Diving the Caribbean (and Atlantic), it was finally time. This long-anticipated trip on 11 November began with the strange but moving experience of almost total silence. We met in Manchester Airport’s departure lounge as the 100th Remembrance Day anniversary was marked by two minutes silence.
A long flight later eleven of us arrived and were immediately introduced to Tobago time. The airport/hotel transfer failed to arrive as it seemed we had been forgotten. No problem though, we were immediately introduced to the local friendliness as taxi drivers were quick to lend us a working mobile phone allowing Clare to sort everything out.
‘Meeting The G-Man’ – The trip up took around an hour and a half (after a brief stop for essential supplies such as Carib beer and gin mixers!). He told us about each place we passed with huge enthusiasm and then the experience none of us will forget. Simon was sitting up front when the G-man burst into song to help us learn how to distinguish the local sheep from the goats. All together now – ‘The sheep its tail is long and drop, the goat its tail is short and up ….’. Allan missed out on this pleasure as he was traveling with our luggage, but we made sure he had the experience eventually – more on that later!
We arrived at Nabucco’s Resort Speyside Inn around 9.30 pm local time (for us 1.30 am) and met Roberto and Debby the Dutch couple who manage the place for Extra Divers. They gave us a warm welcome, got us settled in as quickly as possible and then we were all fed with a very tasty fish and chip supper.
Speyside Inn is directly across the road from the beach with the open-air bar/dining room overlooking the Atlantic. Later on, we went to visit Argyle Waterfalls, Tobago’s highest waterfall. Following a 15 to 20-minute walk on a trail through huge bamboo and local trees you arrive at an 8-metre-deep pool at the bottom of a three-level cascade of water. Too much for some of us to resist, it was time to cool off and take a swim in the pool, not forgetting a spot of alternative diving from the rocky ledge. Particularly impressive was the synchronised diving efforts of Allan and Simon that day.
On Tuesday through to Saturday we would all pile into Roberto’s pick up at 8.30am and drive down to the boat for a mornings diving. Our boat captain was the enigmatic Lenroy (who said very little to anyone) and our dive guides were Scott (whose party trick is to drink a full bottle of cola underwater!) and Karos (otherwise known as Nemo). Most of our dives were situated on reefs just off either Goat Island or Little Tobago, with a couple along the mainland.
I have to say we were spoiled on day one with probably the most beautiful dive of the week on a reef known as Japanese Gardens. This was a slow drift through a stunning variety of corals including sea whip coral that resembles bonsai – hence the name. On most of the dives, we saw a huge variety of fish and other marine life including rays, morays, pipefish, stonefish, lobsters, sea cucumbers and the occasional turtle.
On Round Table Wreck, a sunken ferry lying around 30m was a real highlight. We had the good luck to see a couple of sharks that didn’t just move off once spotted but swam passed a few times after emerging from below the wreck.
There were a couple of local restaurants that served great food not forgetting the smaller stalls selling very tasty street food. A must-have was the ‘buss up shut’ that turned out to be a deconstructed roti. It was named due to the shredded roti bread resembling a torn shirt or ‘busted up shirt’. Very good it was too!
Visiting Little Tobago and meeting the real Lenroy – Friday afternoon a trip across to Little Tobago was arranged. The island is a sanctuary and breeding site for a large number of seabirds including frigate birds, white-tailed tropicbirds, the brown booby, and the red-footed booby. We were taken over by our boat captain Lenroy, almost unrecognisable as he transformed into an enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable guide.
Saturday – This was for most the last day of diving in Speyside and in the afternoon, we took a trip to the Tobago Cocoa Estate. We got to not only learn about the process of cocoa production but also had the chance to taste the surprisingly fruity flavour of unprocessed cocoa beans. We then sampled the final product of 70% cocoa solid chocolate together with a little rum.
Back at Speyside Inn for our final night Roberto and Debby arranged a send-off barbecue together with entertainment from a local school steel band.
It was sadly time to say goodbye to three of our group as Simon, Grant and his brother Jared were flying home. The remaining eight – Clare, Allan, Maureen, Eileen, Frank, Wendy, Martin and I were welcomed to Shepherds Inn with a choice of rum or fruit punch by the lovely Lisa (who never appeared to be off duty!)
Diving the Caribbean (and Atlantic) – The second week of diving was organised by Markus who runs Black Rock Divers. The first three days we used one boat and dived a mix of Caribbean and Atlantic sites. Conditions were variable with wind and swell often picking up for the second dive of the day. The Maverick is a 350ft former ferry that was deliberately sunk in 1997 to create an artificial reef. Visibility was pretty poor but getting up close revealed some stunning corals. As the wreck sits around 30 m our follow up dive was a long shallow one along Mount Irvine Wall.
Day two saw the first of a number of dives on an extensive site known as Flying Reef. Currents were strong enough to require negative entry and once down although visibility wasn’t good enough to see out into the deep, it was fine for focussing on the reef. We had regular sightings of different types of rays, multitudes of fish, morays, and lobsters as well as the fascinating tiny things living in the sand or on the array of corals. A couple of times we looked up from focussing in on the detail to see a wall of fish above – apparently shoals of Bermuda chub.
On Wednesday we were back in the Caribbean on Mount Irvine Extension and Dutchman’s Reef before returning to the Atlantic side the rest of the week.
A truly fascinating day exploring the rainforest was rounded off with a great night out when our regular dive guide Alex together with his wife Hadassah laid on a beach barbecue for us with good food and no shortage of alcohol. A lot of fun was had by all and we could have had no better end to a brilliant two weeks.
After a Sunday morning lie in and a relaxed lunch it was time to say goodbye to Tobago but not before a surprise visit from Alex and Hadassah who came specially to deliver some excellent home-baked goods to make our long flight back more pleasant.
Finally, I just want to say thanks to everyone who made this such a memorable and enjoyable trip! – Eleri