A Travellerspoint blog

The grandest canyon of all

sunny 45 °C

Sarah, Paul, and I picked up our hire car after the world's most expensive (and average) meal at Hardrock Cafe, Vegas. We drove around in circles before finding our way onto the right road towards the Grand Canyon ... Route 66.
90_20160623_160824.jpg

We stopped a few times on the way and - one can only say the best word to describe what we did was - gorged on fatty, corn syrupy, American food. Man, I had missed it so much! The drive to the Grand Canyon was a long one, about 4-5 hours and we broke it up by stopping to see different things along the way.

Including the Hoover Dam which was absolutely huge!
20160623_142522.jpg20160623_142508.jpg20160623_142244.jpg20160623_142246.jpg

Scarily though, the dam levels were very low as was the neighbouring Lake Mead. Very clear to see that this hot, dry part of the planet is suffering. The temperature was 45c / 115F and it was so hard to even move. I remember standing at the view point over the dam for about 2 minutes - enough time to take a few pics - before clambering back into the air conditioned car where Paul and Sarah had already rapidly retreated to. It felt like standing in a bakers oven. I love heat - but dry, desert, extreme heat is not what I mean when I chase summer!
As we drove on, nearing to our destination we passed through some gorgeous towns and funny places along the way.

20160623_173954.jpg20160627_155159.jpg20160627_154736.jpg90_20160627_154636.jpg20160627_154616.jpg

We approached our hotel just as sunset was falling. Sarah and Paul wanted to check into the hotel but I literally begged them to drive the extra 20 minutes straight away so that we could try to see sunset over the Grand Canyon. Paul protested there would be too many people. I didn't care, I just wanted to experience something that I have always ached for. But I know now that I really didn't know what to expect. I had flown over the Grand Canyon countless times on my way to visit Grandma in Michigan, and had always enjoyed watching from high above. Of course the Grand Canyon features in movies and photos, computer screensavers and bucket lists. But nothing prepared me for turning the corner and what lay before me.
SAM_5800.jpg

I was absolutely stunned. The beauty, the energy, the colours, the light, the depth, and the fact that it just never seemed to end!
20160623_200710.jpg20160623_195948.jpgSAM_5799.jpg20160623_194810.jpgSAM_5810.jpgSAM_5809.jpg

I was absolutely amazed that there was absolutely NO barrier or line to mark the safe places to stand either. I had certainly not been expected to be able to get so close to such a ginormous crack in the earth - and I instantly knew why my Dad was constantly sending me messages to say be careful!

SAM_5808.jpgSAM_5804.jpgSAM_5813.jpg90_20160623_195817.jpg

We spent about half an hour wandering around in the half light before we decided the safest thing to do would be to return when there would be more light. Seriously, one wrong step would mean a long way to wave goodbye to life! We decided to get up early the next day and return before the masses of people and the suffocating heat made an appearance.
20160623_200352.jpg20160623_200723.jpg

We checked into our hotel (The Red Feather) and we were all super hungry so we wandered over to the neighbouring local Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was a hugely disappointing meal as:

1. Only Mexico really serves satisfying Mexican food
2. Paul decided to tell us after being seated that he hates Mexican food
3. It was super over priced
4. They forgot to make the changes to my meal that I requested
5. Dry and stale tortillas are never a good start for a taco

Worst of all, we had picked it because our hotel gave us a discount there - but then we completely forgot to present the voucher = FAIL !

As we wandered back to the hotel, I noticed it was really cold. And not just because I live in the Caribbean and everything is cold in comparison - but that it was really cooling down, and fast. I checked online and noticed that while the day time temperatures were reaching 45 degrees, the night time temps were as low as 3 ! The next morning I was the first one to wake up (being 3 hours behind time due to minor jet lag) and I wandered off in search of 3 super sized coffees - and again, it was freezing in the shadows!
We headed back to the canyon as the sun rose a little higher and there was a bit more warmth in the world. Again I was hit with that same sense of awe as I stared out at the beauty that lay below us.
SAM_5845.jpgSAM_5843.jpg

My favourite parts of the Grand Canyon:

1. How there are no barriers. It really feels like you are free to experience it as it truly is in nature
2. The giant fat squirrels who let you pat them if you pretend you have food in your hand
3. That no matter where you look, there is something different to see. And even if you look at the same place, it has changed somehow.
4. The energy. Everything is so silent and so powerful. It feels like being on the edge of the world and at the center all at once.

SAM_5849.jpgSAM_5850.jpgSAM_5836.jpgSAM_5822.jpgSAM_5821.jpg

What was too weird there:
1. How many parents are very blase about letting their children get very close to the edge - while running !
2. How many people push other people out of the way without any care to the fact everyone is balancing on a tiny ledge for a photo

We drove along the south rim and stopped at all of the different view points, marveling at the landscape every second of the way.
SAM_5848.jpgSAM_5854.jpgSAM_5856.jpg

And then it was gone, almost as quickly as it came in front of us - it disappeared. The landscape continued to twist and change as we drove north through the state of Arizona towards the town of Page.
SAM_5858.jpgSAM_5859.jpgSAM_5861.jpg

I felt a little sad driving away from the Grand Canyon, but the music was playing and the landscape was beautiful everywhere SAM_5865.jpgarizona-su..rs-1024x768.jpgSAM_5866.jpg

Our plan was to venture into the Antelope Canyon, stay in town, and then visit Horse Shoe Bend. We arrived in town after a few hours of driving through barren landscapes and promptly found a wonderful diner that made the most delicious salad - and pulled pork for the meat eaters! The lady who was managing that day was so kind and friendly with a wicked sense of humor. There was no wifi but she lent us the restaurant phone to call around different hotels in the area - but to no avail, we were stuck as there was NO availability! We promised not to think about our next moves until we finished our meal... And by the way, I really recommend this place if you are ever in Page, AZ!
filename-3..56022941653.jpg

With full bellies, we realised we needed to think of what we were going to do. We couldn't avoid if forever. So we drove to the closest fast food store and poached their free internet from the carpark (Shout out here to Taco Bell in Page, AZ!). As it turned out - Antelope Canyon would soon be closing for the day at just 4pm!! And even if we stayed the night to make it in the morning, the entry was ridiculously expensive - like $50 each! I was super disappointed that price and time was our restriction to see a piece of our beloved and ever so patient mother earth. And I remember I was angered enough that I suddenly didn't even want to see it anymore! The three of us all felt the same way, but we didn't want to have driven so far north (and in the complete opposite direction from Las Vegas) for no reason. We discussed the possibility of visiting Horseshoe Bend before ambling our way back to Las Vegas and finding a cheap hotel there for the night. And before we knew it, the plan was set in stone.

We pulled up outside Horseshoe Bend and were immediately met by Civil Defense workers. There were giant signs advertising EXTREME HEAT as if it wasn't something our entire bodies weren't already exhausted from.
90_20160624_162157.jpg

They advised us to change into running shoes, to wear a hat & sunscreen, and to carry a bottle of water each as the 2 mile hike was over hot sand and with no shade. We all looked at each other - bellies full of delicious food, and a deep desire to be back inside the air conditioning. I could see Paul and Sarah were feeling the same way as I; simply waiting for another person to be the first to say "nahhh, let's just go..." I knew I wanted to see it, it's in my DNA - that desire to see around each and every next corner. To know, to experience, to taste, to try. So I called it before anyone else did,
"Right, let's do this!"

And I don't know if American miles are different to normal miles - or if maybe I was expecting it to be far worse - but it wasn't even a tough walk at all ! And wow, it was worth it. 100 and ten million thousand percent worth it. Possibly even more worth it than the Grand Canyon.
SAM_5869.jpg

I couldn't stop staring below at the beautiful refreshing water, and at how lazy the river seemed to flow by; completely unaware that it was within the most beautiful gorge. Or maybe it did know, and it was enjoying the view. Either way - it was incredible.

Sarah and I wanted to have a photo by the edge. I was too scared to get close to it. I felt myself unable to breathe properly and getting a little panicky. People were balancing so close to the edge, and it was making my nerves get even worse. Maybe my father's fear of heights has rubbed off on me, either way there was NO WAY I was going to balance right on the edge

SAM_5875.jpgSAM_5884.jpg

One lady did, a man even pushed her out of the way to get past and she STEPPED BACKWARDS bringing her no further than 10cm from the edge. I must have missed my turn about 5 times because I wasn't pushing forward - and other people were going right up there and basically hanging off it! I still have no idea how people can do it;
1. Be so careless with other peoples lives
2. Have no fear about dropping a million meters to CERTAIN DOOM!

Even this photo of me waiting my turn freaks me out as I see how close people are to the edge, euggggghhhh!
SAM_5871.jpg

But regardless of how not close we are to the edge, I am pretty proud of our best ever, best cousin ever photo !
SAM_5877.jpg

The sun was starting to sink lower in the sky, the shadows were changing to afternoon summer ones, and we knew we needed to start driving if we were to make it all the way back to Las Vegas. But I was so hot, and I wanted to swim in some fresh water - the Colorado River was far too inviting not to indulge! So I asked a local how to find a secret swimming spot, and he gave us the best insider scoop ever. The universe well and truly provided too as the secret spot had us hiking down through a canyon that looked very similar to the famous Antelope canyon that we were unable to visit!

SAM_5887.jpgSAM_5904.jpgSAM_5902.jpgSAM_5892.jpgSAM_5890.jpg

And at the bottom, lay the clearest and freshest water ever, just waiting for me to dive right in. It was magical to soak in the river that would lead through all of the beautiful places I had seen over the last few days.
SAM_5885.jpgSAM_5894.jpgSAM_5899.jpgSAM_5901.jpg

That same water would make it's lazy way around Horseshoe Bend before ambling down to flow through the beautiful Grand Canyon. It made me feel so small and so grateful and so much love for our beautiful planet all at once. What a day!

Posted by chasingsummer 11:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New York City layover

13 hours in the city that never sleeps

sunny 20 °C

It was a strange feeling, leaving Billy and the Dominican Republic. I kissed Billy goodbye at the bus stop and traveled from Cabarete to Santo Domingo alone. I spent the afternoon with Billy's family, visiting his sister who was recovering from her terrible car accident that had happened while we were in Haiti. Billy's dad dropped me to the airport at around 10pm, and all of the cousins and nieces piled into the truck so see me off. It was a strange feeling leaving everyone I love behind, and not because they didn't want to come - especially in Billy's case. But because of the racist beaurocracy and false ideas of borders and frontiers that are put into place to segregate our 1 true race of humanity so that those with dark skin and no money are not granted the freedom to move around this one planet we all share. And yes, I say dark skin and no money without a comma. Because they are one thing, there were plenty of Dominicans on my flight to New York. And 98% of Dominicans have dark skin - but these ones had money and therefore a visa. It broke my heart.

I was nervous to go back to 'the first world.' I hadn't been back since I left Montana on my way to Mexico which is now over two years ago. My brief experience of a semi-first world country in Costa Rica had been shocking enough, and I knew of any where in the world - the USA really does do first world well and truly the best. They outshine it, if there was a number that came before 1, they would be that.

My mind began to pace, would I be ok? Would I start arguing in Spanish when the fruit vendor wouldn't sell me 5 mangos for $2. Would I remember how to wear proper shoes, and would I be able to afford to buy a pair when I landed? I couldn't remember what water I was able to drink from the tap - all of it or just some? Did I have enough money to last me a month, I mean the prices of things are always going up up up and I had been long gone for over 2 years.Most importantly what worried me (and I know my parents and Billy too) was how on earth was I going to remember to keep my head down in public and not get into political and revolutionary conversations with strangers in the street. It is certainly no secret that one of my most favourite things about living in Latin America is the taste of revolution in the air.

I took a deep breath and flew away in the night, grateful that I couldn't see down over my beloved island or out over the forever soul-calling Caribbean sea. I was fortunate to have a row of seats all to myself and as I knew I had a huge layover at JFK before arriving in Las Vegas, I decided to down and do what I usually do in difficult and unavoidable situations; I lay down and slept... the whole way to the first world.

As we began our descent, I woke up and opened my window shade to see a gorgeous sunrise. The silhouette of NYC lay ahead surrounded by the lights and colour reflecting off the water. I relaxed and saw it as a sign from the Universe that everything may be a little hectic for a while, but it would be ok. After all, trees stand patiently and tall and the sun continues to shine no matter where on earth we are. It's only the man things that change so drastically between countries. What really matters most of all and the things I carry with me - unconditional love, kindness, adventure, empathy, our damaged but oh-so-beautiful environment - exist everywhere.

With only a slight (expected) kerfuffle at immigration - my beating heart and I were efficiently stamped back to the first world.

The first difference hit me as soon as I got away from baggage claim - English. Everyone was speaking my native language! The signs were in English first and it was Spanish that was written underneath in smaller letters. Everyone greeted with a hello or a good morning instead of hola or buenos dias. Everytime I tried to squeeze past someone I would automatically say permiso instead of excuse me. Salud instead of bless you to strangers. Gracias instead of thank you. I recognised immediately that over my years in Latin America I had subconsciously adapted my "public language" to be understood by strangers.

I checked my bag into a locker as it was too early to check in to my next flight - and there is no longer straight through checked luggage when traveling through the USA - another change! I was super tired but I decided to make the most of my long stop over - and I hopped aboard the subway and made my way to Manhattan island.

I met a guy on the Subway who grew up in the Caribbean island of Antigua. We chatted the entire bumpy ride to the city, and we didn't wave goodbye until I found myself a cafe near times square and Broadway. The first things I noticed in the city were:
SAM_5782.jpgSAM_5786.jpgSAM_5783.jpgSAM_5785.jpg
- Very little trash and very clean streets
- It was COLD without the sun shining down as it was still too early for it to have rise about the skyscrapers (6am)
- There were very few people out and about, which is not how I had remembered NYC. I remembered being overwhelmed when I was 17 and had visited with my parents. Maybe I have become too accustomed to crazy busy Latin American cities?
- So many coffee shops. How I had missed a nice cosy coffee shop!
- Even without opening my mouth, people spoke spanish to me on the streets. Perhaps because of my Caribbean tan? Either way, it was odd.

I wandered my way slowly up past street markets who were setting up for their day, past coffee and sandwich carts, and enjoyed peering into the different windows of stores selling completely unnecessary items for ridiculous prices. I met a Dominican girl from the plane and we wandered around together for a while too.
SAM_5781.jpgSAM_5780.jpgSAM_5778.jpgSAM_5779.jpgSAM_5784.jpg

I decided the best place for me to go until the city opened it's doors would be central park. Immediately the sun shone down as I crossed the street away from the high rises. The beautiful park sprawled out in front of me and I wandered amongst the runners and the cyclists, the dogs and the yoga lovers, enjoying the prospects of beautiful day ahead of all of us.
SAM_5787.jpgSAM_5788.jpgSAM_5789.jpgSAM_5796.jpgSAM_5798.jpgSAM_5791.jpg

I found myself wandering back slowly as well, enjoying the newly opened market and some of my old favourite stores selling my new favourite things. I ate delicious food that wasn't beans rice and salad, but it was super expensive! I couldn't believe I parted with $20USD for a simple wrap, a yoghurt, and a fresh juice! That should have been no more than $4USD back in the DR - where the juice would have tasted freshier and tangier too!

I wandered until my feet ached, my travelers heart constantly desiring to see around the next corner. Until I realised that I would be stuck in the city of overpriced handbags and food if I didn't make my way to the subway stat! Thankfully I had nabbed a little airport info brochure which said the subway stations on them. I knew where I needed to go - I just didn't know how to get there. I asked a local cop, who pointed me in the right direction but told me it would be 6 avenues. And that the station I thought it was, wasn't actually it. I knew I needed to run. So run I did, despite the weird looks from everyone on the street. People all seemed to walk briskly or slowly. No one but me dared to run. I made it to the station (that was only 2 avenues and WAS the one I had thought it was) but I had just missed the quick train (Long Island Railroad)- and the next one wasn't for another 40 minutes. So I attempted the metro again - but I couldn't work out which direction I needed to go and it seems that no one really wanted to help me too much... Or that they didn't know either! And I couldn't find anyone official. I started to panic, even though I was trying to breathe calmly and not let that happen - when I saw the international symbol for travel; the airplane silhouette and an arrow beside a platform with a boarding carriage that also sported the same insignia. I clambered on, and crossed all fingers and toes as we bumped and stalled a million times towards JFK once more.

I made it to the airport, grabbed my bag, checked in, waited for an hour in security, to make it to my plane and be one of the last people on the flight. What luck !

Posted by chasingsummer 09:51 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Into Haiti

sunny 35 °C

We arrived back to Santo Domingo late, exhausted, and poor. My parents had already called the bank and had my credit card cancelled - but the money would not be refunded for some time to come. We knew our friends were planning to meet us in Santo Domingo to start our trek towards Haiti the very next day, and we were freaking out about what we were going to do! We knew most of our trip was staying with family and sleeping on beaches - but this was my first ever time entering a country with absolutely NO back up money. What if we got sick? What if we had an accident? What if we got into trouble? Billy at one point turned to me and said,
"Katy, I grew up in a house made of mud. I know what poor is, and this is not poor. We have to live each day for what it is, and let's go there and make the most of it."
I wasn't completely worry free, but we did have a few hundred euro left over from our time in Cuba as well as promises from our friends traveling with us that they wouldn't leave us stranded and begging on the side of a road anywhere.

The girls met us as planned in Santo Domingo and we headed straight down to Barahona where we then spent the night at the Batey. It was the weekend of elections, so of course the party was HUGE when Billy's uncle Tio Perez won mayor of the Batey for the second time with the opposition having barely a single vote.

The following morning, Enoc drove us all over to Barahona where we sat in a restaurant and tried to plan our next moves. We were all low on cash, we had no vehicle, the buses dont go all the way to Bahia de las Aguilas, and Barahona absolutely DOES NOT do rental cars - just in case you ever need one there, there are none. Of course, I was still without a phone as my replacement was in Cabarete so everyone but me sat on their phones using the free wifi as they tried to find an online solution. I didn't like sitting there doing nothing so I went down to the road and began to flag large jeeps down, asking if perhaps they wanted to loan them to us... more no's and deadens had us all feeling a little lost and hopeless - but we tried to keep morale high as Katietoo kept saying. We decided to go to the supermarket and to load up with our groceries for our time at the beach (and a much needed bottle of rum). We decided we would have to give public transport a try, to see how far we could make it and then take a taxi for the final stretch.

But, luck was on our side. We met a man with a huge van who promised us a ride all the way to paradise for $90USD - a steal, considering we were 6 of us! 13254282_1..615336851_n.jpgWe drank our rum on the bus and toasted many times to our great fortune

Stopping only to pee (many times) and chase goats for cuddles
13512031_1..277327546_n.jpg13466298_1..694156217_n.jpg

The lovely driver dropped us as close to the beach as he could, and we planned to walk the rest of the way - only to come face to face with our favorite beach security guard on his motorbike who drove us each down one by one to where we planned to sleep.
13435534_1..005996637_n.jpg13442393_1..764924250_n.jpg

Oh the luck of having friends everywhere in this country. It felt good to be back, I can't lie. Cuba was great, but it didn't have the same magic that I find here on every corner. Despite being broke, things were coming together and working out just fine - like Billy had said they would.13244821_1..479415980_n.jpg
SAM_5305.jpgSAM_5330.jpgSAM_5331.jpgSAM_5356.jpgSAM_5381.jpg

We set up our camp and spent the nights by the fire - and searching for turtles which sadly we didn't see this year.

13237588_1..979162064_n.jpg13240070_1..906576415_n.jpg13256086_1..472553793_n.jpg

One of the things about being dropped at a beach in the absolute middle of nowhere is that there really is no idea of how to get back from the middle of nowhere. We knew that 4 of us would be continuing to Haiti, and that 2 would return through the Dominican side of the border to get back to Cabarete. But how we were going to do that was a mystery to all of us. People kept asking Billy and I what we thought we should do - possibly because we have been to the beach many times - and my response was always the same; "We worry about that when it is time to leave. For now we just enjoy paradise!"
When it was finally time to leave, we found a boat! Who promised us a ride and a hot cup of coffee on the other side - what luck!
13232980_1..950144333_n.jpg

We enjoyed our coffee and a shower - the ones with the conch shells on the side of the ocean, yes parents you know the ones - and then magically we found a pick up truck to drive us all the way to the main road for the grand price of $50USD. Yes, over half of what we had paid to get to the beach on a four hour drive was to be paid for a 20 minute drive... but beggars certainly can't be choosers. Especially stranded beggars. So we all piled onto the back of the pick up truck to then be dumped at a military checkpoint on the side of the derelict main road. The guagua heading to the border of Haiti passed by seconds later, so our hasty goodbyes were called to Rachelle and Katietoo as the rest of us piled in and headed towards the border.

Again, we sat at the border town of Perdenales and discussed our next moves and loaded up on last minute supplies.
13407057_1..986995319_n.jpg
We took a motorbike taxi to the border, got stamped out, and then crossed the friendship bridge over the river to Haiti. The same river where an old president of the Dominican Republic had thousands of Haitians killed and thrown into for ... well, no one really knows what for, being black I suppose. It was a haunting feeling, but the children from both sides of the border splashing and playing together in the cool water with the sun shining upon them did give a glimmer of hope that maybe the relations can improve one day.

Entry to Haiti was a little less formal. We were directed towards a large tree with two men playing checkers on a rickety table. From underneath the chess board he pulled out a black briefcase which contained all the necessary documents - receipts and a stamp. He overcharged each of us ($20 instead of $10) to enter Haiti - we know because the receipt says we paid $10, and with that we were in Haiti. The checkerboard was pulled out again, and we were instantly surrounded by 30 beautiful black faces wanting to be whatever it was we needed, for a small fee. And there, the universe stepped in again. Billy's cousin who had no idea we were coming across just so happened to be at the border that day. They began chatting, and sure enough even the guy who had stamped us in knew Billy's grandmother. The universe can be so sneaky and funny sometimes! But, it was fate. He needed to go the way we were headed. So he organized us enough motorbike taxis, and at the right price, so we could get all the way to the town where we could then take a shared jeep to Port au Prince.

Becca and I shared a motorbike as we drove for 2 hours towards the town of Thote. The road was vicious, with huge climbs, major bumps and holes in the road, but with a view like no other. We could see all all the way back to the Dominican Republic, and even to the beach where we had just been sleeping! It was amazing to finally be on the hills that we always stare at from Bahia de Las Aguilas and say "over there is Haiti." Now we were looking back and saying "over there is the Dominican Republic!"
13445708_1..531988620_n.jpg13501992_1..589943224_n.jpg

At one point, the hill was so steep (and our asses so full of chicken and rice) that we nearly tipped the bike. We felt the front wheel coming up off the ground, and our tiny skinny driver trying so hard to force it back down. I threw myself off and Becca thew herself forward at the exact same moment which had the bike touch both wheels safely again. Of course we couldn't stop laughing the entire rest of the way, even though from then on we had to walk up most of the hills as the driver was not happy to try again!

We finally made it to the town of Thote where we tried our Creole skills at ordering cold water, and we begged the local police station to let us use their toilet. We boarded a safari style jeep full of people and drove the whole way to Port au Prince over terrible roads but through beautiful forests. At one point the road was actually a dried up riverbed!

Everywhere we looked was poverty. The Dominican Republic is poor yes, but Haiti is next level poor. The infrastructure is even worse, there are more children in the street, there is hunger, there are people searching and walking hours to reach a bucket of water, and there is trash absolutely everywhere. We even saw a village of people living in the mountains near the border who's homes were cardboard tents. I have never in all of my travels seen anything like it.

We arrived finally into Port au Prince and it was dark. Night had fallen, we had lost an hour to the time difference, and we were hungry and tired. Billy's cousin Jean met us at the final stop and we piled out of the jeep with weary cramped legs but a feeling of excitement to finally be in Port au Prince. We had thought we were nearly there - but we were not. We had to traipse across the city using public transport for the others and with Billy and I clinging on tightly to the back of Jean on his motorbike. We finally made it to his house - a tiny bedroom with an ensuite - no kitchen, no living area, and no fan or electricity. Just two beds, about 20 buckets of water piled up along one wall, and his beautiful grinning wife and two young girls along the other. I felt the ripple of fear flow through each of us - but where we were going to sleep? Jean showed us all up to the roof top of his building - one that had the glimmering lights of the city and mountains all around us. The breeze was cool, and the ground was hard. It didn't matter, that's where we were going to be sleeping. We all lay down on the hard surface and laughed at the adventure of the day - and discussed how we were never going to sleep - when Jean returned with the newly torn up carpet from his apartment floor and blankets to lay down. We climbed onto them gratefully and slept our first night on a rooftop, underneath the stars, in the capital city of Port au Prince, Haiti.

The next day we looked a little around the city, but found it impossible to take photos. Every time we tried people would yell at us or make a grab for the camera. Haiti was not a country where people wanted to be photographed. I remembered back to a conversation with Samy, one of Billy's cousins who we had lived with in Santo Domingo. He had told me how after the earthquake, many people had taken many photos and then made money from them - money which was never shared or given back to the people of Haiti. So it has turned the locals away from photography, especially cameras held by blancs (what they call us white folk!)
SAM_5392.jpgSAM_5395.jpgSAM_5397.jpgSAM_5394.jpgSAM_5424.jpgSAM_5412.jpgSAM_5409.jpg

We spent a lot of our time in Port au Prince with Jean and other members of Billy's family. We moved to stay with a different cousin who had a large house and plenty of space for us all. We visited many different cousins and aunties, all who were so happy to see Billy and very kind to sit and practice my Creole with me.
SAM_5399.jpgSAM_5403.jpgSAM_5393.jpgSAM_5446.jpg

We went a couple of nights to a basketball game at the SWAT police station with Billy's cousin who is a member of the force. I had never really watched a basketball game before and I really enjoyed it - far more than baseball like the time Billy had dragged me along! I especially enjoyed choosing a team and watching as they won! Everyone was constantly staring at me, the only white girl in the crown who was cheering whole heartedly for a team of people she didn't know!

SAM_5435.jpgSAM_5430.jpgSAM_5429.jpgSAM_5443.jpg

We left Billy's family for the north of the country as Paula and Becca left for the south. Billy and I were running out of money quickly, and there were a few issues we had to deal with back at the castle in Cabarete. We made our way to Cap Haitian where we stayed in a gorgeous place - thanks to my parents who had used their credit card to save our butts since we couldn't book anywhere without a credit card/ money!

We met friends of ours who we had strangely gotten to know through instagram! They run a Haiti travel page through instagram and we had made contact in the months before our trip to Cuba. We met them in real life, and they were just incredible! They took us out for dinner and to dance compa one night, and then took us to the beautiful citadelle the following day.

SAM_5454.jpgSAM_5463.jpgSAM_5464.jpg

Sans Souci palace and the citadelle were most definitely the highlight of my time in Haiti. The palace was where the King and Queen lived. The remains of a swimming pool and beautiful gardens were still in the grounds, and the palace itself must have been beautiful once upon a time!
SAM_5468.jpgSAM_5469.jpgSAM_5471.jpgSAM_5475.jpgSAM_5477.jpgSAM_5487.jpg

The motorbike ride and the huge walk from the palace to the citadelle was intense! The steep hill took about 30 minutes to climb on motorbike, and then a further 45 minutes to walk through the jungle to get there. We had to pass mud and stick shacks, with people walking up the huge hill carrying their buckets of water too. It was heart wrenching to see them, yet they always waved and smiled with their huge white teeth shining brightly at us.
SAM_5663.jpgSAM_5661.jpgSAM_5648.jpgSAM_5649.jpgSAM_5647.jpg
SAM_5493.jpgSAM_5502.jpgSAM_5503.jpgSAM_5505.jpgSAM_5507.jpgSAM_5516.jpg

The citadelle itself was once the giant fort that was built to protect the Queen and King in time of attack - but it was never finished. What was there though, was hugely impressive.

SAM_5551.jpgSAM_5555.jpgSAM_5559.jpgSAM_5560.jpgSAM_5561.jpgSAM_5573.jpgSAM_5575.jpgSAM_5576.jpgSAM_5588.jpgSAM_5625.jpg

We walked around, saw the canons, and watched as the clouds rolled in and took away the view over the mountains, the sea, and the city of Cap Haitian.

SAM_5526.jpgSAM_5530.jpg
On our way back we found a group of men playing bamboo style didgeridoos in the jungle. They found a flute from somewhere and presented it to me - so I joined the band!
SAM_5653.jpgSAM_5654.jpgSAM_5651.jpgSAM_5633.jpgSAM_5642.jpg

After our time at the palace and the fort, we walked with our friend Djimpson around the city of Cap Haitian. Kids everywhere seemed to pop out of the blue and want to take a photo with me!

SAM_5675.jpgSAM_5679.jpgSAM_5687.jpgSAM_5698.jpgSAM_5702.jpgSAM_5705.jpgSAM_5703.jpgSAM_5724.jpgSAM_5721.jpg

The trash situation broke me though, and I hope one day we are able to have a recycling school in Haiti.
SAM_5755.jpgSAM_5757.jpgSAM_5758.jpgSAM_5759.jpgSAM_5761.jpgSAM_5760.jpgSAM_5770.jpg

Returning to the Dominican Republic was a lot easier and only took about 5 hours - and 6 different modes of transportation. Coming back to the castle and all of our beautiful friends was wonderful, even though we had credit card situations to chase and a few issues at the castle. Traveling through Haiti and Cuba with Billy was so different and magical all at once. I am not used to traveling with anyone long term anymore so at times it was testing, but it was wonderful to share the special moments with someone - and warming to have him there to help each other through the hard times. Travel is never as easy and pretty as the photos but I have learned that going anyway - regardless of the money fears and the worries - always seems to work out just perfectly.

Posted by chasingsummer 06:07 Archived in Haiti Comments (0)

Viñales

caves, giant rocks, and credit card hacking...

sunny 30 °C

The journey from Trinidad to Viñales took about 8 hours in total - it was hot, sticky, and really uncomfortable. Poor Billy was hungry most of the way too, so it wasn't the easiest of transfers! However, as we began to get closer to our destination we started to see the huge limestone rocks that make the valley of Vinales so iconic.

We got off the bus and walked around the town in search of a place to stay. The view from of the mogotes (lime cliffs) were beautiful so we didn't want to stay in the town, even though every single house was a casa particular offering a cosy bed and a bite to eat. Instead we walked... and walked... with our bags until we found a casa particular closer to the view we had come to see.

SAM_5109.jpgSAM_5115.jpgSAM_5119.jpg

On our second day in town we headed out on a tour around the town. We went to see the Prehistoric Mural which TOTALLY tricked us. We thought it was going to be awesome indigenous artwork on a cliff... instead it was a mural of prehistoric times done by what looked like a 4 year old - Don't tell Cuba I said that though, because apparently it was done by a famous artist of theirs - oops!SAM_5121.jpg

The tour took us to a wonderful viewpoint where it felt as if the valley spread out before us had no end.SAM_5129.jpgSAM_5131.jpgSAM_5134.jpgSAM_5138.jpgSAM_5146.jpgSAM_5125.jpg

We went to the Indian Cave / Cueva del Indio which was far better than we were advised it would be. Yes, it was as touristic as everyone mentioned - with a huge line of people cueing up for the tiny boat ride on the inside, but the actual cave itself was beautiful!
And the river ride on the boat was amazing too, scary at times because the river was so tight and the driver wasn't going at snail pace!

SAM_5162.jpgSAM_5168.jpgSAM_5173.jpgSAM_5180.jpgSAM_5197.jpgSAM_5158.jpgSAM_5201.jpg

We headed to a tobacco farm to learn how Cuba makes their famous cigars. Vinales is the area where the best cigars in the entire world are made - so even though neither of us smoke, we thought we should go and have a look.
SAM_5226.jpgSAM_5227.jpg

The tobacco curing houses are really cool. Their roof covered leaves hang all the way down to the ground, and inside are racks and racks and racks of drying tobacco leaves.
SAM_5211.jpgSAM_5216.jpgSAM_5217.jpgOur guide was absolutely terrible - it was as if he had learnt a script in English but had learned it with total mispronunciation. I didn't understand a single word he said, and for some reason he was not happy to explain it to us in Spanish! So after our tour we still know very little about cigars or tobacco. But we had fun playing in the leaves which did smell delicious as they were cured with rum, vanilla, honey, and cinammon!

SAM_5221.jpgSAM_5224.jpgSAM_5230.jpgSAM_5238.jpg
The tour of course concludes with a free cigar smoking session and a hard sell by a true Cuban con-artist which we didn't partake in either much to their dismay...
SAM_5232.jpgSAM_5233.jpg

We asked our tour guide to take us to a river instead of seeing the inside of a party cave in the daylight. I am always happy to visit a party cave - when there is a party. But without the party, it held very little interest for us. So our driver kindly took us on a lovely drive through the countryside to a waterhole where we plunged straight into the cold water. Strangely, the government in Cuba does not allow private houses or casa particulares to have swimming pools. The ones that had once existed in our casa particular and that of our friends had both been sadly covered in with concrete. To be in a country with such dry and intense heat, without access to water was something Billy and I found very hard. So the swim in the river was an absolute treat, and the perfect way to end our day touring Vinales.

The following day we headed to what is the 2nd largest caving system in Latin America; Santo Tomaso Caves. This was not at all touristic like the Cueva del Indio and there were no paved walkways leading us through.
SAM_5249.jpgSAM_5245.jpg
We had to climb up a sheer rock face just to get into the entrance area, and then work our way through the caves in the pitch black using only our headlamps for light. In parts, the caves opened up to beautiful views of stalactites and stalagmites with pretty birds flying home to their babies.
SAM_5260.jpgSAM_5261.jpgSAM_5263.jpgSAM_5265.jpgSAM_5267.jpgSAM_5275.jpg

We headed back to Havana for our final nights before our flight, and on our very last day we decided to venture out to one of the nearby beaches. Again, we were slightly disappointed with the quality of the beach - probably because we live in paradise here in the Dominican Republic. All of the other travelers were lapping up the sunshine and the waves, and of course we had a great day... but it's hard when Bahia de las Aguilas is our benchmark for a beautiful beach!
SAM_5293.jpgSAM_5297.jpg
We walked around Havana one last time
SAM_5285.jpgSAM_5282.jpgSAM_5279.jpgSAM_5280.jpg
And ate our favorite 50cent meal at the Cuban only restaurant - without being nearly arrested this time!
SAM_5291.jpg

We boarded our plane and waved good bye to Cuba, flying over the most beautiful Caribbean Islands as we made our way back to Cuba. I even recognized my beloved Providencia far below and waved down sentimentally to my friends and the place where I had temporarily found true peace nearly 2 years ago now.

We landed in Panama, and I decided to check my bank balance because we needed to get ready for our immediate departure for Haiti. Cuba had been so expensive that we had used my credit card a few times, so we were worried about what money was left... And then up popped the screen - I was $3000 in debt! I checked my balance over and over again, not understanding how that could have happened. The internet was painfully slow and kept disconnecting, but finally the transaction list loaded enough for me to see... I had been hacked!

Posted by chasingsummer 05:22 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Trinidad, Cuba

The cutest town in Cuba

sunny 35 °C

While we were still in Havana, we heard there was a huge celebration for 2 things in Cuba on the 2nd of May. First up was the celebration for the international day of the worker, and second was the arrival of the first cruise ship from the United States since the revolution. We couldn't decide whether to stay and be apart of all the celebrations or to run far far away... It turned out that the best thing to do was run far away, even though Billy was gutted to have lost out on the opportunity to see Raul Castro from a distance at the workers celebrations!

We travelled in a shared taxi with a French couple all the way to the UNESCO protected, picturesque town of Trinidad.
13480228_1..460583904_n.jpgSAM_4812.jpgSAM_4815.jpg

The ride took about 5 hours and again we were constantly amazed by how few people were driving on the roads. We stayed our first night at a casa particular that had been recommended to us, but we were really unhappy with the location and the constant hard sell being pushed on us by the owners in regards to buying only THEIR food, THEIR water, and organizing tours with THEIR people from the second we walked in the door. Billy was determined we wouldn't stay longer than the first night we agreed on, and he marched us off down the road in search of a better home for us.

We made our way to the beautiful cobbled streets and parks that lay in the center of the town, and Billy was immediately attracted to a beautiful casa particular right next to the central park, cathedral, and the casa de musica where we planned to begin our salsa classes the following day. He said he could feel the most positive energy coming from the home - and was quickly greeted warmly by the father of the household who shared the name Guido with Billy's own father in the Dominican Republic. We entered the home and quickly fell in love with Gisela who became our Cuban mother, Yalena our new sister, and Teetoo the cutest Pekingese puppy we have ever met. They allowed us to use their kitchen to cook so we could save money, and they gave us a very special rate to stay for a week. We moved the very next morning from our first casa to what would be our wonderful home in Trinidad.
SAM_4907.jpgSAM_4879.jpgSAM_4829.jpgSAM_4828.jpg
SAM_4924.jpgSAM_4898.jpg

On one of our days in Trinidad, we walked around the town desperately trying to find fresh fruit, vegetables, and cooking items so we could cook for ourselves and save money on food. This was our first realization with just how little exists in Cuba and how expensive everything is that does exist. It took us about 5 hours walking around all of the streets to find:
8 eggs, 2 packets of pasta, tomato paste, onions (8 euros for 20 onions too by the way!), bread rolls, tomatos, plantains, bananas, cookies, and tuna.
13479448_1..628552979_n.jpg
The supermarkets had nothing more than empty shelves with two or three items on them, and the easiest way to find ingredients was to ask around and find the houses with a door open, with people selling a few items on tiny tables. Each house would sell something different - eggs and beans in one, tomatoes and onions in another. Finding lettuce was impossible - until the next day when Billy went out for a run and returned carrying lettuce for me as if it was a bouquet of flowers - the most delicious bouquet I ever received!

We quickly realized with the price of ingredients versus the price of food in the shops, that we weren't about to save our money by cooking, and we were quite sad about it. We made a few sandwhiches and on one night we cooked for the whole family and ate together at their beautifully laid out table. Their plates were all antique and of the finest china, and their silverware was beautiful. It had been a long time since I had eaten off such beautiful finery and I was convinced that the food tasted better because of it. We were so touched and felt incredibly lucky when we were then woke up everyday to find breakfast was made for us and we were eating lobster in the evenings as well as enjoying family dinners together.

SAM_4970.jpgSAM_4968.jpgSAM_4969.jpg
It seemed that Guido and Gisela were the only people in Cuba who understood we were not rich tourists, rather 2 young people traveling from a neighboring Caribbean island that was even more impoverished than Cuba. We watched movies with them in their rooms, sat up at night drinking mojitos at night, watched football matches together, and talked for hours about the differing politics between Cuba and the Dominican Republic. We learned that to kill a cow in Cuba will serve you 25 years in prison, but to kill a human only serves 15. This is because the milk of the cow belongs to you, but the cow belongs to the government.
SAM_4943.jpgSAM_5107.jpgSAM_5105.jpgSAM_5103.jpg
On one of the days we took a shared taxi down to the local beach in Trinidad (randomly with the same people we arrived to Trinidad with!). We were not overly impressed with the beach itself as the water wasn't very blue, and it was very commercial - with a huge resort and lots of people selling overpriced snorkeling trips out to the reef. We had our own snorkels with us so we were able to snorkel around the shore line - and we were so pleased we did because saw hundreds of tiny fish swimming as a giant school, and we even saw a baby stingray!
SAM_4841.jpgSAM_4872.jpgSAM_4874.jpgSAM_4835.jpg
On another day (with a huge hangover) we went on a 6 hour horse riding trek through the valle de los ingenios and to visit a waterfall in the mountains. We got to stop off for a much needed coffee at what is now my all time favourite cafe in the world. The cafe itself has no walls and is just a wood fired stove top underneath a rickety roof surrounded by log seats and coffee cups. The coffee is made fresh to the strength you desire, and each cup is served with a piece of sugar cane and a free cigar. The owner/ barista also sings as he grinds the coffee beans before he brews them for you. It was fantastic!

SAM_5005.jpgSAM_5006.jpgSAM_5010.jpgSAM_5014.jpg
SAM_4992.jpgSAM_5002.jpg

The waterfall and the view through the valley was beautiful too and it was quickly deemed as the best day of our time in Cuba.
SAM_5029.jpgSAM_5019.jpgSAM_4992__1_.jpgSAM_4987.jpgSAM_4978.jpgSAM_4976.jpgSAM_5000.jpgSAM_5045.jpgSAM_5044.jpgSAM_5089.jpgSAM_5090.jpgSAM_5075.jpg

Most of the days we had salsa classes, and the price was adding up very quickly. We met a couple of guys while out dancing one night who seemed very interested in my cellphone. They were willing to pay exactly what our salsa classes were worth - and far more than what I would get if I tried to sell the phone back in the Dominican Republic. So I did it, I did a factory reset and sold my phone to pay for our dance classes!
Our salsa classes were held in the different courtyards of the casa de la musica and were an hour long each class. We paid for group classes but were lucky to have no one else in our group so we essentially had private classes for the cheaper price - stoked! Billy and I took a long time to pick up the basic steps and to be able to hear the music, which was so strange considering that we are both always dancing bachata and merengue at home.

SAM_4825.jpg

By night we would go out and practice dancing at the casa de la musica, and one night we met up with some new found friends of ours Jo and Christoph who we had first encountered at the beach. They had been on a crazy journey to retrieve their missing cellphone and we were out to celebrate the phones return - and did we celebrate or what!?! We instantly began throwing back the most disgustingly strong mojitos and daiquiris that we were stumbling as we tried our best to follow the steps to the salsa.
13480332_1..424041582_n.jpg13492780_1..297527194_n.jpg13480124_1..455118533_n.jpg

The casa de la musica closed around 1am and we were left with no idea of what to do or where to go next - until we overheard people mentioning a party cave somewhere in the mountains above the town. We asked which direction to go, and began to stumble towards what we hoped would be an underground party. Just when we felt as if we were giving up hope and would never find it - we saw fairy lights and heard the cries of "$1 mojitos!" ... Party cave or no party cave, no one ever says no to a $1 mojito! Loaded up at the tiny little stall on the side of the cobbled street, we found ourselves on the path lit with more $1 mojito stalls heading right the way up in the direction of the party cave. We decided it would only be fair if we stopped and drank one mojito in each stall so as to not let any stall miss out on a little business...
13487747_1..060172589_n.jpg13480470_1..404310806_n.jpg13479313_1..521417020_n.jpg

The cobbled street soon gave way to a jungle path, where again we felt as if we were going the wrong way... until at last we saw it... the entrance to the underground party cave where we would dance until our feet could dance no more!

13472279_1..930781923_n.jpg

I have been in a lot of bars, clubs, and party places around the world - that is no secret. But, none have ever been as awesome as the party cave in trinidad. There were so many chambers, real dance floors underneath the stalactites, and multiple levels with fully functioning bars on each. There were VIP areas, a full chamber with male and female bathrooms, and large screens with music videos playing on them as laser lighting and disco balls glittered around the cave.

We were instantly greeted with the dance floor clearing as a group of sexy young Cuban men took over the dance floor with a dance presentation that turned out to be one of the strangest things I have ever seen. The men were playing drums with an almost voodoo-african beat, as they circled a table in the centre of the dance floor. They placed a young tourist on the table and gave her two glasses of water to hold high above her head. They continued to dance and chant as they edged their way closer and closer to the table... where 4 of the men on each corner then bent down and picked the table and the girl up - WITH ONLY THEIR TEETH! They spun her around the room for about 30 seconds and lifted the table higher without ever touching the table back to the ground or placing their hands on the table - it was SO strange! They also placed knives onto each other and walked over the knives, reminding Billy of the voodoo ceremonies performed by Haitian devotees in the community he grew up in.
13479603_1..650800000_n.jpg13480038_1..431524056_n.jpg13492860_1..139980926_n.jpg

The days in Trinidad passed lazily as the afternoons were hot and the nights of dancing were long. We absolutely loved our family and left them with promises to help with their visa to visit us one day here in the Dominican Republic. Leaving was hard, but we knew our next destination of Vinales would be worth it :)

Posted by chasingsummer 07:31 Archived in Cuba Tagged beach cuba dance cave waterfall party unesco trinidad salsa mojito classes pueblo daiquiri casa_particular Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 56) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »