Well, I have finally returned to rainy England and I must say I loved Tobago! It’s sunny, it’s cheap (if you know how to avoid the sharks) and the people are friendly as hell! Maybe a bit too friendly for my cold soul.
I went through the town initially with a taxi and then risked and went walking. There are no side-roads and if they are, they are rare and in-between. If you want to tour the island, you need to go with a car / motorbike. The roads are windy, up and down hillsides, past houses you can barely make out. It’s so much like Romania, sometimes I had to double-check my surroundings to make sure I was not back home.
There are massive bushes overhanging the road, with flamboyant red and pink flowers dangling from them like Kleenex flowers at a high-school dance. At night, there are crowds of people on the streetcorners and in front of the shops but they aren’t walking, they’re just standing or sitting on steps or chairs, as if they’re inside a room. Music flows through the open doorways.
Some of the men wear knitted wool caps, like tea cosies, and I wonder how they can stand it in the heat. Their heads turn as the taxi goes by, and some wave and shout, at the driver rather than me. I was starting to feel very white.
The people are friendly and they honk or come over when they want to introduce themselves. I have had at least 30 men hit on me since I came on the island and during the famous Sunday School dance, the men would hit on women that were accompanied. Or is this over friendliness?
Nevertheless I found the aimlessness of men disturbing. The women seem to work in most places, the men sit outside and “lime” – hang out together. As the house owner told me multiple times, there are a lot more men on the island than women so whenever they see one, they get excited. It reminded me so much of teenagers in shopping plazas, of mob mentality. I found out I was truly no longer at home .
I am away, I am out , which is what I wanted. The difference between this and home isn’t so much that I know nobody as that nobody knows me. In a way I’m invisible. In a way I’m safe.
This is until I was ready to go home. I went to the airport and just before I joined the queue to board my airplane, I was pulled aside and asked to go with a security officer to have myself checked. My baggage, my story. I started to feel slowly violated as my things were picked up from the suitcase and set aside. As my pictures were browsed. As I was asked a lot of questions about why I came to Tobago, what made me do it, why did I come alone, where did I stay, what did I do, whom did I meet?
Why did I buy so much candy? (for my friends, it’s Jamaican chocolate), where did I stay (this question repeated itself multiple times) and from when did I book this trip? What do I do back in England? Where do I come from? What’s a Romanian doing in England? (not in Tobago). An hour passed. They asked to see documents I had with me (with the exception of my flight booking and my passport I only had my Romanian ID tag). I was asked to undress. To take off my leggings. To take off my underwear. To bend over and cough. That was freaking humiliating! I only saw it in movies when they were checking people in prison to see if they carried drugs in their butt hole.
They did not find anything…. not that I had anything to hide.. but I felt like this entire beautiful and serene holiday was getting smeared in stinking poo.
I went upstairs to check in to the terminal and all the way a security guard trailed me. I saw him make an imperceptible nod to the two women waiting behind the security gates and I found myself pulled into a second round of interrogations. What do you have in your bag? candy? open a few ones to see what it contains. I showed them the receipt but they were not impressed. I ate one in front of them and offered them the rest of the spoiled ones. They went through my clothes, my shoes, my wallet, my receipts. Who did you meet on the island? How much money did you have with you? Only $200? (Yes, and I only spent about $150 cash and the rest on my card).
So here I am, getting frustrated. I spent my money on this island. I sat through an 11h flight to get here. I survived the heat and the mosquitoes, and I thought it was a beautiful country. And with every question asked, with every suspicious glare thrown my way, I felt more and more humiliated and wanted to get away from there. To leave. To depart.
“Did you meet anyone while you were on the island?” “Yes, I did” , the cute Dutch which I did not manage to make my own. “Did he give you anything?” “No, but I gave him something.” “WHAT?” “A beer”, I reply and I smile. She frowns. I also gave him something very personal. A friendship bracelet I got in Italy from a woman from Peru. A truly international gift.
But this is between me and him and a few nice moments we shared together.
This is not something to expose like my wet swimsuit inside my backpack. This is my memory, my moment. “A beer, ’cause it was hot”.
“What’s his name? How does he look like?” I show them pictures of us together, our FB chats and they seem to lose air. I know they were expecting a summer sizzling romance, filled with promises of drugs and carrying things for each other. I have seen how this works and I am not a stupid gringo. But nor am I a naive and innocent tourist anymore. The customs have raped me of my island innocence.
One hour and 45 minutes. My plane is due to depart soon but there is no rush. I am already in the room where I need to wait and all I can think of is how I’ll leave this country behind and never return. For no reason.
“Tobago is filled with friendly people” Yes, but also with drug dealers and tourists that do not know anything.
“White women have a bad reputation down here,” he says. “For one thing, they’re too rich; for another they lower the moral tone.[..] I’m just telling you what they think, the women here think they spoil the local men. They don’t like the way white women dress, either. You’d never see a local woman wearing shorts or even pants, they think it’s degenerate. If they started behaving like that their men would beat the shit out of them. If you tried any of that Women’s Lib stuff down here they’d only laugh. They say that’s for the white women. Everyone knows white women are naturally lazy and they don’t want to do a woman’s proper work, and that’s why they hire black women to do their work for them.”
Quote from Margaret Atwood – Bodily Harm
I’ll take my outrage out on this blog now and it’s like a catharsis. When people will ask me tomorrow “How was your trip?” I’ll smile and show them pictures of the clear blue water, bearing none of the spirits of people and which has been and always will be there.
Advice for travellers
- Do not wear camouflage clothes – they are illegal and can get you arrested
- Be weary of the men, they will hit on you and try to get it on. Politely refuse and move on.
- Don’t accept drinks from anyone
- If you decide to go on day trips, get it from the Pigeon Point Beach. I hired a rainforest tour from the house where I was staying in and I paid 3 times as much as I would have paid from the Pigeon Point tour guides ($USD 60). And my tour was rushed and my guide unknowledgeable about local plants and trees (Brandon, if you find this by any chance – I did not like you having breakfast on my hired time).
- Go snorkelling in the reef. It’s an amazing experience and because the water is so clear you will see in the depths all the fishes feeding.
- Do not touch the corals. They are alive and they will die when touched. If someone gives you rubber shoes to walk underwater, refuse and leave. Only 30% of the corals are left and they take close to 50000 years to grow that size.
It’s hard to find fresh food on the island. There are mostly fried foods (fast foods) like burgers and chicken but if you wish to eat healthy, you’re a bit stuck. I got lucky and found a place next to the Buccoo community centre called DD’s and they serve some really nicely prepared food with low oil and saturated fats. Vegetarian menu included (will post separately the food & costs)
- Drink plenty of liquids, you’ll get dehydrated quickly in the scorching sun.
- See all the historical spots but be warned there is nothing much left of the English forts than a few cannons and a house.