Wednesday, January 07, 2009

why Tobago? and where is Tobago anyway?

I admit it: I do not like Wisconsin winters. Too cold, too long, too difficult to navigate. Yes, there are brilliant days of snow and sunshine. But you have to understand – very often, the landscape looks like this (on the approach to Detroit Tuesday morning; granted – not Wisconsin, but close enough):

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So why Tobago? Well, it’s 87 F right now in Tobago.

Yes, but why Tobago? Why not, for instance, Miami, which on the approach, looks way better than Detroit, and it requires half the time on an airplane?

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Okay, so here is how Tobago came to be my first major travel destination of 09:

We’re back in October, in Wisconsin. Stunning and colorful and then pffft! It’s gone. So there I am, reading the Sunday NYTimes and the author of a travel piece is trying to tell me that there are 37 reasons to travel to the Caribbean this year.

Eh. I’m not a Caribbean person. Something about sprawling resorts amidst an impoverished indigenous population that doesn’t make me happy. But, I glance at the Times list anyway, just to see if there is a convincing argument there.

And I toss it aside. I mean, their suggestions are expensive! If you’re going to offer reasons to go anywhere at the cusp of 2008, you better argue that it’s a bargain or else you’re speaking to a very small audience.

But one item stands out: at the end of their list, I read that someone took it upon herself to convert a small old place in Tobago into a new and funky cool beach hotel. We are talking about exotic, diverse, musical, lush, self-sustaining, delicious Tobago. And the weather? Trinidad and Tobago are just off the Venezuelan coast. You can actually see the South American continent if you stand still long enough on the southern tip of Trinidad. So it is damn warm. Year round. No sweater needed.

I make my case. Ed balks. It’s a long trip – as long as to Europe. But half the price! – I nudge him. We wont eat out! (He doesn’t believe me.) I’ll pay for everything! (He especially doesn’t believe me. Too many of my cappuccinos in Italy accidentally appeared on his credit card I guess.)

The trouble is, Ed would like our travels to spontaneously fall into place when both of us are feeling like thumbing our way to wherever. Me, I’m rigorously tied to a work schedule. I have a few days in January when I can be elsewhere. Let’s go.

I leaf through books on the island: coral reefs, tropical fish, exotic birds. The birthplace of calypso and the steel pan. A literate (99.9%) rather than impoverished island that grows its own food. Creole cooking, flat breads with curried mush, papaya, mango, crab and dumplin’. And a love of liming (hanging out).

Still, to lay out a chunk of travel funds so early in the year… Ed, who knows every path to frugality there is, suggests that I beg for a rate for the impoverished budget and the hotel answers back with a super discounted winter deal. And so I book a room at the old but new Bacolet Beach Club. I’m leaving Ed behind, but I have work, I have my computer, my camera and a ratty pair of rubber slippers, just like Obama’s.

I’m off.

It is a four flight (two very long, two very short) trip, the final one on a little turbo prop that hops over from Port of Spain in Trinidad to Tobago. The kind of plane where you can’t mess with the air vents because they’re all broken. (It’s a $24 flight, what do you want...)

I arrive late at night. The air is moist and very warm. My room looks out over the sea (I can’t see it yet, but I hear it) and there are bougainvillea petals all over the bed. The WiFi doesn’t work, but who can complain. The women at the desk call me darling and dear and everyone says good night even though they’re not going anywhere and neither are you. And their accent is crisp and uniquely their own.

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I sit down in the lobby with the funky chairs and sip a Carib beer. I can do this for a week. I can get warmed up here. See you next week, cold town of mine.

P.S. In the morning, I confirm what I heard last night. My sweet white room looks out on this:

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