By Dr Anjani Ganase
Gabriele De Gaetano has been living in Tobago for over 30 years but he still speaks with large gestures and has not lost the accent or emotional responses of Italy where he was born. From his base at La Tartaruga restaurant in Buccoo, he roams Tobago, from ridges to waterfalls, uncovering water- and wind-mills, sugar factories, kilns, indigo pits and ruins on former plantations.
I have a great passion for outdoors, mountain biking, hiking and exploring what Tobago has to offer. The island is beautiful, colourful and what visitors also remember are the people of Tobago – their traditions, their warmth and how everybody will get to know you.
I was born in Milan, did extensive business travels where I met my wife who decided to return to TT and pursue the passion for good food and great cooking. We created La Tartaruga Italian Restaurant which has been serving family recipes to a very affectionate clientele since 1992.
My daughter Francesca has been working along with me conducting our family operation.
Tobago Good Food
All the produce at La Tartaruga is sourced from Tobago farmers who are often assisted by their sons and daughters with their youthful energy, skills and developing ideas.
To serve good food in the restaurant, I recognise the importance of promoting good agricultural and processing practices that respect the environment and promote community and sustainable development. As Director of Tobago Affairs for the European Business Chamber in Trinidad and Tobago (EurochamTT), I started in 2014 the Tobago Good Food Project, financed with a contribution from the Enabling Competitive Business Strategy (ECB Strategy), a programme of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Minister of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development. The ECB Strategy is the focal point for financial support from the European Union.
The EurochamTT project implemented permaculture designs; systems to produce fresh vegetables and herbs; tree crop rehabilitation at fruit tree estates; field training at cocoa estates; upgrades at dairy goat farms; technical support to advanced beekeepers; organic agricultural training in preparation for certification; graphic artists to produce logos, labelling and packaging designs.
The Tobago Good Food Project created new agro tourism sites which offer a unique experience to visitors such as sampling and sale of products, tours and even accommodation.
Team Museum and Tobago Heritage
In 2018, EurochamTT considered the possibility of starting to document Heritage Built Assets in Tobago with the purpose of preparing recommendations for educational and tourism itineraries. I was already part of Team Museum which was formed by volunteers with passion for historical field research and includes people like Louis Vilain and Jerome Keens Dumas (Tobago Trust), Helen Edwards Noel (Tobago Museum), Gabrielle Fernandes (Tobago Library Services) Liselle Isaac (Archives Manager) and Arlene Blade (Amerindian archaeology) and Joanna Moses-Wothke (Dean of Academic Services, THTI).
Other volunteers are Annamaria and Rikhi Ganase, Camille Fitz-Worme, Lyndon Skeete, Latoyaa Roberts, Cosimo Di Maggio, Richard Dunn, Vaughan Wastling, Katya Zeydan. We have many interested persons helping.
Several people have been working over the years to help us appreciate our history, our heritage and culture; people like Dr Susan Craig-James and Dr Rita Pemberton, to whom we refer when we need clarifications and details. We also have great appreciation for the work done by the late Edward Hernandez (First Curator Tobago Museum) and the late Miles Almandoz who kept valuable records.
The Team started with collating and organising data from work and reports previously done.
With the assistance of searches in the archives we were able to visit the fields, identify and record a great number of heritage-built assets located at the sites of former estates in the seven parishes of Tobago.
A geospatial database has been created from our team’s systematic search, collection and recording of built assets in Tobago; it takes a lot of computer memory and is completed with photographs and background checks. Work is in progress and every day we receive clues and contributions from the residents of Tobago who know the history of the area where they live.
We have a very good network!
With encouragement from Angela Ramsey (Wildlife Biologist), Team Museum was formalised as the Tobago Heritage Conservation Society (THCS) which was incorporated as an NGO in July 2020 with the mission: Heritage conservation and exploration and preservation of built assets in Tobago and to promote ecotourism.
THCS has already been providing information for research and educational projects, such as the Report of Archaeological and Historical Sites on Estates Bordering the Main Ridge Forest Reserve (submitted in support of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere application).
Expanding Tobago Tourism
The work that was done in preparing the application to UNESCO for the Man and Biosphere designation has showed us so much of what Tobago has to offer; it is an inspiration!
We have to credit the dedication and persistence of Aljoscha Wothke of the Environmental and Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC) for the hard work and the success!
Aljoscha has been underlining the importance of cultural tourism, and I would like to quote the figures received courtesy of Patricia Bissessar, who administers the Facebook page for Angelo Bissessarsingh’s Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago: the statistics indicate membership approaching 29,000 persons interested in heritage with an average 116,000 views per week. The Tobago Heritage Conservation Society is a frequent contributor to the page, and I am very satisfied with the interest and engagement received from members.
History and heritage sites broaden our offerings for tourism. A restaurant is only one opportunity to share what our island can produce. We have nature in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve; coral reefs in the marine parks. Now we have this rich history with artifacts still waiting to be discovered. We are imagining itineraries and clusters that take you from historical sites to dirt ovens, treks to the sites of great houses with gorgeous views, and so many stories of the people who lived on these lands.