You would easily miss the ‘No squatting’ sign on Englishman’s Bay in the Caribbean island of Tobago.
The fictional seafarer Robinson Crusoe did, before going on to spend 28 years doing just that, as a castaway here.
Daniel Defoe’s literary hero has been a source of enduring fascination for the past 300 years.
Defoe, who drew on many shipwreck stories of the time – tells us that Crusoe’s vessel sank within sight of ‘the great island of Trinidad’.
Logic dictates that can only have been its sister island Tobago.
The same logic means you can discount the rival claim from the island formerly known as Mas a Tierra, off the coast of Chile.
Which the Chilean government opportunistically renamed Isla Robinson Crusoe in 1966.
It’s hard to know if Crusoe would recognise Tobago today.
His first challenge, of course, after making shore back in 1719 would have been to find food.
And through fortune, or good judgment, he managed to avoid the yellow berries on the beach – the ones my host warns me to stay away from.
Instead, Crusoe would have shaken the trees for coconuts and bananas.
Fruits of land and sea
And picked from mango groves, gladly living off the fruits of the land and the sea.
I’m a guest of the Tobago Tourism Agency and enjoy similar spoils at a range of restaurants.
The sort where the fish are close enough to jump out of the sea and onto your plate.
And where the owners are friendly enough for you to call them Auntie Alison or Uncle Kenneth.
The island of Tobago has been ‘settled’ 32 times including, randomly, by Latvians.
In an island just 12kms wide you’re never too far from the sea, or a breathtaking view of it.
In search of locals, whose ancestors were here long before Crusoe, we head for the rainforest, and its bird and animal sanctuaries.
Where hummingbirds, mockingbirds, back hawks and woodpeckers are in good voice.
And where Crusoe would have learnt, as I do, of the natural healing power of plants.
My guides include rainforest expert William Slim, who counts David Attenborough as an admirer; bird expert.
www.adventure-ecovillas.com and animal conservationists Ian Wright and Roy Collins.
I am particularly taken by the magical properties of the cocoa plant.
And by another called ‘roucou’ or achiote (Bixa orellana) which contains a dye which will turn your beard ginger (I bet Crusoe did the same).
Plus a plant that cures the flu.
In February, Tobagonians come out for carnival, the Caribbean’s oldest of its type, dating back to the slave trade era.
During which they go limin’ (pre-drinking), and chippin’ (a rhythmic sliding strut performed by revellers as they follow a band).
They practise for it all year round.
Every visitor to Tobago should make time to stop at Sunday School in Bucoo on the south of the island.
Not a true Sunday school, but a vibrant street party featuring steelpan and soca (soul of calypso) music.
For which the whole of the island comes out to dance and drink rum punch into the wee small hours.
Soca, the soundtrack to Tobago, comes in many guises – from old-school kaiso (west African-influenced)…
To power Soca (fast-paced) and the Christmas favourite Parang, heavily influenced by nearby Venezuela.
Waterholics, a local water activities company, brings tourists by boat to Princess Margaret’s honeymoon spot, Nylon Pool.
Which she once declared were as clear as her nylon stockings (€109pp
Nylon Pool has the added advantage of being a raised sandbank amid deeper water, so you can have a bit of fun.
Standing around in the sea fir afternoon drinks, and I guess this is exactly what the party-loving royal did.
Amid Tobago’s 30C temperatures don’t be surprised to find a Santa in a festive T-shirt on the beach, and a No Man’s Land…
A small, sandy island which my boat party drops anchor on for our own bespoke Christmas party.
I suspend disbelief and indulge in rum punch instead of a sherry and mahi-mahi (like swordfish) instead of turkey.
Perhaps Tobago’s biggest distraction comes in the form of racing goats, who during my visit are in training for the Buccoo Goat Race Festival that takes place each Easter.
The ways of a nanny or billy goat were well known to Crusoe, of course, whose efforts in raising the big kids were chronicled in his adventures.
In Crusoe’s absence, though, we are fortunate to have jockey Levi, who shows me the ropes, and how to handle my giddy goat Bandanaman.
Which has a loose-fitting cord around its neck.
The starter shouts: ‘Ready, Steady. Goat’, or at least I do, and we’re pff.
I’m a natural, letting Bandanaman lead me 100 metres up the grass track near the football pitch.
Which just happens to be the hallowed ground upon which former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke first paraded his skills.
Today, though, it is Yorke’s former mentor Terry Williams holding the fort, flying kites with his young son Elijah.
Lie down and think of Tobago
It looks hard work in this heat, but after my exertions with the goats, I welcome the prospect of a cool down.
On an island where all beaches are public, you are spoilt for choice – from Lover’s Bay and Pirate’s Bay, to Crown Point’s Store Bay Beach.
Where the Trinis (Trinidadians) will pop over on a 20-minute flight, just for the afternoon.
It is on Pirate’s Bay beach that I meet a German party, who emerge, almost Crusoelike from the thickets, having walked the width of the island.
From Scarborough, its largest town.
A kindlier man might have given up their hammock but I have difficulty in getting out of mine.
My last day I spend as Crusoe might have done, in reverence to the Divine Creator – partaking of a full-throated spiritual singalong at the Bread of Life Ministries.
Which is a Pentecostal church near my hotel in Crown Point.
But while Crusoe’s most solemn wish would have been to be rescued, mine is that no big bird ever arrives to fly me off my fantasy island.
Fly from Dublin to London Gatwick and onwards to Tobago with
British Airways (from €560 return www.ba.com) or Virgin Atlantic (from €586 return) www.virginatlantic.com.
Drivers and guides can easily be arranged at hotels to get you around Tobago. Car rental starts at about €50 per day.
Where to eat:
Mount Irvine Bay Resort has its own seaside golf course while for those whose favourite hole is the 19th, the resort serves the best rum punches on the island (doubles from €84
Castara Retreats is a hidden gem with its hammocks on the balcony, buzzing village feel and bonfire parties on the beach (doubles from €777)
Kariwak Holistic Haven is near the airport, the bars, restaurants and casino of the ‘strip’ (doubles from €263.
Where to dine:
The Blue Crab is Robinson, Scarborough, once featured on television chef Ainslie Harriott’s show, Caribbean Kitchen. Try the chicken curry
Jemma’s Tree House on Fourmi Road, Hermitage, where you’ll share your table space with hummingbirds but that’s what comes when you dine in a treehouse.
Order the swordfish – so good they named it twice.
For more information on Tobago see