Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tobago: where are you goin’, girl?

Bacolet (my home for the week) is on the Atlantic coast of Tobago. The two fishing villages I visited – Castara (with Beardy) and Charlottesville (alone) – are on the Caribbean side.

I had this idea today that I should take the bus to the Caribbean side (Plymouth, for example) and then walk back across the island, using country backroads where possible.

As the crow flies, it’s nothing. Four miles maybe. But, the crow does not take backroads, nor does it slow down when there’s an incline. I’m not sure in the end how many miles I covered. But it took me well over three hours to walk home.

It was a magnificent walk. Let me post a photo from the tail end, as I neared Scarborough:

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A few days back, I asked a well traveled British pair here, at Beach Club (we shared the computer room pushing on midnight many a time) – so what do you like best about Tobago? She thought for a minute and said – in the end, it’s all about the people, isn’t it?

She is so right. You can find a land beautiful and never want to go back because you sense hostility. And, you can forgive a lot in a country where the people naturally, instinctively, take your hand and lead you to where you want to be. Tobagonians want to help even when you think yourself to be managing well enough. This is not your bus. Wait for another.

People here are curious. Where are you goin’ girl? I’m taking a walk. Oh, okay. Sometimes, the quick conversations leave me no good line to throw back and so I just laugh.
Where is your companion?
At home.
He decided not to travel this time.
He likes home.

Yea? Anyway, you have to have a Black one.

This was not come on, it was a tease, a friendly statement, tossed from the front yard, where the man was working along with two others.

I am the only hiker on these roads. People get rides. Where there is space in a car, people often pull over. You walkin,’ boy? (I’m in a sundress; the gender thing is sheer play.) Oh, okay.

Sometimes, I get lost. I know how to stop a car – I’ve seen it done: arm out at slight angle, hand flaps a few times. Good morning. Does this road lead to the Providence Road? Sure does. I learn also not to get the time of day wrong. Good morning until noon. Good day or good afternoon until five. Good night thereafter. If I’m wrong – good morning! (it’s just past noon), afternoon, they remind me. And then later, a car pulls over – G'day! You get to your place alright? Remember? You asked me directions back on the road.

But let me go back a little. Because first there was the bus ride. I want to get off near Plymouth. The idea is to hike from there to the Arnos Vale Beach. It’s by an old resort and I hear there are birds and gardens worth stopping for. And a nice, Caribbean side beach. With snorkeling. A half a dozen people on the bus tell me where to get off and how to proceed.

I walk past farming country. So different than Wisconsin. For one thing, they grow cucumbers in January.

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After a few minutes I come to the secluded Arnos Vale Beach. It’s lovely!

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But somehow, I’m not ready to plop down for the day. I bought some reading, but not enough to keep me here for hours. I don’t want to snorkel. Water seems rough. I may be the only person on the planet who actually gets seasick snorkeling in bouncy waters.

I take it in, dip a toe and turn around. But the plant life here is truly beautiful.

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Really stunning.

I hit the road. At first, it’s rainforest. And very empty. Someone emerges from a riverbank and for a while walks behind me. I am aware of the two of us, walking through a forest, with birds screeching. But at some moment, he disappears and now I am very much alone. Except for the occasional car. Honk! Window down. Thank you, but it’s a beautiful day for a walk.

Eventually, the forest recedes. A cow grazes, a bird keeps her company. Makes me smile at the mismatch of sizes. And then, round a few more ends, another cow with a companion.

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Coincidence. Or is it? Further still, another pair…

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…and then another:

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Some cows are without birds, but where there is a companion bird, it is always only one.

But I see far more goats than cows on the island.

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One, maybe two at a time. I asked Beardy – what are they used for – milk? He said yes, that, but it is also tradition to have a goat. Every home needs a goat. And so there are goats.

The day is, as usual, beautifully warm, partly cloudy. The landscape is, in my mind, perfectly Caribbean.

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Occasionally, a cloud will pass and sprinkle warm drops of rain. Seconds later, it will be gone.

In a small village, I pass a food hut. Bananas on the tree, bananas in the hut. And now bananas in my small day pack.

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Village life. It always surprises me when places just a mile or two from the sea, lose their connection to the water. I remember this from Brittany: along the shore, everything focused on the ocean – the food, holiday homes, fisheries. A few steps in and you may as well be in the center of France. Here, too, the villages seem removed from shore life. It’s as if you must hear the sound of the ocean before you build your life with it in mind.

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And now I'm in Scarborough. Busy, people filled (thank God) Scarborough. Where, I admit, I have been hanging out occasionally at a café that serves the best, indeed, the only espresso in town.

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Very late in the afternoon, the beach is again overcome by waves. I hoist a chair up, (mostly) out of harm’s way and read.

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