Porridge's Place - Review Page 1
Reviewed by Steve & Jill Wooler in January 2005 and revisited in February 2013
All-inclusive hotels have their place, particularly when visiting a destination for the first time. However, the best way to experience Tobago is to get out into the community. There is a wide range of highly affordable, locally owned apartments and cottages available and the standards of accommodation on offer have risen substantially in recent year. The biggest single advantage, however, is the close friendship that so many visitors experience living in close proximity to a local family.
Derrick “Porridge” Lopez is a well-known Castarian. He is best known as the General Manager of the excellent Castara Retreats. Aided by his equally charming wife, Jeanell, Porridge operates an airport transfer service and arranges weddings for overseas visitors. His warm, welcoming smile and friendly face so ably illustrate the Tobagonian characteristics that led to the creation of this website. His manner, hospitality and good humour are genuine and heartfelt. The Caribbean abounds with beautiful beaches and spectacular scenery. However, the indigenous population is what makes Tobago so unique and special.
Porridge’s Place is located one mile east of Castara’s main beach facilities, on the main north coast road that leads to Parlatuvier. It is a 2-minute drive, or 10-minute walk, from the apartment to Little Bay beach at the eastern end of the village. The uphill return possibly takes a minute or two longer.
The narrow main road twists and winds its way up the valley and out of Castara village. Like the few neighbouring properties, Porridge’s home is perched on the hillside, adjacent to the road. The main viewpoint is back down the green and lush valley, towards the glistening ocean at the bottom of the hill.
The accommodation at Porridge’s Place consists of a single self-contained studio apartment offering around 22m2 of net floor space. The apartment is located on the ground floor of the house. Porridge, Jeanell, and family share the upper floor of the house.
The house is cut into the hillside. The apartment is constructed of concrete block-work on three sides, with a fascia of wood. Two sets of double windows, with opening wooden louvered shutters, provide adequate light and ventilation.
The 3.3 x 2.7m living/kitchen area is partially separated from the 4 x 3.3m bedroom/bathroom area by a bead curtain. The roughcast concrete walls and ceiling are painted white, the starkness being relieved by small paintings, prints and posters. It is clear that considerable thought and care has been put into making the apartment look ‘homely’. In fact, Porridge and Jeanell’s involvement with Castara Retreats is obvious. The apartment is like a mini version, with close attention to detail and obvious attempt to provide high standards of furnishing within a rustic “back to basics” ethos.
The living room is simply furnished and the light grey floor tiles are soft and cool to walk on. Guests will inevitably gravitate to the 2.8x2.1m covered porch immediately outside the apartment door, so the sofa present on our first visit has now been replaced by a single wickerwork chair.
The kitchen is equipped with a large new fridge-freezer, a four-ring bottled gas oven and a microwave oven. The stainless-steel kitchen sink has a cold water supply and is set into a nicely tiled work surface, set above a spacious open shelf unit that houses the pans and crockery, etc. Provided utensils include a toaster, kettle, filter coffee machine and a ‘French press’ cafetière. There is an adequate supply of pots, pans, cutlery, crockery and cooking utensils. Everything was immaculately clean and in excellent maintenance order. It was also nice to note that a small stock of condiments, such as salt and sugar, were provided. In fact, I do not think we have come across a better-equipped small apartment anywhere in Tobago.
The bedroom area is dominated by a double bed with four-poster mosquito net. There is a single bedside table and bedside lamp and 1.6m of open hanging and shelf space for clothing and other items. Additional furnishings include a small wall-mounted digital security safe, a hair dryer, television set and an MP3 player.
The walk-in shower has been upgraded since our first visit. It now boasts a 7-inch raindrop head and plumbed hot water, rather than the previous instantaneous heater. This is the only hot water in the apartment, however. The toilet is housed in a separate cubicle, in the corner of the room, and gave new meaning to the expression “sitting on the throne”, being so high that even my feet barely touched the floor. A single small pedestal basin with cold water and mirror completes the bathroom furnishings.
The apartment is air-conditioned by a single modern, split-unit air-conditioner. Although quiet and efficient in use, many guests will probably find this superfluous and choose instead to leave the wooden window shutters open. A large oscillating floor fan is provided. We used this fan at night, but not because it was too hot. We prefer fresh air and find that mosquito nets restrict the airflow more than we like. To be honest, they are seldom necessary during the dry season. Our preferred method is to put a fan on at its lowest setting positioned towards the bed. Mosquitoes are so light that they have difficulty flying in strong air currents. If there are mossies about, we normally just use an electric bug deterrent, positioned on the floor between the bed and the fan.
A covered patio furnished with a table and chairs lies just outside the apartment’s door. It is a lovely place to relax and lime with views down the valley and out to sea. The gardens adjacent to the apartment are full of colourful tropical plants. You are surrounded by nature, in its purest sense. Although the main road passes directly in front of the house, traffic is light – possibly one vehicle every two minutes during daylight hours and virtually none after dark.
Bed linen and towels are provided, but as with most such accommodation, you must bring your own beach towels. The apartment receives a light weekly clean, at which time the bed linen is changed. Bath and hand towels are changed twice a week.
The apartment is spacious enough for couples with a baby, provided they bring a travel cot. The hillside location does mean that the apartment would not be suitable for wheelchair users or anyone with mobility problems.
The accommodation is simple, but adequate. Porridge, Jeanell and their wonderfully polite and respectful children, Shaquille and Derricia, are wonderful hosts. They are there when you need them, or whenever you feel like a chat, but never 'in your face'. If you really want to know and understand Tobagonians, you could not choose a better place than Porridge's Place.
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