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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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Marhaban Abu Dhabi

It’s been a few days since I touched down in the Middle Eastern country of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Abu Dhabi, the vast, arid capital city, is where I’ll be calling home. I’ve had butterflies fluttering in my stomach for weeks now – filled with excitement, anticipation and wonder.

Yesterday, in an attempt to ward off my jet lag, I woke up early and took a taxi to Abu Dhabi Mall. I ended up spending a bit too much money (200 AED = 60 CAD) on the Big Bus Tours thanks to skilled sales staff and my miscalculation of the U.A.E. dirham to dollar conversion!! Oh well. The fare gives you 24-hour access to the bus route with unlimited hopping on and off at their designated bus stops.

The route meandered through Abu Dhabi island and the suburbs. We passed Saadiyat Island, Yas Island, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Marina Mall, the Corniche and Emirates Palace Hotel, to name a few.

The photos above are only a teaser of what’s to come! I’ll be updating regularly so stay tuned!

 

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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!

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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
[/quote]

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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!

[vimeo width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”87677875″]

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Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide

Welcome to The Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide for Carnival Virgins, Carnival Veterans and Carnival Babies alike. Feel free to leave your comments below 🙂

What? Carnival festivities began in Trinidad and Tobago over 200 years ago. The Carnival takes certain aspects from Nigerian (Egungun), French and Spanish folkloric roots due to the mixing of colonizers and slaves.

Where? The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the southernmost nation in the Caribbean archipelago. Trinidad is the main larger urban island. Tobago is smaller and is known for its easy-going lifestyle and amazing beaches.

Who? Trinbagonians (Trinidadians and Tobagonians) are like you and I. Some have ancestors who were the indigenous inhabitants of the islands – the Caribs. Other Trinis have Nigerian, Ghanaian, Indian and Chinese ancestry from their enslaved forefathers. And others came from England, France and Spain as slave owners or from Syria and Lebanon to flee persecution.

When? Trinidad Carnival falls on the Monday (Lundi Gras) and Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before Ash Wednesday every year.

Why? Trinidad Carnival celebrates unity and bacchanal (good times)!

Climate: Trinidad and Tobago is tropical with an annual average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius. There is a Dry Season from January to May, and Rain Season from June to December.

Population: A little over 1 million

Official Language: English

Music of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: Extempo, Calypso, Steel Pan (not steel drum), Soca, Chutney Soca

[accordion title=”When should I arrive for Trinidad Carnival?” close=”0″]If you are short on time, I’d suggest you arrive on Fantastic Friday (Carnival Friday) which is 3 days before the climactic Carnival Monday and Tuesday.[/accordion]
[accordion title=”What is there to do during Trinidad Carnival?” close=”0″]
Fete, fete and more fete! A fete is Trini talk for a party. Fetes can be small get-togethers (known as a lime) but generally they are huge rave-like parties at clubs, arenas and private mansions.

Beach lime. Pre-fete lime. Post-fete lime. Lime on the corner. Lime at home. Ah little lime. Lime on De Avenue (Ariapita Avenue). Do you notice a trend here?

Shark and Bake. Bake and Shark. Doubles. KFC (Trinidad and Tobago’s is real bess). Pelau. BBQ Chicken and Chips. Callaloo. Corn Soup.

Puncheon. White Oak. Angostura. Fernandes Black Label. Rum Punch. Carib. Stag.

Panorama (Steel Pan) Finals.

Dimanche Gras – King and Queen of Carnival.

Jouvert (Dirty mas). Expect to be pelted with mud, water-based paint or chocolate sauce. The dirtier the better.

…arrive in Trinidad and Tobago just after Christmas and you have a chance to hear the newest Soca, Chutney and Calypso music live at the pre-Carnival fetes, Steel Pan Semi-Finals, International Soca Monarch Semi-Finals.[/accordion]

[accordion title=”What should I wear?” close=”0″]Look cute. It’s the perfect time to look your best in that short colourful jumper you bought last summer. Or remember that long flowy halter maxi-dress? Or even that stretch mini-dress will be perfect with some bling sandals.

The key is to look great – effortlessly. Invest in a professional make-up artist for Carnival Tuesday and be the diva you were meant to be.

No white sneakers on the road please. Buy a cheap pair of boots (one size larger than normal) that match your costume. Low-waist skin tone tights are a great way to look sleeker in photos and gives an extra touch of specialness to your costume. Buy good insoles and wear comfy socks inside. Don’t bother getting pedicures because it’ll make your soles too delicate for all the walking and dancing you’ll be doing. For an easy pedi rub sand on your feet if you go to the beach.

Stockings are extremely helpful so stock up on 2 pairs per day (Carnival Monday and Tuesday) because they will rip. They come in light, medium and dark browns.

If you decide to play mas (participate in Carnival Monday and Tuesday with a band) you will get a Monday costume (usually a t-shirt). Pair the t-shirt with short shorts, your Carnival boots and tights.

For Carnival Tuesday, wear the entire formal costume and remember to smile for cameras and stay in yuh section when it’s time to cross de stage.

Your band may also include a goodie bag filled with condoms, coupons, jewelry, sunblock, creams, etc. Many bands will provide meals, snacks, alcohol, water and soft drinks on Carnival Monday and Carnival Tuesday.

Bring sunblock, beach towel(s), bathing suit(s), and wrap your valuables in a ziplock bag and keep them in a cute little pouch. You won’t want to carry anything big when you go to the fetes and Carnival.

Although it’s Dry Season during Trinidad Carnival, your delicious foreign blood might attract mosquitoes, so bring a citronella-based repellant and anti-itch creme.[/accordion]

[accordion title=”I heard that Trinidad and Tobago is seriously dangerous!” close=”0″]According to the travel advisories of several countries and local news reports, Trinidad and Tobago is a dangerous, crime-infested country. Luckily for you things are more peaceful during Carnival.

Most fetes and bands have tons of competent security. Don’t walk around paranoid but always be aware of your surroundings. The fete promoters and band leaders’ purpose is to give you what you pay for – the best stress-free bacchanalist time ever – so the riffraff stay away.
[/accordion]
[accordion title=”Are Trinbagonians actually speaking English?” close=”0″]Yes, English is the official language of Trinidad and Tobago. However, Trinidadian English is a dialect with some unique words and a beautiful undulating accent.

Wining, bouncing, juking, pelting a waist, rolling a bumper, bending down low, etc are how Trinis get on bad and have ah time. It’s not considered nasty unless you’re hyper religious. At the fetes and Carnival men will teef ah wine from you. They will come behind you and wine up on ah bamcee (wine on your bum). If you let them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting them wine on you. But if at any time you don’t want it, just stop. He should get the point. If he doesn’t then glide away. No scene (no problems).

You will meet lots of men who will be interested in getting to know you physically. (If they ask) politely say that you’re staying with your cousin in Maraval. If you want them to trail you back to your hotel then that is your choice 🙂

You may get drama from some Trini men who may ask you how yuh doin dem like so gyul, etc. Some men will beg for it.

Trinbagonians are very blunt. They will tell you how they feel but usually in a funny, nonchalant way. You probably won’t hear many Trinis cussing (F bomb) unless they are seriously angry. They will use other colourful language instead.[/accordion]

[accordion title=”What do you actually do during Carnival?” close=”0″]Dance until your feet hurt, dance some more, drink ah rum (water, energy drinks, juice, sorrelmauby are fine too!), eat ah food (macaroni piecallaloodoubles, roti, BBQ chicken, pelau), meet new people, hold on to old friends, take lots of pics, get sun burnt, smile, laugh, have fun and don’t sleep until Ash Wednesday![/accordion]

This concludes The Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide. Tell us about your Trinidad Carnival virgin or expert experiences below 🙂

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Photo by Nabwood Fotos

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Wat Pho and Wat Arun On My Mind

[quote]…Understanding told him to see through his third eye
By being G-O-D, he’s seen his reality
Arm leg leg arm head, Buddha bless me, Buddha bless me…[/quote]

Buddha Monk ‘Blessings Of The Buddha’

buddha

buddha

watarun

Listening to that tune got me in a dreamy mood remembering Bangkok’s exquisite Buddhist temples, Wat Pho and Wat Arun.

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