Learn to speak like a Jamaican in three easy steps

Are you dreaming of jetting off to the Caribbean when this extended period of social distancing is over? Why not jump on the armchair travel trend and learn to speak like a Jamaican while you plan for the day you’ll be free to move around again? It’s no secret one of the best ways to immerse yourself in another culture is teach yourself how to communicate with residents in their local lingo.

Below are fun, short instructional videos to help you learn to speak like a Jamaican in three easy steps.

Greetings

In this 1st episode you’ll learn how to greet someone with our Caribbean lilt to your tongue.

Phrases used:

Whah a gwaan?
What’s going on?

How yuh duh?
How are you doing?

Yuh awrite?
Are you okay? As in, you good?

Asking for directions

Now here are two basic ways to ask for directions:

Phrases used:

Weh di [insert name] deh?
Where is the __?

Weh mi can fine __?
Where can I find [insert name of place]

Terms of address

For Lesson 3, we explore common words that are used when speaking to someone you consider a friend or colleague.

Phrases used:

Bredren
Sistren
Paadie
Dups/Doops

Have you ever been to the land of Red Strip beer, and some of the most well-known reggae music and sports icons? Not yet? As soon as it’s safe to travel again, you should go check it out.

Additional links to help you learn to speak like a Jamaican:

The traveler’s Instagram guide to understanding Jamaican slang

11 colorful expressions only a Jamaican would understand

6 Fun things to do in St. Thomas, USVI

Often referred to as America’s Paradise, The United States Virgin Islands is a group of breathtaking islands nestled in the eastern Caribbean, a little over 1000 miles southeast of Miami and 1,500 miles from New York City. Each of the four main islands has its own claim to fame, but St. Thomas, the capital, is home to a busy cruise port and airport, so it’s usually the first stop on any wanderluster’s journey.

Earlier this year, I jetted there to enjoy my fair share of fruity drinks, turquoise blue waters, jaw-dropping views and small-island hospitality before hopping over to Scrub Island Resort to celebrate my birthday. With only two days on the ground, I had fun, but activity wise I didn’t even scratch the surface.

Below are my suggestions for 6 fun things to do in St. Thomas, USVI if that country is on your bucket list.

Laze on the beach

Laze on the Beach_St. Thomas

According to this St. Thomas Beach Guide, they’re about 40 stretches of sand or intimate coves to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are Magens Bay, Secret Harbor, Brewer’s Bay, Coki Beach, Sapphire Beach, Hull Bay and Lindquist Beach, among others. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about a palm-fringed shoreline that unleashes my inner do-nothing-at-all-but-lay-under-the shade-or play-in-the-water beach bum. But if you’re hankering for more action, you can easily rent gear to go snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing or stand up paddle boarding.

Go on an island tour

Hiring a taxi to go on a guided island tour is also a no-brainer.  The island’s stunning scenery is dramatically showcased from its hilly peaks, and with its vast mountain ranges, there’s no shortage of mind-blowing views along the winding roads. Of course, you can rent a car and see the island at your own pace too, but if heights scare you, or you have a limited time to sightsee, having a knowledgeable driver is the way to go. That way, you never have to worry about getting lost, and you get to ask questions about the country’s history and culture.

Drink a banana daiquiri atop the highest mountain

Mountain Top, a popular tourist attraction located at the highest point on the island, draws tons of visitors each year because of its coveted observation deck, duty-free shopping and the lure of its signature drink: a Cruzan rum inspired banana daiquiri. Local folklore says the recipe was created by a famous British sea captain who sailed from Barbados on a quest to find the ultimate Caribbean cocktail. Apparently, his search ended there when he mixed the local rum with additional sugar cane extract and ripe bananas from a nearby grove to concoct his perfect drink. Go test it and see what you think. Insider tip:  Try to visit on a non-cruise ship day when the crowds aren’t overwhelming, and people aren’t acting bat crazy.

Take a safari ride

The local buses are called safaris, and I suspect they were given that name because they resemble the open-air vehicles you usually see people driving on African safaris.  You can use them to sightsee much like you’d use a hop on and hop off bus in one of the big European cities. There’s no all-day or two-day ticket system, though. There are two routes – divided by Tutu Valley – and if you’re riding anywhere west of there, say from Charlotte Amalie or Havensight to Tutu, the fare is one dollar.  From the east, which has beaches like Coki Point and Secret Harbor, it’s also a dollar to Tutu. Longer rides, with multiple legs on the trip, can cost more. But basically, you can get to most of the island and back to your hotel for under six dollars.

From what I could tell, the safaris are all independently owned, and while consistent, there is no master schedule re times of operation, or any officially marked bus stops.  Just ask a local to point you in the general direction of where they stop, and wave them down as they approach.

Sample the local fare

Image Source: hlsvi.com

I’m a big supporter of sampling local cuisines when I travel, so as far as I am concerned, no trip to the Caribbean is complete without treating yourself to waterfront meals that delight your taste buds – especially if they are built around boat to plate seafood prepared with only the freshest of ingredients. For my first evening out, I ate the most amazing fish meal at Hook Line & Sinker, a small eatery tucked at the end of a narrow street in the center of town with yachts and majestic hills as the backdrop. The service and atmosphere were great too. But there are several options. Just ask your front desk agent or a local for recommendations.

For great local breakfasts, Delly Deck in Havensight Mall got rave reviews, Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant is known for its American Caribbean cuisine, and I was told Island Flavor in Crown Bay is where to go for some real island grub.

Island hop

Thanks to proximity and good transportation options, it’s very easy to take in the natural beauty of St. John or experience the charming history and culture in St. Croix while in the US Virgin Islands.  Tortola, the capital of the British Virgin Islands is also a short and inexpensive ferry ride away, and from there you can easily get to even more islands. A roundtrip boat ticket from St. Thomas to Tortola costs US$65, and as part of the price, you are allowed what airlines would call one personal item. Carry-on bags are an additional $5 each.  Since they are a different territory, US citizens will need to show their passports at the port of entry, and other nationalities may need a British visa. Everyone pays a $10 environmental fee on arrival, plus a $20 departure tax (per person) at departure. Kids under 5 are exempt.

Editor’s Notes:

Official Language: English, which is often mixed with patois (PA-twah).

Currency: US dollars.

Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time (Daylight Savings Time is not recognized).

Passport Info: No passport is required for U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the mainland, but you must have a valid driver’s license.


7 Not-to-be-missed activities in Curaçao

Color in Curacao


Curaçao’s natural beauty, diverse cultural heritage, historic landmarks, flavorful restaurants, beaches, and multilingual population makes it one of the most arresting, value-driven destinations in the Caribbean.  Even though the country is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it’s it’s only about 40 miles away from Venezuela, and flights to this Dutch Antilles island are only two hours and 50 mins from Miami.

This past January, my family and I saw economy roundtrip airfares going for US$178 on Norwegian Air that just couldn’t be beat. So, we did what any budget travelers would do – booked a trip and had a blast. If Curaçao is on your to-do list, here are some activities you should try not to miss.

Enjoy an evening of jazz at the Kura Hulanda Village & Spa

If you’re in Willemstad on a Friday night, head over to this restored village in the Otrabanda section of town to enjoy the music of a local jazz band. The resort serves an affordable wok buffet in a pleasant, outdoor setting while you sing along to the sweet melodic sounds of classics such as When I Fall in Love (Nat King Cole), Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Baby (Barry White) and Georgia on My Mind (Ray Charles). Jazz fans, prepare to be blown away.

Explore historic Willemstad

From the moment you start crossing the island’s iconic Queen Emma’s Bridge (the oldest and longest pontoon bridge in the world) to enter Punda, you’ll be besotted with its picturesque waterfront strip. Locally referred to as Handelskade, which means Merchant’s Wharf, it’s a vibrant nod to the country’s Dutch legacy. The area houses offices and retail businesses in 18th century buildings similar to the ones you’ll see dotting Amsterdam canals. There’s one startling difference, though. A kaleidoscope of color!

Stop at the tourist information booth and talk to the local rep, then grab a map and take a self-guided walking tour of the capital. Points of interest include the floating market, Pietermaii District (one of the most photogenic spots you can find anywhere), outdoor cafés, shops filled with crafts and souvenirs, and two giant-sized installations: one that says Curacao, and another that spells Dushi, a local expression meaning ‘sweet’ or ‘nice’.

Visit Rif Fort

Rif Fort was built at the entrance of the St. Anna Bay in the 1900s to protect the city from pirates and enemies. Once guarded with 5-foot-thick coral wall and 56 cannons, it prided itself on being bombproof, aloof and insular. Today, it has been transformed into a welcoming place for visitors who can appreciate a variety of dining and shopping experiences set amidst an historic venue. In addition to good food, good views and good vibes, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers nightly entertainment Thursday through Saturday. On your way there, you can peruse the artisan craft market, ask to join a friendly domino game among the locals usually taking place near the taxi stands, or simply stand back and watch the action unfold.

Try local foods

Since food is one of the best ways to experience a new culture – and Curaçao’s cuisine is a tasty mix of Dutch, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and Indonesian influences – you can’t leave town without trying a few local favorites. Arepa, which is made of corn but looks like a puffier version of pita bread, is a popular dish with different fillings. Stoba, their name for hearty stews made with various combinations of meat and vegetables, is another one.  Goat stew (kabritu) is the most common, and if you’re looking for the truly authentic stuff, go to Miss Yvonne’s stall at the food court in the Marsche Bieuw market in Willemstad.  Other notable dishes include ayaka (meat tamales wrapped in banana leaves), bitterballen (meatballs), sult (pickled pigs ears and feet), fish tacos, cactus soup, and okra soup.

For drinks, other than the obvious Blue Curaçao Liqueur, you have to try a batido, which is a delicious fruit shake that doubles as a smoothie.  In most places you select which fruit combinations you want, and the vendors add condensed milk and sugar to it. I heard there’s a food truck in Punda called 100% Batidos that sells these yummy fruit concoctions, but I opted for the healthier option – without the added sweetness – so I went to La Bohème for all-natural goodness instead. I left obsessed…and satisfied!

Sip cocktails at the super trendy Saint Tropez Ocean Club

While Saint Tropez Ocean Club is a good seaside spot to watch the sun slip below the horizon any day of the week, it is THE place to be on a Friday night. Because it’s where all the cool, beautiful and well-dressed people hang out. The owners ensure loyal patronage by offering two Happy Hours; one from 6-7 p.m. and another from 9-10 p.m., with most drinks going for half the price. And DJs turn the place up by enthusiastically spinning dance tunes from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.  Guys, be sure to pack some linen shirts and khakis for this joint. Ladies, you better throw in some cute dresses, too.

Go on an island tour

We didn’t rent a car for this trip, so we booked a seven-hour island tour with Peter Trips to see some more of the island. Stops along the way included a visit to The Liqueur Factory, Boca Tabla (an underground cavern in Shete Boka National Park), the Salt Lakes of Jan Kok (where we saw flamingos), Knip Beach, and Westpunt where we had lunch. We also drove through Punda and the Scharloo District, and the Spanish Water area.

Beach hop

Lastly, with more than 38 public beaches and five private ones to choose from, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you left the country without visiting a few of them. From downtown, it’s easy to hop on a local bus and get to Mambo Beach, which is just four miles to the south. Expect a white-sand shoreline, cabanas, many on-site amenities like restaurants and a volleyball court, and crystal blue waters. It costs US$2 to get there plus an entrance fee of about $3.50 to swim. Beach chairs are at an additional cost. Other coveted sections of prime, sandy real estate include Playa Kalki, Klein Knip, Cas Abao, Jan Thiel, and Blue Bay beach.

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The Ultimate Caribbean Christmas Playlist

If you’re a Caribbean national who couldn’t make it home this Christmas, or are an intrepid traveler of the region who is stuck in snow wishing you were lounging sun-kissed under a palm tree right now, grab a pen. This playlist is for you!

I am 100% positive it will invoke whimsical memories of sun, sand and sea, because I polled some of my closest Facebook friends to find out their favorite Yuletide songs. Their recommendations are below in no particular order:

The Great John L – Green Christmas (Virgin Islands)

Joseph Niles  – Have A Merry Christmas (Barbados)

Daisy Voisin – Alegria Alegria (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Stephanie Hava – The Christmas Collection including Mary Did You Know ( Jamaica)

Hector Lavoe y Willie Colon – Aires de Navidad (Puerto Rico)

San Jose  – Se Va El Caiman (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child (Euro-Caribbean)

Alston Becket Cyrus – Calypso Noel (Saint Vincent)

Carlene Davis – Santa Claus Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto (Jamaica)

Bindley Benjamin – Santa Looking For A Wife (Trinidad)

Baron – Caminante (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Dean Fraser – Frosty The Snowman (Jamaica)

Home T 4 – Rock it for Christmas (Jamaica)

Jacob Miller & Ray I – Natty Christmas, Full Album (Jamaica)

Rikki Jai – Neighbour Neighbour (Trinidad and Tobago)

Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – Christmas Soca Party Medley (Jamaica)

Lord Kitchener – Drink Ah Rum (Trinidad and Tobago)

Susan Macio – Trini Christmas Is The Best (Trinidad and Tobago)

So head over to YouTube or iTunes and listen to these soothing, rhythmic sounds of the islands while you sip ponche de crème, ginger beer or sorrel. Of course, I also expect you to be eating heaping servings of two or more of the region’s traditional holiday menu items. That’d be mouthwatering delicacies like baked ham, crab and callaloo, curried goat, roasted chicken, jug-jug, gungo rice and peas, black cake, cassava pone, pastelles, and much more.

Caribbean Christmas music

11 colorful expressions only a Jamaican would understand

Jamaican Countryside

Are you traveling to Jamaica soon and would like nothing more than to get off the beaten tourist track to immerse yourself in more authentic experiences? Well, if that’s the case, take note of the following Jamaican proverbs so you can impress the locals with some ‘yaad-approved’ jargon. Local interactions_Jamaica

Saying: One one cocoa full basket.
Translation: One cocoa at a time fills the basket.
Meaning: Every little bit adds up. Be patient, sometimes growth and/or success takes time.

Saying: De higha monkey climb de more him expose.
Translation: The higher a monkey climbs, the more he is exposed.
Meaning: Increased success leads to greater scrutiny and criticism.

Saying: Fire deh a mus-mus tail him tink a cool breeze.
Translation: Fire is by a rat’s tail and he thinks he’s feeling a cool breeze.
Meaning: Trouble is brewing and you’re unaware of it.

Saying: Give him an inch, him tek a mile.
Translation: Give someone an inch, he takes a whole mile.
Meaning: A person who demands additional courtesies even when the kindness that’s already been extended has been very generous.

Saying: Wha’ sweet nanny goat a go run him belly.
Translation: The thing that a female goat might find appetizing might also give her the runs.
Meaning: You can have too much of a good thing. Do not overindulge in things that could be harmful. Green foliage_Jamaica

Saying: Wanti wanti cyaan get it, and get it get it no want it.
Translation: Those who want something really badly can’t get it, yet others who get don’t want similar things get it easily.
Meaning: Count your blessings and don’t take what you have for granted.

Saying: Cockroach no business inna fowl fight.
Translation: A cockroach has no place in a chicken fight.
Meaning: Don’t interfere in things that don’t concern you.

Saying: Dawg nyam yuh supper.
Translation: The dog ate your supper.
Meaning: You have lost your opportunity.

Saying: Trouble tek yuh, pickney shut fit yuh.
Translation: When trouble you are in trouble, even a child’s shirt will fit you.
Meaning: When faced with a bad situation, people will make any adjustments necessary to get out of it.

Saying: Rock stone ah river bottom cyaan feel sun hot.
Translation: A stone at the bottom of a river cannot feel the heat from the sun.
Meaning: Those who have an easy life cannot appreciate the difficulties others face.

Saying: Chicken merry, hawk de near.
Translation: The chicken is happy, but the hawk is nearby.
Meaning: Trouble is brewing while you’re having fun.

There you have it! Now you’re ready for a real Jamaican flex (hang out).

Planning a dune buggy adventure in the Dominican Republic? Here’s what you need to know before you go

When a country has close to 1000 miles of coastline, it makes sense for travelers to flock there to enjoy its abundant sand, sea and sunshine-infused bliss. But with tourism officials projecting that hotel rooms will grow to nearly 100,000 by the end of 2018, the destination has to offer fun, inland activities too, right? Well, the country in question – the Dominican Republic – definitely does that. And guess what? Dune buggy riding across dusty, country roads is one of them. Dune buffy ride in the Dominican Republic

However, take note. There are a few things you need to know before you sign up for an adrenalin-pumping ride through deserted and winding back roads.

What to Wear

•  You are going to get really dirty, so do not plan to wear a cute outfit. Select clothes that will wash easily or old ones you can discard when you’re done. That goes for shoes, too.

•  Ask your tour operator if they provide protective eye gear, and if they do not, plan to take your own. Believe me when I tell you that glasses and/or sun shades alone are no match for the pesky dirt particles that fly relentlessly at your eyeballs. From the moment you rev that buggy engine and press the gas to go, dust and grime assail you at every angle. Protective eye gear for going on a dune buggy ride

•  Whether you opt for a head wrap or a baseball cap, that’s up to you, but covering your hair is a must if you hope to avoid ending up with it caked with dirt. Bear in mind that one of those fashionable Instagram-ready hats will not do. You’ll be moving fast, and wearing a helmet, so your hair covering has to be something that fits well under it.

• Take a bandana-style buff or large handkerchief so you can cover your nostrils and lower half of your face. If you’ve ever watched a western, there’s a reason that ranch hands and slick cowboys have those pieces of square cloth slung low across their necks. When the going gets tough, it covers their face and keeps the trail dust out. The same principle applies on this kind of outing.

What to Bring

•  Sunscreen is a must-have in any tropical, warm-weather country, and the Dominican Republic is no different. Even when cloudy, only about 20 percent of ultraviolet rays are filtered out, so that leaves a whole lotta room to get a serious sunburn if you don’t lather up!

•  Depending on how far your hotel is from the starting point, I’d advise you to plan for water and a few healthy snacks to tide you over between meals. Most tours last about three hours from start to finish. There are no snack machines or stops along the way for food.*

•  Even if you pay for the tour with a credit card, cash will come in handy for tips (and small monetary gifts, if you feel so inclined). You may also want to buy action-packed photos taken by guides along the way, if you want to take home visual memories of the ride. Personal cameras and phone selfies are discouraged because you are likely to drop the equipment or veer dangerously off the road while trying to set up the perfect shot. Dune buggies stop at village in La Romana Province, Dominican Republic

What to Expect

•  A bumpy ride, so leave anything that may get tossed or lost at your hotel.
•  Dirt, dirt and more dirt.
•  A choice between a single-seater and a double-seater buggy. The price varies.
•  Difficulty reaching the pedals if you are under five feet two. Ask for a booster seat, if needed.
•  Interactions at various stops along the way. My tour took us through a village, to a cave, and a local beach where you could meet and speak with locals. Do not be surprised if conditions look very different to what you are used to. Domincan Republic

Final Two Tips:

1. People ride at various speeds, and the roads are pothole ridden. The trick is to leave a little distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you in order to minimize the dust that gets kicked up by its wheels.

2. Don’t be afraid to make friends with the kids!

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*Note: I took this tour in La Romana Province, which is a little over an hour out of Punta Cana. Tour inclusions may vary depending on where you are and the provider.

Three impressive ruins close to Playa del Carmen

Are you planning a trip to Mexico anytime soon? Well, if you’re headed in the direction of the popular Riviera Maya strip and are planning to stay somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula and the coastal town of Playa Del Carmen, there are three ruins you absolutely must see. Grab a pen and note pad to write these names down right now. They are: Coba, Tulum and Chichén Itzá.

COBA

Of the three ruins mentioned, Coba dates back the furthest in history and is estimated to have been built and first inhabited between 50 BC and 100 AD. Although much of it still isn’t excavated, its intricate system of ceremonial roads and multiple pyramids (including the tallest in the Yucatan – Ixmoja – at 138 feet), is an impressive archeological find nonetheless. Coba Ruins_Mexico

Tips: This site doesn’t attract as many visitors as Chichen Itza or Tulum, so you can  still climb some of the structures which gives you a totally unique experience. [I ran out of time and didn’t get the money shot on top of Ixmoja.] Coba is home to more than 6500 structures, so schedule at least 2.5 hours to explore the grounds by foot. If you are traveling with seniors or someone who can’t walk for long distances, you can rent a bicycle for him/her, or pay for a Mayan Taxi (a bike with three wheels and a seat up front) for an hour-long tour. That makes it easy!

TULUM

Tulum, largely believed to be the best preserved coastal Mayan site in Central America, is where the locals and the Spanish conquerors first met. (We won’t talk about how that encounter ended). This enclave served as an integral trading port for the Mayans, and it sits atop a spectacular cliff that overlooks a dramatic beachscape. Tulum ruins, Mexico

Swimming or getting your feet wet in the warm, turquoise water is a must! You can’t miss the focal point – the pyramid El Castillo – that juts out majestically against the blue skyline. Before you leave, look out for the Temple of Frescoes which was used as an observatory for the sun. View from the cliff at Tulum

Tip: Pack a swimsuit and a change of clothing so you can take a dip in the warm Caribbean water lapping against the shoreline below the ruins.

CHICHEN ITZA

Chichén Itzá, which means source of enchanted waters, is the feather in Mexico’s cap.  Listed as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, its Kukulkan Pyramid is an imposing sight to behold. I learned there were 365 steps in total around all four sides. Chichen Itza, Mexico

Due to it being one of the most photographed sites in the region, if you’re like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn there are other imposing and historically significant structures in the sprawling complex. The differing styles of architecture cover almost a 1000 years of Mayan urban industry.  Plan to view the pyramid, the ball court, and a sacred cenote with a ghastly history of human sacrifice. Ruins at Chichen Itza

Tips: This attraction is one of the most visited sites in Mexico, so plan to arrive early (8 a.m.) to avoid the crowds.  Also, take a hat and wear comfortable walking shoes.

I hope you enjoy visiting all three sites as much as I did!

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You can read more about my Mexican adventures here.

 

Hey, I went to Mexico and I didn’t meet one “bad hombre”!

A lot has been said about Mexico and Mexicans in U.S. news lately, and very little of the rhetoric  has been positive. Unfortunately, there’s been a broad and sweeping perpetuation of negative stereotypes that paint the country and its people as a mass exporter of drug dealers, rapists, and savage murderers. Sure, every country has some rotten eggs in the bunch (mine, and this one included), but guess what? I just got back from a trip to Playa del Carmen, and I’m happy to report that I didn’t meet one “bad hombre”.

Mexican sombreros
Trying on colorful sombreros on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen

Well, to be 100% percent honest, I am deliberately not counting the crusty heeled and dusty feet guy standing outside one of the Yucatan’s most famous ruins who approached women telling them in halting English, “In America, people would call me a gigolo.” Oh, and get this, he listed the cost of his “services”  as 500 pesos a day. In my mind, I was like, dude, please. You better go wash those unpleasant looking feet! LOL. (No, I am not kidding.)

But seriously, in dire contrast to the ugly caricature being portrayed about an entire nation, I met some great people and had a fantastic time on my mini vacation.

So, what exactly did I do and see?

I shimmied my hips with friendly and gregarious men dressed in tribal costume while they chanted to a hypnotic drum beat.

I gobbled up freshly made tapas, delicious tasting tacos, and drank refreshing sangria  whenever I could.

Mayan woman making tapas in a traditional hut.

I wandered happily and aimlessly through the streets surrounding the popular Avenida Quinta (Fifth Avenue) area looking for souvenirs, admiring the facades of buildings, and observing the interactions between the locals and tourists.

Shopping in Avenida Quinta, Mexico
Browsing the stalls on the busy Avenida Quinta (5th Avenue).

I checked out the trendiest beach clubs, where sun-worshippers and beach goers have access to lively music, drinks, food, and even massages for a fee.

Trendy beach club
Zenzi Beach Club, Playa del Carmen

I had interesting conversations with hard-working people like hotel front desk agent Belén, whose name is the Spanish version of Bethlehem (the place in Judah where King David and Jesus were born). Plus, I listened keenly to our day trip driver, Sergio, as he told me about his family, and their plans for expanding his small transportation business with help from his multi-lingual daughter who is scheduled to graduate from college very soon.

Tour driver in Mexico
Meet Sergio Ramirez, proud owner of his own transfer and tour company.

I also visited underwater and above-ground swimming pools (cenotes) that were all naturally formed when limestone bedrock collapsed to expose the groundwater underneath.

Many cenotes are in underground caves, but quite a few can be accessed above ground as well.

Due to the constant exposure to the sun, the water in the open-air sink holes are believed to have blue green algae that is rich in nutrients, making it an excellent source of minerals that nourish and protect the skin.

Zacil-Ha cenote
Admiring the crystal, light blue waters of the Zacil-Ha cenote

The water in the underground caves? Nah, that’s just COLD. (Men, extra long dips have been known to result in shriveled body parts. My female counterparts, local folklore declares that we look five years younger after a swim).

Mutl-Tun-Ha cenote
Inside the Mul-Tun-Ha cenote

And.. I wandered spell-bound through the ancient ruins of Coba, Tulum and Chichén Itzá, three cities that were at the center of the Mayan empire at different times. I’ll write a more detailed post on those ruins soon (with tips included).

Cona Ruins, Mexico
One section of Coba’s impressive ruins

El Castillo at Tulum
The remains of El Castillo at Tulum

Main pyramid in the Chichen Itza complex.

What was I reminded of with this trip? Sometimes things are not what others make them seem. It’s always best to explore for yourself so that you gain experiences and form impressions of your own.

Have you been to Mexico?  If so, tell me which part, and what you thought about it.

Vacation like a celebrity in Nevis!

Nevis, the sister-island to St. Kitts, is a 36 square mile lush and unspoiled slice of paradise. It’s about 217 miles (350 km) east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 50 miles (80 km) west of Antigua.

A tiny island that has more monkey crossings than stop lights, it has attracted, and continues to lure, its fair share of notable visitors. mount nevis

It’s the place where Princess Diana went to escape the media spotlight after her divorce in 1996. In more recent times, the likes of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, John Travolta, Beyoncé, Britney Spears and former US President Bill Clinton have visited.

If you are considering Nevis for your next Caribbean vacation, you could be their next A-list visitor!

Below, I’ve shared my suggestions for things to do when you go..

1. Visit the wedding site of Frances “Fanny” Nisbet and Admiral Horatio Nelson

If you’re in the mood to get whimsical, you can visit the wedding place of the decorated British naval officer who has a statue in his honor at London’s famed Trafalgar Square. Nelson and his wife Fanny got married under a silk cotton tree at Montpelier Estate in 1787, shortly before the end of his Caribbean tour of duty.

Entrance to Montepelier Plantation, chains away from the Nelson wedding site
Entrance to Montepelier Plantation, chains away from the Nelson wedding site

2. See the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton is the man credited with being one of the most influential contributors to the U.S. Constitution. The oceanfront location houses a museum and the local parliament. I found it slightly surreal to walk through that modest looking abode and read about the early history of the man on the face of the US$10 bill.

The humble home that is now part museum, part center of Parliament
The humble home that is now part museum, part center of Parliament

3. Dip your body, arms or toes in the therapeutic Bath Spring

This is a free outdoor “spa” supplied by hot volcanic waters that flow from a hillside. It is reputed to cure numerous aches and pains but be warned, the temperature gets very hot, so tourists are advised not to spend more than 10 minutes at a time soaking up its healing powers.

4. Explore the Botanical Gardens

All nature lovers will like this place because it is hard not to appreciate seeing the array of tropical trees, plants and shrubs that are so lovingly cared for by the efficient yet unobtrusive staff. What’s more, the quiet spaces, the Asian-influenced statues and the fountains make it feel like an oasis that will zap all your stress away.

That bench whispers R&R!
That bench whispers R&R!

5. Get stung by a Killer Bee at the legendary Sunshine’s Bar and Grill

No, that’s not an insect; it’s a simple but powerful signature cocktail that will knock you sideways if it is consumed too quickly. Located on Pinney’s Beach, Sunshine’s is close to Four Seasons Nevis and it is an experience not to be missed.

6. Eat, eat…and eat!

Whether you opt for lunch at Golden Rock, a pre-dinner snack at Banana’s Bistro, a fancy four-course meal at Coconut Grove or simple local fare, just unbuckle your belt and give in 100% to the foodie experience. Simply plan to lose the pounds later because the meals are beyond good. You must try local favorites like the goat water (a thick, meaty soup) and Tanya fritters (made from root vegetables).

Such a pretty lunch venue! What is/was on YOUR plate today?

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7. Tour the old sugar plantations that are now converted into hotels

Once a vibrant industry, sugar production used to be the backbone of the Nevisian economy. Evidence of that is seen in the many sugar mill ruins you’ll see as you drive around the island. Hermitage Plantation, Montpelier Plantation, Nisbet Plantation and Golden Rock Inn, were some of the ones I visited and they each had their own distinctive style.

Hermitage Planatation Great House

8. Finally, no trip to the Caribbean would be complete without a few hours spent lazing on an uncrowded beach

I clocked my sun and sand time at the Paradise Beach Nevis but there are several places to choose from. Go pick out your beach chair and mark your own spot soon!

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Editor’s Notes:

I originally wrote these travel tips for a site I contribute to called TravelDudes. The article first appeared there in August 2015.

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Great Caribbean eats every foodie must try

Who doesn’t like to enjoy a good meal? We all do. In fact, the foodie experience is even more pleasurable when your taste buds are awakened with unexpected combinations of seasonings and spices, and when your senses of sight, sound and smell are dazzled by new surroundings. That’s why I always try local foods when I travel. You should too.

Epicureans, gastromes, gourmands and foodies of the world you can unite and thank me now because I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Caribbean meals for your sampling pleasure. They are listed in no particular order.

Name of Dish: Goat water soup

Oh, this puts the "heart" in hearty
Oh, this puts the “heart” in hearty.

Country: Nevis, the sister island to St. Kitts

My consumption spot: Bananas Bistro, Upper Hamilton Estate

Description: Their version of goat water is a thick, full-bodied soup filled with carrots, small dumplings and root vegetables. Naturally, the main protein is goat meat. In other places, the soup has a more broth-like consistency and it is consumed as an appetizer; not the main course.

Name of dish: Conch salad

Nothing beats the taste of conch freshly harvested from the sea.
Nothing beats the taste of conch, freshly harvested from the sea.

Country: The Bahamas

My consumption spot: A gorgeous picnic laid out on an elusive sandbar known as Tahiti Beach in Andros, a part of the Bahamas Out Islands.

Description: Conch is a popular menu item in many islands and you can have it prepared in several ways. In this salad, the conch was caught right near our boat, taken from its shell, cleaned and cut into small pieces. Our boat captain turned impromptu chef added diced peppers, onions and tomatoes then poured lemon juice over the mixture to cure the uncooked meat, like in a ceviche.

Name of Dish: Ackee and Corned Pork

Ackee and corned por with boiled bananas and yellow yam
Ackee and corned pork with boiled bananas and yellow yam

Country: Jamaica

My consumption spot: M-10 Bar and Grill in Vineyard Town, Kingston

Description: Ackee is a fruit that is one half of the national dish of my home country, Jamaica. Usually it is served with sautéed salt fish (cod) but on occasion it is paired with other proteins like sausages and corned pork. When cooked, at a glance it looks like scrambled eggs but it has a much creamier texture. Incidentally, ackee with its favored partner, salt fish, recently earned the number two spot on National Geographic’s list of top national dishes around the world.

Name of dish: Oxtail with peas and rice

Oxtail has been one of my favorite dishes since childhood
Oxtail has been one of my favorite dishes since childhood

Country: Cayman Islands

My consumption spot: Welly’s Cool Spot, Georgetown

Description: Yes, you read that right. The main ingredient in this dish is the tail of a cow! The meat is first tenderized in a pressure cooker and then slow-cooked to gelatinous perfection with fresh thyme, onions and other spices. Most places add butter beans to the mixture and serve it with kidney beans and rice, cooked with coconut milk for additional flavor.

Name of dish: Bake and Shark

Shark meat, anyone?
Shark meat, anyone?

Country: Trinidad and Tobago

My consumption spot: Richard’s Bake and Shark, Maracas Bay

Description: Quite arguably the most famous beach food in Trinidad, this fish sandwich starts out as a simple combination of fried pieces of shark meat served within a bun. It ramps up to noteworthy finger-licking proportions once you add the choose-as-you-go accompaniments. Food patrons have a choice of toppings and sauces that range from the mundane mustard and ketchup regulars to the more exotic tongue pleasers like mango chutney, tamarind and Shado Beni (similar to cilantro).

ARE YOU HUNGRY YET? I am.