The Original Caribbean by sharmin islam
Referred to by locals as the original Caribbean, the islands of Trinidad and Tobago that come under one country, are so diverse, rich in multicultural history, nature and cuisine from various influences. I realised I had only touched the surface of what these stunningly beautiful islands have to offer, and was intrigued to discover so much more. Having said that, we didn't hold back as a small group in cramming in as much as we could in the space of one week. It was overwhelming and exhilarating, and I can see why people go back for more – I certainly need to!
The island of Tobago may be tiny in comparison to neighbouring Trinidad (approximately 1.5 hr drive from south to north following the only main road), but the northern Speyside region is noticeably different to that of the busier southern region of Pigeon Point, and this makes it all the more worthwhile exploring both areas. As it has not been influenced by mass tourism unlike many other Caribbean tourist resorts, it has managed to retain its authenticity and originality of character, and the untouched scenic backdrops and abundance of nature particularly in Speyside, are absolutely breathtaking. Lush thick green carpeted hilltops of tropical rainforest, beautiful fauna and birdlife provide just a sample of the delights of this quirky island, contrasted against a backdrop of crystal clear, sparkling turquoise. You do get the impression that the locals are proud of their island, and love to see visitors appreciate their heritage and way of life with those big warm smiles.
First stop was at the The Toucan Inn, and was in reality, just as I had expected it to be. Quirky, bright and cheerful with a team of staff who reflect the very essence of this delightful little set up. Lisa, reservations manager, Troy, general manager, and Wendy and John who run R & Sea Dive Centre were great hosts, and of course the two owners, Chris and Jim, all the more so for plying us with 'welcome' drinks – rum cocktails to be precise, and perfect after an eight and a half hour comfortable flight to help settle into the afternoon - it literally would have been rude not to, a staple local tipple found in every bar and restaurant as I was later to discover. I could get used to this, especially with the pool right by the bar and Bonkers restaurant, everything is close to hand.
That evening we dined at the Kariwak Village, just a short walk from the Toucan Inn. This was to be our first sample of traditional Tobagan cuisine, and was serious knockout food. Ample portions, and service with a smile summed up everything I felt so far. The intimate setting in the open air thatched roof restaurant amongst a tropical garden was ideal, and allowed the group to become acquainted and completely relaxed, in preparation for the following day.
After being taken to the dive centre the following morning, just a short transfer away, I was greeted with the ever cheerful Wendy. The centre was easy and straightforward, just what I like, and helpful staff assisting me in kitting up. Once on the boat, off we headed into the blue for a nice gentle intro dive at Kariwak reef. I finally had my webbed feet back, and I had a good feeling about the remaining dives over the next few days.
The dives sites around the island were pristeen and colourful, with superb visibility, despite us arriving during the rainy season. As it happens, we did not experience the consistency of rainfall that I was expecting, only about 3 days of intermittent light showers lasting just minutes, followed by glorious sunshine and general humidity. The variations between the dive sites were quite distinctive - beautiful orange coral formations, sloping reefs, sweeping fans, the world's largest brain coral, the Maverick wreck, morays, tarpon, stingrays, manta, turtles, scorpion fish, squid, huge lobsters, blennies, nurse sharks, to name but a few. All dives were thoroughly enjoyable, regardless of their simplicity or slight currents (drift diving is more synonymous with the northern Speyside area, but nothing extreme). Another appealing factor is that all the dive sites are on average just a short 15 minute boat ride away.
The Blue Waters Inn in Speyside, is an idyllic getaway for those looking for a more remote, romantic and quieter setting. The views from the hotel and it's infinity pool are beautiful, and the dive centre is easily accessible and well equipped. You are literally surrounded by just the ocean and rainforest, and the rhythmic soothing sound of the waves. From here you can see Goat Island, an old dilapidated house which local legend has it was once lived in by James Bond creator, Ian Fleming.
Aside from the diving, we sampled the delights of the beautiful Tobagan cuisine (and rum cocktails!). Menus seemed to cater for all, including the only vegetarian in the group, with plenty of fresh seafood, goat curry and roti which was a popular menu choice at various restaurants, as well as the traditional callalloo soup (a delicious thick blend of coconut, okra and spinach with Caribbean seasoning), aubergines, and the much favoured tradition, macaroni pie. Some of the best local restaurants were located in simple yet characterful settings, such as Jemma's Treehouse Kitchen up in Speyside, literally on the beach, and in the south, The Fishpot, with fresh traditional delicacies such as fried plantain and jerk fish starters.
Activities other than diving range from rainforest treks, birdwatching, glass bottom boat trips, catamaran trips, and other watersports. It is easy to arrange guided island excursions, but if you prefer to do your own exploring, car hire is easy, and there is only one main road that takes you all around the island, with stunning views and colourful sights along the way.
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