Something About “Statia”

Approximately 40 miles away from St. Maarten lies another beautiful caribbean jewel, St. Eustatius (a.k.a. Statia).  This beautiful, small dutch island is famous for “the Quill”, an inactive volcano that has very scenic trails that can be hike by novice and experience hikers alike.  The island is approximately 12 square miles which means you can get a lot of cardio in just walking the island and taking in the scenery.  In fact, you can actually take a leisurely stroll around the entire island 2 times, in under 6 hours.

So, what makes this place so special?  Well, maybe it is the tranquility of the land.  Or could it be the overly friendly locals?  Or maybe it is the beautiful black sand on the beach?  It could also be the fort where you have some of the most amazing views in the caribbean.  Then again, it could just be a combination of all of this.  There is a certain peace and serenity to this island.  It will not have the hot nightlife of other islands, nor boast the popular, swanky accommodations, but what it lacks in that department, it more than makes up in friendly locals, great food, inexpensive basic necessities, and tranquility.

If you decide to visit the island, be advised that you will more than likely have to take a flight from SXM over to the island on one of the small plane.  I am only 5’6″ and that plane was very uncomfortable, but at least it was only a 20 minute ride.  Be sure to visit the two cemeteries.  Okay, I am not a fan of cemeteries or death, but there was also a certain stillness and peace just meditating in this area for a minute.  There is a historical museum (St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum) where you can get information about the island’s history and useful tidbits from the locals.  Take a stroll down the hill to Lynch Beach and just enjoy the dark sand and the warm water.

You will not have a problem communicating with the locals as the majority of them speak english; however, you will encounter some who speak dutch (it is a dutch colony after all), spanish, and some patois.  If you need to buy something small to eat or drink, there are plenty chiney shops on the island where you can purchase water and snacks for very little cost.  US currency is widely accepted all around the island, so there is no need to exchange money.  Important: Upon departing the island, most visitors will have to pay a $15 departure fee, so be sure to save some coins for your departure.

If you are looking for a change of pace and want to experience a different side of the caribbean, give Statia a try.  I am sure that you too will find that there is something “special” about Statia.

I want to go, but…

I do not know what my life would be without travel.  For me, each new adventure teaches me something about myself and about others that I didn’t know.  Travel takes me beyond the realm of possibility and makes me realize what is really important in life.  It’s not money.  It’s not fame.  It’s not homes and other material things.  It is: love, laughter, people, and life itself.  It is about not wasting any opportunity to make yourself a better person and to help your fellow human being.  It is about learning the truth about other lands and cultures for yourself, not based on what is displayed on a television or placed online.  This is why I encourage EVERYONE to travel at least once because when you start, you can’t stop).

So, just the other day I was showing someone the pictures of my trip to Belize.  This individual said, “oh, it looks nice.  I want to go, but it’s just too dangerous!”  My initial statement was, “yes, there are some areas which have a few problems with crime; however, it’s not the entire country.”  After our conversation, I thought to myself, “So, she lives near a major metropolitan area where there is a lot of crime, but is afraid to go to another area because of crime.  Pot meet kettle.”  That kinda stirred my memory about the other “reasons” people have given for not traveling.  I respect everyone’s wishes and desire to live their life in the manner in which they choose; however, I think that people should not pass judgment on an area or stereotype a whole group of people, without at least having first hand experience.

Other than the “danger” factor, what are the reasons people have given for not wanting to travel beyond their comfort zone?  I will just provide a few below.  How many of these have you heard (or possibly even used) before?

  1. “It’s too expensive”.  This is subjective as everyone does not come from the same social economic status.  However, I ball on a budget, so even the most pricey destinations fit into my budget.
  2. “Those people are…” Just fill in the blank.  First of all, I hate the term “those people”.  Additionally, painting everyone with the same brush is just stupid.
  3. “They all have AIDS”.  Is that so?  So, without even visiting the area, you know the medical history of every person in a particular country?  Okay.
  4. “Zika!”  The latest buzz word.  Yes, Zika is the current day reality, but there are preventative measures that one can implement to mitigate exposure and protect oneself.
  5. “I don’t believe what they believe.”  Well, I am not muslim and do not necessarily have the same beliefs as a muslim person, but I do respect them.  Unless someone’s beliefs (or the social practices of a country) truly run counter to my moral compass, I will still travel to the destination.
  6. “It’s too poor.”  This is one of the beliefs that gave rise to the “ugly american” moniker.  Money can by a lot of things, but it can’t by class and common sense.  What one lacks in money and material wealth, they have an over abundance of in good health, happiness and love.
  7. “I don’t speak their language.”  Although this may be a legitimate concern for some people, there are ways to break through the language barrier.  You can take a guided tour with local who well-versed in your native tongue.  You can use technology to help you communicate with others and translate any printed materials.  Or, you can simply try to learn basic phrases to get by and enjoy the experience of figuring the rest out as you go.
  8. “I don’t wan to change money when I visit…”  Currency exchange does occur in many countries; however, that shouldn’t be a show stopper.  Although I don’t normally recommend using the currency exchanges in airports, you can always utilize that service.  Or, if you reside in the states, major banking institutions have currency exchange services that do not have the surcharges and fees that you will find at the airport exchange kiosk.  If you have a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee, you can use that during your trip.
  9. “They hate women.”  Now, I will agree that there are some places where it isn’t necessary a good thing for women to journey alone for safety reasons.  However, some geographic regions have programs and tours that will safely help women and solo travelers navigate through certain areas.  As a security practitioner I believe in safety first, so this is one legitimate reason where I will never give someone the side-eye.
  10. “They hate westerners.”  As with the aforementioned reason, this is a very legitimate reason for not wanting to journey abroad.  You can always review various travel alerts or research information in reliable travel publications.  Some of the resentment again westerners is based on ideology, some just based on the way that “some” westerners have behaved when they visited a certain region.  Again, this is a legitimate reason that will not cause me to give someone the side-eye.

Whatever the reason you have in your head for not visiting a location outside of your current dwelling, please make sure it is based on sound reasoning and good information.  The world is a big exciting place and I would hate for someone not experience all its splendor based on what they have been told or led to believe.

Happy traveling!

I Belize It

If you have been following this blog for any period of time or if you know me personally, you know that I am currently working on bucket list number two of four- visiting all of the islands in the caribbean.  Now, I know that someone is going to be up in arms over my recent visit and will argue me down that the island is not really a part of the caribbean (probably the same person will argue about Bermuda not making the cut); however, Belize is a recognized Caricom entity which is why it is a part of my list.  So, now that we have the formalities out of the way, let me share with you my experience in Belize.  This will the first of a multi-part blog on the island and its splendor— yeah, it was just that great of an experience for me).

Plans for me to visit Belize actually started in October 2015 when I purchased my plane ticket and began researching locations to visit and stay.  One of my former colleagues is actually from Belize so, based upon my personality, he gave me suggestions on places to stay and boy did he hit the nail on the head.  I am a very relaxed person, interested in an “authentic people experience” by focusing more on the culture and experiencing life the way locals do as much as possible.  I am not really into the touristy things, so I was not big on the snorkeling expeditions, cave tubing and other activities of that nature.  Based on my personality and desire, he recommended that I visit San Ignacio and Caye (pronounced Key) Caulker (I will share my experiences in those locations in separate posts).

I arrived on the island on a nice sunny Thursday morning around 11a.m. and breezed through immigration in approximately five minutes.  The customs and immigration area is really not that big and baggage claim separates the two sections.  Retrieval of my luggage only took about ten minutes after landing.  After gathering my bag I visited the duty-free shops that were in the same area and picked up a few bottles of local rum (Cristol Parrot Lite Rum, 1 Barrel, and Kuknat Cocunut Rum).  I handed my duty-free receipt to the guard at the customs desk and headed outside where my driver was waiting with a clipboard displaying my name.  With the bags placed in his vehicle, we began the almost 2 hour trek to San Ignacio where I would spend the first half of my trip.

I will save the details of my time in San Ignacio for a later post, but I just have a few pointers to offer first time visitors and those who wish to save a few bucks when visiting.

  1. Completing your immigration form
    – Apparently the Belizean government is very strict regarding people not over staying your visit.  So, when you go and absolutely fall in love with the place as I did, add an extra week or so to your immigration form with respect to your departure date.  If you leave early, it is not a big deal.  However, if you happen to go past your original departure date by extending your stay and paying the airline change fee, you will be penalized.
    – If you happen to forget to add float to your form, I was informed by one of the airport workers that you can go talk to the immigration officials and request an extension (not sure if there is a fee involved).
  2. Show me the money
    – The official currency is the Belizean Dollar which is available in numerous denominations.  However, there is no need to exchange currency because the US dollar is widely accepted.  Keep in my that one US dollar is equal to two belizean dollars.  As a point of reference, you can get a nice dinner with drinks (adult beverage) for approximately $36BZD ($18US).  A coke will cost you approximately $2BZD and a gallon of water will run $3BZD.
    – Remember how I said I purchased rum at the duty-free in the airport?  Learn from me, don’t do it unless you are really in a rush and staying somewhere very remote where there are no stores.  Rum is half the price on the street.  So, although I paid $17US for the for bottles (200mL bottles), they were approximately $2 – $3 a piece on the street in the chiney stores (Please know that chiney in the caribbean is not an offensive term per se, the way that it would be in the US).
    – Keep in mind that low season runs from May until October, so you can find some really good deals on lodging and possibly airfare.
  3. Ground transportation
    – I am one who likes to walk a lot who that is what I did in both San Ignacio and Caye Caulker (granted Caye Caulker is only like 4 miles long or so).  However, I purchased my shuttle service online through a third-party source and saved well over $30 than if I used the service offered by the hotel.  My driver was great, very personable and provided great intel (and, like an idiot, I forgot to get his card.  Blame it on me be exhausted).
    – Taxis in San Ignacio will run around $5 – $7BZD if you opt to take them.  But, I say just go for the cardio.
    – There is also a local bus that services the area between Belize City and San Ignacio and I believe the trip will run you $10BZD or less; however, it is going to take a longer time unless you do the express bus.  Keep in mind that this is also a school bus similar to those in the US, so if you are traveling with luggage, it may not be a good option.
    – If you are traveling from the airport to the ferry dock for the Cayes, know that the taxi fare is a flat $25 each way. That rate is based on 1-2 persons travel and is $5 per extra person.  If possible, while you are waiting on a taxi, see if you can buddy up with someone heading in the same direction and split the cost.
  4. Stay in touch
    – WiFi is readily available in most of the hotels and restaurants free of charge, so it is quite possible to say in touch with friends and loved ones.  While some establishments will give you the code to connect to WiFi, others will ask for your device and put it in themselves.
  5. Housing
    – As with any other place, there are a wide range of housing options from which to choose.  The hotel where I stayed in San Ignacio was chosen because it was family owned, they had WiFi and were not far from the action.  Additionally, they were running a special, pay for two nights and get the third free.  Can’t beat that!
    – The apartment where I stayed in Caye Caulker was selected because they had a kitchenette, free WiFi, were 40 meters from the ferry dock, and right on the water.  The rate was not too shabby either.
  6. Don’t be a tourist
    – Yes, it is going to be very difficult not to want to take pictures at the local market, in the city, on the ferry from Belize City to the Cayes, but engage, sit and have real, meaningful conversation with the locals.  I love learning about another individual’s culture and homeland and this time it paid off because I had a sponsor in the local bar.  I personally only paid for 1 drink and had 4 (that I can remember).  The local love to lime, laugh and have a good time so just free up and enjoy life.

The Belizean’s have a saying on the island – You better Belize it.  Trust me, after spending time on the mainland and on Caye Caulker I am a Belizer!  I Belize it!  And that is why this tranquil place stole my heart and ended up in the number 1 position on my favorite islands list.  If I didn’t have 11 more islands to go to complete my list, I would definitely be back again in September.  I could definitely see myself retiring in Belize.  Yes, I loved it just that much.

Pack this, not that! (Duty Free Edition)

Before anyone gets antsy or annoyed and says, “How dare you insult my intelligence and offer me tips on packing, I am well-traveled”… know that this post is not directed towards you.  This post is directed to the individuals who are not well-traveled.  To those who have NEVER traveled to a foreign destination.  To those who have always been “team carry-on”.  This post stemmed from observations in the ATL airport after returning from a trip abroad.

Having traveled abroad extensively, I am pretty well versed with the rules for checked luggage.  Because I am a collector of fine artifacts of the liquid variety, I am NEVER team carry on.  Therefore, I know when you return from a trip abroad that you have claim your baggage and re-check it after passing through customs, unless you have reached your final destination and do not have a connecting flight.  Unfortunately, because I am not in one of the major hubs, I ALWAYS have a connecting flight.  So, I make sure that I carry bubble wrap and packing boxes to protect my artifacts.  I try to travel with airlines where I will not have to pay the baggage fee for traveling abroad, or at least minimize the cost by taking the maximum sized luggage as a carry-on when I depart and checking it in when I return.  That way, instead of paying $50 in baggage fees where I do not have status, I only pay $25.

Well, as I mentioned, this post stemmed from my observations passing through customs at the ATL airport.  There was a gentleman who was coming from Cancun and had purchased some tequila at duty-free on his way back to the states.  His final destination was not ATL, so he would have to pass back through airport security before making his connecting flight.  Well, he thought that he should be okay to continue with his flight plans and carry the bottles in his checked bag because he just arrived at the airport from another flight.  He didn’t thing the 3-1-1 rule applied.  Of course, he found out that it did.  He was a little miffed that he now had to pony up $25 to pay to check-in his luggage so that he could get the bottles to his final destination.

Typically when one purchases alcohol at the airport duty-free office, you asked whether or not you have a connecting flight and informed that you need to put the alcohol in your checked bag if so.  However, this isn’t always the case.  I was not informed by the duty-free attended at my departing airport that I would have to place the bottles in my checked luggage before connecting to my other flight, but it isn’t a big deal because I know better.  So, when the gentleman tried (in vain) to state his case about not being informed that this was the protocol, I kinda believe him.

So, what is my advice to individuals who are first time flyers abroad.  Do your homework.  Visit the airline’s website to know what can and cannot be placed in your baggage (checked and carry on).  People will be surprised to know that batteries and household cleaners and aerosol cannot be placed in checked baggage.  And if you take your adult toys, please take the batteries out before packing them or at least put it in your carry on baggage.  Make sure you know how much liquid can be placed in your checked baggage.  Most airlines have the 70oz rule; however, this is flexible when you have to transfer your liquid artifacts to your checked luggage.  Two bottles of a nice rum will certainly push you over that limit.

I am sure that the gentleman was not happy to pony up that $25, but at least he his now aware of the process and will be better prepared in the future.  Hopefully someone who has NEVER been outside of their native country, but it planning to do so, will read this and not face the same travel shock as this gentleman.