Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Find yourself a scottage on the sea

The first time we visited Charlotteville was in 1990. The curfew after the July coup had been lifted, and we made plans to travel to this remote end of Tobago as if it were a foreign country. The thing is I had recommended Man-o-War Bay to some European friends but had never stayed there. And a few weeks before they were due to arrive, I had a moment of panic: I've never been to that place and I recommended it...! So we booked a week's stay to overlap with their arrival.

Landing in Tobago is like nowhere else: the first breath invigorates you.

We had managed previous vacations with two small children, visiting friends and family in faraway countries, where everything was taken care of in somebody's home. This was the first time that we would go to a place that none of us knew. We sent the car on the ferry where it was collected by a friend who met us at the airport. Our two month old Lab puppy was still small enough to fit in a pet box, and travelled in the hold of the plane.
Don't worry, we nearly there!
The best behaved pup became a seasoned traveller!
The journey from Crown Point to Charlotteville was slow and suspenseful. We enjoyed the windward sweep of Tobago, long beaches with crashing waves, marvelling at the villages with names like Belle Garden, Delaford, Glamorgan, Pembroke. We stopped in King's Bay and Speyside and the afternoon slipped by. We mounted the hill and rounded the last bend before the descent into Charlotteville just as night was falling, and arrived at the "scottage"in the dark. (With no idea of the place except that we had booked a cottage by the sea, the kids had coined their own word - sea cottage, scottage.)

Two tiny bedrooms, a kitchen that was open to a living area that stepped onto a porch surrounded by sand seemed sufficient to our adventure. We could hear the sea but it was night and pitch black, so we ventured no further, playing cards until bedtime

Daylight seeped through the louvred windows, and we woke up in another world. One with sunlight shifting through the leaves of tall shady trees and the sea lapping at the shore not ten yards away. At the other end of the bowl of the bay, a line of low buildings signifying fish market and shops completed the curve of land curling around green sea. It was one of the most amazing "arrivals" in a strange place that I had ever experienced; the not knowing made more magical by the delight of the children and a small playful pup!

Look ma! No hands!

Between the house and the sea!

Man-o-War: a big deepwater bay where cruise ships would anchor sometimes

Far from a lazy seaside stay, the week was one of exploration and discovery: down the 200 step staircase to Pirate's Bay; out of breath to Fort Campbleton; seeing forever off north Tobago; the call of the conch for fresh wahoo; staring through the glassbottom boat into deep reefs off Speyside - ah, there's the biggest brain coral! Getting wet to go ashore for a hot and sweaty hike across Little Tobago to see the red-billed tropicbird, frigatebirds, boobies, gulls and pelicans, a racket of wings wheeling and diving and screaming as we leaned into the wind to see their nests.

Re-energize, find your wild heart again

Sea air opened appetites for simple food cooked in the basic kitchen. There was time for bread to rise between the sea bath and lunch. Fried bake and "rat cheese" made an excellent breakfast. You took your own basin or pan to collect fresh fish, and you bought whatever the boat had just brought in. Late afternoon - limbs too languid to move and wondering about dinner - was the time for coconut ice cream bought from the vendor with the churn - an easily acquired habit.

After a week, we were all more relaxed, more energetic, barefoot and brown, changed into our wild selves. Even the dog seemed to fit a little more snugly in the pet carrier. Tobago was no longer just the Crown Point end of the island. And any vacation would forever require this mystery of newness, bigness to open minds, to fall in love and rekindle intimacy again, and time to sleep deeply, to savour air and food and being - whether in a different country or our own islands.

On top of Tobago, on top of the world!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New habits for old

What's your new year's resolution?
Duh, hmmm ... mind goes blank.
The mists of the future, how true. 20/20 hindsight! This day is all we have to work with.
Looking back, I see patterns, places where small changes have taken me in different directions with larger - or expanding - consequences; where I have left old habits behind. So I have stopped making resolutions; instead I look for places where the path diverges.

When the sun comes peeping through the trees on the hill ... a new day, a jouvay!
Take exercise for instance.
I grew up a bookworm - thin and leggy by sheer luck and genes.
Work was all I needed for exercise. Or so I thought for many many years of long hours at publishing advertising and communications jobs. Then children - oh yes, they keep you moving - to carry, lift, chase after, play with. Cooking, washing, cleaning a house, surely enough to keep one body going.

But many years of working mom (aka super-mom) behaviour always take a toll. In fact any activities that are repetitive, taken to extreme and  habitual become detrimental - think about it - not just smoking, drinking, liming, work work work, tv watching, facebooking... All habits have the potential to become addictions - things or activities that we think we can't live without. The key to cultivating new habits is "without expectation" - to take the one step that is the start of the thousand mile journey with no preconceptions. Be conservative not extravagant, be not wasteful, go lightly on the earth, be flexible in body and mind, be open.

Six years ago, I entered a gym for the first time - old hand-me-down gym shoes a talking point ("you want to send those back to Nike, they might give you a new pair?") -  ascended a treadmill, gripped small weights, pushed and pulled on machines, stretched muscles long gone slack. It was a revelation. A year ago I left the gym, made a new resolution to take a daily walk - the dog helped. In the beginning, the activity always feels like so many new choices - what time should we walk? is it going to rain? is the downhill path slippery? are the shoes dry? is there something else that should be done now? Today, not quite a year later, there's the dog, the leash, the path.

The dog and the leash: are we walking, or are we dawdling?
The walk itself brings the opportunity to see something - some small thing - that you didn't see before. Mostly it's garbage - the plastic bottle, the fast food box carelessly discarded. But when the sun is just peeping over the Gasparillo hill, slanting straight into the eyes, you hear the parrots screeching - more likely than not in twos, the yellowtails cawing and floating into or out of the nest. Corbeaux sunning their priestly wings. A small owl with a damaged wing taking its last breaths. Lungs open up and smells come in, the faint rank of some small animal,  someone's stew or bread...
Sniff sniff - is it 'gouti or 'guana, manicou or something else?

Yes, aromas from the neighbour's pot waft everywhere in a small community. Just weeks ago, as a community, we contacted an organisation that is willing to pick up recyclables - cans, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard. All that's required of the individual is to sort rinsed and dry items into bags. Maybe five or six households have bothered. For the others,  how not do-able could this be? Sure, it's easy to toss everything in one big smelly bag. But what if - there's no big garbage heap to take all the nasties, certainly not the ocean, and maybe nowhere on the land. All it takes is a thought and an intention: that everything that's used can be sent somewhere with someone in mind.

And there's now a green market in the valley community - another opportunity, another fork in the road.

Now, the new year is getting old already. After Christmas, it comes upon us too swiftly. So I turn my thoughts to the Chinese new year. That starts in February - 4th is the date, but 10th is the celebratory weekend. It's the year of the water snake, a sign of wisdom and grace. It's time to learn to live as part of the environment, not apart.

The key - and such a tiny one it is - to making and keeping new resolutions is substitution. What old beliefs must die; what habit will you phase out; and what will you replace these with, what small step in which different direction will you take, and so doing who will you take with you. The dog is a start!

Resident corbeaux in the bois canot tree
Two years ago, these blogs - and were started. Some of the most popular have been the blogs about places visited, about gardens, about culture or food; there are readers sometimes in India and Russia! How amazing is that!