The Amazing Caribbean Race: Windward & Leeward Islands

23 July – 8 August 2016
This break was all about the islands. Cover as many as I could to get a taste and determine which ones to come back to for longer. Due to best flight times, I had to depart a day late and return a day earlier giving me two restful days in Paramaribo but meant one fewer island to tick off. A part of me wants to lay claim to visiting as many islands as I can while I’m working this location – at this point I’ve got a year left. But it’s also very relaxing, enjoyable, knowledge fulfilling and…who wouldn’t want to travel the Caribbean! Especially when you can be in Barbados in 4 hours.

Barbados – 9/10

  1. 5 nights. Turtle Beach Resort. Discounted for low season.
  2. Within a few minutes of checking into my room, I stood on the 4th floor balcony looking at the amazing view and down below in a public laneway access to the beach a tall young local man started talking to me. After a moment to decipher his accent, I realised he was trying to sell me cocaine. Welcome to Barbados. This happened another time on the beach. As someone not at all into drugs, I find it unsavory and disturbing.
  3. Very rough surf on the south coast, when I traveled to the west it was so much calmer. Next time I will stay on the west coast.
  4. Staying at an all-inclusive for the first time was good to not have to worry about food choices or paying for drinks, but I did feel locked up. Like on a cruise ship.
  5. I drank a lot more than normal instinctively trying to get my money’s worth.
  6. Lots of children. Next time I’ll find an adults only all inclusive.
  7. This country is less developed than I expected.
Grenada – 7/10
  1. 2 nights. Allamanda Resort. Good location on the beach and cheap.
  2. Again offered drugs within moments of stepping onto the beach.
  3. The fort overlooking St Johns is totally without maintenance and a public safety risk, but great views of the harbor and port.
  4. I had not realised that this country had a communist coup in the late 70’s, then another coup where the prime minister and cabinet were locked up in the fort and executed. Then the USA invaded and ‘liberated’ the nation because they thought the new military government was building an airstrip to support Soviet and Cuban air craft to refuel in the southern Caribbean.
  5. I walked into a nutmeg store and said hi to the young male attendant as I was the only one in the store.  He immediately replied “you know me”. I stared and wandered. He said “look at me well”. Then it dawned on me that we sat next to each other on the 1 hour flight from Barbados to Grenada. Small part of the world.
  6. Grand Anse is a nice long public beach with clean water and nice sand.
  7. Found a nice marina with a bar, restaurant and pool. A rare place that was new, functional and welcoming.
St Lucia – 6/10
  1. 2 nights. La Haut Resort. Way out of Soufrière town.
  2. Taxi from airport to hotel was an hour and cost 80 usd! A signal that this island is not cheap.
  3. Too mountainous which makes for bad beaches, and long travel times.
  4. Gros Piton hike was the toughest I’ve done. My calf muscles were sore for days.
  5. Incredible views from La Haut plantation resort were amazing but the place closed for good the day I checked out. Up for sale. Spooky quiet at night which had me laying in bed thinking I was in the movie paranormal activity.
Martinique – 9/10
  1. 2 nights. Can’t remember the hotel as I literally walked off the ferry and checked into the first hotel I found. But it was nice. Except the level 3 elevator door didn’t work. And I was on level 3.
  2. Finally a developed island! A carrefour grocery store, paved sidewalks, street lighting and people leave you alone rather than try to sell you cheap bead necklaces.
  3. Only downside is it’s French speaking, but that could be a positive since people leave me alone!
  4. 21st century buses, roads and intersections. Hub of a ferry system.
  5. Bakeries and food that is beyond chicken and Creole
  6. Although I almost got run down crossing a road. I hate crossing roads.
  7. The beaches close to town are not very nice. And full of local children.
  8. Service is snail pace.
  9. I’d definitely come back and couple it with other French islands. I think the French funding and connection to the European Union means they must abide by EU standards which are much higher than the former British colonies that are poor.
Dominica – 3/10
  1. 1 night that turned into 2. Fort Young Hotel. Lovely refurbished hotel and best part of Roseau.
  2. Do not return. Undeveloped, wrecked by a recent storm, mountainous with long travel times on bad roads, dull landmarks. Although, no one bothered me to sell stuff on the streets or offer me tours like I was in Lucia.
  3. Roseau is a simple under developed town with nothing noteworthy. Except for my hotel, which was modern, sprawling and good service.
  4. The activities desk while seemingly professional, postponed my organized tour of the island not once but twice. Fully knowing that I only had 2 days 1 night on the island. And although I’d paid already for something they couldn’t offer anymore, did not provide a partial refund or even a genuine apology. Giving me the sense this happens often.
  5. As if Dominica knew I didn’t like her, she punished me further by hovering a rain storm over the island at the time of my evening flight causing it to be cancelled and being put up by liat airlines in a hotel room with no ac and a ceiling fan moving so slow it may as well have been switched off.
Antigua – 8/10
  1. 3 nights that was supposed to be 4 except for Dominica. Airbnb apartment in English Harbour. Well located with lovely views, but in a loft with no cross breeze so it was stinking bloody hot.
  2. Very modern airport.
  3. Renting a car was simple and easy to cruise around. Although some hairy corners on what should be single lane one way roads.
  4. Again no hassle from the locals and I rode a public ‘bus’ to town with ease for a dollar. The bus is a mini van that loads in the people, most without seatbelts. Similar to what I rode in Grenada.
  5. Beaches are lovely but not as postcard worthy as I believed from Google images. But I do believe the phrase that there are as many beaches as there are days in the year on Antigua.
  6. I’d likely come back and use this as a base to explore Barbuda, St Kitts and St Barts.

 

And that’s it. No hurricane. Although it threatened. Some islands I’d come back to, others are firmly on the DNR list. Definitely prefer ferries over planes where I could. Easier to get around than I thought and lots of research online that you can just google and make it up when you wake up!

Island Hopping: Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico

Monday 23 November to Tuesday 1 December 2015

All year I wanted to do a break that involved island hopping with ferries, and this was it. A slight flight delay leaving St Maarten on Monday 23 November 2015, meant missing the 1pm ferry to my first virgin island and getting one a few hours later to Virgin Gorda. But the ferry ‘terminal’ was a nice place to hang out. I stayed on several islands during the next 7 days across the British, USA Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Would have ideally done a sailing tour but all were 7 days. And usually in a group where u rent the entire boat. Instead I relied on ferries and renting cars.

20151123_123753

Virgin Gorda: my first and favourite. Grabbed a rental car, nice hotel overlooking one of the many bays and Richard Branson’s private island, exploring the baths area, hiking the 2nd highest peak of all the islands, walking through a spider web, friendly locals, good food, and simple to get around.

Tortola: the capital of the British VI’s and therefore more suburban, again I rented a car as easiest way to get to the places I wanted to see, nicer beaches, expensive hotels for what you get but I was booking at very last minute. With 2 nights, I did want to day trip to some of the smaller islands but ferries not so frequent from road town, probably better to have stayed near west end.

St John: arriving on thanksgiving meant most hotels booked or wanting a minimum 3 nights. About ten minutes before getting a taxi to west end ferry terminal I phoned a place and got a room for 1 night at low season rates (high season kicked in thanksgiving) so I was relieved with that. I was slightly worried and stressed but still glad I was going with the flow and booking as I went. The ferries between the usvi are so much nicer than bvi. The difference is so obvious, u immediately feel in America with USA customs, flags, beer and accents. The room was perfect for what I needed, thanksgiving dinner below average but I still looooove turkey, and the majority of the island is forested national park. The taxi ride to cinnamon bay beach was a fear for my life as the driver sped in the rain along winding roads while me and another guy held on in the back of what appeared to be a safari vehicle without seat belts or side panels. The driver was super rude, reckless and gave a bad impression for this island but I do like its quietness and some of the bays beyond the main town would be worth exploring on a return visit.

St Thomas: I ferried the short distance to red hook and then taxi’d to my hotel closer to the capital. The most populated island of the USVI it is clean and residential. I used Marriott points to stay in an iconic hotel with incredible views. The service here was brilliant and refreshing after staying in simple hotels for the last several nights. I did not explore much of this island beyond the hotel complex which was huge.

Puerto Rico: no ferries here from usvi so I had to book a flight. 3 nights here, and a much larger island. But after reading my Caribbean guide book I was happy to centre my activities around San Juan city. I was surprised to see all the USA stores and brands. I realise this is a USA territory but it felt like being in Miami. And with black Friday specials, I took advantage and did some shopping. The old town was great to explore with many forts satisfying my fascination for these historical structures. If I were to stay in old town I would stay at El Convento with incredible tapas, sangria and history. I stayed at another Marriott which is comical to me and friends who know my previous avoidance of this brand due to it being a general terrorist target for bombings. But I’m a sucker for a good points program, especially when I’ve achieved gold status and get upgrades without asking, treated with the respect I deserve and here I even got a 25% discount for finding a cheaper online deal with the Marriott price match guarantee. Winning. The weather was wet and windy so fortunately I had my beach fix elsewhere. The Spanish speaking had me wishing I had learned this bloody language by now. Thank god for Google translate app.

The last day of break was all travel back to Suriname. Awake at 3 am, in the Paramaribo hotel at 1030 pm. The flight connections are ridiculously bad to get back to Suriname. But hey, after a sedate and enjoyable break I was too relaxed to care.

It’s Been Ages: Suri, Denver, Suri, Home, Suri, Sint Maarten

Tuesday 8 September to 22 November 2015

Well it has been a long while since my last post. I had a free day in Paramaribo on 8 September after I returned from Windsor, and on this day I found out my Grandfather was diagnosed with a brain tumour with a very short prognosis. With that devastating news I started my rotation. It was the most hectic yet as the project hit peak, I moved into a new camp and there were many meetings (including one week in Denver), issues and events that occupied my time. None of it fully planned. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only thing that stresses me out is when everyone wants a piece of me. I felt it more than I think ever before.

With flights booked back to Perth hopeful to see my Grandfather one last time, I was scheduled to land on my nephews 3rd birthday and grand final day with my team, the West Coast Eagles, in the Aussie rules football ultimate game. Flight delayed. Not an hour, not a day, but 2 days. Luckily my good friend Madison was on the same flight to Amsterdam so we spent a couple days in Parbo. Worse places to be, and being in a fine hotel such as the Marriott is better than most places. I finally departed Parbo early evening on 3 October and slept on 4 continents in 4 days to get home. I won’t detail my 8 days at home in Perth. Other than to say it was important to be with family, the first time for 9 months, and the funeral went all according to plan. My time on the ground was brief and I experienced another flight cancellation along the way. But who complains in these circumstances.

I flew back 16 October (my cousins 18th Birthday!) 3 days early (which I will take for a Perth Christmas) for an audit. Went well and set me up for a 27 day rotation as I also stayed a bit longer. Busy but productive, with some memorable moments of hiring people, giving promotions, playing complex boardgames, work mates birthdays, booking my home Christmas flights and Madison resigning. Never a dull moment in Suriname and I still struggle to find the time to just be by myself and catch up on outside life. It’s quite social here! Which is weird considering the work hours are longer than Ghana.

With all that it was time for a break on 14 November. On an island, in a vacation rental, with no expectations, bookings, or must dos. Time to be alone. Let go of the work persona. Enter the Dutch colony of Sint Maarten. I only booked the trip a week before and the only planning was to fly into one island and out from another. There were a lot of Airbnb places to choose from and I’m really glad I picked a good one.

I went out with some work friends the night before flying out and with a 230am pick up for the airport we didn’t sleep. I was flying with another guy on the same first flight so we shared the weariness together. At least until Trinidad where he went home to Canada and I connected to the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. A short taxi trip to my Beacon Hill apartment and I thought I would crash out, but it was only 9:30am and a whole beautiful Saturday ahead so I powered up and explored. Simpson beach is windy and turbulent but beautiful to look at. The airstrip runs parallel to this beach so the roar of the jet engines is a bit distracting. I found a couple of nice bars and much to my stomachs surprise I was enjoying tequila sunrises. Nice. Then to the grocery store to stock up. This involved a trek passed the Sunset Bar and Grill overlooking Maho beach, which is famous for the low flying aeroplanes that land just metres from the beach. Crazy dangerous but awesome. People stand where the signs say don’t go so they can be literally blown away by the jet blast as planes take off. The force is a lot stronger than I thought, with people holding on to the fence so not to get blown back.

I ended up extending my stay by two nights to make it 9. I just wasn’t ready to move on. And that’s the beauty of travelling without a plan. Some days I stayed in and caught up on my life. Other days I ventured to the main town Phillipsburg. Most adventurous I got was a day trip to the English colony of Anguilla with an organised tour. The day was sunny and clear, but unfortunately the surf was up and the beach not as incredible as everyone makes it out to be. The sun sets early at 5:35pm so the evenings feel longer, which is good when I don’t want to spend full days touring.

The apartment was blissfully quiet and modern for $139 USD per night very reasonable for the location. The owner lives in NYC and this is his vacation home that he rents out when vacant. The terrace had a nice view, but the waves reverberated off the enclosed space making it loud and having to shut the door to hear TV or music. Annoyingly the owner has a property manager who seemed to come and go as he pleased. One morning before 8am I’m still asleep and he came to hose down the salt from the terrace. Very invasive and not what you expect from a vacation rental. But other than these two things it was great. Oh and the owner only charged me a tiny fraction of the rate for the two nights I extended which was a welcome saving.

With the batteries recharged, the mind freed, the sleep reserves built up…time for some island hopping…

Aruba and Cuba: Turning Thirty Three

Wednesday 17 June to Tuesday 14 July 2015

travellingross rating = 9/10

I worked a 16/12 day rotation this time around to provide team coverage at site. Short and rushed, but productive. In need of some me-time, I planned 5 nights in Aruba to relax and do nothing, then head to Cuba with Melissa for my birthday. Both of us wanted to visit Cuba and it seems everyone else wants to go as well since the USA was scheduled to open their Embassy in July after closing it in the early 1960’s following the communist revolution. The thought is that with the Americans recommencing diplomatic relations, Cuba will become Americanised with all the marketing and commercialisation that comes with that. So our breaks aligned for these few days and we jumped on the Cuban bandwagon.

But before that was Aruba. I stayed here for 1 night on my first trip to Suriname in October 2014. Back then, I judged the place fairly harsh for just a 24 hour jet-lagged layover. I found it very crowded with high rise resorts crammed along the best sections of beach and traffic jams in the heart of town. I decided to give Aruba a second chance, mainly because it is one flight from Suriname and very easy. The flight from Suriname was delayed and I arrived 3 hours late. Fortunately my airport pick up was waiting for me – a big black guy named Bully! Bully was standing with my name on a sign and another guy was waiting with him. This other guy saw my name on the sign and asked if I was Latvian. His Mum’s last name is same as mine, which originates in Latvia. Not many make that connection.

I took the recommendation of a colleague to stay at a small beach house complex that was perfect for what I needed. Self contained, private, away from the high rises but close enough to walk to the better parts of the beach. Aruba is very windy, however my open front room was well protected and I could sit on the deck all afternoon without being blown away. A couple of times I went downtown. Called a taxi and cost $20 usd. Getting back, I hailed a taxi and he volunteered a price of $12 usd. Two things either happened: call out fee, or agree to price before getting in which I normally do but get lazy with.

So Aruba was much better second time around. And I discovered things I would like to explore for a third time if that comes my way. In fact, I spent 8 hours here on way back from Cuba waiting for a connecting flight. Was nice to know where to go for that time and feel comfortable…almost not like a tourist for the first time in months and months!

I met Melissa at the Aruba airport and we took two flights on Copa Airlines via Panama City to Havana, Cuba. It was hard to plan in advance for this component of the break. There’s not much internet based tourism sites and the ones that exist are run by the Government and not 100% reliable. We booked 3 nights at one hotel to start, with intent to rent a car and head west along the coast. As it turned out, renting a car is something that must be planned a month or so in advance! So we ended up doing a couple of day trips – one to Vinales in the west to see some fascinating limestone formations called magotes. And another to the Havana beach in the east which was scenic but some sections with litter floating in the water and not many facilities.

So, we got to know Havana very well. Did a lot of walking of the historic centre, a long trek through the cemetery and then to Revolution Square. Hot days. The city does not have much greenery and is the definition of a concrete jungle with many old buildings crumbling like you would imagine the streets of some Syrian city. The day after my birthday was meant to be when we rented a car, but given the lack of car availability, we went in search of a new hotel and that was a mission and a half. Nothing was available. And you can’t just jump on booking.com because they do not support Cuban travel. Nor does tripadvisor. Bloody communist history ruining it for the modern day traveller.

Skype is blocked here, so rather than birthday chats I exchanged whatsapp audio messages over breakfast and then Melissa and I headed into town to tour the Revolution Museum and then wander the Malecon oceanfront drive. Back to the hotel for a swim, duty free vintage French (Reims) Champagne (thanks Melissa!), and get ready for our ‘Havana Nights’ tour. It was just a small group tour that included dinner (basic food), visit to the fort for 9pm cannon firing (I am fascinated by forts so this was cool to do), and a very flamboyant salsa singing/dance show at the Nacionale Hotel (2 hours was a bit much but interesting to watch). We then went in search of a nightclub and the taxi driver took us to a local place where I downed a double rum and coke, and that was enough for me. Back to the hotel for a night cap whisky (I’m not a rum fan) and reminisce about 33 great years of life. When my sisters turned 33, I told them it was the same age that Jesus was crucified. No one told me this when I turned 33. So I told it to myself as I passed out at 2am.

Cuban Observations

  • No billboards or street advertising
  • Not a shortage of taxis, constantly calling out at u if you want a cab. Seemingly new yellow cabs for tourists and the old 50s cars targeted at locals who share rides. Agree price before getting in as no meters.
  • Not that isolated like I expected. Western music and drinks and food everywhere.
  • No ATM’s. People lining up at banks to withdraw or change money. USD has a 12% commission whereas other currencies 5%. Need to convert to local tourist currency (CUC) which is 1 for 1 to USD but they take this commission. So it’s a forced money making thing for them. Bring Euros or Canadian dollars to exchange.
  • Customer Service is rude and abrupt.
  • An operator is required to connect your calls in hotels.
  • Hotels advertise as 5 star when they might get 3.5 or 4 in Australia or USA.
  • Internet is expensive, censored (including phone apps), and limited availability usually in hotel lobbies. One place was $7 usd an hour.
  • A Cuban Tourist Card is needed (like a visa) and can be purchased at airport counter before departing for USD $20.
  • Work emails (or any other Gmail accounts) don’t connect. But hotmail does.
  • Most people we met were taking 2+ weeks for Cuba. Factoring in time for things to go wrong, and the slow pace of getting things done.
  • USA credit/debit cards are not accepted.
  • No phone service on Telstra.

Websites and Tips to Make this Trip

Stayed at:

  • Aruba – Beachhouse Aruba for USD $185/night for fully contained ocean view; but garden view without kitchenette is USD $85/night. Plus tax. Only 8 units and secluded. beachhousearuba.com
  • Havana –
    • Quinta Avenida Hotel for Euro 87.40/night twin room. Nice hotel with lovely pool, but far out from the main town for a tourist.
    • Melia Cohiba for USD $208/night for deluxe room. I signed up for their rewards program when booking to get a 20% discount. Expensive but after searching the city for a hotel, this was well worth it. www.melia.com

Miami and a Bahamas Cruise

Friday 29 May to Friday 5 June 2015

travellingross rating = 8/10

The last work rotation was a hectic 16 days. A short one due to time owed from a longer rotation earlier this year. So there was not much time to ease back into it following my return from Amsterdam, which sucked cause it took me 5 days to get back into the time zone and hit fifth gear (it’s hard for me to admit that, as I used to claim there is no such thing as jet lag). Although that direct flight back was excellent with an economy comfort paid upgrade and landing at a decent afternoon hour versus the usual late night flight. There’s not much to report from a work front so I’ll include a couple photos and say it was training, budget planning, rain (350mm wettest month of the year), co hosting 5 Colorado school of mines visitors, stray dog ‘management’, and Suriname re elected their president. Interesting how developing countries care much more about elections than developed countries seem to.

I departed site a day after my sister’s birthday 28 May and had orchestrated a large group of us who all happened to be in Parbo at same time to have a night on the town. Something I would never do in Ghana so another sign I prefer this place. Great night and a rude awakening to get the 4 am shuttle to the airport for a 7:15am flight to Miami via Curacao. In the morning rush, I somehow lost my external hard drive that has my laptop and phone back-ups on it along with movies, music, and photos. Yeah so, my entire life ready for someone to hijack my identity. Weirdest thing is when I got to Miami the cable was in my suitcase, but not the actual device. I was sure it must be in the Suriname hotel but no. It’s a lesson to protect this like gold in future. Everything on there (except movies) is backed up on another external hard drive thanks to my OCD, so I don’t think I’ve lost much. Just hate losing stuff and this year is not trending well in that regard.

3 nights in Miami staying in a 5 star hotel was bliss. Time to sleep in, order room service each night, tick off some long due to-do list items. I usually file all my property and finance e-documents promptly but haven’t since November 2014. That’s just one example of how my organised life has got away from me since starting in Suriname.

On 1 June I set off on a 4 night Bahamas cruise. I’ve spent years thinking about whether I would like a cruise. Too old, too confining, crowded, hitting an iceberg. The usual hesitations. But with my placement in the Caribbean area I knew it was cruise moment of truth. After researching many farther afield options with different companies, I settled on a shorter Norwegian cruise in case I hated it. The reality was so different to expectations. Hard to spot a 65+ person with a diversity of ages, club techno music on the pool deck with a party atmosphere, big drinking culture, and lots of space. The balcony room was spacious enough with a bigger bathroom than expected but overall dated and tired. There were 3 stops but I didn’t get off at Nassau as it was rainy terrible weather. This suited me to have a chill catch up day.  They push the paid shore excursions but no obligation and I did my own thing. Easy enough except Grand Bahamas was a long taxi trip from port and not well organised. The evening entertainment is well structured and sort of corny, repeated. There is a casino on board and that surprised me although it shouldn’t.

Docking back in Miami at 7am, you had to be off the boat by 930am. I’m very glad to have done a cruise finally and rid some of the doubts. I would do another one, on a different company to compare and ideally around a few more islands. I do feel an obligation to get off at each stop so maybe a cruise with a couple full days at sea would suit me more.

My desire for a ‘do nothing’ break was not getting any more realistic as the night before docking back in Miami I booked flights and tickets to see the U2 concert in Denver as well as my good friend who was about to have baby number 1!

Random Observations

  1. I love that USA has everything I can get at home – groceries, snacks, restaurants. But that can be overwhelming to me who is less used to that choice and range nowadays. I walk into a store and almost step back at the number of aisles and check outs.
  2. I went to an Italian cafe and ordered a Greek salad. Delicious.
  3. Losing my external hard drive was eye opening to realise how much personal data I carried on that with such a care free attitude. Now it’s in the hands of someone who could choose to delete all the data by formatting it or go through all my files…and maybe steal my identity.
  4. Miami is easy for me
  5. I go through moments of wanting to party and be around a herd of people, to wanting to be alone in a hotel room without seeing another human being. Miami typically is associated with the former, but I craved the latter.  Especially after getting the party out of me in Parbo.
  6. Grand Bahamas – “this is where John Travolta’s son died” stated the taxi driver as the first opening line of her tourism remarks
  7. Cruise ship air con seemingly set to 16C so it is freezing inside
  8. The movement felt on the ship is more than I expected, like you’re drunk and swaying. This was only night one. Other days were never felt. Not sure why.
  9. Food is good
  10. Internet is $25 per day
  11. Champagne selection sucks – Presecco.
  12. Announcements get annoying and too frequent
  13. Many restaurant options, half complimentary. The others with a cover charge of $15-30
  14. Great Stirrup Cay was beautiful and exactly how I pictured the Bahamas. Walk further along the beach to find more secluded bays with some of the clearest water I’ve seen – where kayaks look like they are floating on air rather than gliding across the water surface.

Recuperating in Tobago

Wednesday 4 February to Tuesday 10 February 2015

travellingross rating = 6/10

It’s never a pleasant experience going to the airport hungover, let alone get up at 4 am to pack all my belongings, get in a taxi, head to the airport in snow, navigate the Denver airport and spend all day travelling. Fortunately, I had Matt with me as we were both on the same flights through to Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Even more fortunately, I was going to a Caribbean island for 6 nights of 100% relaxation. The travel was ok, but I remember sitting on the tarmac during our Houston layover for more than an hour. And United Airlines (as with most USA airlines) have terrible or non-existent in-flight entertainment or food. Didn’t help that trying to watch Dumb & Dumber 2 on my laptop stopped at the 40 minute mark for no reason and then my laptop battery was going flat. Ah, 1st world problems. Matt and I had enough time for a beer together in Port of Spain airport (yes we can both back it up) as he headed back to Suriname for his last rotation and I boarded a 25 minute flight across to the island of Tobago.

Lots of people have told me to avoid Trinidad, but that Tobago is really nice and worth a visit. Apparently the bigger island of Trinidad is wealthier but full of crime, dirt and people. Tobago only has a 60,000 population and a diversity of things to do. Surprisingly, I had to pay a $67 USD visa to enter T&T which does not apply to USA or Canada citizens. I received mild questioning as to why I did not have a visa before arrival but was able to fill a form and get a visa waiver at immigration.

I stayed at the Kariwak Holistic Haven Hotel. An exotic name for a relaxing retreat. Very close to the airport and tropical with bird feeders, two pools, a yoga hall, hammocks and a general vibe of simple relaxation. This was just what I wanted. I always like to stay by the beach on coastal places but this was perfect. I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol on Tobago. Nor did I swim in the ocean. Time to detox, sleep til midday, laze by the pool (ozone treated rather than chlorine or salt and it was awesome!), read, etc. I did two touristy things – walked to Pigeon Point beach (ok but too touristy for a beach), and a half day rainforest tour of one of the world’s oldest conservation reserves that was founded in 1776 and this was really good. A particular highlight was receiving a random phone call at 10pm from Perth Airport to ask where I wanted my suitcase delivered to!!! Totally out of the blue and unexpected. My bag was finally found. Sure, in Perth which is no good to me, but in safe hands with all contents! Unbelievable.

Overall, Tobago was not that great or memorable. I found Curacao to be better with nicer beaches, better people and cleaner. Tobago felt like Africa in places and too under-developed for my liking. The hotel was great and I’m sure the diving is good. But I think the Caribbean has better to offer than Tobago.

Websites and Tips to Make this Trip

Booked the hotel through www.kariwak.com for USD $205 per night for pool side room

Rainforest tour through Harris’ Jungle Tours USD $65 or 400 TT www.harris-jungle-tours.com

Home of Curacao Liqueur

Friday 14 to Wednesday 19 November 2014

Curacao. Yet another country I didn’t know existed and a name I pronounced entirely incorrect (it’s cure-a-sow not koo-rac-o). But a country that has intriguing character, great people and many turquoise bays to explore. And to be fair to myself for another geography failure, it is a country that only became official in 2010 when the Dutch Antilles were separated under the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Getting to Curacao from Fort Lauderdale I became trapped in a terrible traffic jam of gridlock hell that amplified frustration when trying to get to the airport for a 10:50am flight. I roared into the rental car return, raced to check-in and then I became one of ‘those people’ trying to cram 4 bags into 2 to meet the TSA requirements of only 2 pieces of hand-luggage. All along I was worried they’d weigh my bags but instead it was all about the number of items. Rejected by the TSA security, I was against the wall between the water fountain and the toilet stuffing souvenirs, food and belongings into my back pack and then kneeling on my carry-on suitcase to zip it up. In the end I got to the gate only to be told my suitcase was now too fat and would have to be checked. Free of charge. $25 saving, a lot of sweat and a bit of stress. Next time I’ll know better. This could be the first and last attempt at carry-on only.

3 hrs later and I landed mid-afternoon in Willemstad, the capital of Curacao. In Fort Lauderdale the night before, and under the influence of some beers, I booked the Marriot beachfront hotel through an app on my phone. I have a policy of not staying in Marriot’s because they tend to be the ones targeted by terrorists. But the Hilton was booked and the Marriot had the beach hotel vibe I was chasing for 5 nights ahead of my return to work. Getting to my room and any concerns about expense or being blown up washed away literally with the waves outside my room. I love these kind of hotels and have always enjoyed these vacations whether it be in Zanzibar, Turks & Caicos, or Broome. The check-in process was the best I’ve experienced anywhere.

The sea water here is perfect temperature. It rained a fair bit though and was cloudy 70% of the time which meant it wasn’t really hot enough for me to feel like beach weather. People smoke on the beach which annoys me. I used the steam room everyday. I’ve added ‘steam room’ to my ‘Dream Home’ list.

Other highlights included renting a scooter for a couple of days and cruising around the island to the Sea Aquarium, along the coast to some truly beautiful bays and out to the factory where the Curacao liqueur is made. It’s a brief tour here, but interesting to learn how this orange flavoured blue drink originated and is now the component of many cocktails around the world. All because of importing Spanish oranges that suffered in the hot Caribbean climate to generate the famous liqueur that now comes in many colours but blue is the most recognised. Wandering around the two sides of Willemstad was enjoyable. The harbour inlet separates the two sides but is joined by a mobile pedestrian bridge that opens for ships, tug boats etc. Very relaxing to sit at one of the waterside restaurants with beer in hand watching the ships go by. Ahhhhhh island life.

Websites Used to Make this Trip

Booked the scooter through www.curacaoscooters.com