For a tiny island like Tobago (overshadowed as it is by its sister island and Caribbean culture juggernaut, Trinidad) there are a surprising number of annual events that draw travelers to its shores from far and wide. The biggest are the Tobago Jazz Experience in April (this year headlined by Dionne Warwick!) and, of course, the world famous goat races during Easter. But, for me at least, nothing matches the lighthearted fun of the annual Tobago Flying Colours Kite Festival.
Last year’s event went from December 30th to January 6th. Luckily, we were on hand to make the drive over to Plymouth Recreation Grounds (also home to Tobago Jazz) to take in the kaleidoscopic array of lovingly handcrafted kites made of anything from trash bags to gift wrap and everything in between.
Launched back in 2000 by Valerie Critten-Stewart as a way to give back to her adopted island, the festival has been successful in no small part due it its founder’s passion. Her personal phone number is the only one associated with the event, she organizes all the vendors, which are the event’s only source of income, she collects all the judges (often pulling random visitors into service), and even plays MC.
Another simple reason for the festival’s enduring success? Even without the event, Tobagonians would be flying their kites this time of year anyway.
Yup, snowbound Americans may go sledding during the holidays, but Tobagonians fly kites. ‘Tis the season!
Even before we arrived at the grounds, you could already see shapes drifting high in the clear blue West Indian sky. And as we got closer, family after family were seen making their way to the festival carrying their own creations. Makeshift tails fluttered every which way, while repurposed plastic Coke bottles wrapped in yards of black string were clutched tightly in little hands.
Once you’re within sight of the Plymouth Recreation Grounds, you start to get an idea of what a unique and fun event this is. Massive shapes ride the persistent trade breezes (while other 20+ foot tall kites wait in the wings). Myriad smaller kites dot the spaces in between. Kids and adults alike are running this way and that – most tugging on a string or two. Smiles are everywhere. Soursop ice cream and buss-up-shut add to the flavor. And the whole thing is wrapped in lively calypsos pumping from an improvised PA system flanking the small cement grandstand.
It’s truly an uncommon Caribbean experience; one I tried to capture in the video above and in the gallery below.
If you’ve ever been, let us know in the comments. And if you’ve never experienced the Tobago Flying Colours Kite Festival, all I can say is this is one lively day in the sun that should be on every Caribbean traveler’s list.
(Click images to enlarge.)