Putting our feet up in Tobago
After three months of (more or less) hard work in Trinidad, Tobago is the reward that every hot, sweaty cruiser deserves. It is a beat from Trinidad, it’s true, but the knack is to motor along the northern coast of Trinidad to stand out of the western running current then to cut across to Tobago as soon as you dare. If you are lucky you can sail upwind to Tobago. And if, like us, you have to use your engine even for this part, well it’s a chance to test out one’s engine and other systems! After spending so many weeks in Trinidad, motoring close in along the coast for hours is a nice way to take your leave of the island. Leaving just before dawn we could enjoy the early morning light on the stunning coastline and watch the rafts of pelicans flying low across the water. And how gorgeous to be out on the water once more, savouring the time spent sailing even if it was short!
The first anchorage you reach in Tobago is Store Bay which looks onto the Coco Reef hotel with views out over the open sea. This was the first time that we had been able to have such fabulous open views and after three weeks looking out over Chaguaramas harbour, watching the garbage and diesel puddles float by, it was an incredible treat. We saw our first water spout since Madeira on the first evening that we arrived, an event that made it to the local newspaper the next day. Even better was our view of a pod of dophins hunting for dinner one evening.
Store bay comes with a sea view. Although we had originally intended to head straight for the wild bays to the north east of the island, we discovered that Store Bay has considerable charms of its own. Not least of these was the fabulous Coco Reef Hotel just a short dinghy drive away. Simon had stayed at this hotel twenty years ago for a Christmas get-away holiday. I walked in with impunity from the front gate and asked the bar staff at the almost empty bar if I could order a drink even though I wasn’t a guest at the hotel. Simon went one better and asked if we could come into the hotel’s private walled lagoon by dinghy and leave the dinghy on their beach. I didn’t expect for a second that this would be allowed but the extremely laid back bar staff let us get away with it for the whole week. We couldn’t believe our luck as we not only dinghied in and out of the hotel to use their lovely facilities whenever we felt like it, but also used their beach to lock up our dinghy for the weekend when we rented a car. Not so shabby! This wheeze had a shelf life. Unfortunately the lady at the dive shop snitched on us when we tried it two weeks later. The gig was up! We were not only asked to remove our dinghy but also told that it would cost us $130 per person per day to use the hotel facilities! Little did the hotel manager know that we had been using the hotel as our private beach and dinghy park for over a week!
Tobago belongs to Trinidad and is where many Trinis come to holiday and get away from it all. Store Bay is situated by one of the largest reefs in the Caribbean, the Buccoo Reef. A popular day out for the tourists is to take a glass bottomed boat out to the reef. This three hour trip includes a talk about the local fish and fauna in the reef, time for a snorkel over the reef, a trip to the much vaunted Nylon Pool (which turned out to be a patch of shallow water above a sand bank, great for those who are not confident swimmers) all for the price of a hamburger at the Zanzibar (or a pineapple in Union). We swallowed our cruiser pride and did like the local grockels and enjoyed this day out very much.
Store Bay is also an excellent place to rent a car from. The airport is a ten minute walk (so also a great place to stay and pick up guests). In a weekend you can drive around the whole island and get a taste for the beautiful bays and check out the anchorages up the island. We used our car rental to visit the Corbin Wildlife Reserve as well, and can really recommend this introduction to the incredible birds and animals which are native to Tobago. Some still common, some endangered, these animals are rehabilitated by Roy Corbin who gives wonderful and personal tours to tourists. His passion for the animals and their continued existence on his island really shines through. However, be warned that there is a photo opportunity with a boa constrictor which is more or less obligatory at the end!
A drive around the island revealed Tobago to be the cleanest island in the Caribbean with the best kept road and many, many enormous government buildings. On talking to locals later we were told that 80% of the island are government employees. This island benefits from the largesse of its larger partner island, Trinidad, and much oil money has been poured into it. All the beaches have state of the art facilities and the pristine Fort King George on the hill above the capital, Scarborough, is on a par with Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua although it doesn’t have the UNESCO world heritage stamp (and is free to visit). At the same time Tobago has the richest diversity of wildlife and a completely unspoiled side. We couldn’t believe how stunning the island’s beaches were and yet how few tourists there were. Having driven around and seen the charming and rugged bays further to the east, we were ready to explore them. However, a few days in Store Bay with access to a cappucino bar and a cinema had been just what the doctor ordered!