Somewhere in the Caribbean…
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had the unrivaled pleasure of following the home video game revolution from its earliest years, and I watched it take some great strides forward during the time I spent at the computers of our local after school programme. Commander Keen, Doom, Lemmings, Cannonfodder, and a fully stocked library of other great Commodore/Amiga titles was nirvana to an introvert preteen like myself back then. One of my favourite adventure games was The Secret of Monkey Island, though I was quite frankly terrible at it, using my underdeveloped English and pure guesswork (yes, those were the days before the Internet!) to solve riddles that were as complicated as they were clever. Mostly, though, I spent my time carefully studying the beautifully rendered locales offered in the game, from the swashbuckling pirate haunts of Mêlée Island to the eerie night time vistas of the mysterious Monkey Island itself.
The developers, Gilbert, Schafer, and Grossman had a keen eye for detail, and many of the hardest puzzles to crack depended on knowing pirate lore, as well as applying some very out-of-the-box thinking. It felt like the Caribbean of yore getting the Monty Python treatment, though with a distinctive American flair for slapstick and enthusiastic storytelling… and I loved it. In fact, some of my best childhood memories revolve around playing the games in this series, particularly the gorgeous Curse of Monkey Island with its sublime artwork and jokes that were out of this world. I adored the abandoned tiki bar of the Goodsoup Hotel on Blood Island, the eerie carnival setting of the Big Whoop, and the Spanish styled harbour houses of Puerto Pollo. For copyright reasons, I will forgo showing any in-game images on my site and settle for providing this search link for the curious:
I am not sure if the game is still able to run on modern-day pcs without using an emulator, but I heartily recommend it for fans of adventure games who have not yet tried it out – though I advise you to read up on the lore and storyline from the first two games in advance. Oh, and if you want to really immerse yourself in the vibe of the game before trying on the boots of one infamous Guybrush Threepwood, here is a link to the remastered, 2.5-hour long soundtrack on YouTube:
A chance of a lifetime
Anyway, as you might have guessed the Monkey Island series sparked a lifelong passion for the lush, dangerous Caribbean and its many secrets from the days when privateers and bounty hunters fought the empires on land and sea, being cast in the dubious dual role of authorized patriotic capers and rogue criminals. Needless to say, I was also enthralled by the original Pirates of The Caribbean trilogy, though the drop in quality after the second film was noticeable. Luckily, a few years back the Assassin’s Creed series brought us Black Flag which sent me right back to that mythical age of bowsprits and buccaneers. Having finally received my “all grown up responsible adult” card, yet with plenty of yearning for adventure left in me, I started contemplating whether my wife and I could reasonably afford going to the Caribbean together.
Early this year, and thanks to the generous financial support of my in-laws, the opportunity finally presented itself! After much research and deliberation, we ended up choosing Tobago for the full 12 days of our stay, being mainly persuaded by promises of secluded sandy beaches, a unique wildlife (avian, sylvan AND aquatic), an interesting and dramatic colonial history, and friendly, laid-back locals who were reputed chefs – even within the foodie populated Caribbean overall.
Birds, turtles and fish – oh my!
In spite of our holiday getting off to a rough start, thanks to Condor losing our luggage and never managing to recover it before we had returned home (with laughably low compensation), we had a fantastic time in this paradise. We stayed at the Castara Retreats (https://www.castararetreats.com); a tiny village of layered bungalows on the Castara cliffside with spectacular sunset views and kind, welcoming staff. Luckily, I had my camera packed in my hand luggage and could capture a few local birds, including the Trinidad motmot, the common potoo, the rufous-tailed jacamar, some frigatebirds, pelicans, hawks and several hummingbirds. Here is a small selection of some of my best shots:
We took a rainforest tour near Bloody Bay with the famous, jovial and very capable Newton George as our guide (http://www.newtongeorge.com), getting us up close and personal with several other indigenous birds, and his services come highly recommended for any birder or animal enthusiast visiting the island. By the way, if you want to see even more of my animal photos, not just from Tobago but everywhere else as well, I keep a Nature diary on Instagram.
In spite of keeping my eyes glued to the treetops just about everywhere we went, I never managed to spot an iguana – but we did see plenty of agoutis and lizards, as well as a few fireflies. My luck was vastly better with the aquatic animal population, however, and through snorkeling and scuba diving with the fantastic team at ERIC (the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville, http://eric-tobago.org/dive-centre.html) I enjoyed encounters with everything from a shoal of luminescent squids to a curious octopus, several stingrays, a green turtle, two scorpion fish, a pair of pufferfish, fireworms, and plenty of other colourful tropical fish and intricate reefs brimming with life. It was simply stellar, and I wish we could have found time and budget for more than two dives. I felt, at times, like a modern-day Samuel Fallours, studying the local fish and desiring to bring their beautiful likeness back with me to the Western world through ink and pen (see https://www.newscientist.com/gallery/fallours-fish for more on him).
While I have managed so far this year to draw a jacamar and an octopus, my appetite for illustrating the wonderful animals from this part of the world remains unsated. More than anything, though, I hope I can someday return to Tobago or visit a similar Caribbean island. This much greenery, life, and happiness is nectar for the soul.
Have you ever visited the Caribbean, or have you found yourself fascinated with the area and dreamt of going? I am happy to provide further tips on Tobago, which comes highly recommended for anyone seeking refuge from the more tourism ridden, resort styled islands around.
Disclaimer: I have not been paid anything or promised any return exposure for mentioning the names of the tourism operators above. I genuinely enjoyed my time with all of them and wanted to recommend them to anyone considering a trip to Tobago. And if you do pay them a visit, please greet them heartily from this fellow traveler.