Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Island blood: an education in one week

Every child with island blood in his veins should have experiences with the sea. This was my brother's wish when he brought his three daughters from their mountain home in North Carolina to his island home, Trinidad and Tobago. Here's how their island genes, long dormant in the mountains, were revitalised. Our father, their grandfather, loved the sea. We hope all his grandchildren share this love, even if their visits are one week at a time, years apart. Here's some of what they experienced for the first time, on their first visit. All in one week!

Buccoo Reef by glass bottom boat: fun in the Nylon Pool's clear water
Fish kiss
Paddling your own canoe: kayaking at Chaguaramas
Experiencing the force of wind and wave at Toco lighthouse
The beach at Grande Riviere: rusting shipwreck at the far end

First baby leatherback turtle viewing
Nestlings emerging in daylight: these are sheltered until dusk when they are released above the wave line.

Waves at Grande Riviere beach: just offshore, the female turtles are waiting to come ashore at nightfall.

Leatherback turtle nesting at dawn

Hungry cobos and dogs wait for the tide to unearth eggs or baby turtles

The family at Maracas Bay

Surely, we who live on the islands should ensure that children growing up on these shores have first hand experiences of nesting turtles, baby turtles, hungry corbeaux, fish life, coral reefs, warm tropical sea water, sand in toes, tides, wind, waves.
(Photos by Margaret Wong Chong, Chuck Wong Chong, Pat Ganase, Merryl See Tai)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sweet Oka

Oka passed away, quietly, as she had lived.

Over the past year, she played a daily game, edging towards the dining table as the evening sun heated up the west porch where she spends her day. When looked at sternly, she would tuck her head down, looking up with doe eyes even as she shuffled back to her place on the porch.

Oka, standing, in her prime

Overnight, she would take what was for her a long trek round the back of the house, down the stairs to the landing, then up the front stairs to the south porch which is Sox's domain. In the morning, we would find her at the east lookout - the corner of the porch from which to look at cobos in the bois canot trees. Otherwise, she might be on Sox's mat, or even further in, near to the big furry dog. But you only had to open the front door and she would haul herself unsteadily and shuffle through the house to the kitchen porch, her domain. She knew her place.

Since we started giving her a daily tablet of glucosamine and chondroitin wrapped in a sardine, her joints didn't seem to hurt so much. If the hobble-hop up and down stairs and around the house was her regular exercise, we let her be. She had been called obese by those who saw her barrel body on short slim legs. But it must have been her Rottweiler genes that gave that round shape. Her Labrador genes certainly gave her the sweetest disposition of any dog we have ever known.

She had come to us from a home in the east where she had been weaned to puppy chow. So she was a skinny leggy black pup that loved to play. Chasing the broom, she had fallen off a porch some ten feet. Surprised to find herself on grass, she promptly jumped up and ran to the concerned children. It was not the only time; another night without electricity, she had rolled off the same porch - with no ill effects.

We moved to the house in Saddle Grove shortly after, when she was about six months old, almost full grown but still playful and loving.

In her lifetime, Oka had three litters, with Max the male Lab-Rott. Oka had the most beautiful puppies, fat and furry. She was a good mother. She was considered portly or matronly, and nicknamed Chubby-Booby. Her affection for others earned her the name Licky-Licky. Her given name, Oka, is Swahili for "come here."

Oka with puppies, in typical Lab colours, jet black or creamy.
One of Oka's puppies seemed to have inherited her love of licking.

Oka had super-sensitive hearing. Bad weather, thunder, fireworks, loud noises gave her the heebie-jeebies. She would cower, trembling, in a corner, in bad weather or on old years' nights. But all she ever wanted was to be loved, petted and taken care of.
Oka only ever wanted to be loved.

If you want to see one of Oka's special tricks, check this post from six years ago:

Oka was 13 years old at the start of 2017.  We will miss her.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Charlotte Street

Walking in downtown Port of Spain is always a walk down Memory Lane. I think I was ten or 12 when I was allowed to visit the bookstore on Frederick Street by myself. The book department of Stephens and Todd was presided over by a small busy man, Lionel St Aubyn. He was always trying to be helpful, but I didn't really know what books I liked yet so the little time I had in his shop was spent browsing. I remember being hooked on some adventure stories by Hammond Innes and I would pore over the different titles before selecting the one for that month. Then I would wait for my Dad in front the store at the pre-arranged time.

Earlier on, when I was five or six, Daddy would sometimes take me and Helen to town with him, to pick up goods. That would have been Charlotte Street. He would leave us in the car with strict instructions not to open the doors. And in this particular memory, we were so hot. Maybe we didn't dare open the windows, but that's not true either because I also remember conversations with curious passersby.

What's your name?
Pudden an tail (because of course we were not to tell anyone our names.)
Where's your Daddy?
He coming back now now (so no one would think we were alone for a long time.)

And the terror because we were sure someone would open the door and come in the car.
And the sweat because we were so hot, maybe from tumbling from the front to the back and climbing back.
And the relief when Daddy did come back and start the car, and we could move and feel the wind in our faces.

At Christmas time, we window shopped, in the late evening after shops closed, when you could park on lower Frederick Street and walk up and down the block admiring the windows of Woolworth, Glendinnings and Stephens and Todd. Special gifts were bought from Excellent Trading higher up on Frederick Street near Park: I remember a jewellery box built like a mini chalet for Helen.

My appreciation for Charlotte Street came later, when as a young adult I would go to the Chinese grocery, with my mother or fatheer, or alone, entranced by cargoes that crossed the seas: preserved fruit in a variety of flavours, swet, salty, sour, peppery, orange-peel, liquorice, sticky; tea called gunpowder; and the things in tins, sweet lychees, abalone, sour pickles, lotus roots, bamboo shoots; black mushrooms and dried fungus called wood ears; dried fish belly that puffed up in the oven; magic mung beans that sprouted in a tin covered by a wet rag; and lapcheong fatty and fragrant sausages steamed on white rice.
Wing Sing, my favourite Chinese shop on Charlotte Street

We never imagined the actual fruit, but delighted in the tastes that made our mouths pucker and our eyes and noses wrinkle.

More recently, Charlotte Street has meant treading the maze of people and cars from east Port-of-Spain. But today, I was pleasantly surprised at the relative order imposed on the maze. The street vendors occupy tents; their wares - produce or panties, slippers or seasonings -  carefully displayed on tables. The vendors pay monthly fees to rent their spaces and tents. It's Port -of-Spain's idea of an open air market, and seems to be working: first by allowing people to vend; secondly, providing an income to the City Corporation; and finally imposing a system and order on an otherwise unruly set of circumstances.

So I stopped to take a photo of the basin of chows: pineapple, mango, pommecythere and plum.
You taking picture and you not even buying?
How much is your mango chow? Give me a bag with green and some ripe.
Twelve dollars (as she proceeds to spike the slices of fruit with  salt, green shadon beni sauce, red pepper sauce).
So where you from?
Born right here in Trinidad, and you?
I from St Vincent; been here long long time.
How long? How old are you?
Her laugh is hard and hearty because I caught her.

As she salted and seasoned mango and pommecythere for me, others were gathering around.
How much for the plums?
Give me a bag of pineapple.
Bags of pineapple, mango, pommecythere, salted and seasoned on the spot for you.

The chow lady from St Vincent

Plums waiting to be "chowed"

Everybody on Charlotte Street is busy: either selling; buying; or scripping (a word we used when we were just browsing). Somewhere in all that commerce and picong, I feel the soul of Trinidad stirring, struggling to stay alive.

Here are some photos from the Charlotte Street vendors market today.

Tents along the roadside on Charlotte Street: vendors may now "rent" space and shelter from the POS Corporation to sell in specific designated areas.

Peppers, hot (above) or sweet

Tonka beans

Soursop from another island

The orange peeler

Avocadoes at centre stage

Friday, March 24, 2017

Rainforest by the Sea

To get to Charlotteville by any road, you climb the mountain that’s the north end of Tobago's Main Ridge Forest reserve. Here, we are told is the easternmost end of the Andes, rock geologically Pacific pushed into the Caribbean. The detritus of aeons  built upon this rock has accumulated a soft soil that may be fertile for vegetation but a slippery foundation for roads and buildings.  A series of switchbacks takes you up from Speyside; and suddenly, you are zigzagging down.The husband likes to tell the tale of the lady busdriver who lost her nerve on one of those zags; and ran to the village for help to negotiate the turn, leaving the bus hanging.

Where the Windward Road meets the Northside Road, you turn abruptly and arrive in a tangle of trees. This is your cottage at Man-o-War Bay.  It is dusk but the light off the sea glimmers through the trees, and beckons.

Man-o-War Bay Cottages in this forest garden by the sea. All photos by Pat Ganase

Man-o-War Bay at evening

Cottage 10 surrounded by forest trees
There’s a cruise ship in the harbor. We see the tender shuttling from ship to shore. The Port Police are on the jetty. Every hour or so, there’s a loud blast from the ship. Last call for drifters who may be slow in returning? Next day, the ship has left. But we learn that twelve passengers – who had refused the local guides – had gone missing. They were found in Starwood on the crest between Charlotteville and Speyside.

Charlotteville is built around a deepwater harbour for cruise ships
Charlotteville is a town of under 2000 persons. It faces the sea with the mountains at its back. In 1865, the Charlotteville and Pirates Bay Estates were acquired by members of the Turpin family. Joseph Turpin was the Anglican Bishop of St Vincent. His son Edmund became Bishop of Tobago. Edmund’s sons, Charles V and Cyril, were responsible for the town plan and environmental ethos of the estates. Today, the village is laid out as Charles V intended: around a village square, streets and drainage following the contours and running to the deepwater harbor that is Man-o-War Bay (originally named Jan de Moor by a Dutch contingent of settlers). Cyril, a game warden in Uganda, laid out the environmental plan in 1932; and also created the list of pelagic species and their seasons that is still referred to today.
Charlotteville on sea

Looking towards Cambleton

The estate extends from Booby Island off Cambleton across the crest above the village to St Giles and Melville Islands. St Giles, a sea bird sanctuary, was deeded to the government on condition that it would be protected from poaching. The main business of the company that manages the estate is agriculture – cocoa is being revitalized – timber, tourism. The first four holiday cottages on the beach were built in 1965. There are nine cottages today, mostly occupied by students and visitors who appreciate the rainforest. Facilities are comfortable but simple (fans instead of airconditioning); the setting – a forest garden – incomparable!

Curious motmot

Looking towards lifeguards hut through deep shade of trees

We wake to the sun rising over Flagstaff Hill. This end of Tobago catches the clouds drifting from the northeast; and it is likely to rain every day.  The forest cover is close and energizing. Breathe deep. Stretch alive. A squirrel scuttles down the trunk of a nearby tree. Curious motmots beg for your snacks.

Walk the beach trail to the village. You are likely to be too early for the groceries, which don’t open til after nine. Some fishing boats are just returning. Charlotteville wakes early; opens late. A clutch of uniformed high school students wait for transport to Speyside. Charlotteville has primary schools.

Almonds on the beach

The jetty

Beach road, Charlotteville

Along the shore runs the main artery of the town. There are changes here. The old houses are bright in the morning light. New huts signal new beachfront businesses. In front the fishing facility, an imposing mustard building, the fishermen are opening their catches. More sales take place on the beach front, right next to a contraption of sealed tanks that’s supposed to process fish waste. It’s not working, we are told. We also don’t see anyone entering the mustard building.
Fish still sold on the beach after the boats arrive

Fishermen sell outside the airconditioned facility built for them.

A processing plant on the beachfront??

Charlotteville Vendor Mall: does Charlotteville want this?

A much larger building is under construction, just yards away. The billboard announces the Charlotteville Vendor Mall. The bamboo scaffolding and absence of construction workers suggests that it might be a long way from completion. Was this in Charles V Turpin’s plan, we wonder? What do Charlottevillagers think of this commercial intrusion from the world over the mountains? Perhaps someone will re-purpose these new structures, turn them into practical places worthy of the beach and the forest.

Well-kept beachfront properties

Changing the profile of the Charlotteville beachfront

We return to our cabin in the woods, appreciating the tall trees, the clumps of ferns and philodendrons and gingers, the palms and ancient almonds. We wish that life could be this simple always. Progress and change we are told are inevitable.

What would you change if you knew the price of progress?


History of Charlotteville:

Cocoa house for renewal of a century old crop

Cottage in the forest garden