Think there’s little to see and do in Tobago, the island too small to offer exciting day trips or adventure? Think again. It’s a misconception. As well as secluded, picturesque and lively beaches, aqua adventures and beautiful scenery, new on the scene is eco-tour agency Barefoot Tobago. It offers adventure hiking and expeditions to parts of Tobago seen only on maps, glimpsed during a vehicular excursion maybe, spoken of by others perhaps, but not often visited.
Since its founding this year the company has sought to highlight the natural beauty of several parts of the island, exploring trails and expeditions and introducing guided tours for the young and old, experienced and uninitiated walkers/hikers.
The several trails explored by Barefoot Tobago in 2019 give an idea of the range of beauty and natural spectacles we live close to. The Main Ridge Forest Reserve, No Man’s Land/Bon Accord area, Speyside Waterwheel to Starwood beach, White Rock beach at Castara, waterfalls in Richmond and Goldsborough’s Twin Rivers have all welcomed groups mobilised by co-founders Kyle Dyer and Bert Callender and their Barefoot colleagues.
There’s a simple, well-organised, easy to follow online registration process, refreshments included in the price and transport provided – if needed – from the centrally located meeting point, and helpful and attentive Barefoot guides offering encouragement throughout the testing but informative and exhilarating trails. These are well organised, safe, welcoming and child-friendly events.
Bookending the month of October this writer has trekked twice this year. To Starwood Beach from Speyside Waterwheel and to the Richmond Waterfall. Both presented different challenges and called on physical and mental strength supplemented by the knowledgeable orange t-shirted Barefoot guides.
Beginning at the historic Speyside Waterwheel landmark and launching the first of several punishing, or exhilarating, ascents to Starwood beach was an informative expedition. Passing a slavery-era hydropower concrete structure, the first plateau was reached through thick undergrowth and vegetation. Mature bush smothered hikers’ descent to a cleared area overlooking Blue Waters Inn and with Goat Island visible on the horizon, as well as the secluded Bahamas Bay, a hideaway beach reached via the village of Speyside.
Belmont beach at the trek’s halfway point offered time to regroup, refresh and prepare for the next phase. Awaiting were further leg bicep, gluteus maximus testing summits in the shape of increasingly ascending, curving inclines culminating at their zenith with an 800 metre descent to Starwood Beach. Relief of the strong Atlantic waves awaited as well as a food and drink break and an enthusiastically performed team bonding exercise.
The strongest, most determined returned to base camp on foot, others took an exciting 10-minute roller coaster-like pirogue boat ride back to Speyside Waterwheel.
The meandering Richmond River, one of many sources for Tobago’s verdant countryside, snaking through the east of the island, was the trail for the final mission of 2019. A new expedition, another route explored, different but equally testing challenges.
Arriving at base camp off the Windward Road, having passed the dramatic terrain of Mt St George, Fort Granby, Goodwood, and Pembroke, the hike began at a not too strenuous pace along a gently ascending avenue of rainforest for half a mile, before cutting through well-established vegetation. Shade, providing relief from strong early morning sun, encouraged the party, comprising a score and more of young and young-at-heart walkers, led by Barefoot Tobago’s Guides. Perhaps complacency set in, influenced by the next phase through a series of vast, flat, cool, plateaued open land watched over only by bovine witnesses. Forested clearings swapped with rainforest covered sections where bamboo, undergrowth and trees provided a guard of honour through which hikers continued. Leaving this section, walkers began ascending ever higher until the waters of Richmond River – already a backdrop or in the foreground – became more prominent, offering a parallel track to follow and to navigate. Tracing this slaloming course of shallow – but rocky – river along a gently rising gradient called for a steady gait and careful eye through several mini pools and waterfalls. The slippery, rocky ankle-deep water asking questions of balance and shoes alike.
The exhilarating obstacle course, over two miles (estimated by your correspondent), revealed its finish line destination after 90 minutes. A series of deep pools, and the Richmond Waterfall itself, the most prominent, the highest, a cascading, refreshing, hydrotherapy source, providing the reward for fatigued but triumphant walkers, an incentive for several, and a meditative nourishment break for others, while preparing to retrace steps for the return to base camp.
Barefoot regular Andrea Quamina said of her six expeditions this year: "My expectations beforehand were to enjoy what nature had in store. It was way over and beyond my wildest expectations. I enjoyed (each) tremendously, hence the reason I always attend and will continue to attend."
Of the physical and mental challenges of the hikes she said, "With each event comes new and different challenges. The great thing is that it's rated before you attempt. Once God grants me health and strength, I will go back. The thing is it's not just a hike, it’s an adventure, very informative, historical and educational as you get to experience untouched nature at a level where you become one with the peace derived from the universe. It allows you to just become entwined (with) the natural beauty of the island."
Looking forward to more adventures in the coming year, Quamina added, "I feel the love that the team leaders have for the participants. Kyle, Latoya, Nickolas, Shawn and Bertil – they make you feel at home, like it's not just Barefoot Tobago; it feels like Barefoot family Tobago, and I absolutely love that."
Barefoot Tobago co-founder Kyle Dyer shared his thoughts on several issues including the history of the eco-agency, how trips are organised and plans for the future.
How did Barefoot Tobago get started?
Barefoot Tobago Limited was built with the mission to provide unique experiences for hiking and nature seeking adventures on the island of Tobago. The idea for the brand was born out of the treks of four barefoot young men, through beach bound, river bound, or waterfall bound trails. Currently, the team includes Bertril Callender, Kyle Dyer and six additional hike leaders.
What were the reactions to the expeditions this year?
We've done ten events for 2019, including two private. The reactions have been beyond our expectations. Our first hike had seven people, but we must be doing something right because we've been averaging about 20 since, with the exception of No Man's Land, which really blew us away with over 70 hikers.
We pride ourselves in taking the time to listen to our hikers and implementing the necessary improvements, making each hike even better than the last.
How are expeditions chosen and what’s the criteria?
Expeditions are chosen based on what experience we want to deliver. We use the word "experience" a lot in our marketing because we want to make each event memorable. You may start a hike walking through dense forest undergrowth and end it with a relaxing boat ride with a beastly cold coconut water in your hand.
Each trail is initially scouted and documented using the technology of Google maps. A second team of hike leaders then re-scout the trail to identify any potential risks and thereby rate the trail difficulty on a scale of one – being the easiest – to ten – being the most difficult. On this visit trail markers are laid, and sneak peak footage of the trails are posted to the Facebook and Instagram pages. Several trails have already been mapped, documented and sited for follow-up scouting in 2020.
How many expeditions are planned for 2020?
At least another ten events not including our private bookings. One per month except November and December which historically have the most rainfall and roughest seas.
What's next for Barefoot Tobago, any ideas to expand the concept?
Our plans for 2020 include:
• barefoottobago.com website launch which will offer a streamlined registration process including the ability to customise your package, see live price updates and use promo codes. Eventually we'll be taking online payments to offer even more convenience.
• Merchandise – Barefooters will be able to proudly rep their tribe with wristbands and jerseys.
• A partnership with Exuberance Tobago at Port Mall, which will give persons a physical location to pay for Barefoot Tobago events as well as a retail outlet for our merchandise.
• More event types – 2020 will see the first Barefoot Tobago overnight camp and coast to coast hike.
• More activities – we've done kayaking, treasure hunts, fishing and boat rides so far. Everyone seemed to love these. We definitely want to incorporate ATV riding, and we've got a few more activities up our sleeves.
We've been exploring Tobago as friends since 2015. There's so much to do and we want to share the experiences with everyone.
For more info visit Facebook: barefoottobago or Instagram: @barefoottobago.