplated if Jimmy Buffet was ever in Tobago, because as the palms swayed gently in the breeze, it felt a little like a cheeseburger in paradise.

Continued in The Wild Chickens of Tobago: Part II

Posted by GregW 11:22 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

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