Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tobago Vacation - Days 1 and 2 - June 2008

After a two day flight delay due to dust storms, I was on my way to beautiful San Antonio, Texas to spend a week with my kids. It was incredible. If anyone wants to know my secret for youth and happiness, it's my kids.

To preserve my tax status as an expatriate contract worker, I needed to take my second week of vacation outside of the US or its territories.

I work with people from Macedonia, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, New Zealand, Africa, and other places who all recommended their home countries as the best place to take a vacation. Air travel from where I work to the U.K. or Europe is very reasonable, but because of spending the first week with my kids, I would be flying from Texas. I needed something close and inexpensive. Mexico certainly fits the requirements, but I've already been there several times.

After a few days of playing with Google Maps and scouring travel websites, I found that Trinidad and Tobago were close, easy to get to, and best of all, INEXPENSIVE! I've worked with several people from the two islands who told me that Tobago was the place Trinidadians (?) go for a quiet getaway. That sounded like just what I needed.

My flight left on Father's day from Houston, Texas and landed in Port of Spain, Trinidad around 19:30.

I snapped the following photo on the way in. (I had my camera set wrong and this is the clearest of 14 pictures!)

After standing in line for about an hour to clear Immigration, I went to the ticket counter to inquire about a commuter flight over to Tobago.

There was no one at the airline counter. Looking around, I noticed there was no one at ANY of the airline counters. Hmmmm.......

I found the tourism office and inquired where I could find a flight to Tobago. The woman behind the desk looked a bit surprised and asked, "Todey?"
"Yes, today. I have a hotel reservation in Tobago."
"Dey ah no moh flights todey."
"Where do I catch the ferry then? I understand there is a ferry to Tobago."
"Dey no moh boats tonight. Everting closed now."
"What is the earliest I can catch a flight to Tobago in the morning?"
"Be heyah at 4am for check-in."
"Ok... perhaps not the EARLIEST then. How about a hotel? Where is a close hotel?"
"Dey ah fliahs behine you. All about $92 US wit pick-up."
"Any you would recommend?"
"Let me call dem for you."

The lady spent a few minutes on the phone and found an available room for me. I sat and waited for the car. The driver finally showed and took me on a 20 minute ride to the hotel. We weren't heading into the city or near anything that looked habitable, but we finally pulled up to a gate near a guard shack. After someone inside finally opened the gate, we drove a long, narrow driveway to a building that looked as if was being renovated. The driver parked and I took my bags inside. I can't say it was a nice looking place, but they did advertise free internet. I paid for my room and was shown upstairs to an unmarked door. "Great" I thought "they are putting me in a closet." I wasn't far off the mark. The room was small, but cool and dry and came with a television and private bathroom. I showered, emailed the hotel in Tobago that I would be delayed a day, watched a little television, then fell asleep.

The next morning I woke to sounds of construction somewhere in the hotel. I got up, had breakfast, then decided to look around. I opened the window upstairs and was greeted with this view. (I have tried to re-create it here with a panorama stitched together from several photos.)

I decided this place needed more exploring. This view was on the opposite side of the hotel:

Around 10am I had the driver from the previous night take me back to the airport to check for flights. Guess what? There are no mid-day flights from Trinidad to Tobago. You either pick them up in the morning, or take an afternoon flight. I inquired about an afternoon ticket.
"Hi! I'd like to catch a flight to Tobago."
"Actually, I wanted it yesterday, but I got in too late last night. When is the next flight?"
"Dey sold out."
"Your flights are sold out?"
"All of them?"
"I need to get to Tobago TODAY."
"You kin try de ferry."
"How do I get there?"
"Tek a cab, but de ferry don leave 'til five."
"What time should I get there?"
"Aroun' tree to check in."

I remembered passing a mall on the way in so thought that would be an easy way to kill the next few hours. I found a secure area to park my bags and grabbed a taxi to the mall.

By the way.... anytime you take a cab in Trinidad or Tobago GET PRICES FIRST. It was $17.50 US ONE WAY to the mall. The cab driver didn't volunteer this info, nor did he tell me this until he picked me up to take me back to the airport. I did think it neat that he didn't charge me for the ride until he picked me for the second trip. "Pay me later when I pick you up."

The mall was interesting. Just like any mall you'd go to in the US, there are expensive items and there are bargains. There weren't any store names I recognized, only some fast food places like Subway, KFC, and TCBY.

Speaking of food, I had a local dish called "Roti" which was basically a big oily fried doughy bread (fry bread) wrapped around a filling of curried potato and chick peas with your choice of beef, chicken, or lamb / goat. (Or more potato and chick pea if you are vegetarian.) Very similar to Indian Roti / Paratha, just much more oily and messy.

After returning to the airport, I retrieved my bags and we took off on a 30 minute jaunt to the ferry terminal.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a drive.

The ferry terminal was an interesting place. If it weren't for the hundreds of people milling around and the nice terminal building, it didn't look like the kind of area you'd want to be in after dark. Fortunately, it wasn't after dark yet.

Once inside I found my way to the ticket counter and said, "Hi! I need to get to Tobago."
"Actually, I needed to get there yesterday, then tried again this morning, but everything closes here or sells out of tickets rather early."
"We don have no moh tickets to Tobago todey."
"Ma'am, I've been on this godforsaken island a day and a half now. I need to get on with my vacation."
"We might have standby. Wait over there in line."

I waited, fuming, for about 15 minutes. The woman called me up to the window, said they had seats available, and that I would be good to travel. WOO HOO! I checked my bags and headed upstairs.

The ferry that was supposed to LEAVE at 17:00, ARRIVED at 18:00. We loaded and FINALLY got underway. Looking around, I noticed the boat was only about 1/3 occupied, which caused a few seconds of confusion about why I was told there were no more seats.

After the snack bar opened, I grabbed a drink and headed upstairs to take a look around.

My vacation had a more official feel to it and I was happy!

I'd never seen anything as lovely as the Port of Spain getting smaller and smaller on the horizon.

Then I saw the sunset.

This amazing sunset was the last bit of beauty I would experience for the next 3 hours.

A bit of history before we continue. When I was a little kid, I had NO problems with motion sickness. I could ride any and every ride in a theme park, read in the car or on the front porch swing for HOURS, and even ride in a boat. My sophomore year in High School, I woke up one morning with a bad pain in my side. Thinking appendicitis, my parents took me to the hospital. I spent 3 days getting poked and prodded then made a miraculous recovery and felt better. I was sent home only to wake the next morning with a 104.whatever fever and even worse pain. I spent the next week being poked and prodded more until the doctors decided that my gall bladder didn't like me any more. I made another miraculous recovery and was sent home. Riding in the van on the way home I got so nauseated that I made my dad pull over so I could throw up. I've battled motion sickness ever since. Even after having my gall bladder removed, I have problems. I'm not sure if they are related issues, but I don't recall having motion sickness prior to the gall bladder flare up.

Back to the boat ride.

The cafe on the boat sold the above mentioned Roti dish, assorted fried foods, and served a lot of beer and rum. Served it to people who apparently have the same problems with motion sickness that I do just before embarking on a 3 hour boat ride across choppy Caribbean / Atlantic waters. There is nothing quite as gross as hundreds of people serial vomiting on a hot boat. I found a secluded corner where I could sit and let the waves of nausea flow through me while bullets of sweat rolled down my head and face. About an hour into the ride I mercifully fell asleep.

I woke about an hour and a half later due to a rather urgent call of nature. Having worn my contacts all day, then falling asleep in them, it took a few minutes of blinking and squinting to get my vision up to par. I did this while walking to the bathroom. On a rolling ship. Just after waking and standing. With no sea legs at all. It must have been comical to see because as I rounded the corner of the railing to head downstairs one of the locals yelled, "Hey! White guy! Watch ya step. We be laughing atcha punk ass!" I smiled and gave him a big thumbs up. He yelled back, "Ya, mon!" I went on to take care of business and headed back to my seat. The waves of nausea had pretty much subsided, and the boat's frigid air had dried most of the sweat. I sat in relative comfort listening to the retching of my ship-mates until we pulled into port at Scarborough.

After exiting the ship, I contacted the hotel to tell them I had FINALLY made it to Tobago and to inquire about how to get to Crown Point. They recommended taking a taxi.

Bit of info on T&T Taxis: Most of the legitimate drivers who offer you rides will have their taxi license hanging from their neck on a lanyard. Also, REAL taxi cabs have license plates that begin with the letter "H." If someone offers you a ride and they aren't wearing their license around their neck, check the plate on the car. Some of the gypsy cab drivers will carry a lanyard in their hand. They have no taxi license on the end, but it will fool people who look for a lanyard. Now, all that being said, even most of the gypsy cab drivers are honest and will take you anywhere on the island you want to go for a small fee. Just be sure to ask the price before getting in the car. Some will press you because you don't know the local currency, exchange rates, or normal prices. If you think you're getting a bad deal, find another driver and compare. Find a "real" cab and compare.

I hooked up with a nice fellow who offered to take me to the hotel for about $40.00 TT. I tipped him an extra $20.00 TT when we got there. That's around $10.00 US total for the ride AND tip.

I arrived at the hotel to find the owner just locking up the office. He yawned and said, "The ferry was late, eh? We were just about to give up on you. You can sign in come morning. Let me show you to your room."

The room was larger and more comfortable than the one in Trinidad. I showered, unpacked a little, then crashed. It was going to be a wonderful rest of the week.

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