Horizon at Sandy Point

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Return to Pirates Bay

Forest and sea at north-east Tobago
My friend whose father was a public servant, spent childhood vacations in Charlotteville in the rest house fronting the bay. She and siblings trekked the sand like hobbits, roaming the paths and rolling down the hill into Pirates Bay. I first came to Charlotteville maybe three decades later with two small children and a pup. The village was not much different in 1990 from the fifties. From one of the holiday cottages, the path to Pirates Bay follows the seafront up the bluff at the north end of Man-o-War and descends by a stone staircase to the Pirates. Now, 27 years have flown, and the return to Pirates Bay is a thrilling bumpy ride to a turning point and park at the edge of a cliff between Man-o-War and Pirates.
Path to Pirates Bay

Stairs descend through palm trees and bamboos. A motmot observes us, a question in its eye. No, we have no snacks.
Stairs descend to Pirates Bay; these were laid in the late 1980s

Motmot in Bamboo

The first view of any beach is a sigh, a release, as if to say, “we reach.” The arrival at Pirates Bay is a quintessential “aaah” a homecoming. Maybe this is what going to heaven is like, if you believe in heaven. The sun comes late to this west-facing hidden cove where the likes of Morgan and Blackbeard are supposed to have stashed treasure, their layaway for retirement. Maybe they did return to collect their savings. Our bounty today is soft sand underfoot, the gentle slap of the sea, gulls and pelicans soaring and swooping, and the towering green hill at our backs.

Our treasure: Pirates Bay, pristine, precious, perpetual

Snorkeller at Pirates Bay

From the bluff over Pirates Bay, you can see Fort Campbleton and the hidden Lovers Bay

We leave reluctantly. Our hearts say we’ll be back. Perhaps not so soon as we might like, living in the world tugging in our heads. We will be back. The sun, fully risen, shines over the bay, a jewel in the coast.
Last look