Sunday, October 31, 2010

Red Snapper Redo

I love red snapper. There's no other fish that inspires the joy and anticipation that this mild, flavorful aquatic dish provides for me. I can not resist ordering  fresh red snapper whenever I'm in the Caribbean or Latin America. Served with rice and peas, plantains or yucca, red snapper is the equivalent of  a comforting embrace, spiked with bursts of laughter.  I have a difficult time ignoring it whenever I see it on any menu so I was faced with a bizarre dilemma in St. Kitts. Every single restaurant I visited for dinner, featured a tempting version of red snapper.  So when I sunk my toes into the sands at Mr. X's Shiggedy Shack beach lounge, I just had to order the red snapper grilled with lemon and thyme, above.

When I dipped into the gorgeous, sun-dappled Spice Mill restaurant, I just couldn't ignore the spice-rubbed red snapper, topped with pineapple salsa, above.

When I joined with the gang  for dinner at the swanky Blu seafood restaurant at the St. Kitts Marriott above, the steamed red snapper was just calling to me. By the fourth day, I had munched on the tasty fish four days in a row and although I never grow tired of it, I felt that I was missing out on a potentially sensational Kittittian dish by focusing on red snapper. So I forced myself to not order red snapper on my last night in St. Kitts. Part of the problem is that I don't eat red meat or shellfish so my choices just weren't as exciting as red snapper for me. But I did it.  Rafael, a gregarious Dominican chef whipped up a special dish just for me. What was it? Another favorite mainstay, pasta. It wasn't very Kittitian but it was good. Do you have a favorite food that you just have to eat during your travels?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Cool Ruler Ends His Reign

It doesn't get any better than listening to Gregory Isaacs' smooth vocals on a balmy Jamaican night. His voice glided over lyrics, caressing them gently, like a Caribbean breeze.  I first heard him live at a concert in Mandeville, Jamaica and I've been a fan ever since. Decked out in custom-made suits with a fedora tipped rakishly to the side, he earned the name of the Cool Ruler, King of Lover's Rock, which combines the melodies of roots reggae with dancehall riddims.  Producing 500 albums over his 40-year career, he won a loyal following not just because of his singing skills but because of the vulnerability he displayed. He battled drug addiction for most of his life, entering rehab, losing teeth, and facing arrest constantly but he always managed to come back, his voice still lovely. Gregory died at 59 yesterday, from lung cancer, refusing any operations. His presence will forever be missed but his music lives on. The video below is of one of my favorite songs, "My Only Lover," which was Gregory's first hit in 1973. Listen to the Wailers band back him in this magical reggae ballad:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Biking in Basseterre

I'm a punk. I admit it. I love a good travel adventure but  in the end, St. Kitts managed to kick my butt. I'm a big biking fan, as my weekly rides on my tricked out, pink Raleigh attests. But I just wasn't prepared for biking in St. Kitts.  I trotted out for an early morning ride with my press comrades and quickly crumbled. What could be so tough about biking through a tiny and lovely little island you ask?

Well, for starters, we have the heat.  You'll never hear me complain about the sunshine and I adore hot, tropical weather. It's just that, a  95 degree temperature is not all that ideal for bike riding. See the wilted look on my face in the photo above? Notice the sweat glistening on my arms? That was was just the first 3 minutes.

Then we have the gorgeous Basseterre landscape. I was surrounded by verdant green vegetation everywhere I looked. The Caribbean Sea beckoned  over the hills. Hills. I somehow had forgotten how hilly St. Kitts is. You can't go two steps without encountering a hill, mountain or volcano.  Love climbing them but riding?  Let's just say that although I recognize the overall physical value of the escapade, I did not turn down our guide's offer to let me ride in his truck for the remainder of the two-hour ride.  The rest of my comrades stayed strong on their bikes and I watched proudly from the window of the truck as their muscles pulsed and the sweat poured.

We rode past the cemetery, which I declined to go through but the backdrop provided a stunning vista.

We rolled past the Government House, residence of the Governor General of St. Kitts. The armed guard allowed me to take a photo but he was serious about guarding the house, as you can gather from his expression.

This is the Government House, where the Governor General was not in residence at the time but that still didn't keep the guards and their guns from guarding it.  It's "protocol" we were told.

We rode into downtown Basseterre to the Circus, which is my favorite part. Modeled after London's Piccadilly Circus,  St. Kitts British colonial influence is prominently displayed with the bronze Berkeley Memorial Clock and the surrounding roundabout.  The ride back uphill was of course treacherous, I felt every steep incline radiating under the seat of the truck.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sailing St. Kitts Sky Safari

Zip lines may look like the latest travel torture trend but it appears a lot scarier than it is. Imagine flying above the trees, sharing views with birds and monkeys.  You get so captured by the sights that you forget that you're thousands of feet in the air. I've zipped through plenty of rain forests and tree tops but St. Kitts Sky Safari was a slightly different experience.

That's Kelly in the photo above. He helped my group cover our bodies in the pounds of required equipment. Unlike other zip lines, Sky Safari uses a carriage that you actually sit on, making it more comfortable and secure. The first contraption was a bodysuit/harness that would do any super hero proud. This was topped by a helmet and trolley carriage that we toted on our shoulders.

Here, Jody models the sexiness of the entire getup. With Mt. Liamuiga looming ahead of us, we flew through the rain forest at 1,350 feet. The first zip line is dubbed The Boss and it towers 250 feet above the rain forest.  That little line was nothing compared to Mango Tango, which measures 1000 feet in the sky. The platform is framed by a massive mango tree, which is where it gets its name.  Next there's Brimstone Blast, overlooking the historical Brimstone Hill Fortress and then River Rocker, which sails above Wingfield River.

The two-hour adventure supplied me with gorgeous panoramic views of the entire island.  Lush scenery surrounded me everywhere and I felt like I was connected to every aspect of St. Kitts natural elements.  It was a beautiful feeling and experience.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hiking The Himalayas With A Suitable Boy

I've been away for awhile, immersed in the vivid details of India. The Indian Himalayan mountain ranges are the loftiest in the world and though I've never witnessed them in person, I feel like I have an idea of what it might be like to scale them.  At 1474 pages, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, is one of the longest novels of the last century and the longest one -volume offering in the English language. It tops War and Peace and Ulysses in length and in the intimidating heft of the tome, which is saying a lot.  A Suitable Boy  is exhaustive in its scope of 50s era Indian life, examining everything from politics and castes, to religion and food.  I feel like I've spent weeks in India, observing ceremonies, talking with families and learning it's complex history and I'm both enlightened and tired from the experience.

Set in the early 1950s, shortly after the Partition of India and Pakistan and during the first elections after independence, the novel offers insight into the current challenges of the region as well as a well-developed perspective of arranged marriages and extended families.  A Suitable Boy chronicles the intertwined lives of four families as well as the search headed by Rupa Mehra to find a suitable husband for her 19-year-old daughter, Lata. Although it has been called a soap opera and the title implies a romantic tale, it is neither. Seth is neither sentimental or melodramatic with his characters and I appreciate that.  Of course, I identified with independent-minded, soft-spoken Lata, a college student who longs for the totally unsuitable Kabir, a handsome and poetic suitor who is Muslim and therefore not a good match for her Hindu background.  There's also Amit, a glamorous Brahmin who is a celebrated, if whimsical, poet who's also not from the right caste. Instead, her mother chooses Haresh, a socially awkward, gauche shoe-maker who wears flashy shoes 20-years out of style and speaks English with a comical accent. But Haresh is kind and thoughtful and most importantly, the right caste. It's easy to get upset by the rigidly narrow caste system and the unfairness of it all. Lata rebels and fights for her right to choose whom she will marry.  However, by the end of the book, I grasped a deeper understanding of how and why the system was adopted and why Rupa refuses to ignore it.

I also gained an in-depth look at Indian classical music, the courtesan lifestyle, land reform and the struggle for Muslim women's rights. Seth didn't use many literary flourishes, the writing is direct and at times pedantic.  But he makes up for it with rich detail: the characters love to sip nimbu paani (a drink of fresh lime juice and soda) eat musammis (a sweet orange) plucked from trees and douse themselves in candy-colored dye for the joyful celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of colors.  The only real problem I had with A Suitable Boy is that although Seth provides family trees for the four families, there is no glossary for the hundreds of Indian terms he scatters throughout the book.  I not only had to scale the Himalayas during this literary journey but I had to do it with a local phrasebook in my hand.  All in all, it's well worth the trip.