Favorite Caribbean Destinations – July 2017

So, if you will notice, I had to tweak the title of my latest rankings a bit.  Not every place in the caribbean is an island and, since I am using a specific list, I definitely have to reflect that fact.  So during July 2017,  I took my obligatory birthday trip to a destination in the sun.  The only unfortunate thing with this trip is that there was no beach time, so I had to settle for the hotel pool at one of the destinations.  As of 8 July 2017, I only have two more destinations (actual islands) remaining to complete my second bucket list.  The destinations that I am following are based on the list found on the caribbeantravel.com website*.  God willing, I will complete one more destination by end of 2017.

32. Dominican Republic
31. Puerto Rico
30. St. Barthelemy
29. Saba
28. Guyana**
27. Suriname**
26. Turks and Caicos
25. Cayman Islands
24. Curaçao
23. St. Eustatius
22. Bonaire
21. Aruba
20. Bahamas
19. Bermuda
18. Haiti**
17. Anguilla
16. Martinique
15. Dominica
14. Trinidad and Tobago
13. British Virgin Islands
12. St. Lucia
11. United States Virgin Islands
10. Guadeloupe
9. Cuba
8. Antigua & Barbuda
7. Barbados
6. Jamaica (but still #1 in my heart)
5. Grenada
4. St. Maarten/St. Martin
3. Belize
2. St. Kitts & Nevis

And still sitting in the number 1 spot…… St. Vincent & The Grenadines

 

* List is based upon the destinations found on Caribbean Travel
** Latest entry

Haiti: Days 4 and 5

Having fully recovered from a day of hiking and conquering the mountain that literally and figuratively, day four of the journey was solely dedicated to rest, relaxation, and a bit of studying.  The day began with a breakfast of papaya, pineapple, pancakes and papaya juice.  You know, as I typed that, I noticed something very interesting.  That breakfast contained a lot of sugar, but it was natural sugar and I was on holiday.  It is not an everyday occurrence for me.

After breakfast I took to the beach for some vitamin D and to watch live streaming of a church service from my local area.  Following the church service, I hit the books for a bit to study for my upcoming test and enjoyed some music and non-alcoholic drinks for the rest of the day until dinner time.  After dinner, I called it an earlier night as my final full day would be another adventure.

Day 5, I arose early in the morning and had my breakfast of champions: pineapple, papaya, a banana and tea.  An hour later, I took the 30 minute trip down the mountain to meet my local guide for my last haitian experience – visiting a local school (École Bethesda de Madeline) in Cap Haitien.  I met my guide at the same place as the previous day and hopped on the back of his motorcycle to take the trip to the school.  Prior to visiting the school, my guide took me to his home so that I could see a local haitien home and get a feel for who haitiens live.  What stood out to me was the fact that there was no refrigerator.  The reason for the lack of refrigeration was because of the electricity issues.  Therefore, haitiens buy their food daily and only keep that which they can consume and will not spoil if left out.  This is a practice that I need to practice; it will definitely save me money on the amount of food that I throw away.

After a quick tour of the home and taking a look at the upper level that my guide is building by hand, we headed down the road for the school.  The school was a simple two level structure, with appropriately 8 classrooms and the old fashion chalkboard (nice to see that), but it was very neat and cute.  The children wear uniforms and are very well-behaved.  During the time of my visit, the older children were preparing for their year-end exams, so they gathered together during the afternoon break to practice their lessons and eat snacks.  Those who didn’t have to study for exams, played in the rather large grassy area.  To assemble the children, the principal rings a bell and all of the them go running to get in line–quietly.  Yep, that is something you will not see happen in the states.

My guide took me to each classroom and introduced me to all of the instructors and the children.  In one class (I believe grade 5), I was greeted by the children in song which almost caused the waterworks to start.  I had to will myself to keep it in, but it was such a touching moment for me.  The last grade that I visited was the 6th graders where one lovely, brave girl helped me say that it was a pleasure to meet them in their native language.

Following the visit to the school, I was taken to Heros de Vertieres (Heroes monument).  This monument is dedicated to the haitien ancestors who fought for freedom.  After that brief visit, it was off to a local haitien market to see where most haitiens buy their meats, produce and spices.  Clothing and candles used in voodoo ceremonies are sold here as well.  When my guide pointed out the voodoo candles, I quickly made a U-turn as there are just certain things that I do not even want to be near.  I love and trust Jesus, but I know that the devil and other spirits are real as well.

The day wrapped up with lunch at a local restaurant in the city.  I will not provide the name of the restaurant as I didn’t find the food to be very enjoyable.  Before heading back to the hotel, I visited a local market for my obligatory shot glass and a magnet for my friend.  My guide and I said our goodbyes and I headed back up the hill and over the mountain to rest up a bit before my last supper.

Takeaways for the day.  1. Despite the poverty and high illiteracy rate, Haiti is a very beautiful country, rich in history and steeped in tradition.  Haitiens are a very proud people who are willing to share anything they have with you and love to educate them on their way of live.  2. My bumper is not made for riding on the back of a motorcycle, especially on rough and rocky roads.

Life’s Lesson Courtesy of Citadelle Laferrière

So it’s day three in Cap Haitien and I set out to do the one and only touristy thing on the trip – visit the famed Citadelle Laferrière and Palais San-Souci.  The Citadelle, which was officially designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1982, is located approximately 1 hour away from the city of Cap Haitien by tap tap (more on that later).  Prior to my visit to O’Kap, I researched the site and took a look at the pictures, but little did I know that my visit to the site would be a life challenging and changing experience (seems to have been a trend for this trip).

The day began around 10a.m. with me meeting my guide for the day (the gentleman I met at the airport in Miami while waiting for our flight) in town.  It was a true blessing that I met this gentleman because he was able to take me to a local store where I was able to get the best exchange rate for local currency.  The currency exchange rate in Cap Haitien can range from 62HTG to 1US to 72HTG to 1US.  After I changed currency, we hopped in a tap-tap and were on our way.

Arriving in the town of Milot, we started walking in the direction of Palais San-Souci and were quickly approached by two young men.  Since the majority of the locals speak kreyol and I clearly do not, I kept my mouth shut while my guide conversed with the young men.  At one point, I heard him explain that I didn’t speak kreyol and that is when one of the young men came and started conversing with me in english.  The walk to the registration desk to pay the entry fee wasn’t long (maybe 10 minutes); however, we were swarmed even more as soon as we arrived.  Locals are able to enter the grounds of the Citadelle and Palais San-Souci free of charge, tourist must pay $30.  A steep price to pay, but hey it was my only touristy thing on the agenda– or so I thought.

After paying the entrance fee, we hopped on a motorbike to go to the “second park” which took about 20 minutes longer than I cared to be on a bike.  This is the location where our walk to the Citadelle would begin and this too is where the start of life’s lesson would begin for me.  I handed my paid voucher to the attendant and we prepared to make our way up the mountain.  Local artists stop me to ask me to have a look to which I respond “later”.  There were a couple of men following behind us on the hike up the mountain with horses in tow, just in case we wanted to catch a ride up.  So problem one.  I worked out earlier that morning and did some leg work… yeah and I was hiking a mountain.  Problem two.  We were hiking when the sun was at it’s hottest.  Problem three.  I am deathly afraid of heights and didn’t realize how high this mountain was.  Every time we turned a corner, I swore someone kept moving this huge fortress.

So after about an hour of hiking we are literally a four-minute walk from the top and I’ve decided I had enough.  At that point, I told my guide that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I quit.  It was just too much.  Now, picture this.  I am looking at the fortress, it is right in front of me, but I just want to give up and go all the way back down.  My guide keeps telling me to just rest and that this is my day.  He is encouraging me not to quit.  I keep saying that I want to go back.  Then I turn and look down from whence I came.  All that climbing and I was ready to just quite when the prize was at hand.  After some more coaxing and a few deep breaths, I talk myself into continuing.    Thank God I did.

When I reached the top and I saw this HUGE fortress in front of me, made by human labor when there were no machines to do the work, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  This site is beyond words.  The only way to truly understand the magnitude of what this site represents and to truly behold it’s beauty, you have to experience it for yourself.  For me to try to capture this awesome work in words would be disrespectful to the people of  Haiti (almost as disrespectful as the online history posts that give credit to King Henry Christophe for building this fortress.  He may have had the vision, but I am sure he didn’t lift one brick).

We spent about an hour looking around the fortress and getting a history lesson about the structure.  When I looked down, I cried out “I did that.  I climbed that!”  I could not believe that I accomplished that task and here I was beholding God’s gorgeous land all around me.  For the trip back down, I decided to take a horse because my legs were spent and I can say that I will NEVER get on a horse again.  My bumpa is not made for horses or motorbikes.  Along the way down we stop by a roadside stand so that I can refresh with some coconut water (from the actual coconut) and some coconut meat.  I got off the horse just prior to our end point, looked at a few painting and some of local artifacts and we headed to Palais Sans-Souci.

So what was the lesson that I learned– DON”T QUIT.  If I would have stopped just short of the goal, I would not have experienced this beautiful site.  If I would have quit when I faced this physical challenge, it would have only made it easy for me to quit on other things in the future.  Now I am fortified by the fortress and can face any mountain that comes my way.

Tap Tap ~400HTG
Coconut 25HTG
Tip for the young guide at Citadelle 300HTG
Motorbike rides 500HTG
Horse ride down 500HTG (including tip)
Citadelle Laferrière entry fee – $30US

Overcoming my fear of heights (kind of) and not quitting on myself – PRICELESS!

The Cap Haitien Experience: Day 2

Friday, 26 May 21017 was day two of my visit to Cap Haitien.  Having rested well from my first day and night in country, I awoke around 8:30a.m. and prepared for a day of pure relaxation and bit of beach side studying.  Breakfast was included in the room rate, so I made my way to the outdoor dining hall for a meal of pancakes, banana, mango and water to start the day.

After breakfast I visited the reception desk to make reservations for the resort shuttle to visit a local restaurant in town.  I also gave the front desk staff member $40US to exchange for local currency.  Having completed that exchange, I grabbed my study materials and headed to a lounger on the beach to review the study materials for my upcoming exam.  I carried some snacks with me on the trip, so I had a small lunch and took in a few of the tropical libations while lazing on the beach.  Having spent a few hours of taking in the sun and doing some light reading, I headed back to my temporary abode to change for a dinner on the town at the famed Lakay restaurant.  It is worth noting that the resort offers free shuttle service to and from the airport and also into town.  So, there was no need to worry about calling a cab to get around.

Lakay is a very simple, nicely decorated restaurant frequented by the locals, so I had a feeling that food had to be pretty good (especially since I am very picky).  The resort apparently has a working relationship with Lakay and gives their guests a $12 voucher to use for a meal at the restaurant.  Interestingly enough most meals only cost $9 or so.  I had a meal of fish, plantains, salad and two adult beverages.  My damage, with tip, was only $6.  I spent way too much money that day.  After dinner, I returned back to the hotel where I put in an hour of studying before heading to bed to prepare for a day of seeing the local sites.

Major takeaways:

  • If you dine on the economy, you can eat like a queen for very little money.
  • Haiti’s wi-fi network is pretty expansive and reliable.  The wi-fi at the restaurant worked just as well as that of the resort.
  • The US dollar exchange rate varies greatly.  It can fluctuate between 62HTG to 70HTG for 1 US dollar.  If you know a local, they can usually take you somewhere to get a better exchange rate than at the bank or a hotel.

Koman ou ye Ayiti?

This post is the first of many posts regarding my recent visit to Cap Haitien Haiti in May 2017.  The visit started the Thursday prior to memorial day (holiday in the states) and lasted five days.  Day one was primarily a full day of travel and a four-hour layover at Miami international airport courtesy of a cancelled flight out of NY due to inclement weather.  The flight from Miami to Haiti took a little more than one hour, so it was too short for me to finish an in flight movie and enjoy the creature comforts of first class.  However, it was long enough for me to get a good bit of studying in for my test that was two weeks away.

Arriving into Haiti, you deplane via a mobile staircase and talk a short walk to the arrivals hall.  Before you enter the hall, you are greeted by someone who asks if you were born in or currently reside in Haiti.  Based on your answer, you are directed to one of two lines.  For those of us who answered no, we pay a $10 fee (payable in american currency (or local if you have it) and receive a green entry card.  Please be sure to retain this card as you will need it when you depart the country.  After clearing immigration, you move on to the baggage area which is literally four steps away.  This had to be one of the smallest arrival halls I’ve seen to date.

Once you obtain your bag, you proceed to the exit desk next to the information desk where an individual performs a cursory bag check.  Not sure what they were checking for; however, no questions were asked of me at all.  Once that was finished, I departed the exit hall I proceeded outside to meet the driver from the resort.  Please know that when you exit the doors you will see a lot of people standing outside, but no one will harass you– at all.  You may be approached by someone who offers to exchange currency for you, but I was informed that you should not do this due to illegal tender in circulation.

The ride from the airport to the resort where I stayed took approximately 1 hour due in part to construction along the way.  When I arrived at my temporary dwelling, I checked in and was led to my room by one of the security guards.  The room had double beds and was very spacious with a nice view of the ocean.  Interestingly enough, there was no television or phone; however, that really didn’t matter.  Besides, they offered free that worked well all over the entire resort.  After a day of traveling, I showered and took a short nap and headed to dinner.  A bit drained from a full day of traveling, I turned in early (about 9p.m.) where I was lulled asleep by the sound of the ocean waves.  One day down, four to go.

What My Visit to Haiti Taught Me

As a traveler, I do not fancy myself on visiting remote destinations for the benefit of touring the country.  My desire is to truly immerse myself in the culture and to learn as much about the culture as a possibly can.  That typically has been the case for all of my trips.  However, my recent visit to Haiti taught me so much more than I expected.  I dispelled a few myths, I experienced the joy, beauty and grace of a country abandoned, and I learned more about myself in five days than in five years.  Below are the top 10 things that Haiti taught me (in no particular order).

  1. Truly, only the strong survive.
  2. Laugh, love, live, and learn to smile.
  3. Not everyone will see your beauty, but God and small children will.  There is no need to conform to anyone else’s standard of beauty.
  4. If you have access to clean water, you are more blessed than you will ever know.
  5. If you have access to free education, you are indeed blessed.
  6. Education is a privilege, not a right.  Never take it for granted.
  7. Beauty is not physical nor is it tangible.  It is spiritual.
  8. Surrendering to God’s will yield benefits that exceed your wildest imagination.
  9. Those who have the least know sometimes know the most.
  10. Do not stop climbing the mountain because it seems to high; the view from the top is amazing and is worth the climb.  Sometimes you have to face your fears head on, don’t quit.

May 2017 – Favorite Caribbean Island List

Another month, another island recently visited.  As of 30 May 2017, I have only four islands remaining to complete my second bucket list.  The islands that I am following are based on the list found on the caribbeantravel.com website*.  God willing, I will visit two more island during my birthday month.

30. Dominican Republic
29. Puerto Rico
28. St. Barthelemy
27. Saba
28. Turks and Caicos
25. Cayman Islands
24. Curaçao
23. St. Eustatius
22. Bonaire
21. Aruba
20. Bahamas
19. Bermuda
18. Haiti**
17. Anguilla
16. Martinique
15. Dominica
14. Trinidad and Tobago
13. British Virgin Islands
12. St. Lucia
11. United States Virgin Islands
10. Guadeloupe
9. Cuba
8. Antigua & Barbuda
7. Barbados
6. Jamaica (but still #1 in my heart)
5. Grenada
4. St. Maarten/St. Martin
3. Belize
2. St. Kitts & Nevis

And still sitting in the number 1 spot…… St. Vincent & The Grenadines

 

* List is based upon the destinations found on Caribbean Travel
** Latest entry