This Caribbean nation proudly celebrated 50 years of independence in 2012—but with its sublime landscapes, sensational food, riotously fun nightlife and vibrant culture drawing a new generation of appreciative visitors, the best is yet to come
Author Sam Polcer Photography Sam Polcer
DAY THREE There are two things open for breakfast at this ungodly hour: the fruit bowl in your room and, to your delight, a doubles stand just outside the hotel. At the latter, you grab a few to go. Also close by: the ferry terminal, from which you embark on a two-and-a-half-hour voyage to the port town of Scarborough, Tobago.
Upon your arrival, a taxi takes you to your accommodations at The Villas at Stonehaven, where you check in, drop your bags, inspect the Jeep that’s been arranged for your stay, discover a private infinity pool out back with a view of the ocean, and fall in love with the beauty of it all.
After bonding with a neighborhood cat who’s figured out that vacationers give good leftovers, you tear yourself away from the pool and drive west to Pigeon Point for a private cruise along the island’s Caribbean coast. Your Tobago Waterholics captain insists, repeatedly, upon being called “Captain Jack Sparrow” (like his adopted namesake, he sports dreadlocks and a shiny grill). He takes you past secret waterfalls, secluded beaches and hidden coves. Idling in Englishman’s Bay, where a forest abuts a sliver of sand, Captain Jack suggests that you catch lunch from the boat, with the idea being that you’ll commandeer one of the grills at a beach called No Man’s Land. “No fish, no lunch!” he chides. “No pressure!”
You’d like to say it doesn’t take long to reel in the bright red snappers that you and the jolly captain toss onto the grill, but the truth is that a kindly fisherman provides the catch after your attempts yield little more than used bait. But no matter. Standing there under a palm tree, your toes in the sand and the crystalline water halfway up your calves, picking apart tender flakes of salty fish cradled in a grape leaf, you are struck by the thought that failure has never tasted so good.
After a quick wade in the Nylon Pool— a popular swimming area on a sandbar of ground-up coral, supposedly named by Britain’s Princess Margaret for its sparkling-clear blue water—you’re back on land and driving east toward a spot in the lush Tobago Forest Reserve called Gilpin Trace. Tobago is a world-class destination for birders, and you’re there to meet up with their most popular guide, noted local ornithologist Newton George, a charming, easy going gentleman who convinced David Attenborough to feature Tobago in his landmark nature series “The Trials of Life.” The hike that follows goes like this: George spots something colorful in the distance, asks if you see it, frames it for you in a telescope, asks again, points with a green laser, asks again. Repeat.
The last meal of your trip is at the homey seafood restaurant El Pescador, where you order the jumbo lime shrimp, sweet plantains, rice and steamed vegetables. The dish, with the help of some local Angostura 1919 rum, lulls you into a reverie. You are brought back by your waiter, who politely informs you that the drumbeat you hear in the distance is the weekly “Sunday School” party getting started around the corner. You like the sound of that: dancing, drinking, street food, the smell of the ocean. You pay your bill and walk toward it, stepping to the rhythm being carried over the breeze.
Hemispheres editor at large SAM POLCER wishes that 85-foot monkeys played more of a role in his major life decisions.
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Area, in square miles: 1,980
Population: 1.3 million
Length of coastline, in miles: 225
Distance from the Venezuelan coast, in miles: 7
Barrels of oil produced annually: ≈154,000
Distance that Keshorn Walcott threw a javelin in the 2012 Olympics (giving his country its first gold in a field event): 277′ 6″
Number of steel pan bands: 225
Date of next Carnival: 2/11-2/12