A Travellerspoint blog

Trinidad and Tobago

Tobago - London

Last minute swim, hummingbirds and cocktails before a very comfortable flight home


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Despite having such a late night, (relatively speaking) and a very long day yesterday, we set the alarm for 06:00 for our last early morning swim. The packing seems to have gone too well, for some reason we appear to have more space in the luggage going back than we did coming over. The receptionist kindly agreed for us to keep our room until 12:00 which will be a great help.

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Our balcony

After breakfast we paid the bill and were pleased to discover that despite the last minute trip to Trinidad, we still had enough cash to pay for the food and drink at Blue Waters Inn without having to resort to using a credit card.

Newton was picking us up after breakfast for our visit to the Hummingbird Gallery. The gallery is in effect Newton's private balcony, where he has 16 hummingbird feeders to encourage the birds to congregate. David and I were quite happy to sit in the reception lounge area reading while we waited for him, but at around 09:50, the receptionist came out and asked what time we were expecting Newton. When we told her he said about 9-ish, she went back into her little office to ring him. It turns out he'd completely forgotten us. Fortunately, his house is only a few minutes drive from the hotel, so we were soon sitting on his balcony watching and photographing the hummingbirds. Newton was quite excited that a new species to Tobago had been seen on his feeders the last few days, and we were lucky enough to spot it.

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Back at the hotel, Erica (our favourite waitress) bought us a farewell rum punch before lunch – it is going to be hard to say goodbye to all the wonderful staff, but Erica in particular.

Transfers were included in our holiday package, and we were surprised at how early they wanted to pick us up to take us to the airport for our return flight. We soon figured out why – the same people who take us, pick up the arriving passengers, so they have to be there to meet the plane. There isn't enough time between arrival and departure for them to do the journey twice, as it is a 2.5 hour round trip. Unfortunately, the incoming flight arrived nearly an hour early, so the plan fell to pieces – Carol (our driver) had a phone call as she was approaching Scarborough to say she had two irate passengers waiting for her. Oh dear. They are getting a rude introduction to 'Tobago time'.

As we enjoyed the extra legroom so much on the journey over, we thought we'd try and purchase some for the way back too. Asking at check-in, we were told it had to be arranged on the plane. At the departure gate I spotted one of the stewards and asked him about it. “You sat in 38J and K on the way over didn't you?” I was incredibly impressed he remembered us, and even more impressed when he told me there are only 130 passengers on board this flight, and 'he didn't say so' but we could sit anywhere we wanted. Result!

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Sunrise from the plane

I slept all the way between dinner and breakfast, so it was a very comfortable flight for me, and the arrival at Gatwick was very smooth. In fact, it ll went swimmingly until we came to a standstill on the M4 because of a serious five-vehicle accident. I always try to be patient in such circumstances, counting my blessings that I am not involved in the accident, but sitting in my own car in a jam rather than lying in an ambulance on the way to hospital or worse (we heard on the radio that one of the drivers involved in the crash was airlifted by helicopter, so his injuries were presumably pretty serious). It's better to be delayed for an hour than have your whole life ruined!

I don't know what I will miss the most – the early morning swims in the clear, warm waters of the Caribbean (there is no way I shall be going to down to Weston-Super-Mare tomorrow morning for a swim before breakfast!), the temperatures (it was around 30C during the day and only a few degrees cooler at night – getting out of the airport into 2C at Gatwick was a bit of a shock to the system), the cocktails, the people, the food or the birds. I feel sure that one day we will be back.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:18 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (1)

A day trip to Trinidad

Asa Wright Nature Centre, Yerette and Caroni Swamp Bird Santcuary


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

And they call this a holiday? We were up at 03:45 this morning to be ready for Newton to pick us up at 04:30. The restaurant was in darkness, and no picnic breakfast to be seen anywhere, so we told Newton we'd get something at the airport. Just to be sure, he decided to have a quick look in the restaurant himself, and came back with a breakfast box, of course. We must be going blind. We're not the only ones going slightly 'senile' though, Newton forgot his phone at home (that's the second time on this trip), and left his hat in the car. Fortunately he realised about the hat before we'd gone through security, so he was able to go back and retrieve it.
The lack of mobile phone means Newton won't be able to talk to the birds with his recorded sounds, but at least he has his laser light pointer which he uses very effectively to show us where a bird might be hiding. Basically it's a little green light, which he will start off pointing on a large area (such as a low down tree trunk) so that everyone can see, then move it slowly for us to follow the light to where the bird is, making sure he doesn't blind the poor creature in the process.

The flight from Tobago to Trinidad has to be one of the shortest flights we've ever taken, at a mere 16 minutes. Blink and you'd miss it. I was desperately trying to look around the airport in Trinidad to see if I recognised it at all – we were there back in 2004, for a layover on the way to Guyana. We had six hours in total there, so once we'd had something to eat in the local food court, we decided to get a taxi to have a little look around the capital. As it was evening and dark, we told the taxi driver to take us somewhere he'd take his wife on a Saturday night. I won't bore you with the details of the evening, let's just say I am glad he is not my husband...

On arrival in Trinidad, Newton's brother in law was waiting for us at the airport with our car for the day. We just had to drop him off at his home, and then we were on our way. If we thought the roads in Tobago were winding and treacherous, they were nothing compared to the narrow forest track snaking its way up through the prime jungle to the ASA Wright Nature Centre. Not only are the roads already a single track with a sheer drop on one side, the recent rains have eroded away the edges in many places making it even more dangerous. In fact, only last week there was a fatal accident on this road, when an (allegedly drunk) female driver went over the edge of the road, and was killed instantly. The fire engine sent out to recover the body and the vehicle also tumbled off the road and into the ravine, fortunately without any serious injuries.

The 1,500 acre Asa Wright Nature Centre is a “Not for Profit” Trust, established in 1967 by a group of naturalists and the main building has an old fashioned colonial feel to it. I would very much love to return one day to have some more time there, spending at least a couple of nights. The house has a large verandah facing the jungle and literally hundreds of birds who come to the plethora of feeders in the grounds. My favourites have to be the various hummingbirds, but there were also flycatchers, manakins, bananaquit, toucans and other colourful birds flitting around, totally unafraid of the human activity in their midst. Also in the grounds were a couple of agouti and some large tiger lizards.

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Newton took us out for a walk on a couple of the well laid out paths within the grounds, to look for the elusive bell bird amongst others, which we heard long before we saw. Much as I love lists, and Newton's excitement at seeing a rare and difficult-to-spot bird is extremely contagious, I am a photographer more than a birder, and have to admit I would rather spend time photographing the more common, but colourful and in close proximity birds, than to hike for a couple of hours to see an unusual bird somewhere in the distance, half hidden behind foliage and way too far away to photograph. Serious birders would shudder at this statement of course.

A short while after we returned to the main house, 100 cruise ship passengers turned up. What an absolute nightmare! There were people four deep trying to look out from the verandah and trying unsuccessfully to photograph the fast moving tiny hummingbirds with pocket-sized compact cameras. Newton has the patience of a saint and made several people's day by taking their camera and photographing the birds through his spotting scope. It felt like one of those “It's Tuesday so they must be hummingbirds” sort of moments, with 99% of the visitors having no idea what they were looking at, and very little interest. Once the cruise passengers had dispersed in groups of 25 (how do you keep 25 people quiet in the forest and the birds still for long enough for 25 people to see them?), peace and tranquillity once again returned to the verandah, and we stayed for another hour or so just taking in the whole scene and way too many hummingbird photos.

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Lunch was taken at Yerette, the private home of Theo and Gloria Ferguson who have devoted their lives to hummingbirds and have 13 of the 17 species of hummingbirds found on Trinidad in their garden. We saw 11 of them in the most tranquil and colourful setting, coupled with some excellent food for a lazy lunch, and Theo's slide show presentation of all the species delighted us no end. His photography is literally breathtaking – he must have immense patience and of course great camera skills, to get some awe-inspiring close up action shots. The name Yerette means hummingbird in the original Amerindian language, and they believed the birds were the spirits of their ancestors.

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On the way from Yerette to Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam, worse than Newton has ever seen, and he was panicking that we wouldn't catch the boat on the Blue River. Fortunately his brother-in-law had lent him a mobile phone, so he was able to contact the boat owner, who had already left, but very kindly came back to collect us when we finally arrived at the docks.

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There was plenty of space on the boat, with four people we'd met earlier at Asa Wright, and a gay couple at the front of the boat who were way more interested in taking photos of each other (“this is me with a mangrove, this is me with another mangrove, this is us with a third mangrove...” You get the gist?) than any of the beautiful serene nature we were surrounded by.

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The guide, heavily assisted by Newton) pointed out the various wildlife we saw along the way, such as the Tree Climbing Crabs, the Cook's Tree Boa, the osprey with a catch and they both got very excited when we spotted a Greater Ani and a Potoo.

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The main reason for this boat trip, however, was to see the literally thousands of Scarlet Ibis who come back to roost at night. And what a sight they were (“and this is me with scarlet ibis...“ I don't think they actually took any photos of the ibis without one of them in the picture). It was, as one of the other birders in the boat said “one of the greatest birding spectacle I have ever seen”! Truly breath-taking. The birds fly in formations of just a few birds to several dozen, glowing bright red in the evening light, until they all come to land in one area, which by the end looks like a Christmas tree strung with fairy lights. After the ibis come the great egrets and the blue heron skimming the water's surface, and together they make up a truly amazing spectacle.

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By the time we got back to the jetty, light was fading fast and our day in Trinidad was coming to and end. Back at the the airport, Newton's brother-in-law was waiting for us to leave the car with him again. As we would be arriving too late back at the hotel to have dinner, we grabbed a quick burger which we scoffed down a few minutes prior to boarding. We needn’t have rushed so much, as the plane was delayed for over 40 minutes in the end. As we were taxi-ing down the runway, the pilot came on the PA system and announced: “This is your captain speaking. Welcome on board this Caribbean Airlines flight to sunny Tobago. Well, it would be sunny, but right now it's night time and dark...” After a long, long – but very exciting – day, I slept on the flight and slept in the car for the 1.25 hour journey to the hotel. Blue Waters Inn is not the place for night-life, when we arrived at just after 22:00, the whole place was deserted and the staff were just going home. This is the latest we've been up on the entire trip – we took a quick drink on the balcony, and as there was no wifi to update the blog (hence this late entry – there was no internet connection the following day either), we were in bed soon after, tired but happy.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:28 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (3)

Little Tobago

Birds with knitting needles in their bums, mid-flight thieves and a few boobies.


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Happy birthday to my friend Penny!

Having been asleep before 22;00 last night, it was no surpise that I was awake at 06;00 this morning. A good time of day to take a hike around some of the 46 acres of ground around the hotel to see what else is up early. I was rewarded with a few of the usual birds, a sleeping dog eyeing me very suspiciously, cheery greetings from the staff arriving for duty and as I ventured away from the inhabited area into the rain forest, I was delighted to spot the shy and elusive agouti. Result!

By the time I got back to the room, David was up too, so we played around with my new waterproof camera in the pool for a while. An awesome place to be during a tropical rain shower – the visibility was greatly reduced and the rain drops splashed noisily on the surface of the water. Great fun.

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After a breakfast of saltfish and buljol, I went for a walk along the beach, photographing the ruddy turnstones feeding in the water line, while David chilled in a hammock.

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You don't have to go far here to see birds – as we were sitting on the balcony, a family of chachalacas passed by, along with a few turnstones and the odd bananaquit. And , of course, right by the rooms there are hummingbird feeders.

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The rest of the morning was spent walking on the beach and dodging the rain showers.

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A couple of people kept asking us if we were really going across to Little Tobago this afternoon in that weather. Of course we are, what's a 'little' rain? We packed lots of plastic bags, and fortunately my camera bag and David's backpack both have built in rain covers, so at least the equipment will be dry, and if we get wet, we get wet. It is not worth wearing a rain cape, as we would get just as wet from the inside. We'd been warned that it gets very hot on Little Tobago (and it isn't hot here?), and to take plenty of water.

When Newton turned up at 14:00, he promised us it wouldn't rain. Oh, so he's a weather man now as well? We travelled across to the island with a few snorkellers as well as Jonathan. You had to catch the swell just right getting in and out of the boat, as the sea is still a little rough.

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The very hot trek up to the top of the island is well worth it for the view of literally hundreds of long tailed tropicbirds. They're quite amazing looking birds, with their long white tails looking like they have two knitting needles stuck up their bum. They swoop so fast around and around the bay, fishing and trying to avoid the frigatebirds who will attack them, and hold them in their talons until they regurgitate the food at which point their captors will release them and grab the food mid-air. The frigatebirds cannot get their wings wet, hence they can't do their own fishing – they rely on the tropicbirds to do it for them, plus they skim the surface of the sea to try and catch some flying fish.

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Newton, our trusty birding guide

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It's a rubbish photo, but it does show the frigatebird holding the tropicbird, with his mate ready to catch the regurgitated food.

Around that area was also a couple of birds of prey, and some boobies. There were white, brown and white, and brown red footed boobies.

The tropicbirds were right little buggers to photograph, they are extremely quick. Unfortunately I got a little carried away trying to capture them in mid-flight, and upset my shoulder severely. By the time we walked back down all those steps and steep slopes to the jetty, the pain had spread to my lower back and I really struggled to lift one leg in front of the other. Unfortunately this meant I wasn't able to do the snorkelling at Angel Reef on the way back as planned.

Posted by Grete Howard 16:21 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (1)

Around the island with Newton

Mobile phones, airline tickets, ATMs. spanners and lottery tickets. Oh, and some birds and a caiman.


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Enjoyed a nice lie-in this morning – didn't have to leave the hotel until 06:30! I really struggle with this unpacking lark; I am much better at living out of a suitcase, at least then I know exactly where everything is. Another problem with the breakfast box this morning – this time they'd only given us enough for one person, not two. We shared the around-the-island birdwatching trip today with Jonathan – he of the long telephone lens from yesterday.

We started as we meant to carry on the day , by stopping off for one of Newton's errands – he'd left his phone at home. Newton lives in a beautiful green-painted house on the hillside further south along the coast from our hotel, and as soon as we stopped, we could hear the racket of birds emanating from his garden!

Next stop was the docks to drop of a credit card to his wife, who was on the ferry waiting to go across to Trinidad for the day shopping. It really is a small world – it turns out we met Newton's wife last week at the World Travel Market in London!

At the Tobago Plantations we saw a few good birds such as the southern lapwing, anhinga and black bellied whistling ducks; as well as a caiman. After my last too-close-for-comfort encounter with a caiman in Nicaragua (it's a long story, but basically one ran over my feet!), I kept a safe distance from this one!

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I'm staying well clear!

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Anhinga

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Black bellied whistling ducks

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Southern Lapwing

Our next stop was for a walk around the sewage works. As you do. We were casually strolling around, enjoying the various wading birds, when Newton got very excited, shouting “come come hurry hurry” and lead a sprint across to the other side of the tanks. He'd spotted a Mangrove Cuckoo. Today's bird apparently, as not only is it unusual to see, Newton has never known it to hang around for as long as it did, to be photographed from every imaginable angle. On the way back to the car we spotted a metal-pecker – a very confused woodpecker hammering away at a metal lamp post!

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Mangrove cuckoo

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The newly spotted species of Metal Pecker

Driving around this area, revealed not just lots of interesting birds, but also some really palatial homes. We stopped at the airport for Newton to pick up our flight tickets to Trinidad for Tuesday, before continuing to Grafton Bird Sanctuary. The place is awash with chachalacas – the national bird of Tobago.

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Chachalaca

From there we took a hike into the rainforest, on badly maintained, overgrown paths. The jungle was so humid the sweat was literally dripping off my chin and running down my chest and back; and the mosquitoes were out in force and hungry for human blood. Newton has made recording of 175 of the different bird species found on the island, and will literally talk to the birds. He plays the recording and they will answer back. It is really cool, and despite seeing our first lizard on the island, and an amazing motmot, I was glad to get back up the hill and out of the jungle.

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Motmot

We stopped again for Newton to use the ATM, which was out of order, before going for lunch at a self service restaurant near Crown Point. One of the dishes they served was the Tobago favourite of crab and dumpling, which of course I had to try. The small land crabs are served complete with their shells, and are a pig to eat as they come smothered with curry sauce. Very tasty though, albeit incredibly messy, as the only suitable implements are your hands. At the till, the plates are placed on scales, and you pay by the pound, which is definitely a first for us.

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Crab abd dumplings with blue food (dasheen, sweet potato and plantain)

We stopped another couple of times before Newton found a Blue Machine (ATM to you and me) that worked, for him to buy some water, and to fill some diesel, before continuing with our bird-spotting. At Plymouth Newton spotted three different terns on a fishing boat moored off shore. The boat was called Vagina and I couldn't help to think that you can't beat (taking) terns on the vagina.....

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There is nothing like (taking) a tern on the vagina...

Heading for the hills, with winding roads, wooden clapper-board houses on stilts clinging to the steep hillsides, tethered goats and the odd street party with blaring reggae music, we stopped to have a look at a couple of bays on the leeward side of the island, ie the west coast. From the last lookout point we had a great view of the soaring frigatebirds.

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Castara Bay

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Englishman's Bay

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Parlatuvier bay

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Frigate Bird

More bird spotting on the journey across the island, plus stopping for Newton to chat to a mate, hand over some tools to another mate, and buy lottery tickets in a third place.

Just as got back to the room, the heavens opened and produced an impressive tropical storm. We were enjoying a leisurely rum and coke on the balcony, but had to retreat to the bedroom as we were getting wet.

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This evening's menu looked so promising, I really struggled to decide what to have for main course, being torn between a channa and cauliflower curry, seafood spagetti and chicken in passionfruit sauce, so I asked Erica (the waitress) to surprise me. She certainly did that, as I ended up with all three! After a very nice seafood souce (no, it is not a mis-spelling!) for starters, I was well and truly stuffed afterwards!

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Seafood Souce

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Channa Curry

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Chicken with pasionfruit sauce

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Seafood spagetti

Posted by Grete Howard 16:08 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (2)

Main Ridge Rainforest

Birds, spiders and bamboo


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Another insipid sunrise

The day did not start well. During yesterday's pre-breakfast swimming, I decided to swim out to the little off-shore floating sundeck – although 'swimming' was probably a very loose term, as my arthritis prevented me from using my right arm, so it was more like a doggy-paddle gone wrong. Not that it stopped me getting to the platform in my very own personal style, and I thought that maybe trying to push myself to use my arm more, would loosen it up a bit. Wrong! I was awake half the night with terrible pain in my shoulder, and this morning I couldn't even lift my arm to tie up my hair. Anyone who has ever tried putting hair in a ponytail using only one hand will know how difficult it is!

The next bad thing that happened this morning, was that the breakfast box for John and Ali (the other couple coming with us on the rainforest tour this morning) was not ready in the restaurant like ours was. When Newton arrived he blamed it totally on John and Ali, as they should have ordered it in the afternoon rather than in the morning as they did – because there is a shift change-over at 14:00 and staff can't possibly be expected to pass a message on. Really? I could tell John and Ali were not impressed, but they got the manager out of bed at 05:50 to make the sandwiches! Having experienced extremely disappointing breakfast boxes in the past, I was very impressed with getting a small cool box complete with two sandwiches, two apples, two bananas, two fruit juices and two bottles of water. Well done Blue Waters Inn.

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Breakfast box

Main Ridge Forest Reserve
We only left about ten minutes late in the end as a result of the missing food box, at 06:10. We slowly made our way up into the Main Ridge National Park, the mountainous volcanic spine of Tobago. The forest extends for about two thirds of the length of the island, from the north east tip and is the oldest forest reserve in the western hemisphere, dating back to 1776,shortly after the island fell under British rule.

The main function of the Main Ridge Reserve is a protective one, it protects
1. the soil and landscape from erosion by wind and rain
2. river valleys and other agricultural areas from floods
3. the wildlife offering them food, water and shelter
4. the leeward side of Tobago from the effects of prevailing North East tradewinds.
5. orchids and other epiphytes by way of support provided by the trees
6. perches and nesting sites for birds and flowers from which honey bees obtain nectar.
7. stream flow and water quality by serving as a watershed
8. the survival of the fine reefs and beaches found around the island as a result of many of the above

Newton George
Newton came highly recommended as Tobago’s premier bird watching and natural history guide by several websites. Although by no means knowledgeable or experienced bird watchers, we felt it would be prudent and make our birding more enjoyable, to have a guide. So we chose the best. And my goodness were we rewarded with a bird watching experience never to be forgotten. We all agreed we would most likely have seen a mere 1% of the birds we saw had it not been for Newton. A rough estimate would be around 55 different birds in a morning's hike, with the bird of the day apparently being the Olivacious Woodcreeper as it is notoriously difficult to see. Most of the birds were either too far away to photograph, the jungle was too dark or they flew before I even had my camera focussed.

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Broad Wing hawk

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Chacalaca

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Grey KIngbird

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Oropendula

The Gilpin Trace trail was a nice little path, mostly easy hiking, with the odd clambering over roots or through streams. In terms of non-bird stuff, the highlight was a trap-door spider's nest – the spider makes the most elaborate contraption featuring a hinged door and an early warning system with a string of a root or leaf to warn the spider of approaching predators, giving him (or her) a chance to effectively seal the trap door shut. Their main predator is the tarantula wasp. You would never know the nest is there – I am amazed how Newton spotted it!

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Trap door spider's nest

After a quick lunch back at the hotel, made a lot more interesting with some hot hot hot sauce, we took a hike up the steep path to the main road for amazing views over Batteaux Bay, the beach and our hotel; followed by a stroll along the beach and spending some time with the big boys photographing the humming birds. After some chilling time on the balcony, we thought we'd try out a little snorkelling, but it was a very disappointing experience. It didn't start too well, when I fell flat on my back in the shallow water as I was trying to walk backwards in my fins – much to the amusement of all the buys at the diving school. The visibility was very poor, but it didn't matter too much, as there wasn't much to see. I did see a school of pale blue fish, but that was about the only excitement.

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Hot sauce

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Batteaux Bay

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Our beach

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Lens envy

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Humming birds at the feeder

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Relaxing on the balcony

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We knew there was going to be a steel band playing tonight, and as we were having a snifter of Duty Free, on the balcony while watching the humming birds, mockingbirds and bananaquits in the trees and listening to the waves crashing in, we could hear them playing in the distance. We couldn't believe that all but one table (the one nearest the band) were taken around the pool area by 18:30! Tonight was my first experience of 'blue food' (unless you count a blue soup at a Bridget Jones party...) - the famous Tobagonian root vegetables. Dasheen is the root of the calleloo vegetable, and it much nicer than its other half. They laid on quite a spread, with king fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, dasheen in coconut milk, rice, vegetables, soup and chocolate cake! I was amazed at how many nuances of notes the musicians could manage to get out of an oil drum, with tunes such as Rock around the clock!.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:24 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (2)

Learning to chill, the Tobago way

Buljol, cocktails and lobster


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I woke up to find a huge Happy Birthday banner draped in the bathroom. Someone has been busy in the night. I had set the alarm for just before the sunrise at 06:00, but I have to say the sunrise was somewhat insipid. The birds were a little disappointing too – although we did see a few pelicans and cormorants flying around. I could just about make out the jerky movements of hummingbirds as they darted speedily around the trees and a few cocrico arriving later.

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A pre-breakfast swim in the Atlantic Ocean proved a painful experience for David, with several little fishes nibbling at his nipples! Now he knows what it feels like. I suggested he should be grateful he had his swimming trunks on!

For breakfast we tried the local dish of saltfish and buljol, which was actually much better than I imagined. The saltfish was not as strong as I remember it from Jamaica, nor with such a 'fermented' taste. Buljol is a small deep fried bread dough, a little like puri, only more stodgy. We both really enjoyed it.

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Reception told us last night that the birding guide we've hired for a few days, Newton, would see us in the morning. Unfortunately, the message he left with reception this morning – that he wouldn't be around until lunchtime – was never passed on, so we waited around the pool area for quite a while, expecting him to show up. It was such a hardship, sipping a fruit ounch and catching up with birthday messages on Facebook and email while acclimatising to the humid 31C and listening to the waves crash in - not. I am getting good at this chilling lark.

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Also did some bird watching around the grounds

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Bananaquit

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Mockingbird

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Turnstones

Newton finally turned up while we were waiting for our lunch, having been out with other clients in the rainforest this morning. They came back very happy, so I suppose that is a good thing. And what a charming gentleman Newton is, I am very much looking forward to birdwatching with him over the next three days. He even managed to persuade us to book a full day trip to Trinidad on Tuesday. I just hope he is able to secure the flights for us.

Lunch was good – wraps with seafood or chicken – I did ask for mine to be spicy, but I think their idea of what tourists think is spicy is not the same as my idea of spicy. Newton ordered a hot sauce to go with his fish, and that was SPICY, so that's what I shall have to do in future.

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Having had three cocktails (mixing them even, with a pina colada, banana daquiri and yellowbird) as well as a local beer with my lunch, a siesta was called for this afternoon followed by another nipple-nibbling swim. We'd seen a couple of men wearing T-shirts when swimming, we now know why. A leisurely while was then spent watching the hummingbirds come in to suck the sweet nectar from the feeders thoughtfully positioned all along the balconies of the hotel. They seemed totally unperturbed by my presence, and I managed to get within an arm's length of them. I adore hummers, and could watch them for hours, which is exactly what I did. They are so tiny and delicate and have such rapid jerky movements, with flashes of iridescent green showing as they hover. I must look up what sort of hummingbird they are.

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We have an amazing room, with a balcony literally a stone's throw from the beach – the only thing between us and the golden sands of the Caribbean is the narrow path, a small stone wall and about ten foot of grass. We absolutely love this hotel!

Seeing the large group of Americans arrive at the hotel this afternoon and learning that dinner would be buffet as a result, we were pleased that we'd ordered a special birthday meal of lobster for this evening. And my, what a lobster it was! It was the fattest, juiciest, tastiest lobster I've ever had! Thanks chef!

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:15 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (2)

London - Tobago

A bit more comfort than expected


View Bird watching, snorkelling and sunbathing. Sunbathing? Tobago & Trinidad 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

At one time, in our younger days, we would have travelled up from Bristol to Gatwcik overnight, but getting older means we value our comfort somewhat more, so we booked into a hotel near the airport for the night before the flight. We had a superb meal and made a new friend in the waitress, before retiring to bed early last night. After a dreadful night's sleep, we were glad to get out of the overheated room. It was way too hot in the bedroom and we were unable to turn the heating off, so the temperature remained at 24.5 C overnight. On checking out, we suggested to reception that they should have their maintenance staff look at it, before going to sit in the car to cool off for a while, After a couple of minutes, the receptionist came out to us and they offered to refund the cost of the room for the night, as they have a 'good night sleep guarantee'. You can't argue with that!

Another creature comfort that we often allow ourselves these days, is valet parking, and the one at Gatwick was really well organised. You just drive in to the specially allocated car park next to the terminal building, report to reception (who already have your details ready from seeing your car registration on the CCTV as you drive in) and they park the car for you off site. That's the theory anyway, but when we arrived, the receptionist couldn't find our details on the computer. After a few seconds of panic, we realised that we'd booked it in for the wrong date! Doh! It was no problem for them though, and they were very good about it.

From the Valet Parking, it was a short walk under cover to the terminal building, where were greeted by a nice uniformed 'meeter-and-greeter' who seemed to know every flight leaving Gatwick that morning and directed us to the correct check-in desk with ease, where there was no queue. We were even lucky enough to be able to upgrade our seats to those with extra legroom at a fraction of the advertised cost. This day is getting better and better. Even more so when the check-in girl told us the plane is not actually a Monarch, it has been sub-contracted to Titan Airlines. I have never heard of Titan, but having sworn never to fly Monarch again after the most uncomfortable flight ever back in 1997, I am delighted. I think. I hope.

Monarch Airlines are exceptionally strict with their hand luggage allowance, at a mere 5kg, which I have had several sleepless nights over, until I came up with the idea of wearing a jacket with large pockets. My camera equipment alone is well in excess of that, before I even start to think about other stuff to carry on. Fortunately, we were allowed 30kg each for checked in luggage, which was a real bonus. We have never checked in so much luggage in our entire life – by the time I had packed the snorkel, mask, fins, tripod, binoculars, bird book, guide book and hiking boots, my bag was full, so we ended up checking in three bags between us, at a total weight of 46kg. Gulp. We're only going for a week!

Earlier today, a friend excitedly told me that a mutual acquaintance was going to be on the same flight as us today, but despite looking out for Salli at the departure gate, I couldn't spot her, until we were seated in the aircraft – she was three rows in front of us. The nice girl at the check-in was wrong about Titan (the plane is still a Monarch), but the seats are actually very good, with plenty of leg room – well worth the extra cost! The meal, however, was another matter altogether – what a joke! Airline food is never good at the best of times, but this really took the biscuit. They called it breakfast, but it came in a small cardboard box about one-third of the size of a normal in-flight food tray, and contained a small 100ml pot of yogurt, and a blueberry muffin so tiny it would rattle around in said yogurt container. I was extremely pleased we treated ourselves to a decent breakfast at the Weatherspoons in the airport before we boarded. No wonder the crew come round almost immediately afterwards selling snacks and drinks. Almost exclusively flying scheduled these days, I had forgotten what charter flights were like.

Barely half full, the plane left half an hour late – not that I was aware of that at the time, I was fast asleep long before we took off. I slept on and off throughout the flight, waking up for the food (lunch was a vast improvement on breakfast) and the (overpriced) drinks. It really goes against the grain to pay for drinks on a flight... Makes us realise how spoilt we are with scheduled flights out of Europe with their never-ending supply of free drinks.

I have never known an airline pilot to announce the arrival time, not in local time at the destination, but the time at the departure point – ie London. Very odd.

On arrival at Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson International Airport (that really rolls of the tongue doesn't it?) we began to feel the notion of 'Tobago time' immediately. No rushing out of your seat to get your bags out of the overhead lockers and queue up to deplane – we were instructed to remain in our seats with our seatbelts on for several minutes after we came to a complete stop, and even then there was some confusion about which end of the plane to get off (for ground crew to connect the services). Long, slow queue for passports and an even longer, slower queue for security/customs and x-ray.

Outside, Prince was waiting with a welcome sign, two complimentary beach bags and a large people carrier for just the two of us, to take us along the east coast of Tobago to the opposite corner of the island where our hotel is located. The road was narrow and winding, but apart from around Scarborough (the capital), there was precious little traffic.

We'd read on several websites that the Tobagonians can be a little off-hand and appear unfriendly, but so far we've found the complete opposite. They have all been exceptionally friendly, from the lady in front of us in the queue for immigration, to the airport officials, to Prince, our driver, to the hotel staff.

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A nice touch and a warm welcome

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The view from our balcony

After half-heartedly unpacking, we made our way to the bar for our free welcome drink – a very strong, very tasty and very welcome rum punch. We only just made it to the hotel during daylight hours, so will wait until tomorrow to explore the hotel and surrounding area further. The internet signal here is weak and rather patchy, so my updates may not be as frequent as you are used to.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner of crab cakes with a spicy sauce, black beans soup and grilled tuna with lime, Instead of a dessert with took a mud-slide cocktail back to the room and settled in for an early night. It's been a long day.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:16 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Comments (3)

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