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A TRUE CARIBBEAN DUO
 
(2016 - Fall Issue)

Writer: JULIE REKAI RICKERD



The twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago offer a cornucopia of soft adventures and magnificent opportunities for water sports and beach time to boot.

T&T, as the islands are known locally, are the southernmost islands in the Caribbean, with Trinidad a mere 11 kilometres from the eastern coast of Venezuela. Larger and more commercial of the two islands, Trinidad was named for the Holy Trinity by Christopher Columbus in 1498. When he found only Arawak and Carib Indians instead of precious metals there, he enslaved the Amerindians and shipped them off to work on other Caribbean settlements. Spain established Trinidad’s first European community in the 16th century, followed by French sugar cane planters with their African slaves, and the British who colonized the island in 1802. Once Britain abolished slavery, plantation owners imported thousands of indentured labourers from India, China and the Middle East.

Tobago was named after the tobacco grown there by its original Carib Indian population. It was not until the 17th century that Europeans discovered its strategic harbour and fertile soil, which led to battles among the British, French, Dutch and even Latvians, vying for control of the island and its sugar, cotton and indigo plantations. By 1814 Tobago was ceded to Britain and in 1889 annexed to Trinidad. The islands achieved independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.

It is the republic’s vivid history and multicultural past that created today’s diverse and captivating attractions on these stunning islands.

TRINIDAD DELIGHTS

Following our arrival in Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital, we drove along the North Coast Road to Maracas Beach, one of the island’s most popular. We soon found an added bonus to the island’s white sand and turquoise water allure: bake and shark. This fish delicacy served on fried bread is freshly prepared in half a dozen nearby food stands, eaten hot off the grill after being dressed from a huge communal table of condiments including hot pepper sauces, mustards, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, garlic and coleslaw. It turned out to be our very favourite lunch.

On the island’s western peninsula are the remains of old Fort George where we had a perfect photo opportunity to digitally capture views of the entire western coastline. Farther west in Tucker Valley, we zip lined high above a dense rainforest and the glistening waters of Macqueripe Bay.

Refuelled by a quick lunch of Indian rotis, we headed out from the local marina and sailed to nearby Gaspar Grande Island. A fairly rigorous 20-minute hike rewarded us with the extraordinary Gasparee Caves. The largest of them showcases unforgettable formations of stalactites, stalagmites, earth pillars and a pool at its bottom, eerily lit by sunlight from a small opening above.

More excitement awaited us the next morning on a visit to La Brea Pitch Lake in the southern part of Trinidad. It was discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595 when he used its pitch to caulk his ships’ leaks. Raleigh took barrels of the substance back to England where it was deemed extremely valuable and dubbed “black gold.” From then on, Trinidad refined the pitch and supplied the world with the resulting asphalt used to build infrastructure such as roads and airline runways. The 38.5-hectare, 76-metre-deep lake is 75 per cent solid, 25 per cent liquid bitumen and will provide pitch for another 400 years. It was awesome to step on it as it felt like we were walking on marshmallows.

Back along the western shoreline, we embarked on a boat tour through the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary, a lagoon dissected into a network of channels that cover about 57 square kilometres of wetlands bordered by thick mangrove forests. The swamp is home to raccoons, mongoose, anteaters, caimans and iguanas while grouper, mullet, snook, snapper, tarpon, tilapia and catfish populate its channels. Among the sanctuary’s 186 bird species, we were most enthralled with the huge resident flock of brilliant scarlet ibises, Trinidad and Tobago’s national bird.

Before leaving for Tobago, we toured the House of Angostura established in 1824. Today, the eight-hectare complex produces one million cases of bitters annually, as well as many varieties of rums and spirits. We marvelled at the fully automated bottling areas, huge molasses and fermentation tanks, and wooden barrels in the aging warehouse. We also admired the company’s 5,000-strong Butterfly Museum and impressive art collection before lingering over the “compulsory” sampling of Angostura wines, spirits and bitters.

TOBAGO GEMS

We opted for a 15-minute flight to Tobago rather than a 2.5-hour ferry ride and were soon ensconced in the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort and swimming in one of its three pools before sitting down to a sumptuous dinner in its Kali’na Caribbean fusion restaurant.

The following morning we enjoyed stand-up paddleboarding on the crystal-clear waters off Pigeon Point before heading out in a glass-bottomed boat to snorkel along the Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool. In keeping with Tobago’s mantra: “Do not stress yourself,” we attended the prize-giving ceremony of the annual Tobago International Cycling Classic, one of T&T’s many year-round annual festivals, which include the renowned Carnival, Film Festival, Jazz Festival, Rum Festival, Mango Festival and dozens of multicultural celebrations.

After a relaxing swim in the silken waters at the Coco Reef Resort off Crown Point, we set out from Scarborough, Tobago’s capital, for the multi-level Argyle Falls, which were discovered in 1991 during the creation of hiking and cycling trails through the rainforest. We hiked through the incredibly tall vegetation of breadfruit, rubber trees and bamboo, which, we were told, grows 20 centimetres a day. It was magical to swim in the clear, cool pool at the lowest level of the falls and well worth the effort to climb up to the very top.

We savoured excellent local and international cuisine as well as some of the best ethnic street food anywhere. And there was never a shortage, on either island, of exotic nightlife at clubs, casinos or of jazz and the islands’ very special steel pan music.

Travel Planner

For more information on Trinidad & Tobago, visit gotrinidadandtobago.com. Caribbean Airlines (caribbean-airlines.com) offers daily flights to Port of Spain, Trinidad, from Toronto.

For accommodation, consider the Hyatt Regency Trinidad (trinidad.hyatt.com) in Trinidad and the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort (magdalenagrand.com) on Tobago.

Dining is an experience on either island. Check out Buzo Osteria Italiana and Ariapita Avenue for street food vendors in Trinidad and Kariwak Village, Crown Point (kariwak.com) and The Seahorse Inn, Black Rock (seahorseinntobago.com) on Tobago.

 
 
 
 
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