It takes about three days to adjust to Tobago Time.
This is a real thing — just like Chavez Time, or Daylight Saving Time. Time simply moves slowly in Tobago. People move slowly in Tobago. Life in general moves slowly in Tobago. And they like it just like that, because, after all, there’s no real way to change it.
So why hurry? Why hustle? Why hassle yourself? You have to just shrug it off, and let it slide. Worrying or fussing or getting angry never changed anything. You may as well just have a cold rum punch, and get on with your life.
Being in Tobago reminded me of the slogan that they teach kids in school in Canada — “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”.
Because in Tobago, chances are, you won’t get things exactly the way you want. After all, this is a tiny island of just 50,000 people, and pretty much all of them are breezing through life on this tiny speck of paradise in the Caribbean Sea.
Going to Tobago is not like visiting Mexico, or Cuba, or the Dominican Republic, with their massive all-inclusive hotels, that have six different restaurants within the resort, nightly entertainment, kids clubs, and water slides. You won’t find any of that.
Things are different in Tobago. It’s strictly local here. Restaurants don’t have all of the items on the menu, either because the boat shipping them in hasn’t arrived yet, or the fisherman hasn’t yet caught some fish for the catch of the day. Things are limited, and you can’t always get what you want. The locals already understand this, and know how to live with it.
Some tourists like this slow-paced, no-worries way of life. Some tourists find it quaint, and authentic, and different. But, not all do. If you’re accustomed to all-inclusive resorts where you’re treated like royalty; where waiters in starched white shirts watch from the corner of their eye to bring you another gin and tonic before you’ve even had the last sip of your first; where baskets of fresh bread appear on your table without even having to be asked…. well, if you want first class service and treatment, you don’t come to Tobago.
However, if you want an island all to yourself, and a true local experience, then you’ll love Tobago. You just have to have a very, very flexible attitude, and keep a smile on your face at all times. (And above all, don’t ever forget the mantra — You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.)
Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. You may go into a restaurant, and get presented the menu. You may read the menu, and then, out of curiosity, you may ask the waitress, “What’s the soup of the day?” And chances are that the waitress will shrug and simply say, “I don’t know.” She won’t offer to go to the kitchen to find out, or ask someone else, because she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t really care if you want the soup or not, or if you order the soup or not, or if you get the soup or not, or if it tastes good or not. So what can you do? All you can do is shrug back, skip the soup, and not let it upset you.
Because if you can get past the local way of life, the awful, lazy, lackadaisical service at restaurants and hotels, if you can get past the fact that half the menu is missing, if you can get past the stray dog barking at 11pm, or the room service that fails to give you enough towels… if you can deal with all the minor inconveniences of Tobago Time, then you’ll be rewarded.
Rewarded with an unspoiled, sparsely populated island, with little to no tourism, and, as a result, no pretentiousness.
Rewarded with hidden beaches and coves, accessible only by boat, with water so clear and clean you won’t even need to put on your snorkels to see the reef below you.
Rewarded with stunning sunsets on the beach, crashing waves, a perfect temperature year-round, and rainbows in the morning mist.
Tobago is certainly a glorious little place, completely lacking in a functioning service industry, which will either drive you completely bonkers, or force you to surrender and say, “okay, fine, it is what it is, and just don’t take it on.”
Because in Tobago, never forget — You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. After all, there’s not much to get upset about, not in a place with so much incredible beauty.