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Notes from the home of the hitchhiker

So close and so far away

Coconut palms on the beach of Store Bay, Tobago
'I would like to sign off the boat.'
'Do you have a ticket out of the country?'
'We can't sign you off without the ticket and an address in Trinidad and Tobago.'
Fuck! I heard there could be problems with the Immigration Office, but I thought I would get through somehow. I was wrong. So I was running like crazy trying to get the ticket. First they didn't want to sell me a flight ticket to Venezuela without having a ticket out of Venezuela. Absurd. Then I couldn't buy it online as my both cards for some reason didn't work. A ferry from Trini was not an option either as they didn't have an office in Tobago and didn't sell it by internet.
After the last night on Antouka I finally booked a flight to Caracas online. It costed me more than two hundred U.S. dollars, but after cancelling it I could get most of it back. Then after a night spent in a guesthouse for more than thirty bucks I could finally sign off the boat of Alex. Only then I could eat my birthday cake.

The stamp in my passport was saying I could stay in Trinidad and Tobago for less than thirty days. Only thirty days, will it be enough, I was wondering, to find two lifts? First from Tobago to Trini and than to Venezuela? There were only six or seven boats in Store Bay where we arrived. The first guy I spoke to said: 'If I had to fix something on the yacht I would go to Trini, but otherwise I see no point. It's much nicer in here and it's safe as well.' And the safety issue was very important, hurricane season was just beginning. Both the islands were below the hurricane belt. Another guy I spoke with, German on his catamaran, said he would be going to Chaguaramas next week and could take me. Cool. It looked like I had a lift. I could hit the road again and see the eastern, more wild part of the island.

I didn't know where to start from. I mean it looked like every second car in that country was unofficial taxi. People were halting cars everywhere and paying small fee for a ride. How could I catch a free lift? I found a piece of cardboard and just made a sign saying 'FREE LIFT?' It worked like a charm. The first car stopped in a minute. Mid age guy brought me to Scarborough with a stopover in a barber shop, just to meet me with his friends and grab me a bottle of cold Guinness. And stronger, locally made version of Guinness was everywhere.

The second lift was also a question of minutes. Once we left Scarborough the landscape started to change. Urbanised lowlands with some coconut plantations and a few swamps were behind us. The road narrowed and got windy and we had hills covered with thick jungle on one side and sandy beaches, little cliffs and tiny isles on the other.
'Where is Poland?' a little boy sitting next to me in the back of the car asked curiously.
'It's in Europe,' I answered. 'It's a place where we have a lot of snow in the winter.'
'I have never seen snow.'
'I have never seen coconuts and mangoes hanging from trees.'
'Really? That's strange.'
It took me only two lifts to get to Charlotteville, a fisherman village in the north east of the island. Not bad at all.

In the village I went straight to check out the beach, I didn't want to stay in another guesthouse as they were quite expensive. Nice beach was just in the centre of the village, but with loads of people hanging around. I wasn't sure if it was a safe place to crash.
'Hey man, did you manage to sign out?' suddenly someone asked me a question.
'Yeah, but I had to book a flight. And you?'
'I'm still on the boat, I'm working on it'
It was a French hitchhiker on the ketch of two Welshmen whom I met in an internet café when I was trying to book the ticket. He also had problems with the Immigration.
'Do you guys know any nice, quiet beach where I could crash for tonight?'
'Yeah the Pirate's Bay. It's absolutely safe as it's not easy to get there. Hop on our dinghy, we'll drop you there.'

The sun was just about to set when I arrived there. The place was magic. The beach was maybe hundred metres long, with cliffs on both ends and a stream cutting it in the middle. There were three little, wooden sheds and behind them a wall of jungle covering all the surrounding hills. The sound of the tropical forest was so exotic, even quite scary as I was experiencing it for the first time. After setting a camp and a quick swim I set on a bench and started to watch the show of the nature. Thousands of fireflies were glimmering in front of me. It felt like the jungle was peeping at me with thousand greenish eyes, trying to scare me even more.

In the morning I went to discover the area. There were old stairs covered with moss connecting the beach with a track leading to the village. After breakfast made of mangoes and bananas, which were growing all around I washed my clothes in the stream and started to imagine how I would reorganise the area, rebuilding one of the sheds to set up temporary home. My daydreaming was suddenly disturbed by a massive rain. I hadn't seen such downpour for years. The stream turned into a river and destroyed the bench I installed next to it and before I grabbed my stuff and hidden in the shed it was all soaking wet. There were three other lads hiding from the rain with buckets full of hot peppers. One of them, a rastaman with extremely long dreadlocks wrapped around his head was very curious about my travels.

'You can use my shed if you want, it's the one in the back of the beach. You can dry your clothes in there. It needs some cleaning, I didn't use it too much.'
Wow, I had a place to stay in that little piece of paradise. The shed was obviously nothing special, but it had a roof. That's all I needed.
'Come to town in the evening, we can have a few beers. Oh, my name is Hollis. And don't worry about your things, no one will touch it. It's my shed.'
Later I found out that Hollis was spending half a year in Scotland working as a stone mason and the rest of the year in Tobago growing peppers in the jungle. After an hour or so and a few Caribs I knew nearly half the lads liming* in the street.

Sunset over Pirate's Bay in Tobago
Pirate's Bay - my home for a few days
I was tempted to stay longer in Charlotteville but I didn't want to miss my lift, so the next day I went back to the village, checked my email and began to walk up the road with my backpack only half dry. And suddenly it started again, massive shower. I hidden myself under a tree in the front yard of the last house in the village.
'Come in, come in!' one guy opened the door inviting me in. 'I'm Peter and that's my wife Violet.'
'Would you like to have a bowl of soup?' asked me straight away Violet. A minute later I was sitting comfortably on the terrace of their beautiful house built on the side of the hill, admiring the view of the whole village and the bay. We were chatting about our travels and our lives, our past and present. From the very beginning it felt like home. Violet was from Scotland, but had Irish ancestors and Peter was Trinidadian with his roots going back to France. They'd been around and lived around and finally decided to settle in Tobago.

A few hours later they gave me a lift back to the centre of Charlotteville to catch the last bus to Store Bay. It was too late to go hitching. When we arrived there we couldn't find a woman selling tickets and it wasn't possible to get them from the driver.
'As we said earlier, you're more than welcome to stay with us.'
'You know what, fuck that bus. It will be a pleasure to stay with you guys.'
At that moment I didn't care about Store Bay and the lift to Chaguaramas. I just wanted to stay in that place, with that amazing people. The vibe was unbelievable. We spent the night on sipping Guinness and chatting and laughing and chatting and more laughing and more Guinness. The craic was mighty. In the morning Peter gave me a lift all the way to Store Bay. I was looking at his car disappearing behind the corner, hoping I would have a chance to meet them again one day.

When I met the German guy later that day I heard: 'I already cleared out.' I was too late. Not only one day too late but at least three as he did it before the weekend. I must had misunderstood something. I thought he would do it twenty four hours before the departure, that's what he officially should had done. At that moment I felt tired of boat hitchhiking with all that getting stuck, signing in and out, clearances and lack of movement. I was back on the road only for a few days and so many things happened, so much interaction with people and places. Of course in the case of hitching boats I made many mistakes. In my head I was writing a list of rules I would have to follow in the future. The most important one was: be in a right place in a right time.

I had not much more than three weeks left, not even one new boat arrived, so I went to Scarborough and jumped on a night ferry to Port of Spain. It felt like a failure, as it was supposed to be hitchhiking trip, but the ferry costed practically as little as metro in Paris so I treated it as a city public transport to not feel to bad about it.

The first night I stayed in a flat of Phyllis, a couchsurfer who lived with her daughter near beautiful botanic gardens. She invited me even though they were both packing and preparing themselves for a trip to Europe and the flat for renting. On the second day I went to Chaguaramas to leave notes in marinas and boatyards and see what my chances to get a lift to Venezuela would be like. There were hundreds of boats, but most of them out of the water. Many people used the hurricane season for fixing and renovating their yachts. I was in the wrong time of the year again.

The same day I went to California in the central west of Trinidad. I was invited by Leanna who lived with her mother Lidia and her boyfriend from Italy Fabio. Leanna was working in her mother's company which was producing clothes for petroleum companies and Trini had massive resources of oil. With Fabio we had a common topic to talk about as he hitched through the Atlantic as well, but he did it the right way - in a high season. Now he wanted to open his own business in the Caribbean with yacht deliveries.

The next day all of us went for a road trip to Grande Riviere in the northeastern coast, where leatherback turtles had their nesting place. On the way, for a short moment I felt like in Poland. Maybe because of the aggressive advertising all around. Cape Verde had that slightly socialistic atmosphere with very limited advertising and murals educating people about ecology and other stuff. Trinidad and Tobago was completely opposite. It was a kingdom of capitalism with hundreds of small companies producing everything possible and trying to sell it. A place where ads were screaming with bright colours and everyone was trying to be louder than his neighbour. Just like Poland with its baby capitalism.

In the evening, from the terrace of a guesthouse we spotted the first turtle crawling out of the sea. It was too dark to see it properly and torches could scare them off, so we set the alarm for 5 a.m. and went to bed hoping there would be still some of them on the beach. We overslept the alarm, but one turtle was still outside on the way back to the ocean. We quickly ran downstairs half dressed. What a huge creature it was. Leatherback turtles were the largest of all the turtles. It laid eggs and went back to its natural habitat - the sea. Just like its ancestors millions of years ago.

After the trip to Grande Riviere I was back to the routine of boat hitchhiking. I was trying to speak with everyone I could, but it wasn't easy as most boats were on anchor and there were many places for mooring dinghies. I was walking from one place to another hoping to meet someone going to Venezuela. My aim was so close that it was possible to see Paria Peninsula from surrounding hills, but the reaction to the name Venezuela was usually the same: 'no way, too dangerous'. There were reports of piracy in recent years and most sailors were avoiding the place, especially the mainland. My chances were very low and my time was ticking away. The continent seemed to be so far away.

Lotus flower and a bee on Pitch Lake in Tobago
Lotus on Pitch Lake
One day I met Pierre and his uncle Lin, French guys who just bought a sloop and were fixing it. When I told them that it was taking me sometimes even three hours to get from California to Chaguaramas Pierre invited me to stay with them on their boat. It was still in pieces, but there was enough room for one more mattress and as always I didn't need much. The guys were like: 'if the boat was ready we would give you a lift, but we need a few more months.' And I bet they would. They were really cool.

In the same time I met a Catalan sailor who was planning to go to Margarita Island in Venezuela. The problem was he didn't know when and I didn't have much more time. I had to make a decision. There were two options: to stay one more week asking around and in case of no luck use the ticket to Caracas, or stay only two more days and than book a weekly ferry to Guiria and cancel the flight. The second option was slightly cheaper and ferry didn't sound as bad for a hitchhiker as the plane.

Two days passed quickly and with the ferry ticket in my backpack I went to La Brea to see the Pitch Lake, the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. It was a strange place. At its edges asphalt was hard, but once I walked into its centre the ground was soft, sometimes sticky and there were places completely impassable where asphalt was in a liquid state. In many places the pitch was covered with water, with reach vegetation. There were even caymans living in the most remote parts of the lake. All that area had a strong smell of tar, but flora and fauna thrived there anyways.

After the Pitch Lake I tried hitching for the first time in Trinidad. It looked very hard and unsafe to hitch in suburbs of Port of Spain, but in La Brea should be easy I thought. After two hours and dozens of unmarked taxis stopping and honking I jumped on a bus for six local dollars. It was getting dark and it seemed impossible to find a free ride. Maybe I needed more time, but I didn't have it. I preferred to spend my last 24 hours with Pierre and Lin and help them painting the boat. They were working so hard to realise they dreams.

On the eleventh of July around 2 p.m. I made the first steps on the South American continent. The Immigration Officer looked at my backpack, stamped my passport and showed with his hand: 'next!' No problems whatsoever. I started to walk up the road that was leading to Carupano. It was actually leading to Manaus and Rio de Janeiro, to Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile. Now I could go wherever I wanted and whenever I wanted. At least till the next sea.

* Liming - in Trinidadian slang hanging around.