Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Horseback Riding with Honey

I love horses. One of my favorite activities wherever I travel is to go horseback riding. There's nothing like exploring a place on horseback, grabbing a totally different perspective. Sometimes, the horses don't always love me back. I've ridden bossy horses that refuse to move. Hungry horses that insist on snacking on nearby bushes instead of galloping and nervous horses that spook  if I dare to hold their reins a tad too tight. So when arrangements for my horseback ride on Amelia Island were planned, I requested a friendly, gentle horse.  Those qualities can be relative but with Debbie Manser, owner of Amelia Island Horseback Riding, I was well taken care of. She paired me with Honey, shown above. I've never met an animal that personified their name quite so perfectly as sweet-natured Honey.

We rode along a luminous stretch of American Beach just as the sun was about to set.

Debbie guided Honey along the shore and even in the water's edge. Honey trotted slowly and galloped carefully, according to what she sensed that I needed.  I took in the beauty of the dunes and the lapping waves without a worry.

Debbie takes in rescue horses and expertly trains them so that they respond to every command. As you can see, Honey even poses for photos!   It was the most beautiful and pleasant horseback riding adventure that I've ever experienced. After the sunset, I gave Honey a treat, which she gobbled eagerly, almost as eagerly as I'll be heading back to Amelia Island.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Garifuna Flava

If you've ever traveled to Belize, you may have glimpsed the richness of Garifuna Culture. The Garifuna, sometimes called Black Caribs, are of mixed African. Arawak and Carib ancestry and live primarily along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Honduras and Guatemala.  The Diaspora community also gathers in major American cities and Chicago is fortunate to be one of them. I have many Belizian friends and have always enjoyed spicy Belizian food but I never experienced the full gamut of Garifuna specialties until I visited Garifuna Flava, a wonderful restaurant on Chicago's South Side.

I could live on the  crispy, golden goodness of panades, deep fried mini empanadas stuffed with fish, all by themselves.  They are served with varying levels of scorching hot sauce but they really are flavorful enough without it.  Garnaches are another popular appetizer.  They're thin tostadas topped with re fried beans, cheddar cheese and ketchup that I've never developed a taste for, mainly because I'm too busy gobbling panades.  Like the people, Garifuna cuisine mixes Latin, Amerindian and African influences.   The hudut, which is an important staple of mashed plantains that accompany the intriguing variety of stews, is similar to the West African fufu as well as the Puerto Rican mofongo.  Hussein, one of the gregarious owners, guides newcomers through the menu as well as the culture.  Reggae, Punta Rock and Garifuna rhythms by Andy Palacio floats through the eatery as heaping platters of food arrive.

Of course, I had to have the red snapper, served with rice and pea, plantains and ducunu, a freshly grated corn pudding served in the corn husk.  Other delights include darasa another popular staple made from  mashed green plantains, stewed pigtails and a spicy tomato-based sauce, oxtail stew, steamed king fish and conch fritters.  There's a full bar supplying tropical drinks and more excuses never to leave the place.  If you never make it to Belize, I think Garifuna Flava serves up an authentic cultural excursion.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hang Gliding Over Lookout Mountain

I like adventure. There's something about pushing yourself past the familiar and grabbing a new experience that always excites me. So when offered the chance to fly over Tennessee and Georgia, from the stunning Lookout Mountain, I literally jumped at the opportunity.  I toured Chattanooga, Tennessee on a sponsored press trip and nothing will stick in my memory like hang gliding. A lot of people assume that's it's a frightening experience but I frankly am more afraid flying inside of an airplane. I felt no abrupt stomach drop, no heart palpitations, just the breezy sensation of flying through the air.  As I blew over trees and pastures with my instructor Eric ,I felt like I was riding a kite.  It was fun and intoxicating. What travel adventure will you always remember?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Fauna Fountain

I've seen a lot of things during my travels but I've never seen a fountain like this.  It stands in a sunny corner of historic Fernandina Beach and it looks like a creative art installation. I stared at it for a long time, trying to discover exactly what its for. Washing dishes?  Splashing nearby plants?  Look closely.  There's a tiny fountain at the bottom, a huge fountain at the right and a normal sized fountain on the left.  What in the world do you do with all of them?  Turns out that this is the Duryee Fountain, built in  the 1870s, by the wife of an army officer.  She loved animals, perhaps a little bit more than humans so she commissioned this fountain to give water to horses, cats and dogs and humans! Now what did you think it was for?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pirates, Palm Trees and Shark Teeth

Amelia Island is a magical place. Not just because of the sun-drenched cobble stone streets, the Victorian architecture or its long stretch of pristine beaches.  Its the people, as warm as the Florida weather that makes it irresistible.    Apparently, I'm not the only one attracted to this little island.  Pirates loved to hide out on Amelia Island during the 17th and 18th centuries. Throughout the Fernandina Beach historic district, you'll find homages to these characters like the waterfront statue above.

And this life-like specimen that guards a local shop.

Palm trees also line every street and strip of land, just so you remember you're on an island.  These are my favorite, called pineapple palms because of the texture of the bark.

Palm trees often supply the only shade  on a sunny street, making them practical as well as pretty.

Apparently, Amelia Island beaches are studded with millions-year-old sharks teeth. I only found pretty shells but signs like the one above hang everywhere. Small maps, outlining the shape and names of the different shark teeth are routinely handed out at hotels.  When I began a tour of historic Fernandina Beach, I was greeted by the guide not with a handshake but a hand full of shark teeth!  I keep them with my other beach treasures, to remind me of Amelia Island's special qualities.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Shrimp Charades

Amelia Island's main town of Fernandina Beach is lined with sprawling Victorian houses, palm trees, cobblestone streets and, shrimp.  That's right.  Amelia Island is famous for creating the modern shrimping industry in 1900 and its annual Shrimp Festival attracts thousands to the tiny isle.  So yes, shrimp makes up a significant part of Amelia Island's identity.  Throughout Fernandina, whimsical shrimp sculptures dot the lush landscape.  The structures help raise funds for Mica's Place, a local domestic violence intervention center.  I loved spotting these silly creatures wherever I journeyed on the island, they each display a particular personality.  The mosaic shrimp above is called Cool, Coastal, Captivating Cutie and she lounges in the park in the Fernandina Historic District.

This is Rock Shrimp and he's my favorite.  It helps that he hangs out right by the local ice cream and fudge shop but I love him for his rock star style.

The name of this sculpture is Fernandina Shrimp O'Maze and she shows various Fernandina landmarks  all over her body.

Brandishing a cutlass and a moustache, this shrimp made me laugh the most. His name is Jack Parrow-Prawn and he sports fierce guy liner!


It's hard to outdo sparkles.  This shrimp is called Jewels and she shines outside the door of a local jewelry store.

Overlooking Fernandina Beach harbor, on the porch of Brett's Waterway Cafe, perches Ariel, Shrimp a la primavera extraordinaire.  Her name is a little much for me but her mermaid theme is very cute.  Which shrimp is your favorite?