Sunday, October 14, 2018

Where in The World Is Turks and Caicos?


I didn't realize just how confused people are about the Turks and Caicos islands.  Before I traveled to Providenciales, the most developed of the eight main islands, I promised my blogging students that I would discover enough about this island nation to explain exactly where it is and what it's like. But it wasn't only my students that didn't know. When I tried to put a travel advisory on my credit card, the customer service confused Turks and Caicos with Turkey. And that was after I spelled it! Very few of my friends and family knew where the heck I was going so here it is:


The Turks and Caicos islands consist of a group of 40 islands and small cays, with eight of them inhabited. The country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and located southeast of the Bahamas and East of  the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic. ) Currently, the Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory. (Although the American dollar is the official currency.) The island wasn't under direct British rule until the 2009 corruption scandal with former Turks and Caicos Prime minister Michael Misick. Honestly, I thought Turks and Caicos had entered the public awareness when Chicago actress Lisa Raye married the prime minister in a fairy tale wedding in 2008. Clearly not. The Turks and Caicos is noted for its sublime beaches as you can see above. My photos show Grace Bay, a 12-mile stretch of pearly sand and turquoise water that consistently tops lists for most beautiful beach. But what is there beyond the beach in TCI? Well, this wasn't exactly easy to discover because the focus is really on sun, sand and sea.


Photo courtesy of Turks and Caicos Tourist Board

I found out that the national dish is peas and grits, often served with conch or fish. Rice was never grown on the island so locals made grits or hominy from the corn that grew. It wasn't easy to find a restaurant that served the dish because its generally offered only on weekends in non- touristy areas. What I did find was delectable Juici Patties from Jamaica.  My villa was near The Patty Place, which ships patties and Devon House ice cream directly from Jamaica. It turns out that large populations of Jamaicans, Dominicans and Haitians live in Turks and Caicos, adding a lot to the island's cultural mix.


One defining Turks and Caicos experience I had was at the iconic Da Conch Shack beach bar. The restaurant is laid out on the beach so I kicked off my shoes and listened to the live band. The reggae rhythms were soothing but I quickly recognized the unmistakable sound of Rake N' Scrape music. I had heard rake n scrape on Bahamian out islands but didn't realize that this folk music is also the national music of Turks and Caicos.


I was lucky to meet the "Rip Saw Man", as he's called around Turks and Caicos. He played and danced for hours at the beach bar and I was excited to see an authentic reflection of the island's culture. The locals, called "Belongers" are very friendly but I found that the Turks and Caicos culture wasn't clearly defined. The influences from other cultures seem to overshadow the island's original essence. I will have to return and visit the country's other islands to get a real sense of Turks and Caicos.





Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Next Stop: Turks and Caicos


Where in the world is Turks and Caicos? That's the question I often get when I mention this island nation of eight main islands and 40 smaller islets and cays. Some people also confuse it as a Bahamian island. Well, Turks and Caicos is located Southeast of the Bahamas but it's a separate country. The country was self-governed until 2009, when former premier Michael Misick resigned in the face of corruption charges. It's is now a British Overseas Territory.  Turks and Caicos is famous for swoon-inducing beaches, most notably, Grace Bay, pictured above, which is consistently listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I will be investigating the appeal of Grace Bay during my stay in Providenciales next week. I'll also be discovering more about Turks and Caicos, including JoJo the Dolphin, the wild ,Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin who freely interacts with people as the official mascot of the island and symbol for marine conservation and Cheshire Hall Plantation ruins, which are the remains of a  17th century cotton plantation established by a Loyalist planter from Florida. I will be posting pix and videos to fully explain Turks and Caicos as well as its small Chicago connection soon!


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Easy Living on the East Coast of Barbados


Barbados is an island noted for upscale dining and luxury hotels but there's another side to "Bim.".
I ventured out of the busy capital of Bridgetown and took a hiking tour of the untamed East Coast of the island.


I immediately noticed a difference between the hilly landscape of the East Coast and the South Coast, where most of the hotels are located. Nature grabs all the attention here. There are few hotels or even people to distract from the beauty. Everywhere I looked, spectacular views of the Atlantic commanded attention.


The East Coast is where Barbados agriculture is centered and I spotted fields of bananas, passion fruit bushes and almond trees. The panoramas of lush green and sparkling blue ocean waves really made me think I was on another island. Barbados is famously flat so I wasn't expecting all the hills I had to hike under the unrelenting Caribbean sun. The tour is called Hike, Grill and Chill, so I was really happy to relax in the shade after my three hour hike. Bridgetown captures most of the attention but I highly recommend visiting the East Coast of Barbados for another perspective of  Bajan life.

All photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Next Stop: Back to Barbados


It's been a while but I'm happy to be returning to Barbados for the annual SATW Travel Writers Convention. I'll be in meetings for a big portion of the trip but I will still find time to visit the legendary Oistins Fish Fry, take in a beach and rum shop, as well as hike along a nature trail. I'm also scheduled to check out the fabled Cin Cin By The Sea with al fresco dining and views of the west coast of the island. Stay tuned for pix and videos!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Royal Experience at the Kumasi Grand Durbar in Ghana


Tales of African kings and queens are popular with the African American diaspora. It's an important way to acknowledge and reclaim our history but it never occurred to me that I would one day witness this living history. When I slowly moved through the crowds and colorful revelry of Ghana's historic Grand Durbar in Kumasi, I found myself surrounded by Asante and Akyem royalty.


A Grand Durbar is a celebration of when kings and high officials come together for different occasions.  This one marked the 75th anniversary of the passing of Okeyehene Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, a highly influential traditional ruler who died in 1943. I was dazzled by the procession of over 100 royals and their courts, complete with golden chairs, staffs and embroidered umbrellas.


I learned that this was a particularly historic event because the Asante and Akyem clans had not come together in over 200 years. Before the two kings arrived to be carried through the adoring crowds, the Asantehene ruler of the Asante Kingdom, arrived in a Rolls Royce Phantom and the Okyeman, ruler of the Akyem Kingdom, waited for him seated on a glistening golden throne. It was a spectacle that I was amazed to see.


Each procession featured  royals wearing luxurious, hand-woven Kente cloth, with each pattern and color symbolizing different meanings.


Ghanaian royal families are matrilineal, and it's the Queen Mother who nominates a new chief, so I was excited to watch a procession of royal women stroll regally through the mobs of people. There are dozens of protocols and traditions that took place during the durbar, like shooting off shotguns to ward off negative spirits, which you will hear in my video below. Attending this Grand Durbar was one of the most unforgettable and significant experiences I've ever had during my travels. Have you ever had an unforgettable experience while traveling?


Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Sunday, September 9, 2018

An African Greeting in Elmina, Ghana



Despite research, photos and personal stories, there's really nothing that can totally prepare you for Ghana. From the moment I set foot on the reddish earth, I was dazed and excited. There's nothing like returning to the home of your ancestors. Everything seemed familiar yet unlike anything I've ever experienced. We were welcomed with warmth and enthusiasm everywhere we went but I was taken aback by all of  the required revelry and protocols when we greeted the traditional chiefs in every town we visited.  In the South Coast town of Elmina, we were met with a large group of singers and dancers as well as an impressive council of chiefs and queen mothers. I thought I could just sit back and enjoy the music and dancing but I should have known better. African  music and dance is all about participation. When this adorable little girl pulled me up to dance, there was no way I could refuse. Spirit is everywhere in Africa and I definitely felt it as I danced and twirled to the drum rhythms.



Photo courtesy of Tammy Bender

Friday, August 17, 2018

Next Stop; Ghana!


In all my years as a travel writer, I have never anticipated a journey as much as I have for my journey to Ghana, West Africa. I will be taking my first steps on the African continent but this is an extra special trip for many other reasons. I will be on assignment for Ebony Magazine , covering preliminary activities for Homecoming 2019, which is the historic commemoration of the African Diaspora returning to Africa exactly 400 years after the first recorded landing of a slave ship in Virginia. Thanks to the efforts of The Adinkra Group, a cultural resource organization, I will meet the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo at his official residence, Jubilee House. I will also meet Chiefs and Queen Mothers in Kumasi, Cape Coast and Accra. If that's not enough excitement, I will have my DNA revealed by sponsor African Ancestry at the Cape Coast Castle, which was the main British hub for the horrific transatlantic slave trade from 1665-1807. Ghana was the first African nation to declare independence from a European colony in 1957 and the country's significance for African Americans is boundless. I will be sampling the Ghanaian dishes red red, kenkey and fried fish, banku and tillapia and especially, kelewele.  I'll be dancing to afro beat at clubs and also taking in the local art scene at the Chale Wote Festival.  In other words, I will be embracing as much of Ghanaian life as possible. Please stay tuned.