I Left a Piece of My Heart in Africa: Part 1

— Amanda Vallone

 

On September 21, 2017, of group of 19, including my family, and myself departed Daytona Beach for our very own African Adventure. None of us knew what was in store. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I watched every movie, read every lonely planet blog and article, spoke with my Salute Africa Rep more times than was humanly possible, and (tried) reading as many books as I could about the culture, destination, and trip… But the fact was: none of our 20 extremely well-traveled explorers had ever stepped foot in Southern Africa. Kenya, yes; Egypt, sure; Asia, a dime a dozen; Europe, almost everyone. But this African Adventure was a first for us all… In so many ways.

We were picked up in style from Roseborough Travel via luxury limo bus to make our way to the Daytona airport so we could have a nice and smooth departure out of our nearby airport.

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I won’t sugar coat this part; our flight was cancelled due to engine failure. We were extremely happy they figured that out while we were still on the ground!2

We were re-accommodated on a later flight, but we missed our first day in Cape Town because of the delayed flight and missed connection (thank God for travel insurance and pre-nights).

After many hours of flying, we finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, to a very cosmopolitan airport, that in my opinion was more streamline and even more lovely than most we have here in the states (this was my first pleasant surprise). As soon as we grabbed our luggage and walked out the exit gates we saw James, our tour director for Cape Town (our next very pleasant surprise).

The very courteous, pleasant, informative, and yes, handsome, James brought us to our home for the next 3 nights, the Southern Sun Cullinan, a waterfront area hotel in Cape Town with free shuttle access to the VA waterfront.

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The hotel was our third and most amazing pleasant surprise of the evening. Yes, I looked at every photo online. I read all of the trip advisor reviews.  But this hotel is rated a 4* hotel, and when you are going to another country, 4* is a different standard than we as U.S. travelers are used to. There is a sliding scale of the rating standards. OMG, we pulled up to the Taj Mahal of hotels (okay, I might be exaggerating slightly…). After spending 2 days on airplanes, though, this did feel spectacular.

The Southern Sun Cullinan gets its name from the largest Diamond in the world. It was found in the diamond mines in Africa, and when the diamond cutter went to make his first cut he passed out from the stress. This diamond now sits in England on the crown jewels.

Table Mountain

Prominently overlooking the city of Cape Town, this 600 million year old flat-topped mountain is one that is not to be missed. With its own rich diversity of plant life distinct to the Cape alone, it is no wonder Table Mountain is one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature.’ You can see Table Mountain from all over Cape Town, but you cannot truly say you have taken in all of its glory, or truly visited Cape Town for that matter, until you have stood on top.

So if the day is clear and you get out early enough in the morning, you must get to the top of Table Mountain. We had pre-arranged tickets thanks to Salute Africa and Roseborough, which cut our wait time down by over an hour and a half on that day. The short ride in the cable car was fun; it spun slowly so that no matter where you were standing you could see different views — and yes, we saw many mountain climbers making their way to the top (eeek!).

After reaching the top there was a nice coffee shop and a gift shop, plus a ton of area to walk around. From the top you could see so many beautiful sights including: Devil’s Peak to the east, Lion’s Head to the west, the dramatic backdrop of the city of Cape Town, Signal Hill, the City Bowl, and Table Bay Harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end and the views are simply fantastic.

Fun Fact: There are more indigenous plants on Table Mountain alone than in all of Great Britain.

And there were these little animals called the Dossie. They looked like a large rodent, but they’re actually the closest living relative to an elephant.

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If you’re a thrill-seeker but climbing up the mountain isn’t enough for you, maybe rappelling down the mountain is more your style? It’s actually abseiling off Table Mountain (backward rappelling) that you would be doing. And though no experience is necessary, it is not for the faint of heart. Our Adventurous Explorers looking to partake in this will have a helmet and be hooked to a cable with a harness and a pulley system as they take their 367 foot long controlled descent off of Table Mountain. Truth be told, I would totally do this (it’s my kind of crazy). But even to me it looked slightly unnerving. I mean it when I say, you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of Table Mountain, or abseiled to the bottom (and maybe left some of your breakfast there).

Is it wheelchair accessible? Yes! Workers took my mom in her wheelchair, as well as a few walking with canes, up an elevator ahead of the group so they would not need to stand in line.

Child friendly? YES! Especially if you dose your kid with hot cocoa like I did.

How to dress? You must wear clothes… hahaha. Okay, but seriously, Cape Town was fairly chilly and we felt it there at the top of the mountain — burr…

Hout Bay

Also known as ‘Wood Bay,’ Hout Bay is a town about a 30 minute drive from Cape Town, South Africa. At the southern tip of Africa, where two of the world’s greatest oceans converge, a total experience of land, sea and the rainbow culture of the Western Cape offer you the most exciting land based whale watching venues in the world! It is also generally referred to as the entire valley, and the boarding the Cape Peninsula. For the sake of this blog, I refer to Hout Bay as the general area or the entire Valley.

Chapman’s Peak Drive

The 30-minute scenic drive from Cape Town, known Chapman’s Peak Drive, is all about incredible scenery. It was most easily related to our amazing drives along Big Sur in California — by the way South Africa looks more like Hawaii and Northern California than any other destination we could relate it to.

Known as the “Chappies” to residents, Chapman’s Peak is the rocky coastal roadway overlooking Noordhoek and Hout Bay. It is also where we were able to see whales (humpbacks making their way with their young from Antarctica), boulders, seals, and baboons. And to our surprise Chapman’s Peak Drive also forms part of the route for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon. The winding cliff roads made our entire group think these people might be crazy, but who are we to judge?

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Seal Colony

When one thinks of Africa, she normally would think of the big 5 Game animals — specifically Lions, Rhinos and Elephants… But South Africa is home to many more species of quite amazing creatures. The South African Cape Fur Seals are the only species of seal to form permanent colonies in Africa. These Cape Fur Seals can be found in South Africa and Namibia.

We took a boat, the Nauticat, out into False Bay to see a colony of Fur Seals. There was at least 150 of them living on this big rock formation out there. The boat ride took about 30-45 minutes, and it was pretty rough and choppy.

I would highly recommend sitting outside and in the front of the boat — I know the front is not where one who gets seasick would normally sit, but this was where the best wind/breeze came from. Do NOT sit inside the boat, like my family did, unless you have a spectacularly strong stomach.

I sat in the back of the boat outside for most of the trip and had a nice ride, but once we arrived to the seals the front was so crowded that it was hard to capture the amazing pictures everyone else got. The seals were barking, jumping, going wild with anticipation (the probably though the tourists looked quite similar to them because we were all so excited, too). It almost seemed like they were putting on a show for us.

Boulder Beach

After a beautiful drive and quite full day, we made our way out to the next most unique animal, in my opinion, for South Africa. And it also just so happens to be one of my favorite animals — the PENGUIN!21

Boulder Beach is located off a picturesque drive in Simons Town, and is unique to an endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This colony of cute little birds is one of only a few in the world, making the site famous to locals and international visitors.

There are only about 2100 penguins at Boulder Beach, which may seem like plenty for your one stop for the day, and it is quite enough in terms of a “tourist” hot spot to visit. But the sad yet harsh reality is that this colony of incredible animals was moved from the Vulnerable to the Endangered Species list for good reason. The beach was turned into an animal sanctuary in 1983 after seeing an 80% decrease in the population worldwide, which helped considerably for a while. The census of penguins had grown in 2005 to 3900, but then in 2011 decreased back down to 2100 birds. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit Boulder Beach and see these birds.

Fun facts about the beach & penguins:

Come one, Come all! – The beach itself is ideal for children as immense boulders shelter the cove from currents, wind and large waves. The Penguin walking area is also a great spot for the wee ones. Not only are you teaching your young about the beautiful birds of the world, but it really is just fun. I brought my very own mini-explorer Aurora, and she loved it!

Thou Shall Keep Thy Hands to Thyself! – Seriously, don’t touch or feed the penguins unless you want to be left with a nub. These birds may look cute and cuddly, but their beaks are as sharp as razors and if they feel threatened they have no qualms about nipping a finger or nose. And as mentioned earlier, you have 2100 of those beaks to compete with.

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Walkways, Parking, and Viewing – Within the park itself, the Boulders consists of 3 beaches, 1 penguin viewing area, and 3 boardwalks. The boardwalks were built to allow for safe and beak-injury-free viewing of these wonderful birds. There are specific viewing hours and limited parking, so depending on the season you go, be sure to arrive with sufficient time and the ability to search for parking. Parking is available at either end of the park, on Seaforth Rd and on Bellevue Rd.

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Wheelchair Accessible – Yes, kind of. So you will see that I often, especially on this trip, talk about wheelchairs or special needs. Though I in no way use a wheelchair or accommodation, my mom who travels with me quite often has been in a wheelchair since I was four years old. She can walk a little, but not long distances. So this is important for this area. Wheelchairs – YES! All the viewing areas have ramps and are on boardwalks so it is wheelchair accessible. Just be careful to park in the regular lot. There are regular parking lots, and then there is alternative parking pretty far out. If you go park further away, you will be directed down a beautiful walking path covered in sand. Anyone who has pushed a wheelchair before knows it is not easy to push one through sand (remember you are on a beach). So, as long as you park in the regular lots- you are golden!

Who are you calling a Jackass?!? The aquatic birds were formerly called Jackass Penguins due to their donkey-like braying. You have the biggest chance of really “getting this” noise and experience from March–May.

Cape of Good Hope

Known as one point with one million points of view, and home to the famous sign most people who visit South Africa get their photo in front of showing “furthest point South West,” Cape of Good Hope. Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park. Cape Point is a narrow stretch of land that encompasses beautiful valleys, beaches, plant life, and over 250 bird species.  This really was an amazing stop for the day.

As we entered the nature reserve, we were greeted with troops of baboons lining the roadway. This was our first experience seeing so many all at once — they later turned into sightings for us like Sandhill Cranes in Central Florida, or even alligator sightings here or deer sightings up north (pretty common, yet still pretty freaking cool).

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Things to see:

Lighthouse – In 1859, the lighthouse was put at the highest peak above sea level to help protect the sailors coming into the bay.  By day, it was a navigational landmark and by night, and in fog, it was a menace plagued by violent storms and dangerous rocks that over the centuries littered shipwrecks around the coastline. The lighthouse still stands there today, and you can visit it to look out on the coast of South Africa.

What the Funicular? – We took an exhilarating ride on the Flying Dutchman, a funicular that departs the bottom of the mountain every three minutes. The Flying Dutchman Funicular is believed to be the only commercial funicular of its type in Africa, and takes its name from the local legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship. So what is it? It is like a tram ride, but rather than being suspended from above, this cart is run on a rail system. It’s pretty cool and it saves you from going up the many steep steps and through the endemic fynbos (meaning fine bush) on the hike to the top.

Wheelchair accessible? YES! Mom got onto the flying Dutchman in her wheelchair and I had a few others with canes or walkers that were accommodated with seats. 40 people can fit into this trolley-type car, and it is totally worth the ride.

Also Known As: In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias named the shipwrecked point, ‘Cape of Storms’. The ‘Point’ was treated with respect by sailors for centuries.

All these views, now I’m hungry! – No need to worry, you do not have far to go — the Two Oceans Restaurant is where we had lunch for the day, and it was incredible! We of course had group reservations and our meal was included in the tour — Thank you Salute Africa for recommending this! I got the fish, of course! And it was superb. Also, the wine, produced right in South Africa, was not only quite tasty, but extremely affordable. A glass was about $3 — HELLO! The Wine-o in me rejoices! Two Oceans even made a special kid’s meal for Aurora the Explorer. Oh, the views weren’t too shabby either. The whole back side of the restaurant overlooks the bay and is ceiling to floor glass, giving patrons the most spectacular views. The restaurant is as famous for its seafood as it is for its views, including a superb wooden deck that looks out onto one of the most stunning ocean views in South Africa.

 

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Jeffery Higgins

The best part of the trip for me from an activity perspective was the downhill mountain biking.  I always thought mountain biking was a technical thing – around rocks, over roots, through a stream – but this was totally different. Daredevil stuff in a beautiful setting.  The speed and the scenery were great.  If anyone thinks they have the guts, I highly recommend this activity in Ecuador or anywhere else.

I think our favorite location was Banos. There was a ton of stuff to do, and we could’ve easily spent another couple of days there without getting bored. Kind of a hippie, ski-village vibe without the snow.  Lots of outdoor activities, decent nightlife.  It’s obviously geared towards tourists without being tacky or “touristy.”  Still hidden off the radar, so easy to take in on a limited budget.

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Doing the sporting activities in a different country was interesting because of the risk element & because of the level of cultural immersion.  I’ve never felt so far from the US or what I considered “normal” life.  Plus, some of the activities were a little dangerous, and because of the language barrier (more on that later), the safety training was very different than you would get for similar activities in the US.  I know we talked about it before, but if anyone is going on this trip, they will enjoy themselves a lot more if they have at least a little experience with whitewater rafting, canyoning, or fairly intense hiking.  You don’t want to be a rookie at everything.

As far as advice for others looking at a trip to Ecuador, tourism seems pretty new to them.  As a result, things there are cheap (since the money-grab hasn’t started yet), there aren’t many opportunities to buy souvenirs (let alone the t-shirts or hats most Americans expect), and the language barrier is VERY real.  Even at a major hotel in the capital city, the desk clerks didn’t really speak English & were not very sympathetic if you didn’t speak Spanish.  I kind of liked this (after all, I want to know I’m in Ecuador, not feel like I’m in Epcot), but people should know what they’re getting into.

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As for the adventure aspect, G Adventures tells you just how physically challenging a trip will be.  Travelers will be wise to listen to them.  I think this trip rated a 4 out of 5 as far as how challenging it was & that was a very accurate rating.  In pretty much every activity there was a real risk of harm and people experiencing minor injuries (twisted ankles/knees, minor falls, blisters, cuts, bruises) throughout the trip.  In addition, because of the altitude & intensity, fitness should be taken into consideration.  You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete, but you need to do more than walk the dog to get ready to make it through this trip.

 

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Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 2

by Amanda Vallone

 

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center

 

Once the travel ban was lifted we went onto one of the most historic sites in most recent travel memory – Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center or E15 for short. You may remember a ton of flights in 2010 being cancelled due to the black soot let off by a volcano in Iceland. Well E15 was the culprit. IATA estimates over 107,000 flights in an eight day period were cancelled, affecting nearly 10 million passengers. Working in the travel industry, this was a HUGE deal and a vivid memory.

The visit to Eyjafjallajokull was intriguing because it showcased one family’s struggle of life during and after the dramatic events of the explosion of this infamous volcano that brought European air travel to a halt. The family that ran the visitors center told us about running a farm and living under an active volcano, worrying about it exploding, and life when it was about to errupt. We learned of how they had to move all of their livestock and how they nearly lost their farm…. we also learned of how they overcame such a crazy event. Interestingly enough, tourists from all over the world would come and help them clean up the black dust, volcanic ash, so that they could have a part of E15 to bring home with them too.  Most interesting to me was much unlike Hawaiian Volcanoes (that I had just seen in July of last year), the eruption of E15 occurred under a layer of glacial ice which chilled lava quickly. This is what caused the black ash to plume and turn the black cloud above for so long rather than hot flowing lava.

 

 

Reynisfjara

 

 

 

Reynisfjara is a black sand beach right outside of Vik. The sand is black due to volcanic ash and the beach is surrounded by basalt formations which is volcanic rock or lava exposed at the beaches surface.

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There are also great cliffs and caves to take photos in and of where you will see many birds and of course rushing waves from the ocean.

 

Geysir & Stokkur

 

From boiling mudpits to geothermal fields, the exploding geysers the Geysir Hot Spring Area is a wonderful stop along the Golden Circle that will get your clicker finger going for your chance to catch Geysir or Stokkur Errupt.

 

 

Blue Lagoon

 

The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to a rugged landscape, lava fields, numerous hot springs, and the world famous Blue Lagoon. Did you know the water in the Blue Lagoon is not really blue? It is actually clear to milky white. The blue hue is from the silica in the water.

Did you also know, you must have an appointment to go to Blue Lagoon?! You can even set up a layover appointment at Blue lagoon to save your luggage, get a spa service, then go back to the airport if you like. Well you can!

On that, it is a SPA! The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated pool that visitors may get massages, facials, enjoy fine dining, or just some time in the pleasantly warm bath. The mineral-rich waters of the geothermal pool are located in the middle of a lava field so it looks beautiful and natural – just the way any perfect spa should.

A few fine points for us Americans – you MUST shower naked prior to going in. (You do wear a swimsuit while in the lagoon.) I had a few people calling me on a weekly bases (you know who you are) worried that they were going to re-live their high school gym locker room days showering in public. Yes and No! You can if you want, and you will see many people unfazed by the human body, but if you are uneasy about showing off your fleshy parts, don’t worry, at the end of the locker room there are curtained showers.

Conditioner. Conditioner. CONDITIONER! Ladies, this mineral rich water wreaks havoc on your locks! The spa provides you some conditioning cream to use prior and after but be prepared – you will need more. OR you may bring a shower cap and put your hair up.

I would also recommend leaving your towel in your locker. I brought mine outside and because it was snowing my towel got wet sitting on the hook. You only get one towel at check in, so be careful with it!

Finally, bring a waterproof case for your phone or gopro for photos in the water. It is so beautiful; it is worth it.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Blue Lagoon. It was so much fun and relaxing too. We got a few beers while floating around in the waters, and did a silica mask to help with age defying and make our faces look like a cute baby’s bottom and then we paid for the Algae Mask to cool the slight sting left behind from the Silica.

 

 

Reykjavik

 

We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, a perfect location right in the center of the town and great for our evening of shenanigans.

Throughout Iceland you can enjoy some pretty amazing hotdogs, aka the Pylsa. I mean these things are gourmet! I am not much a fan of having hot dogs on a normal basis, but these were made of primarily Icelandic lamb with some pork and beef topped with fried onions, a creamy sweet mustard, bacon bits, and various other toppings.

The bun is steamed and the meat is actually cooked with some malt beer in the water. YUMMMM!

 

Have a Whale of a time!?! They Eat Whales too?

 

Yes, we did try some Whale while here. The concept that Icelanders serve you whale while at any restaurant was quite mind boggling to me. Before going on this trip I read that it was an Icelandic delicacy, but everything I always thought was that whales were endangered or that they were not food for the very least. It got me pretty curious. I would say do some research. I did try it. I didn’t think it tasted bad at all actually. But, I wouldn’t eat it on the regular.

 

They eat that too?

 

 

Nightlife in Reykjavik

 

George, Sherri, and I went out all night downtown Reykjabik. We started in the Drunken Rabbit which was super casual and has great live music. Loved this! You can spin the wheel and win up to 8 free drinks! Wahoo. The Drunken Rabbit was our “go to” every night.

We also went to the American Bar… which we felt was pretty hypocritical of all the things other people think “Americans” are. There were football helmets, jazz music, a picture of Jack Nicholson doing his the “here’s Johnny” face from the shining and it was pretty boring on this evening. We left pretty quickly.

Then onto a British bar- AMAZING!

And finally the “locals” bar- they sang Icelandic music, the menus were in Icelandic, and the vibe was dark & cool and super goth, yet great. Loved this one too!

Sherri and I felt like we could have stayed out all night long without George and we would have felt SAFE as two women bar hopping. We were so happy to have him with us, but we realized how safe we felt in ALL of Iceland.

 

All-in-all I LOVED Iceland. I would recommend going back in May to see the Puffins come in and to enjoy slightly warmer temperatures. But the views were extraordinary!

If the land of Fire and Ice is one you wish to see, feel free to e-mail me and I will be happy to share more with you.

 

 

Check Out Part 1 here.

Grady’s Travels

by Grady DiGiovanni

 

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Holland America & Overall Cruise Experience

The excitement that goes along with a cruise is contagious, the days before leaving all my friends and my family were so excited for me to be going out of the country for the first time! Since working at Roseborough lots of clients have asked me what cruising was like and before this I wasn’t able to answer the question, but now I can.

Thinking about being inclosed in a 100,000 ton vessel generally wouldn’t be someone’s idea of a good time, but with shows, pools and quiet hide aways to read a good book it quickly became mine. From getting to the port to leaving the port again seven days later i was immersed in a world of wealth and knowledge aboard Holland Americas Ms Eurodam. From the Lincoln Center Stage to the Pinnacle Grille I was treated to a level of service that I wasn’t used to. Everyone was so polite and knew the best way to get the job done and how to cater to their clientele.

Getting on the ship was a smoother process than I originally anticipated, once we got to the port we were swept in line and checked in in a matter of minutes; before heading onto the ship we were offered a kodak moment, then onto the ship to soak up the Fort Lauderdale sun on the Lido Deck before we departed out into the deep blue sea. Watching the coastline disappear behind us was a weird feeling, but once we were out in open water starting the night settling into our cabin those thoughts were far from the fore front. Speaking of cabins, they were so beautiful and nicer quality than I expected. I know we’ve all had bad hotel experiences and I had a thought in the back of my mind that what was waiting for me behind the door; not a spacious room with a nice shower and bath.

Nesting into our cabin, suitcases unpacked and under our beds I spent an hour sitting on our balcony staring up at the stars, watching other cruise ships pass in the night and enjoying the serene feeling of being at sea. Not rocking and rolling thanks to the ship’s stabilizers.

Dining was a dream, the Lido Market had everything from just a sandwich to smoked salmon on toast. There were tons of options for every taste bud. We had the chance to experience two of the three exclusive restaurants on board which were an absolute dream. Pinnacle Grille was evey meat eaters paradise. The steak i had was so buttery and to die for. Tamarind was an asian fusion restaurant that had something for even the pickiest of eaters. I tested my more adventurous side and had some sushi, which wasn’t my cup of tea but everyone else loved it. 

There was an array of choices for nightlife. The Lincoln Center Stage has classical music, then right down the way was BillBoard’s live; any taste of music will be satisfied. There was a show every night on the mainstage ranging from a comedian to a play.

  

Grand Turk

  

Waking up and eating breakfast surrounded by blue water was a cool thing, but waking up and seeing a new island to explore was even better. The process of getting off the ship to Grand Turk was very easy, even with all the other passengers doing the same thing as me. Going down to the first deck we were all greeted with ship staff dressed in white waiting to get us off the ship as quick and painless as possible. Giving the attendant my ship key, I was off with a scan and a smile. The port of Grand Turk was underwhelming, some generic gift shops and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Scoping out a few lounge chairs me and traveling companions set out towards the crystal blue water outstretched in front of us. Swimming so close to the ship was an experience we even saw some fish! When swimming no longer held our attention we were starting to think not booking an excursion was a bad idea until one of us had the bright idea to rent a golf cart from one of the locals outside the port walls.

I’m sure to someone who’s never been to Grand Turk the idea of renting a cart from a stranger is sketchy idea, and in the beginning it was; but once we were out on the island exploring things we know others on the ship wouldn’t get to see it was worth the $80. We were able to go down small dirt roads and see beaches that no one on those big tour buses were going too. The best thing we came across was an abandoned what would have been a beautiful beach front resort. Dilapidated cabanas and the concrete shell of what would have been a gorgeous pool sitting hauntingly back in the palms and the brush.

San Juan

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The day for me began late and watching the ship pull into port was very interesting. Seeing the wake behind us and another ship on our tail. Getting off the ship again was easy as pie, stepping right off the ship into the area surrounding the port; bombarded with fake purses and taxi’s vying for our attention to take us around the island. My companion couldn’t get far into the port due to mobility issues so I was set off by myself. I wandered around San Juan for a few hours, stepping into shops when I felt inclined but mostly trying to absorb the culture around me. Being the history buff i am I wanted to get into one of the old forts, which I did with forty five minutes to spare before they closed. I sat out on the top of one of the towers and just marveled at the ocean. How clear it was and that out there somewhere was the US and it sunk in that i was away from home.

After the fort was closed, I have an alcove attached to it that was still open to the public and just watched the sun set slowly into the ocean. Watching the locals prance around and try as best as I could to not look like a tourist and marvel at what they see everyday. Once the sun was gone I set my sights back to the port and mosied around the streets coming alive with local nightlife, since two of the four ships that were in port were gone already. With the ship in spitting distance and old San Juan behind me i stopped for a margarita and some nachos and this little shop that was situated right next to my ship, I was able to do my favorite past time, people watch, and enjoy my last few minutes in San Juan.

St Thomas

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Today, I was feeling under the weather. The sun and fresh air was just what I needed. Again like in San Juan I set out by myself to wander the island. First thing that caught my attention was a cable car ride up the mountain that lead to breathtaking views of the island and the ocean surrounding us. The island was bustling with local life just outside the port, crossing the street was interesting because they drove on the different side of the street from us. They had lots of the same shops as us, when I went into a Payless Shoes I even found a pair I was looking for back home but could never get them in my size!

Overall it was a beautiful friendly island and I can’t wait to go back to see the things I missed the first time around.

Half Moon Cay

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For this stop, we had to tender off the ship. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I was told we had to take another ship from our ship to get to the island it certainly wasn’t this. The boat we were ushered onto was a two story contraption. It was not scary or rickety like I imagined, but modern and an easy ride to the island. Getting of the tender boat we were ushered onto the private island with rows and rows of lounge chairs. We spent the day lounging in the sun until we were invited to BBQ on the island with some of the best burgers I’ve ever had!

Sitting in the sun slowly baking and taking in the last day of this wonderful vacation was bittersweet. The ship looming out in the distance a reminder that tomorrow we were being thrown back into the real world. Breathing in the island air one last time before boarding the tender back to the ship, I imprinted the picturesque scenery to my mind.

 


Grady DiGiovanni is the Adventure Assistant and a Travel Agent in the office at Roseborough Travel Agency. If you’d like to ask her more about her travels and experiences, please feel free to contact her.

Theresa’s Travels

By Theresa Olivetto

Puerto Rico

 

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Visiting Puerto Rico was a great experience.  We got off of the cruise ship and walked.  And walked and walked.  We were hoping to find a beach to spend the day at.  We found a beach pretty quickly and at that point started walking the beach when we could, or walking through town when we had to.  

We ended up stopping 3.2 miles from where we started.  We found a hotel with a bar and pool on the beach.  As we walked up the steps, there was a security guard there, standing on the steps.  We assumed he may stop us but he did not so we went to the bar and ordered a drink.  We sat there for a while and watched the waves.  Words cannot describe how beautiful the beach and waves are in Puerto Rico.  We ordered another drink and then headed to the pool, again, no one caring that we were there.  We took a swim and then headed back toward our cruise ship.  It was very exciting to see how the people lived in Puerto Rico.  We took the streets back as opposed to the beach.  We stopped at a restaurant and had a $2.00 beer and then continued our journey.

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A while later we stopped at a tiny little bar with a pool table.  There were a few children there, one playing pool, probably 15 or so.  We sat down and ordered a beer and began talking to this man that told us he had cancer.  We talked to him for quite a while, he told us so many great stories about his life and growing up there.  He later told us that the bar was for locals and not tourists but he was very glad that we had stopped there.  He bought us a drink and we in turn bought him one.  Funny how ignorance is bliss, we didn’t know we didn’t “belong” and loved socializing with everyone.  

As it started to get dark, we headed back to the ship for dinner and to call it a day.  It was a spontaneous, wonderful day that I will never forget.  

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St. Thomas

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So when we visited St Thomas, we decided to get off the ship and just play it by ear, nothing planned.  I was hoping to rent a scooter and sure enough that is what we did.  It was only $65.00 for the day, which to me was very reasonable.  

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It took a lot of getting used to as you drive on the opposite side of the street and there are a lot of mountains and hills and very sharp turns.  We laughed a lot as we had several close calls but being adventurous and spontaneous, we just went with it.

We stumbled upon a park, paid $10.00 to go in and walked the beach.  It was awesome.  Very few people there, a pavilion and several picnic tables, wooded.  We walked for a long way, as far as the beach would take us.  

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We got back on the scooter and rode around for a while and saw a sign that said public beach access.  We took a very steep road down to the area and once we got there, the only sign we saw was a Ritz Carlton.  We parked the scooter in public parking and walked toward the resort.  We walked up to the bar and I ordered a bloody mary and a beer.  Paid $22.00 for the two.  That’s not me but it was a time and a place.  We went to the beach and sat on a couple of lounge chairs with padded cushions.  I joked they were more comfortable than the mattress on my bed.   

It was beyond amazing to take this all in.  The wait staff came over several times and asked if we wanted anything.  I was surprised that we were there without question.  We took a swim and then headed out.  We had to know if over the mountain was the “public beach access” so we walked over hill and saw THE REST of the Ritz Carlton.  It was beyond beautiful.  They actually had a pump with several different sunblocks that you could use.

We left the resort and headed on our way.  We came upon a resort that the guy that rented us the scooter said to go to.  Secret Harbor Beach Resort .  We sat at the bar and ordered some lunch.  It was very good.  We couldn’t help but notice the swim platform in the lagoon and agreed immediately we would swim out to it before we left.  We asked the bartender if you had to stay at the resort in order to enjoy all of this and she said no, anyone is welcome as the beaches are not owned by anyone. Maybe that is why nobody questioned us at the Ritz Carlton??

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We ate our lunch and then swam out to the swim platform.  It was something I will probably never do again as where do you find that scenario??

We got back on the scooter after our swim and headed up the mountains as we wanted to see the view.  We got pretty high, maybe not the highest mountain, but pretty high.  We saw a couple of goats that were just running around the mountain.

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After we went up, we decided to head back, get closer to the ship as we were running out of time.  

Once back to the port we had a beer, decompressed and headed back to the ship.

Island number three of our cruise.  Explored, adventure, risk, crazy and fun would describe the day.  Another day I will never forget.

Turks and Caicos Grand Turk

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Today I visited Grand Turk for the first time.  We wanted to see the island but really didn’t want to take a guided tour so I quickly found a plan b, which was to rent a golf cart.  It was $80.00 for the day, which I thought was very reasonable.  What better way to see the sights on our own terms.  The island is so many things.  It is beautiful, surrounded by turquoise waters.There were many homes, looked like million dollar homes, that were half done and partially boarded up, distressed.  When we returned the golf cart I asked the man that rented it to us what had happened and he said that when the economy crashed, many people that were building those homes lost their jobs and the banks pulled out of the projects.  It was very sad.

We did a lot of off road exploring on the golf cart as many of the roads are dirt roads.  We visited beautiful beach after beautiful beach.  I wondered why someone didn’t pick up the garbage on the beaches but since they were off the beaten path, maybe no one cared.  The beaches were still breathtaking, you just needed to look past it.  There were several beaches that it was only us, which was very nice.  While there I was relaxed and at peace.  

We came upon a very interesting project.  There were several cottages and an in ground pool on the ocean in a very pretty forest.  It looked like it was going to be a very expensive resort.  Evidently the project was never finished, all but destroyed and distressed.  I wondered if it was from a storm or the economy.  It had so much potential.    

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We visited the salt ponds and made our way to the Grand Turk Lighthouse.

My favorite thing about the island and our adventure were the donkeys and horses that roamed the island, free, content, well fed.  It made me very happy to see these animals happy.  The way it should be.  

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After our golf cart ride we made sure we had enough time to spend a good part of the afternoon at the resort area.  

The resort area was magnificent.  The sand so white and the water so blue.  We did some snorkeling and saw quite a few fish.  There were plenty of chairs and umbrellas at the beach so we were very comfortable.  The island natives were friendly and accommodating.  There were plenty of rentals there from scooters, to four wheelers to dune buggies, snorkeling equipment and more to fit everyone’s needs.

We did some shopping and bought a couple of bottles of rum at the duty free store.  We had a drink at Margaritaville before we headed back to the cruise ship.

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Grand Turk was a perfect combination of adventure, exploring and relaxing.  I would highly recommend the island to anyone.

 


Theresa Olivetto is an Outside Sales Agent for Roseborough Travel Agency. If you’d like to ask her more about her travels and experiences, please feel free to contact her.