The effects of the pandemic have begun to recede in some countries and borders are slowly starting to open up again, so the thought of post COVID-19 travel is no longer as far removed as it was three or four months ago.
Regrettably, cases are still rising where I am, which means I don’t plan on getting on a plane today, next week, or even next month. But by no means has that daunting reality stopped me from dreaming about travel – like all the time.
So if you’re like me, maybe you’ve been paying close attention to how destinations are handling the crisis, and you’ve either been put off or impressed with their responses.
The responsible, measured and meaningful approach taken by these three destinations completely won me over, so they now sit atop my post COVID-19 travel wish list.
Portugal’s advertising message was similar, but their campaign was built around the idea that It’s time to stop.
Using footage shot before the lockdown and audio recorded at home on a cell phone, the narrator tells us, “It’s time to stare humanity in the eyes. To take a break for the world. Time to make a pause, so we can play again.
Let me be honest. I didn’t really need to hear Jamaica’s promise that Brighter days will return to decide to visit the land of my birth as soon as I feel confident enough to travel again. But hey, the beautiful imagery and the soothing island lilt brought on an even greater sense of urgency to run home and submerge myself in a heavy dose of feel-good nostalgia. And I’m guessing it may have the same pull on you too.
I know I am biased, but how can anyone remain unmoved when they hear the narrator say, “Jamaica serves the world with one heart and as one people. Even though we are many beating hearts, in times like these our hearts beat as one.”
Certainly not me. LOL.
Well, that’s my list.
If you had all the money and time in the world to make your post COVID-19 travel wish list come true, where would YOU go?
What captures your attention and provides the optimal sensory elements that help shape and define your greatest trip memories? Is it the food, the architecture, the local art and culture, music and nightlife, or the people you meet? And, including some or all of the above, are you also besotted with dramatic landscapes and the opportunity to leave with beautiful nature photos destined to be framed as your next prized pieces of wall art?
My sister CJ (and best travel buddy) will be the first to tell you “impressive man-made structures have their place, and they’re several iconic landmarks scattered all over the world matching that description.” But for her, the pièces de résistance, the vacation takeaway masterpieces so to speak, always lie in nature.
We’ve been to more than a dozen countries together and she inevitably comes back with images of landscapes, seascapes, clouds, plants and animals. She takes other pictures too, of course, but her beloved nature photos far outnumber anything else.
So for this post, I asked her to help us see the world through her Samsung Galaxy 6 lens and describe what drew her eyes to each scene.
Nestled in the hills of St. Elizabeth there is freedom. Freedom from the trappings of commercialization and bustling streets that create a cacophony of intrusive noises. This lone home, enveloped by lush vegetation and surrounded by lung-friendly, pollution-free air, sits atop a hill like a beacon. Untouched land, friendly people, and rich culture showcased Jamaica at its finest.
Cape Town is steeped in history and known for its popular V&A Waterfront as well as prominent landmarks, but one of my favorite places to visit, other than my safari and Robben Island tours, was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Found on the eastern side of the famous Table Mountain, it is home to several spectacular species of flora and fauna and the immaculately groomed grounds are presided over by a bust of Nelson Mandela, which is near the entrance.
The aromatic and abundant plant life is a potent elixir for the cutest insects. This little fellow was oblivious to all the tourists milling around as he hung out all by his adobrable and lonesome self. Clearly, there was sonly one thing on his mind…”Gotta get the pollen! Gotta get the pollen!”
Taking a bus tour can often be mundane and long, but when that trip is transporting you from Athens through the northern highlands to Meteora, there are beautiful natural landscapes and geological sites to behold. The feeling of catching your first glimpse of the giant monolithic rocks on which several monasteries were built is not something that’s easily described. It is an emotion best experienced in person.
Tulum, Tulum, Tulum. What’s not to love about Tulum? Found in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico, the area is home to the ruins of the Mayan walled city, and it once served as a port for Coba. Today it is a treasured UNESCO Heritage Site.
I’ve been around beaches all my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of this gorgeous shoreline bordered on either side by turquoise waters and craggy rocks. Not only do you get to stroll through the impressive ruins, you can kick off your shoes and dip your toes in the soft, squishy sand if you are not short on time,
Famous for its shell-lined beaches, Southwest Florida is also known for absolutely amazing sunsets. No two light shows are ever alike because they were ‘painted’ by the greatest artist ever known. He is Elohim. It was a perfect evening when the lone bird took flight and a few, friendly dolphins frolicked in the ocean below.
Those are some of my sister’s top picks. Do you have any tips on other cool spots for beautiful nature photos that you’d like to share? Please drop their names in the comment section below.
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.
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.
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).
I began last year with Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the US Virgin Islands at the top of my travel wish list, but for various reasons ranging from passport delays to hurricane devastation, I didn’t get to visit ANY of those places. Despite the setbacks, I’ll borrow a phrase from The Travelocity Gnome and say I’m grateful I still managed to ‘wander wisely’.
In 2017, I visited three new countries (Mexico, Belgium and Greece), one new city (Montreal), and made new discoveries in old favorites (The Dominican Republic, and my homeland of Jamaica). Not too shabby considering these destinations weren’t on my initial radar, eh? According to the popular #2017BestNine site, these were my nine most liked IG snaps.
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).
My aunt had a milestone birthday late last year and my sister, sister-friend and I flew to Jamaica to help her celebrate. The mission was to treat her to a 48-hour getaway on the north coast that involved getting up close and personal with the flora and fauna she loved, seeing historical sites, gazing spellbound at majestic waterfalls and enjoying the adult-only, all-inclusive perks at Jewel Dunn’s River Resort & Spa Ocho Rios. The hotel is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.
As soon as we entered the airy lobby we were greeted by a bellman with a welcome drink in-hand. That was all it took to affirm that we’d made the right decision in selecting this hotel. It was just what my aunt needed.
The property has 250 guest rooms with a variety of layouts that spread across three buildings. Each room boasts Colonial-style furniture. Picture regal four poster beds made from sturdy mahogany wood and nightstands and lamps in the same period style.
We stayed in the Diamond Concierge guestrooms that provided balconies with fantastic ocean views, fully-stocked mini-bars including replenishment without incurring extra charges, elegant whirlpool baths, his and her bathrobes and slippers and 24-hour room service.
There are beach cabanas; six restaurants; six bars; two swimming pools, one with a water feature and a place for dive-in movies. And if that alone is not enough, guests also have access to tennis courts; a fitness center; a 9-hole pitch and putt golf course; a hair and nail salon; and a full-service spa on-site. The all-inclusive rate covers all meals, food and beverage and non-motorized watersports such as kayaking and sunfish sailing.
The Radiant Spa – a quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle of the resort – features a range of massages and a variety of other treatments.
Dining options range from casual to formal. The Aquamarina Beach Grill, open from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., is flip-flop and swimsuit friendly. It serves light fare like burgers, jerked chicken, fries and made-to-order sandwiches right next to the beach.
The Coral Café, which requires a resort casual dress-code, welcomes guests for buffet breakfast at 7 a.m. and lunch at noon. Its specialty is international cuisine. The more formal Platinum restaurant, which features the best of Caribbean cuisine, is the place to be for a-la-carte breakfast from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m. or dinner between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
I heard great things about the Japanese restaurant, Jade Samurai, but I didn’t dine there. I didn’t indulge in any pizzas from Court Jester’s either.
Moonstone, the Italian hotspot, was closed on Friday night to allow guests to dine under the stars. The popular weekly program sets up dinner al aire libre on the pier where you can enjoy a pre-set three course menu while you watch the anchored boats bob idly in the ocean. I was told private beach dinner packages also were available.
Two major hang outs where drinks flowed freely were the Sunken Treasure Swim-up Bar, open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and the Emerald Tree Lounge, which stays open late.
Guests can do as much or as little as they want at the resort. Each morning, consult with your local paper – the Jewel Times – for an outline of the planned activities for the day. It is available in the lobby free of charge. Power walks, golf, tennis drills, beach and pool volleyball, aquasize and reggae dance classes, water balloon and bean toss options are some options. Sing-a-longs at the piano bar and high energy Cabaret showcases featuring prominent Jamaican entertainers, are others.
Nearby attractions include Dunn’s River Falls, the Dolphin Experience, Mystic Mountain, Turtle River Falls and Gardens, Seville Great House and Shaw Park Gardens.
I found the value fair considering everything that was included in the rate. You will be fine if you don’t go expecting top-shelf liquor and Michelin-star food.
I’m thankful I’ve been lucky enough to have ridden a camel in the Egyptian desert; toured castles and palaces in Europe and China; gone on safari in South Africa, had drinks in the 7-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai; watched a football (soccer) match in Brazil and more. BUT none of those experiences trump the feeling I get when I go home. Every single time I go back, I find something new to appreciate about my little land of wood and water.
That’s because, to me, there’s no other place on earth where…
The food, like home-cooked salt fish fritters and a cup of bush tea or hot milo is as delicious and as filling.
The road side stops with random vendor interactions are as entertaining. Or where the fruit stall purchases are as fresh and as satisfying.
The natural landscapes are so lush and breathtaking.
The wildlife is as colorful.
The history of the country is as relatable and as poignant
The early morning ocean sprays and the warm water are as refreshing and enticing.
And for all those reasons and more, I am proud to call that place HOME.
In case you’ve wondered about it, the yellow in theJamaican flagrepresents oursunshine and natural resources; the black, the burdens borne by the people; and the green stands for agriculture and hope for the future.
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?
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!
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.