Saturday, March 21, 2009

Two weeks ago in Tobago, with rum and palms

Dee and I spent the week of my birthday, the first week of March, in the village of Charlotteville, on the north end of the island of Tobago. Tobago is one of two islands that make up the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, just a few miles off the north coast of Venezuela.
This time of year ... actually, almost any time of year ... daytime temperatures are in the low 80s (that's Fahrenheit) during the day, dipping into the low 70s at night. The sun shines, the rain clouds seem to come through in a civilized tropical manner one at a time over the mountains, the White Oak rum is reasonably priced at Lyda's Rum Shop and Jaba occasionally has really good shrimp roti at mid-day. And chicken roti. And vegetable roti. And if he has no roti - and even if he does - he has Stag and Carib beer.
Charlotteville is a small fishing town. The fiberglass-hull, outboard-powered fishing boats go out of Man O'War Bay at or before first light, out into the open ocean after dolphin (aka dorado), kingfish and sometimes blue marlin.
Those of us on holiday are on the beach - either at the lifeguarded public beach in the village or the pristine and shaded Pirates Bay a few minutes walk uphill and around the corner from the village. But we don't go to the beach until after we've spent a long, long time on the porch at our guest house, contemplating the multiply blue-hued bay, the sailboats at anchor and the fishing boats coming and going. Contemplating all of that - and the coconut palms, mango, banana and lime trees, and the ubiquitous chickens - over several cups of coffee. Our housemate Jens, who generously shared his Italian espresso many mornings on the porch, often looked toward the opposite side of the harbor and said, "I want sun at Pirates Bay." And, most often, he got what he wanted and headed off downhill through the village and to the beach some time around mid-day.
In the evening, if we were at the guest house, we would walk the steep road down into the village to Lyda's tiny bar by the seawall, where ex-pats gathered for White Oak rum and Schweppes bitter lemon, or Stag and Carib. Steve and Jackie and Louise and Henry - all from the UK - and Americans Virginia and Mark from Vermont and Jim from Maine and our friend Dana (our host, my first newspaper editor and still a teammate on The Radish, our summer softball team here on Cape Cod), as well as our German friend Jens and a number of other yachties and holidaymakers all hung out in the evening in front of and behind the bar as the sun set out beyond Man O'War Bay. Lyda sat by and watched, and one night made a spectacular Tobagan meal of curried snapper, callaloo, sauteed plantain and dasheen, green salad, salt fish fritters and mashed potato dumplings.
We ate, we drank, we drove back to the airport with Louise to get Dee's luggage three days after we arrived, we snorkeled, we swam, we read under the shade trees that come down to the beach at Pirates Bay. We very much liked Charlotteville.


Michael Mahan said...

The Tobagon meal sounds delicious as well as the descriptions of your time spent on the island.

I used to work as a reporter before becoming a potter about 20 years ago. I'm always thinking in terms of stories, but for some reason, I can't see myself going back.

I've also spent some time in the Caribbean (Virgin Islands).

And I definitely can see myself going back there.


Kellie said...

Happy belated birthday Hollis! Your trips sounds and looks like it was amazing.

Hollis Engley said...

Thanks, guys. Michael, I'll put a photo of the meal on my next post. I write sometimes for publication, but these days words by me appear only on the blog. And I was just in Woods Hole, Kellie. Where were you?