“The iguana looked at us and remained where it was, basking in a patch of sun, before moving awkwardly through the vegetation.”
The Tobago Cays are paradise. We sailed from the island of Canouan. The Tobago Cays are an area of five small sandy islands surrounded by a huge horseshoe shaped coral reef. Getting in there requires navigating narrow passages around the reefs to reach the anchorage in a deeper basin of water. After our experience of the Blue Lagoon in St Vincent being much shallower than we had read, we were approaching with no small amount of trepidation. The first obstacle was the Baleine Rocks, a group of potential boat wreckers, some poking out warningly from the water, others lurking below the surface waiting to catch you out. The important part was to head for the island of Mayreau (pronounced Myroo) and then turn, keeping the Baleine Rocks on your port side and leaving plenty of space for them. From there we had to head through a narrow passageway between the islet of Petit Rameau and the huge and menacing Horseshoe reef, which makes up a substantial part of the Tobago Cays marine park. The wind was light and the sun was shining strongly which helped and we made it into the basin to anchor safely.
We relaxed and looked around us. This place was stunning. We were surrounded by palm tree lined islets with white sand beaches and beautiful turquoise blue water over white sand and darker water over the reef and grassy areas. Surf broke over the reef all around the anchorage in the iconic horseshoe shape. The holding was good and we had already seen two turtles lifting their sweet little heads to breathe in the anchorage. We were excited to go and see them. There is an islet called Baradel which has a turtle watching area. No boats are allowed to moor in here and kitesurfers are also forbidden. This area is a mix of sand and turtle grass on one side and reef on the other. The water was calm so we decided to paddleboard over and lift them up onto the beach. We snorkelled in the gorgeous clear water and looked at the chubbiest starfish we have ever seen. They must have plenty to eat here! Fishing or taking anything is forbidden in the Tobago Cays and conch were also abundant on the seafloor. We soon spotted about three turtles munching on grasses. They were completely oblivious to our presence as they are very used to swimmers. They swam gracefully with their flippers, gliding up regularly to breathe. We followed them out of the buoyed markers zone into the anchoring area where delighted onlookers on the boats filmed them as they lifted their heads to breathe.
We went back to the boat to have lunch and then decided to paddleboard to an islet behind us called Jamesby. We had the entire island all to ourselves. We sat on the beach and looked out over the cays, taking in the shimmering water and watching a large black fish doing its thing in the shallow reefs just in front of us. In the shade of a tree on this white sand beach, all alone, we felt there was nowhere else in the world to match this place. That evening we watched the sunset over the Cays with a rum in our cockpit. Perfect bliss. The next day we took the dinghy over to the larger islet of Petit Bateau. This islet had some rope swings on the beach and as I walked over to swing on them, I spotted an iguana in the undergrowth. I beckoned over Luciano to come over with his camera. The iguana looked at us and remained where it was, basking in a patch of sun, before moving awkwardly through the vegetation. We walked up the path to the top of the islet, spotting another iguana on the way. At the top, we were awestruck by the view over the whole cays including the magnificent horseshoe reef. That afternoon we headed back to the turtles at Baradel and some socialising with some of the American boats we had met in Bequia. We were advised to snorkel behind the reef this time. So we found a way through the shallow reef and then into an area with SO many turtles. We watched them in wonder, swimming further round the island to an area with gorgeous coral and brightly coloured reef fish. We came back and spent the late afternoon and early evening drinking rum on the beach.
The next day we tried snorkelling again - some people had seen stingrays and sharks, which we hadn’t. But the weather had turned. The visibility in the water was poor and the current was very strong. It was time to leave paradise. We headed back out, following our track, to the nearby island of Mayreau. Mayreau is also part of the marine park and has lots of reefs here too. After anchoring, we went for another snorkel, spotting some great corals and reef fish, but the visibility was still poor. We went onshore with the skipper of an American catamaran and his English crew member that we had met in the Tobago Cays and went for dinner at Robert Righteous, an incredible Rastafarian restaurant with impressive artistic designs to the building. The food was delicious and the pina coladas divine. We ran into Heather and Alan again at another island and have interviewed them for our upcoming podcast. If you’ve wondered what it’s like to sail on a boat with a random person you meet while travelling, Heather and Alan can tell you and give advice on how to make the skipper-crew member relationship work successfully. They both have interesting back stories to tell too. Heather travelled solo around Europe in a campervan in the middle of winter and Alan is a former pilot and spacesuit tester, who met President Kennedy the day before he was assassinated.
The next morning we went back to the reef to snorkel. The visibility was slightly better and we swam round the coast to an area where we were surrounded by thousands of tiny fish, I’ve never seen so many in one place. On our way back to the boat, we finally saw a stingray. It was grey, moving along the seabed. We started to follow it to get it on camera, but it was so fast, it took our top speed to keep up with it. It stopped and started again. We were elated. We went ashore and walked up the steep hill towards Saltwhistle Bay. We were staying in Saline Bay. These salty references are due to the inland saltwater pond at Mayreau. It makes a pretty sight with the white crystals sparkling round the edges of the water. On the way there we saw lots of goats, some tied to trees, others roaming free around a graveyard set on the steep hillside. One goat we passed had wrapped its rope several times round a small tree, so had ended up on a very short line and no way to reach anything to eat. I gingerly approached it. Luckily it seemed very tame and I was able to push and pull it around the tree so that it was again on a long line. We headed down to Saltwhistle Bay, a beautiful sandy bay with a headland lined with palm trees. We had a good vegan lunch from another rastafarian establishment, swam a little and then walked along the headland. At the corner we spotted a multitude of pink conch shells, hundreds and hundreds of them which someone had obviously dived for. We followed some scrubby thorny paths in our bare legs and flip flops, but were rewarded with incredible views at the top, all across to the Tobago Cays and surrounding islands of the southern Grenadines.
So we found Paradise for a short while. There are many examples of paradise here on earth - for us, it is swimming with turtles in the warm coral reef waters of the Tobago Cays; for others it may be the stark blue and white beauty of a glistening glacier; for others, the forests and jungles teeming and dense with life; these lungs of the world are at risk of wildfires and deforestation for animal agriculture. And of course, as deep ecologist Satish Kumar states, every part of nature has intrinsic value, it has value outside of human needs. “The moment that we accept that all life has intrinsic value we begin to experience a profound feeling of reverence towards all life and begin to experience the beauty, the integrity, the exuberance, the generosity and the economy which holds the entire web of of life together.”* The world’s coral reefs are known to be at huge risk from global warming while they also have their own pandemic of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) to contend with in the Caribbean spread by ocean currents and commercial ships;**, *** themselves increased in huge numbers by excess consumerism and fish consumption. We still have hope. But it is in the process of being lost. Apples are not our dangerous temptation, consumption of things, meat, fish and fossil fuels are and unless this is curbed, many of the paradises here on earth will be lost forever; some already have been.
From our experiences travelling here, it is clear to us that people in the Caribbean contribute little to climate change and environmental degradation. Many people are Rastafarian or Seventh Day Adventist and eat a wholly or largely vegetarian or vegan diet. Fishing is carried out sustainably in small boats without destruction of the seabed, unlike the huge trawlerboats we saw off the coasts of the UK and Europe. Consumption is far less - and yes, much of this is due to a lower average income. Public transport is far superior and affordable, at least in comparison to the UK. There are many many marine reserves and where anchoring may damage reefs or turtle nesting grounds, yachts are required to use mooring buoys. But like it or not, we live in a global system. The warming temperatures affecting land and sea cannot be mitigated by the governments of tiny Caribbean nations alone. The devastating pandemic of SCTLD comes from Florida and has spread from there. People in the Caribbean looked on in hope at the recent COP26 climate talks in Glasgow and were badly failed by the corrupting presence of fossil fuel companies. If you are interested in hearing about a local perspective of this, we have another podcast soon to be published with a local historian and guide from Union Island in the Grenadines.
With insincere apologies to John Milton, who I am willfully taking out of context. But I would like to contend that his following words from Paradise Lost fit very well our current “satanic” self-destruction, but also, the hope that we can save ourselves and nature through some almighty collective effort.
“The Pilot of some small night-founder’d Skiff,
Deeming some Island, oft, as Sea-Men tell,
With fixed Anchor in his skaly rind
Moors by his side under the Lee, while Night
Invests the Sea, and wished Morn delayes:
So stretcht out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chain’d on the burning Lake, nor ever thence
Had ris’n or heav’d his head, but that the will
And high permission of all-ruling Heaven
Left him at large to his own dark designs,
That with reiterated crimes he might
Heap on himself damnation, while he sought
Evil to others, and enrag’d might see
How all his malice serv’d but to bring forth
Infinite goodness, grace and mercy shewn****
* Kumar, S., n.d. Resurgence • Learning from Nature. [online] Resurgence.org. Available at: <https://www.resurgence.org/satish-kumar/articles/learning-from-nature.html> [Accessed 30 April 2022].
** Amp.theguardian.com. 2022. Highly contagious marine epidemic rips through Caribbean’s coral reefs | Environment | The Guardian. [online] Available at: <https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/23/highly-contagious-marine-sctld-pandemic-rips-through-caribbean-coral-reefs> [Accessed 30 April 2022].
*** the Guardian. 2021. Deadly coral disease sweeping Caribbean linked to water from ships. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/22/deadly-coral-disease-sweeping-caribbean-linked-to-wastewater-from-ships> [Accessed 30 April 2022].
**** Milton, J., 1674. Paradise Lost: Book 1 (1674 version) by John… | Poetry Foundation. [online] Poetry Foundation. Available at: <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45718/paradise-lost-book-1-1674-version> [Accessed 30 April 2022].
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