Friday, May 31, 2019

Plane Spotting on St. Maarten's Maho Beach

Visiting St. Maarten beaches supplies a lot of sunny highlights. This 37 square-mile, two nation island boasts 37 beaches for every mile, offering countless chances to sink your toes into soft, pearly sand and turquoise waves. All of the beaches have their own individual charm but only one is known around the globe for something other than sandy beauty.

Maho Beach is the famous beach  on the Dutch side of the island where the airplane runway almost meets the sand. I've seen countless photos and videos of planes swooping over the beach (There's even a Beach Cam to monitor the landings) and I was excited to grab a firsthand experience. Maho Beach is perched at the end of Maho Bay and the water glistened with crystalline waves when I waded in. Within 10 minutes, the sound of a jet rumbled  in the sky and a plane flew over my head as I splashed in the water. It's a crazy experience that adds to the excitement of being on a Caribbean beach. I visited Maho four times while I was on St. Maarten and seeing the planes never got old. What did get old was fumbling for a phone to take a pic if I was on the sand.  I never managed to be prepared so these pix don't capture the full drama of a plane flying just a few feet over your head as you lounge on a beach. It's not a tranquil beach, to say the least but it's definitely a bucket list-worthy activity.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Next Stop: St. Martin/St. Maarten

This week, I'm off to the bi-cultural island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. I'll be attending the St. Martin/St.Maarten Annual Regional Trade Show (SMART) where I'll be meeting with reps and leaning more about the island. St. Martin/St. Maarten is famous for Maho Beach, which is located at the end of Princess Juliana International Airport, shown above, as well as being the smallest parcel of land shared by two counties, France and the Netherlands. I'll be checking out the sand -hovering planes on Maho Beach as well as  exploring the French side and Dutch side of the island. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

South African Music and Dance

South Africa is an exciting country. No matter where you are, in a big city like Johannesburg, or a rural village, there's always music, dance or art incorporated into the environment, usually all three. African culture does not separate art and culture from everyday living but I was still taken aback by the exuberant sounds and dance I witnessed everywhere I traveled in South Africa. I love African music and dance, it connects on a deeper level than anything  I've seen in the West. So experiencing the varied rhythms, movements and emotions of live South African music and dance was a joyful treat. Check out a few of my faves from Durban, Isithumba and Cape Town, in the videos below.

These Zulu women mesmerized me with the power of their harmonies and the emotions bursting through the song. I don't understand Zulu but I felt every single verse of this tune.

Full of high spirits and excitement, these dancers in Isithumba cultural village called up the power of traditional Zulu dance. They pulled me into it at the end and throwing my leg up that high was not quite as effortless as it looks, lol.

This group supplied high energy singing and dancing on Cape Town's waterfront. It felt like a church revival mixed with a turn up attitude.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Next Stop: South Africa!

Photo by Lina Loos

During the coming weeks, I will be exploring the landscape, people and culture of South Africa. I can't even begin to explain the level of excitement I feel for this opportunity to dive into the complex and dynamic history and traditions of South Africa I've been invited by South Africa tourism to attend Africa's Travel Indaba 2019, which is the continent's largest travel show.  I'll learn about tourism initiatives from countries all over the continent  (including many sustainable ones) and then visiting Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.  My itinerary is packed with too many activities to name them all but highlights include a visit to a Zulu Village, Table Mountain, shown above, Cape Town wineries and a Big 5 safari. I'll also be investigating the conditions and changes of South African citizens 25 years after the end of apartheid, as well as relief efforts after the devastating floods in Durban last week.  Please stay tuned for photos, videos and posts!

Friday, April 19, 2019

African American History in Accra

The year 2019 has ushered in a lot of political and social turmoil for African Americans. The foundation of the U.S. is crumbling and it's revealing the ugly underbelly that has informed many things about how this country operates. Knowing and understanding history is always crucial but especially now. 2019 marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans left the shores of Ghana and arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.  Ghana is commemorating this history with The Year of Return 2019, a celebration of concerts, performances, symposiums and events to welcome back the Diaspora. I was honored to join the inaugural Year of Return journey with The Adinkra Group  last August. Besides supplying a tangible re-connection with my heritage, I was able to explore the rich Pan African history of African Americans in Ghana.

The first thing I ever learned about Pan Africanism was that African American scholar and activist W.E.B. Dubois was a leading advocate and was also a delegate at the first Pan African Congress . I knew that he had lived in Ghana but I didn't realize that he spent the last decades of his life in Ghana, writing the Encyclopedia Africana at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah. Today, Dubois' Accra home houses the W.E.B. DuBois Centre for Pan African Culture. I roamed through the museum, taking in his books, academic robes lined in Kente cloth and photos.

The center also features a guesthouse with rooms named for famous Pan Africanists like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Dubois and his wife Shirley are buried on the grounds, surrounded by a garden. Nearby, the African American Association of Ghana and the Diaspora African Forum hold regular meetings.

Ghana is surrounded by eerie "slave forts," a reminder of the brutal Trans Atlantic Slavery history. One of the most famous is Cape Coast Castle, which thousands passed through to be caged and shipped to the Americas. It is an important pilgrimage for Africans in the Diaspora to return to these places where our ancestors were ripped from their homes. I entered the dungeons and cells of Cape Coast and cried throughout the experience. I walked through the infamous "Door of No Return" but I felt spiritually uplifted when I turned around and went  back through. I did return and I felt my ancestors rejoice.

On the side of the women's dungeon, a plaque commemorates the visit of President Obama and First Lady Michelle. It felt comforting to know that my fellow Chicagoans had made this important journey as well.

The door of return opens to the shores of the Atlantic, with traditional fishing boats sitting on the sand. A couple of hundred years ago, there was a different kind of boat waiting.

Another major landmark is Black Star Square. This stadium hold 30,000 seats and is the largest in Africa. The Black Star references the star on Ghana's flag, which was inspired by Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line. The Black Star Line was a steamship corporation that transported goods to members of the African Diaspora. But the line is most famous for  transporting African Americans, tired of the racism, violence and inequity of the U.S, back to the Motherland. Over 100 years ago, the idea of returning to Africa was new and appealing. Today, the idea is not so new but the appeal is growing even more. I met dozens of African Americans who have moved to Accra and Kumasi, happy and secure in a country that treats them respectfully and offers lots of economic opportunities. Ghana reminded me why it's important to remember your history and also that we have the power to reject repeating history and to create new experiences.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Live Reggae in Jamaica

Music is one art form that transcends language, culture and location. If you want to understand a destination better, listen to the local music, preferably live. Jamaica is famous for reggae music and there's is absolutely no better place than the island's lively streets, beaches and clubs to hear the genre live. The breezy melodies and thumping rhythms of reggae jump to life in Jamaica. I was fortunate to hear legends like Mykal Rose, Beenie Man and Marcia Griffiths during VP Records 40th anniversary of classic reggae music.  You can check out my brief videos of the shows below but they don't even come close to the magic of hearing it live. I can't even describe the feeling of listening to live reggae in Jamaica. It's an integral part of the culture that dives right into your soul.  Jamaicans love their native music and you will always hear them singing along to live performances with as much passion as the singers. It's like a family reunion/neighborhood sing along/ with a stage and gracious and gifted musicians. As they say in Jamaica, "no vibes sweeter."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Winter Remedy: Montego Bay's Doctor's Cave Beach

Beaches have always been a source of happiness for me. The tranquility and ease that transmits to me through the water instantly relaxes me. I have quite a few favorite beaches around the globe but Doctor's Cave is my go to spot whenever I'm in Montego Bay.  I was lucky to stay right on the beach at the new S Hotel Jamaica so I spent four days straight on this historic beach, soaking up the sun.

Doctor's Cave is a small beach with a busy cafe and a few other amenities. But my favorite things are the lush, almond and sea grape trees that dot the sand. I prefer to sit under one of these instead of using an umbrella.

The sand is fine and soft and the water is clear, with gentle aquamarine waves that lap around you. Week days when there are no cruise ships are the best because the beach is relatively quiet. The weekends are a whole other thing but as long as you arrive early, you can snag a spot on the shore.

The cafe sells lots of over-priced tropical cocktails but the best thing to drink under the hot Jamaican sun is fresh coconut water. Local vendors will slice a coconut open for you with a machete and then slice it some more after you drink all the water so that you can eat the jelly inside.  I can't think of a more perfect way to spend a winter day.