Monthly Archives: May 2011

Going Home

My "beach shoes", bought in NYC 4 years ago when my feet hurt. I wore these up and down the hill on my way to my daily swims in the Caribbean. They are worn and battered. I said farewell to the shoes too.

At last, I am going home.  I have been very slack with posting on the blog.  I do have more adventures to tell you about, which I’ll post when I’m back in Sydney.

A few months ago, I let Timothy know that I can’t stay beyond June.  My beautiful dog, Max, is having all sorts of problems with his leg and I couldn’t stay away any longer.  So, after a sad goodbye to my friends in the Caribbean, I departed St Kitts yesterday for the long trek home. 

I’m spending 4 days in New York.  The last time I was here, the place was overwhelmed by a dump of snow.  Today is Memorial Day, the “unofficial” start of summer. 

Each time I visit New York, I try to stay somewhere different to get to know different neighbourhoods.  This time around, I’m in Union Square, home of some wonderful restaurants and of course the Union Square Green Markets. 

Although I will miss the weekend market, which is much larger, I’ve poked around a little and bought myself some summer berries.  Berries are both pricey and old in the Caribbean, so slurping through them is a delight.

Soon, this will be me

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Vieques

You know it's a small island when this is the luggage carousel

After my farewell visit to my beloved Old San Juan, and my teeny tiny plane ride, I spent two nights on Vieques.

Hardly the most famous of all isles, Vieques came onto my radar because it is home to one of (if not THE) best bioluminescent bay in the world.  Seeing the photos, and doing some research, I didn’t want to leave the Caribbean without experiencing this phenomenon.  (More about this in my next post).

Vieques itself, part of Puerto Rico, is a small island, home to 10,000 or so people, many of whom as US expats who protect the place from too much development.  I think they’ve been pretty successful so far, although a W Hotel opened up last spring on Vieques’ north coast.  Vieques has a chequered history: for decades, the US military used the place for target practice and there are a couple of sections of the island that are still “Exclusion zones” where you can’t go and play.

They must outsource to Telstra

I must say that, now that I’ve seen a fair few Caribbean islands, Vieques must be one of the quirkiest places in the region.  For example, no-one seems to be doing much forward planning.  There are not enough rental cars to go around on the island.  Normally I can just arrange a rental car through my hotel on the day I need it.  But there’s little chance of this on Vieques, especially on the busy Easter weekend.  Even though the W Hotel doubled the number of rooms on the island, no-one has doubled the number of cars and you are left to scrounge around across different rental agencies (or, if you are more organised than me, pre-book).

But that’s not all.  It’s probably a good thing that there are no more cars on the island, because there isn’t enough petrol to go around.  The two petrol stations on the island are owned by the same person, who arranges for petrol to be shipped twice a week.  During high season for tourists, there are no more deliveries than usual.  Whilst I could have scrounged around and found a car in the end, once I heard stories of people queuing for 3 hours to buy petrol, I figured “No way”.  It was just easier, and about the same cost, to get cabs (which also seen scarce).

To add to this oddity, the capital of Esperanza (which comprises a waterfront of bars, souvenir places, restaurants, a couple of hotels and convenience stores) plays host to a parade of show-offs at night.  Young studs trot through bareback on some of the wild horses that roam the island, while one group parks their car, flicks on their speakers and a microphone and purports to entertain the crowd in an off-key, lunatic type of style before they move on and you remember what it’s like to be able to hear yourself think.

I am not sure how (oh, OK I am: it was sheer laziness) but I ended up booking myself into a “Green Resort” in the form of Hix Island House without realising I’d done so.  Buildings and interiors of bare cement.  No TV, no phone, no air conditioning, no windows.

No. Windows.

Oh yes, you read that right: no windows.  The design concept is that guests are cooled by the breeze.  The downside is that it’s an open invitation to the local mozzies, the birds (who took the opportunity to relieve themselves on my bathroom sink) and noise from other rooms. 

As I wrapped my bed in the mosquito net provided (hint: tuck it under the mattress so you don’t get caught up in it during the night), my upstairs neighbours spent their evening until 1am talking and stomping around.  Now, they were not unreasonably loud, but seemed not to appreciate how much their activities would echo around the joint.  I responded with pleas  of “Go to sleep” which they eventually did, but then rose at 6am and began chopping lord knows what in their kitchen.  Arrrrghhhh! 

Post-bird poo bathroom

I think I appreciate the place more in retrospect, as I read a lot went into the design, blah blah.  But give me air conditioning and glass windows any day.

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Teeny tiny plane

Our ride to Vieques

You can reach the island of Vieques (pronounced “Bee-e-kes” one of two ways: you can drive 2 hours east of San Juan and take a ferry the 11km or you can catch a plane.  Since I needed to head back to St Kitts on Monday afternoon, I elected for the flying option.

Now, I knew the plane would be small, but I really didn’t know quite how small.  I’d been used to the Dash-8 Liat flights – 32 passengers and propellers.  I’d even taken a flight to Antigua in a plane that only fitted 15 with a tight squeeze.  But, my friends, these were veritable giants compared to Cape Air’s fleet.

Feeling confident (another self-portrait)

I knew I was in for a different experience when, on check-in, I was asked my body weight.  Gulp.  This is usually between me and the anonymous lady at Weight Watchers.  Apparently, this is so they can “balance” the plane.  Quickly assessing the situation, I realised it was futile to knock a couple of hundred kilos off since it was a safety issue, so I mumbled a number.  And coughed.

At the airport, they lined us up in groups of 6.  I figured “Oh, this must be to make things easier for boarding.”  Oh, noooo my friends: it was because there would be 6 of us on each plane.  I resolved not to think about it.

Pilot holds window open: air con?

So, here are my snaps from that little experience so you can enjoy this for yourself.  I must say, it was fairly enjoyable and you certainly feel more “at one” with the outside world. 

I even got to video the landing!

See for yourself

Oh, and did I mention the pilot was rather cute? (OK OK, I’m just saying).

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Good Friday

Another scrummy mallorca with egg, bacon and cheese. Mmmmm (and, yes, that IS sugar on top)

Good Friday in Puerto Rico is more important than Easter Sunday: the sacrifice, my friends, the sacrifice.  Unlike in Oz, the US and many other places where it’s the Resurrection that takes centre stage.

I was in Old San Juan, one last time before I head home, probably for good, on 1 June.  I thought that the Easter weekend would be perfect, as I not only wanted to visit San Juan one last time, but also the island of Vieques just near the main island of Puerto Rico.

A church-based street march on Good Friday

I had plans of wandering the marvellous blue cobblestoned streets, in and out of shops, picking up a few gifts for my family and friends back home.  Imagine my disappointment when I emerged from yet another mallorca breakfast at La Bombonera to find the shops almost all closed!  So I found a square next to a church, and just spent some time people watching as the man with the shaved ice van hand-scrapted the ice and then poured flavouring on, as the crowd gathered outside the temporary tent selling empanadillas, and just taking in the atmosphere.

Cafe St Germain's Leaning Tower

Luckily, my favourite cafe, St Germain, was open and I enjoyed a marvellous mushroom soup and a “leaning tower” of mozarella, avocado and tomato, smothered with pesto and a squirt of caramelised balsamic.  Total, utter bliss.  And then there was the dessert…cakes to DIE for.  A must for any visit to Old San Juan.

Jesus, bearing the cross of a bad hairdo.

On my way out to find dinner I emerged from my room to find an enormous crowd outside my hotel, which is across from a large, beautiful church.  They were enthralled by a re-enactment of the crucifixion, resplendent with Roman soldiers, the two thieves, and of course Jesus himself. 

After watching a while, I pressed through the crowd in search of dinner…once again to find everything closed.

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