Sun, sand, beach bars and a bunch of turtles!
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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The travel agent did not warn us about the 16 hour expedition to get there, including an hour and a half's scenic stand on the tarmac of Antigua's delightfully shabby airport. Mm mmm, gotta love the smell of that disinfectant spray they douse passenger and plane alike with to make you feel thoroughly and refreshingly welcome. However we soldiered on through all that (and just a little cigar-tube claustrophobic madness) to arrive at Turtle Beach in the late afternoon. Which gave us just enough time to survey the deliciously tropical scene that would lay before us for the next 10 days.
Pleasantly surprised by the low-key development nestled amongst the palms that line a wide and sandy Great Courland Bay, we had an invigorating dip in one very impressive pool before necking the first of many lethally-mixed rum punches. Facing north west on the leeward side of the island, this place gets some amazing sunsets, and we wouldn't be disappointed as we sat back in the steaminess of our first night in tropical paradise.
I won't pretend it's not, because Turtle Beach is most definitely a resort. And generally an all-inclusive resort at that, as evidenced by a visit to the buffet that evening. 'Tis no man, 'tis a remorseless eating machine' immediately came to mind watching some of our fellow diners - arm-collared in a vaguely disturbing way but which permitted them to attack the buffet like a bulldozer. Just a little different to the approach on previous travels, but it's the way that more mature markets like Europe go I suppose - hassle-free set-timeframe holidays for stressed masses. Fair enough, but we made a pact that very night that we'd get out of there for dinner from then on.
To our very great fortune we left said dining area, now banging out high octane limbo entertainment in the attached bar area, for a quiet stroll up the beach. This lead us to one of the highlights of the trip, late on that very first night. Turtle Beach is so named because it has been used by giant leatherback turtles for generations as a major nesting ground in the Caribbean. Now the endangered turtles, their eggs and subsequent hatchlings are protected by law, which has seen turtle numbers rise in recent years and gives the resort a fantastic nocturnal attraction (and which is one of the main reasons why we chose this place to venture to).
We actually saw two turtles nest that night - massive, lumbering creatures that are on average 6 ft long and that often weigh up to a tonne - as much as a small car! A small and generally quiet crowd of guests and local dogs watched the strenous process, which takes about 1-2 hours in total. The female turtle emerges from the water and climbs up the elevated beach, somehow identifying a bare patch of san which hasn't been laid in that season. She then takes quite some time to dig a hole about half a metre deep, into which dozens of eggs are laid. Finally she flaps sand back into the hole, partially filling it in to ensure protection from the elements and predators, but not too deep so incubation can occur.
The resulting holes, complete with tractor-like flipper tracks leading back into the water, are more evident in the daylight all along the beach. As June is the tail end of the nesting season, this was the last we saw of the turtles, except for fresh evidence of a single laying about a week later. What we did see was a magical experience however, and I hope that the resort continues to get the delicate balance right to ensure that guests respect the turtles so they aren't driven away from what is literally these females' timeless ancestral home. If you have privilege to see this, remember to keep your distance (>15 metres), the noise down and do not use flash photography.
After that night's excitement we decided we should postphone the relaxation and get out to find some supplies. That meant a visit to the capital (Scarborough) on the busiest day of the month (payday on market Friday) was on. Villages and old sugar mills set amongst hilly, tropical countryside tumbled by as the old but very groovy Nissan taxi took us over the hill, giving us our first real insight into the economic and social state of Trinidad and Tobago.
There is obviously wealth here and many of the inhabitants seem to maintain a relaxed lifestyle that wants for little, however much of what you see is in either a semi-developed or a ramshackle state. It's possibly just too hot to finish anything quickly or keep things in order, which would explain the generally lethargic service levels here too :) Caribbean time mon, alright...
Eventually we did get the relaxation on the beach in - a couple of days just slothing around on sun loungers watching the fisherman haul nets whilst trying to get used to the climate and letting the stresses of working life slowly drained away. We also found an excellent little restaurant, the Black Rock Cafe run by String, about 10 minutes walk up the road. It serves great local foods including goat curry and blue crab with dumplings, for less than half the price of questionable western dishes at the hotel. But time had come to venture even further afield now, so we headed back to the southern tip of the island and picturesque Pigeon Point.
Again dumb luck served us well. We arrived late in the afternoon and instead of taking the taxi all the way there, we wandered up from the Store Bay area and saw the sights along the way - mainly consisting of a clensing Carib beer at a funky little beach bar halfway up the point. Then we took to the beach, detouring the payment area further up the road whilst catching the locals playing beach cricket, lazing under the low hanging trees on the beach or just hanging out listening to loud music thumping out of pimped up rides (as they tend to do).
The further you head north, the less there is up here and the more beautiful it gets. Pigeon Point is truly a white sand and overhanging palm beach paradise, often used on the covers of travel brochures advertising the island. Apparently the place is usually jammed with people enjoying the scenerym, but the only guys we had to share it with were a couple of very cute local pooches who adopted us for the walk. Arroooo! Brilliant.
We'd gone to Pigeon Point late that Sunday because we wanted to stop in at Buccoo on the way back to catch Sunday School. Far from being a religious experience (the island IS extremely conservative and religious), Sunday School is rowdy weekend entertainment for tourists and locals alike, with a variety of street stalls, bands and bars all with a definite Calypso vibe. Getting there early actually worked out well as we got to meet Sasha, an extravagant and vibrant dinner host with many tasty treats on offer, as well as some other local hangouts before they were overrun by busloads of tourists shipped in later on.
Richie Spice's 'The World is a Cycle' tune, which would become track of our holiday, featured heavily on the playlist here. Nice. And the steel band was very cool (12mb video here), although I couldn't get the legs moving enough by that stage to take Karen and dance. All that walking and lazing (and Stag beer) had obviously taken its toll :) We headed home a little early that night but that was ok, we weren't really here to party after all.
There's plenty more to show you around this gorgeous little island so I'll continue with specific sunny adventures in the following entry. One thing I did mention was the religious nature of the place, due to waves of missionaries arriving in the islands starting way back in the 17th century when the Estonians (I woulda guessed that) came to convert the local Carib villagers. The main evidence of this now is the hundreds of small churches that are dotted all over the island - a couple of which down the road at Black Rock struck us as being very cool. No doubt more on this later.
To end this entry up, here's some random images and signage from around the island. Below, it's T&T's entry for 'Great Brands of the World'. After all, who wouldn't want to grab a Chubby? Just remember - No Leaning whilst you're drinking it.
Next entry >> adventures around the secluded parts of Tobago
Where I stayed