When traveling it's often hard to avoid the excesses of traditional hotels and restaurants, but for the eco-conscious tourist it is possible to find earth-friendly accommodations that celebrate and protect nature's beauty.
My husband, Steve, and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Trinidad and I hoped to explore it in the greenest way possible. I surfed the net and was happy to discover that ecotourism thrives on the island.
I booked a small family run hotel called Acajou, www.acajoutrinidad.com, in the rain forest and near the fishing village of Grande Riveriere on the north coast, about a three and a half hour drive from Port of Spain airport.
After negotiating a winding and often rocky road, we arrived at the resort in the wee hours of the morning. A security guard led us by flashlight to one of five wooden cottages. The air was thick and humid; my hair became a mass of frizzy curls within seconds. There was no need for clothing so we shed our travel togs, flopped down upon a very comfy king-sized bed and released the mosquito netting tied to the bedposts, letting it billow around us. The pungent floral scents of the forest wafted through the screened windows and the swishing of giant palm trees lulled me softly to sleep.
I awoke to the sounds of birds, singing many different melodies but all in perfect harmony. Was this Disneyland or the real McCoy? Stepping out onto our large private back porch, Steve flopped into a swinging hammock and I could see that he'd be completely happy staying there for the rest of the day. But I was hungry; breakfast beckoned.
The restaurant at Acajou is open to the air with a thatched roof, keeping it cool all day long. Succulent fresh fruit, papaya, mango and melons made my lips pucker and homemade bread and rolls filled my belly, while tropical birds provided the morning's music. Other than birdsong and the lapping of surf on sand, it was quiet, so very quiet.
After breakfast, Steve and I wandered down to the beach, only about a five-minute walk from our cottage. While it was mostly deserted, a handful of local artisans sat perched on driftwood stools, carving masks and wall hangings with rubber mallets and screwdrivers. From the beach, we wandered through the tiny town of Grande Riviere marveling at brightly clothed children running barefoot easily over the stony ground and townsfolk buying fresh fish from tin shacks scarcely large enough to house more than one person.
As the sun rose high in the sky, Steve and I retreated to our cottage, turned the pedestal fan on high and took a short siesta. When the sun set, we shared a romantic and delicious dinner of pumpkin soup, King fish smothered in lime and coconut milk and black cake with baked banana. Since this particular night was Steve's birthday, the owner, Marlen brought us complimentary drinks known as Salty Dogs, an island concoction of vodka, grapefruit juice and sugar. Dinner was served under twinkling stars and the overhang of trees. This truly was paradise.
The next morning staff had arranged an eco tour. Our guide, Nicolas arrived, his machete in hand and a smile spread wide across his face. Equipped with bottles of water and wide-brimmed hats, we set off under blue skies.
There are 433 different species of birds on the island and Nicolas seemed to know each and every one. As we climbed up the road, mighty steep in places, he pointed out the many fruit-bearing trees, including avocado, wild cherry, banana, cocoa, and even nutmeg. With his machete, he deftly sliced cocoa beans from a branch, split open the pod and let me pop the sweet white-fleshed delicacy into my mouth. Mmmm! It was better than any piece of chocolate I'd ever eaten.
A few hours later, Steve, Nicolas and I dragged our sweating, thirsty selves to the outdoor bar at Acajou and the three of us shared bottles of beer together. I swear a Heineken never tasted so good!
So did I give up anything for an eco vacation? While there may not have been a hairdryer or fancy soaps in the bathroom and it did get hot with only a fan to circulate the air, any luxuries left behind were more than made up by the natural and peaceful surroundings of the rain forest and the sea.
Virginia Foley is a Canadian writer currently living in Wisconsin with her British-born husband and American-born puppy. Her travels have taken her across Europe, North America and the Caribbean but her heart will always belong in Canada, where her three grown children live. In 2007 she lived at the Old Course in St Andrew’s, Scotland for year but didn’t golf once!