Tobago - From Rags to Riches to R&R
Mar 1, 2004
|"Where in the world is Connie Martin?"
I've been asked that question a lot lately in emails from friends, so I guess I'm overdue on sending one of my nice long witty and informative emails to everyone! But in my own defense I've been on the move a lot and have only recently settled into one place long enough to get the creative juices flowing on the keyboard again.
I have to admit that it feels like my life has gone from rags to riches. My last trip was spent backpacking through third world countries, staying in $5/nite guesthouses, sitting for hours on hot and dirty buses and ferries, wearing modest/unattractive clothing, and sometimes fighting with cockroaches and rats for my next meal. In contrast, I spent the last few months in and around the southern US, staying with friends in luxury houses, visiting various Caribbean islands via cruise ship, attending formal balls, and wearing stylish gowns. This time not a rat or cockroach in sight!
As seems to be my luck, my travels took another detour along the way, and where I am now is not where I originally planned. But I've had a lot of fun along the way, traveled to new places, visited old friends and made some new ones, so who can complain? Of course the journey makes for a long story, but you should be used to that from me by now!
I left Calgary on a VERY cold and snowy morning at the end of January, heading for Florida to hook up with my buddy Doug who I had planned to sail with through the Keys and Bahamas. Had I timed my departure from Calgary perfectly, I would have left 3 days earlier. Instead, I had the "pleasure" of experiencing a few days of heavy snowfall and very cold temperatures. Perhaps I just needed one good dose of Great White North weather to fully appreciate where I was going.
Before heading out into the wild blue yonder, Doug and I decided to do a 7-day Caribbean cruise, partly for kicks since I had never been on a cruise before, and partly to see if we'd be compatible sailing together longer-term.
I have to admit that the cruise itself was good fun once I stopped freaking out over the size of the ship and the number of people onboard. And of course once I informed Doug that I really wasn't interested in playing bingo, trivial pursuit, or any of the other senior citizen games that he kept lining up for us (already there was trouble in paradise!).
With a thousand seniors onboard even I could look good in a bikini, and there was never a queue for the fitness equipment. The food was of course delicious and plentiful, I enjoyed dressing for dinner although I had almost forgotten how to walk in heels, I got to practice my few words of Indonesian with some of the crew, and the Caribbean weather/islands were wonderful compared to what I had recently experienced in Canada. I hooked up with my buddy Glenn during our stop in the US Virgins and spent a great day sailing on his yacht around St. John - definitely a trip highlight - thanks Glenn. But the best part of the cruise was meeting a very interesting man who works onboard (needless to say, things were not looking good for Doug at this point!).
As you've probably guessed, unlike my cruiseship experience which "wasn't all that bad", my compatibility with Doug "wasn't all that good". I suspect one of us would be shark food by now had we sailed together! So, after getting off the cruiseship and spending a few more days in Orlando, it was time to say goodbye to Doug and move on to Plan B.
I didn't have a Plan B!
So I phoned my friends Tim & Alice in New Orleans and gave them about 24 hours notice that I was coming to town. I was clever; I made it look like they INVITED me! By stroke of luck, I arrived during Mardi Gras.
Tim & Alice have 2 delightful young children, 2 dogs and 8 cats, all of whom contribute to a very active household. Made even more hectic with Mardi Gras festivities. Made even more challenging with me taking up residency for 2 weeks.
Our enthusiasm for doing Mardi Gras activities was somewhat dampened by cool temps and rain, so instead we did various day trips around the countryside and spent more time on kid/family activities. Very enjoyable indeed, but I never realized how much energy you need to keep up with 2 small kids!
We did at least make it to a few Mardi Gras parades, including one where Alice was in costume and up on a float tossing beads to the crowd, and we also attended a huge formal Mardi Gras ball in Alabama. Alice even found me a date for the ball ... of course he was older than Moses, was painfully shy, hadn't been on a date since, well, possibly EVER, but I figure desperate women can't be fussy. Besides, he turned out to be a good dance partner once he downed a few glasses of liquid courage, so I really couldn't complain. My body did complain, however, when it had to rise after 2 short hours of sleep for an early morning flight back to Orlando. I took it as a sign of true friendship when Tim & Alice got up to drive me to the airport, but it could possibly be that they were just eager to see me finally get on a plane out of town! Or maybe they just wanted to check that I didn't have 2 kids and a few cats stuffed in my suitcase as I often threatened to do (thanks again Tim & Alice).
I'm going to digress for a minute, but while I'm thinking about airports, has anyone noticed what a hassle it is to fly in the US these days? I realize that tighter security measures needed to be put in place, but is it a new union rule or hiring practice that US customs and security officers are not allowed to crack a smile or have the slightest sense of ha-ha? I think the US is great and I don't mean to diss you guys, but I've flown a lot lately, through some pretty major and busy international airports, and never have I seen such long queues or had my luggage searched as extensively as in the US, at every airport, large or small. It's a major hassle, and will likely deter me from traveling through the US again in future if I can avoid it. Of course my hassle-factor increased considerably because my sandals kept setting off the bloody alarm. Apparently they were at some time exposed to a chemical found in explosives. I don't actually remember being around any explosives but, hey, who knows what I stepped in while traveling in Asia, India or Oman!
Okay, sorry, back to the story. While in New Orleans, I had received an email from my friends Richard & Ken (from England) inviting me to join them on their vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the beginning of March. That meant I had one week to kill between leaving New Orleans and arriving at PV. I decided to spend that week checking out this interesting new cruiseship fella, so off I went on another 7-day Caribbean cruise. It was "same same but different" as they say in Thailand, but overall a much better experience. After all, not only were there better ports of call, but this time I had much better company. Maybe these big cruiseships aren't so bad after all!
After a week I was off the ship and on my way to Mexico. It was great seeing Richard & Ken again (I last saw them in New Orleans for Mardi Gras 2 years ago). The guesthouse we stayed in, which is owned by friends of Richard & Ken, was beautifully decorated with antiques and trinkets from the owners' world travels. We were right in the heart of old PV, a block from the beach and surrounded by shops, restaurants and clubs. Included in the room rate were hearty Mexican breakfasts, endless glasses of champagne or margaritas for happy hour, and invitations to numerous dinner parties hosted by the owners. At the end of the week I wasn't sure if I should check myself into an Alcohol Rehab Clinic or call Weight Watchers!
After Puerto Vallarta, I made a quick trip back to Calgary to finalize plans for my next 8 weeks, start my tax return process, and drop off some luggage. I apologize to my Calgary friends for not contacting anyone, but I was on a very tight schedule and couldn't afford any fun distractions! I promise I'll call when I'm back in April.
So this, finally, brings me to where am I now ... which is on the lovely island of Tobago. Just in case you're not sure where it is, Tobago (and it's big sister Trinidad) are the southernmost islands in the Caribbean, just 11 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela. I have rented a shack on the beach and plan to spend the next 8 weeks here.
Unlike Trinidad which is a large island, quite developed and bustling and of course home of the Caribbean's famous "Carnival", Tobago is a small island, still pleasantly relaxed and undeveloped and is considered the last undiscovered gem in the Caribbean. It has dozens of picturesque bays, plenty of good beaches, snorkeling and diving spots, is a bird-watchers delight, and boasts the oldest rainforest reserve in the Caribbean if not the world.
I spent my first week with Lisa and Jeffrey, new friends from England. They hired a car and we pretty much covered the whole island - traveled to all spots near and far, stopped at all the picturesque bays, checked out all the beaches, visited forts, hiked through the rainforest, checked out the bird sanctuary, and had a few great evenings out as well.
I was disappointed with my first guesthouse, which had beautiful scenery but was way too isolated for anyone without a car. So I found another apartment, wonderfully decorated in lively Caribbean colors and funky furniture, a 5-minute walk to the main road, and with a beach right across the road.
This place is so much more, well, ME! It's cute, colorful and funky and gives me energy. It feels like "home". Sometimes I just miss that feeling, especially after traveling for 7 months now. Sometimes I even miss those mundane chores like cooking and cleaning and making the bed - never thought I'd say that! I guess traveling not only teaches you about foreign places and people, but sometimes it teaches you a little more about yourself.
My days are relaxed. I go for long walks most mornings and do a bit of beachcombing to collect interesting shells, coral and driftwood. My afternoons are spent reading, relaxing by the pool or beach, sightseeing, shopping or snorkeling. I'm also working on developing my artistic talent - making shell mobiles - which are surprisingly turning out okay!
I started volunteering with a local sea turtle protection group. We cleaned rubbish off the beaches where the turtles will come to lay eggs. It's really disgusting what some people toss onto the beaches! The turtles should be arriving very soon, and when they do I'm planning to help with beach patrol a couple nights a week.
I got together with friends for Easter dinner, but the weekend highlight was the "Buccoo Goat Races". The goats run down the racetrack, half dragging their "jockeys" behind on the end of a rope, cheered on by the crowd, most of whom had placed bets on the winner. Jockeys and goats must cross the line together. What a hoot to watch!
Anyway, I'm not on a sailboat as originally planned, but I've had some great adventures along the way and am now enjoying the heat and humidity in the tropics. Like I said, who can complain?