Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Hot Crustacean Band

My daughter is blasting the Little Mermaid soundtrack and I'm reminded how much I love Sebastian, the wise, funny, very Caribbean crab.  Watching the video, I realize what amuses me so much about Sebastian and his underwater world is that he actually reminds me of people I know and places I've been.   I've met a lot of bossy characters in seemingly mythical countries in my travels.  Eventhough it's just a cartoon, art really does imitate life in a lot of ways.  It also doesn't hurt that the steel pan rhythm is hot. Check it out:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A St.Thomas Grassroots Gathering

I've heard of bake sales, I've heard of formal dinners but I had never heard of food sales for political candidates. That's until I dropped by a St. Thomas food sale for the campaign of  U.S. Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh.

My St. Thomas expert Karen, invited me to the grassroots event, which was held in a parking lot. Caribbean dishes like curried chicken and goat, rice and peas, grilled fish and fungi, the Virgin Islands staple of corn meal and okra.

deJongh, above, really grabbed an early start for the November elections but you can never start too early when it comes to fundraising.  The place was packed with hundreds of voters buying food and shaking the Governor's hand. I think holding food sales for political candidates is an interesting St. Thomas custom.  Don't think it would work in Chicago, though. Have you discovered any unexpected customs on your travels?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

King Sunny Ade and The African Beats (Ibae' Baye' T'Oru'n)

Every spring or summer, I attend a raucous Nigerian party with non-stop music. People come dressed in eye-popping fashions and dance for three-four hours straight.  Every year, I look forward to this party, also called a King Sunny Ade concert. 

A typical Sunny Ade concert lasts at least four hours and that’s only if there are parameters like say, the venue has to close. The Minister of Enjoyment, The Chairman, The King of Juju, are titles that Ade has earned for performing blistering sets of the complex, interlocking, guitar and percussion rhythms known as juju. Juju music is rooted in the Yoruba tradition of broad cultural and social commentary. Just one of Ade’s tunes, fortified with a band, The African Beats, of up to 30 members, lasts an average of 40 minutes. It’s the ultimate jam style that has influenced not only countless African musicians but Americans like Phish’s Trey Anastasio as well. A Sunny Ade show pulls out all aspects of Nigerian culture; from fans draped in glittering agbadas, dancing all over the stage and in the stands, eager "spraying"  (literally covering the band with money)  and an all out fun time.

It has just been announced that King Sunny Ade has cancelled his North American tour.  Sadly, two members of his African Beats, Gabriel Ayanniyi (talking drum) and Omo Olope (percussion)  were killed in a car accident while on there way to a video shoot. I wish their families condolences, ibae' baye' t'oru'n (Rest In Peace).

Check out this video from a Sunny Ade concert at the Montreal Jazz Fest for a taste of the party:

Friday, April 16, 2010

99 Steps

While you're at Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort in St. Thomas, there's one comment that you're bound to hear. It's not, "what stunning views this mountain top hotel has!" Or " that beach really has a lot of fish." No. What you will hear in the lobby, in the restaurants or at the pool is "I can't believe you have to walk up all those steps just to get to the pool!"  This irritated me to no end because it seems to me that if you're going to loll around the pool all day, a little step climbing isn't going to kill you. Granted, as you can see from these pix, that staircase wasn't some little 10-12 step number.

This is a real, winding, staircase with 99 steps and you will work your thigh muscles climbing it. But if you're not elderly or disabled, I don't see what the fuss is about. After all, just a few minutes clopping downs those stairs will get you


                                               And this.                
 Nonetheless, the majority of the resort's visitors opted to wait for the shuttle to drop them off at the edge of the pool, lest they have to move around too much. There's nothing that irks me more than complaining tourists. I just feel like they should leave the negative opinions at home and concentrate on enjoying their travels. What's your traveling pet peeve?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

St Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens

I love flowers and plants so I'm a sucker for botanical gardens.  In St. Thomas, the botanical gardens are located on 11 lush acres along volcanic peaks 1,000 feet above sea level on Hull Bay.  Perched on a mountain on the northern rim of the island. St. Peters Great House and Botanical Gardens was an 150-acre plantation in the 1800s. More recently, it was owned by the governor of the Virgin Islands.  You can see examples of the antique furniture that fills  the sprawling estate above.

This s-shaped loveseat  was my favorite piece of old-school living. I can imagine a courting couple sitting demurely in it while a chaperone watches closely to see that no body parts touch.

The gardens boast 17 varieties of orchids and 150 species of Caribbean plants.

A self-guided nature trail allows you to stroll through and for awhile, be surrounded by your private Garden of Eden.

This parrot flower with its bold crimson leaves edged in yellow, was my favorite. They really do look like little parrots when you stop back.

This tree towered over the gardens and looks like it grows specifically to grace a postcard or t-shirt.

The one thing that bothered me about the botanical gardens were the caged birds arranged throughout.  According to the staff, they are never let out of their cages, which seems cruel. Sandy, above, is a vibrant macaw that squawked loudly and constantly while I was there. She sounded like she wanted to get out of her cage, at least for a little while.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

St. Thomas Vistas

Sorry for the time between posts, I've been sick for a week and I'm counting on these sunshiny pix to drive my cold away.  St. Thomas offers lovely views, especially at high points around the island.

I snapped these from the observation deck of the Botanical Gardens. In the distance, you can see the neighboring islands of St. John and Tortola, which is part of the British Virgin Islands.

I love that the sea looks so blue that it resembles a fabulous oil painting instead of reality.  Have you seen any great views lately?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

St. Thomas Iguana Adventure

One of the most memorable activities on my St. Thomas eco trip was feeding the iguanas.  I'm used to laid back Mexican iguanas that bask in the sun and pose patiently for photos. Little did I know that St. Thomas iguanas do not share such a genial nature.  My first indication was the sign above. Posted at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort which sponsored my trip,  I discovered similar signs all over the island. I heard rumors of iguanas snapping the fingers of the hands that fed them.  This didn't exactly make me eager to feed the little creatures but I wasn't deterred.

Wild iguanas live in trees but at exactly 10:30, which is their feeding time on the resort, I watched a dozen slowly emerge from the water, rocks and bushes.

They slithered slowly, freezing into a position and then moving when they thought the coast was clear. Most St. Thomas iguanas are greyish, to blend into the rocks along the shoreline.

Some boasted extra long tails like this one. He was visciously whipping it around, which is supposed to warn that this is his territory. I wasn't about to argue, although I noticed that a clutch of iguanas were slowly surrounding me.  This is when I was informed that iguanas love red, which naturally, I was wearing, rather vividly in the form of a red sun dress and red flower in my hair.

I dropped the lettuce quickly after this iguana shot me a menacing look. A group of them rushed toward me and I climbed on top of a table, out of their way. It turns out that they don't discriminate between humans and their food. Iguanas are vegetarians and cherries and pomegranates are some of their favorite foods. I must have looked like a big, juicy, flowering cherry ready for them to munch on.

Iguanas are  legally protected in St. Thomas, it's against the law to harm them. They are regularly fed on Sugar Bay resort but this doesn't keep them from greedily biting hands that might come between them and their food.  I think that's the last time I'll try to feed an iguana or least wear red around them.