And the Grammar is Horrible

Ever heard the term “speaking the queens english”?  Well, it’s typically used to describe someone who uses “proper” grammar.  One who doesn’t split verbs, leave the “g” off a gerund ending, or use creative words.  However, who is to actually say what is right and what is wrong?  It would be nice for people to take a step back and just think for a second (prior to correcting someone’s grammar) whether or not the language that the individual is conversing in is actually their native language.  I find this to be particularly annoying by individuals who are only well versed in one language, but always want to correct someone who speaks 2 or more.

Even when correcting someone who is a native speaker of a particular language, it is important to know that certain regions, cultures, and communities actually have a language that is unique to that area.  “Come back yuh hear?”  Of course it is not the king’s english, but very few people would not know that actually is a way of saying “Please come back.”  If someone is “fixin” or “fenda” do something, that just means they are about to do something.  No shock there.  And as far as those bad “chirren” are concerned, oh well those are just some high energy country children who have a lot of energy.

What seems to be “horrible” to one person, is just a normal way of having a conversation to another.  This post was actually inspired (for lack of a better term) by the individual on facebook who chastised someone’s use of the english vernacular, without considering that person’s background.  Clearly the person who made the comment is a Rhodes scholar and never used lazy english.  But, for those of us who are travelers, love to learn, and are love experiencing various cultures, we can appreciate the cajuns in Lousiana, the geechees in the carolina’s, and those southerners in northern Florida.

In this blog, I try to utilize proper grammar; however, depending on the day, you may get a bit of jamaican patois, dirty south twang, trini slang, or caribbean kréole.  What can I say?  I am a citizen of the world and a creature of my environment and I make no apology for dat!  I doh apologize!  Me nuh apologize.  You understood me, right?  LOL

 

(Of course you know spellcheck is going to obliterate this post).

April 2017 – Favorite Caribbean Island List

The favorite caribbean island list has been updated once again and I slowly marking off the second bucket list.  There are only five more islands left to visit, based on the list* that I am following.  With each new visit, I learn more and more about myself and learn to appreciate the many, many blessings that I have in my life.  As I have always said, you learn more traveling than you can learn in the a classroom.  God willing, I will achieve island number 30 before the month of June ends.

29. Dominican Republic
28. Puerto Rico
27. St. Barthelemy
26. Saba
25. Turks and Caicos
24. Cayman Islands
23. Curaçao
22. St. Eustatius
21. Bonaire
20. Aruba
19. Bahamas
18. Bermuda
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

Dinner is Served

One of the benefits of being a traveler is being exposed to the local cuisine and finding the hidden gems in the places that I visit.  Although I am NOT a foodie and have a rather particular palate that is worse that a child, I do enjoy pasta, some seafood, and of course carbs (yeah, my inner fat gyal just said that).  I have visited all 50 states and had the pleasure of sampling the dishes of many restaurants and eateries; however, the places listed are the most memorable and often pop up on my repeat offenders list.  Enjoy and feel free to share you favorite dining spots as I am always looking for recommendations.

 

  • Big Fish
    South Main Street in Grapevine, TX
    – Really good bang for your buck
  • Kingston 30
    North Brown Road in Lawrenceville, GA
    – The rice and peas… lawd ah mercy
  • Allison’s Restaurant
    Dock Sq in Kennebunkport, ME
    – Good Lobster
  • Supreme Fish Delight
    Camp Creek Parkway in Atlanta, GA
    – Great bang for your buck and the fried okra is heavenly
  • Captain Georges
    Richmond Road in Williamsburg, VA
    – All you can eat seafood buffet for less than $30.  Where can you go wrong?
  • Pappadeux (Colorado and TX locations)
    – The crawfish étoufée… making me drool now.  A bit pricey, but worth the money.
  • Coops Place
    Decatur Street in New Orleans, LA (French Quarter)
    – Be forewarned, this place looks like a dirty biker bar.  But when you order the food and let it touch your tongue, you WILL order seconds to go— and those seconds may not make it out the door.
  • Bourbon Heat
    Bourbon Street in New Orleans, LA (French Quarter)
    – The fish and crawfish is divine and the service is A+
  • La Rosa
    LeJeune Road in Coral Gables, FL
    – Great mojitos and a salmon dish that is like 8 feet long.  Okay, not 8 feet, but a good 6 inches.
  • Natures Bistro
    Terminal E of the Atlanta-Hartfield International Airport
    -I will miss a flight for their vegetarian chili.

Modesty While Aboard…Even in Warm Climates

For those of us who live in cold climates, we just love to make a quick escape to warmer weather and temperatures and journey to places we long to visit.  Although warmer temps typically allow one to shed the coats, long pants and exchange boots for flip-flops, it is important to remember there are limits to everything.  Being aware of your environment can save you from embarrassment, harassment, and possible punishment (physical or financial).

You may be asking yourself, “hmmm, if it is 100 degrees in my target country, why wouldn’t I wear my spaghetti strap maxi dress with the plunging neckline?”  Well, it depends on where you are traveling.  While that type of attire may be appropriate in Grenada or Jamaica, it is definitely not appropriate in a place like Dubai.  Same heat, different culture and you must adapt to that culture.  It does not mean that you have to walk around mummified from head-to-toe, but you must blend in and be respectful.

So, what about those people who are visiting the beach.  It is perfectly fine to wear swimwear in town, while you are on your way to the beach, right?  Um wrong.  Although you may be vacationing in a beach town and within walking distance to the beach, it is highly advisable to cover up.  By cover up, I do not mean wear a sheer cover up while walking around town.  I mean, wearing a top and bottom over your swimwear.  Once again, please be mindful of your environment.  While a pair of booty shorts over your swim shorts will not cause anyone’s eyes to blink in Miami (FL), you would cause heads to turn and older women to clutch the pearls in North Yorkshire (UK).

Many museums, restaurants, and other locations abroad enforce strict dress codes at their establishments.  So it is advisable for one to research the cultural norms and dress standards before purchasing the plane ticket for your next destination.  As a woman, when preparing for a trip, it is advisable to always pack a sweater, scarf, wrap, and long sleeve shirt, if you are visiting a destination where you need to be a bit sensitive to the dress standard.

 

So, what is the bottom line.  Although the temperature may tempt you to wear skimpy clothing while abroad, always be considerate of your new environment and mind your wardrobe.  The inconvenience of hiding “the girls” for a week pales in comparison to wearing stripes.

Traveling to the New America

Unless you have been under a rock, stuck on some remote island with no communication devices or contact with other people, or do not have a television, computer, or access to print media, you know that there has been significant shift in the state of affairs within the united states.  Most notably is the travel band that was imposed by 45.  Now, I know some individuals will read this and immediately say, “oh another whining, crying democrat!”  Well, guess what?  I am Not whining and crying and I am NOT a democrat.  I am an independent thinker who is a humanist.  But, before all of that, I am a christian.

My friends and family expand the horizon with respect to race, creed, religion and every other box that one could check.  Therefore, you could imagine my sheer frustration, embarrassment, and disgust when this “selective” Muslim ban was instituted— the first time.  Now, a second version of the ban has been implemented and it is no different from the first.  While some people try to mix words and use colorful jargon to say that this is “not really a ban”, it is indeed so.  Any time you prohibit, bar, or deny someone access to something or some place, that falls into the category of a ban.  The chief motivating for the ban was touted as a method of protecting americans and keeping the states safe.  Of course an educated person can figure out that couldn’t be farther from the truth at all.

So, what is it that I can offer people, of Muslim faith, who journey to this country where some people have forgotten from whence they’ve come.  First thing, not all individuals who live in this country are in agreement with this atrocity of a mandate wrapped in hate.  Second, I know it may not seem like it now, but this too shall pass.  Trouble doesn’t last always and hate cannot stand in the presence of God’s love.  Third, and perhaps this should have been first, YOU. ARE. WELCOME. HERE.  EVERYONE in this country, unless you are an ancestor of the indians who were here first, the true inhabitants, is an immigrant.

So, while this post was not necessary one of my normal travel posts, I felt that I should use my platform to spread peace and love when ignorance and hatred receives way too much media attention.

Calculating the Costs of Visiting Cuba

Over the past two years Cuba has become one of the bucket list places for people to visit.  Whether it is to visit the beach, immerse yourself in the beautiful culture, visit one of the famed buildings or tourist attractions, explore the multi-cultural surroundings, or visit a local farm where cigars are made by hand, your first visit will probably change your previous impression of the country.  Anyone who has taken the time to do any level of research prior to their first visit understands that while Cuba has an excellent educational and healthcare system, there are some economical challenges facing the island.  For most places you would expect a lot of “state supported” price gouging; however, that is not the case here.

 

Moneda/Dinera (Money)

Cuba has two different currencies CUC and CUP (click on the links to view each currency); most tourists will receive CUC when exchanging money at the airport or in hotels.  As of this post, one CUC is equal to 25CUP.  Unlike many other caribbean islands I’ve visited, the us dollar does not hold a lot of weight in Cuba.  98% of my purchases were with the local currency.  Only one transaction involved american cash and that was… Well, let’s just say it was off the books, but a good souvenir for someone.  So, in order to purchase food, rent a room, ride in a taxi or purchase gifts, you will need to pay in the local currency.  As a tip, exchange the minimum amount required to get you through your first day and one-half at the airport and then find a local bank or hotel that will exchange the rest of your currency.  Keep in mind that there is an automatic penalty of 10% on us dollars.

 

La Comida y bebidas (Food and drinks)

Food is inexpensive in most parts of Cuba.  You an expect a dish of pork, chicken, or seafood, accompanied by a salad and arroz y frijoles negros to run between $10-15CUC.  That is actually on the moderate side of things.  You can also find some local spots that have local specials running $6CUC per meal.  Typically the places that have the more inexpensive dishes are the truly local spots and prices will be listed in moneda nacional (MN) where the CUP reigns king.  So your math skills will need to be on point in it is recommended that you ensure that you use the smallest CUC bills possible.

With respect to drinks, water and soda will typically run 1CUC; a local juice runs 5CUP on the street.  If you are looking for something more mature such as a mojito or frozen daiquiri, it will run between 3CUC and 6CUC depending on where you dine.  The famous Floridita charges roughly 6CUC for their frozen drinks.  Quite pricey compared to some of the other local spots, but this is one of Hemingway’s haunts so you are paying for nostalgia.

Cuidado – Beware of overly friendly locals who want to take you somewhere great to eat.  While some people can be genuinely friendly and welcoming, know that others are getting a bit of a kickback for steering you to a particular dining establishment.  Can I blame people for doing this, especially when the average family income is $25/month?  You have to do what you have to do to survive, but just know that this may happen to you at some point during your trip if you are traveling solo and not with a tour group.  The other thing to be aware of are the “free” beverages.  If someone asks you if you want a drink and you do, pay for your drink immediately.  Insist on it.  They my tell you that it’s okay, you don’t have to pay now; however, please know that (behind the scenes), they may have added a drink on your tab.  So, if you are traveling on a budget, order your own food, your own drinks, and eat where you want to eat (if there is room full of tourists, it’s a tourist trap).

 

La Casa (House)

While there are hotels and resorts in Cuba, most visitors opt to say at a casa particular.  With this type of lodging you essentially are renting a room in someone’s home.  In my casa, I had my own room with a two beds, a bathroom, television and refrigerator.  I brought my own breakfast food for the trip; however, the owner offered to provide breakfast for me at a cost of 5CUC.  My casa was located in Vedado, an area located approximately 10 minutes away from Central Havana by taxi.  The nightly rate for my CUC was $35; however, you can find units as cheap as $20/night depending on where you stay.

 

Transporte (Transportation)

There are a number of options to help you navigate the Vedado/Havana area.  The most economical of them is the local bus which will run 40CUP.  Please know that the buses run often; however, they are very crowded.  The next alternative is the colectivo taxi where you will share a ride with a car packed with locals. There are no set routes, so once you flag a cab, you need to ask if they are headed in the direction you need to go.  If so, hop in and pay 1CUC.  The final option is the “tourist” taxis.  Rides start at $5 up to $15.  I highly recommend you “exercise” another option and just set out on foot.  Cuba is a very safe, even at midnight, so if you want to burn some calories while enjoying the beautiful sun, strap on the tennis shoes and keep moving.

Just as everyone’s experience in Cuba will be different, everyone will have varying needs when it comes to budgeting for the trip.  I stayed four days and spent less than $300 (that included my housing, food, two taxi rides, and some souvenirs).  But unlike most people, I do not eat meat and I didn’t drink a lot of alcohol.  My recommendation would be budget between $50-100/day depending on where you stay and what you plan to do while visiting.

 

Happy traveling!

Cuba Libre – Preparing for an Amazing Experience

Recently I had the privilege of visiting the island that has been officially off the grid for most US passport holders.  This is a place that, as a little girl, I have always been told that it is bad.  The people are bad.  Their government is bad (said the pot to the kettle).  For as long as I recall, I would only remember hearing negative things about this place called Cuba.  This beautiful island with all of its vibrancy and splendor.  All of its rich culture and history.  This place that great you with warm sunshine and a full embrace welcoming you to come, explore, learn, live and love everything about this culture.  There is so much to tell and it will definitely be told in future posts, but the purpose of this post is to provide insight regarding my planning activities for this trip.

The plans for my trip started well over a year ago and intensified during the summer of 2016.  Seeing several posts from individuals on social media who’ve visited this island jewel via connections from places like Panama, Mexico, Canada and the Cayman Islands, I took many notes on places to go, where to each, how to get around, educational opportunities, etc.  However, I knew that I did not want to spend the time and energy to hop from the states to a nearby country and then to Cuba to get around all of the restrictions.  I also knew that I was not going to spend three thousand dollars for a four or five-day trip just to go with a group.  Thanks to the actions of President Obama, I didn’t have to do any of the aforementioned activities, I simply had to generate my itinerary, figure out where I would stay, and get my plane ticket.

  • First step – securing the plane ticket.  Based on schedule (and purposely avoiding MIA), I elected to fly with Delta for my trip with Cuba.  One of the primary reasons why I selected the airline is because I have a credit card that affords me additional perks on the airline.  The round-trip airfare was $250 which was great in my opinion.  Not the $150 fares that a lot of people are getting, but still a very good fare considering the distance flown and location.
  • The next step was to plan my itinerary.  Initially I reached out to a local tour guide for assistance, but figured out that I could save a significant amount of money by developing my own itinerary based on the research that I conducted.  The purpose of my trip was to have a true people-to-people experience, so I made sure my itinerary included time for social interaction and time for me to experience the food, religion, and culture of cuba.
  • The third step was to find my lodging.  Initially I was booked for a location in Old Havana; however, a woman in one of the social media groups I used during my research phase recommended the area of Vedado and provided me with contact information of a woman who owned the Casa Particulare where she stayed during her trip.  Casa particulares are basically the homes of locals where you are living with them in their house.  You typically have your own room in the house and access to the living area.  My particular home had a private bath so that I didn’t have to share with the family.
  • The final step was to develop a budget and determine which currency to take for exchange purposes.  Most sites recommended euros or Canadian dollars based upon the 10-15% penalty on american dollars.  However, based on my personal experience, I would recommend you take american dollars or euros.  In the grand scheme of things, the 10-15% penalty is much less than the significant loss you will have exchanging Canadian dollars.  You will lose approximately $.35 on a dollar exchanging CAD.
    • Regardless of the currency that you take for exchange purposes, be sure to increase your budget by 10% to account for any unplanned expenses due to a change in itinerary or the purchase of additional materials.
  • Taxi fees are set by the government so the possibility of getting ripped off on a taxi ride from the airport to your final destination is really low.  The one-way fare for a ride from the airport to Old Havana/Central Havana/Vedado is 25 pesos (CUC).  The cost is per vehicle, not per person.
    • If you take the local taxi (colectivo) to get around Havana, you typically pay no more than 1 CUC each direction.
  • Make sure you know difference between local currencies.  Cuba has two different currencies, the CUC (cooc) and CUP (coop).  You can distinguish between the two by knowing that the CUC has the monuments; CUP has faces.  The biggest difference is that CUC is worth more than the CUP.  Twenty-four CUP is equal to one CUC.  Some people have referred to CUP as the local currency and CUC is the tourist currency; however, that is not just the case.  It is possible, as a tourist to receive CUP, especially if you dine at a local establishment that only takes CUP and has to make change for you.  Just make sure you math game is strong when getting your change.  If you see a sign referencing moneda nacional, just be aware that it is a reference to the CUP.
  • Download a local map and use your feet.  I understand that people have very different comfort levels and not everyone is comfortable walking in a foreign land, but Havana is very easy to navigate.  I took a taxi only three times (one time to have the colectivo experience and the other two times because I met some other travelers and was traveling a sizeable distance away with them).  If you get tired while walking, you can always dip into a local park and sit down or into a local restaurant and rest your feet.
  • Plan to be unplugged.  Wi-fi and internet access is not widely available in Havana and most international phones do not work.  So, if you want to connect to the internet, know that you will have to purchase an internet card for your mobile device and then find a location where there is internet access.  You will not miss anything by being unplugged for a while.
  • Brush up on your spanish.  While there will be some cubans who have a basic knowledge of english, the vast majority of locals speak spanish.  If you have not been exposed to the language or at least conversant in spanish, take time to learn basic phrase like “where is”, “what time is it”, “how much”, “please”, “thank you”, “hungry” and “I’m thirsty”.
  • Finally, before you go, know that the topic of politics is taboo.  Cubans will discuss religion, economics, education and almost any other topic with you.  But, when the subject changes to politics or the Castro era, there will be radio silence.  The only exception to this rule is when they discuss the presidents in the states.  A lot of cubans have very sharp opinions on american presidents.

Hopefully these pre-planning tips will help those who would like to experience this beautiful island and have a true, enlightening culture experience.  I will share the full details of my trip in future posts.