Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tobago notes

This morning, in the internet cafĂ© (which is actually part of the inn), I plug in my computer and half listen to the conversation of two British guests. One is trying to print a boarding pass (why? ...there is but one small plane that flies in and out…) and he can’t do it. Deciding that the island is full of stoned people who are clueless in the matter of printing his boarding pass, he walks out.

It is true that if you want a quick solution to your technology issues here, you are going to be frustrated. The pace is on one relaxed ride -- so vastly different than what most of us have back home! But it can hit you in the gut if you're on a schedule and hate detours.

The also British girlfriend is less flustered. She talks of her favorite spots on Tobago and ends in this delightfully upbeat way – really, it was all good.

The other guy, also waiting for the communal computer (I type away on my own), is interested in mountain biking and windsurfing. That is it. He is here to do both and he wants wind. So far, he is satisfied.

I'm thinking -- have no expectations and you will not be disappointed.

But, I do have expectations: I want warm weather and I want a chance to feel and to shift to the Tobago pace!

At the breakfast terrace, I see the nod to the British tourist: there is porridge. I like porridge. Especially with chunks of fresh mango.

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I walk to Scarborough – the main island town. Some twenty minutes down the road. Past the colors of the Caribbean winter.

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I ask a pair of liming dudes -- who in this town is the best roti maker (the favored street food here – an Indian type bread wrap with stuff inside)? They tell me it’s Rena’s. But a woman who pours forth laughter with the force of a tidal wave claims that I should go to Eddie’s. I can’t find Eddie’s. I ask another woman for directions. She takes my arm and leads me to it.

Eddie's is a take-out or sit down place, with a tight kitchen to the side. I watch the women roll, pull and cook. And serve.

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After lots of miscommunication about what it is that I actually want to eat, I sit down with a roti wrap of spicy steamed vegetables. Cheap and delicious.

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A local guy joins me at the table. A friend comes over. They exchange small comments. When local people talk to each other, they lapse into a speech that is almost completely incomprehensible to me. When they direct things to me, I get 80% of what they say.

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Scarborough. What's it like? I pass a few food stalls (okra, pumpkin, bananas, pineapple), and clothing stalls, and combination clothing and food stalls.

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This isn’t a big commerce day here. But, people shop. And chat.

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Just down the road, a boat is tossing in the choppy waters. Not too many boats in this little port.

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One cruise ship comes in today and leaves in the early afternoon. There is also a ferry that pulls in from Trinidad, but it docks further south. I am told that on these bouncy seas, the five hour ride is brutal.

On my walk back, I watch kids play outside during school recess. I have my big lens camera. They see me. They come toward me and we engage in a mutual waving session.

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I Skype (computer phone) Ed and he tells me he hears birds in the background. Yes, everywhere there is the sound of birds.

In the late afternoon, I'm down by the water, stretching in the shade of the large trees that line the beach just below the Bacolet Beach Club. I drink a cold local beer (less frightening at this time of day than their rum beverages) and flick off the occasional spider that appears from nowhere. Earlier, I listened to the British guests complain about the mosquitoes and sand flies in New Zealand and on other Caribbean Islands. I have found neither here.

I plow through only a quarter of what I brought down to read. I'm too busy watching waves wash close to the edge of the chair.

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And when I can't stand it anymore (the water is so warm!), I plunge in and pretend to body surf. Sort of. Not really.

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The guy in charge of the inn tells me that it just opened two weeks ago. I’m one of the first guests? Fantastic! I hope I will be one of their regular guests. Up the coast of Tobago, there is a little island called Goat Island, where Ian Fleming hung out. Writers’ paradise!

But I am too distracted outside to write. And so I retreat for the evening up to my white room overlooking the water.

...Until it's time for dinner. I am going to a real ma and pa place (the Blue Crab), in that the pa cooks and the ma serves and they present you with whatever they've prepared. It's local and fresh and very very good. You have to let them know in advance if you want to come for dinner. On this night, only two tables are occupied. We eat okra soup, and Trinidad shrimp with pumpkin and please let me not neglect the rum punch, because we're in rum land here.

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Our cook is one of nine brothers -- all of them great cooks. His wife sits down with us and chats about the forthcoming Tobago elections, about Obama, her travels to America, Obama, her visit to England and her encounter with the queen, Obama's wife and family, Caroline Kennedy's ascent to the senate, Obama's trip to Kenya... and so the evening continues until it is time to kiss and go.

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The walk home: this is not a good part of my day here. It's quite dark between the Beach Club and the town. Tonight I walked home along the empty road behind a guy who was markedly upset at the world. I could not tell if he would be upset at me as well if I passed him and so I lagged behind in much the same way I would lag behind any angry guy on a dark street back home. No more solo walks on dark roads.

It's midnight now. My sleeveless shirt and summer skirt feel perfect in the cooler night breeze. The summer sweater is still in my suitcase. May it stay there until next week.