Friday, January 7, 2011

Don’t freak out.

New photos posted:

One of us has now visited a doctor and been prescribed medicine in a foreign country.  Cliff hanger, I know!  

Where to begin…  Sunday morning it was time to leave Castara.   Though a part of us was temped to just relax there for days and days, there is so much more to Tobago, and we’ve seen nothing of Trinidad but Port of Spain.  It’s always a mental struggle.  Am I here to relax in paradise and with paradise found look no further, or am I here to see more, discover more, learn more.  

I woke up extra early, not wanting to miss the morning there.  We pulled futon pad out onto the porch, and Walker promptly fell back asleep.  After a while, we finally rose, had coffee, and started making our plans.
Sharon from the Boatview connected us to Makesi who drove us from Castara to Buccoo.  Lots of rides were available later that evening, but we wanted to get in sooner and have time to get settled and learn our way around, so we treated ourselves to a TT$200 (US$33.33) ride, since the bus schedule is such a crap shoot in Castara, and it would be a two bus trip for an otherwise pretty short drive.  Cabs are expensive here, especially given that you aren’t travelling that far, but you have the option of the bus – US$1-2, and hitchhiking too.  A lot of folks make the trek from Castara to Buccoo and back in the same night by getting rides from locals, but the those drivers are drunk.  I love TT, but I don’t love drunk drivers anywhere.

We wrapped up our time in Castara with some rum and TT grapefruit juice, and cribbage at the Boatview while waiting for Makesi, a government employee by early day – bending steel for the roadways and drainage -- who serves as an unofficial taxi by afternoon and evening.  While there, a Canadian couple asked Walker where he was from.  Really, they were trying to determine if Walker was wearing green to recognize his favorite Canadian football team  -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders (W, as always, was wearing green), but I misunderstood and thought they were asking him is he WAS a Canadian football player, which I reveled in until Walker alerted me to my misunderstanding.

As we headed out of town, he asked us if we’d driven up to the high part of Castara and seen then view, then took us up and showed up around, then to a market in Moriah to pick up some food and beer since EVERYTHING in Castara had been closed for days and likely would be in Buccoo as well.
Makesi is a former pro football player for Tobago, but quit when they stopped getting paid, as did a lot of other players.  Castara is all hill, but they play where they can.  Walker talked to Makesi the whole way to Buccoo, and I know he told us all sorts of information that filled in a lot gaps for us, but of course we can’t remember it in our presently exhausted state.  

We checked in to the Seaside Inn in Buccoo, and by “checked in” I mean an elderly German woman gave us keys and told us to pay her manager some time.  The inn is home to Sheldon and has four guest rooms with private bathrooms and a shared kitchen and common space, and an upstairs full apartment, and is directly across the street from the taxi pickup and the docks, and just down the street from the goat racing track.

After dropping our bags in our room, we headed up the hill to where Lonely Planet old us there would be wifi to find there wasn’t.  We walked the quiet streets of the village, and then just kept walking, back from where we’d come with Makesi, until we came to a hotel that looked like the kind of place that would have internet  -- multistory, official lobby, swimming pool.  The kind of place people with rental cars might stay.  They did have wifi, for guests only, but Elouise, an employee there, told us to go ahead and hang out in the closed restaurant and us it.  When we revealed we planned on walking to the ATM they’d told us about, Elouise volunteered her friend Lee to drive us.

My bells and whistles of worry did not go off, though I wondered if they should, but it seemed fine.  We hopped into Lee’s late 70’s pickup that reminded me of my parents old Toyotas of my early childhood, and headed down the road.  On the way Lee told us he was from Trinidad and ran a tour company there, Island Limers, but spent a lot of time in Tobago since this is where his girlfriend is.  The truck he drives on Tobago is a beater he got from his cousin’s fleet – explaining the equine veterinary medicine symbols on the windows.    He asked us where we’d been, what we’d seen and then said, I have an hour to kill, have you been to x, have you been to y, have you been to z, and then took us on a whirlwind tour of the corner of the island – Scarborough, Fort Something George, Crown Point (consisting of Pigeon Point and Store Bay).  All the while I fretted that we had put beers in the freezer before W & I had left on our walk, and I did not want them to explode in the freezer.  I wondered briefly is this was a scam, or if he’d be asking for money from us, but when we offered gas money, he suggested we buy him a beer instead.
As with everyone person we talked to, Lee filled a few more of the details.  Why does everyone have an AWESOME Japanese car?  Because cars apparently become outdated in Japan quickly, and then preowned vehicles are exported to TT.

Lee also gave us the sell on how we should stay in his apartment in Port of Spain and spend a couple days touring the island, by car and boat with him, just the three of us, for what I must admit is a pretty good price.  We’re going do some research and see what can learn about him and give him call in a few days.  

Lee brought us back to our guest house soon enough that the beers thankfully did not explode.  The manager of our inn was all a tizzy when we explained to him our adventure, but after staring warily at Lee through his fence for the amount of time it took us to finish a beer with Lee, he told us he seemed ok to him.  We told him, we know, we know, sometimes people can be too friendly and up to no good, but this was pretty straightforward – driving around the more populated part of the island in daylight is not too risky, and it was pretty straight forward – Lee likes meeting people, drinking beers with people, and making connections for his tours.  

The sun was setting, and food vendors were setting up in the street for Sunday School.  The thoroughly tizzied Sheldon warned us not to do anything crazy.  We assured him we would not, then mixed our Klean Kanteens of rum and TT grapefruit juice and headed down the road for big plates of local veg food, where we met a dog that look like Hugo spattered with mud, and a foursome of friends, three of whom had gone to Northwestern together, and the fourth the boyfriend of one of the young woman.  He was from Trinidad, but they’d met in Kenya where he works in the sugar industry and she was doing an internship.  The DJ gave way to a band called the Fashion Police who sang a song about a Christmas Donkey, and warned the crowd that AIDS RESPECTS NO ONE.  He kept saying it was their last song, and then there was more, and the same again and again, so we wandered back to the Seaside to mix another beverage.

As we stood in the kitchen, this amazing sound filled the air, fuller than how I’d ever thought of a steel pan band, almost as though it included a horn section.  When we walked back up the hill I was astonished to realize that there were no horns.  It was the sound of the lower drums.  Moments later we ran again into the ice cream man we’d met in Castara.  Walker and I danced and danced for hours and hours.

We’d intended to take a morning tour out to Buccoo Reef the following morning, but had had a little too much fun the night before to rise so early.  We wandered down the street, around noon the next day, and luckily found an open kitchen serving up plates of vegifood.

There was nothing open in Buccoo, and nothing to do in the village except to wait for the next day to get out on the reef, so again we started walking.  First past the hotel where we’d originally used the internet and met Lee, then past the ATM that Lee had taken us to that he proclaimed too far to walk.

We walked and walked till we came to the water on the other side of the island, and the major road, Milford, that takes you to either Scarborough or Crown Point.  As we aimed to cross the road, I raised my arm to a passing car that immediately stopped and picked us up, delivering us in Crown Point not long later.  We wandered around Crown Point for the next few hours, having a falafel sandwich at one of the few open restaurants, where Walker was greeted with a “a salam alaikum, my muslim brother”.  Love that beard.  

We caught a late night taxi back to our inn.  As we unwound, steel  pan practice started up the hill, and music filled that air again.  We finally headed up the hill to take a peak when practice finished, and folks started lighting fireworks in the street.

We woke up early the next morning in hopes of finding food before our trip to the reef.  We, of course, did not.  There is not food to buy in Buccoo, but we made another pot of our spicy noodles.

Typically, tourists head out to the reef in a glass bottom boat.  Tons of boats depart Crown Point, loaded with people.  Only one boat departs Buccoo and on this day, we were the only ones.  We agreed we could go out in a smaller, non-glass bottom boat, since what we really wanted was to snorkel.

 In the little boat we were able to zip around and steer clear of some of the more packed boats.  Since we were in a fishing boat rather than the glass bottom boat, there was no ladder.  Within seconds of arriving at the reef our guide said c’mon guys, let’s get snorkeling!  I wasn’t sure how to jump in and Walker told me to put my mask on and fall in backwards.  As a I fell in, my mask went flying and I felt the most searing, unidentifiable pain I’ve ever experienced in my ear.  I was freaking out, but at the same time, trying to get my mask back on, and take steady breathes and regain my composure.  The pain was unbelievable, but I thought I must just have water in my ear.  And be a really big wimp.

We had two hours out on the reef, and so help me god, I was going to enjoy this.  Also, you may have heard the tales of me completely losing it in India, and how not fun that was for Walker.  I was NOT going to do that here.  I wanted to Walker to want to do more snorkeling with me!  I wanted Walker to want to travel with me.  

The more touristy boats kept the folks on flotation devices, and all clutching a rope, whereas our captain took us to the top of the reef and let the currents carry us to the other side three times.  Buccoo Reef is huge – actually five reef flats separated by deep channels.  I know I was spoiled by my first snorkeling ever, in Virgin Gorda.  The reef here at Buccoo was beautiful, but even more amazing was the horrific damage that was visible.  For years, Buccoo Reef was mistreated, and major efforts have been made in the last decades to aid its recovery.  For example, only specific tour operators are permitted to bring boats through the reef.  At one point while we were swimming, our captain took off to scold an inflated dingy for being on the reef.  I wanted to see the reef so that when we return someday, we can say, wow, this has really improved.  

We were able to keep a faster pace than the tour groups and were ahead of them arriving at the Nylon Pools, warm, crystal clear waist deep water where the sand is composed of extra gritty disintegrating coral.  The water is said to rejuvenate anyone who swims in it, and the super gritty sand smooths the skin.  We then headed to No Man’s Land, an area protected for the hatching of fish and turtles, where only locals are permitted to dock boats, with the exception of in certain severe weather conditions where all boats would be permitted in the area, as it provides some protection.  

We came back in and packed up our packs and prepared to depart.  We were planning on catching a taxi to Scarborough, and then a bus to Charlotteville via Speyside.  By now, the pain in my ear was becoming beyond unbearable.  While snorkeling I’d felt like I’d cut my face on something, but hadn’t made the connection.  But now I was feeling hot and sick.  Walker told me it would be ok, the having sea water in your ear that you can’t get out hurts, but it happens.  I turned my head in all directions.  I hung myself upside down over furniture.  I slapped myself on the head.  

We got our taxi for less than US$1 a person back to Scarborough where we aimed to use an ATM and grab a roti before getting on the bus.  Of course, our ATM card was freaking out again, and another call to Chase Bank ensued.  By now I was falling apart.  I was in unhelpful Allison mode, the evil Allison, laying on the floor of the ATM vestibule.  The card issue was resolved again, and we pressed on to get bus times, and then for a roti.  I truly did my best to rally.  At the roti shop I drank a soda, swishing it around, hoping to uproot whatever it was stuck in my head.  I finally could not stand it anymore, and took to pouring my eye saline solution in my ear, which momentarily relieved the screaming pain.  

Post roti, we crossed the street to a local park, where I moved into pathetic Allison mode.  I begged Walker to call his parents for suggestions, even if they came from google.  The answer: go to the doctor.  

A doctor was located in the same shopping area as the roti shop.  Within five minutes of arrival, I was in with the doctor. Five minutes later she told me that I’d popped my eardrum.  She prescribed oral antibiotics, eardrop antibiotics, and that visit the doctor again in two weeks in the US, at which time it will have either sealed back up on its own, or I will have to arrange for surgery.  The cost of my doctor visit: TT$200.  Ten minutes later we’d been to the pharmacy and gotten my meds.  Also around TT$200.  And were still on schedule to make our 4:30 bus.

We hightailed it back to the bus station where I collapsed in the air conditioning of the station while Walker got tickets.  Buses started showing up, and people were a buzz over WHICH buses these would turn out to be.  How they run the bus routes, we would discover, is not just a mystery to us, but to the people of Tobago also.  We figured out which bus was ours and tossed our bags in the understorage.  We were climbing on when asked one for time just for safety sake – Charlotteville?  No!  Other bus.  We pulled out our bags and got into the line now for the other bus.  We tossed them again in the understorage, and checked with the other drive.  Charlotteville?  No!  And we pulled our bags out again.  

It would be alleged later that the first bus we’d gotten off is the one we’d wanted, but others making their way to Speyside and Charlottesville also did not get on that bus.  Finally another bus arrived, and they threw a Charlottesville sign in the window.  All the folks waiting in the shade of the neighboring buildings shadow crossed over and stated queuing.  The excitable young boys in school uniforms continued chasing one another around.  And then an announcement over the loud speaker.  Yes, this is the bus.  But there is no driver.  They will find a driver, between now (4:45) and 6:30, the time of the next bus, and it leave not at a specific time, but whenever they have a driver.  With that we sat down on the corner to play a game of cribbage.  We have luck on our side, a driver was found within half an hour, and we embarked on our 1.5 hour bus ride along the winding southern coast to Speyside, then over a 4 km pass to Charlotteville.  Walker opted to ride on the left hand side of the bus because he likes to keep his eye on the stowage where our bags are.  

And now here we were in Charlotteville, and exhausted.  We grabbed dinner at Sharon and Phebe’s, a café with great food, up some winding steps, with lots of great seating and a little living room area right in the dining room, where we met Phebe, daughter of Sharon the chef, who has Down’s Syndrome and works as the restaurant informal  greater.  I could be mistaken, but I think I also saw her this morning, working with city workers gathering trash.

We woke in morning and did our usual morning walk, crisscrossing the town, hoping for roti and meeting new people.  We started to  walk towards Pirate’s Bay, and on our way met Hollis who told us all about his art, and how he had traveled to Scottland to assist in bulding earthen structures there.  He was fun, and the walk was nice, but were starving, so we truned to town proper to continue crisscrossing the streets looking for food, when much to our luck, G’s opened.

When it rains, it pours, so after a filling late breakfast, we stumbled upon a man, Sookoo, selling “the best doubles in Togago” from his gold hatchback Toyota.  I was hesitant, and told them about the doubles that tasted like egg in Port of Spain.  All the others munching doubles said no, no, these are the best doubles, you will like them.  There are no eggs in real doubles.  In line for doubles, we met Alison, a Canadian, and wife of Hollis, who now lives in Tobago.

Our days here involve a lot of milling around, walking from one of town to the other other, looking for food, or tracking down internet or in the case of this day, fins.  We eventually rented our fins at the internet café that also has fishing rods, laundry, and fins, and headed out to Pirates Bay, where we’d walked 2/3 of the way and met Hollis earlier in the day.  The walker is up a winding hill that goes on and on, and then down a beautiful fight of cement stairs surrounded by beautiful deliberately placed plants.  I can’t imagine who put this there, since there is nothing but a shack selling fruit and coconut water on the beach.

As we got to the beach, we again ran in to Hollis and Allison and the German tourist who’d spent a month on a sailboat and was in town cleaning him clothes and making a plan for his next step.
Doctors orders were not diving, Pharmacists orders were not drinking (due to antibiotics).  The rules as to snorkeling were hazy, but I’m doing a small amount while keeping it simple.  No jumping out of boats, no diving down, I wear a watertight ear plug, and rinse my ear after.  Please do not worry. 
We snorkeled out along the right edge of the beach, around some rocks with coral that looks like clusters of brains.  On the rocks were perched some HUGE birds, some kind of pelican or stork.  I was was within feet of them and looking them in the eyes.  We then snorkeled across the bay to the right hand coastline, then back in.

After snorkeling and post-snorkeling showers, we decided it was time for laundry, and not the in the sink kind.  They have washers and dryers here in Charlotteville.   Of course, when we returned to the facility, no one was to be found.  We put nearly ALL of our clothes in the washer and hoped for the best – mainly that they wouldn’t “close” or lock the doors with our clothes inside.  

We then crossed paths again with our American friends and joined them for dinner at a local café with a small white cat with tiny weird eyes, where I had the best soup of my life, and the only soup I’ve been served in Tobago.  

Meanwhile, I new level of sickness was gripping me.  I don’t know if its related to the ear business and antibiotics, but my skin was started to crawl and feel hot, and I has a general sense of discomfort.  I decided that unless I was puking my face off, that it was not be worried about.  I some fever reducers and a lot of vitamin C and went to bed.

This is where we are leaving off for now.  We are days behind, but we'll catch up.  Peace out, lovelies.  


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