Friday, December 30, 2016

The West Coast of Maui

The natural beauty of Maui is everywhere, from the colossal banyan tree in the center of Lahaina, to the pristine beaches but I really absorbed the singular loveliness of the island while hiking the Kapalua Coastal Trail on the west coast.

The bays, beaches and volcanic rock presented an ancient portrait of the landscape and water. It was actually difficult to keep walking without stopping to gape every three minutes.

The trail requires moderate effort for the scenic rewards that it offers. It was a peaceful, uplifting experience and I'm soothed by just looking at these images.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Hawaiian Sunset Ceremony

Hawaii is loved for its natural beauty and easygoing lifestyle but what really attracts me are the people and culture. Polynesian culture is ancient and the traditions that have been passed down reflect a deep respect for the earth and community. I was lucky to witness a traditional Hawaiian sunset ceremony at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua on Maui. Many Hawaiian hotels feature cultural advisers who educate visitors about the culture and organize rituals that many would not get the chance to see. The sunset ceremony starts with the blowing of the conch or pu. Blowing the conch opens most Hawaiian ceremonies and rituals and represents the opening of the event and the sweeping away of negative energy so that it can start with positive intentions.

I took a short video of the conch being blown through the hotel to symbolize the start of the sunset. It's a signal to thank the daylight and prepare for the legendarily beautiful Hawaiian sunset.

This video shows the drumming of the pahu the Hawaiian sacred drum, which symbolizes the heartbeat of the day that is coming to an end. His chants or oli, acknowledges the light from all directions and welcomes the coming night.  I was grateful for this glimpse of Hawaiian ritual and it made me even more appreciative of the Maui day and night.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Next Stop: Maui

It's been a  year of non-stop travel adventures but I'm excited that my last trip of the year will surround me with the natural beauty of Maui. The Maui Visitors and Conventions Bureau have invited me to explore the ecological initiatives and natural landscapes of the island. I'll be taking in the legendarily stunning sunrise at Haleakala National Park, and hiking through portions of the park, pictured above. I'm going to visit a taro farm, which is the essential ingredient of the Hawaiian staple of poi. Native plant reserves and the Honolua Bay Marine Preserve will be another feature of my trip as well as a ride in a traditional outrigger canoe. Of course, I'll  also be going to a luau and sampling noted Maui cuisine. Please look out for photos and posts next week! Aloha!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Castro's Impact From A Cuban Perspective

BBC World News: "A Cuban in London" Mario Lopez Goicoechea reflects upon and remembers Fidel Castro Part 1 from Jamsheda on Vimeo.

The passing of Fidel Castro has stirred up intense emotions from every corner of the globe but I was thrilled to see my blogger friend Mario from A Cuban in London explain Castro's influence from the too rarely heard Cuban perspective on the BBC. Listen and learn.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tranquility Wrapped In Blue

I've never seen a place that embodied its tag line more perfectly than Anguilla. This little island is literally wrapped in impossibly blue water that melts into an equally blue sky. Just looking at these photos will decompress stress levels by 100 percent.

I was lucky enough to spend three days straight on Sandy Island, which is a little slip of sand off the coast of Anguilla. This pretty islet was the day time location for the Livin in The Sun music fest, where I soaked up the blue and listened to live DJs mix music all day. Yes, it was a very difficult situation.

The tranquility and beauty just overtakes you in Anguilla. The island has a quiet allure that doesn't need hype or giant resorts. It's an under-the-radar refuge that I miss already.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Next Stop: Anguilla

It's been a rough week so I'm especially excited to head to the gorgeous British Caribbean island of Anguilla. It would be enough just to experience the laid back culture and famous beaches of Anguilla but I'm going to be covering the inaugural Livin In The Sun Music Festival. The three day event kicks off this weekend and focuses on DJ's from around the world playing on Anguilla's pristine beaches. The multi-sensory experience combines music, art and since Anguilla is considered the Caribbean's culinary capital, food. I can't even wrap my head around all of the highlights but I'm looking forward to exploring a few of the island's 33 beaches, sampling local dishes and hearing DJ's from Italy, France, South African and Anguilla. The head-liner is Walshy Fire of Major Lazer so I don't expect to be off my feet very much. Please stay tuned for posts and videos!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Kyoto's Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Japan is filled with so many arresting sights. There were a lot of special experiences, so it's hard to choose where to start but I think it's always good to start with nature. One of the most iconic images of Japan is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

The grove towers with bamboo trees that play against the light pouring through the slender trunks. It would be the perfect place to meditate and take in the sound of the stalks swaying back and forth but I was there on a national Japanese holiday. It was culture day, which meant masses of locals were in the grove, strolling and taking photos. I saw loads of kimono clad girls and saffron robed monks but it was hard to focus on the magic of the experience.

The glimpse of serenity that I found was when I stood in front of this graveyard on the other side of the grove. The crowds just headed down the path as I paused and looked at the tombstones. I think that being buried near a bamboo grove is probably one of the most peaceful final resting places and it was there that the grove held the most tranquility.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Next Stop: Japan

For my latest adventure, I'll be exploring the beautiful and complex culture of Japan. I'm excited to be hopping the ANA Airlines inaugural flight from Chicago to Tokyo. My base will be the historic Imperial Hotel Tokyo, which has ties to Frank Lloyd Wright and my Oak Park neighborhood, so I can't wait to see another perspective of his architectural style. The hotel is noted for its elegance and service; I'll  even be assigned an attendant!  I'm looking forward to experiencing a  Japanese tea ceremony as well as a Shinto wedding. I'll also visit Kyoto and tour some of the city's famous shrines and landscapes. In between, I hope to visit Harajuku, a Kabuki theater performance and stroll the Imperial Palace gardens, pictured above.  Please stay tuned for posts and videos, maybe I'll even make it to one of those crazy pet cafes!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Beauty of Portugal's Pena Palace

I had been warned about the high energy of the stunning mountain town of Sintra. My guide Eddie told me that I would be able to feel the elevated vibrations as soon as I entered and he was right. I was heady with Sintra's special energy and the narrow cobblestone streets and 18th century architecture charmed me even more.  But nobody prepared me for the spectacular beauty of Pena Palace, perched on a craggy peak above the town.

The photos of the 18th century palace, built as a summer home by Portugal's King Ferdinand II, only hint at the magic. I don't think I closed my mouth during the whole time I visited the UNESCO landmark. I've seen a lot of castles and none except the mighty Alhambra have captured me like this.

Vibrant colors, intricate tiling, sculpture, stained glass and sweeping design entranced me at every turn.

Inside, the tapestries, crystals and carved furniture were nice but there's something about the views and mountain air that make the outside of Pena Palace just jaw-dropping. Have you ever been to Sintra?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fado in Lisbon

To me, nothing reflects a place and its essence more than the music that originates there. If it's hard to understand or explain a destination, you only need to listen to it's native rhythms for answers. Cuba has son. Jamaica has reggae. Spain has flamenco and Portugal has fado. What is fado? It's the passionate, dramatic music of longing that exemplifies the Portuguese spirit. Some call it Portuguese blues music.

Fado singers or fadistas are usually accompanied by Portuguese guitar (12 strings), viola and eight string bass. The tradition dates back to the 1820s and is usually performed in bars and cafes. The queen of fado or Rainha do Fado, is the legendary Amalia Rodrigues, , whose brilliant voice helped popularize fado internationally. I have been lucky to see contemporary fado singers Martiza and Ana Moura perform but I wanted to hear the music in it's home. So I walked through Lisbon's hilly cobblestone streets to Adega Machado, a popular fado house that's been open since the '30s.  In a darkened, intimate room, I listened to five fadistas pour their hearts out. Fado is all about feeling so it's hard to put the sound into words. All I know is that I heard the soul of Portugal in that room.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Next Stop: Portugal

This exciting year has been bursting with unexpected experiences and my latest will be a trip to Portugal! I'll be exploring the Cascais and Algarve regions of this distinctive country,which means flawless beaches, maritime history and historic sites like the Pena Palace pictured above. I'll be learning about Portuguese wine,food and the sailing culture. Highlights will include Sintra, Lagos City and Lisbon. Of course, there's no way that I would step foot in Portugal and not hear live fado music so please look out for a video of that. My trip is sponsored by the Portugal Tourism Board and I'm thrilled to be able to share aspects of this sunny nation. Please stay tuned for my Portugal posts!

Friday, September 30, 2016

An Unusual California Scene

In the picturesque mountain town of Mammoth Lakes,  California, striking views are everywhere, from cascading waterfalls and lakes, to ancient pine forests. But this image was one of my favorites because it's so unexpected. The kayaks are piled up near the lake and a man in yellow and black that mirrors the boats colors is napping in a position that almost looks like a human kayak. No, I didn't set this up. It's just one of the dozens of memorable scenes that I witnessed in Mammoth Lakes.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Scenes From The Merida Market

Browsing through a destination's market supplies so many revelations. The sensory overload of colors, smells and sounds show so much about a place and culture. I was excited to see Merida's Mercado Lucas de Galvez and I was not disappointed. The sprawling covered market offers everything from paella pans to pet parakeets. Walking through the endless aisles was like a lively tour of the kitchens and tables of a local house.

I was amazed to find that all of the fruits above are different variations of mangoes.

Spices are essential to Yucatecan cooking so peppers, herbs and spices were everywhere.

A whole section is dedicated to dulces or candy, which meant I was in heaven. I felt compelled to buy pounds of my fave cajeta, which almost required me to check my luggage at the airport.

But the most unexpected site for me were the vendors for fresh chicharrones or pork cracklings. I learned that Mexico is one of the world's top producers of pork rinds. Locals crowded around this vendor for bags of the popular snack. I don't eat meat so these didn't look tempting to me but it certainly gives Merida's market a flavor like no other!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Merida's Progreso Beach

The Yucatan is famous for dazzling beaches but the bustling capital city of Merida makes you forget that you're surrounded by coastline. So I was taken aback to glimpse the pearly sands of Progreso Beach just 20 minutes outside of the city center. Old fishing boats decorate the end of the beach and vendors stroll with Mexican candies and fruits.

Palapas line the beach for fresh seafood but I focused on the flawless stretch and gentle waves. The beach was quiet with only a few strolling locals but on weekends, it's a popular spot. I splashed through the Gulf of Mexico and lounged on the sand until I couldn't ignore the prospect of fresh fish any longer.

Yucatan cuisine is one of my favorites so I immediately ordered pescado tikin-xic, a regional fave of fish seasoned with achiote and other herbs and baked in banana leaves. Nothing beats the taste of freshly caught fish with an ocean breeze washing over you. Afterwards, I meandered down the malecon and soaked up the Mexican sun that always seems to shine the brightest on the Yucatan coast.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Nevis' Sunshine's Bar and the Legend of the Killer Bee

If you are on Nevis for even a few hours, you will hear about Sunshine's. Sunshine's Bar is the island's most famous hangout, where every visitor whether celebrity or beach bum, is required to make an appearance. Named for the gregarious owner, a burly man who will greet you with a smile as wide as the Caribbean Sea, Sunshine's is the ultimate beach bar, sprawled out on Pinney's Beach, with a thatched roof, rainbow-colored benches and communal tables.

The interior is lined with international flags and photos of famous guests. I saw Beyonce and Jay Z, Oprah and Britney Spears smiling back at me but I knew the draw wasn't to spot stars or to taste the  BBQ menu, which is very good. No, the real attraction is a cocktail called the Killer Bee. Every island has their own rum drink but this Bee elixir is more famous than Nevis itself. I had heard about Sunshine's Killer Bee from rum connoisseurs who sip bottles daily and they deemed the drink lethal. I don't know what exactly goes into the concoction, its such a secret that the bartenders mix it out of view but I do know that it knocks out professional drinkers, which I am not. Suffice it to say, I was totally skerd.  So much so that Sunshine took one look at my face and decided that he would make me a Baby Bee, with half the rum in a tiny cup. I sipped the sweet cocktail and as I watched some guests stumble around, I was thankful that I didn't succumb to the legendary Killer Bee.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Unusual History of Nevis" Cottle Church

Nevis is a tiny island but it packs a lot of history in its small space. I saw historic ruins and landmarks on every other road but for me, the most moving was Cottle Church. Hidden in the woods north of the capital of Charlestown, the ruins of Cottle Church stand as a reminder of  a time when slavery was rampant but glimmers of hope still existed. That hope was demonstrated when Thomas Cottle built the Anglican church in 1824 so that his family could worship along side the enslaved inhabitants of the plantation.

It was actually illegal for the enslaved to worship so Thomas was bucking the system on many levels. The church was never consecrated but this monument to religious freedom exists as a special landmark. Walking through the archways of the church, I felt the spirits of the dozens of enslaved people who worked all day, every day, and then prayed for freedom in this church.

The names and ages of all the enslaved plantation workers are listed on a wall of the church. It's fascinating to see the people who are highlighted for being born in Africa. This means that they survived the Middle Passage of being chained in a ship on the West African coast and sailing for months to the Caribbean. It's especially heartbreaking to see the number of children listed. Emancipation was granted in Nevis and other British colonies in 1834, so they would work and hopefully survive the brutal conditions for ten more years.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Glimpsing Nevis Peak

Nevis is a multi-faceted island. It might measure only 36 square miles but there are a lot of layers crammed into such a small area. I spent a lot of time whipping my head back and forth, trying to capture the natural beauty, the historic monuments and the people. With every scene, I spotted the tip of Nevis Peak beckoning in the background. Nevis Peak is a mostly dormant volcano that rises 3,232 feet high and serves as the island's main landmark. It's the highest point on Nevis and as I journeyed further up the island's hilly landscape, the volcano emerged clearer and clearer. Fog and clouds often obscure parts of the peak but I was lucky to view the entire volcano from a distance at the historic Montpelier Plantation Inn. Gazing fully at the peak surrounded by a lush meadow, I felt like I was finally meeting up with a hard to catch new friend.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Next Stop: Nevis

My island lovers dream will come true this week with an exciting visit to Nevis, the tiny sister island to St. Kitts. Just 36 square miles and with about 12,000 residents, Nevis defines the old school Caribbean lifestyle with a slow pace and community focused lifestyle. I will be covering the island's annual carnival celebration, Culturama, which commemorates emancipation from slavery in the 1830s with parades, parties and pageants. I'm thrilled to actually participate in Culturama's street parade, where I'll be donning a red feathered costume and jumping up with the locals. Please stay tuned for my posts about that festive experience as well as my visits to the Nevis capital of Charlestown, where Alexander Hamilton was born, the botanical garden, calypso shows and the island's famous, secluded beaches.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Flying High On Mont Tremblant With Birds of Prey

There's nothing more iconic than a bald eagle soaring over the mountains so I was excited to get a close up experience of this in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. At the summit of Mont Tremblant, a Birds of Prey show demonstrates the beauty and skill of native aviary predators. It was raining and cold but I was determined to see and grab some shots of the birds and I was rewarded with the image above. That striking profile against the sweeping mountain backdrop makes it my fave animal photo so far.

The falconer explained how there used to be only six nesting bald eagles in Quebec, just 15 years ago. Now, thanks to conservation and the banning of DEET insecticide, there are 200 nesting bald eagles in the region. We got the chance to see owls and smaller birds dive through the sky, and capture meals mid air but I liked the eagle the best. It's a rare thing to get so close to these majestic creatures and I feel lucky to have been close enough to gaze into its eyes. Have you ever grabbed a close view of an eagle?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Next Stop: Mont Tremblant, Quebec

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a huge fan of Quebec. I love the culture, the beauty and the hidden discoveries of the region. This week, I'll be traveling to The Laurentians, a mountain area just North of Montreal. Mont Tremblant is the main town, just brimming with charm, as you can see above. The region boasts 9,102 lakes, 103 rivers and two sprawling national parks. I'll be visiting the Mont Tremblant International Blues Fest as well as dipping into the Scandinavian outdoor spa in the Red River and exploring an alpine! aquatic! park. Please stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Another Kind of Cenote

The Yucatan is known for the Mayan ruins that blanket the region but cenotes, or underground freshwater pools,are another hallmark that I particularly love. I remember being dazzled by the sunbeams playing off the water at X-keken cenote near Chichen Itza so I was excited about exploring another one in Merida. The darkness of  the surrounding caverns and the Mayan belief that cenotes are the entrance to the underworld really make it a special experience.  So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the cenote topped by lily pads, above. Located right next to the stunning Mayan archaeological site of Uxmal,, I thought it was just a local pond. But I learned that there are actually three types of cenotes--open, closed and semi-closed. Each supplies a different kind of experience. I climbed down the rocks into the open pool and realized immediately that it was indeed different than my previous cenote dip. Tiny fish clung to my feet, nibbling at the dry skin! No matter where I moved, the fish followed. I know that some people pay money to get these "fish pedicures" in parts of Asia and big cities everywhere but  that's not what I was there for. It felt weird to have the fish nuzzling my feet, like somewhere between a tickle and a rub. After 20 minutes of this, I climbed out of the water and admired the cenote from a nearby rock instead. My feet were smooth and I felt like I had learned an important lesson about just how different cenotes can be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Next Stop: Merida, Yucatan Peninsula

One of my favorite regions of Mexico is the Yucatan Peninsula,which is brimming with vibrant history and a rich culture that's on display on every level, from the food, to the language and traditions. I'm excited to finally be visiting La Ciudad Blanca or the White City, as Merida is called because of the white limestone buildings. I'll be exploring the archeological sites of Dzibilchaltun, called the Temple of The Seven Dolls and one of the oldest Maya sites, dating from 300 BC and Uxmal, a Mayan town founded in A.D. 700 and declared a World Heritage Site. I'll also be dipping into a cenote or underground pool,which is a hallmark of the region and they always supply a magical experience. Of course, I'll sample the traditional food, music and fashion so look out for some interesting posts in during the next couple of weeks!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

5 Airport Hacks For Easier Travel

What happens when you are stuck in a long TSA line.

Airline travel has developed into a harrowing list of indignities and stupid regulations but no area holds more opportunities for agony than the airport security line. The lines are guaranteed to be long whenever you’re late for a flight. The TSA agents can be surly. You will most likely get stuck behind a family with five kids and multiple strollers. The possibilities are endless. But there are a few things that you can do to make the process easier. Here are my ultimate tips for a breezier airport security experience:

Start The Process Before You Arrive at The Airport
I really don’t understand why some people wait until they get to the airport to check in, print flight tickets and  discover flight and gate status.  They might as well bring  a sleeping bag for a long nap because that’s how long all that unnecessary maneuvering requires. All of these things can be done on a laptop or phone beforehand. Airlines now have apps that allow you to have electronic tickets and gate info at your fingertips on your phone. Or you can just check in online and send the ticket to your phone. These can save a lot of time that will be better spent powering through security lines.

And about those long lines: download apps like Miflight and WhatsBusy to learn security wait times before you hit the door. That way, you can plan your arrival accordingly. And for those who must get in line to check bags, you are creating more hassle for yourself on both ends. You wait in line to check bags, you wait for your bag at baggage claim. Of course, that’s assuming that your bag even arrives. Carry on, it saves money, time and worry. That’s is the most basic airline hack.
What happens when you don't check in before you arrive at the airport.

Consider Your Shoes
This seems like a no brainer but I continue to witness people unlace, unbuckle and squat on the floor to wrench off airline unfriendly shoes. The key is to wear shoes that easily slip on and off. And I’m not talking about flip flops because bare feet on grungy airport floors is just nasty. Stow your chic, complicated shoes in your carry on for after you land. Go for something that slides on or can be fastened in a second for an easier time in security.

Think About Accessories
Many travelers forget that the details of their attire can totally affect their TSA experience. Avoid wearing belts, bulky sweaters, zippered tops or too much jewelry unless you don’t mind spending extra time taking them off. Hair style is also an accessory so please re-consider towering updos and metal barrettes. I’m the queen of accessories and have lots of hair but I have learned the hard way to streamline my airport look. I leave off metal hoop earrings and pull my hair back with an elastic instead of a metal clip for quick security checks.
The necessary liquid you will need, in the form of a strong mimosa, when you miss your flight because of TSA lines.

Organize Your Liquids
The liquid regulations have been in effect for years but many people still don’t seem to get it. You can not bring full size bottles of shampoo, lotion or cologne through security. And forget about trying to slip through with bottled water, you will be instructed to toss it. If you can’t find travel sized versions, buy the three ounce containers that fill drugstore and beauty supply shelves and fill them up with your choice of liquids.Store them in a quarter ounce bag in the side pocket of your suitcase so you’ll always be prepared.

Be Alert

I know that it’s a hassle to be at the airport at the crack of dawn. I know that you barely had

time to sleep and you just want to get to your destination. But please, pay attention to the

line and what you’re instructed to do. Have your ID and ticket ready, not buried in the bottom

of your bag. Take your laptop out of your bag, move your belongings on the conveyor and

move to the line that you’re directed to follow. If you don’t, you’re prolonging the process.

Just follow all the directions and you’ll be out of the security line and headed toward your