The Tobago part: A long tail and tall tale

View from Little Tobago Island

This is Part 4 about our trip to Trinidad and Tobago.

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We are a week into our tour and my back pain is gone. No more muscle relaxers are needed, which means my brain is as clear as the breeze that flows across the sea and onto the patio of our room. We are now on the island of Tobago and it’s considerably quieter and less crowded than its sister island, Trinidad.

Steve and I sit with our feet up on our little veranda, sipping from cans of Angostura Lemon Lime and Bitters soda. I cannot get enough of it. The origins of these bitters go as far back as the 1800s here in Trinidad and Tobago and, because I am not a drinker, I am obsessed with the soft drink.

The food is not great at our hotel, but this is where our group has dinner every night, and the Fish of the Day never changes. It is always tuna and it comes in frozen. We find this odd, since there is a fishing village just down the road from where we are staying and it seems as though a variety of fresh fish would be available. The service is also painfully slow every evening and the staff seems surprised to see our large group every evening. We wait almost two hours before we were served dinner one night. Tobago is new to the concept of the tourism and hospitality business, our guide, Jason, tells us. He is fresh from graduating in hotel management at University and his goal is to involve more of the residents of Tobago in understanding and helping with tourism. It’s going to take some time, he says. Knowing that, I can afford a little patience.

On our first full day here at Tobago we board a boat that takes us to nearby Little Tobago island. We are hoping to see the Red-billed Tropicbird, an oceanic seabird that breeds on the islets off the island of Tobago. Zolani “Zee” Frank is our guide on this island. Our boat captain steers the boat past a smaller island with a house and a man in our group shouts over the noise of the boat engine and the water spray, “Whose house is that?”

“That is Goat Island,” our boat captain answers. “That house is very famous. The writer Ian Fleming, do you know him? He lived there when he wrote one of the James Bonds books.”

There are collective “oohs” and “ahhs” and I write a note in my notebook about this so I can research later.

House on Goat Island

We arrive at Little Tobago, which is a wildlife sanctuary, and we hike to the top of the island where the Red-billed Tropicbirds are nesting. It’s not too difficult and I’m happy I’m finally able to enjoy the hiking part of this trip. We reach the cliffside at the top and the sky is filled with spectacular Red-billed Tropicbirds with their long streamer tails. They fly like fairies, gliding and swooping with their aerial acrobatics. Magnificent Frigatebirds are also in the mix and they yank on the tails of the tropicbirds to get them to disgorge any food they have in their crops. The frigatebirds are no different here than any other place I’ve seen them in the tropics. They are the pirates of the sky. The tropicbirds are skilled at outmaneuvering the frigatebirds, but occasionally a frigatebird is successful and I get a little peeved at the injustice of nature.

Steve is particularly happy to see the Red-billed Tropicbirds because his niece, Sarah, is at Cape Verde Islands off the western coast of Africa researching Red-billed Tropicbirds as part of her doctoral thesis at University of Barcelona and we can’t wait to tell her that we saw them here in Tobago.

Red-billed Tropicbird (photo credit: John Schrader)
Red-billed Tropicbird (photo credit: John Schrader)
Red-billed Tropicbird and chick

Zee points out the nesting area with adult tropicbirds, each with their single chick. We are careful not to get too close and I’m happy I have the long lens with us to capture this sweet encounter. With each having a young on the nest it’s important for the tropicbirds to successfully outsmart the Magnificent Frigatebirds when bringing food back to their young. Seeing the chicks makes me even more mad at the frigatebirds.

Steve and a few others have decided to go scuba diving and I don’t feel up to strapping a big tank onto my back, so I remain at our hotel that overlooks the water and wave to Steve as he heads out on the dive boat. Others from our group are in town to shop and some walk up the street to look for hummingbirds. I’m happy to sit at the bar and drink Angostura Lemon Lime and Bitters soda and I have a perfect view of Goat Island in the distance. I pull out my laptop and Google Goat Island, but nowhere can I find anything to support the story that Ian Fleming lived there and wrote James Bond stories. It is Wikipedia that dispels the Goat Island myth and states that Fleming’s publisher confirms all James Bond stories were written at Fleming’s home in Jamaica. There is no evidence that he ever went to Trinidad or Tobago. I’m a little disappointed that the story isn’t true and distract myself by downloading pictures to my laptop of the Red-billed Tropicbirds from our trip to Little Tobago.

“Can I have another?” I ask the bartender.

He scoops up ice and adds it to my glass, pops open a new can of the Lemon Lime Bitters soda and sets it down next to the glass.

I continue transferring the photos to the laptop and sift through, deleting all the garbage photos–everything that is out of focus, or just plain bad composition. Two women with bronzed skin, sun dresses and big hats sit at stools a few feet from me and order drinks.

“What is that house over there?” one of them asks the bartender as she points toward Goat Island.

“Oh, that is the house that Ian Fleming lived in when he wrote James Bond books,” he tells them.

I smile as I continue looking through my photos and realize that tall tales are all part of the hospitality here in Tobago.

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I’ll leave you with this little video of the Red-billed Tropicbird in flight