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.





Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Night-time in Nafplio, Greece


Some places have a totally different atmosphere at night, transforming from one thing during the day, to another at night. Nafplio, in the eastern Peloponnese, is one of those places. This waterfront town is a lovely, sun-splashed paradise during the day, with palm trees lining the streets and horse drawn carriages. But as the sun dips, you see why it's considered one of the most romantic towns in Greece. The sunset over the ocean was hypnotic and the town looked like a twilight fairy tale.


Walking through the small courtyards and eating at a sidewalk cafe with the sea breeze wafting over me was thrilling. Nafplio  also boasts some mythical magic, it was reportedly founded by Poseidon's son Nafplios. My favorite experience was hearing a live opera singer in the square. Check it out in my video below for a taste of Nafplio night-time mystique:


Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Monday, July 30, 2018

Aegean Blue


I love large bodies of water. The waves, the salty sea breezes, the colors are all very soothing for me. In fact, just looking at these pix has totally relaxed me. I've dipped into many oceans and lakes but I can't remember being as excited as I was to swim in the Aegean Sea.  As I traveled all over the Peloponnese region, I learned a lot about Greece's geography. The country is actually made up of  roughly 6,000 islands and only 227 are inhabited. About 1,400 are clustered around the Aegean.


The Aegean is actually a long embayment of the Mediterranean Sea.  I've seen the Mediterranean from many countries and perspectives and it has never looked like this. The blue is a mix of turquoise, sapphire and cobalt and the different shades seem to flow into each other.


You can glimpse the Aegean all around the Peloponnese but I was lucky enough to visit several beaches and actually immerse myself in its beauty. It was cold but also very peaceful, none of the beaches were crowded and the waves gently splashed over me. The current Aegean coastline dates back to 4000 BC and I felt a special vibration while swimming. Water is always healing but I think that there's something extra in the Aegean.


Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Friday, July 27, 2018

Greece's Magical Mystras Castle


Greece is famous for its ancient monuments but my visit to the Peloponnese region revealed that there are so many more historic landmarks than the Acropolis and the Parthenon. In fact, the country is literally covered with ancient history, including 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of which is Mystras Castle Town.


Stepping into the Byzantine archways of Mystras is like strolling through Greek legends.  Founded in the 12th century, this mountainside town was once the center of the Byzantine empire, second only to Constantinople. Mystras was also where the last Byzantine emperor was crowned and you get a sense of the opulence of the period from the long frescos in the churches and the marble engravings of the castles and mansions.


Fortress, church and castle ruins are spread all over Mystras. There is a dreamy, otherworldly feeling that hovers over the place. The only permanently occupied structure is the Pantanasssa Monastery, which houses a group of nuns. There are usually not many crowds in Mystras so I enjoyed  a peaceful visit soaking up the history and mountain views.


Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Monday, June 25, 2018

Next Stop: Greece


This week, I'll be diving into the extensive history and culture of Greece, courtesy of Greek Tourism. My trip kicks off in Athens, where I'll visit the iconic Acropolis as well as the Monastiraki flea market. The rest of my journey is focused on the Peloponnese region, where I'll roam monasteries, the Mycenae and Epidaurous ancient sites, the town of Kalamata, which I'm especially excited to see as an olive fan, and wineries, caves and a beach! Stay tuned!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Chasing Waterfalls in Tobago


Many people consider Tobago as an example of the"true Caribbean." That means that this 120 square mile island isn't filled with resorts or tourist attractions and the traditional family-focused culture is still in tact. It was enlightening to view this small island from a local perspective as we traveled from the capital of Scarborough on the Southern coast, to the Northeastern tip of Charlotteville with my daughter's gregarious cousin Glen. Each town has its own feel and personality but the constant was the unspoiled, natural beauty and friendly people.


We hiked up to Argyle Waterfall and gained an eyeful of Tobago's beautiful landscape. The waterfall cascades down from 175 feet and after the sweaty hike, we were tempted to take a swim but the freezing water changed our minds. Instead we, dipped our feet in the stream and rested on the nearby rocks.


It was a soothing experience listening to the waterfall and watching fish swim by our feet. We had the waterfall to ourselves and only saw one  family passing through on our way out.  A laid-back, peaceful vibe is what Tobago is known for and the trip to Argyle Waterfall proved that this island still retains it's "true Caribbean" style.

Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Monday, June 11, 2018

Next Stop: Tobago


This week, I'm returning to the lovely island of Tobago and it's a homecoming of sorts. I'm taking my daughter to see her grandmother, they haven't seen each other since she was three-years-old. As a revered teacher on the tiny island, Hermia Yeates holds quite an influence so besides reconnecting, we will be meeting calypsonians, dignitaries and possibly even the prime minister.  Gobbling up doubles, chicken pilau and shark and bake will be major highlights of our trip as well as taking in the natural landscape. The last time I was on Tobago, I was there to see Wendy Fitzwilliam be crowned  as Trinidad & Tobago's second Miss Universe. I remember being swept up in the pride and euphoria and I also recall a certain narcissistic "billionaire" who owned the pageant and went on to open hotels on the island. It will be interesting to see the changes on Tobago as well as experience the island through my daughter's eyes. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Organic and I-tal Living in St. Lucia


Connecting with the landscape and native plants of a destination is one of my favorite activities when I travel so I was excited to have a personalized farm-to table experience in St.Lucia. But I had no idea just how pivotal the visit would be.  The I-tal , organic farm-to-table experience  at The Body Holiday is an absolute must.


St. Lucia is an especially lush, verdant island so wandering through the restaurant's garden with Chef Damien would have been fun even if we weren't gathering food to eat. He pointed out essential plants like callaloo, breadfruit and papaya and explained local uses for herbs like peppermint, basil and rosemary.


I picked a big basket of callaloo, which is one of my beloved island veggies. The sun was so intense that the plants buoyant leaves started wilting as soon as I cut them. Our group picked baskets and baskets of produce for our vegan meal.


And that's not where the participation ended. We diced tomatoes, eggplants, carrots and onions. Since I'm super clumsy, I avoided using the big knives and snapped the green beans for what turned out to be a five course meal using only ingredients from the restaurant's garden. Enjoying the different flavors and learning about Damien and his wife Ratanya was a major highlight. The chefs even made a special tea for me to drink for my cold. The open walled restaurant sits atop a hill so that you can take in a full view of the island's beauty. Eating at I-Tal restaurant and connecting with St. Lucia's landscape and people is the ultimate  sustainable travel excursion.


Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Next Stop: St. Lucia


This week, I'm off to my beloved St. Lucia. It's been a few years but there's always something new  or requiring another turn on this gorgeous island. I'll be reviewing St. Lucia Jazz Fest,  which I haven't visited since Amy Winehouse performed her last show there in 2009.  That was a sad and unforgettable experience so I hope to create new, more positive memories at the rebooted fest, which actually focuses on jazz music this time. The line up  features  mostly Caribbean jazz artists so I'm excited to hear the shows. I'll also make a necessary stop to Soufriere volcano and sulphur springs as well as my first visit to the legendary St. Kitts Caribelle Batik at their St. Lucia location.  Videos, pix and reviews coming soon so please stay tuned!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

St. Thomas Carnival and African Heritage


Everybody loves Carnival. A lot of people think that it's just a big, colorful excuse to party but there is so much historical significance to the practice. Carnival literally translates to "farewell to meat" in Latin. It represents the Lenten tradition of the Catholic church to sacrifice during the month leading up to the resurrection of Jesus. A big party preceded the month of sacrifice. Spanish and Portuguese colonizers brought the tradition to North and South America. But as I watched St. Thomas Carnival, I was excited to see the Shaka Zulu troupe above, because so much of contemporary Carnival culture incorporates African culture. Enslaved Africans weren't allowed to join the Carnival celebrations so they created there own. All the feathers and masks used for costumes directly relate to African ceremonial style. The masks and feathers were used to invoke spirits.


And the Mocko Jumbies or Stilt walkers?  Most Virgin Islanders recognize them as a direct link to their West African heritage. These costumed figures are an important part of African religious ceremonies and rites of passages, adding spiritual protection to the events. Usually, they wear masks or a face covering but that St. Thomas sun was blazing so I don't blame this Mocko Jumbie for leaving off her mask!


The music, the dancing, the costumes of Carnival all display African traditions.  So the next time you jump up or watch a colorful carnival procession, please don't forget to thank Mama Africa!

Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Next Stop: St. Thomas


It's been a long while since I visited the lively Rock City, also know as St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. After 2017's Hurricanes Maria and Irma, I covered how the VI was affected and how to help. This week, I'll get the chance to observe the recovery firsthand and see how legendary vistas like Magens Bay, shown above, have fared.


I'm also excited to attend St. Thomas Carnival! I'll be watching the kids parade, sampling goodies at the Soca Village and maybe even participating in the adult's parade, so please keep a look out for posts and videos!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Design Beauty of Guadeloupe's Mourne-a-l-Eau Cemetary


I'm not a fan of wandering through cemeteries and hanging out among the graves but Guadeloupe's Mourne-a-l-Eau cemetery is a beautiful exception. Set atop a hill, most of the crypts are covered in black and white tiles that resemble little checkerboard houses.



The first thing I learned is that you should never enter a Guadeloupe cemetery or church without knocking first. So I knocked on the gate and roamed though the rows of intricately decorated tombs. The black and white design is supposed to represent the black color for mourning in Europe and the white color for mourning in Africa.


Many of the crypts looked like miniature homes, complete with spaces for mourners to sit and commune with their ancestors. Some people even hire architects to create their tombs. I've never seen anything like Mourne-a-l-Eau, although I did spot smaller versions as I traveled through Grande Terre. To me, the beauty of these final resting places reflect Guadeloupe's respect for the cycle of life.  Do you like to visit cemeteries?


Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates

Friday, April 6, 2018

Discovering MLK on Guadeloupe


The islands of Guadeloupe presented me with quite a few surprises. I didn't realize that the main island is really made up of the twin islands of Grande Terre and Basse Terre.  And there are also three other islands that make up Guadeloupe to add to the confusion. That was just the first unexpected experience. Spotting a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a Grande Terre street was another.



I've always been a big fan of graffiti art. It gives a creative glimpse of the local communitiy's focus and concerns. Seeing MLK told me a lot about the locals pride and awareness. I actually watched the artists complete this mural, they had just started it the night before.


Street art is always interesting but witnessing an American icon be painted on a French Caribbean wall was certainly an image I'll always remember.

Photos by R. Cummings-Yeates