It Takes a Village...

Do we wish to secure sustainability in tourism? Sustainability ought to come from the practice that allows operators and employees to enjoy fair and equitable living standards; in so doing attract an appropriate market for the sector; and develop the capacity for growth in the exchange; with no negative impact on the natural environment. Wild Tobago looks at one example of sustainability in the industry in Tobago. What are the lessons to be learned from the Kariwak Village?
(This was first published in Tobago Newsday on Thursday 26th January 2017)

The iconic ajoupa surrounded by gardens, constantly cared for over 30 years.

In 1981, an advertising agency was given an interesting challenge. Design a logo for a new hotel in Tobago, that would not be called a hotel. Its name would be a tribute to indigenous peoples of these islands, people who were driven off centuries before, by those who came in fabled caravels. The indigenous people – so we had been told – were either Caribs or Arawaks, the former fierce and warring, the latter meek and peaceful. To settle the debate – were Tobago’s indigenes fierce or peaceful? – without long discourse or evidence that would prove our accepted history of the original inhabitants a complete fiction, developer Allan Clovis had settled on the name Kariwak, and his hotel would be a village.

Allan and his wife Cynthia had been teachers in indigenous schools in the Canadian arctic; and in 1976 in the biting Canadian cold, the idea of a hospitality business in tropical Tobago was their dream coming true. And so the vision for Kariwak Village as a place on a green island offering simple accommodation for restful comfort and energizing food was born.  The quest for natural materials in construction – native woods, raw logs, thatch – and organic rooms grew to an oasis for hearty nourishing meals from fresh produce. Today, 35 years since the opening in 1982, Kariwak is a centre for relaxation and comfort, in walking distance from the Crown Point airport.

The Kariwak signature cottage

In the beginning, everything was a work in progress. The nine cabanas – each with two rooms – encircling the pool were bare of vegetation. Aircraft thundered on the airport runway some hundred yards beyond the fence. In time, and with care, trees, shrubs, fruiting and flowering plants buffered the perimeter and cocooned the cabins. When six rooms were added, so were more trees and the village green which features a long house with hammocks and the waterfall spa. With the trees came the birds; hummingbirds buzz around the feeders; big-eyed thrushes nest in the soursop. You can request a catalogue of the botanical garden that the village has nurtured; and be amazed by the variety and abundance on one five acre plot on a well-developed section of the island.

As it must have been in indigenous communities in these tropical islands, food is centre and focus of this village. From that first weekend in April 1982, Cynthia knew that the success of their hospitality on this slight undistinguished strip of land next to the airport would be in their meals, and she took charge of this important factor. From a concentration on fresh and nourishing meals, she has built and expanded an oeuvre worthy of any chef in any fine restaurant anywhere in the world. The proof of this is in her cookbook, Cooking Kariwak Style. These are the recipes and meals that she perfected in the Kariwak Village kitchen over 30 years; here distilled for home use by visitors who come from every part of the world. The Kariwak bakes its own bread, makes its own yogurt, its own spice tea; blends its own rum punch, its own ice creams. The flavours of meals at Kariwak are distinctive and memorable, with signature sauces from herbs in its own garden.

Kariwak lunches: once voted "best value for money" in all of Tobago

When the Dalai Lama visited Trinidad and Tobago in the 1990s, Kariwak Village welcomed him to bless the Ajoupa, the high-ceilinged thatched round house in the garden used for yoga, tai chi and meditation practice; for story telling and community gatherings. The unconventional non-hotel took the opportunity to expand its name: Kariwak Village holistic centre. With perseverance and tenacity to the vision of a place of health and wellbeing, Kariwak Village is now linked with practices that include meditation and massage, helping to grow these service industries in Tobago.

Cool, polished floor for meditation, yoga, relaxation
 Kariwak Village supports a core staff of about 30 persons. Skills and professionalism were hard-won, patiently cultivated by Cynthia and Allan, and in time the handful of persons who have been with them since the beginning. Kariwak has changed organically over the years, updated the look of the rooms, the uniforms, the shape of the garden, the offerings. They invested in the ozone treatment plant so that all water in its taps is pure and potable; and soaking in the Kariwak pool is as refreshing as a dip in the ocean.

It supports returning visitors from every part of the world; as well as a large and appreciative sector of the national population. You are likely to see Tobagonians assembling for breakfast or lunch meetings; celebrating special occasions at dinner; and Trinidadians escaping Carnival; as you are to meet families from any other continent.

In 1981, a logo was created, a simple mark to denote the identity of a Tobago hotel that would be more than a hotel.  The ensuing 30 years for Allan Clovis and Cynthia were not always easy. They raised two daughters here. They defended Tobago at the airport when the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament was invaded in the 1990 coup. They have stood through changes in fortune, personal and national. But through it all, they raised the Kariwak Village; imbuing that identity with meaning, creating a brand that is synonymous with the best of Tobago, a comfortable and comforting place from which the island may easily be explored.
     (All photos courtesy Ranji Ganase.)

Entrance to an oasis of calm and comfort in Tobago


  1. A truly inspiring and organic story of two people developing their vision, nurturing and making it into a true village atmosphere


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