Sunday, January 25, 2009

Travel Blog #8: Some Tobago Travel Magic...

Our Tobago cabbie was fearless. I suspect he’d driven photographers before because he understood perfectly when Sheree and I began making inarticulate but very excited noises from the back seat. He understood that we had seen something and he was supposed to pull over.

He didn’t care if we stopped on a hairpin curve on one of Tobago’s narrow roads. He didn’t care if he had to back the car up. He was…well…fearless. And after the initial “getting to know you” period, he understood we didn’t want to see the standard tourist stuff. He started showing us old graveyards and places where the people go.

We were on one of these anonymous roads when we saw a view through the trees that sparked one of those “we photographers think you should stop here please” seizures.

The break in the trees was to the left of a ramshackle hut. But the beach below offered a view that could easily have appeared on a postcard. We piled out of the cab, wiping lenses and rushing toward the Great View lest there be an earthquake that stole it away before we could get there.

We were happily engaged in this task when I became aware of a small person behind me.

She was maybe eight or nine. She was still in her school uniform (you see hundreds of children in school uniforms here, and I find it simply charming), holding a book bag, looking shyly at us. I smiled at her and made a tiny wave. She smiled back and took a tentative step forward. I stayed where I was, since I am a big guy and have entertained kids long enough to know that moving too quickly freaks them out.

The screen door opened and a woman holding a baby stepped out.

If this had been North America, I may have expected a rebuke and a stern warning to get off their land. But this woman and her child were smiling at us, almost as though they were the visitors and we owned the home.

“What a lovely place you have,” I said.

The woman laughed and thanked me. She told me she had been living there for six years and we chatted for a while in the easy comfortable way people here have. We chatted like old friends and soon we were laughing and I stood there thinking “THIS is what travel is all about.”

Sheree has business cards printed using a variety of her photos. She offered the package to the girl and her mother. I was convinced by now that the girl was much more outgoing and the mother was happier staying in the background. That's why I shot them this way.

I held up my camera and asked if I could take their picture. The woman nodded and I started shooting. I noticed the young girl edging closer. She wanted to see my camera so much her fingers were twitching. It occurred to me that this kid had probably seen thousands of tourists wielding cameras, but she’d probably never been shown what her picture looked like on an LCD screen before. I took her picture and asked her if she wanted to take a look.

There was a whoosh of air and she was there. Her large eyes were fixed on the camera. I showed her her own image and she laughed with unabashed delight and waved her mother over to have a look. The mother came and they both examined the LCD with interest.
I asked her if she’d like to take some pictures.

Her eyes widened and her smile was radiant. This would have been an excellent picture. But you know something? It would have been wrong to shoot it. This moment was for her.

I took my camera from around my neck and gave it to her. She took it into her hands with reverence, held it to her eye and took a picture of her baby sister. She jerked the camera away from her face and looked at the image. She whooped in delight. She took a shot of her mother. She took a picture of her house. When Sheree came over to see what the fuss was all about, she took a picture of Sheree too.

Each picture was taken and the LCD screen was always carefully examined.

She brought the camera back to me without being asked. Just before she gave it back, she took my picture too. The photo’s right here. Not half bad, huh?

She handed the camera, a thing that had provided such incredible joy to her, back to me with nary a misgiving. There was no regret on her face, no expression that said “Gee I wish I could keep this.” She’d used the camera – enjoyed it thoroughly and handed it back. I thought that was the most remarkable thing of all. This was a great kid who knew how to enjoy something and then give it back.

It was a wonderful moment. I don’t know their names. I know I could never find their house again. But it now a frozen golden moment of time burned into my memory where two people from frozen Canada shared laugher and photography with three people from sweltering heat of Tobago.

And people ask me why I travel.


Travel Blog #7: Tremendous Tobago

They show a commercial repeatedly in Canada. You see this young couple, obviously on vacation, walking hand in hand along a pristine beach. They are talking about how lovely everything is. Along comes the voice over warning us about the dangers of getting nasty viruses from unexpected sources.

Next there’s a close up of a glass with a tropical drink and ICE floating in it. The woman makes an “oooh” sound at how good it looks and you just know that twelve seconds after finishing her drink, this lovely young woman is going to keel over dead into a pool of her own vomit. You never know about those foreign viruses lurking inside a seemingly innocent looking ice cube.

As we are bound for Tobago today, I had that commercial in mind. Being an intelligent man, I had vowed to avoid all beverages with little umbrellas floating in them.

After the sanitized and prissy-clean St. Barth, I was really hoping we weren’t going to get “Caribbean Lite” again. But where St. Barth’s is clean, Tobago is gritty. Where St. Barth’s is “way civilized,” Tobago is wild. Where the people of St. Barth’s look at you like bird poop that suddenly fell out of a tree and into their caviar, in Tobago they smile real smiles and welcome you to their country.

We had decided not to take an excursion from the ship. It’s always a good policy to book a cabbie. At most of these ports, cabbies can be hired for about $30 an hour. This isn’t a lot when you also consider that if you choose wisely, you get a tour guide interested in making your trip as perfect as possible (since the thirty bucks doesn’t include their tip.)

He drove us all over the island.

We saw wonderful seascapes. We popped by a “mall” on a cliff overlooking the city. Our guide called it a “mall” but it really was just a collection of huts where people were selling crap to the tourists. I don’t care for the crap, since most of it is destined for garage sales somewhere down the road. I like the people. And while you really should purchase something, what I am after is a picture of the people, usually proffering their crap to the camera. This guy carves wood into the most amazing things. He speaks only the faintest trace of English.

He was charming, though, and very polished in working with the tourists. He passed each wooden carving to prospective customers with both hands, like he was handing over a precious gem. He charmed the women and smiled at their husbands.

I liked Tobago. I liked the laid back pace of life. I liked the friendly people and the warm sun.

Tobago is what you think you are getting when you think about South America. You’ve got fabulous beaches, wonderful sun and wonderful people. Speaking of “wonderful people,” one of my favorite travel moments of all time took place that very afternoon.

You’ll hear that story tomorrow.