I spent five hours at the ANR International Airport in Tobago recently. I was not alone. There were dozens of people milling around, some shouting and many very very angry. I was told that the Tobago airport is now often a place of chaos in part because of the continuing issue of the ferry.
The long and short of this saga I have yet to determine since, as I waited, I was regaled with many exceedingly creative versions; many of which made sense. There was talk of sabotage and of ineptitude. As we waited to board, some of us for hours, the conversation flowed. Many were Tobagonians or people living in Tobago who make this journey on a weekly basis.
They told me about the hassle of getting to and from Trinidad, which is a journey that every retailer apparently has to make at frequent intervals. One woman sells pholourie and has a thriving business. She was resigned to the long wait. Resignation seems the only solution, since no other is forthcoming.
These seasoned travellers talked about the privilege that some seemed to have in finding flights at peak times. This may be only a perception. They waited for Caribbean Airlines to put on an extra flight to ease the pain. They talked about the long queues and the lack of a reasonable system to facilitate travellers between the sister islands.
The fact, which is indeed stranger than fiction, is that Tobago is like an orphan with very little hope of being rescued by any prince. This Cinderella has now become resigned to the fact that travel to and from Trinidad is time-consuming as well as boring, and may even be hazardous.
Even after taking into account the matter of ferries, there remains the inexplicable fact that this international airport has virtually no facilities for travellers. Yet, it purports to be a tourist destination. There is one bar and restaurant at the airport compound, though there are several behind it. This one bar charges its captive clientele $16 for a beer. Many passengers have nothing else to do and nowhere else to sit other than in this facility.
However, this is open only at peak times. On one occasion in the not too distant past, I found myself having to spend a long period at this airport in the early hours of the morning. There was no possibility of getting even a bottle of water, far less a cup of coffee.
What does one do for five hours at the airport after arriving on a long-haul flight from, say, a European country? One gentleman told me that he was booked to leave for Trinidad at 11 pm after arriving at the airport in Tobago at 3 pm. No earlier flights were available.
Admittedly, one could go to the nearby beach. This would be ideal. But what to do with the luggage? Every airport that I have ever travelled to has facilities for storing luggage. However, in Tobago there is nothing. The traveller sits and just gets vex.
Yet, Tobago remains a little haven and one that many people want to visit. Its beaches and its people are unsurpassed. You don’t need to travel further than Bacolet or Mt Irvine to be in paradise. Why then does this tourist island have no facilities for tourists at its airport? There is the market beside Store Bay, which contains excellent goods. But, again, where do you leave your luggage if you are in transit or waiting to board a plane?
Would it be so difficult to install vending machines that are operated by someone other than the owner of the present bar and restaurant? Would it cost a fortune to build lockers for left luggage? Can we do something?
A weekly column by Jean Antoine-Dunne.