My 2017 Best Nine Instagram Posts

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.

9. Kingston, Jamaica 

8. Jamaica…again!

7. La Romana Province, The Dominican Republic (DR)

Salty air, sun-kissed hair Ah…the endless summer Take me there. 🌴

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6. Montreal, Canada

Au revoir, Montreal. You were dreamy!

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5. The DR..take two!

Leisurely beach walks can be so cathartic and magical! Thanks to the app #Plotagraph and tips from ace travel blogger Alyssa Ramos (@mylifesatravelmovie), I learned to animate photos y'all! Do you see the clouds and water moving? Oh yeah, I'm so excited about that. Alyssa and Gloria Atanmo (@glographics) just wrapped up their first Blogger Bootcamp in Bali and the group's IG stories and posts gave me all kinds of feels. If you're not following either of these ladies yet, you should be.  I've been a fan of their content since 2016. (See link in my bio to a post that included them on a list of inspirational IG feeds.) ________ PSA to Droid loyalists like me: A mobile version of Plotagraph isn't available for Android, but I worked with the app on my PC and figured out how to use it with the help of another online tutorial.  Check it out!

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4. Sanibel, Florida

3. A Providenciales, Turks and Caicos throwback.

 2. Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

1. Irish Town, .Jamaica

Cloud 9 kinda tings.🇯🇲

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I’m totally stoked that Jamaica made three out of the nine images in this compilation, because as Tinga Stewart so famously said, “when yuh check it out lawd, no weh no betta dan yaad, oh no.”

What would YOU (my blog readers) like to see, or see more of, in 2018?

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#2017BestNine

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My four best sunsets of 2015

I’m a little late with my end-of-year roundups but its still early in 2016 so I figure I’ll proceed with them nonetheless.

These were my four best ‘captured” sunsets of 2015, in no particular order.

Snappas Grill and Chill in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
Snappas Grill and Chill in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
Paradise Beach, St. Kitts and Nevis
Paradise Beach, Nevis
Ocean Club Resorts, Turks and Caicos
Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos

 

South Florida, USA
South Florida, USA

 

Related stories can be found here:

Four great beach bars in the Bahamas Out Islands

Showering outdoors on vacation; have you or would you?

Turks and Caicos: 7 Fun Ways to Play in Providenciales

Saddle up in South Florida!

VIDEO POST: Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos

Consistently ranked high by TripAdvisor users worldwide, Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos is 12 miles of powder-soft sand and calming surf. It’s never crowded and the beach chairs are ample and comfy, plus the clarity of the water and cool Caribbean breezes are sure to take your breath away!

A section of Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
A section of Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

The fact that you can walk along the shoreline and stop to dine at many great beachfront restaurants is an added bonus.

This is what it looks like, even after a rainy night.

Shopping for hand-made products in the Turks and Caicos

I already shared the story of finding the cutest Coconut Body Shop I’ve ever seen but today I’ll let you in on another secret. Remember this name, Orion Creations. If you like creative products, it is another locally-based shop that you absolutely must visit when you are in the Turks and Caicos.

Entrance to the new retail location
Curbside view of the new Orion Creations retail location, Providenciales

A young lady who doesn’t look a day over 18 is the heart and soul of the operation. Her retail outlet launched in June 2015 and it sells hand-made greetings cards, paintings and jewelry that you won’t find anywhere else. The cards, her first business venture, paved the way for this gem of a shop that also sells clothing and work of other local designers, including dolls. But think outside the box here. Don’t expect to find any Barbies or Kens there.

I put on a necklace and posed with the owner
I put on a necklace and posed with the owner

The owner, Melissa Willcocks, is a multi-talented Canadian who moved to Providenciales in 2006. When she first arrived, she rented a room with her friend and began job hunting. Somewhere along the way, the roomies started planning for a grand tour of Europe but their landlord died and the house they were living in went on the market  – at a great price. Instead of following their powerful wanderlust urges, they decided to use their vacation savings to buy the.

A part of the shop display in Orion Creations
A part of the shop display in Orion Creations

Melissa didn’t know it at the time but that was her first major business decision. After that, destiny called, and she answered. That very house became the base of her growing cottage industry. An avid scrap booker, she used the same concept to make her first greeting cards. Her friends and family liked them so much they encouraged her to try to sell them commercially.

The hand-made greeting cards that are the backbone of the business
The hand-made greeting cards that are the backbone of the business

She made contact with the purchasing team at Beaches, a large all-inclusive hotel on the island and was elated when they took 100 on commission. Soon, she expanded into painting and designing unique artwork that highlight the beautiful aspects of the islands. Sand is a signature element in many of her designs.

Some of the paintings, earrings and other trinkets available at Orion Creations
Some of the paintings, earrings and other trinkets available at Orion Creations

The rest, as they say, is history. Go visit her shop! It is near the Jamaican Patty Place in Le Petit Place; walking distance from Ocean Club West, which is where I stayed.

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You can visit her website or reach her at orioncreations.tci@gmail.com

Traveling for work: Photographer

So far we’ve talked about international development, destination promotion and training jobs with travel benefits and the features have all been informative and fun reads.  This month we’re mixing things up a bit.

Like I said, the goal of this feature is to inspire people of different ages and backgrounds to explore various careers that can take them around the globe, so I feel it’s time to highlight a job in a non-corporate environment. Enter Steve “Semiyah” James, a Jamaican with many talents.

Steve James specializes in event photography
Steve James specializes in event photography

Steve, I know you have a solid educational background and several years of hard-earned private sector experience but you’ve always seemed to enjoy your hobby-turned business endeavors more. Am I right or wrong?

You’re right. I have an MBA and a bachelor’s degree, as well as significant experience in hotel management and telecommunications sales but outside of my family, the things that bring me the most joy involve reggae music (Lovers Rock in particular), entertainment and photography.

Steve in studio with band members of the group Steel Pulse
Steve in studio with band members of the famous reggae group Steel Pulse

When I listen to you speak, I can sense the depth of your passion for those fields but for now, tell me about the photography. 

I’ve had a fascination with capturing images for as long as I can remember. Before things went digital, I was the man who had 25 photo albums and whenever I got the chance, I would pull them out  to take a trip down memory lane with friends and family.

Taking a sightseeing trip in The Bahamas by van
Taking a sightseeing trip in The Bahamas by open back van

Were you taking the pictures or posing for them?

{He chuckled before responding} A bit of both but mostly the former. Back in those days, I would carry around four-tube flashes and keep stocks of 35mm film handy. I even remember taking a photography course in high school that involved huddling over negatives in a darkroom while my classmates and I learned how to use chemicals, controlled light and photographic paper to make the magic happen.

Let’s fast forward to today. I know a similar type of magic has taken you to some cool places and allowed you to photograph some very interesting people. Tell us about that.

Because of my photography, I’ve been able to visit places like Gambia; Manchester and London in the United Kingdom; and New York and California in the United States. 

Steve rests awhile after passing through 14 villages to get to Kunta KInteh Island in Gambia
Steve rests awhile after passing through 14 villages to get to Kunta KInteh Island in Gambia

Some of my Caribbean trips have taken me to Guyana, Antigua, Saint Kitts & Nevis, The Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, Turks and Caicos and other countries as well.

George Town, Guyana
Amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown GeorgeTown, Guyana

In your typical down-to-earth and humble fashion, you’ve deliberately omitted any mention of the people you’ve photographed during those trips. You’ve traveled extensively with the famous Jamaican crooner, Beres Hammond, haven’t you? Who else has been a subject in front of your lens?

Yes, I have traveled with Beres as his personal photographer. Life on the road with him and his Harmony House family has been phenomenal. 

Singer Beres Hammond feeling the love from fans at at performance at Reggae Sumfest
Singer Beres Hammond feeling the love from fans at a performance at Reggae Sumfest

I’ve also gotten assignments from print and online media outlets to cover other music concerts, reggae festivals and events like the first Back to Africa festival, a UK-based Lovers Rock Reunion show, Reggae Sumfest, Rebel Salute, Sting, multiple Jazz and Blues festivals and many more. 

Female DJ Lady Saw on stage during Reggae Sumfest's popular Dancehall Night
Female DJ Lady Saw on stage during Reggae Sumfest’s popular Dancehall Night

Over the years, I’ve photographed numerous reggae and dancehall musicians both on stage and behind-the-scenes. My lens has captured established global icons like Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse, the late John Holt, Shaggy and Buju Banton. I’ve also taken pictures of up and comers like Chronixx and Jesse Royal, plus other stalwarts like Vivian “Sugar Love” Jones and so on.

Performer Bugle on stage
Performer Bugle working through his hit list

What have been some of your favorite times?

I enjoy capturing the intimate moments the fans never get to see. The spontaneous times when the entertainers and band members are playing dominoes or when they are telling jokes on the tour bus and bantering with each other during a flight. 

A spirited domino match while waiting for a flight
Musicians in an airport playing a spirited game of dominoes while waiting for a flight
An exclusive picture of Buju Banton returning to Jamaica after his last concert in the Bahamas prior to his arrest
An exclusive picture of Buju Banton returning to Jamaica after his last concert in the Bahamas prior to his arrest

I also like taking nature shots in the destinations that I visit and getting up close and personal with some of the local food spots. I’ll be honest, in the latter case, the meals are usually so tasty I’ve often halfway through the food on my plate before I remember to snap a picture.

Do you find the time to explore?

Of course! You have to make the time for what you enjoy.  When I travel with Harmony House, we tend to fly to the location two days ahead of the event to make allowances for potential flight delays or other unpredictable occurrences. In between set up, sound check and show time, we leave the hotel and go in search of local experiences…and food. 

A popular seafood restaurant in The Bahamas
Oh Andros, a popular seafood restaurant in The Bahamas

When I travel on assignment, I have more time to myself so I check with the hotel staff for ideas on interesting things to see and do.

Are there any great stories you can tell us about traveling with a celebrity like Beres?

He’s a very private man but I don’t think he’ll mind if I share a few tidbits with you. When I travel with him, it’s a breeze getting through immigration and customs because he gets VIP treatment wherever he goes. A similar standard of service is extended to his band.  The longest wait time is the period in which the airport staff stops processing passengers in order to get their pictures taken with him. Believe it or not, sometimes all lines cease to move while they are getting their selfies. No matter how often I witness his effect on people, I am always amazed.

Fan filled with tears of joy as she is about to meet Beres for the first time
Fan filled with tears of joy as she is about to meet Beres for the first time
IMG_0913_resize
Radiant fan after she meets Beres Hammond.

I also remember one incident where a fan got to meet him backstage. Just the actuality of being in the same room with her rendered her immobile. She was crying her eyes out. Beres called her over and gently spoke to her, and it was like watching a beautiful frozen statue melt as she gradually found her speech and regained control of her ability to move. It was a sight to behold! 

One last question: can you tell us anything about him that most people wouldn’t know?

He has a good sense of humor and he would love to meet First Lady Michelle Obama.  In fact, he would love to sing for her someday.

“Say what now?” I asked, with a twinkle in my eye.  I couldn’t outrun the thought that even with the amount of swag that President Barak Obama has, he better not put up too much of a resistance if the incomparable Beres Hammond gets to show Michele Obama ‘what one dance can do’

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More about Steve James

In addition to his photography work, some of which has appeared in Billboard magazine, United Reggae.com. Reggaeville.com and on CD covers, Steve also hosts a radio show on Bess FM and organizes customized sightseeing tours around Jamaica that delve into the music and culture of the island. He can be reached via email at: semiyah@gmail.com and you can connect with him on Facebook and Instagram: @semiyahsteve.

 

 

The Coconut Body Shop; a rare shopping find

Some of my best shopping finds are uncovered in the places I least expect them to be. So imagine my delight when I stumbled across The Coconut Body Shop in Caicos Café Plaza in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. It is across the street from Ocean Club West and this little store is undeniably a special place.

The Coconut Body Shop in Turks and Caicos
The Coconut Body Shop in Turks and Caicos

Run by a tall and lanky Belgian expat named Kristof, the store sells products made from virgin coconut oil and other aloe-based skin care lines that are chemical-free. Baby safe and reef safe*, these therapeutic essential blends and hair and body oils are good for multiple skin conditions, massages, diaper rashes and more.

The extensive product line available at The Coconut Body Shop
The extensive product line available at The Coconut Body Shop

And he makes them himself! I was so impressed, I asked him how.

Kristof said he picks the mature coconuts before they are ready to germinate (put out shoots), then he allows them to dry. The remaining water is collected and set aside before the meat is grated into shreds. The next step involves re-adding some of the water to the shredded meat and the combined mixture is placed in a cheesecloth that is then run through a manual wine press.

Mature Coconuts
Mature Coconuts

Depending on the humidity outdoors and other existing weather conditions, he allows the mixture to ferment anywhere between 24 to 48 hours before he begins his gravity-led filtration process that is repeated seven times.

I stood there slack-jawed as he patiently explained the process to me. My poor brain struggled to connect all the dots.

Small bottling and labelling work station
Small bottling and labelling work station

“Wait a minute. You told me you were an ocean transportation and shipping country manager in your former life, right?” I asked, slightly perplexed.

He smiled and nodded, indicating a modest yes.

“Okay, so please explain again how you learned to do this.” I persisted, not quite believing he had no prior experience. Because by all appearances, he had successfully managed to radically change careers in the seven years since he’d moved to the island.

“Through rigorous research and by a process of trial and error,” he good-naturedly responded.

Kristof, the store owner showing the coconut husk and the raw oil.
Kristof, the store owner

Kristof produces the raw oil every two to three weeks and combines products daily. As a result, he splits his time between production and sales. So, do not be surprised if you don’t find him at the store after one o’clock in the afternoon.

The courteous expat also told me his wife was an aesthetician and she was able to help him gauge the caliber of the final product. They got it right! I’ve been using his Cold Press Virgin Coconut Oil for Hair and Body since I returned home and it is working wonders on my skin. I also love the fact that it has no overpowering fragrance and it absorbs quickly. If you’re ever there, try it. Your pores will love you!

_______

*Reef safe means that if you’ve used the products and go diving or snorkeling, they won’t cause bleaching of the reef as products with a chemical base would do.

December 2015 UPDATE: On a return trip to Provo in December, I found out that Kristof had to close his retail outlet but he still manufactures his product and sells it wholesale. You can visit their Facebook page to learn more: Click here.

5 postcards from around the Caribbean

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.

Da Conch Shack, Providenciales
Beach tables at Da Conch Shack, Providenciales (Turks and Caicos)

 

Lush foliage at Goblin HIll Villas at San San in Port Antonio, Jamaica
Lush green foliage at Goblin HIll Villas at San San in Port Antonio (Jamaica)
The Hermitage
Majestic mountain range, enchanting gardens and a traditional Caribbean-styled home at The Hermitage (Nevis)
Colorful kayaks along Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands)
Colorful kayaks along Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands)

 

Elbow Reef lighthouse, The Abacos (Bahamas)
Elbow Reef Lighthouse, The Abacos (Bahamas)