Maxi, Taxi, or Local Bus: An Experience to Behold

If you have ever journeyed to a Caribbean destination and ventured out of their comfort zone, you would know that it is a very economical and pretty efficient way to get around in most destinations.  Whether it is the mini van with the jump seats or the sedan, this type of transportation is often used by locals and travelers alike who do not want to spend an arm and a leg on a taxi and are not in a rush to go anywhere fast (more on that later).  However, it should be said that there are a few key rules that you must keep in mind prior to taking the leap and joining the locals.  I like to call it my top four rules for riding success.

  1. Mind your manners – With the exception of a few Caribbean destinations, it is customary to greet the other passengers upon entry into the vehicle.  A simple Good Day/Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening will suffice.  Failure to do this simple task will draw stares, cause teeth sucking, and you may even be called out for your poor manners.
  2. Have your money ready – It should go without saying, but commonsense will tell you to know the fare for the ride prior to boarding.  There are several Caribbean destinations where the US dollar is widely accepted; however, it is important to not only know whether or not you can pay in local dollar or US, but to also have the exact fare ready.  There are some maxis, taxis, and local buses that will make change, but many will not.  From my experience sometimes you pay when you reach your particular drop, but other times you pay upon boarding.  Therefore, exercise the Girl Scout rule and “be prepared” when you first board.
  3. Speeding, what’s that? – So, this is the part I love.  And, well… maybe I should have listed this first for the faint of heart.  While this is not the Indy 500 or the Autobahn you are on, it may feel that way from time to time.  Whether standing (yes, sometimes on the maxis you many have to stand) or sitting, grab a hold of something and don’t let go.  Time is money and the drivers make sure that once they start rolling, they run a tight schedule.  So, that may mean quickly over taking a stopped vehicle, cornering curbs like they are on rails, or blowing through an intersection.  It is all a part of the experience.  If you are the type who prefers a driver to drive the speed limit and need to be safely strapped in, local transportation is DEFINITELY NOT an option for you.
  4. Introverts will be converted – So, this is something that I had to adjust to when I first started taking the local transportation.  As I said before, time is money and drivers will pack people in like sardines in a can.  So, if you are the type who “likes your personal space” and “don’t want to be close up” on anyone, local transportation is DEFINITELY NOT an option for you.  There have been a few occasions where I have been so squeezed up on a person that I thought I should have tipped them for the lap dance I was given on the way to the destination.  Again, this is a part of the experience.  Just make sure your breath is fresh and your hygiene is proper and all will be well.

All in all, taking public transportation is a great way to get around.  It saves you money, if you are budget traveler or simply do not want to be taken for a financial ride with the “tourist” taxis.  It also is just a good way to interact with the locals and see some interesting sites along the way.  There is another little tidbit regarding local transportation that I neglected to mention, but… it’s all a part of the experience.  You will just have to find out for yourself.

Happy traveling!

 

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A Traveler’s prayer for 2018

As we prepare to close the old year and ring in the new year, I have a simple prayer as a traveler.  I pray that I will make it to my milestone birthday trip of visiting South Africa in July 2018 for my milestone birthday and I pray that God allows my foot bottom to touch many, many new destinations.

As for those of you who have blessed me with your time and viewership of this blog, I thank you for considering this worth your time and also pray that you voyage to destinations beyond your wildest imaginations.  I pray for much healing and love in this world and that the peace and love of God be shed abroad for all who care to receive it!  See you in the new year!

Don’t Wear Camo

So I am on my annual old year into the new year’s trip and enjoying some fun in the sun.  As I’ve said in the past and I will repeat it again, you MUST research your destinations to know what you can and cannot do, what is and isn’t permitted upon entry.  It is a rare occasion that one’s luggage is physically opened and inspected upon entry; however, during this trip, that actually happened to a gentleman from my flight.  No big deal if you are not trying to sneak some contraband into the country, right?  Ummm sorta.  That is unless you consider clothing contraband.

What was this man’s sin?  He has a pair of camouflage shorts in his luggage.  Big no-no in many destinations that I’ve been to in the past.  Why?  Well, a lot of place are really protective of their military forces and do not want people perpetrating as if they are part of the military.  “But, I’m just a visitor, I love those long cargo camo shorts.  “Hey, I just purchased those!”  Tough “ti@@y”.  You have to do your homework and know what is and isn’t allowed.

So, what was the penalty for this gentleman’s sins?  He simply lost a pair of shorts and was let off with a warning.  Now, was he upset?  Heck yes, but, it could have been worse.  He could have been denied entry from the country and wasted a lot of money traveling back to his previous destination.

So, the moral of the story is — Research, research, research!!

When The All-Inclusive Isn’t All Inclusive

When I travel out of the country, I typically look for lodging on my “go to” home lodging site.  Because I simply need a place to lay my head, perhaps heat up food and store drinks, I do not need to stay in any high-end hotel.  However, when I travel to the land I love (Jamaica), I always stay at an all-inclusive in Negril.  My reason for staying at the all-inclusive is because I know the entire staff, am spoiled, and it is convenient to places I want to venture off property.  So, knowing the high-caliber of service I receive at my favorite resort in Negril, I naturally expected the same level of service when I decided to spend the first four days out of a seven-day holiday, in MoBay during a recent trip.  Epic fail.

 

During my visit to MoBay I decided to stay at an “all-inclusive” that was located approximately 10 minutes from MBJ.  Upon arriving at the property, I noticed that it was aesthetically appealing, with a large lobby.  I was greeted by one of the receptionist, had a wrist band placed on my arm, and provided the keys to my temporary abode.  After settling in, I took freshened up and changed clothing, took a few pictures of my room and checked out the amenities.  The room had a refrigerator stocked with beer, soda and water and there were four full size bottles of liquor in a dispenser just above it.  The bathroom was spacious, had two queen beds, a flat screen television, a small table and chair and there was a little patio on the outside.

Making my way outside in search of food, I didn’t find much available.  The main dining area was just wrapping up lunch and the only thing open were the bars.  So, what’s a girl to do?  DRINK.  Well, for some strange reason the bartenders were prohibited from serving or even saying the drink named “Bob Marley”.  Riiiiight?  We are in Jamaica and you are seriously prohibited from making that drink. So, instead I settled for the Rita Marley.  And then I had several other drinks behind that.  Why?  Well, as it turns out, this resort did not have any top shelf alcohol.  The closest you could get to top shelf was Appleton rum.  Seriously!  I had to drink A LOT to even feel a giggle.

Now here is where it gets interesting.  I have been to several all-inclusive resorts where tipping was never an expectation or even done plain sight.  However, at this particular resort people were tipping like there were strippers on a pole.  Since I do not carry a lot of cash with me when I go to all-inclusives, it was very awkward that I was the only one around not dropping one’s on the bar.  Even during breakfast and at lunch, some of the servers were expecting you to tip them.  Interestingly enough though I rarely tip on trips, I bring small tokens like bath and body works products with me to give as a token of appreciation.  So, while I could give all the money that I wanted freely in tips, I actually had to fill out a form for giving a bartender pocket-sized toiletries.  Crazy!

Aside from the tipping situation, the fact that there were four dining options, but on any given night at least two of them were closed which limited you that much more.  The food was good on the night when the local cuisine was featured; however, most other days it was very repetitive and bland.  There was a 24 hour bar in the lobby area that had snacks available after approximately 10p.m., but ironically enough you could not eat the snacks at the bar; you had to eat them on the perimeter.  While there was no disco on the premise, you had access to the disco at a sister resort which was a five-minute walk away.  Although I went to the disco once during my stay, I really didn’t care too much for it.

The rooms were really nice– as they should be considering the fact that it was only 1-year-old.  The refrigerator was re-stocked at least twice during my trip, so I just gave the sodas, beer and water to some of the local staff.  But other than the aesthetic appeal, this resort did not meet the standard of the older, resort that I frequent in Negril that has great customer service, the most flavorful food, AND TOP SHELF liquor.  While I will not reveal the name of the resort in Mobay, but I will say that it is a part of a chain located in several destinations around the world.  They have at approximately six resorts between Mobay and Negril alone.  I will also so that once bitten, always shy.  I will not waste my money staying at that resort or any of the sister resorts ever again.

So, what’s the bottom line?  Be very careful when booking an all-inclusive.  It may not be possible to know everything about a particular property in advance of a trip, but every all-inclusive resort is not created equal.  All “all-inclusive” resorts are not truly beholding to the title.

 

The Dreaded Four S’s

Have you ever been really excited to go on your next holiday that you couldn’t sleep the night before?  Yep, that is me all the time.  But, recently my normal narrative changed a bit.  Per my normal travel routine, I set the alarm to make sure that I got up on time and prepared for the trip to the airport.  Typically my luggage is in the back of my car days (and even a month) in advance.  Just in case I “accidentally” hit that snooze button, or the sleep apnea actually hibernates that particular night, I can still make it to the airport in a timely manner and not run around the house doing last-minute stuff.  After saying a quick prayer and making sure I grabbed my snacks for the trip, I headed out to the airport.  Arriving at the airport parking lot two-hour ahead of schedule, I parked my car and hopped on the shuttle to begin my adventure.

Scratch needle on the record at this moment.  Even though I checked in online the day before my trip, I was unable to print my boarding pass due to a technical glitch. No worries, I simply would print my boarding pass at the airport.  So, that I did and then I saw it.. to the top left, just above my name and frequent flyer number.  There it was only four letters, but the letters that can threaten to put one in a bad mood at the start of a trip — S. S. S. S. (there are no periods, but I just wanted to be dramatic).  What does SSSS mean?  Secondary Security Screening Selection means that you’ve been selected for “special screening.”

So, why did I get selected?  Why does anyone get selected?  Especially if you have TSA Precheck or Global Entry (which I do by the way)?  Well, no one really tells you much, but there are a few reasons why one can be selected for a special screening.  Without confirmation, I will speculate that I am selected because I typically purchase one-way tickets for my travel (hey, it is typically cheaper to do so).  So, that is one of those things that can raise eyebrows.  Other reasons reported for individuals to be selected for additional screening is because you are on some type of watch list.  Don’t think I fall in this category unless there is a watchlist for single female travelers.  The other reason is that you purchased a last-minute ticket (definitely does not fit the bill for me).  Another reported reason is that you purchased your ticket in cash (not the case for me either, the airport is not that close to me).

So, what happens?  In my case, I was pulled aside to a separate line and had to have my bags screened as normal and was asked approximately 2 questions.  Then I was allowed to continue the journey.  The funny thing is that I’ve since heard stories from people who had all of these intrusive questions posed to them and that just wasn’t my case.  It was a 10 minute inconvenience, but whatever.  So, what can you do to prevent it?  Hmmm… dare I say nothing.  Just make sure you arrive at the airport at least 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier than anticipated (depending on the season and time in which you are traveling) to allot for the fact that you may actually draw the “short stick”.

Did I care to see the SSSS printed on my pass?  No, but you know what?  I still obtained my frequent flyer miles.  My first class seat was still available and I still arrived at my destination.  No sweat off my back.  So, if this ever happens in the future, I will just grin and bear it and keep it moving.  Nothing will block my love of travel.

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.