As a non-surfer I was surprised to see the number of boards being loaded off the plane. I didn’t realize that one or two of the atolls were ranked in the top 30 best surfing spots in the world. My prior knowledge was mainly about the over water bungalows, expensive resorts, and the fact that the country is sinking! This is the closest I got to one of those luxurious accommodations:
I stayed with the locals on the most populous island of Male, also the capital city.
While it took forever to get there from here….San Diego to Seattle to Tokyo to Singapore to Colombo to Male and many many hours in airports between flights….it was an enjoyable visit albeit much shorter than the journey.
The streets were more like alley ways and bikes were the preferred method of travel along with boats. Because it is part of a traditional trading route, the food embodies the spices and tastes of Indian food combined with lots of fish. Since it is a Muslim country one is not allowed to bring in any alcohol or pork products. And one is forbidden to take out any sand or seashells! Tourism and fishing are their major sources of income.
Villingili is an island just a short ferry ride away where one can leave the heavy foot traffic of the city and enjoy some peace, quiet and cooling feet in the warm Indian Ocean. Western style swimsuits for women are restricted to the private resort atolls.
I was lucky to discover an alternative to exploring the underwater caves and reefs. There is a submarine that has been outfitted with a large porthole at each seat that descends over 130 feet stopping to see colorful reefs, fish and even what looked like a two-headed eel!
Truly a paradise….hard to tell the sky from the sea!
Before leaving I read an account of how millions of dollars of foreign aid to Haiti, after both the 2010 earthquake and the 2016 hurricane, were not spent wisely so I knew not to expect to see a country in recovery. I soon discovered a gross understatement of any relief success. After a couple of hours I was ready to leave. My hotel room was not ready and I was told to wait there because it was not safe for me to go “exploring” alone. So I was forced to spend a couple of hours in their patio restaurant with a sandwich and bottle of water at high resort prices.
Later I was able to hire a local guide to walk with me through the city. Jean was originally from Uganda but had lived in Haiti for years. He showed me the scars on his head where he was hit with falling bricks and was most gallant in leading me through the ravaged neighborhoods making certain he was on my outside navigating through traffic and then again when some men on a corner made some, what I assumed to be, disparaging remarks about me.
There is no traffic control and the huge potholes are the least of their problems. When a gust of wind hits it’s not dust that flies up, it’s dirt and garbage. There are make shift shacks everywhere and the famous iron market runs around and through the area.
I had an opportunity to talk with various aid workers, volunteers and directors of projects. While I have no expertise in how to solve any of the problems facing the Haitians nor do I speak Creole or French, I was amazed with the people’s fortitude and ability to survive in such conditions.
My observations confirmed what I had read about misspent funds, NGO’s not knowing how to best help, and countries like the U.S. hiring their own companies to do the work even though they didn’t speak the language or know who to trust. A representative of Alnap, an international network of humanitarian agencies explained that: “The coping strategies of local people were overlooked. Opportunities to support local businesses were missed and this explains the mixed reception foreign humanitarians get in the country. With an estimated 10,000 non-governmental organisations operating there, locals ironically refer to Haiti as an “NGO republic”.
Seven years later the country has little to show for the billions of foreign cash received and the economy doesn’t show any signs of improving. However there are a few areas of Haiti that exhibit a different lifestyle like the hillside suburb of Petion-Ville with its beauty salons, fitness gyms and restaurants as well as the private cruise ship port at Labadee.
Since my divorce 20 years ago I have lived alone and have slipped comfortably into the skin of an introvert. The fact that I have a large loving family made it easier to not seek out new friends. I am working on this however.
Recently I went on a group hiking trip in Italy with my two daughters, 10 strangers and a couple of guides,also new to me. On day one we started out at 11 in the morning and hiked for about four hours, waiting until evening to formalize introductions.
Inspired by a glass of wine (might have been two) I somehow suggested that it would be fun if I introduced everyone instead of going around the circle and telling something about ourselves. What was I thinking? My daughters thought this was hilarious and encouraged the group to let me give it a try. While trudging along I had time to visit with others as my daughters surged ahead and the new me was practicing their names and asking questions instead of talking about myself.
my My new friends were intriguing : among them were a former competitive ballroom dancer, an international driver of road rallies, one of the best orchestrators in the world and of course, local Italians, with many talents!
By the time I reached number fourteen I was actually sweating. Thank goodness everyone was gracious and helped me out when I got stuck.
I’ve always made use of public transport while traveling and have found it to be reliable and cost-effective. However, this time I was staying in a less touristy area of Paris and found many of the streets to be under some sort of construction. No one at the hotel seemed to know where the alternate bus stops were or perhaps they simply could not explain it to someone with severely limited comprehension of French.
My daughter and I were off to the French Open Tennis Tournament, a bucket-list item, and were frustrated with our inability to find the right bus. After several attempts at asking for help, a gentleman responded to my inquiry with a sexy accent in English and said, ” oh no, take oohbear, and hurry, the tennis starts at 11!”
A word of warning to others who have used viagogo to buy tickets: The official French Open site has broken ties with them and made it most difficult for us to enter. After waiting in line with everyone to gain access to the site, entrance was refused and we had to wait in another long line to fill out forms and answer questions. The stress level when we finally were admitted kept us both from even remembering who we saw that first day. Luckily the second day tickets were official and some of the best seats in the stadium! We watched Rafael Nadal at close range win his first match as easily as he won his last one.
In 1990 all 13 of my mother’s children got together to celebrate her 70th birthday in Minnesota. Some of us came great distances including my brother who buzzed the house in an F-86 Sabre Jet from Pt. Mugu, CA to Duluth Air National Guard Base, scaring everyone but announcing his imminent arrival to her party. I don’t really remember which one of us helped organize this tribute to Mom but it was a grand occasion that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
With my 70th approaching I wanted to make sure that I too would have my children with me. They are both accomplished young women who could easily afford their own trip but their vacation time from work is probably more valuable to them and I wasn’t convinced they’d want to spend it with me especially since we all live within a few miles of one another. So I did what any “tiger” mother would do and bought a package for the 3 of us!
We met in Turin, Italy after flying different airlines to ready ourselves for a 6 day hiking adventure with Backroads Active Travel, staying in delightful inns, getting our daily exercise and enjoying both the scenery and each other. Pictured below is the finish line in Portofino after the last hike followed by the good-bye dinner the next evening!
It was time that my mother’s gifts to me were paid forward. Truly this experience was one of the best birthdays to date! P.S. my cake……chocolate lava with gelato.
There have only been a few occasions when I didn’t enjoy spending time with a fellow traveler. Usually I will come away with at least one new locale that would be added to my list of places I needed to visit. Sometimes it is only a restaurant or a shop but I’m always on the lookout for a country my new friend has explored and loved. What fun it is when I return with a previously uncharted new dream.
I am always amazed by those who have embarked on a long journey without any specific timeline. Often these wanderers seem to “go with the flow” not even sure where they will end up. I am no longer that much of a free spirit…money, lodging, the next meal, transportation and comfort all weigh on my mind more these days. That said, I’m not so rigid that I could join a group for an extended period with everything planned on a tight schedule. I guess I’m somewhere between.
I have done two multi-month trips in my life; once when I was twenty and another when I was fifty-five. Both times I went alone and managed to have a wonderful time. At sixty-five I packed up and moved to a foreign country for a year and a half, again by myself. Again it was a delightful experience but found out I wasn’t ready to “settle-down”, I still had the travel bug and it is much easier to find great fares out of the USA.
I did meet an Australian woman in the Galapagos, close in age to me, who had never stopped like I did for years to raise a family. We had fun for a few minutes comparing adventures until I ran out and she was able to “ramble” on. Needless to say, I came home with a long list…..and hopefully enough years to catch up!
Kuwait has always been all about boats….although, probably not like the ones in the harbors, the marinas and on the beach today. Their history chronicles Kuwait City origins as a fishing village that became a major commercial center for trade between India and Arabia.
Soon oil became both a boom for them and then a bust. A trade embargo in the area also hurt their economy but today the nation’s focus is on the financial industry. They were ranked the 4th richest country in the world per capita according to the World Bank in 2016.
As I mentioned before, Kuwait doesn’t cultivate tourism. There are few people using the endless promenade, the beaches or the cultural center. Even the market place was relatively empty.
Other than the speeding traffic the other striking characteristic of this city were the cats…they were everywhere, scrounging around the rocks for fish, birds or rodents. I read where there are groups trying desperately to fund neutering and spading of these feral animals but they are not able to get ahead of the problem. I found an interesting link about one woman distributing 100 cans of cat food a day!