Submitted by Matt on 9 May 2010 - 2:28pm
A couple of weeks ago I booked a weeks’ holiday in Tobago, then, without warning, some volcano in Iceland decided to erupt resulting in the UK and other European countries closing their air space. The saga began as an understandable reaction to some kind of volcanic dust entering our skies and ended with the longest and most expensive grounding of flights in European history.
I booked the flight on Tuesday 13 April and a mere two days later (Thursday lunchtime to be exact) the National Air Traffic Control Centre (NATS) closed the air space over the UK due to apparent ‘volcanic dust’ floating invisibly over clear British skies. It’s hard to believe that something you can’t see from the ground could potentially down a commercial jetliner – but it could, and for safety’s sake the skies needed to be empty. When it all kicked off I figured Britain would be a ‘no fly zone’ for a day or two, but four days later, on Monday 19 April I began having serious doubts regarding the likelihood of reaching the Caribbean at all.
I decided to think positively and on Sunday afternoon I started collecting together some of my clothes and accessories and packing my case. Monday came and went, and I noticed the airliner was making updates up to 24 hours in advance on their website. Tuesday came and I continued checking the website for up-to-date details. Finally, the site announced at 8PM on Tuesday all flights up until 1PM the following day were either cancelled or suspended. Considering my flight time was 9.30AM – that meant me! Shortly after that the British government (Lord Adonis to be exact) announced that due to a number of factors, including consultation with the engine manufactures and several test flights, they were now considering the volcanic dust above Britain to have dissipated enough to be considered a safe enough level to allow flights to resume and airports to re-open from 10PM. Hmmm previously everything had been black and white (no commercial flights) but now there was a glimmer of hope my flight might be taking off after all?
The holiday was a bit of a jackpot anyway; my Sister works in the airline business and was working the flight. She had made it possible for me to receive a cheap flight and free accommodation in Tobago, so if there were one person able to tell me what was going on past the smokescreen of websites and the confusion that followed, she was that person. The flight had been delayed until at least the Wednesday evening and I went to bed on the Tuesday knowing that a twelve hour delay wasn’t so bad taking into account the thousands of people who had been stranded in the UK and around Europe for the past week. Yes I went to sleep that night content that no news was good news.
At 5:15AM Wednesday the phone rang. It was my Sister and she’d received a text from the airliner saying the flight was back on, and she’d be around in 10 minutes to pick me up. I can’t tell you how that felt! I jumped up, threw a few things into my case that was thankfully three-quarters packed, assembled my hand luggage (consisting of my laptop and a few bags of crisps), checked, double checked and triple checked I had my passport in my pocket, grabbed a cap on the way downstairs, threw my luggage into the car and got going.
The M11, M25 London Circular and M20 were all clear, there was no queues going over the Queen Elizabeth Bridge and when we finally made it to London Gatwick ninety minutes later it resembled a ghost town. I glided through check-in within five minutes and bought most of the stuff I hadn’t had time to pack in the departure lounge.
The flight was delayed sixty minutes but that worked out to be enough time to have breakfast at Wetherspoons, get some cash out the ATM and wind my way merrily to gate 15.
The flight was eleven hours including a sixty minute stop in Granada. We got a taxi, boom box and all, from the airport and five minutes later we were standing at the check in desk at the hotel with a bright red sun setting across the blue waters and behind the sailing boats that floated gracefully on the still waters behind the rocks that marked out private beach (see below). If this wasn’t paradise, then I wouldn’t know what is. That night I slept the sleep of the dead.
Woke up at the customary 06:00 as I always do on westbound flights and opened the curtains to reveal some locals bathing in the sea. Wondering what the weather was like, I opened the glass door equipped with my camera and headed through to the balcony. It was like opening an oven door, my glasses steamed up, the camera lens steamed up – and I had assurance, if ever I needed any, that I’d arrived in the Caribbean.
Having not eaten much the previous day, we headed down to the breakfast buffet for 07:00 (see below). Three courses and a seemingly endless flow of food, coffee and juice later we waddled around to the bank and investigated the nearby surroundings, whilst managing to get a modest amount of sun burn attempting to shop for a hat. We later had a look around the hotel, checked out the private beach and dealt with a few emails via the limited Wi-Fi service that was confined to the sofas in the reception area.
That evening we went out for a pizza with the whole crew which was a lot of fun. A few beers later and I felt ready to rest my weary jet-lagged head.
Got up early again and had breakfast overlooking the private beach and sea. We hired a car for three days and drove to Scarborough (the Capital), got lost and ended up high in the mountains overlooking the Atlantic Sea and Dwight York Stadium. We eventually found our way back to the main road and rolled on to the Argyle Waterfall.
We drove to the parking area and then hiked 15 minutes through the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, along a trail, over small wooden bridges until the path led us down a long set of steps and onto rocks and stones. As we turned the corner, the falls came into sight (see below). They were of modest size, pouring down three tiers in the rocky formation of the mountainside, creating a 16 feet deep pool at the bottom.
Accompanied by a bottle of water to counteract the ninety-five degree heat which felt like it was being exaggerated in the bushy surroundings of the falls, I climbed up towards the top. To call it a path would be factually incorrect; it was more of a stony and dry mudded surface complete with ropes and handles formed from tree roots. It was more like rock climbing that anything else but the reward of getting to the first tier made it worth all the sweat and puffing. The water on each level would come down creating a shower for anyone in the mood to bath and cool down, produce a small bathing pool and then pass over pebbles and small rocks before descending on to the next level. By this time I was feeling exhausted by the heat and tough terrain so I finished my water off and headed to the next tier. It was only a five minute climb but when I arrived and shot a few photographs, legs aching, waterless and very red faced I decided to abort the summit and head back down. If I had been carrying additional water I would have braved it but I made the right choice.
We continued to drive around the island that measures approximately 20 miles by 6, through King’s Bay, Pedro Point, Speyside and into Charlottville, a pretty little fishing village. By this point we were on the opposite side of the island from the hotel so the only way was back. Not happy at going back along the same roads and wanting to see as much of the island as we could, we drove the Caribbean side back to the hotel along a smaller, more adventurous track that gave us some great views of the sea, beaches and villages along the way, including the awesome Parlatuvier Bay as seen in the photograph below. After stopping at the local supermarket to stock up with water and some other essentials we arrived back at Crown Point and the Coco Reef Resort and Spa at about 18:00. We ate some food and drank some Carib beer at Cafe Coco and another day was done.
One of the best things about holidaying in the Caribbean is opening those ultra darkening curtains first thing in the morning and seeing that beach, the way the turquoise waters drift from dark to light, and the heat that overwhelms the rickety old air conditioning system if the doors remain open for more than 20 seconds.
Saturday started with the now legendary breakfast followed by a second day out in the car. We drove to Fort King George, a historical monument erected in the 1770’s by occupying British forces aiming to keep enemies at bay (see below). It’s strategically built overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from one view point, and Tobago’s capital Scarborough from the other. The local hospital is on the entrance, a site previously occupied by the military hospital.
From Fort King George we hit some small, hilly routes searching out some more of the country’s scenic areas. Having been so impressed with the Argyle Falls the previous day, we decided to look out for some more waterfalls that appeared on the tourist map but seemingly not in the real world. We drove down one road that quickly deteriorated into a dirt track made up of mud and stones – not good when you didn’t hire a 4x4 but hesitant to turn back and see the same scenery again we continue ahead and just made it through to a tarmac road. Another false hope led us up and down a ravine to a dead end where we bumped into a bee keeper who we got chatting to. He has some relatives visiting London; he also advised us to give up on the waterfalls as ‘there’d hardly be any water falling’, as he put it.
We visited Plymouth on the North of the island and then headed back to the hotel via the mall where we purchased a few gifts for family and friends back home. We had a meal that evening in Subway of all places, and mighty good it was too.
Sunday comprised of breakfast (too hard to resist) and a final drive out to some beaches on the Caribbean side of the island. We hit Castara Bay to start with, had a look around but decided to press on and see if there was anything a little further up the coast. Ten minutes later we found the almost hidden entrance to Englishman’s Bay, a beach that I highly rated having seen the amount of shade afforded from the palm trees on our way down the mountainside (see below for my view from the shade of the palm trees). It was almost like we were the first to discover it, I couldn’t believe how such an amazing place was semi-deserted, and although the sea having a very deceptive current right on the shore, the sands, skies, trees were all perfect; and in truth the current added an element of fun to the bathing.
After heading back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes, we joined some of the crew in attending Sunday School. Now just to make it clear, Sunday School probably isn’t what you think, it’s a street festival with live music before 23:00 evolving into a fully fledged party. We didn’t arrive until nearly midnight so missed all the live stuff but did have plenty of beer, wine and local rum (measuring in at 75%), some dancing and some interesting conversations with the locals. Make no mistake, this was no touristy event, instead making us feel we were doing something that aligned and engaged with local culture – the main reason I had a good time.
We got to bed at something like 04:30 having bartered with a taxi driver to get us back to the hotel safely for 20 TT dollars each (there were four of us). I don’t think I remember my head hitting the pillow that night.
Following what turned out to be a late night I had to be up at 09:30 to return the car. Thankfully this just involved running down to reception, signing the paperwork and handing back the keys (the perks of hiring a car from the hotel). Not surprisingly we skipped breakfast and opted for a lunch buffet instead. A selection of foods, drinks and desserts stretching the length of a thirty second walk, and the unmistakable aroma of the BBQ sizzling and smoking away on the beach made it impossible to ignore - and after finishing off with a large vanilla ice cream, I’m glad I didn’t.
We spent the remainder of the day on the beach and swimming in the pool, making the most from the barmen offering to bring drinks as we chilled out on the sand, and investigating the species of fish swimming in the ultra clear waters of the sea (see above). After changing we joined the others to eat at the Kariwak Village, a dimly lit but perfectly poised outdoor restaurant. Living in the UK I don’t often enjoy an evening meal outside, net alone sweat while eating it, which I guess is what made it such a pleasant experience. The time was really flying past.
Following what would turn out to be our last breakfast buffet on the island, we hired a few bicycles from the hotel and peddled our way to Pigeon Point. Once there we tied the bikes up and sat in the shade on the beach for a while, watching paragliders (see below) and sail boats race up and down the waters effortlessly using the strong, warm winds . Amazingly enough, we walked for two minutes around a corner and the wind disappeared leaving the environment perfect for swimming and sunbathing. The temperature seemingly popped up a notch too. It’s crazy how one beach that simply turns a ninety degree corner can offer two contrasting experiences – but then that’s probably the attraction.
After cycling back to the hotel we relaxed with the others, first stopping by the bar for an ice cream, then on the beach and in the pool courtesy of an inflatable air bed we found floating Marie Celeste style. A few more drinks ensued before I went off to take some photographs of the boats and fish in the sea.
We joined the crew again for our last evening meal at Cafe Coco and wondered back to the hotel for a few Caribs before calling it a night.
The flight was scheduled for 18:00 so we skipped breakfast and headed for a buffet lunch that would hopefully keep us laced with energy for the flight home – and once again it didn’t disappoint. We then heard the flight had been delayed by four hours due to some additional checks at Gatwick required to monitor the volcanic ash build up. That gave me some more time on the beach (see below) and an opportunity for some final video footage of the hotel, followed by a cheeky piña colada on the beach.
We jumped in the mini-van come taxi and a mere five minutes later we were at the airport. The flight home was a little over eight hours with no stops and no further delays, although one very strange thing did happen. If you know me then you know I never sleep on planes, or cars, or anything that moves really. I remember eating the meal provided on the plane, watching a Beatles documentary and the next thing I knew the Captain was making an announcement that breakfast would shortly be served and he’d be landing the plane in approximately ninety minutes. I swear that’s the first time in over fifteen years of flying I’ve ever had a comfortable and satisfying sleep on a plane.
Well that pretty much wraps it up, one heck of an experience and an affirmative recommendation to get out there if you get the chance. It truly is a wonderful place with a diverse array of challenges, activities and luxuries.
Coming up back at base – Understanding Preferences in Photoshop Elements began last week with the first of nine videos entitled Introduction & Resetting. The remaining eight will more likely be released fortnightly over the coming months.
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