“Like, to cook?”
“Yeah. Where can we get one?”
A surprised smile crept across his face, different from when he had been going through his spiel trying to sell a boat trip to my girlfriend, Dana, and I.
“Wow,” he said, “That’s unusual. You guys aren’t like most tourists! Especially from America...” he trailed off, then gave us specific directions to a place nearby where fishermen sold their catch for the day.
We thanked him and turned our back on what had been, unquestionably the best beach we had found on Tobago. It had taken a bit of a hike to get there, and we’d been drenched by rain twice on the way. But at the end we found white sand and calm turquoise waters on a gentle slope with just the right amount of shade from the nearby palm trees. We even had a rainbow show up for most the afternoon. We didn’t need to look for another beach after that one.
I came for a vacation. Not quite like the adventure or immersion or anything I usually seek out on my on on the road. I was just here to relax. As long as I keep my impact as positive as I can, I’m okay with being a tourist for a few days. But that didn’t mean completely staying in the bubble.
Dana and I walked past the first place the guide had told us about. It was a roadside stand near a wooden fence and corrugated metal roof, in a line of buildings sandwiched between the rainforest and the Caribbean Sea. You could see the boats the fishermen had been using, anchored just on the other side of the beach. The only fish available though, was a large kingfish. We hadn’t brought much cash to the beach, so we passed it up, heading back to our room about half an hour away.
We wrestled with the internet connection for a bit, and Dana found another possible fish market listed online. Between the two of us, my aunt Dane, and my cousin, Joyce, we had decided to rent a car for a couple days. Since we still had it, we thought we’d go check out the market listed in the next town over. I was one of the two listed drivers. Joyce was the other. Since Joyce has been a vegetarian for most of her life, Dana and I were definitely going to be the ones picking up the fish.
It was a simple drive, except for a few minor obstacles. First of all, the cars drive on the left side of the road. The driver sits on the right. I must have turned on the windshield wipers when I meant to signal a turn about a dozen times. The next problem was that the roads, while well paved, tended to be just wide enough for two cars side by side. Which would be fine, if people didn’t park on them. The parking created natural bottlenecks which the locals tended to take the way they took the numerous steep blind corner switchbacks: at about 30 km/hr above the speed limit.
I’m not going to pretend the roads were anywhere near the most dangerous I’ve seen. The drivers were competent, helpful, and calm, for the most part. But among other odd habits, they tended to drive right down the middle of the road unless they had a good reason not to. As it got dark, it started to seem like everyone was using their high beams, making it very hard to see.
So it was with some relief that we spotted a building marked “Mt. Irvine Fish Market” and pulled over to park.
The room inside was made almost entirely of white tile and linoleum, and the metal counter and washing stands were clean with running water at the kind of stations you’d see dishwashers in restaurants in the US, with a big sink and a dangling trigger hose. They had kingfish and mahi mahi. I was hungry, so we picked out a 4.5 lbs shiny mahi mahi. An old man came seemingly out of nowhere to take the order and ask if we wanted it filleted and skinned. We paid a large man in a yellow rubber apron TT$90 for the fish and tipped the man filleting it another TT$10. The fillet was handed to us in a double-wrapped plastic bag.
The complex we were staying in had public grills next to its hot tubs. Dana prepped the fish (well) and I grilled it (...less well). Joyce and Dane contributed their own spicy take on the local chickpeas with rice dish.
While other nights I’d tried local “Sunday Stew” Chicken, the massive curry-filled rotis, Calaloo soup, and a lot of other tasty meals, that meal with the fish was probably my favorite. I felt like we’d earned it.
(Check out Pictures from this Trip)