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Archive for April, 2013

It’s just after midnight, local time. The air is heavy with the thick damp heat of the tropics. I’m relaxed. I’m sitting in the dark by the pool, my feet dipping into the cool silky water. The only light available that of the big, full moon. The moon here is huge.  We first saw her peeping through the clouds as we rounded one of the mountainside bends between Patong and Karon.
We’d left behind the neon party that was getting into full swing in Patong and searching for our garden escape.
Now I’m here, 100% relaxed, limbs heavy, head dreamy. Partly the climate, that Thai vibe, jasmine fragance in the air, the carcophany of frog bleeps from the trees. Partly the Chang beer that washed down the most divine Tom Ka Gai earlier tonight.
While I have the excuse of jet lag meddling with my body clock I steal the opportunity of a midnight swim. Silently slipping into the dark cool waters, gazing up at my Thai moon.
This is living in the moment. This is being present.
This is my third trip to Thailand, the last two happening over 10 years ago. Things will have changed. And although I have yet to see this land in the light since I was last here all that time ago, I have a feeling my love for Thailand remains true. It really is a special place that stirs distant magical memories and tempts with new ones just around the corner.
Enough dreaming, time for that swim…

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My Thai full moon

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Neon Patong

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Tobago. It has a far away, exotic ring to it. I never really knew where it was, somewhere near Trinidad, somewhere in the Caribbean, I think. (It turns out Tobago is very close to Venezuela). And so, it was a wonderful kink of fate that led me to this beautiful gem set low in the translucent and magical Caribbean seas. I entered a competition to win a honeymoon. I completed a simple form and popped it in a plastic box (I remember a beautiful scantily clad carnival dancer shimmying her sequins infront of the exhibition stand), then, a month later I got a call. You’ve won the competition and you’re off to Tobago!!

My observations…

  • Tobago-time must be observed. Stepping off the plane (10 hour direct flight from the grey skies of Gatwick), your head is still rushing at a million miles an hour – you try to convert the speed of dealing with the 9 to 5 from home into a new holiday rush to plan trips and get things done in your short week on the island. No, no, no, no, NO. Stop. Relax. Have a ginger shandy. Sit in the shade. Gaze at the turquoise water. Breathe. Get on Tobago-time. No rush.
  • Aside from Italy, the food in Tobago is one of the most consistently delicious food I’ve encountered on all my travels. Fish steaks bigger and more tasty than anything I’ve had, salads with delicious zingy dressings, fruit so lip-smackingly mouth watering and sweet and succulent. Coconut breads, marinated chicken, subtley spiced exotic roti, mmmmmm. And the ginger shandy is THE most refreshing drink in the 30 degree heat…
  • Having the opportunity to witness the majestic Leatherback turtle nesting on the beach under a bright starry sky. This is SUCH an incredible experience. The Leatherbacks are giants, the one we saw was measured at 1.71 metres, and watching her hour long dance of egg laying, sand patting, shuffling, turning, and heading back out to sea was an experience I will never forget.
  • Underwater love. I spent a lot of time in the water, on the water and under the water. There is something about the colour of the Caribbean that makes my heart sing. It’s the most divine turquoise water, and the light reflects and bounces off it in such a beautiful way. Aside from the extreme saltiness of the water (a killer on the eyes and nose when it gets in the snorkel mask), it’s a joy to be floating in and under. I’ve never seen such a diversity of underwater life, from the rainbows of tropical fish to the terrifying moray eel, to the gnarly scorpion fish, the biggest puffa fish I’ve ever seen (I didn’t know they could grow that big), to the elegant and bizarre octopus, and the coral gardens! Another world. Spent time snorkelling, diving, swimming, floating, sailing, speedboating. Be near the water, as much as possible.
  • Getting to see the island. It would be easy to stay in the bottom south west tip of the island. The airport is there, as are the main resorts and the capital. There’s enough to more than satisfy a week of time, especially on Tobago-time. BUT there is a lot else to see on the island. Craggy bays, fishing villages, high drives up to get views of sweeping arcs of sand. Forts, canons, trees of every imaginable fruit (and nut!), villages on the side of mountains. The Caribbean coast, the Atlantic coast (two very different places), and the people, congregating in beachside bus stops, peddling their wares in small coastal towns, going about their day to days, cruising in their cars with the reggae booming out…
  • Tobagonians like their bass. Boom box bass. Reggae, calypso, all kinds UP LOUD. Everything is turned up to 11. In the middle of the morning, in the middle of the night. I can’t imagine people complain about loud music here. They probably complain if it’s turned down too low!
  • Price. For some reason I thought everything would be cheap. I seem to think this every time I go away. I don’t know where I get this idea from, but needless to say it’s not particularly cheap to stay here. Food, drink, all on par with the UK (perhaps a little less). A lot of people stay all inclusive, I think it’s nicer to have the reason to escape the resort and check out the local places, but it doesn’t save a huge amount. Excursions are expensive, but you’ll want to do them!
  • Lack of critters. I was warned about sandflies and mosquitos. I didn’t really experience them at all. This may be because for once in my life my deet worked, or it may be the time of year or sheer luck, but I got away pretty scott free from critter bites this time.
  • People keep coming back to Tobago. We met a lot of people on our travels who had been coming back to Tobago for years. One couple had visited the same resort as us – Coco Reef Spa Resort – sixteen times! It has a real family feel, like everyone knows each other, even on the plane over and back, everyone seems to know each other. In fact the cabin crew were on the party boat cruises that happened in the week! A lot of fellow holiday makers had been all over the Caribbean, to multiple islands. Antigua came up trumps, but Tobago was close. It seems that Tobago is one of the least unspoilt and least expensive, things are changing with the recession, prices are rising and tourist numbers are falling, but there is optimism that this will change.
  • Attitude. I loved the local people. My experience was largely hotel staff and taxi/tour guides, so I appreciate this isn’t representative, but I found they had a special charm all of their own. Very laid back, not in a hurry. Some people found them a little rude, but it isn’t rudness, they just aren’t as uptight and stressed about life and react in accordance with that. Once I’d grasped Tobago-time, I found it hard to feel bothered by a lack of super sharp service. They were friendly and that’s enough for me!

Tobago was a real gem. I had very little expectation going into the trip, except I wanted sunshine, and I got that. I LOVED the food, the turtle watching was a huge bonus and the snorkelling and diving was fabulous. I fell in love with the spirit of the place – enjoy yourself, through food, rum punch, dancing to loud music, relaxing under the shade of a palm tree. Life is good here, don’t work too hard. The perfect antidote to my 9 to 5.

Pirate's Bay

Secluded bays…

Pigeon Point

A tobago bus stop?

Crab and dumplings

Crab n’ dumplings

Crochet pants

Crochet pants, Tobago style

Pigeon point

Observing Tobago-time

Leatherback nesting

Giant Leatherback in her nest

Christmas coral on brain coral

Underwater love – Christmas and Brain coral

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I’m getting to know Tobago a little bit more each day. After grappling with my demons on whether I should buy internet access for the week and whether I should be rushing around ‘doing things’ on my relaxing holiday, I did both of those things and have had an action-packed couple of days…

I got a call on Thursday night, a garbled message down the phone (that woke me from my early evening nap) told us to meet a taxi driver downstairs in 5 minutes “there’s a turtle coming up the beach, we have to go, NOW”. Dazed and confused, we stumbled downstairs to meet our driver, who whisked us away at speed, weaving through the traffic, heading to Turtle Beach. Twenty minutes later we were sprinting over the sand, under the dark starlit sky, to the small crowd of people that had gathered. There, in the centre of the crowd, was a huge leatherback turtle (1.71 metres, when measured). She was just finishing laying her eggs. We saw the final few fall. Then, we spent the next hour sitting on the cool sand, under the stars, just metres away from her as she kicked the sand back into the hole where her eggs lay with her huge flippers, stopping every few minutes to take great gulps of air. She then patted the sand down to hide the nest, carried out a long and exhausting turning manoeuvre to face back out to the sea, and then we all rose and slowly followed her back down to the sea edge, said our farewells and watched her slip back into the sea, disappearing with the waves.
The whole experience was completely magical.

When I go away I like to get out and about and see a place and somewhere like Tobago is actually small enough to do that. Although it does take a whole day! We took an ‘island tour’ basically in a taxi for the day, with local taxi driver/tour guide ‘Wagon’. Tobago is only 40km long, but the roads are windy and it gets mountainous towards the northern end, so we had a day of exploring and driving round the island, stopping at beautiful secluded bays, picture perfect with the golden sand and turquoise sea. Palm trees fringing the coast and swaying in the wind. Fishing villages with boats bobbing in the bay. We passed fruit trees of every delicious kind; mango, avocado, banana, grapefruit, cashew nut… We saw a huge cotton silk tree with its gnarly long roots and spikes along the trunk, supposed to have ghosts living in those roots.

We stopped for grilled fish and beer at Speyside, a small town on the Atlantic coast. The food here is out of this world, I’ve never tasted fish this good.

Then we drove down the Atlantic coast, a wilder coast, the sea here is darker than the Caribbean side. The waves batter the shore and the foam sprays high.

To combat the heat we stop at Argyll waterfall, hike for 15 minutes to get to the base, and then jump into the pool at the foot of the falls.

Then the drive continues peeking into more bays along the way, winding up in Scarborough, the island’s capital. Here we visit the fort and see the canons all lined up, pointing out to sea. Driving back through the capital the boom boxes are being fired up for the evening. Loud basey reggae music is being pumped from every bar and side street, the barbecues are being stoked and delicious smells waft through the taxi window. The police band and practising in the band stand along the main drag.

It was a long day to drive around the island, but worth it, now I feel I’ve seen a little bit more of the place and I’ve felt the shape of the island.

Yesterday it was time to hit the water. I love the sea and as much as possible I want to get out on it. I’d pre-arranged a trip on the Spray Sports Catamaran (highly recommended on Trip Advisor). So we were to view that same coastline we’d seen the day before but this time from the water. It was a beautiful day, the wind was up so the ‘cruise, up the coast was a little choppy but we enjoyed it anyway, sitting at the front, getting sprayed by the saltwater as the boat bounced over the waves. Accompanied by the sunshine, reggae music in the background, and thousands of flying fish leaping out of the water at the bow of the boat, it was a fabulous way to spend a morning.

We moored at Cotton Bay and all jumped in the sea to do some snorkelling before having a delicious barbecue lunch. Then we cruised back, stopping at Buccoo Reef and the coral garden. Here the snorkelling was incredible, beautiful coral, lots of tropical fish, mesmerising. Our final stop was the Nylon Pool, a shallow sand bank a few miles off shore. Here it’s only three feet deep so you can stand up. It’s said that if you bathe here you will experience eternal youth. I bathed there 🙂

Then it was time to go home. The rum punch that the captain’s mate had been freely distributing was starting to kick in (and yes, it packs a punch). So we said goodbye to our shipmates for the day and headed back to the Coco Reef.

Today it’s time for a holiday from my holiday. We’ve had a good peek at what the island has to offer, there is a lot to explore and adventure. We’ve already met some wonderful characters from the island, all imparting their advice on life, stemming from living and growing up on a Caribbean isle. Wagon, our taxi driver tour guide said the secret to staying young is not to work too hard. And so now I’ll take his advice, it’s time to kick back, grab a spot in the shade, gaze out to sea and just reeeeeeeelax…

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It’s mornings like this that make me realize I am blessed. It’s around 6.30am, I’m sitting on a faded yellow sun-lounger at one end of a sweeping white curve of powder sand beach. The air is warm and balmy, I have the place almost entirely to myself, with the exception of some gentle figures, sweeping the beach back into its perfect state. Overlooking the lagoon, the waves are lapping the shore, there’s a distant roar of motors as the local fishing and dive boats kick into life and the battle chorus of the local seagulls is in full flow, as they all line up on the rocks, contemplating pickings of the day ahead.

I’m in Tobago. One of the smallest Caribbean islands and one of the furthest south. So south it’s almost brushing shoulders with Venezuela, at the top of the South American subcontinent. It’s my first full day here after our long ten hour flight from Gatwick but already I feel a million miles from home.

The minute I stepped off that plane yesterday and felt the humid air stroke my skin hello, the stresses of work just started melting away – there is no place for that here!

We’re staying at the Coco Reef Spa Resort, which is literally a stone’s throw from the airport, but you would never know, it’s so tranquil. We wouldn’t normally stay somewhere so grand but again, we were blessed to win a honeymoon in a competition, so what can we do but enjoy the luxury! And they really looked after us, with a ‘special welcome’ written out in banana leaves and flowers on our bed, two glasses of bubbly and an upgrade to the Ocean View room. And I love that view!

So today we’re settling in,   exploring, swimming, acclimatizing to this new heat and pace of life. It shouldn’t be so hard, but already we’re grappling with a couple of decisions that really remind us that we’re from the fast paced West. First up, do we buy internet access for the week? It’s expensive, which provides a space to pause and think. Do we really need this? We’re on holiday, and trying to escape our Nine to Fives. Do we need to connect o the outside world?  Read the news, connect on Facebook? Send emails and pictures home? Me, to write and publish my blog posts in real time, him, to check work emails (sales deals that wait for no man…).   What is it about the immediacy of contact that we crave so much with the internet? And why do we feel so unnerved without it? As sad as it is, the answer will be yes. If access was free it would be a no-brainer.

Second dilemma, and it’s not really a dilemma, more an observation, is our insatiable desire to be busy. Yes we’re on holiday, and this one in particular is perfect for just lying on th sand and relaxing… however, there are so many things to do here, to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity to come to such a beautiful isle… diving, deep sea fishing, leatherback turtle watching, going to the waterfall, browsing the markets, dance party on the beach to steel drums, snorkeling, boat trips to see the beaches that it’s hard to get to… and that’s just for starters! When will I have time to lie on the beach? Holidays are decompressions from real life, and sometimes I think it’s almost too much to expect and instant change in pace. So instead I’m aiming for a gentle curve down, punctuated with these wonderful activities and experiences and hopefully I’ll pop out the other end moving a little more slowly and with a slightly calmer mind. I feel it already, sand beneath my feet, sea lapping and seagull cry in my ears, and cooking smells in my nose…must be time to slowly meander up the beach and have some breakfast…

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April is a crazy month for me. It’s a good job I’m channeling Tim Ferris and his 4 hour work week. It’s priming me to be ruthlessly efficient with my down time, which I need at the moment.
So… This evening I got double-packed and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. My two cases and two hand bags are lined up and ready to rock.

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First set for tommorow and two nights in Bournemouth (UKSG conference) and the second set for my pre-wedding honeymoon (that I won last year) to Tobago, flying out on Wednesday.
I have about a bazillion things charging in the kitchen; ipod speaker, ipod, phone, kindle, camera battery, tablet… Jeeez being a digital-gal-on-the-go isn’t as easy as flinging knickers and a toothbrush in a bag any more! I think I’m gonna need a bigger boat…

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