Naptural Woman in London

[quote]Just a number one champion sound, yeah Estelle we bout to get down. Who the hottest in the world right now? Just touched down in London Town…[/quote]

Estelle and Kanye’s collab was playing nonstop in my head as our Etihad Airways jet glided over City of London and landed at Heathrow Airport. I was ready and happy to be dragged around by my sister-friend Duddy for my 22-hour layover. I really wish I could tell you that her and I went to fetes that sell off and tun up…alas no. How much could one see after only having abdominal surgery 2 weeks prior??

Was I in pain? Definitely! But I was being gently towed by Duddy with a humungus smile on my face. I was in LONDON gaddammit!

We managed to model in Piccadilly Circus, eat digusting Vietnamese pho ga in Chinatown, drink grassy healthy stuff in SoHo, ride the #8 double decker bus to East London, catch up on gossip until the early hours of the morning, take selfies by Big Ben and Trafalgar Square, see a marathon, eat an English Breakfast, save a Russian tourist from almost getting 50 pounds Sterling stolen, ride the tube to LHR and have Duddy urge me to take advantage of getting pushed in Heathrow’s fancy purple wheelchairs.





Al Maryah Island

Al Maryah Island – formerly Sowwah Island – is poised to become Abu Dhabi’s answer to bustling Wall Street. Walking over the short bridge that connects Maryah Island to Reem Island gives one the impression that they may be the only person on Earth. It is a wonderfully peaceful place that buzzes with the anticipation of something great.

The action on Maryah Island lies at Galleria Mall – a luxurious shopping haven dedicated to feeding your appetite for the world’s exclusive fashion and dining. It was nice to stroll along the boardwalk outside the mall where the view of Abu Dhabi city is breathtaking.

Next to Galleria Mall is the largest steel structure in the United Arab Emirates known as Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. It’s a huge, modern building which has recently opened to the public.

Al Maryah Island provides joggers and walkers a great place to stretch and sweat without the crowds. And I do look forward to seeing the completed phases of the master plan.

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A Sunday In Abu Dhabi

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I’m slowly getting accustomed to living in the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi. Just yesterday, my newest friend, an Emirates-based Sudanese-Ethiopian woman, taught me how to speak like a local.

“It’s bu DAABI. Not a BU DAA bi“, she said.

And yallah can mean ‘come’, ‘go’, ‘let’s get out of here’ or ‘move away from me’ depending on the context. Good to know. Last week some of my Grade 11 students taught me how to say the numbers, body parts and colours in Arabic. They are supposed to test me this week.

Yesterday was Saturday – the last day of the weekend. It’s going to be tough getting used to having Fridays and Saturdays off. I still think Saturday is a ‘proper’ Sunday.

My friend and guide took me and another new expat to get inked. It’s not as permanent as a regular tattoo but you can get a wide choice of designs drawn on any part of your body.

It took about 2 hours for the entire process of choosing a design, getting it painted on and drying. Most salons in the city are banned from doing it because this particular type of henna has carcinogens. I was happy with the design and it shows up beautifully on my chocolate skin but…let’s just say that this may be the first and last time I get it done.

I’m usually one to research new things I place in and on my body. Because I thought it was simply an indigo dye like the one I colour my hair with I thought everything would be just fine. Until the other expat (she got her legs inked in a gorgeous lace-like pattern) started to complain of itching. I can be a hypochondriac when I put my mind to it. My hand started itching too. Not much but is it all in my head?? It might be but I bought some hydrogen peroxide to wipe off some of it – just in case!

After the henna salon, we drove to Madinat Zayed Gold Souq. I love silver but I think I’m in super love with gold now. You can customize any piece you want and the prices are all very reasonable. The merchants expect you to haggle for the best price. You can also try on as much as you want.

That necklace set in the pic above will be mine for $12,000 CAD. I swear I’ll dream about it every day and my prince will deliver it to me.

Last but not least is another discovery – almost as pleasant as the Gold Souq – but less painful on the wallet. Mangosteen is my new mango. I mean I LOVE mango. Mangosteen is not a mango at all. But it gives me the same sweet and tangy satisfaction. Protect your clothes, get a sharp knife, cut the thick skin and voila – yummy white soft seeds that melt in your mouth!!! Try eating the bitter purple skin for more antioxidant benefits too.

Halas (another great Arabic word meaning finished, enough or stop)! Yesterday started sweetly and ended real sweet! Stay tuned for more adventures from the Naptural Born Traveller!


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Island Hopping Abu Dhabi Style

This weekend (Friday and Saturday in the United Arab Emirates) was a hot one! The daytime high averaged around 40 degree Celsius. People tell me this is only the beginning!

Abu Dhabi is situated on the Arabian Gulf and includes an archipelago of man-made and true islands. They are fairly close to one another and joined by bridges. Yas Island is famous for its Formula One race track (The Fast And Furious franchise was filming on the track while we were in the hotel next door but no one had access – boo hoo)

My friends invited me to laze around with them at Park Inn by Radisson’s pool on the island. Apparently, all you need to do is go to any hotel and ask for a day pass for access to pools and alcohol! Know the right folks and you’ll get discounts too 🙂

The latter part of the weekend brought me inside the new Galleria Mall on Al Maryah Island. It’s a high-end luxury shopping centre that is practically void of shoppers but has an amazing view of Abu Dhabi. I highly suggest Godiva Cafe for people-watching and live piano music.

I used to think that Tokyo had dibs on public cleanliness, sleek luxury, materialism and skyscrapers. Sorry to bust your bubble Edo, Abu Dhabi beat you on all of those points! Public bathrooms that are so well-kept that you wouldn’t mind eating in them. Workers to re-sweep and re-wipe floors and windows, hour after hour…Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city.

Have you visited Abu Dhabi? What would you like to see while you’re here?


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Leatherback Sea Turtle Watching



Turtle-nesting season began last week in Trinidad. We drove from San Juan through lots of winding country roads to Matura, on the eastern (Atlantic Ocean) side of the island to spot the leatherback sea turtle night egg-laying trek.

After a seemingly long 10-minute drive under thick jungle canopy, we emerged out of the dim moonlit parking lot. My cousin and I were the last to arrive in our group so the park ranger led us down the gravel track to the beach. He explained that although leatherback turtles can see red light, they will not feel threatened by it. White light from mobile phones, standard flashlights and cameras are considered threats by leatherback turtles. While they are swimming to shore they will be wary of white lights and swim back into the ocean, thus interrupting the natural nesting season. With that said, we quickly turned off our phones.

Once we caught up to our group by the beach, we were greeted by pleasant ocean mist and a starry sky. The second park ranger explained that when his colleague – who was standing about 6oo metres down the beach – signalled his red light, we could proceed. Since it was only the beginning of the nesting season, there were only about 5 leatherback turtles expected that night.

Patience is a virtue and the group mused that humans cannot force nature in any way without consequences. We waited, star-gazed and chatted amongst one another for over an hour. When we saw the colleague’s red flashes, we excitedly walked towards him while carefully dodging driftwood in the loose sand.

It was very dark so most of us couldn’t even tell that just a few metres in front of us lay a huge leatherback turtle! As we squinted we could begin to see her outline in the sand. The ranger told us that we could only turn on white lights when she was actually laying her eggs.

We waited and chatted a bit more until the leatherback turtle dug her nesting hole and started to drop eggs. Finally! With an OK from our ranger, we formed a semi-circle facing her back, turned on our cameras and started ooooo-ing and awwww-ing at the beautiful ancient creature!

She was in an egg-laying trance so she didn’t move much. We gathered around her and gently patted her head and surprisingly soft shell. According to the ranger, the average number of eggs these turtles lay is 100 per night. They come back every 10 days or so to repeat the process until the end of the season in August.

Once she finished laying her eggs, we had to turn off our white lights and move away from her or else get splashed with sand. She was now camouflaging her nest so that predators would have a harder time finding it. One guy in our group turned his very bright white flashlight on (by accident), stumbled with the switch and took what seemed like hours to turn it back off. All you heard was a loud AYE! TURN OFF DE LIGHT NAH BOI! from the group.

With the light and tension, Ms. Turtle decided to linger and camouflage her nest far longer than most. So, instead of a couple of minutes we watched her for almost an hour dance around the beach making sure nothing would harm her nest. In the end, satisfied that she had done what any self-respecting mommy would do, she headed back to the ocean with slow determination.

We were speechless (a tough thing for Trinis to be) at the beauty of her waddling into the high waves with the half-moon light over her. It was awesome!

Have you ever watched leatherback sea turtles nesting?


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Lopinot Village

Last Sunday, my cousin took me for a drive through Trinidad’s Northern Range mountains via a narrow, winding road to Lopinot Village. We passed all shades of lush green vines, trees and bushes along the road. The clean, cool air was a welcome change from the stuffiness in the city.

The spectacularly remote, cute village of Lopinot is home to year-round parang music and a beautiful historical complex. The weekend is the best time to take your family down to Lopinot village for clean air and a relaxing river lime under the grand old trees.

Here’s parts of an article by Louis B. Homer in the Trinidad Express newspaper from June 2013:

[quote]…It has a history of its own dating back to the early 19th century and a culture that includes lifestyles of Amerindian inhabitants, cocoa panyol, Spanish, French, African and East Indian inhabitants.
Almost without exception, the people of Lopinot live by agriculture and livestock farming.
Their meeting places are the shops, parlours, drinking places, schools, churches, and a community centre, all of which provide opportunities for dialogue and self-expression among villagers.
English is spoken side by side with Spanish and patois.
Aesthetically, the towering hills, steep cliffs and the Arouca River, which flows peacefully through the village until it merges with the Caroni River, are nature’s gifts to the village.
The lands which once formed the estate of Charles Joseph Comte de Lopinot have been subdivided into several small holdings to provide spaces for housing and recreational facilities.
Although the Lopinot of today is different from what existed in the 19th century, there are still many repositories of its past heritage that add charm and history to the village.
The village owes its name to Comte de Lopinot, a former Knight of the Royal and Military Order of St Louis.
When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, Count Lopinot was still a powerful French planter and when the English took possession of his former home at Dominique, he fled to Jamaica with his family and later to Trinidad.
With the help of former governor Thomas Picton, suitable lands were granted to Lopinot to cultivate sugarcane. When it was discovered that the soils were not suitable for sugarcane, the Count turned to cacao. With help from his slaves, Lopinot cut through the dense forest until they found lands suitable for growing cacao.
Lopinot obviously had his dream fulfilled when he found what he was searching for. Standing on the hilltop he marvelled at the natural wonderland below and decided to call his newly acquired estate La Reconnaissance.
Following his find, he developed the lands into one of the most beautiful estates in the valley. But when the price of cacao fell, Lopinot was unable to pay his debts.
Legend has it that his demise came about while returning from Arouca, in a landslide that carried him down a cliff and half-buried him. He died in 1819 and was interred next to his wife, Marie Cecile Dannoy, who had died before him.
The death of Lopinot was the beginning of a period of change in the valley. By 1845 there was a migration of East Indians into the village. They occupied an area called “Coolie Block”. Then came Portuguese and Chinese immigrants. By 1890 Lopinot was no longer a slave settlement; the estates in the valley were then owned by people of Asian and African descent.
Apart from the historic relics of La Reconnaissance, there is the church of St Phillips, built by Richard Foreman Brown, popularly known as “Pa Brown”. He was the first pastor and founder of St Phillips Anglican Church, also known as “Slave Chapel”.
The village has a historic connection with Caura, a small village on the other side of the hills.
Caura in those days was called Partido de Quare, it had a Catholic church dedicated to St Veronica. In 1945 there were plans to construct a dam in that village to supply water to Port of Spain and the villagers would have to vacate the land and be relocated to Lopinot.
The villagers were opposed to the idea because it was their ancestral homes. The evacuation order was dated October 31, 1945, and on November 4, the church was dynamited in the presence of the villagers and parish priest Fr Kieran Lennon.
In a fit of emotion, Lennon said: “This dam will never be completed.”
Such was the curse left behind as the villagers left Caura and trekked to Lopinot. Indeed, the Caura dam was never completed and was written off as a bad job.
It was not so much the loss of their ancestral homes that angered the villagers, but the ruthless demolition of their old church which had been the centre of communal life for many years. The remains of St Veronica’s church were transported in parts by the people of Caura and rebuilt at Lopinot.
Culturally, the villagers from Caura continue their musical traditions—parang music, maypole dancing and Veloria de Cruz (Cross Wake).
Sotero Gomez and “Papa Goon” became heroes in the cultural arena.
Like other villages in rural Trinidad, Lopinot is not without its own share of magic and superstition. Bits and pieces of this can still be found throughout the village.
Here and there, one cannot fail to notice the conspicuous presence of upturned blue bottles perched on slender bamboo sticks. These bottles serve two purposes. They are supposed to offer protection of crops against maljo (bad eye), as well as a warning to thieves that if they consume fruits from those gardens they would immediately suffer from “swell belly”.
But there is more to Lopinot. There are the known and unexplored caves around the village. The most celebrated is at Genville, about two kilometres north-east of Lopinot settlement. It was discovered by George Emmanuel Jeanville, an ex-slave who lived in the area many years ago.
Another popular cave is the Jaraba cave, a corruption of Yoruba, an African people who had settled in the area after Emancipation.
West of the village and across the hills from Caura is the Colado cave. It was once the shrine used by devout worshippers who went there on special occasions to make offerings and prayers.
Beyond the village centre there is the quaint village called La Pastora. Overlooking the area there is a small Catholic church which once housed a statue of La Divina Pastora. In earlier years the statue was taken in procession along the main road leading to the village.
Altogether, Lopinot is a tourist paradise set in an environment of the past and even the present. A place where many people have visited in search of many things. Of history and culture.
Some have found what they sought while others have found an incomparable place, rich in history and traditions of the past. [/quote]

Have you ever been to Lopinot Village in Trinidad?


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San Antonio Green Market

The (San Antonio) Green Market in Santa Cruz, Trinidad is a great place to visit for fresh and local produce. There are comfortable wooden benches under the trees to relax on after you’ve perused the local artisanal crafts and delicacies.

The Green Market opens at 6:00 a.m. every Saturday, but you should get there around 10:00 according to jewelry-maker, Mark Anthony. That’s when all the kiosks are fully-stocked and ready for business.

I was feeling a bit peckish and found myself in front of Krys Wong’s Terre Benie kiosk, tasting an array of tasty chutneys and jams. DELICIOUS!!! The Tamarind Conserve maintained the fruit’s natural tartness and was gently enhanced by mild spices.

After chatting with Krys for a while, I was swept away by the soothing scents of Suite ScentsTamarind & Turmeric Soap. HEAVENLY!!! The Founder of Suite Scents explained that she uses white turmeric and tamarind in the soap as healing antioxidants.

Can you recommend any other farmer’s markets in Trinidad and Tobago?

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Trinidad Carnival Monday & Tuesday 2014

Trinidad Carnival Monday (lundi gras) and Carnival Tuesday (mardi gras) are the finale to the bacchanal starting just after Christmas. From early Jouvert morning, revellers wake up, ready themselves for the mud throwing and the hours of dancing, wining, bouncing, jumping and feteing in the streets of Port of Spain!

Choose a band – I have been playing mas with Ronnie & Caro The Mas Band since 2010. Most medium and large bands will provide costumes for Monday and Tuesday. Carnival Monday costumes are usually t-shirts and skimpy bikinis. Some people will wear fancier pieces of their Tuesday costume. This is the day that your band’s King and Queen take the spotlight. These large, mesmerizing wearable art are judged for their craftsmanship and design. The rest the band comes along for the ride in support and (obviously) to party and drink on the road all day.

Carnival Tuesday is what I like to call Diva Day. Women and men pay hundreds – if not thousands – of Canadian/American dollars to look perfect in their sparkly, beaded costumes. Coordinated make up, body paint, boots and hair must be on point for all the cameras that will be around to capture them on film.

Be prepared to have your picture taken by spectators along the route.  You will be the envy of all those little girls who dream of prancing around in gorgeous finery when they grow up. Smile because you will be seen on live streaming TV from Japan to Stockholm! Be a star and don’t forget to continue the feteing and dancing!! This is the day that every masquerader dreams of! The bliss of playing mas makes life worth living!

Then comes Ash Wednesday when tabanca sets in leaving masqueraders feeling like an abandoned lover – tired, aching, reminiscing over each and every spectacular moment in that relationship…and hoping for more! Ahhh sweet Carnival – the Greatest Show on Earth!


Jouvert In Trinidad 2014




This year I played with Shades Jouvert whose mas camp (headquarters) are in Tunapuna. Their J’ouvert band route snakes through St. Clair (in Port-of-Spain) and Maraval from King Georges V Park  and ends at Long Circular Mall in St. James.

We got to the park at 3:00 am Carnival Monday (Lundi Gras) morning when it was still dark, wearing our yellow Shades Jouvert t-shirts to identify our band. For breakfast, we had a choice of Trinidadian-style cheese, ham or egg sandwiches and doubles.

Around 4:00 am, the groovy Soca riddims from the big truck’s gigantic speakers lead our band – trance-like – chipping through the streets of Port of Spain. As the sun rose higher, revellers got happier, drunker and muddier with splashes of blue, yellow and green paint. The Soca switched from smooth grooves to power bouncing and plenty vibes!

Close to 8:00 am, we returned home with sore feet, dirty bodies, ringing ears and smiles on our faces. Knowing that this was just the beginning of an unbelievable Carnival 2014.

[quote]J’ouvert (or Jouvay) in French is jour ouvert which means morning break. J’ouvert is held in the early morning of Carnival Monday and most real Caribbean-style carnivals will not forego this tradition which dates back over 200 years.

Although the French had never actually colonized Trinidad & Tobago, many of their customs remained on the islands. After slavery was abolished freed slaves were able to dress up in costumes that mimicked the styles of their former owners. Some of the most famous characters portrayed in J’ouvert come from Trinidad folklore and history. They include Moko Jumbie Bats, Bookmen, Baby Dolls, Jab Molassie, and Devil Mas.

Revellers will dance in the streets throwing and covering themselves with mud, paint and powder because the idea is to be dirty. Once the street party has finished revellers return home, clean themselves and dress up for Carnival Monday (lundi gras) festivities.

Adapted from Itz Caribbean

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Trinidad Carnival 2013

It’s been a long time coming but my Trinidad Carnival 2013 video has arrived. This video will give you a quick taste of what to expect at Trinidad Carnival! After reading the Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide, you should have already bought your flight ticket, booked your hotel and chosen your costume!!!

In less than a week, those of us who are lucky enough to be making bacchanal at Trinidad Carnival 2014, will be on de road and on de stage at Queen’s Park Savannah in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port Of Spain.

Don’t fret, there’s always Trinidad Carnival 2015!

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