|These two islands, hugging the coast of Venezuela, are excellent getaways for travelers who shun the well-trodden tourist track, who like their vacations more spontaneous than planned. |
Trinidad, at 1,864 square miles, is by far the larger and more worldly of the two; indeed, "worldly" takes on a new meaning here, for nowhere on earth, perhaps, is there a place that can more justly call itself a melting pot. Trinidad's astonishing ethnic mix - African, Asian, East Indian, European, South American, Middle Eastern - has produced a splendidly harmonious patchwork of cultural expression, from the renowned curries of the native cuisine to Creole-laced calypso songs and raucously joyful steel-band riffs. The island's uniquely democratic Mardi Gras Carnival - including two months of avid preparation - is a no-holds-barred celebration of life for which the entire population turns out in wild attire to make music, dance, and "play mas" (short for masquerade). Visitors are more than welcome to buy an authentic costume and join right in.
Petroleum is Trinidad's leading source of income (in fact, discarded oil drums were the origin of the steel-band sound, invented here). For that reason, Port of Spain, the energetic modern capital, caters more to business than to tourism - though connoisseurs of local custom will want to sample its streetwise charms. Beyond the urban bustle, however, Trinidad's unspoiled rugged beaches and florid jungles enthrall visitors in search of natural pleasures, especially birders and botanists. Wide tracts of virgin rainforest and mangrove swamp are filled with hundreds of exotic bird species, and clear gentle rivers are hospitable to rafting and bathing. Several hotels do have golf and tennis facilities, but this is not the destination for clients who want a Riviera-style vacation with white beaches, spas, and gambling galore. Even aquasports are limited.
Tiny, tranquil, and exquisitely remote Tobago (116 miles square) is even less appropriate for such comfort mavens; here, your clients may opt to camp out on a deserted beach or immerse themselves in primitive village life, where obeah, the local witchcraft, casts its mystical spell. Birdwatching, beachcombing, and jungle trekking are the leading attractions on Tobago, and nearby Buccoo Reef, though somewhat ravaged by souvenir hunters, is a diver's delight, a forest of multicolored corals sheltering legions of equally brilliant tropical fish. There is one golf course for civilization's stubborn holdouts, but this island, like its festive sister, will linger longest in the memories of those who truly yearn for an escapist adventure.