Sunday, December 23, 2018

Somalia, Lamb Biryani

The streets are hectic as I take a short walk back to the Oriental Hotel for dinner.

IMG_20181116_200344 A lamb biryani dish along with freshly squeezed orange juice, a salad and a cup of soup is a tasty delight for about $5.

After dinner I arrange my day tour (which includes an armed guard) with the Oriental Hotel to Laas Geel for $135.


Aware that Somalians like their privacy when it comes to picture taking, I record the evening's sights and the excitement of being here on my internal memory card.

Somalia, A $12 Room

Daylight is fading as we drive the dusty and packed road towards the Oriental Hotel. On a Friday evening, messages from mosques all around the city are echoing through the night air.

Arriving at the Oriental there is a short disappointment as I am told they are fully booked for the night. However, a quick call by the Front Desk clerk to a nearby hotel and my second mission is accomplished.

IMG_20181116_181112For $12 per night I have a relatively clean, safe and comfortable room without concrete barriers and armed guards.

With a good Wi-Fi connection I make my plans for tomorrow then it's time for dinner and an evening stroll around the city.

Somalia, Arriving Somaliland

I arrive in Hargeisa without a visa or a hotel reservation but with a passion to visit another part of the planet that's not your typical tourist destination. Fortunately for me while waiting in line I meet two others that are in the same "visa boat".

Hargeisa AirportWithin 30 minutes and $60 later we are officially allowed in the country, one mission accomplished.

My second mission finding a hotel is made a little easier now that I have made two new friends who are being picked up by a local driver. Their destination The Ambassador Hotel is a possible option but l am looking for a more local place to stay. My earlier research suggest that The Oriental Hotel maybe the place place to start.

About three checkpoints including a parking lot exit and we are on our way in a beefed up Land Cruiser. As we approach The Ambassador my choice of hotel is confirmed. This is not the place that I want to stay. A car security sweep, multiple arm guards with machine guns and several layers of concrete barriers before we enter the property tells me this place is probably a target hotel. I wait for the others to get checked in then their driver is kind enough to help me continue my search.

Swaziland, It’s Just Lunch


I wake up in South Africa but in a few minutes I am looking at towering mountains touching the heavens in “The Kingdom Of Swaziland”. As a country inside of another country it is easy to dismiss a visit to Swaziland and as I would discover that would be a mistake.


IMG_5752Climbing a steep mountain road that takes me through a beautiful countryside pass fields and fields of logging timber, I am headed to the Josefsdal border crossing.


Reaching the border post, the scenery almost seems unreal. I feel like I am in a 1950's movie. Yes, there is a fence and official buildings but there is something cute and antique about this border crossing.

“Do you mind giving a policeman a ride into town”, I am asked as I approach the smiling Immigration, Customs, Tourist Board, Swaziland Ambassador, Officer.

Of course, I don't mind and she places a call to see if he is still down the road waiting for a ride. Unfortunately for me, he has already been picked up. What a shame.


IMG_5759Leaving the smiles at the border, from miles away, my nose determines my first stop in The Kingdom. Nothing is more appealing in the morning than the smell of fresh baked goods permeating the air.

I come to an almost abrupt stop at a non descriptive white building just at the beginning of a small town. A smiling owner welcomes me to Swaziland and tells me about his famous fresh baked brown bread.

IMG_5762I believe every word he says as I watch a smiling regular customer pick up a loaf or two. If his brown bread is that good then his other baked products cannot be to far behind.

A purchase and I am not disappointed just sad as I leave that sweet scent behind.




Navigating along a gravel mountain road with no rail guards and potholes that could swallow a small car like mine, I now know why officially I should not be driving a rental car here. However, I have watched enough episodes of “The Dukes Of Hazards” that I feel confident that I will survive the next eighteen miles even as I share the narrow road with cows, sheep and an occasional logging truck.

I am happy when my Dunlops begin to roll over black top and a Colonel's smiling face is a welcomed sign even thousands of miles away from Kentucky. Before long, I am on a hill at a souvenir stop watching a local craftsman demonstrate ancient rock carving using what seems like a one sided miniature pick ax.

Green towering mountains, a huge lake which I will cross in a few minutes are just some of the landscape I can see from here, all a part of what makes Swaziland a beautiful country.


IMG_5770Just as I cross to the other side of the lake my eyes are drawn to a pair of small dancing trees along the highway. I am going too fast to make a sudden stop so I pull a u turn to investigate.

Stopping, I am greeted by the solo thumping of a drum that is helping to keep these little dancing trees in rhythm.



Even though it costs me a few rands, I am glad I stopped especially when I get one of the trees to smile back at me.

A few more kilometers and I am nearing my destination as I travel down a dusty road. It is now early afternoon and apparently school has just let out. I pick up a hitchhiker walking the same way I am headed and although our conversation is sparse, I am good at following pointing fingers.


IMG_5775I come to a stop at the edge of the road with a slopping valley below me.

I watch as my hitchhiker disappears with box of cookies my waistline does not need.



IMG_5786Swaziland Pot Stew



IMG_5784Less than five minutes later and I am at Hawane Village, a local restaurant and hotel.

A pot stew, a cold beer or two and I have not only seen The Kingdom Of Swaziland, I have just had a great taste of it and it has been more than just lunch.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Cruising, Jewel Of The Seas Back To Back


Although we already had one week of cruising planned on the Jewel when the opportunity came up to add a second week for basically the same price we jumped at it.


IMG_20171210_100340We had previously sailed on the Jewel Of The Seas last March and really enjoyed the ship and crew so this was a “no-brainer” decision.

However, we did have a little understandable disappointment as our initial itinerary for both weeks of sailing was changed as some of the ports are still recovering from the 2017 devastating hurricane season.


IMG_20171210_153739Even around San Juan trees are still down and traffic lights are without power. A walk to Old San Juan and we sense however that spirits are still high as we see families and friends out and about enjoying festivities around the city.

Our first port of call Crown Bay is new to us although we have cruised to St Thomas numerous times. We leave the port for a walk to a nearby beach but as luck would have it we are offered a ride by a storm repair utility worker from upstate New York. We do get a bit worried when he tells his co-workers he is off to do his “double tourist murder” routine.



IMG_20171204_141406Brewers Bay Beach


As it turns out one of the staging areas for the utility trucks is just opposite Brewers Bay Beach. We escape from the mass-murderer and enjoy a few hours at the beach then on his recommendation have lunch at a food truck parked nearby. The salt fish pate for $4 and the fried “Johnny Cake” for $2 are both filling and delicious.


IMG_20171204_124707A walk back towards Crown Bay and we again witness first hand some of the damage from the last hurricane season as we see some airplanes in pretty bad shape at the nearby airport.

IMG_20171204_135520Later we hop on a local bus for $1 each then it's a short walk to the Crown Bay Marina for a Coney Island Hard Root Beer.

St Kitts and Nevis our next port of call is visited twice on our 14 days of sailing. Our first visit again has us at an unfamiliar port although we have sailed here before. A free shuttle ride and in less than fifteen minutes we are at the familiar Basseterre Cruise Terminal. The area is nice for walking around and we end up at St George's an interesting place.



IMG_20171205_131752St George’s Anglican Church


This site was first the home of a Catholic Church, Notre Dame but was destroyed by the British who then built the now Anglican Church.

On our second visit we take a walk to what we discover is the now defunct as of ten years ago St Kitts and Nevis Sugar Manufacturing Plant. It still turns out to be a rewarding walk as we do get a treat of hearing a group of students practicing “Silent Night” on steel drums.

Antigua is also visited twice and both times it's a trip to one of Antigua's 365 beaches.


IMG_20171206_113846Father Of The Nation. VC Bird. 







From the West Bay Terminal we take Bus 22 for US$1.50 a person to Darkwood Beach and then spend another $25 for two beach chairs and six small but cold Wadali's, Antigua Lager Beer.



IMG_20171206_125450Darkwood Beach


At the far end of Darkwood Beach we camp out in the shade for awhile before enjoying the beautiful and crystal clear waters that are continuously crashing on shore.


IMG_20171212_231344On our subsequent visit we go a bit further and enjoy Turner Beach with views on Montserrat and its active volcano in the distance.





On your return from the Darkwood or Turner Beach find Mystic Bakery located at the West Bay Bus Terminal.


IMG_20171212_160155You won’t regret it!







On our second sailing after visiting Antigua our next port of call is Fort de France, Martinique. A first for us as a cruise destination. A short walk from the ship and we are on a local ferry heading for Pointe du Bout for some more beach time.


IMG_20171213_134320Although we had been forewarned that it might be difficult to make purchases because the Euro is the local currency we have no problems using US dollars.

Prices are steep on Martinique but the views and being able to enjoy Pointe du Bout and the beach there made the $7 a beer worth it.



IMG_20171213_130629Coco Bar Pointe du Bout







Back in Fort de France we feel like we are in Europe as we walk around the town. Sidewalk cafes and beautiful buildings like Hotel de Ville, Government House, St Louis Cathedral and Schoelcher Library give this island city a very European flavor.



IMG_20171213_214134Government House


Did you know that the grapefruit originated in Barbados? Or that George Washington sailed here in 1751? Just some of the fun facts we learn on our double visit to this beautiful island nation.


IMG_20171207_124438On our first visit we have lunch at a local restaurant. I have Stew Marlin and Bajan Rice with a refreshing and cold serving of Golden Apple juice.

After lunch its a nice $10 haircut of what hair I have left.

Even though we have been to Barbados on several occasions we are still drawn to Carlisle Beach. This beach is nice walk from the cruise ship terminal and depending on your pace will take you only about 40 minutes.

IMG_20171207_151740Carlisle Beach Home Of The Boatyard

The walk is easy and you will have the opportunity to stop in town and take in some of the local happenings. For an affordable local meal check out Chefette. They also have a nice hard ice cream selection. Maple Almond is delicious.

Barbados Wildlife Reserve is about 40 minutes away by car and is offered as a stop on many tours. If you want to do it on your own like we did on our second outing Courtesy Rent A Car is available right at the cruise terminal. For US$110.00 per day with everything included we set off on a road trip with our first stop at Chefette then Barbados Wildlife Reserve.


IMG_20171214_134528Our US$15 per person admission fee is well worth it and we regret not being able to spend more time there.

IMG_20171214_140425If you go be sure to be there in time for one of the scheduled animal feedings. From monkeys to birds, deer and even tortoises everyone is welcomed.

Our drive back is through sugarcane fields then across a mountainous landscape with amazing scenic views. A brief stop at Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill home of the Caribbean's largest and only working windmill then we cruise along Barbados Northeast Coastline.

We cannot leave Barbados without another swim at Carlisle Beach even if it has getting back to the Jewel as one of the last passengers to board.



IMG_20171214_144512Barbados Northeast Coastline



The sun is setting as we leave Bridgetown for St George, Grenada the final port on both of our seven day sailings. Our first visit involves an island tour with Stanley for US$10 per person.


IMG_20171208_125735We make a stop at a local shop for an introduction to the various spices grown on the island and I opt for a Rum Punch sampling that is topped with fresh nutmeg.

At Annandale Falls we are in time to see one of the “Fall Divers” in action. Although you can swim at Annandale we all take a pass. As we head to our next stop an afternoon tropical storm is brewing and although it is short lived we cut out our planned beach visit.

IMG_20171208_145018We leave Stanley and venture back to the ship on our own but not before meeting a “Woodman”.

If you get the same opportunity make sure he has his friend Lemon Bitters along unless you want to grow some hair on your chest.



Our final visit to Grenada and again we are on a local bus this time headed to Grand Anse Beach. Loud but comfortable music is playing as we ride along making multiple stop along the way. By chance we exit the bus right next to what turns out to be a great place for lunch.


IMG_20171215_123047At Grill Master I enjoy a fish roti and Carib as we are entertained by a steel drum player. Lunch for two, US$15.





From Grill Master it is less than a ten minute walk and we are on one of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean. We end up away from the popular tourist spot and find beach chairs for US$5 each in the shade of a huge what I grew up knowing as an almond tree. Interestingly at this spot we are told there is free Wi-Fi available.



IMG_20171215_141820Grand Anse Beach


As we are relaxing on the beach we hear in the distance a somewhat familiar tune. A Princess cruise ship is about to leave port and I think it is under the command of Captain Stubing.

“Love, exciting and new. Come aboard. We're expecting you.”


IMG_20171215_153806No “Love Boat” for us as we board the Water Taxi back to port but the scenery is lovely as we say goodbye to Grand Anse until next time.

In about 20 minutes we have a close up view of Jewel Of The Seas and our balcony cabin. In less than an hour we will be sailing North to San Juan with a “Quest” ahead and a full day at sea.

Jewel Of The Seas Destinations From San Juan