Have you ever traveled with a parent as an adult? Some people say they don‘t enjoy themselves when they do, but my experience has been the total opposite.
I. Simply. Love. It!
This is how the chips fall with my folks. My Dad is a stay-close-to- home kind of guy, but once the destination forecast says clear skies and good weather, my Mom will have her bag, passport and swimsuit packed in a heartbeat. I know I may be totally biased here, but I think that ready-to-explore at the drop of a hat trait, especially as a senior, is utterly cool.
So here are all the reasons I love traveling with my Mom. [I invite you to share your stories about vacations with your parents at the end of this post.]
Mom ALWAYS has snacks onher. I don’t know how she does it or even when she stashes them in her handbag, but I am absolutely certain I can count on her to have a few save-me-from starvation treats just when I need them most.
She is very low maintenance. I never have to worry about any troubling mood swings, diva-like silences, or loud outbursts when we’re together.
We enjoy the same things so planning day excursions is never a hassle. Cultural immersions? We’re both into them. Scenic drives? Oh, yes! Historic and educational tours? Let’s go.
We can read each other like a book so it’s easy to communicate without words, especially in large groups.
She can make friends with almost anybody, and she asks a ton of questions, so I always end up with more local insights when I travel with her.
For someone who makes no bones about using all her senior citizen privileges at banks and other places of business, she still has a joie de vivre and sense of adventure that is superior to most people 1/3rd her age!
She is a ready-made roomie so I can forego paying additional dollars for the single supplement to have my own room on packaged group tours.
I never have to worry about getting all my souvenirs to fit into my luggage for the trip home. I must admit I’ve learned a trick or two over the years but my mom is still the best packer I know.
She’s not shy about taking goofy pictures. Oh, no. I just share my creative vision for a shot and she’ll gladly pose or go behind the camera to snap me.
And finally, at the end of an exasperating or exhilarating day, her hugs are still FREE and they come with no strings attached.
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
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
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
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
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
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).
I am PROUD to be Jamaican. It’s a non-detachable part of my psyche and my socialization. My national pride is reflected in my distinctive accent, my “we-can-do-all-things-we-set-out-to-do” confidence, and a hearty appreciation of our indigenous delicacies like patties, jerked meats and the national dish – ackee and saltfish. Regardless of where I go, and the pleasure I derive from exploring far-flung destinations, there’s just no substitute for our food, our culture, the landscapes, our people and that irreplaceable island swag.
But sometimes, just sometimes…I wish I carried a second passport.
The challenges and inconveniences some passport holders like myself face when planning trips can be disheartening and downright annoying. Not only does the need to apply for a visa limit spontaneity in vacation trips, it also can impede our ability to work as well. What’s more, the process is costly and quite invasive. Depending on the country and category of visa needed, application requirements may include all or some of the following:
a job letter
a bank statement
police background checks
biometrics (i.e. fingerprinting)
proof of itinerary (airline and hotel reservations)
an invitation letter, conference attendance documentation etc.
And, let’s not even talk about the fees!
It gets on my nerves occasionally, because sometimes I just can’t be bothered with the hassle. Thankfully, I’ve never been denied a visa but the hoops I have had to jump through to travel to Egypt, London, Brazil, China, Europe, and the Cayman Islands are noteworthy. The easiest process I ever had was with Dubai. It wasn’t even a stamp in my passport; the entry visa was delivered via email.
In former roles, I also missed two opportunities to go on work-related trips to Anguilla because it is a British Overseas Territory, and I needed a UK visa to get in. Yet, I was able to travel to the Turks and Caicos (another UK Overseas Territory) multiple times with my Jamaican passport and US resident card. So, clearly the rules are not consistent.
In a recent study, Jamaica ranked 98 in the Global Passport Power Rank 2016 index, with a visa-free score of 77. That means Jamaican passport holders have visa-free access to 46 countries and can obtain a visa on arrival at an additional 31. Other Caribbean neighbors rank much higher: Barbados (132), Bahamas (129), Antigua & Barbuda (124), St Kitts and Nevis (124), and Trinidad and Tobago (12). See the link with a full country listing here.
Where does your passport rank, and have you had any challenges getting to where you need to go?
I suspect the June 2015 news of the removal of the famous “love locks” on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris took a lot of people by surprise. I mean, really, with an estimated total of more than 700,000 locks similar in weight to that of about 20 elephants it means a lot of lovers must have journeyed to that site to etch their names onto specially or hastily bought locks before fastening them to the bridge.
Who knew that such an innocuous practice, believed to have started in Rome after a 2006 Italian novel-turned-film aired would have mushroomed into such a symbolic sign of “ironclad” affection? So great was the movement, it eventually converted a regular bridge into a world-renown point of interest arguably as famous as the Seine River over which it flowed.
I found the concept fascinating. In fact, it spurred me into thinking about other unusual traditions that I’ve seen throughout my travels. At each place, I’ve always paused to wonder about the origin of these unusual practices. Two examples immediately sprung to mind:
Cayman Shoe Tree
Any visitor to Grand Cayman should drive, jog or walk to South Sound Road and witness the spectacle of the Cayman Shoe tree in person. Reportedly the brain child of an expat couple who lived and worked on the island for a few years, it began as a means of them clearing litter from some of the beaches they liked to frequent. Deciding they wanted to do something that would draw attention to the need for recycling, they collected more than 300 discarded shoes on the first night they started rounding up garbage. They then secretly nailed the flip flops and sandals onto a tree over the course of two nights. They were aiming for shock value, so they stopped what they were doing whenever any cars drove by to ensure that early discovery would not spoil their big reveal.
By the time they were finished hammering shoes to the tree, their unusual display was 12 feet high. Since then, people have continued to add to it. The couple have since left the island but either them or someone else was kind enough to leave a hammer and nails in a wooden box at the base for you to leave your own footprint on their initial design.
The Egg Plant in Nevis
I heard covering trees with egg shells used to be a common practice outside traditional households in Nevis but the only evidence of it I witnessed was one small plant on the grounds of a cute little eatery by the waterfront in Charlestown. Nestled among the colorful tables, chairs and foliage at the popular breakfast and lunch spot called Café de Arts, there sits a small spikey plant covered in brown and white egg shells. The art of properly positioning them lies in the level of skill in the cracking method. You must make a small incision at the tip of the egg shell so that it can be affixed to the prickly and pointed ends of the plant. Most of the shell must remain whole in order to achieve the full peacock-like effect.
I stood there dumbfounded. I just couldn’t outrun that eerie sense of déjà vu that came over me because I was immediately reminded of the reaction I had when I first saw the flip flop tree in Cayman. Shaking my head to clear it, again I wondered who had started this unusual trend.
I was with a small group on a walking tour so I couldn’t stay to dig deep into the back story. All I know is that the eggs that patrons order for breakfast are likely to end up on the plant. After I left, I called the restaurant owner to ask about the practice but she was an expat-turned-resident and told me she really didn’t know the origin of it. I’ve made it a point of duty to find out. After all, this popular food spot sits next door to an important part of history – the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton; one of the writers of the United States Constitution and the face on its 10 dollar bill. From farm to table to plant décor, it is only fitting that the history of these eggs must also be told.
Have you ever come across any unusual country traditions that have become visual points of interest? Please tell me about them.
For the third installment of the Jobs with Travel Benefits feature, My Travel Stamps chatted with the charismatic go-getter, Karyn Williams-Sykes. A former director of training and development with The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai she now runs her own business specializing in learning and development.
Karyn, I’ve known you for more years than any of us cares to admit publicly and for all that time your jobs have been hospitality and tourism related. What attracted you to the industry?
The simple answer is I genuinely LOVE people. I know it sounds cliché but it’s true. Interacting with, being around, and observing people really tops the list of some of my favourite things to do.
What do you do now?
I design and deliver customized training programs for companies to help them enhance their customer service delivery and systems. I also host Leadership Workshops as well as consult and train in Food & Beverage service. Most of my clients are in the hospitality industry but I also work in education, banking and government.
What tasks are the most challenging and which ones are the most rewarding?
My biggest challenge has been branching out on my own because it involves building my clientele and growing my business, both of which take time. The most rewarding aspect of what I do is the actual delivery of training. EVERY single time I deliver a program, I learn, grow, and get to meet new people. It’s a calling that just keeps on giving.
It sounds dynamic and rewarding but here’s the clincher for my readers: does your job involve travel and if so, where have you been?
Yes it does. Either my clients come to me or I go to them. Of course, it is more economical for one person to travel than it is for a group so I have been very fortunate to have benefitted from many all-expense paid trips because of my job.
During my eight years in Dubai, work-related travel has taken me to Sri Lanka, London, Italy, Kiev (Ukraine), Papua New Guinea, India, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, The Maldives and Singapore.
Business travel or longer-term stays based on work opportunities also took me to Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, Martinique, Grenada, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands.
What travel perks have you enjoyed because of what you do?
The biggest perk? Business Class travel! My former company booked most of its flights with Emirates Airlines and their Business Class service is phenomenal. It includes a chauffeur for all airport transfers plus access to global lounges where the cabin crew welcomes you by name and remembers your drink.
In addition to that, over the years I earned many frequent flier miles that translate into free upgrades and benefits when I travel for my own pleasure. I’ve also enjoyed staying in numerous 5-star business hotels and resorts for work, as those were my clients.
What has the first-hand knowledge of different cultures, practices and perspectives taught you?
I’ve learnt that people are all the same in spite of different religions, different foods and different music. People want to feel they belong, they want to have quality time with their friends and family and they want to be safe.
I’m curious, did your experiences allow you to appreciate your background more?
Definitely! I learnt to appreciate Trinidad and Tobago’s diversity, our educational opportunities, our freedom and our openness. All these things have made me better at my job and better at getting along with others.
I’ve seen others struggle with cultural flexibility, sometimes with just being able to talk with others. By contrast, I view meeting ‘strangers’ and going to unfamiliar places as a totally positive experience. I am confident that trait stems from my culture and my upbringing.
Can you share one of your funniest travel stories with us? Knowing you, I am sure there are several.
Living on this side of the Atlantic, I often find that nobody knows where I am from (Trinidad & Tobago). Even people from India, a country we feel we have such strong ties with, have never heard of us. So when I landed at Indira Ghandi International Airport in Delhi for the first time, I had a very memorable experience. The immigration officer looked at my passport, looked at me and looked back at my passport quite baffled.
‘Your name is Indira?” he asked.
‘Yes’, I responded. “Indira is my middle name. My father named me after Indira Ghandi”.
“But where is this country? Where are you from”? he asked with increasing bewilderment. Clearly confused, he invited two of his colleagues to help him solve this mystery. By this time, I’ve been living in the UAE for 4 years, so I knew the drill.
Me: “Do you like cricket?”
Them: “Of course! We are Indian! We love cricket! We ARE cricket!”
Me: “You know Brian Lara?”
Them: “Of course! Brian Lara is a great cricketer. West Indies!”
Me: “Well, he is from my country, Trinidad & Tobago.”
Them: “No, no, no… he is from West Indies, in Africa!”
At that point, I took out my tablet with my map app and pointed to ‘The West Indies’ and Trinidad & Tobago. I ended my geography/history lesson with a photo of me and Brian limin’ (hanging out) at his house some years ago during Carnival.
They were so impressed and excited, I got invited to stay in their country for as long as I liked in spite of my one month visa. I also got a Fast Track pass for my departure so I didn’t have to join any queues. In short succession, more of his colleagues were called over to see the photo and meet ‘Brian Lara’s friend’.
That was hilarious. To wrap up this session, let us pretend you are being asked to address a graduating class of college kids who have expressed an interest in jobs with travel potential, what advice would you give to them? You have 90 secs, starting now…
Jump at any opportunity to travel, to see the world, to experience first-hand new cultures, festivals, foods and languages. Even if the job is not your ideal position or if you don’t plan to make it your career, take the job and go as far as you can. The time for ‘settling down’ and ‘planting roots’ will come later….much later. Don’t make excuses for not travelling because you may regret it when you get older.
I’ve been to school, I’ve studied, I’ve completed degrees and the best education I have had has been from my travels. I hope to continue my life growth with these studies and I encourage you to begin yours today!
For training needs assessments and consultations, Karyn can be reached at [email protected]. Her professional profile is here: LinkedIn.
(Photos were contributed by Karyn and her husband, Phil Sykes).
I was born and raised in the beautiful island of Jamaica and while I grew up with an appreciation for my country’s lush tropical vegetation, white-sand beaches, rolling hills and scenic roadways, I sometimes took those assets for granted. Interestingly, as I grew older and travelled to, or lived in other countries I realized how naturally stunning my country and other islands in the Caribbean really are. As islanders we live where people dream of going on vacation and we should pause more often to take it all in.
Below, I’ve compiled a few images from just five Caribbean islands to illustrate my point.
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.