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!

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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.

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!