Horizon at Sandy Point

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beyond Beetham

People forget that Beetham is just a name. Edward Beetham was the last British governor of Trinidad and Tobago (1955-1960). We named a highway after him, and the housing development at the end of the St Ann's river to replace the galvanise and tin shanties of squatters. Fifty years later, it is a suburb of Trinidad's capital Port-of-Spain still in the throes of growing up from the dregs and detritus of the river mouth. Progress may be halting but it is happening.
Beyond Borders: plants growing through fences

Swing high!

Cabbage among roses!

Many individuals and organisations make a community: no one more important than any other. The Rose Foundation in association with bpTT lead the initiative to plant gardens in Beetham, one aspect of the Beyond Borders programme that includes mentoring children in everything from gardening to etiquette. Hope is replacing Hellyard. The River of Life is the new route that runs from the Bus Route to the Highway. Nation Park, Team Spirit Park and Butterfly Park, these are not just names but purpose and process.
On the banks of the River of Life, looking to Northern Range

Peppers on the bank of River of Life, looking towards Beetham Highway

Village street

Roaming with bikes on the streets of Beetham

Picket fence from recycled pallets

Tifari Sobers gardener of Team Spirit Park stands on a rubble rock left after Beetham the highway was created.

Two kinds of thyme!

In the short period of the gardens competition, fruit, flowers and vegetables are being cherished all over Beetham, gardens of hope and change. Lisa King started with lady slippers and zinnias but she harvests the tamarind from the tree that towers over her house for a delightful and flavourful chutney. There are mature tamarind and downs trees all over.  Tifari Sobers in Team Spirit Park has reaped six harvests since last October. He has put up a fruit stall to sell fresh herbs and vegetables, and fruit brought in from family in Chaguanas. Lynette Bravo recently married the pieman and moved her garden next door to the new home. The pieman's son just opened a cool cosy corner cafe to sell pies and punches.

It's late afternoon on a Saturday in March 2017. Sterling Belgrove, chief of The Rose Foundation, and his wife Marcia, lead the group judging the gardens competition. In the weeks leading up to the distribution of plants and starter materials, he says, some 40 tons of rubble and trash were removed. Houses now sport Beyond Borders banners to signify that they are part of the beautification and gardening initiative. The handful of gardener-homeowners on each street is already seeding community pride and the joy of green and growing nature.

Lady slippers and zinnias

Tamarind  and coconut
She makes tamarind chutney

Beyond Borders: plants will peep through fences

Mini maze in this garden