Category Archives: Caribbean

A Quick Trip to Bimini.

Bimini is the closest Bahama Island to Florida – about 51 miles away. We’d heard about the new high-speed ferry and thought we’d give it a try for a quick day-trip to the island.  It’s two hours each way and leaves from the Port of Miami. As my husband said this was a “one & done”, we won’t be doing this again, but we did have fun checking it all out and spending the day with good friends.

Here is what you need to know:

  • The ferry is absolutely freezing (they say it helps reduce seasickness); I am not exaggerating, take a blanket.
  • Maybe it helps to keep it cold, but people were still sick. Take meds in advance like we did and you should be OK. There was a large carton of motion sickness packets at the boarding gate – but it was empty.
  • Get a golf cart so you can drive around, they have 2 and 4-seaters and even some 6; it will set you back $50 for the day.
  • Resort has a small casino, it is closed during most weekdays.
  • There is no straw at the Straw Market.
  • Eat some conch salad – it will be good, conch fritters not so great. We had a nice lunch at the Big Game Club, one of Hemingway’s former hangouts.
  • Check out the Dolphin House Museum, it was charming; a work of love and tribute by a local craftsman/poet.
  • Trash cans on the island all seem to be from Miami-Dade?
  • If you do go by ferry, get a discount ticket on Groupon; a business class ticket will buy you a snack and drink along with your ticket.
  • On the ferry you can book water activities through the Resorts World Bimini & they do sell snacks, coffee and soft drinks to everyone on board.
  • Be sure to take your passport.
  • Divers wold enjoy the options here, for everyone else a few hours is enough.
  • Enjoy the views of the beautiful turquoise Caribbean waters.

Ashley Saunders master artist/ craftsman/ builder & poet. Takes visitors on tours of his 2-story Dolphin House Museum. No fee, but $5 donation from adults is very appreciated.

Have You Ever Eaten Cactus?

Prickly Pear Cactus.

Prickly Pear Cactus.

Well, prepared by the ladies at Antojitos Doña Pili in Cozumel, Mexico, it’s delicious.

Authentic quesadillas are a pretty basic affair in Mexico, a small tortilla (usually corn), a small amount of the main ingredient, and maybe a little bit of Oaxaca cheese.  Add salsa if you dare.

Nopales, from prickly pear cactus was our favorite of the local homemade quesadillas prepared for us at the first of our six stops during our amazing Mexican food tour.  We also tried tasty poblano pepper as well as huitlacoche, which is a mushroom-type fungus that grows on corn and was bland without the sauce.

Our group of six has a bunch of dietary restrictions and our enthusiastic local foodie-guide Geraldo (Jerry for the Anglos), very professionally and seamlessly, managed necessary substitutions. This food tour is designed to get visitors around to off-the-beaten-path local eateries. We booked it independently, while in town on a cruise ship stop. It was a great choice.

Conchinita pibil.

Conchinita pibil.

We enjoyed conchinita pibil tacos, which are cooked with sour orange juice in banana leaves, a favorite in the Yucatán peninsula.  Like the quesadillas, tacos are not the Tex-Mex orgies we get in the States; they are simple, just the chopped pork and some onion held together by a corn taco. The next stop was for a large bowl of Sopa de Lima, a soup full of shredded white meat chicken and a broth with a hint of lime.

Delicious ceviche.

Delicious ceviche.

Voted winner of the day: Pescadoria San Carlos, where we feasted on incredible grouper ceviche and whole fried freshly caught grouper.   Those of us from Florida who are used to fresh (even whole fried) fish thought it was wonderful and our other friends pronounced it the best fish they had ever had.  It was really good.

The gregarious owner of this colorful restaurant sang for the group and apparently, is also a popular local comedian.

Along the way we had all sorts of great drinks to try including local Montejo beer, Hibiscus water (Agua de Jamaica), Pepino (cucumber & lime), Horchata, a milky sweet drink, and Chia Fresca complete with floating chia seeds.  We stopped at a local market to get a first-hand view of the various ingredients we were eating and we ended the 3-hour tour at a bakery, but were too full to sample more than a bite of the large local pastries.

¡Salud!

If you want to go: contact emily@cozumelchef.com  They book through Viator, Inc and we booked through Cruise Planners/ShoreTrips.

So many kinds of peppers. The adventurous among tried different types of salsa, made with different peppers, at every stop.

So many kinds of peppers. The adventurous among tried different types of salsa, made with different peppers, at every stop.  

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All gone.

All gone.

Grand Turk: A Desert Island, Fittingly, Named for a Cactus

Beautiful waters surround Grand Turk.

Beautiful waters surround Grand Turk.

Dune buggys!

Dune buggys!

Reminiscent of Aruba, Grand Turk shares the same arid climate, sand and wild donkeys.  On Grand Turk there were also lots of cute wild horses, a vividly gorgeous Atlantic coast, and thankfully, not so much wind.  OK, so maybe it’s just the desert climate and wild donkeys the two islands have in common.

We decided to take a dune buggy ride, and it was a good choice.  With lots of sand and roads full of potholes it made for a bumpy, energetic, fun ride all around the island. We were off-road much of the time, so the left-lane driving was no factor. In our two-hour journey, we visited Gun Hill, saw many of the lakes formerly used to harvest salt, and passed the possible (NOT) Columbus Landfall Marine National Park, on the way to the lighthouse at North East Point. The famous wild pink Flamingos were nowhere to be seen.

All along the stunning coastline, we saw the incredibly beautiful, brilliant, turquoise water that turns a deep, dark blue, at the “wall” where the depth drops dramatically to 7,000 feet. A good combo for divers and snorkelers.

A British Territory, Grand Turk is the capital of the 40 island archipelago known as Turks & Caicos; about 7 miles long and a mile wide, there are less than 5,000 residents.  We visited while on a short Princess Cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, a nice and easy four-night getaway.

After we returned to the cruise company-built, port area, we grabbed a cab for the $5 per person ride back three miles into Cockburn Town. A once-thriving salt-trade community, this sleepy little village features narrow one-lane roads built for horse traffic, and colorful, Bermudan-style buildings.  Unlike most colonial-era towns with a central plaza, this community was built strewn along the coast and former salt flats (Salinas), located through the middle of the island.

We had some terrific fresh fried grouper and conch fritters before taking a brief walk around the area.  It is definitely laid-back and unpretentious. No big resorts, or celebrities here; head 25 miles across north Atlantic waters, to the neighboring Caicos Islands for that scene.

Grand Turk is just sun, sand, crystal clear water, wild donkeys and friendly faces.

Locals of proud of this replica of the Friendship space capsule that splashed downwith John Glenn in 1962.

Locals are proud of this replica of the Friendship 7 space capsule that splashed down with John Glenn, in 1962.

Built in London and erected in Grand Turk in 1852, the 60' high lighthouse protected ships in the salt trade from the island's surrounding reefs.

Built in London and erected on Grand Turk in 1852, the 60′ high lighthouse protected ships in the salt trade from the island’s surrounding reefs.

Azamara: Stunning Virgin Gorda, BVI

On the beach at The Baths.

On the beach at The Baths.

 

The Devil's Bay Trail (note people on bottom right).

The Devil’s Bay Trail (note people on bottom right).

Virgin Gorda looks like a perfect script-writers version of what a tropical island should look like.  It features beautiful seascapes with sparkling turquoise water, lots of park land, drivable roads and less obvious poverty.

This is a small island, and we could easily navigate the entire area, even while driving on the left.  Traffic was relatively light and the road conditions were better than we have experienced on this trip.  We rented a car from Mahogany rentals and it all worked out fine, even though I had been worried about their very casual approach.  We called a day ahead as instructed and they brought the car to us at the Spanish Town Yacht Harbour where we tendered in; when we returned, we parked, closed the windows and left the key under the driver’s side mat.  It was all very relaxed.

We drove through 250-acre Gorda Peak National Park (elevation 1375’), and since most roads here are coastal, really enjoyed the stunning views along the route.  We skipped the hiking trails in the interest of time; there were lots of spots to pull over and enjoy the vistas.  One of the routes suggested by our Mahogany rental rep, was to follow signs to “Hog Heaven” to get us to the other side of the Park for our return drive.  Hog Heaven is a small restaurant with a striking vista and since it was early we did not linger.  I later learned from another passenger who stopped in for lunch that Morgan Freeman, who has a home here, was there.

We saw the North Sound and Nail Bay areas, along with the rougher white caps on one side of the island and beautiful beaches and harbours on the other.  We eventually worked our way to the complete other end of Virgin Gorda to The Bathsand Devil’s Bay National Parks a striking, unusual beach with random boulders and rock formations that look like a juvenile giant had tossed them during a tantrum.   Made even more famous because of the international photo shoots here (as in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition), this small beach was crowded and there were numerous yachts and sailboats anchored just off shore.  The walk through, under and in between the boulders on the Devil’s Bay Trail proved daunting because we were carrying too much stuff, so we only went part way.  You need to use both hands, have rubber water shoes and not be burdened with backpacks, towels and bags that make it difficult to maneuver between the tight boulders, climbing the slippery stairs, and hanging onto the badly fraying rope ‘rail’.

From the entrance ($3 per adult fee), it’s a 150 yard trail to the beach.  When you are done and back by the entrance, you will see Top of The Baths open-air restaurant and bar, which is a great spot for a nice drink and/or lunch.

Before heading back to town, we visited the Copper Mine Ruins at the aptly named Copper Mine Point on Copper Mine Bay, and watched the waves crashing and swirling.  In use from the 1830-60s, the Mine sent more than 10,000 tons of ore back to Wales.

This peaceful island with its laid-back vibe and dazzling scenery was my favorite of the trip.

Typical Virgin Gorda beach.

Typical Virgin Gorda beach.

 

Plane-spotting in St. Maarten

Air France jumbo jet coming in at Princess Juliana International Airport.

Air France jumbo jet coming in at Princess Juliana International Airport.

Beach-goers (or plane spotters?) brace against thrust from a departing jet.
Beach-goers (or plane spotters?) brace against thrust from a departing jet.

Flight schedule at the popular Sunset Bar on Maho Beach.

Flight schedule at the popular Sunset Bar on Maho Beach.

Warning!

Warning!

 

Azamara:  Sint Maarten or Saint Martin

This little island is packed with diversity and lots to do. Half Dutch and half French, it’s an interesting blend of Afro-Caribbean with a European flair and some Spanish thrown in.  In fact, as Miamians we felt right at home.

We had reserved a Jeep ahead of time and set off on our island adventure.  We did a similar trip 20 years ago and immediately noticed a lot more cars on the road this time.  Even with it being high season, we heard from some locals that there are just too many cars on the island at this point.  And, other than a new bridge, the roads are in pretty bad shape.  Driving is on the right and a GPS was extremely helpful, since the map we got from Hertz did not identify the major roads by name.

We circumnavigated the interior, taking in the small town of Grand Case and making the trek to Pic Paradise (Paradise Peak).  We survived the rough one-lane road only to find a padlocked gate at the top (at 1,400’).

In the charming, crowded French capital of Marigot, we broke away from the crowds to lunch at La Belle Epoque along the small Marina Port La Royale; we have some good friends that have been visitors to the area for the past several decades and gave us some good insider info.  They also warned us how difficult it would be to park and it did prove challenging.  There are plenty of good (duty-free) shops, on both sides, to log in some retail therapy.

The highlight of our visit had to be stopping in at the Sunset Bar to watch the low-flying planes land over Maho Beach.  The local Princess Juliana International Airport has a very short runway and it starts just behind the beach.  We checked the arrival schedule earlier in the day, since our goal was to see a jumbo jet, generally KLM or Air France, land.  We knew the larger planes were arriving between 1:30 and 3, so we staked out a perfect spot along the beach-side edge of the bar, ordered some rum drinks and waited.  It was a blast in every sense of the word!  People on the beach also get a charge from being blown away as the jets take off, not my idea of fun.  I was just happy not to be directly under the planes.

We finished off the afternoon with a stop at the nearby Casino Royal, formerly of James Bond fame, but today famous for having celebrities Ludacris and Kevin Hart playing at the other occupied Black Jack table. 

A nice drive through quaint Front Street in Philipsburg got us back with the car just before dark.

Tips:

Cabs are available to get to Maho Beach and back.  The Sunset Bar posts the daily flight arrival schedule and other patrons are pretty friendly, so don’t be shy about asking to join someone at their table if there are available seats. There is a $40 minimum to charge, or you will need cash; they do serve food. 

 

 

 

 

 

Azamara: USVI Tranquility

St. John's famous Trunk Bay

St. John’s famous Trunk Bay

Typical panoramic view along St. John's winding northshore road (driving on the left); highest point just over 1,000'.

Typical panoramic view along St. John’s winding northshore road (driving on the left); highest point just over 1,000′.

On most trips, my husband forgets at least one essential item – this time, it was shorts. For a South Florida guy who pretty much lives in shorts, this was a big surprise. So, we have another fairly immediate shopping opportunity.

Yesterday we flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico to sail on the Azamara Quest for a New Year’s trip in the Caribbean. This morning we woke up in the USVI, St. John to be specific, to bright blue skies, turquoise water and an amazing rainbow. Awfully nice of the Azamara folks to schedule that rainbow; we hear the President of the company is on board, so maybe it was planned. . .

It was a relaxing day visiting the Virgin Islands National Park (covering 2/3 of this small island), enjoying  incredible views, seeing ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, and walking along the famously beautiful Trunk Bay beach. Got some great scenic shots before lunching on Mahi tacos and Conch fritters at the harbor-side restaurant, High Tide. We concluded our shore visit by successfully searching the Cruz Bay area shops for shorts!

Now, about time for that massage.

Trunk Bay, USVI

Trunk Bay, USVI

 

The Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins, from 1718 - 1848 one of the largest.

The Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins; from 1718 – 1848 one of the area’s largest. 

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