Archived entries for Caribbean
The streets of Bridgetown:
The waves can be rough! I got swamped even as I walked quite a distance away!
I love warm weather, and this weekend checked out the highly touristed New Providence Island in The Bahamas, home of the tiny nation’s commercial and government capital, Nassau. Being in Nassau is roughly like being in any American city — just that it’s even more overrun with Americans than your typical U.S. city, kinda like Cancun is. Last Christmas I received a stay at the over-size Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and finally got around to using it. The super-sized resort was a bit like Disney + Vegas on crack. Massive scale, massive crowds, and massive prices. That said, I spent most of my time wandering the streets of Nassau and found a few highlights: Thai Lotus (more than passable food on a quiet back alley), and late nights at Cafe Europa and Flamingo Cigars taking in the tasty local brew, Kalik.
The outrageously cool aquarium in the lobby of the Atlantis:
A cool building in downtown Nassau:
This week I was down in Santo Domingo, you know, that Dominican city that tourists don’t know much about. Far removed both physically and psychologically from the American-filled beach towns of Puerto Plata and Punta Cana, Santo Domingo is my kind of town. But then again, I’d take a city over a beach any day. Lack of potable water aside, it’s a vibrant and beautiful place of heartbreaking contrasts. Bet you didn’t know it’s the second-biggest city in the Caribbean (although some estimates say it’s bigger than Havana).
Here are a few snaps from around town:
Catedral Primada de América – first cathedral in America:
Plazoleta Padre Billini:
La Briciola, a fine restaurant in a really cool setting:
There are many rules in life — don’t wear pleated pants; don’t fly mix gin, wine and beer; don’t date men from Upstate New York — and one of my own rules in life I violated this week. It the was the no-Cancun rule. I’ve always had this policy not because I hate Mexico (on the contrary), it’s because I have a problem with the American Midwest. And since Cancun is essentially 600,000 people from Dallas and Detroit crammed into a strip of sand about as wide as a knitting needle, I have had my objections.
Well imagine my surprise when I landed at Cancun’s shopping mall of an airport, amidst a flurry of flights from Edmonton (2 of ’em!), Toronto (4 of ’em), Montreal (3 of ’em), Vancouver, and Calgary. Who knew this attracted such a diverse crowd (of Canadians). The water here is so blue!
Cancun has always struck me as a bizarre sort of place. Not many people know that 40 years ago this sprawl of hotel chains packed cheek-by-jowl didn’t even exist. Some who vaguely know the history of the place think a computer picked the site for this newish megaresort town. (The tourism people tell me this version’s of Cancun’s birth is a legend. They say the choice was man-made and hand-picked, not computer-generated.) Regardless, Cancun is artificial and to a great degree feels that way, a developer’s interpretation of paradise.
• Same latitude as Honolulu.
• 600,000 people live here.
• This huge city, amazingly, did not exist four decades ago.
Everyone knows I’m not exactly a dog lover (well, more like not a lover of bad dog owners), but The New York Times today has a great spread on Puerto Rico’s stray dog and animal cruelty issues…including a gallery of fabulous photos like this one.
I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I seem to bring good luck to places. You see, a few years ago, I arrived in Salt Lake City and within minutes Elizabeth Smart was found alive after her year-long captivity. Then on Thursday, I arrived in Santo Domingo hours ahead of the Rio Group summit, and within a day, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had suddenly become bff with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, whose country he seemed ready to eliminate mere hours before. Coincidence? Hmm…
(Well, now that I think about it, I suppose not all these events have been happy ones – I won’t even mention where I was when the Societe Generale scandal hit.)
• Formerly known as Ciudad Trujillo.
• It was 87 degrees here today.
• The oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas.
My friend Justin and I made the quick flight down to Aruba this weekend for a bit of relaxation and to celebrate my 25th birthday. Unlike my last trip here, I used sunscreen this time and am not suffering from a radioactive tan.
Last night we celebrated the fact I’ve lived so damn long by meeting up with a local friend for dinner at Sunset Grille, the restaurant that has been billed as the top restaurant in the Caribbean by Caribbean Life magazine. A bit intimidating sounding, but the service was understated, low-key, and simply amazing. The food was superb.
We had a true feast. On the menu was a sushi appetizer, champagne and strawberries (thank you Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman” for teaching me what to do when presented with that combo), martini salad (greens shaken in a martini shaker and presented in an oversized martini glass), fabulous beef from Argentina, flawless shrimp (Justin alleges; I won’t touch the stuff), as well as chocolate souffle and espresso. As if that weren’t enough food to make me feel like a beached whale, the restaurant surprised me with a birthday song sung in both Dutch and Papiamento (the local dialect) by the entire waitstaff, as well as a birthday cheesecake — after I’d already eaten the souffle — that I couldn’t turn down.
25th birthday views from my hotel in the Palm Beach section of Aruba. What a difference a few hours makes! In the distance, sixteen miles away, are the shores of Venezuela.
Oranjestad, the bustling capital of Aruba, is chock-full of interesting and colorful architecture. The commercial face of the place keeps changing as the cruise industry makes even more and more stops here: the downtown is now filled with Gucci, Mont Blanc, Louis Vuitton and other high-end brands that cater to cruisers. Luckily the occasional marauding goat can still be spotted stopping traffic on the streets of Oranjestad, keeping things real.
I snapped this shot recently as a flight I was on made landfall over Haiti. When flying, I always take the window seat. I have an excellent bladder and never have to get up to use the restroom (!), and I much prefer being able to gaze out at the landscape below than down the aisle of an Airbus. Today I received the book, Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air, in which the author explains,
“When, as a small child, you opened a book for the first time, the writing on the pages seemed incomprehensible. But as you acquired just a little knowledge, the letters resolved themselves into words, and the words into meanings. The same goes for reading the landscape. If you know what to look for, gazing out an airplane window is like reading an ever-unfolding scroll on which is written the life-size story of the continent.”
Aruba is an island of surprises. Throughout this weekend the surprises have tended to come in the form of lazy groups of goats crossing the road and stopping traffic as we screamed along back roads exploring the Dutch Caribbean island. Getting out and seeing parts of the island where tourists walking off cruise ships or staying in the high-rise beach hotels don’t often tread is something that has to be experienced to be believed.
Aruba is unlike any island I’ve ever been to. The landscape is almost extra-terrestrial, with vast swaths of land covered in coral instead of grass (parts of the island used to be underwater), and the remainder of the island blanketed with cacti and sand dunes that wouldn’t be out of place in Arizona. And the beach ain’t half-bad, either.
The donkeys and goats roaming freely along the narrow, rutted roads were cool, but the best part of visiting a place I’d never been has been meeting the locals and learning about the place through their eyes. On Aruba, “The Happy Island” (as the license plates declare), there’s no shortage of people who’ll volunteer a restaurant recommendation or an itinerary for a night out on the town–and then join you at the bar for an Aruba Ariba (Blue Curacao, Triple Sec, vodka, two kinds of rum, and fruit punch; I highly recommend it!) or locally-brewed Balashi beer (ditto). The friendliness of the Arubian people is promoted heavily in tourist materials, but it seems genuinely true.
This morning in Aruba I had my first experience of willingly allowing birds to claw their way across my arms. As I walked past a bird-handler (sorry, I’m having a moment–what are they called?), I was talked into playing with the birds “because it would make a fun photo,” he said.
The birds certainly had personality: one even let me hold him like a baby!
I have been looking forward to going to the Puerto Rican Day Parade, held today on Fifth Avenue in New York, and was not let down by the colorful spectacle.
It’s parade season in NYC and this one is second only to gay pride (two weeks away) in terms of energy level and crowd size.
The music booming along the route was fabulous! The midriff coverage could have been better, but it was a warm day. But the best bit of fabulousness was seeing Jennifer Lopez as the parade’s grand marshal, surrounded by swarms of police and bodyguards. When I saw her car drive past me this afternoon, I literally screamed with excitement and called everyone I know.
The story of the gay-bashing of CBS News producer Dick Jefferson and two of his friends as they vacationed in St Maarten is finally picking up some steam in the press. Today, Good Morning America featured an interview by Jeffrey Kofman with two of the victims.
Dick was knocked unconscious with a four-pronged tire wrench; one of his friends, Ryan Smith, is in a Miami hospital with a crushed skull. Ryan’s boyfriend jumped onto the hood of their assailant’s speeding car to avoid being run over by it. The story is awful enough, but the gravity of the situation really is compounded when you know the person; though I can’t say that Dick is a friend of mine, we have met on numerous occasions through mutual friends at CBS and he has always seemed charming and kind.
• From Kenneth in the 212: My Dick Gets Gay-Bashed
Let’s think about these three images for just a second. In the first, Aruba shows off its ironic advertising tagline, “Where happiness lives,” which is now especially appropriate since the disappearance of U.S. high school student Natalee Holloway who went missing during her senior class trip (from the richest town in Alabama) to the Caribbean island. Though her story, a classic example of missing white woman syndrome, is no longer leading the day’s newscasts, there is still action happening. The governor of Alabama is calling on Americans to boycott Aruba for what he considers a mishandling of the Holloway investigation.
In the second, Celine Dion shows off Bobbi Brown Bronzer gone awry. If there was ever a makeup equivalent of the Web site, Awful Plastic Surgery, the darling of Quebec would surely make the splash page.
In the third, a new Air Canada advertisement targeting the gay community leads me to wonder if the airline’s market research told them that gay travelers will get sucked into an airline with the promise of big planes and a good ride