Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Next Stop: Curacao



The summer adventures are really heating up! This week I'll be exploring the colorful landscape and intriguing history of Curacao. This Dutch Caribbean island has been on my bucket list for a long time so expect breathless posts about my experiences. I'll be strolling the capital city, UNESCO World Heritage site of Willemstad, taking in the iconic Queen Emma swinging bridge and the famous, candy-colored Handelscade backdrop, pictured above. I'll also be visiting several of Curacao's 35 cove-covered ,beaches.as well as local food trucks nightclubs (including 27, honoring famous musicians who died at 27-years-old) and Museum Kura Hulanda, which focuses on African art, history and the Dutch slave trade. Please look out for my updates about this fascinating island!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Cuba's Legendary Tropicana Cabaret


If you consider Las Vegas as the ultimate in over-the-top, showgirl performances, think again. The inspiration for Las Vegas shows and all its colorful, feathered glamor was Cuba, specifically the legendary Tropicana Cabaret. Opened in 1939 on the grounds of a suburban Havana mansion, it evolved into the most spectacular open air cabaret ever seen.


Music icons like Nat "King" Cole, Paul Robeson, Omara Portuondo, Carmen Miranda and of course, Celia Cruz, graced the stage and celebrities filled the seats. I  heard about the history of the Tropicana, including the darkers aspects like the mobsters that ran it and the racism that kept dark-skinned black performers off the stage unless they were superstars like Nat "King" Cole. I knew immediately that I had to see it in person. Walking into the huge outdoor space, I was handed a red chrysanthemum and men were given cigars. Swaying palms, stages at every angle and blinking lights were all I could make out in the dim, 10pm light.


When the  show started and the lights blared and the music boomed, I can't even explain to you all that I saw. To my left, to my right, above my head, and up in the air, there was someone singing, dancing and prancing in outrageously scanty costumes. Thanks goodness I took photos (for a $5 fee that was well worth it) because it was truly a sensory overload.  There were musical stories told through each segment and I understood why cabaret shows are such a popular part of Cuban culture. Tropicana is the most famous but most hotels and even small rural towns host cabaret shows. Although some might consider them tourist traps, I was thrilled to witness a part of Cuban history.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Beach Day at Havana's Mar Azul



Havana earns lots of attention for the historic beauty of the architecture and the vibrancy of the art and music but I think the city's natural beauty sometimes gets overshadowed. Most visitors head to the resort town of Varadero when they want to enjoy the island's pristine beaches but Mar Azul, a popular local beach, is just 20 minutes from Old Havana.


You can hop a bus for just 5 CUC or take a taxi to the dreamy paradise that is Mar Azul. When I gazed at the perfect stretch of white sand and turquoise waves, I caught my breathe.  The sand is silky, the water is warm and the beach was uncrowded the entire five hours I spent there. It really is a local hangout so the vibe is laid back and the prices for umbrellas, chairs or freshly cracked coconuts is nominal.  I splashed in the water with my friends and then walked over to the beach shacks serving freshly caught fish.



I savored a whole, grilled red snapper with salad, rice and plantains for about $5. With reggae and salsa blasting from a boombox and a sea breeze swirling over me, I felt like I was in a part of heaven called Cuba.



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lands End in Los Cabos


If you've ever traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, you have almost certainly visited Lands End, also called El Arco or the Arch. These natural rock formations rising out of the Sea of Cortez are as significant a landmark to Los Cabos as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The best way to view the formations is by boat and I almost fell over the edge as I gawked at El Arco.


Experts say that these rock formations date back 30 million years and they mark the point where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean. The Baja California peninsula is the second longest in the world and El Arco is located at the very southern tip, hence the name Lands End.


Besides being an essential photo op, El Arco is a sea lion hang out. I spotted several bobbing in the waves as the boat glided by the rocks. Unfortunately, they were too fast for me to snap a pic!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fete Fever at Bahamas Junkanoo


Everybody loves carnival time and if you visit the Caribbean often enough, you can always find an island hosting these colorful celebrations all year round. Although the traditional Bahamian Junkanoo is  held after Christmas on Boxing Day (also known as my birthday) Junkanoo Carnival kicks off in May. I didn't get the chance to participate this time (costume MIA) but I still mingled with the revelers and captured some candid images. Yes, everyone loves carnival but as the Bahamas tourism site suggests, "it's best suited for those who have the stamina, rhythm, confidence, positive vibes and a free spirit!" Check out the evidence below.



Lots of  mas bands "wine up" all down the streets but this gal gave a close up demo.


I caught this guy as he stopped to gyrate in the street, right before the rest of his band caught up and blocked his photo.



Trucks with water hoses spray onlookers who don't move fast enough but these girls preferred the water bottle variety.


I loved the varying shades of blue of this group. They reminded me of the waves of the Caribbean Sea as they marched through Nassau. Have you ever participated in carnival?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Next Stop: Los Cabos


I try to travel to a different part of Mexico at least once a year so I'm excited to visit San Jose Del Cabo for the first time this week. Located on the Southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, it's quieter and more relaxed than the party haven of Cabo San Lucas. I'll be hosted by Paradisus Los Cabos,  a stylish new resort that just opened in December.  Surrounded by mountains and sparkling views of the Sea of Cortez, this expansive property features one of the only swimmable beaches in the area as well as seven restaurants, with the standout being  the Basque-French cuisine of Gastro Bar, helmed by Michelin star rated chef Martin Berasategui. I'll also be checking out the famous Los Cabos coastline and view the majestic El Arco  rock formations, hopefully along with a few whales and sea lions during a cruise on the Sea of Cortez. Please stay tuned for details!

This is Havana


Havana is super charming. It's really difficult to step foot into this energetic, multi-layered city and not be swept away by its appeal. Music flows from every surface, the locals are warm and gracious and the streets are crammed with striking images. There's a lot to see and what you capture depends on how you look and what you're looking for. The colorful buildings of Old Havana are every visitor's fave but I was also taken by the modern structures. El Capitolo, pictured above, resembles the American capitol building but was actually modeled after the Pantheon in Paris. It's interesting that you don't see photos of this lovely building half as much as you see images of the old,classic cars. Notice that there are modern cars rolling down the street in front of El Capitolo.


Plaza de la Revolucion is another popular pic but the iconic portrait of Che' Guevara is almost always highlighted. I discovered that Camilo Cienfuegos, a revolutionary who led a key battle during the Cuban Revolution is also featured in the plaza, as seen above. Camilo, along with Che and the Castro brothers were the major heros of the revolution but Camilo doesn't seem get as much acknowledgement outside of Cuba.


I loved strolling the Vedado neighborhood where I stayed in an Airbnb. I passed parks and sculptures like this wherever I went.


The crumbling buildings and old cars are visual hallmarks of Havana but there are also well kept buildings and serene plazas like the ones pictured above.


The Cuban flag flies proudly over many buildings but I really loved the juxtaposition of this waving flag against the modern architecture.


Murals. street art and graffiti are also common sights in Havana but I especially enjoyed walking past this piece everyday. Viva Cuba indeed!