Category Archives: Travels to the Caribbean

Cuba: Living Like it’s 1960

As mentioned in our last blog post, my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Cuba. Visiting Cuba is like stepping back in time — to the 1960’s. This post is to provide a little background information on Cuba (based on what we learned and by talking with Cubans). The Cuban people are friendly, warm, and welcoming to Americans.

Cuba From Ocean View

A Bit of Cuban History

Up until 1492, Cuba had been inhabited for 10,000 years by an indigenous people, similar to our Native Americans. The Spanish (Christopher Columbus) began conquering the island in 1492 and eventually killed off the indigenous population with European disease. The Spanish ruled until 1898 when Cuban and American forces defeated the Spanish in the Spanish-American War and made Cuba a free land.

After the war, America occupied Cuba for a few years as it transitioned to a democratic nation with elected officials. Corruption was rampant and the American mob began running the island with the backing of President Batista during the 1950’s.

In 1953, Fidel Castro (a well-educated lawyer) with a group of other intellectuals wanted to overthrow Batista by storming the Moncada Barracks, you can still see the bullet holes in the front of the building. Fidel’s aim was to free the Cuban people from corruption, eliminate the mob, provide literacy training for all Cubans and to provide a better life for Cubans.

Moncada Barracks Cuba

The coup attempt effort failed and the members of Fidel’s group were either killed or jailed. Fidel was sentenced to 15 years but was soon released by Batista as amnesty was given to many political prisoners. Fidel fled to Mexico and resurrected his attempt to overthrow the government. He succeeded in 1959 and Batista fled the country.  Fidel ruled the country as a communist state until his death in 2016.

Why Were Americans Banned from Visiting?

America provided arms to Batista during the revolution and Fidel resented it. In 1961, the USA also tried to overthrow Fidel’s new government when the CIA invaded the country at the Bay of Pigs but the attempt was thwarted. Relations deteriorated as Cuba began imposing high import taxes on American goods. America responded by imposing a trade embargo, not allowing any American companies to do business with Cuba and preventing Americans from visiting.

Cuba High Rises

The Soviet Union seized this opportunity by offering to support Cuba by replacing all American trade with Russian trade — Russia would purchase anything America was blocking with the trade embargo. As Russia and Cuba solidified a closer relationship, Cuba transitioned to a Communist state.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In1962, relations deteriorated with Cuba and Russia when American spy satellites spotted Soviet nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba, pointed at the USA. This resulted in a dangerous confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union, bringing the USA to DEFCON2 level — the closest we’ve ever been to a nuclear war.  After tense negotiations, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev quelled the crisis by Russia agreeing to remove the missiles if the USA agreed to remove nuclear missiles in Turkey and agree not to attack Cuba. If you want to learn more about this, check out this article.

The Cuban Revolution

After Cuba and the USA cut ties, Cuba began trading with Russia and transitioned to a Communist state. Cuba nationalized all American owned companies, which means the Cuban government took over the companies, the casinos that were previously run by the mob, and took possession of all of the mansions that lined the coast of Havana.

Cuban Mansions

Castro gave these mansions to Cuban peasants with several families living in the same home — an incredible improvement in their lifestyle. They also turned many of them into government offices.

Cuba Forts

Castro also implemented a 1-year project (Cuban Literacy Campaign) to eradicate illiteracy in small towns all around Cuba where literacy was just 60%. The effort was implemented by deploying teenagers, young adults and teachers all around Cuba to teach illiterate Cubans to read and write Spanish. This campaign was very successful, resulting in 96% of Cubans becoming literate within a year. Many of the Literacy Campaign’s volunteers went on to pursue teaching careers, and the rate of teachers is now 11 times higher than it was before the revolution.

A Socialist Cuba

As Cuba converted to Communism, the government continued to trade heavily with the Soviet Union and many Cubans will tell you that life felt better than when under Batista’s regime. Although Cubans could not start their own businesses, they received food, free education and healthcare, cheap housing and employment from the government.  Many of the peasants felt much better off but entrepreneurial Cubans felt trapped and many fled the country.

However, the government did not invest in Cuban infrastructure. We visited many parts of the town and you can see the impact of that with buildings beginning to crumble from neglect. Cuba is now starting to invest in renewing buildings but the problem is overwhelming.

Cuban Neglected Buildings

Cuba Neglected Buildings 2

This is not to say that Cuba does not have beautiful buildings, they really do. There are squares and really old buildings that are impressive, especially in Old Havana, where you see cobblestone streets and Spanish-inspired buildings.

Cuban Squares

Cuban New Architecture

Cuban Squares

As you take tours, they take you to the new Havana and they are very proud of this area. However, to Americans, it feels like a place stuck in time. The buildings are reminiscent of 1960, with an architecture similar to what you would have seen in 1960’s Miami.

Cuba New Architecture

Cuba New Architecture 2

Cuban New Architecture 3

And of course, you see all of the wonderful 1950 American cars. You will see some newer Russian and Cuban cars but about 70% of their cars are pristine 1950’s American cars. It is like being stuck in time — in a wonderful way.

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

American 1950 Cars in Cuba 2

American 1950 Cars in Cuba 3

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

Normalizing Relations with the United States

After Fidel Castro’s death, the USA and Cuba began normalizing relations. This now allows us to travel to Cuba as long as we do in as an Educational Exchange tour. I actually prefer this because you get to learn a lot about Cuba.

It’s not fully normalized yet. For example, if you bring American currency, they charge you a 10% tax just for converting the money. If you are planning to go to Cuba, purchase Euro or Canadian dollars from your local bank and convert those when you get to Cuba so that you don’t incur the 10% penalty.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba was left without a major trading partner and it really affected them economically. The average wage for a Cuban working for the government is just $25 per month but most get their basic needs met from the government with free education, healthcare, low-cost housing, and food.

Cubans are also resourceful. Many Cubans have relatives living in other countries that send money. Tour guides also take tips so they can earn hundreds of dollars per day — much more than the normal Cuban government wage.  We found Cuba to be extremely safe, you can walk around at night with no worries. The people are incredibly friendly and appreciate the warming of relations with America. Although they have endured hardship from their government, they are a proud people who love their country.

Now is a great time to visit Cuba because it still feels like a land stuck in time. Eventually, as normalization matures, Cuba will become more wealthy and this nostalgic feeling will subside.

Things to See

When visiting Havana, you will obviously want to visit Old and New Havana. But here are a few things you will surely want see that’s a little off the beaten path.

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia is a town on the outskirts of Havana that was renovated with ceramic tiles by a local artisan, fashioned after the works of Gaudi.  When we visited Spain, we saw similar architecture by Gaudi in Park Guell.

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia

Floridita

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for over 10 years and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls there. One of his favorite hangouts was the Floridita, the birthplace of the daiquiri. Enjoy latin music and sip on the best daiquiri you will ever drink.

Floridita

Old American Car Tour

For just $40 an hour, get a personalized tour of Havana in an old American car. Our driver took us to find Cuban cigars, to a nature preserve and a ride along the ocean.

American Cars

American Car Tour

American Car Tour

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cuba, you can see last month’s post about Cuba here.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had as we entered the bay into Havana as we viewed the iconic Morro Castle.

Morro Castle

 

 

Advertisements

Havana Cuba: Cigars and old American Cars

My wife and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and began looking for a unique trip to remember. Previously forbidden for Americans, Cuba fit the bill and did not disappoint. In fact, it’s the best trip we’ve taken in a long time.

Havana Cuba Old American Car

Where is Cuba?

Cuba is the largest Caribbean island (about the size of Florida) and sits between Florida and Jamaica.

Map of Cuba

We elected to take a cruise from Jamaica (we spent a couple of days in Jamaica first) with Celestyal Cruises. The cruise took us to Santiago de Cuba, then to Havana, and finally to Cienfuegos. Because it was an educational exchange, we learned about Cuban history, the culture, the people, and the normalization process with America.

Celestyal Cruises

Why Cuba?

What made us want to go to Cuba? Until just 3 years ago, it was a forbidden land for Americans. Even now, the only way to go to the island is via an educational exchange tour where you learn about the history and culture of Cuba. I’ll talk more about Cuba history and why Americans were forbidden to travel there in an upcoming blog, but if you want to know more check out the Netflix series called The Cuba Libre Story.

Santiago del Cuba

Old American Cars

Havana is the capital of Cuba and the most vibrant city we’ve visited in a while.  It feels like a city stuck in time. Because of the American embargo, Cubans could no longer purchase American cars after 1960 so the streets are full of beautiful American cars from the 50’s and the buildings look like buildings you would have seen in 1960’s America.

American Cars in Cuba

Old American Cars Cuba

Old American Cars Cuba

Old American cars were everywhere. Not just a few — tons of them.

You can grab a taxi tour in an old car for about $40 an hour. Lynn and I took a 2-hour tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our drivers were 2 young men (23 and 21-year-old brothers) whose vintage car was handed down from their Dad. They took us to the major sites of the city and by special request, they helped us track down a specific type of cigar we were looking for (Montecristo number 2).

Cuban Cigars

Before leaving for our trip, I had 10 people ask me to buy as many cigars as possible to share with them.  As you may know, we can’t buy Cuban cigars in the USA and that’s what makes them so special.

With cigars, you have to keep them in an environment that’s about 70 degrees and 70 percent humidity or they will dry out. Cuban cigars are not cheap — between $10 and $30 per cigar is the norm, so you don’t want to pay that kind of money and have them dry out.

I decided to purchase enough cigars to give to a few to friends and keep a few. You can bring back 50 cigars per person but I brought back 38. I also bought a few humidors to ensure that they kept to 70/70 for the temperature and humidity. That amount filled an entire backpack. In hindsight, I probably could have brought back 100 (50 for me and 50 for Lynn) and put them in a humidor once I got back to the states because it is humid enough in Cuba and they would not have dried up by the time I made it back.

I had never smoked a Cuban cigar before now. I did a bit of research and found that the most popular brand is Cohiba. They range in cost from $10 to $50 each, the ones I purchased were just over $20 each.

Another popular brand is Montecristo. In fact, Montecristo number 2 was voted best cigar in Cuba a few years back, so that intrigued me. The cost ranges from $10 to $30 per cigar. Finding the Montecristo number 2 became a challenge because they are so popular. We visited about 5 cigar shops before I finally found them so I purchased more of these than the Cohiba.

I’m not much of a cigar smoker and have only smoked a few cigars over the years. I’ve never had a good cigar before I found the Montecristo cigar and boy do I get it now. What a great cigar, it has a smooth taste, does not leave a bitter aftertaste and does not wreck your throat the next morning.

The Floridita

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for over 10 years and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls there. One of his favorite hangouts was the Floridita, the birthplace of the daiquiri. Lynn and I made our way there.

Ernest Hemingway

As we walked in, a Cuban band was playing latin music so we moseyed up to the bar and ordered a Mojito (a popular Cuban drink). The bartender said, “you sure you don’t want a daiquiri”?  Not thinking, we said “no” and the Mojito was great. Then we noticed everyone was ordering daiquiris and finally saw the sign saying that it was invented there. Wow, the best daiquiris we’ve ever had. One turned into two, two turned into three — you get the picture.

Floridita Cuba

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cuba, keep an eye out for upcoming blogs on Cuba where I will explain more about the history and culture.

We found the Cuban people to be warm, inviting and full of passion. They love to dance and to spend time with friends and family. Even though they’ve gone through hardships economically and politically over the years, they take great pride in their homeland and are glad that relations with America are finally normalizing.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had as we entered the bay into Havana.

Havana Cuba Bay

 

 

Stingrays and Turtles in the Cayman Islands

This post is a blast-from-the-past. I started this blog after I retired in 2009 but we vacationed as a family since the boys were in diapers and experienced some amazing trips. So I figured I would go back and pull pictures from some of those old trips and post them on our blog.

We visited the Cayman Islands in May of 2001. Cameron was about 7.5 years old and Ryan was almost 6.

Cayman Islands 2001

Cayman Islands

If you’ve never visited the Cayman Islands, it’s located in the Caribbean just west of Jamaica.

cayman_islands_location

A British territory, the Cayman Islands was first discovered in 1503 by Christopher Columbus. He originally named it Los Tortugas because Tortugas means “turtle” in Spanish and reporting seeing lots of sea turtles on his first visit.

Cayman Turtle Centre

We visited the Cayman Turtle Centre where you can hold turtles of different sizes, check out their website here.

cayman-turtle-center

Stingray City

They also have a hefty population of stingrays. We visited Stingray City, a shallow area in the surrounding waters of the Cayman Islands where stingrays will feed out of your hands.

stingray-city-cayman

Ryan was a bit unsure what to think of the stingrays but our guide eased his fears. After feeding this one, it crept up on my arm and I felt a sucking sensation on my arm. I almost freaked out to find out that the stingray made a move on me and left a hickey to prove it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile, Cameron sat quietly in the boat as the captain entertained him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cayman Island Beaches

The beaches in the Cayman Islands are beautiful. The water is turquoise met by white sand. The boys enjoyed building sand castles, making a sand turtle and lazying around in the hammocks at the resort.

cayman-island-beaches-turtle

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ryan Being Lazy

Devil’s Hangout

On one of our excursions, we ventured out to the edge of Hell and lived to tell about it.

Aye Matey

On our final excursion, the boys got to captain a pirate ship and were later forced to walk the plank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Co-Captains of the ship

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About to walk the plank

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cameron snagged a life jacket before walking the plank

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to the Cayman Islands. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of Ryan hanging 10.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First visit to the Caribbean: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

This post is a blast-from-the-past. I started this blog after I retired in 2009 but we vacationed as a family since the boys were in diapers and experienced some amazing trips. So I figured I would go back and pull pictures from some of those old trips and post them on our blog.

Slide back the calendar back to 1989, I was working for Ross Perot at Perot Systems and Lynn was working at ABC News. We were referred to as Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) and were making our first real money. We were living outside of Washington D.C. and did not have kids for another 4 years.

After working crazy hours at Perot, Lynn and I needed to get away. Neither of us had traveled much before and decided to take a trip to the Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We found an all-inclusive resort called Sandals and were bitten by the travel bug for the first time.  Here’s what Sandals looked like in 1989:

sandals-resort-1989

I found a picture of it today, the building itself has not changed much but they’ve greatly improved the pools, water sports area, and interior.

sandals-resort-2016

One of the first things we did once we arrived was to find the swim-up pool.

Sandles Ocho Rios

As you can see above, the swim-up bar was inviting but it looks very dated now. At the time, it blew us away. I found a picture of the pool today, quite a difference:

sandals-ocho-rios-today

We had an ocean-front villa. At the time, they were building Jetties so that they could have a calm area for water sports, like sailing and windsurfing.

ocean-front-sandals-jamaica

jetties-ocho-rios-jamaica-sandals

Fast forward to today — they have an incredible swim area. You can see where they eventually put docks on top of those jetties.

jetties-2016

This was the first time I’de ever windsurfed and it’s not as easy as it seems. I stayed in the water more than on top of the board. We also kayaked and enjoyed all the water sports they had to offer.

windsurfing

One of our favorite excursions was a sunset sail on the boat you can see in the picture above. Lynn and I got our first taste of Red Stripe beer, Rum Punch, and Reggae — it was awesome.

sailing-jamaica

We also visited Dunn’s River Falls. The Spaniards called the area “Las Chorreras”, the waterfalls or springs and it is truly one of the most beautiful spots on the island. Check out the video camera the guy was holding, this thing was huge!

dunns-river-falls-1989

If you’re curious, here is what Dunn’s River Falls looks like today.

dunns-river-falls-2016

I’ll leave you with a final picture of me playing volleyball, I did a lot of that on this vacation. For each activity you participated in, you received points. At the end of your stay, you could cash in the points for a leather necklace with sandals as the pendant. Last year I actually found a couple of those necklaces from this trip!

Check out all the Europeans with the speedos — I was not going there!

volleyball

I hope you enjoyed this blast-from-the-past. In the coming months I plan to document some of our earlier travels to give our kids a better glimpse of where we’ve traveled to.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

 

 

 

 

Finishing up 3 months of travel in Nassau Bahamas

Our 3 months of travel came to a close in beautiful Nassau Bahamas.  For our remaining days, we decided to visit an all-inclusive resort in Nassau called Breezes.   No more hunting for restaurants or things to do — Breezes has all you can eat, drink and do — all day, every day.

Looking back, we’ve had an incredible trip.  We ate lobster in Bar Harbor, Maine, visited the maritime provinces of Canada, enjoying Prince Edwards Island the most.  Then we headed to Ecuador, visited the Galapagos Islands, and spent almost 4 weeks studying Spanish in Cuenca, Ecuador.  Jetting off to Peru, we experienced one of the 7 wonders of the world, Machu Picchu.

We finished this whirlwind excursion in the Bahamas, visiting Exuma, Long Island and Nassau.  Here are few pictures of Breezes, our last destination in the Bahamas.

Breezes Resort in Nassau Bahamas

Breezes Resort in Nassau Bahamas

Breezes Resort in Nassau Bahamas

Ping Pong, Pool and TV in the Bahamas

Staying fit during our travels

During our travels, we really tried to stay in shape.  Almost every day, we walked for many miles because we did not have a car for most of the time.  No matter where you are, there are always excellent places to walk.  In Nassau, I found a nice walking trail that goes along a pond:

Pond in the Bahamas

To prevent totally losing my strength, I purchased workout bands from Bodylastics and used those several times per week. They come in different weight levels, but I just brought one and used it to work out my back and arms.  A single band fits easily in the backpack. I did push ups for chest and crunches and sit ups for abs. I did lunges for legs.

Workout bands by Bodylastics

Other things we learned

During our first long-term vacation, we learned a few things.   We were really happy that we purchased a PacSafe before hand.  Using a PacSafe, you can wrap your backpack (containing your valuables like computers, iPads, etc) in the PacSafe and lock it to the toilet or sink.  This came in really handy because we did not want to leave our valuables unprotected in the hostels and hotels we stayed.  Here is what the PacSafe looks like, you simply wrap it around your backpack to lock and secure your stuff:

PacSafe locking system

As far as luggage, we each took a 65 liter backpack and a computer backpack.   In hind site, we probably took too many clothes and the 65 liter backpack could probably be replaced with a more friendly travel backpack by Rick Steves.  Some other travel friends of ours (Bob and Robin Charlton – http://www.wherewebe.com) showed us their Rick Steves backpacks that open up like a suitcase but has the convenience of a backpack.  I am sure we will be checking into that before our next big trip.  We were glad we packed a flashlight, medicine, duct tape, lots of Q-tips, and other sundries — they all came in handy.

We probably took too many electronics (I brought a laptop, iPad and iPhone and Lynn brought an iPad and iPhone).  It did come in handy (laptop for blogging, iPad for reading CNN and the Daily e-zine, and the iPhone for texting).  Not sure how we will change this for our next big trip but it did weigh us down.  I also brought my Nikon 5150 camera and an underwater camera.  In hindsight, I think the underwater camera would have been enough because the Nikon takes up a lot of room. But I love my Nikon!

Bob and Robin Charlton

Things we were surprised by

Having never traveled for 3 months before, we were surprised by a couple of things.  You get home sick in the first few weeks –  that fades after a couple of weeks as you start enjoying your new surroundings.  Towards the end of the trip, you get homesick again.  We missed our dog (Katie), our bed, American food, friends and just waking up and watching the Today show.   When traveling (especially in developing nations), you don’t always have reliable WiFi and rarely do you have American TV stations.  It is surprising how much we value our TV time — the Today show, nightly news, and some of our favorite prime time shows.

I also missed watching my beloved Dallas Cowboys and Alabama Crimson tide — but I did keep up with them via the internet.  I was planning to stream the Cowboys game via NFL network but I was surprised to find out that they only allow streaming if you are in the USA, they block it from foreign IP addresses.  Same goes for HULU — they do not allow streaming of TV shows and movies outside of the USA.

Since we were visiting mostly Spanish-speaking countries, I was surprised how well we were able to use our limited amount of Spanish to communicate, but really missed our ability to be expressive, funny and well-spoken when converting our thoughts from English to Spanish.  I like to make quips and jokes and it was much harder to convert that to Spanish than I had expected.  Learning fluent Spanish is also is harder than I expected.  I figured with 50 hours of Spanish in almost 4 weeks,  I would be somewhat fluent.  Not really.  I think it would take (at least for me) about a year of living there to become fluent.

Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands

One of the cool things we noticed is that overall, people are really nice and want to get to know you.  People would go out of their way to say hello to you and to learn more about where you are from and how you like visiting their country.  They really appreciated our (sometimes feeble) attempts at communicating with them in their native language and were patient as we got the words out.  We also made them laugh. One time I was explaining something to our Spanish teacher and she just burst our laughing  (I guess I had mistakenly called someone a prostitute with my new-found Spanish).

Most people think of Quito Ecuador as a scary city — crowded and lots of crime.  We were certainly careful (we traveled with very little cash, no flashy jewelry, and we stayed in at night or took cabs if we decided to venture out), but I will say that I was surprised by something that happened in the Quito airport.  Lynn and I ate at the airport and I had (foolishly) put my wallet on the table.  Then I remembered I needed to go back out of the terminal for a few minutes to check on something. In my haste, I must have left the wallet on the table.   About 10 minutes later, a policeman found me (by using the picture on my driver’s license inside the wallet). Someone had turned my wallet in and had me check it.  All the cash and credit cards were there.  He then introduced me to the nice Ecuadorian that found it — very cool.

Cuenca Ecuador

The final thing we were surprised by was our travel style.  We decided to make our travel plans as we went with no big plans.  So to do this, we did not do much research ahead of time, we figured we would let the trip dictate where we went and how our itinerary would unfold.  This works but is more stressful that you might imagine.  Having to find hotels at a moments notice, restaurants to eat in and things to do takes more time and effort than you might think.  In the future we will take a more analytical approach to it, research things ahead of time and have a better planned itinerary.  I also think 3 months may be too long for our travel style.  I am not sure of the exact duration that will work best for us but I guess we will figure this out over time.   Finally, airfare was lots more expensive than we expected, next time we will try to arrange our trip with less airline trips to reduce our costs.  We went through 21 airports during our 3 months of travel – whew!

But I can’t emphasize how amazing this trip was.  We really had a great time and spending this time with Lynn was incredible.  She is awesome, my best friend and the best travel partner you can imagine.

Machu Picchu

So this ends our first big travel excursion since retirement.  I hope you enjoyed receiving our weekly updates during our travel.  This will probably be the last one for a while — until we have something interesting to say or some news on our next travel plans.  Please let us know (via comments) if you like the blog and if you want to see more of it in our future travels.  Also, feel free to let us know where you think we should go next.

We will now enjoy Thanksgiving with our boys, enjoy our home in Florida, and begin planning our next big trip.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Swift Breezes in Long Island Bahamas

I think we found the most laid back place in the world — Long Island Bahamas.  If you are into snorkeling, fishing, laying on the beach, and feeling swift breezes flowing through screened windows of a beach side cottage — you will love it here. If you are looking for WiFi, Cable TV, tours and planned out days — you are in the wrong place.

For a slide show of Long Island, click here.

Let’s start with the cottage.  We stayed in a one bedroom cottage with 2 decks that sits ocean front.  The windows have 6 inch layers of rotating glass that open all the way up so that breezes come through the house as if you were camping under the open sky.  Delightful sleeping at night, feeling the breezes and hearing the ocean crash onto the rocks outside of the cabin.

Our cabin on the ocean

Wind swept bedroom

Great views

Whistling Duck Cottage

View from the front deck

We had no internet and no cable TV — just DVDs of older movies which made every night “Movie Night”.  There are not many restaurants here either, only a few.  We ended up eating at 2 different restaurants almost every day, but that also gave us a chance to connect to WiFi to catch up on current events (like the election results).  Our favorite restaurant was next to a marina where we could see large boats as well as the small fishing boats come in for a break.

The marina

Our favorite eatery

Lynn enjoying lunch

One day we were hanging out at that restaurant and we saw a fishing boat pull up with a huge catch of lobster.  They harvest lobsters the old fashion way — they dive down and hook or spear them!

We met some other vacationers from Vancouver, Canada that happened to be staying in a cabin next to us.  Together, we went down and asked the fishermen if they would sell us some lobster — we bought 8 lobsters for $35!  That night we grilled shared lobster with our new friends at their cottage.

Lobster fishermen

Catch of the day!

The ocean and beaches are spectacular here, check out these beaches we stumbled on.

Incredible beaches

Incredible beaches

Incredible beaches

Incredible beaches

Incredible beaches

One of the big attractions is Dean’s Blue Hole.  It is the deepest blue hole in the world — over 600 feet deep.  Free divers from all over the globe come here to dive it.  We saw several of them here and talked with them about how they do it.  They train like any other sport and most can hold their breath for 6 to 7 minutes underwater.  They do this diving with no tanks, it is incredible to imagine holding your breath that long.  I snorkeled the blue hole and the fish were coming right up to me — blue and silver fish that were probably 3 to 4 pounds each.

Free Diving at Deans Blue hole

Deans Blue hole

One day we drove to the most northern tip of the island.  Many years ago, they erected a monument to Christopher Columbus for laying claim to the island on 17-Oct-1492.  He said these were some of the most beautiful and shallow water islands he had ever seen.  To get to the monument, we drove until it was un-driveable (due to washed out roads), then we hiked another 30 minutes to the monument. It sits at the top of a hill that you can climb, but the views are righteous.

Uphill hike to Columbus Memorial

Columbus Memorial

Speaking of righteous, there are beautiful churches on the island with an architecture you might not expect.  Here, see what I mean:

Interesting church architecture

Notice this one’s roof was blown away by Irene

Notice the graves in front of the church — this is common

Churches of Long Island

Long Island sports one of the smallest airports we’ve ever seen.  Barely more than a room big and it has a rental car company on site.  To get to it, you have to cross the airstrip!  Too funny.

Watch for planes!

Not exactly the Atlanta International airport!

For a slide show of Long Island, click here.

I’ll leave you with one more photo that I caught at the end of day of fishing.   Nice, eh?

Rewarding end of the day!

Swimming with the Pigs in Exuma Bahamas

On the way to the Bahamas, we got stuck in Miami for 3 nights due to Hurricane Sandy. Not a bad place to be stuck, we took advantage of the time to eat all our favorite American dishes that we had missed in the past 2 months of traveling to South America. We also took in 2 movies (Argo and 7 Psychopaths) — first movies we have been to during our travels. Miami had small amounts of rain and wind. We stayed in South Beach, so we were able to stroll the beaches each day. Nice!

Once we arrived in Exuma Bahamas, we had another surprise awaiting us at the airport. The caretaker of the house we rented said the power was off at the house due to the storm. No worries, we rented a beach front hotel with really great views.

For a slide show of Exuma, click here.

Great view from our hotel

Chillin’ at the pool

That hotel was fully booked the second day, so we rented another hotel with even better views.

Captivating views at our hotel

Bahamas beaches are incredible

After 2 days, our caretaker agreed to give us refund us for the house with no power, so we rented a cool little beach cottage a few minutes from the beach, snagged a car, and settled in. The Bahamas were once British owned, so people drive on the left side of the road here. This allowed Lynn and I to check off one of our bucket list items — drive on the left side of the road.

Checking one off the bucket list

At first, it was really strange. I kept mumbling to myself “stay of the left, stay on the left.” Driving to roundabouts were also different — you take the left way around the roundabout instead of the right. But interesting enough, after about 2 days of doing it, it felt absolutely normal.

The biggest challenge is that the blinkers are on the right of the steering wheel — I kept hitting the wipers ever time I tried to put on the blinkers.  The radio volume is also on the right instead of the left, so we changed the radio station instead of the volume.

Since we are staying the in the Bahamas for several weeks, I wonder how it will feel to drive on the right side when we return home!

Exuma is about 50 miles from one end to the other. We drove around the island and discovered new beaches — all with impeccable white sand and blue waters. These are probably the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen (sorry Florida). In the capital (Georgetown), we hopped a water taxi to Stocking Island. This is a small island with great views and a cool little restaurant called Chat and Chill.

Chat and Chill

Chat and Chill

The owner of this place is a 63-year-old ex-banker with a degree from the University of Chicago. He was very successful but decided to pitch it all, return to the Bahamas and open up a restaurant where he could enjoy the company of travelers and just chill. The Chat and Chill restaurant is aptly named. The owner is a well-read guy that will talk your ear off about current events, his extensive travels, and his 5 children. It was fun getting to know him. Here are some of the incredible views from his place:

Great views from Chat and Chill

Signpost gives far away distances

He also has a little place that makes fresh conch salads beach-side. They pull the conch out of the water, extracts it from the shell, slices it up mixing it with lime juice, diced tomatoes, onions and other ingredients. Then they feed the stingrays with the left over parts of the conch. Notice the huge stingray that came up to me, I petted it as it swam by.

Conch salad bar

Steve spots a stingray

No visit to Exuma is complete until you swim with the pigs. Didn’t know pigs could swim? Neither did I! We had a full day boat tour of many of the surrounding cays and when we arrived at one of the cays, pigs saw the boat and swam out to see us. We jumped in the water and began feeding and swimming with them. I’ve never seen anything like it, very cool!

Swimming pigs

They come right up to the boat for slices of bread

Steve feeds a pig

During the excursion, we saw many islands that were privately owned by the wealthy (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, AT&T executives, Nicholas Cage, etc.). Tim McGraw’s house was incredible, huge 10,000 square foot mansion on the water.

Lynn at a sandbar

We also snorkeled into a cave where they filmed the ending of James Bond’s Thunderball.

Cave they shot the final scene of 007 Thunderball in

On our way back to the dock, we stopped by a small cay filled with land iguanas. We fed the iguanas — they were not afraid of us, they came right up.

Feeding the iguanas

What you looking at?

Our next stop is to a different Caribbean Island – Long Island Bahamas. We will stay there for a few weeks before returning back to Florida. Hasta Luego!

For a slide show of Exuma, click here.