In Tobago, It's All Good

The Forest Reserve

Feb 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

For the huge profits it produced for a handful of souls, Tobago was the Silicon Valley of its day. "Rich as a Tobago planter," envious eighteenth-century English folk used to say. Rapacious sugar barons, felling trees for fields and fuel, meant to exploit every acre, chopping from the Crown Point lowlands to the top of the Main Ridge spine. And they would have felled every tree if not for a man named Soame Jenyns. The Lord Commissioner for Trade and Plantations, Jenyns was a student of the British scientist Stephen Hales, who hypothesized the relationship between trees and rainfall, and rainfall and deserts, and predicted that Tobago was on its way to becoming a mound of burning sand. It took Jenyns ten years of lobbying, but in 1776 the Crown Reserve was established, setting aside 10,000 acres as the perpetual heart and lungs of Tobago.

Today, expanded to 14,000 acres, the Reserve is home to 1,500 species of flowering plants, 210 kinds of birds, 23 types of butterflies, 17 different bats, and the manicou crab, among other invertebrates. Though Hurricane Flora wreaked catastrophic damage to wildlife and trees in 1963, the forest has renewed itself spectacularly and old growth stands of teak and mahogany still remain. The Parlatuvier-Roxborough Road, which crosses the Main Ridge, will take you straight to the trailheads. Look for a large stone slab and a forestry hut marking Gilpin Trail, a moderate hike that skirts several small waterfalls. The Atlantic Trail, which meanders down to the windward coast, is much longer—up to six hours—and more challenging. Hiring a guide is a good idea, since trained eyes will point out more rufous-tailed jacamars and blue-crowned mot-mots than you'd ever spot on your own. Plus, it's easy to get lost.
The Atlantic Side
Circumnavigating Tobago clockwise through Charlotteville, you pick up the Windward Road (that would be the only road) at the south end of town and take a short jaunt over the ridge down to Speyside on the Atlantic coast. The view across Tyrell's Bay of Little Tobago Island is no scenic slouch, but it's better experienced underwater with dive gear. Here the mighty Guyana Current sweeps by carrying a soup of nutrients all the way from the Orinoco River delta, which attracts the whole damn food chain, from schooling sprats and black jacks to sizable sharks and Speyside's specialty, the overly friendly manta ray.

If your timing is right, finish up your round-trip in Buccoo Town with Sunday School, the weekend's "bashment," a last bust-out party. A soaring steel-drum orchestra performance is followed by a down-and-dirty reggae street wine, where, among just about the entire island population, you'll meet some of the travelers you might've seen hiking, biking, or snorkeling in the opposite direction. After all that, it's about time you got down to a little bump-and-grind. Like the man said, it's all good.