The night before Alex and I left for Trinidad, we were out for a family dinner with Marcus, at an outdoor restaurant. At some point after the meal, while Alex was playing with some other kids in the nearby green space, I absent-mindedly checked my phone for any new email, and found the following:
I comment on your blog occasionally ... I love your perspective on life and your journey so far and I think alot of people over here will love it too. While I am thrilled to see this event happening in Trinidad and hope that it is totally packed out, I have to ask if it is even a remote possibility that you could come over to Tobago, even if just for an afternoon, to do a talk for our local crowd, which is a pretty diverse and incredible bunch if I do say so myself : )
[...] And why you would want to do this...
[...] Kariwak is an incredible place, not just because I grew up there and still am lucky enough to work there but because it attracts the most incredible people. The space you would speak in, the main Ajoupa, was actually first used (unofficially inaugurated) by the Dalai Lama! How cool is that?! And in it's regular life is the venue for everything from yoga classes and retreats, meditation, storytelling, women's circles and weddings. We are committed to hosting transformative speakers and thinkers, and you would definitely be one of them so it would be our pleasure to find a way to make something work [...]
Love and blessings for a safe journey and a wonderful week in the homeland! (and just in time for julie mangoes too - great timing!)
I actually stared at my phone for a few seconds, stunned. "Marcus," I said, "You're not going to believe this." I showed him the email on my phone, and watched his eyes widen as he read. Finally he looked up at me. "That is incredible," he breathed.
You see, Marcus and I were very familiar with the Kariwak Hotel. In fact, when we lived in Trinidad, any time we took a long weekend in Tobago, we'd make sure to save one night for walking to the small, intimate Kariwak for dinner. Cynthia Clovis (who co-owns the hotel with her husband and who, it turns out, is Tanya's mom), is famous for her amazing culinary expertise, and under her watchful eye the hotel's open-air restaurant features some of the best meals on the island. It's a magical place, and Marcus and I have longed to stay there -- but because it's not located on the beach and we were usually traveling with a toddler, we never had. "One day," we used to say, "one day, when Alex is older, we're definitely going to stay there."
And now it looked like the opportunity had just fallen in my lap.
I quickly replied telling Tanya how thrilled we would be to come, and a week later, as Alex and I exited the Tobago airport, the beautiful face you see above walked up to greet us.
I'm pleased to report that Tanya is as warm and welcoming in person as she is in her email; and truthfully, the same could be said for the Kariwak. The rooms are simple without much adornment or superfluous amenities -- for example, they are air conditioned (thankfully), but are simply appointed, and have no televisions or wifi -- nonetheless, they are absolutely spotless and instantly feel like home. The hotel staff is incredibly friendly, and without exception make it their mission to ensure that you are comfortable as possible.
And the grounds, people. Oh, the grounds:
As Alex and I were walking around the gardens (and I was shooting as fast as my camera would let me), this happy face walked up to me:
"You have bubbles?" she asked.
"Um, what?" For a fleeting, irrational moment, I thought perhaps she suspected I was gassy or otherwise flatulent.
"Bubbles," she said, still smiling. "You look like the type of person who always has bubbles floating from her."
I'm still not entirely sure what she meant, but it didn't matter: she was pretty bubbly herself. Further conversation revealed that Linda was the head gardener, primarily responsible for the vegetable garden. The Kariwak grows almost all of its vegetables and produce organically on site, and any dinner you eat there likely was harvested that very day from the garden.
So, of course, I asked Linda to give Alex and me a tour:
I'm telling you, this place is magical.
The event that evening was so lovely, too: I presented in the main ajoupa (the one where the Dalai Lama also spoke, heaven help me), and the atmosphere was casual: about 30-40 people came, sitting on yoga mats and we were all barefoot, and it was certainly the most peaceful time I've ever had when doing a talk. The next morning, after breakfast, Alex and I were really sad that it was time to leave; however, I made myself a few promises:
1) The next time Alex and I visit Tobago, Marcus will be with us. Also, no way we're staying at the fancy beach resort and just coming to Kariwak for dinner -- from now on, we're going to be all about the Kariwak, and just make the 3-minute walk to the beach as necessary;
2) Also, next time I'm going to take one of Tanya's yoga classes (she's the certified instructor at the hotel); also, I'm going to learn more about Tanya's fantastic community-based organization, Save our Seaturtles (SOS) Tobago (Facebook page here). Readers who have followed Chookooloonks for years know that Marcus, Alex and I used to visit the north coast of Trinidad each year to see the nesting of the giant leatherback turtles; Tanya's conservation organization protects the turtles who nest in Tobago. My next trip, I'm definitely going to learn more; and
3) Finally, I've added #108 to my life list: host a creative retreat at the Kariwak. Wouldn't that be amazing? I'm thinking photography, journaling, writing, art, with workshop leaders, yoga, lots of beach and hammock time built in ... what do you think, would you be interested in coming to something like that?
Yup. Definitely a life list item. I'm workin' on it.
So, deepest, most heartfelt thanks to Tanya and her mom Cynthia for having Alex and me as guests at the hotel, and an equal dose of gratitude to their staff who made us so comfortable (especially the lovely Siobhan, who kept Alex and me in Kariwak Koolers for the duration of our stay. I drank more of that amazing concoction than I think they were prepared for, man. Heaven).
And of course, if you happen to be planning a trip to Tobago, I cannot recommend Kariwak enough.
Did I mention this place is magical?
Updated: If you do think a creative retreat here would interest you, please leave a comment below. This won't commit you, I'm just trying to gauge interest. Thanks!