Recently someone sent me a photograph of one of the Love signs I paint. The sizeable white wooden sign displays the following words in red all caps: “Love heals, uplifts, connects, transforms, delights . . .”
The person who sent the image to me had hung the sign on an almond tree on the surf side of Mount Irvine Bay with the hope that those who gather there would focus on those aspects of love. In the photo, the scene visible behind the sign is an empty shoreline, eerily devoid of human presence . . . testament to the fact that citizens’ ongoing cries of "Open the beaches" have fallen on deaf ears.
If "The Sea" were to replace the word "Love", the other words on the sign would still be applicable, reflecting what the beach means to many people in Tobago: “The Sea heals, uplifts, connects, transforms, delights . . .”
Traditionally, Christmas into Old Year’s/New Year’s is a time when many Trinidadians flock to "Bago" to celebrate the season and flood popular beaches. In the light of possible staycation ‘thronging’, can we expect that beaches will be opened before 2022? It seems so, as the PM recently stated that by the middle of October the Government will consider opening the beaches.
Speaking recently at the Magdalena Grand, Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis announced that at least 70 per cent of Tobago’s population will have to be vaccinated before beaches are reopened. As many social media comments reflected, this statement, generally seen as a "tactic", did not go down well.
“Will the beach be for vaccinated people only?” many are asking, dreading exclusion.
Hardly likely. How will it be possible to check that all beach-goers are vaccinated? Will people be required to walk with proof of immunisation? If so, who will check the cards? Will "approved" bathers be given special wrist bands? Will those without wrist bands be charged and/or asked to leave? Will national security resources be wasted on the installation of police and soldiers at every beach, river and waterfall in TT to ensure that citizens "behave" and/or are fully "vaxxed"? Given that beaches are natural places of fresh air circulation, sunlight and space (making it more difficult for coronavirus to spread), such measures are surely not necessary.
In Antigua and Barbuda, beaches are open to all as per outlined on their tourism website: "As of 20th September, 2021 beaches can only be used for therapeutic purpose on Mondays to Fridays between the hours of 5 am and 5 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 5 am and 12 noon. Picnics, playing of music, or consumption of alcohol are presently not allowed. Beaches cannot be utilised on public holidays."
Could such an approach work in TT?
As one secondary school teacher said flatly, “Given the often lawless, reckless nature of our people, I have observed that it is better to keep the beaches closed.”
I prefer the beach very early in the morning when it is cool and there are no crowds and limers. At that time, most people are either still in bed, getting ready for work or online classes, or find the water too cold.
Those at the beach on early mornings are there to exercise and relax. The mood is tranquil, meditational, as single bodies do laps or simply soak in the water; some do push-ups on the sand; some walk or bathe dogs. Small groups of mainly elderly citizens stand in the water in a circle, quietly chatting or praying.
Since even popular beaches can remain fairly quiet until about ten, sometimes midday, it is possible to introduce early morning beach hours and (as a friend suggested) further reduce the possibility of large groups by having a limit of two or three people maximum allowed to accompany each other.
“Not everybody limes!” a mother of two young children said. “We have a lot of people who need the beach for their mental health and for sport!”
A Tobago entrepreneur said, “I agree with the re-opening of beaches, more so for sporting and exercise, especially for Tobago. This is just a way of life for Tobagonians. Perhaps have restricted hours and maybe not weekends if that’s where the problem with crowding is. Even applying for a beach pass.”
While many throughout the nation wait to hear the outcome of the Government’s beach-opening deliberations, a bathtub of water, salt, blue food colouring and a vivid imagination may help satisfy seaside cravings.