You’d easily miss the ‘No Squatting’ sign on Englishman’s Beach on the Caribbean island of Tobago. Robinson Crusoe did.
Convenient that, a seafarer remaining abandoned on this idyll for 28 years!
Daniel Defoe’s castaway has become the source of enduring fascination these past 300 years.
Defoe, who drew on many shipwreck tales of the time tells us that his vessel sank within ‘sight of the great island of Trinidad’.
Which can only be its sister island of Tobago.
Oh, that… and also because of the goats. More of which later.
Which their government opportunistically renamed Isla Robinson Crusoe in 1966.
So would Crusoe recognise Tobago now?
The Englishman’s first challenge, of course, after making shore in 1719, would have been to find food.
And through good fortune, or good judgment, he managed to avoid the poisonous yellow berries on the beach which our hosts warn us about.
Instead he shook the trees for coconuts and bananas and picked the mango groves.
And gladly lived off the other fruits of the land and the sea.
Which we, a party of five, who are guests of the Tobago Tourism Agency enjoy at a range of restaurants.
Where the fish are close enough to jump out of the sea and onto your plate.
And where owners are friendly enough for you to call them ‘Auntie’ Alison and ‘Uncle’ Kenneth.
Tobago has been settled 32 times including randomly by Latvians.
Me…. I belong to Glasgow as the old music hall song goes but I’ve never been to a Glasgow bar like this.
It overlooks Parlatuvier Bay, every bit as beautiful as it sounds, and run by local Karl Glasgow.
Who, alas, has never been to Scotland, although his bar is bedecked with Scotland flags.
In an island just 12km wide and our three authentic billets allowed us either breathtaking views or close access.
For golfers Mount Bay Resort has its own course, while for those whose favourite hole is the 19th, it has the best rum punches on the island.
Castara Retreats is a hidden-away gem.
And with its hammock on the balcony, and kitchen, buzzing village and bonfire party on the beach, it’s an indulgence worth rewarding you with.
And for convenience Kariwak Holistic Haven is ‘just around the corner’ from the airport, the Strip (with its bars, restaurants and a casino.)
And Sunday worship where you can repent those sins and ‘praise the Lord’ with the locals.
In search of more locals we head for the rain forest and the bird and animal sanctuaries.
Where the colourful hummingbirds, mockingbirds, black hawks and woodpeckers are in good voice.
Today’s intrepid explorer has rainforest expert William Trim who counts David Attenborough as an admirer.
Bird expert Ean Mackay and animal conservationists Ian Wright and Roy Corbin all there to reveal to us more of Tobago’s natural secrets.
I bet you Crusoe did the same.
And a cure for flu.
Which Crusoe would have experienced.
The barebacked turtles crawling out of the sea to lay their eggs on the beaches.
You’ll go limin’ (pre-drinking), jumpin’ and chippin’ (dancing on the stone chips).
No trip to Tobago would be complete either without a trip to Sunday School in Buccoo on the south of the island.
No, not that type of Sunday School, but a steel pan and Soca (Soul of Calypso) celebration.
Where the whole of the island comes out to drink and dance to the wee small hours (rum punch is the libation du jour).
Although Christmas feels more measured than back home possibly because it’s too warm out here for Christmas jumpers.
Here in Tobago amid the 30C temperatures don’t be surprised if you find Santa in a Christmas T-shirt on the beach.
But they are in fact racing goats who are in training for the Buccoo Festival at Easter..
And jockey Levi who shows me the ropes and how to handle my giddy goat Bandanaman… who comes with loose-fitting chord around his neck.
Before the starter cuts to the quick and shouts ‘Ready, Steady, Goat’, or at least I do.
I’m a natural, letting Bandanaman lead me 100 metres up the grass track by the football pitch.
Today though it is his former mentor Terry Williams holding fort, tiring his young son Elijah out by having him run up a wind to help fly his kite.
It looks hard work in this heat and after my own exertions with the goats I welcome the prospect of a cool down.
On another day it’s the Nylon Pool in the middle of the Caribbean on a boat and snorkelling trip.
It is here that Princess Margaret honeymooned and was so taken by the waters that she described them as being as clear as her stockings (nylon).
Nylon Pool also has the added advantage of being a raised sand bank amid deeper water.
So you can have a bit of fun by standing around in the sea for some afternoon drinks.
No Man’s Land, a small sandy island, is where we drop anchor for our own bespoke Christmas party.
And where I suspend belief and indulge in rum punch instead of sherry, and mahi-mahi (like swordfish) instead of turkey.
Party boy Brendan brings a festive feel to proceedings in his Santa hat.
And he listens to my Christmas wish list although I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted here anyway.
Between Lover’s Bay, Pirate’s Bay and Crown Point’s Store Bay Beach where the Trinis (Trinidadians) will pop over on a 20-minute flight for the afternoon.
All of which we try, for research purposes you understand, in case Crusoe had ventured this way.
It is on Pirate’s Bay Beach where we meet a German party who emerge almost Crusoe-like from the thickets.
And a clearing having walked the width of the island from its biggest town Scarborough.
My last day I spend as Crusoe would have done, in reverence to the Divine Creator.
And while Crusoe’s most solemn wish would have been to be rescued..,
Mine’s is that my big bird never arrives to fly me off my fantasy island.
British Airways (www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick from £475pp (€560) return; Virgin Atlantic flies from Gatwick from £496pp (€586) return. All major airlines fly into London from Ireland.
Drivers and guides can easily be arranged at hotels to get you around Tobago. Car rental starts at around £44 (€51) per day.
WHERE TO STAY
Mount Irvine Bay Resort (www.mtirvine.com), A week with BA Holidays in January 2020 from £965pp (€1135) for a week’s B&B and return flights from Gatwick. Based on two sharing.
Kariwak Holistic Haven (www.kariwak.com): A week with BA Holidays in January 2020 is priced from £1,195 (€1,405) per person for a week’s accommodation on B&B basis including free daily yoga, and return flights from Gatwick. Based on two people sharing.
WHAT TO DO
Waterholics: Take a boat ride out to Princess Margaret’s honeymoon swimming spot, Nylon Pool, a sand bank deep in the sea, where you can also stand up in the sea, She said the waters were as clear as her nylon stockings. Visit www.ilovetobagott.com for information and prices.
The boat ride Jim did was $120pp. Waterholics do exactly what they say on the tin… coastline tours, glass bottom boat tours, dolphin watching, fishing trips, booze cruise for small trips et al.
Their mantra is ‘just add water’.
WHERE TO EAT
Jemma’s Tree House, Charlotteville-L’Anse, Fourmi Rd, Hermitage. https://m.facebook.com/pages/Jemmas-Tree-House-Restaurant-Speyside-Tobago/352296588174092
You’ll need to get used to sharing your table space with the hummingbirds but I suppose that comes from eating in a treehouse.
How much fun is that?
Order mahi-mahi, a type of swordfish, and so good they named it twice.
For more information: (https://www.visittobago.gov.tt).
Adenture Farm and Nature Reserve Adventure: For the best bird-watching (and a villa to stay over in and wake up to the sound of hummingbirds and mockingbirds) https://adventure-ecovillas.com
Fort King George and Museum http://nationaltrust.tt/location/fort-king-george-tobago/
Tobago Cocoa Estate: https://www.tobagococoa.com
Corbin Local Wildlife: http://www.tobagowildlife.com