According to Mayo Clinic, ‘Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves stretching and a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion”.
I think the Chinese are on to a good thing here. It is widely believed that this ‘meditation in motion’technique does wonders for alleviating stress and anxiety levels – in the young and old.
If you’re ever in Beijing, you should walk through Jingshan Park early one morning, say between 6 and 7 a.m., to see locals doing this graceful exercise.
If invited to do so, you can even join in.
There are beautiful flowers and trees.
Breathtaking views from Wanchna Pavilion, the highest point in the park.
Dubai is a hotbed of first-class entertainment venues and tourist attractions but surprisingly, the activity I enjoyed most during my stay was a Desert Safari tour. It included dune bashing, camel rides, dinner in a Bedouin-style camp, henna hand painting and belly dancing. If you plan to visit, you should try it.
What is dune bashing?
Dune bashing means driving at increasing and decreasing speeds over sand dunes. As the surface of the sand keeps shifting, it takes a special skill and a special type of car to navigate the terrain – usually a sports utility vehicle (SUV). Expect a stop to let the air out of your tyres (tires) as reducing the pressure gives the vehicle more traction against the moving sand.
What to expect
The experience starts with pick-up at your hotel or home stay, followed by a 45 minute to an hour-long drive out of the city. As we left the outline of a built-to-impress metropolitan area behind us, the emerging desert landscape in its unapologetic sparseness acted like a soothing balm to my, at that point, over-stimulated soul.
There were no city noises to obscure my hearing and no towering buildings to block my view. If you are lucky, you may even spot a few camels or other wildlife along the way.
The dune bashing part of the trip was a bumpy and thrilling ride that lasted about an hour. We reveled in the slipping and sliding, the exhilarating skidding, and 360-degree spinning of the vehicle. All of that was punctuated by sporadic seat-gripping and different decibels of screaming and shouting. And sand, lots and lots of sand! We had a jolly good time.
The vehicles travelled in convoy and stuck close together as they performed their stunts. As a result, we were not just caught up with what was happening in our SUV, we also were observing the antics of the people in the other vehicles as well.
Tip: Try to secure the front passenger seat or a window for the best views!
What to wear
Dress comfortably, because inevitably the sand gets into everything. I recommend a hat or a scarf to cover your hair, and long pants and a light shirt or t-shirt. I wore sneakers and socks in an effort to cover my feet but the sand got into them anyway, so I could very well have worn sandals.
For persons who wear contact lenses, I suggest wearing shades as well because small grains of sand get into your eyes very easily when you are outside the vehicle. With no running water nearby, eye-drops alone won’t be enough to clear them.
After the drive, you are allowed to exit the vehicle, walk around and take pictures. The evening drives are timed to end just before sunset so be ready to capture some pretty cool shots then.
Dinner and belly dancing
The evening ended with a trip to a Bedouin-style camp. The Middle Eastern-influenced dinner menu included a variety of meats and salads with some desserts.
Optional camel riding, henna painting, shisha smoking and belly dancing rounded out the evening’s activities.
At the end of the dinner and belly dancing show, the lights were turned off for about five minutes to allow us to enjoy the magnificence of the star-filled sky..
Plan for the AED 360.00 price range but please check various tour sites for the most up-to-date information. I did my tour with Arabian Adventures and the adult rate is a little cheaper in the summer months, from June 1- August 31st. But bear in mind you will be in the desert and it is at its hottest temperatures at that time of year.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
No one who visits Dubai can deny that it is a visually impressive city. It boasts an ever-evolving skyline, soaring skyscrapers, superlative service and a surefire sexiness that comes with being younger and better-looking than many of its regional peers.
Oil rich reserves discovered in the mid-60s proved to be the catalyst that led to the demise of the tradtional Bedouin lifestyle. Before the boom, settlements were built around a main creek and camels were the main means of transportation.
It is nothing like that today.
The country is now a thriving metropolis designed to convey opulence; a tangible reminder of its status as a premier international financial center and an important business hub in the Middle East. There are swanky hotels, glitzy shopping centres (centers) and copious amounts of steel, glass, marble and gold almost at every corner.
Expatriates seeking employment or upward mobility are drawn to it and visitor arrival figures prove tourists can’t get enough of it – unless they are a little pesky like me. In spite of being impressed by the vision and drive behind its public systems and dramatic physical transformation; I didn’t – just couldn’t – warm up to it.
My biggest takeaway was an inescapable sense of the superficial. But admittedly, not everybody seeks authenticity in their destination experience; sometimes escape is all you need. Dubai provides that in heaping servings. I liken it to a grownup version of Disney World, or an adult land of “anything is possible” make-believe.
There are fake islands and fake snow, and elaborate food sometimes flown in on flights more long-haul than the ones the restaurant patrons themselves had to use to get there. Most of all, there were not-so-positive things that lurked beneath the glossy surface.
I could not ignore the stories I heard of the vicious cycle of pretentiousness that drives some work permit holders into debt because they are hopelessly trying to keep up with the status quo. Neither could I avoid hearing the whispers of unfair treatment of the labourers (laborers) who often are tricked into building the city on broken promises and shattered dreams.
It was a lot to take in, so by day two of my four-day trip, I desperately craved something real.
Thankfully, I got a taste of how non-showy life used to be when I went dune bashing in the desert and watched some belly dancing in a camp that same evening. Who would believe that I finally got my Zen in the most unmodern context possible? Yet, I did. My Dubai moment came when I sat cross-legged on a low, quilted cushion; and relished a tasty yet traditional meal.
I had such positive feedback from my first post about traveling for work that I decided I would try to feature a different career path each month in an effort to highlight the many options available to people who yearn to see the world.
For this month’s feature My Travel Stamps spoke with Matthew Wilson, frequent flyer and world explorer extraordinaire.
Matthew, what do you do for a living?
I am the chief adviser and chef de cabinet to the head of the International Trade Centre (ITC), a development agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. ITC helps countries and private sector businesses to develop through international trade and improved competitiveness. We assist them to build the capacity they need to operate effectively by equipping them with the tools, knowledge and market intelligence they need to succeed.
What tasks are involved and do you enjoy what you do?
I support the Executive Director in implementing her corporate vision and helping to chart the strategic course for the organization. I love what I do because of the innovation and dynamism involved. My job can range from meeting presidents and Nobel prize winners to attending fashion shows that showcase local designers, visiting coffee projects, facilitating the implementation of trade agreements and visiting underprivileged communities to see how trade works on the ground. It’s fascinating.
Do you have to travel for work? If so, how often?
Yes, I do. The frequency varies but in one month I can travel at least two to three times for business. Flying for work has become second nature to me because I’ve been doing it for a long time. Before this position, I represented Barbados as part of the Foreign Service for more than a decade and then served in the Cabinet of the Director General of the World Trade Organization.
Wow, that’s impressive. What sort of academic and/or professional background is needed to land those kinds of jobs?
There are many pathways. I have a varied academic background that includes law, economics and history at ‘A’ levels’; psychology and sociology at the undergraduate level; and two post graduate degrees, one in international relations and the other in development studies.
But surprisingly it is my knowledge of psychology that has really helped me most. It allows me to read and understand people quickly – an extremely useful skill in interpersonal relations and by extension, business and diplomatic negotiations.
I also have to give credit to a series of generous mentors who allowed me to ‘learn at their feet’. I am from a small Caribbean country but I had to operate in a truly global environment, so there was always the added pressure to deliver more at a higher standard.
The term “bleisure”, which means mixing business with leisure, is hot now. Do you get to do any of that when you travel?
Absolutely! Some people differentiate between business and pleasure travel; generally speaking, I don’t. Whether I am visiting some place new for one day or staying longer in a country I’ve been to 10 times, it’s all an adventure. I will find something to explore.
Don’t get me wrong; when I travel for business, I work hard. My schedule is often tight and intense because I ensure I make full use of the resources being invested in me. But when the meetings and official events are over, you will find me outside meeting people, hearing their stories, eating exotic foods and listening to local music.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been out roaming the streets until two o’clock in the morning and I have gotten up at five to explore the area before work begins. Who needs eight hours of sleep when there are interesting sights, food and customs to learn about? Not me, I can catch up on sleep when I get home.
How do you decide what to do in your free time?
I do tons of web research. If you look in my history tab on my computer right now you will see a bunch of searches that begin with ‘off the beaten track’. Blogs are a huge resource for me as well because they give you the true personal experience – the good, the bad and the ugly. For local eats, I tend to check with the concierge.
What is your favorite country to date?
I can’t pick just one. For pleasure, I fell in love with Cuba: the people, the music and the buildings make it a truly special place.
For work, I would have to say Cape Verde, Cambodia and Samoa. I went to Samoa for a United Nations Summit on Small Island Developing States and that ended up being very special for me. The country is beautiful and the people are amazing. Also, the first time I ever spoke in public on trade issues was at a small island states youth meeting in Barbados twenty years before so that moment felt like I had come full circle.
What is your favorite iconic landmark or World Heritage Site? Please say why.
Without a doubt, the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I first visited it for pleasure five years ago and again for work just last month. It is a cultural and otherworldly experience. Seeing the sun rise over the temple and watching it set on the side of the ‘mountain’ is awe-inspiring. Beyond that, the beauty of the carvings and stone work of the temples are simply incredible sights.
What are your favorite airports?
The ones with the most welcoming people in the countries that do more with less. You will find some of the greatest airport lounges and splashy retail outlets in terminals in Dubai and Bangkok but the people interactions in airports in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nepal were some of my most memorable. They also stood out because the people were wholly invested in doing their best despite limited resources.
What is the one thing you never leave home without?
My headphones and my MP3 player. In school I was known as ‘the guy from Barbados with the headphones’ and all these years later those two earplugs are still an important part of my life.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter at: @matthewbarbados
No visit to Cape Town is complete without a trip to the top of Table Mountain. From this famous landmark, which is 3,567 feet (1087 meters) above sea level, you truly experience what it feels like to be on top of the world.
Below, I’ve listed five reasons why I think you should add this attraction to your to-do list.
A huge part of any journey is the anticipation involved. Some people get anxious. Others, like me, are like high-spirited horses who chomp at the bits to gallop away. I am a keen observer of people and those differences were apparent during the five-minute cable ride to the peak.
As we took that feet-tingling ride up the mountain, you could see the fear of heights in the eyes and body language of the some people in the 65-person-at-capacity cable car. In others, especially the palms-splayed-wide-on-the plexi-glass-kids, the overarching emotion was uninhibited delight.
If you are a true adrenaline junkie, you don’t have to take the cable car. Hiking and exploring at your own pace is the way to go. There are three trails to the top of the mountain and if you choose that option, you are encouraged to complete the hike in groups.
You can trek both ways, take the cable car up and hike down, or do it the opposite way. The truth is, even if you don’t plan to hike down you might have to. I found out AFTER I visited that daily weather conditions determine if the cable car runs, so a return ticket doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a ride down on an extra windy day. Yikes!
Words fail me when I try to describe the 360-degree view from the top of Table Mountain.
While the far-away outline of the city lies below you, there also are craggy cliffs and dramatic scenery that stretch out for miles on either side.
It’s stunning, jaw-dropping, breath-taking, AND awe-inspiring all at the same time; a physical onslaught to the senses.
The flora and fauna
As part of a World Heritage Site, Table Mountain has an abundance of flora and fauna that makes it a treat for the nature lover. Reported to have more than 1,400 different species of plants, one of the most vibrant and distinctive is the yellow Fynbos, which is Afrikaan for ‘delicate bush’.
Find a hidden cubby hole or look over a rocky edge and you also could spot frogs, tortoises and different lizards in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see a Tahr, an animal that closely resembles a goat.
Last but by no means least, is the sunset. You’ve heard the saying: a picture says a thousand words, right? In that case, let’s do this the easy way – I’ll share two thousand words with you right now.
There is Sunset Special that runs from November 1 to December 19, and from January 8 until February 28. After 6pm, return tickets are half price. The regular rate for an adult is R225 roundtrip and R115 one-way. Children aged four to 17 pay R11 one-way and R58 one-way.
Have you ever seen a man wrestle an alligator? It is a one part fear, one part adrenaline-infusing spectacle that is a combination of snapping jaws, thrashing tails, adroit and evasive human movements and audible gasps from an enthralled audience.
Despite how touristy this ancient American Indian art has become, everyone still watches this man-beast tangle transfixed because of the underlying awareness that something could go horribly wrong.
And it has. Ask Chief Jim Billy, the charismatic and controversial former leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He lost a ring finger to a six-foot gator in a 2000 exhibition and was bitten on the buttocks some 17 years earlier by another, even though it is reported he grew up wrestling alligators for food and profit from the tender age of five.
Whenever you get the chance to, you should check one of those snarling alligators out.
A few alligator facts:
Alligators are native to the United States and China.
An average adult American alligator’s weighs 790 lbs ( 360 kg)
Alligator wrestling is a part of ancient Seminole tradition as early tribe members hunted alligators for their hides and for food.
I’ve HEARD the meat tastes like chicken but I’m too chicken to find out for myself. Have any of you tried it? Is it really true? Share pictures!
The first time I visited Paris, I was a wide-eyed student on spring break. I had never been to Europe before and in my capacity as self-appointed president of the ‘Budget Travel Association’, I travelled via Eurorail and bus.
On my second trip to the city, my travel IQ was a bit higher and my finances were more liquid, so I flew into Charles de Gaulle and hailed a cab at the airport.
Paris is a bustling city. Sophisticated and stylish, its monuments, bridges and parks seep that old-world charm and air of decadence that will quickly have you thinking of the usual connotations like gentry and indulgence. And, it would be a major faux pas not to mention the food, the fashion and the inevitable female fawning over the sexy male French accent. Two words: très fantastique!
This famous metropolis offers light-hearted moments too. One of the first things I noticed on the ride to the hotel was that almost every shop, restaurant, guesthouse or bed and breakfast within a 30-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower had the word “Eiffel” in its name. Try finding your bearings without a map! Plus, although I did not see it myself, I was warned it is not unusual to see well-dressed tourists dodging dog poop while navigating chic sidewalks in some neighborhoods. Let that visual sink in for a minute…
For my first outing (the second time around), my friends and I took a leisurely walk down the famous fashion street, L’Avenue Montaigne – I call it Designer Row. Every designer who is anybody has a store on that strip. Whether your vice is shoes, clothing, handbags or accessories, you can indulge it there. Are you yearning for Chanel, Valentino, Louis Vitton, Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior or Prada? Don’t worry, you WILL find a store with your heartstrings gift-wrapped all over it.
If you have a short time in the city, I think the best way to see it – other than by private car, of course – is on an open tour bus. You can get on and off as often as you wish. Tour check-list essentials such as the Museé de Louvre, Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysées, Charles De Gaulle-Etoile, Tour Eiffel, Bastille Opera, Gare de Lyon, Arc de Triomphe, Esplanade des Invalides are only a stop or photo snap away.
I also recommend a visit to Ladurée, a famous tea room and restaurant in an 18th-century mansion on the Champs Elysées. The menu includes light fare like club sandwiches but we went solely for dessert; namely, macarons and chocolate.
Macarons are small, round pastries that are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. The flavors vary with each season and you could go buck-wild trying them all. When I was there, the options ranged from hazelnut praline, rose petal, raspberry, lemon, salted butter caramel, icy mint, liquorice and more – all capable of spiking your blood sugar with a hearty dose of warm, gooey, happiness after one bite.
We visited the Eiffel Tower on the final day and since nobody talks much about the queues, I will share that little detail with you now. Expect a wait. It took us at least 90 minutes to get from the road to the first elevator. We eventually ascended some 320 meters to the third floor then took another elevator to the top. I was fit to be tied by that point.
My best friend is terrified afraid of heights and her nervous, shaking hands held mine in what could only be described as a death clamp. To make things worse, space in the lift was so cramped I didn’t have to inhale too deeply to guess what some of the other passengers had for lunch.
But when I got to the top and looked out, my agitation vanished like mist on a dew-filled morning. The 360° view of the city was breathtaking.
Did you know that the Statue of Liberty, that iconic New York landmark that initially served as a beacon of hope and opportunity for immigrants seeking a better life in America, is not the only one that exists? There are at least seven replicas in France and others in Austria, Germany, Kosovo, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and China.
I ran across a small one in the Jardin du Luxembourg during my second trip to Paris. It was moved in 2012 to the entrance of the Musée d’Orsay and now there is a bronze one in its place. You can find it on the northeast corner of the park near the Rue Guynemer entrance.
It’s a great photo op if you are looking for something a little different to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower!
For a complete list of statue locations around the world, click here.
72 of its guestrooms boast scenic ocean views and the good news is you don’t have to bend your head out of shape or hang preciously over your private balcony to enjoy the stunning visuals.
The resort also has four one-bedroom suites and five two-bedroom villas. (The villas are garden view.)
Plus, the icing on the already attractive ‘vacation cake’ is the section they call The Residences. It consists of nine two-and three-bedroom condominiums and… OMG bite me!
The rooms’ dark wood tones, refreshingly warm and vibrant wall paint, sumptuous fabrics and tasteful details capture the island-luxury feel perfectly.
But that is not all.
With 198 boat slips that accommodate vessels as large as 200-feet do not be surprised if you go for an early morning run or swim and run into a seaman walking his dog or sweeping his deck.
The marina is popular in the boating community because it provides a safe harbor; electricity, fueling, cleaning and detailing services; and 24-hour security. Additionally, customs and immigration clearance that can be obtained on-site.
Of course, no resort experience would be complete without good food and a variety of activities.
At Abaco Beach Resort there are two great meal options – Anglers Restaurant for plated service and the centrally located Pool Bar for more relaxed fare. Activities run the gamut from non-motorized watersports to diving and snorkeling, bone, sea or deep fishing; bird watching; biking; island hopping or shopping and more
From the moment I boarded my flight and the attendant greeted all seven passenegrs with his, “Hello, please sit in rows eight through twelve in order to balance the plane” line, I should have known this trip would have been different.
Once you enter The Abacos zone, mundane reality and rigid structure exit the building.
Disclosure Statement: I visited the resort as an invited guest on official business but this post was not a condition of my stay. In fact, up to the time of writing and publishing this, no one at the property even knows I have a blog. My Travel Stamps readers can rest assured that my thoughts and comments will remain 100 per cent true to what I feel and experience. Always!
I was sitting on a bar stool completely engrossed in lively conversation when the unexpected happened. One minute I was learning local slang words and the next, I looked up and – muddasick -there was a taut young butt gyrating wirh rhythmic speed in front of me.
I hadn’t seen it coming. With soca monarch winner Machel Montano’s music thumping loudly through the speakers, I certainly hadn’t heard it coming. Yet there it was, a mere touch away.
I resisted the crazy impulse to slap it. And the clichéd move of reaching into my wallet for a dollar bill to toss it.
Honestly, my restraint was due mostly to propriety; not modesty. I was among business colleagues and the butt in question belonged to someone I had met while island-hopping that day. The young man was a fireball of positive and uninhibited energy so when he invited my group to the resort’s popular Tuesday night karaoke party, we agreed to go.
Watch the clip below to get a glimpse of the behind the bar action.
The night was ton loads of fun but admittedly, I got much more than I bargained for.
First, there was that attention-grabbing, ‘Oh no, is this reallyhappening to me right now?’ lap dance. And second, I was cleverly cajoled into playing lead ‘vocalist’ in a hastily arranged trio meant to rescue the Michael Jackson’s 1982 song Pretty Young Thing from total butchering at the hands of well-intentioned teens. More YouTube and Vine than MTV generation, they weren’t even born when that Billboard hit ruled the charts.
Don’t get me wrong though, I am not complaining.
I deliberately shared that story to say this: that impromptu, light-hearted and double-over-with-uncontrollable-laughter scenario summed up the essence of what I came to know as ‘The Abaco Life’. You can’t read about it or simply hear about it. It is something you must experience.
The fabric that holds #TheAbacoLife together is a beautiful tapestry of unscripted moments, uncomplicated and fun-loving interactions, and the quintessential less-is-more philosophy that ultimately leads to true quality of life.
I’m serious. The Out Island spirit is delightfully infectious. It will make you smile inside and out.
One of my most lasting memories of time spent in Cayman is witnessing their revered Easter camping tradition. From Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, the beaches are transformed into active campsites where families spend their days and nights fishing and chilling, and eating and grilling. Friends often drop by to share a meal, play cards or join a spirited game of dominoes. After a few hours, the passersby move to another spot for more of the same. Everybody – native and tourist alike – is welcome. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. It is such a refreshingly authentic destination experience!
If I had to sum up the event in one sentence, I’d say the four-day holiday is defined by good food, good friends and good fellowship. Kids frolic in the water while adults catch up on news from the marl road (i.e. gossip mill). Even grandpas and grandmas get in on this fun in the sun.
What’s also interesting is that these camps become more sophisticated each year. In some instances, we are talking generators, solar water heaters and gas operated barbeque grills. Plus blow-up air mattresses, hammocks and fancy flat-screens.
A quick look at the check-out lines at local hardware stores like A.L. Thompson and Cox Lumber demonstrate the purchasing power of the avid Easter camper.
Below are a few more scenes from this cultural phenomenon. Check it out in person one year if you can!
The most popular camping spots in Grand Cayman are at Cayman Kai, East End, Smith Cove and Public Beach. If you want to partake in the fun click here.for more information on the process and guidelines.
Other cultural and heritage-based activities must-sees outside of Easter include:
a visit to Pedro St James, a Great House that showcases the splendor of its 18th century heritage;
a walk through of Miss Lassie House, one of the most unique and traditional Caymanian homes;
or, a visit during the second week of November to participate in the country’s annual Pirates Week festival that features heritage days in each of its main districts in addition to street parties and the reenactment of a pirate ship landing.