It was a different experience sleeping under a mosquito net, but as there were open slatted windows it seemed a good idea. It had rained in the night, but the day was warm and humid. We'd heard the cocks crowing, always making us think of Tahiti. We'd had both the dog and the cat come to visit before we left for the day at 9.45, manoeuvring the difficult (for me) steps down, with no handrail. As we drove along our atmospheric street, we were amused to see a man cleaning his teeth under a stand pipe.
We continued on the steep and hairy road down to Speyside. I was sobered to see a car overturned still lying in the middle of the road with cones around it. It had happened since we drove the road yesterday. As we reached the shore, we came to the evocative site of a past sugar estate. The water wheel was especially photogenic. The site was all well maintained.
We first had a look at Charlotteville, which was a town of character with interesting houses. We walked onto the yellow sand beach with its little fishing boats. There were birds flying around, lots of dogs, and chickens in the road. We saw groups of men, but rarely women.
Our street in Charlotteville
We were taking the steep road back across the island to Speyside. We stopped to drive up Flagstaff Hill, now a pleasant and manicured picnic area. The US had used it during WW2. There was no road then - it must have been a long one hour climb up through the rainforest. Huge communication towers loomed above us as we had our tea/coffee, with views down to Charlotteville and to bays and islands. We marvelled at the cut grass in this steep terrain. Nice plants decorated the area - just the seats were in great need of a coat of paint.
We tried to find out about boat trips tomorrow to Little Tobago Island - good for birds and coral - but it all seemed a bit casual. An old chappy approached us and offered to take us privately. He said that he had guided David Attenbrough on his 'Trials of Life' series. As we drove out of Speyside, we knew that there was a lookout, so pulled into a little side road with great views down to the islands.
Relics of the past sugar plantation at Speyside
The actual lookout was a bit further on, but views here were marred by lines of wires. Ours was better! Again the area was immaculately maintained. On the way we saw a Chachalaca, Tobago's National bird. A group of five local lads arrived just before we left.
The view from 'our' lookout at Speyside
We drove down to Kings Bay with its sandy beach and coconut palms, but weren't enticed in for a swim. At Roxbrough, we took the road across the island. We soon stopped at an unexpected picnic spot on a hairpin bend. It had log seats and immaculately cut grass on the steep slopes. We lingered a while to hear the bird song.
A Chachalaca, Tobago's National bird
We drove down to sandy Bloody Bay where Adrian watched entranced as fishermen loaded up their seine nets into their boats. Dozens of magnificent frigate birds circled overhead and dived for fish. It was amusing in this setting to hear someone's radio relaying cricket, with the commentator's Aussie accent!
This road cuts right across the Tobago Forest Reserve, dating from 1776 and apparently the oldest in the west. The good road surface and the impeccable roadside grass made it difficult to think of a primeval rainforest. It reminded us of the Natchez Trace in USA. There were trails off into the forest. We tried one, but it was too humpy and muddy. We stopped at the Visitors Centre - a large room with two women in it and an amateurish model of the island. There was nothing to see, and trees had grown and obscured the view. We could see some little islands - but at least the lawns were manicured!
A surprise picnic site on a hairpin bend
Tobago Forest Reserve
As we wound our way back to Charlotteville, we passed another Hermitage sign but we saw only two houses!
A magnificent frigate bird hopes for dinner as the fishermen load the nets
Back at Top River Pearl, we revived with tea and biscuits on the lumpy balcony settee. I cooked a tuna and pasta dish, which we ate on the balcony, with both dog and cat watching! We finished the website for Trinidad and sent the email.
Looks familiar! and then we spy Charlotteville
Saturday 23rd February Little Tobago 13 km
We heard rain in the night, and the morning was cooler and cloudier, but still vest and shorts weather! We were pleased to have received several replies to our Trinidad email. We left at 8.45 to drive ‘over the hill’ to Speyside. We made our way to Blue Water Inn, where the glass bottom boats leave from to go to Little Tobago. This entailed going through a barrier to arrive at the very smart hotel. Two men ’grabbed ‘us for a tour. We had been told at our apartment to ask for Troy. One of the men said ‘I work for Troy’, who very soon appeared. It was still early, and we were told that the tour left at 10.30. We started to get ourselves organised. Adrian found that he had none of the many unused pairs of socks with him for his shoes, and had to improvise by cutting up a support bandage with a small knife! (When we got back, he found that he had some all the time!) The hotel had a wonderful view, but it struck us as very boring to just sit beside the pool all day.
Our boat actually left early, at 10.15. There were two other passengers, both ‘twitchers’ holding their cameras with 18in zoom lenses! It was extremely windy, so we were glad to have taken our stugeron pills, neither being good sailors.
It was extremely difficult to get on to the boat due to the very large swell at the jetty, and more than difficult to get off at Little Tobago Island (well done to Rosie as the swell between top and bottom was at least 4ft and so you had to jump across at the right time!). Thank goodness that the ‘mate’ was a very strong man, or I might have ended up in the drink!
The 'stugeron sailors' on the glass bottomed boat!
The jetty at Blue Water Inn, Speyside
Having alighted, we had to walk along a narrow jetty – not easy for me. Then we saw the ascent – it started with lots of steps with no rails. I knew that it was a no-go for me. The two birders had raced on ahead. Troy gave us his well rehearsed history of the island which was purchased by an Englishman as a cotton grass plantation which failed as there was not enough rain. It is now owned by the Tobago government as a sanctuary. The thing to specially see here is the red billed tropicbird. So while Adrian set off with Troy in search of these, I stayed marooned on the beach! I felt like Titty in Swallows and Amazons (but I didn’t find the robbers!)
Deserted on the shore!
If you were going to be stranded anywhere, you couldn’t picture anything more beautiful with the sandy beach, azure sea and green covered hills. The other tour boat soon arrived, and had great difficulty in landing – they had to make two attempts. The six passengers climbed off, and all started to climb the hill.
Red footed Booby' son their nests on bushes
Red-billed tropic birds
Nice place for a nest
Adrian returned ahead of the others. It was unfortunate that we had two such ardent bird watching companions, as they stayed a long time. After they returned, it was the difficult task of boarding the boat again for our trip back to Speyside. We had expected to go snorkelling (which we weren’t sure about anyway), but all we did was to glide over the rather rubbishy coral. It never looks good from a glass bottom boat anyway – rather like the photos you take with an underwater camera. We arrived back at Blue Water Inn at 1.10. I had enjoyed the tour, but for me it was an expensive boat trip! We had intended having lunch at a recommended restaurant called Jemma’s – but guess what – it is closed on Saturdays! Instead we enjoyed a meal at a simple little waterside ‘shack’, which had wooden ‘windows’, which she opened for air (it was a lovely view of the sea). We were offered fish, which came curried, with rice, lentils, a slice of potato, ‘green fig’ (banana) and ‘macaroni pie’. We drank 1.2% ginger shandy. The table was decorated with artificial flowers in an ugly fish vase.
Getting on and off the boat wasn't easy!
Speyside looked really pretty in the now clear blue sky, and it was hot. We had no luck with trying to get any shopping. Adrian bought some pre-packaged rolls, but no lemons or limes anywhere!(for his G&T!) We felt really hot when we got back to Top River Pearl at 2.45. Rainer said he wanted to be paid in cash. As we’d spent money on the trip and on lunch, we hadn’t enough left. Hence a pleasant walk down through the village to the bank. This was next to the fine football field – the only bit of flat land! Walking back though was very hot!
Adrian waits for his Caribbean. lunch at Speyside
We had drinks and supper on the balcony. Rainer came to chat.
Our balcony at Top River Pearl (lower one)
Sunday 24th February To Top of Tobago in the southeast 48 km
We got packed up ready to drive south. We ate our fried breakfast on the balcony, watched by the ever hopeful dog. We said goodbye to Rainer and left at 9.20.
As we drove down the beautiful rainforest coast we saw a wonderful turquoise blue crowned mot mot (bird).
Rosie under the mosquito net and having a cooked breakfast with the soulful dog looking on
We drove through Hermitage with its two or three homes. We stopped at Bloody Bay, where we had stopped the other day, for coffee. Adrian managed to retrieve my viewer, which had got stuck down near the front. I had been lost without it. Next stop was Parlatuvier Bay, where the road joins from the other side of the island. It was very pretty with its pier and fishing boats. Terns and pelicans dived down for fish. It looked really attractive when we stopped to view from above.
Blue crowned mot mot
Englishman’s Bay, accessible by a sandy track, was really beautiful. Giant bamboos and ferns came right down to the sandy cove. The waves were big. A simple green building acted as cafe and gift shop with line of pretty scarves hung out by the beach.
Rosie at Parlatuvier Bay and looking from the road above
At the next unnamed cove we stopped to have our lunch. It was sandy and rocky with little islets offshore. We sat on rocks to eat our lunch, but moved when we thought that the tide was still coming in! It was very windy. We watched the pelicans diving for fish.
Castara had a nice sandy beach, but was a bit busier. The sea was rough, but a few locals were in the water. A group of men hung around on the shore.
Unnamed bay near Englishman's Bay, Tobago
We reached our accommodation, Top o' Tobago just after 1.30. It was a long drive in through the estate. We were greeted by the manager Silja and shown to our 'cabana'. Laure's friends, who own the place, are away at the moment. We were struck by how dry everything looks after all the rainforest we've been through. We have a large room, with a huge bed, and settees covered in brightly coloured tie-dyed fabric. The place was much better equipped than others, and joy to Adrian, it had a toaster! There is a nice little patio at the back. We brought our stuff up and got sorted. Once we felt a bit organised, we had a swim in the lovely pool, up a few steps from us, with views down to the sea.
Fishing boats at Castara
Now we set off in the car, initially to nearby Plymouth, which had a nice beach, but was very quiet. We were hoping to find a shop open to buy some beer, and some bread for the morning but were aware that it was Sunday. We continued to Buccoo, where we were delighted to find a busy little corner supermarket open. Having purchased the essentials, we continued into the town. Buccoo is renowned for what is called Sunday School - not at all what it sounds like, but a big 'rave up' every Sunday. We drove around and saw nothing, except a great collection of steel drums near the beach. We looked up in our book, and realised that things didn't happen until the evening. We had originally been going to stay in Buccoo, and thought that it would certainly have more action. We now drove back, passing more nice beaches. At Grange Bay, people were in the rough sea. Near Mt Irvine Bay we passed a little fruit/vegetable stall. Needing a lime for Adrian's G&T, we stopped - supermarkets are not good for fruit & veg. As well as a couple of limes, we bought some bananas and a small cucumber, as the old chappie had no change! When we got back, we took our drinks to have up by the pool. I managed to concoct a meal - having not been able to find any fish to buy. We ate this on our patio, before coming in and starting the Tobago website.
The pool at Top O'Tobago
Monday 25th February Are you sure that this is a good idea? 36 km
So said Manolo to Simon a few years ago when they were negotiating a snow filled pass in Morocco. We thought of that today! We woke at 6.00 to hear lovely birdsong – maybe from the couple of king birds which accompanied us at breakfast on the patio. We found we had contact again with whatsapp, so had many family messages to catch up with. We went to leave at 10.00, but then Adrian started photographing parrots, so it was 15 minutes later when we set off!
Our first stop was at a small restaurant called Fish Pot, which we sussed out for tomorrow’s birthday meal. At Pigeon Point we saw a fish market (the one at Mount Irvine was closed). Here we met Steve, who showed us some large salmon, but when we said we only wanted one meal, he offered us some free mahi mahi fish. Steve was a philosopher, and must have been a preacher. He had a short white beard on his dark animated face, with penetrating eyes. We gratefully took his fish, which made a good fish stew later.
Morning rainbow and a parrot
We now headed for Pigeon Point Beach, supposedly the most beautiful in Tobago, but now fee paying – the only one on Tobago. We stopped for coffee beneath the trees a bit further back, by a turquoise sea and sandy beach. Adrian was particularly worried about the manzineel trees, which are extremely poisonous, so we sat in the car. At Store Bay we drove past a ‘touter’ for the glass bottomed boat, but at the official kiosk, we did buy tickets for the 2.00 pm trip. We had plenty of time, so headed for the ruins of Fort Milford, built by the British in 1777 (and used by the French, before the English took hold again). Here we ate our lunch before heading back to Store Bay. We had a long wait before a vehicle arrived to take us to the docking place for our trip. We were surprised to see a lot of other passengers already on the boat. There were more than a dozen young ladies, obviously out to party. They had their food and their drink. They were wearing very skimpy swimsuits – and most didn’t have the figure for it! And the music blared out - very loudly. Several of the women started dancing, cavorting about in a sensuous way. There were a few males too – one had travelled on the bus with us – he and his father and relations were here from Toronto, and there was another small group of girls. We were the only white people, and the only older ones (except for the Toronto chap’s father). The weather hadn’t been great, but now it deteriorated and became ‘Devon mizzle’. Luckily it soon cleared. Our coral part of the trip wasn’t much more successful than on our previous trip – we were given a brief summary as we floated over it. The snorkelling part didn’t happen- we soon arrived at ‘Nylon Pool’ - a shallow area where you could stand in the sea, far out from shore. We joined in this, but the others spent hours in the water, dancing and laughing. Two jet-skis arrived and took people for rides (for a price!). We'd soon had enough, and had to think ‘this will end soon’.
Mahi mahi and genial Steve
After it did end, we stopped by the beach of ‘No man’s land’ - an idyllic looking sandy spit, where the water was much warmer on one side than the other. It was only a short way back to where we’d docked, then it was another long wait for the vehicle to take us back to our car. We shared our ride with a group of raucous chaps, who’d all had a good time. It was 5.20 when we set off on the trail back to Top o’ Tobago. We then had to sort priorities – first thing a short swim in the nice pool, then drinks, and then supper. In between we sorted some washing for the machine.
Our second glass bottom boat trip
Tuesday 26th February Today's Jolly Good Fellow 32 km
I'd often listen to Vanessa Felz on radio 2 when I turned the radio on to hear Chris Evans at 6.30am. Her last item was always 'Today's Jolly Good Fellow', when she spoke to someone about a close relative's birthday that day. Never did I imagine that one day that person would be me! Emma spoke amazingly well and I felt very proud! Adrian managed to get it on the computer after we'd got up - 4 hours behind British time. I'd gone outside at 6.00am, listening to the astounding repertoire of what must have been the kingbird. It felt cool and damp, and I could smell the tropical forest. We then both had a swim in the pool before coming back and listening to the radio message.
I opened the few cards that we've been carrying around for 5 weeks, and read many birthday messages and emails. We enjoyed a boiled egg for breakfast, sitting on the patio, accompanied by the kingbird. I sent a few birthday replies and we slowly tried to get ready to go out. The 'big fat mama' housekeeper came to clean the room. She seemed a dour lady of not many words. The male housekeeper, on the other hand, was much more jolly. He was painting the railings as we left, saying that it was good to keep the place looking nice. By now, we thought it time to have coffee on the patio, so didn't leave until 11.00. We headed for the nearby Adventure Bird Park. Adventure is the name of the place, not a playground! We paid our US$10 each, then sat watching even more hummingbirds and other birds than the other day. There were dozens of feeders, which the birds were thronging to. Banana was particularly popular.
The way to start a 76th birthday!
Click above to hear today's 'jolly good fellow', as Rosie is
We followed the mot mot trail steeply down through the verdant forest before coming back to the feeders. I then thought that it would be nice to walk down to the pond area. This proved a good move. It was cool and shady there, with the refreshing sound of the fountains. Tilapia fish were in the pond, and lovely plants around it. Adrian went back to the car to bring our lunch. I enjoyed the egg/mayonnaise sandwich I had made, sitting in these lovely surroundings.
We left at 1.00. Adrian was clever enough to find the way down to Arnos Grove beach. There was once a lovely hotel here, which is now in ruins, and the way to the beach is generally closed. We never managed to see the watermill which is on all the pictures. It was very beautiful, but the beach shelved deeply, so we just got our feet wet. As we were leaving, a young chap arrived. He was amazed, and said he didn't know that the beach was here.
Adrian brings our lunch to have by the fish pond
The second bird place I wanted to visit wasn't such a success. We'd read that it was now rather run down. After a long drive into the Grafton Bird Sanctuary, we were greeted by several chachalacas. There was a ramshackled feeding station. Birds were fed at 4 o'clock, so there was nothing else to see.
Hidden Arnos Vale beach
We now made our way to the corner shop supermarket, where we purchased a small 'birthday cake' for me. On our way back, we tried the sea at three different places, but decided that the undertow was too strong, so got back and cooled off in the pool. Then it was birthday cake (plus candle) on the patio.
Happy Birthday to you!
We tried ringing Emma, but she was at work. We spoke to Ruby. We also tried Nicky to say Happy Birthday, but she was out with friends, so we spoke to Paul. In the evening we drove to The Fish Pot restaurant at Pleasant Prospect. This came recommended in our book. We were surprised to find it very busy – lucky that we had booked yesterday morning. The clients were all white - as many as we’ve seen in the whole of Tobago! It turned out to be a rather smart, western place where the service was brusque and not warm. Adrian had barracuda fish and I had fish soup and crab cakes. Pleasant, but rather nouveau cuisine.
We came back to drink the bottle of wine that we’d bought, sitting on the patio, and playing our music. Wine here is exorbitantly expensive (£16 cheapest), so we’d wondered about this very reasonably priced bottle (£4) and from Guyana. It turned out to be really sweet – like a dessert wine! Medicine to Adrian! Still, a birthday to remember!
A few of the birds at the Adventure Bird Park
Wednesday 27th February To Barbados, our last island (No photos today!) 16km + 10 km
It was grey at first, after some rain, but soon became a hot, sunny day. This was our day to fly to our last island, Barbados. Somehow we managed to pack everything up for 'flight mode', while making time for a nice swim in the pool. We left just after 11.00 am for the airport, stopping to get fuel just beforehand - there are very few petrol stations in Tobago. When we got to the place to return the car, no-one was there at first. Soon our silent man came out and drove us, without speaking to the terminal. Unlike Hertz, he did no inspection of the car. We handed in our large bags, then went straight into security. Everyone here was quite jolly. We came out in the departure lounge which had rows of joined, brightly coloured plastic seats. There was no drinking water, and the small kiosk was closed. We discovered that you could take water on this flight, but we had emptied ours. We needed some, as we were flying via Trinidad, so had a long day. Adrian went back out, purchased a bottle of water from the far end of the airport, then walked back through security! We'd arrived early at the airport, so managed to do a little bit of the website before we boarded - a bit early - for our short flight to Trinidad. Here we collected our bags from the one small carousel, before depositing them again for Barbados. Then it was through security again - this time with a long zigzag queue. Men and women had to go to different lines. The officials here were an officious bunch, who seemed to be looking for trouble - Adrian thought that they must have been trained by the Americans. We survived it and made our way to the departure lounge for Barbados where we filled in our last dreaded immigration form. We took off a bit late, but then time went quickly, helped by the complementary soft drink we were given. It was a one hour flight to Barbados, and dark by the time we got there. We had a long walk to the terminal building, then a longer walk to immigration. We were handed a soft drink - mine sorrel - rather difficult to manage with our hand luggage, passports etc too. Then came the annoying part - about a ½hour's wait for our luggage to arrive. At least we didn't ever lose it on all our 'island hopping'. Outside we found the car rental firm, where we were dealt with by an efficient young girl. A cheery chap showed us our 'yellow canary' – a Chevrolet Spark. It was now 7.30, so we headed off to Worthing to find Crystal Waters, our accommodation for the next three days. Initially the road was very smooth and fast. When we reached the right area, it was difficult to see in the dark where the place was. Adrian asked in a petrol station. The attendant didn't know, but a taxi driver did, and gave instructions. After a bit more trouble, we found the place, but couldn't find the entrance. We asked at the restaurant next door - it was a door we'd seen, but which wasn't open. A woman came and greeted us, then David, the owner, showed us to our apartment. It looked as though it dated from the 50’s. It comprised of kitchen - with a toaster! - and two bedrooms and bathroom - with a bath! No air conditioning though. Adrian had had trouble with this place, which he'd booked in December, but had recently had an email asking if we still wanted. It wasn't what Adrian had first booked. We needed to eat, so having brought the bags in, made our way next door. They usually closed at 8.00, and it was now nearly 8.30 but they said as we’d just arrived they would cook for us. We ate 'flying fish', a local speciality. When we'd first arrived, loud music was playing, but now, strangely, it was our type of music, and could have been one of our playlists - Gilbert O'Sullivan, John Denver, Neil Diamond etc. It had been busy before, but now there was just one small table of people. Our troubles weren't yet over though - they didn't take visa, and we had no Barbados dollars, so had to give them an IOU until tomorrow! We came back and unpacked, by which time I was done for!
Some notes on Tobago
Tobago Rainforest in the north Drier in south – not lush Had road names and place names Very few petrol stations People seem to enjoy themselves Beautiful beaches, mostly too rough for us to swim
Top River Pearl Up many steps ‘Quirky’ Run by German chap Balcony with lumpy sofa and mountain view Slatted open windows Mosquito net for bed No air conditioning Two bedside tables! Bathroom OK No toaster Minimal ‘fittings’ - just 2 cups, 2 plates, 2 pillows, no cushions
Top o’ Tobago In a large grounds Owned by Canadian friends of Laure’s Lovely views Well kept gardens – very dry Spacious and clean Shady patio A bit ‘nice’ and ‘green’ - compost bins and recycling Lovely pool Very steep – supposed walk to beach Not a friendly, warm feel (owners away) Cut above other places in cleanliness and equipment