Venezuela In Retrospect


Today starts my ‘retrospection blogs’ series of countries I have visited many years ago and possibly won’t get a second chance to revisit.  The first country I will reflect on is Venezuela.

Apropos, this embattled South American nation has been in the news for some time.  Information of inner turmoil, food shortages, educational neglect, anti-government demonstrations and political fallout have been reported.  The most recent diatribe is that they have been added to the list of banned nations whose citizens will not be allowed entry into the USA.  My recollections should not to be considered a political gambit or posturing.

My introduction to the Latin culture began when I studied Spanish as a second language.  The curriculum presented opportunities for interactions with the Venezuelan Cultural Center and its teachers which prompted my visit.  So off I went on a fact finding mission to Venezuela.

CARACAS

I arrived at the Simón Bolívar International Airport eager to find out more about Venezuelans, practice my Spanish and learn more about their culture.  En route to the hotel from the airport I could not help seeing the shanties.  Not the welcoming sight I expected, but that image would soon give way to beautiful boulevards, tree-lined streets, plazas, and pedestrian only avenues.   Even though my understanding of Spanish was good, not fluent, I wasn’t quite prepared for the onrush of the language.  I couldn’t understand a thing.  It took me a day or two to adjust to the accent and delivery speed.  After a while and for obvious reasons, I realized speaking with children was a lot easier than talking with adults.

I rode the metro train to popular places like Chacaito and Sabana Grande (pedestrian only avenues geared for fashionista shopping), Plaza Venezuela (a public square for relaxation) and Parque del Este (an oasis in the heart of the city) just to name a few.  I recall the very first time I exchanged US dollars at the cambio for Bolivars (local currency).  I received so much money I felt like I had become an instant millionaire.

CULTURE AND CUISINE

Outside a building I noticed a large group of people.  Curiosity got the better of me, so I inquired on what was going on.  I was invited to go inside and to my surprise I discovered it was a cinema.  We sat down to watch the film and every time I laughed the audience laughed a few seconds later.  I then realized while I laughed at the jokes in real-time, it took them a few seconds to read the Spanish subtitles.  Back then only English films were shown.

Venezuela paellaThe food was another interesting revelation.  Three major cuisine staples that were prevalent in most restaurants, or at least it seemed so to me, was Paella (rice dish flavored with mussels, seafood and peppers); Arroz con pollo (rice and chicken); and Arepas (a maize flour dough made into little cakes) eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Even McDonalds offered Arepas as a side-order.

I would often stop to watch young and old couples salsa dance in the plazas.  There I learned to perfect my salsa moves because of my willingness as a volunteer partner.

IN THE CLOUDS

Venezuela boasted a gondola lift (Teleférico de Cararas) which transported small groups of people to El Ávila Mountain.  It took about 15 minutes to reach the top.  The cable Venezuela Telefericooperator stopped the car I rode in half way up and allowed us to feel the gentle bounce on the cables for a few seconds.  The feel of the gravitational pull evoked an un-rehearsed unanimous gasp.  Scary?  Undoubtedly.  I must say we  we were given a heads-up, as well as, an adrenaline rush.  At the top of El Ávila the views of the city of Caracas and the surrounding valley below were breathtakingly spectacular.  Occasionally, clouds would descend and block the view below.  Telescopes along the perimeter allowed for a better view of the city and its neighboring communities like Galipán – known for its exotic flower industry, and Macuto.

My trip to Venezuela was short, sweet and unforgettable.  Indeed, recounting this particular travel has brought back fond memories.  Back then, I didn’t have an itinerary plan, cell phone, iPad, laptop or even a simple map, but only a Kodak camera.  Google and the internet were not a part of my travel experience.  I simply relied on communicating with the people around me.  I am sure many things may have changed since my initial visit many years ago, but for now, I will continue to keep alive the memories of the Venezuela I once knew.

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Flying by the seat of your pants


Choosing your ideal seat on-board an aircraft is still a big deal, at least to some people.

We all know that whether you sit in first class, coach, right side or left side of the plane we will all arrive to our destination at the same time. So what makes one seat more prized over another?  One may never know the answer to this question since all answers would be subjective.  Aircraft seats are made of the same materials.  Therefore whether you are in first class or coach you can rest assured your derriere is sitting on the same floatation device that makes up your seat.

Then, what is it that makes the difference?  Barring all the individual amenities that now come with the average seat (TV screen, device outlets, entertainment, Wi-Fi access, etc.), there are still some basic irritants that still exists.

I asked a few friends who travel for leisure and business of their seating preference and the ensuing discussion led to varying points of view.  All agreed though, and I’m sure you Seating5would too, that the supreme preference would be a window seat in first class.  Well, only those who could afford these pricey seats on the passenger list would sit in those enviable spots, leaving the other seats up for grabs.  Being first is always a highly desirable position and every seat in first class is easily coveted by those sitting in coach.  As you pass through this section, these privileged passengers may already have drinks in hand,  laptops/tablets or books opened, appear to be relaxed and ready for takeoff.  Agreeably they paid a higher price and deserve to be treated to the best service, space, comforts and luxuries that money can buy.

So, lets look at the pros and cons of the seats in coach.

  1. The window seat is the number one choice of seating preferences.

Seating1Pros:  Being able to have an aerial view of the landscape at takeoff and landing is what every passenger loves to do.  You can prop to one side if you fall asleep without disturbing your neighbor.  Your control of the window shade is another privilege.

Cons:  The down side comes when the passenger next to you leans in for a better view too.  At inopportune times you have to disturb two persons to go to the toilet.  You have to reach across and invade your fellow passenger’s space to accept your food or hand over your garbage.

2.  Second runner up is the aisle seat.  This position has some benefits to it.

Pros:  More leg room if you nonchalantly extend your legs out to the side.  A clear path to the exit. You do not have to obstruct or disturb the sleeping ones next to you when you want to get up.

Cons:  You are always reached over, allowing the stewardesses’ body to possibly come to close to your face.  You may have to periodically get up from your seat to accommodate those heading towards the lav.  You may be bumped by a passing passenger, banged by the drinks cart or smacked in the head by the dangling foot of a toddler in arms.

3.  The middle seat is that seat everyone loves to hate.  Here are some reasons to support this.  You may have more.

Pros:  There are none!  Except if you are sitting among family or friends.

Cons:  You are sitting in close proximity between two complete strangers. This uncomfortable position can be further exacerbated when one or both passengers on either side begin to subtly fight you for the armrest space. Another is the neighbor who falls asleep and encroaches on your already limited space.  Sitting in the middle presents the likelihood that you will have to disturb your aisle seat-mate at some point in the journey on your ‘I had too much to drink’ relieve run.

I have had the privilege of sitting in first class, on both international and domestic flights but not as much as I would like. Of course I relished the luxury afforded me there, but whether in first class or coach, my ultimate choice is always the window seat.  I may not always get my desired seat, so no matter where I sit, to make my trip a positive experience and an enjoyable one, I practice these simple techniques:

  1. Smile.
  2. Assess my neighbors.
  3. Smile again.
  4. Introduce myself.
  5. Keep chatter to a minimum.
  6. Be friendly and kind.
  7. Offer help to a struggling passenger.
  8. Relax and enjoy the ride.

As an itinerary planner I am always interested in learning the seating preference of my clients.  It helps me to make solid recommendations so they too can have the best travel experience possible.  Please tell me in the comment section of your seating preference (aisle, middle or window) and why.   Mention a bizarre seating experience en route to your destination if you’ve  had one.  Would love to hear it all.

Safe travels!

Airport Peeves


Running through airports seems to be my thing.  No matter how early I arrive, I am always scrambling to get to my gate with just a few minutes to spare before boarding. There was only one time that I can recall, a thanksgiving day, when I leisuredly strolled to my gate and had the chance to sit and relax.  I guess everyone else was dining at their thanksgiving buffet while I was busy catching my flight.

What causes the delay?  Mostly the long lines I encounter at check-in.  I often feel afraid I will not make it through the lines in time for the flight.  I have witnessed instances where check-in personnel would come up to the line and ask if they were persons on line to Airport 2fast-track since their flight was about to board.  The up and down curving lines, sometimes three or four rows deep can be a bit daunting.  My theory is that the winding lines make you dizzy, and by the time you reach the TSA agent you are so confused from going around and around, if asked, you might just give them a wrong name.  Don’t read too much into this, it’s just a theory. 😀.

Seriously, I do hate the long lines.  Many airports have found the solution to this by using self check-in kiosks.  This is great, until you realize a few are broken, or there may be a cue for the few that actually work.  What a bummer.  Is it just me?  Do you notice these things too?  I am not painting every airport with a broad brush and certainly my suggestions below are not a one size fit all solution.

This year’s top 10 airports are truly wonderful (I have passed through half of them). They may be so ascribed for their abundant services, architectural beauty, preferred guest lounges, finest eateries, luxury retail shops, sterile clean restrooms (if there is such a thing), whatever.  These are all great, but since no one surveyed me, I would like to go on record to state what I would like to see at an airport when I arrive.  Nothing crazy or unheard of, but rather simple and should be a basic consideration at every airport:

  1. Airport 3Baggage claim should not be far away.  I shouldn’t have to walk two miles (exaggeration) to collect my bags before exiting the building.
  2. A local bus-stop or train station should be nearby for the budget traveler like me who may not be able to afford taxi or the overpriced hotel shuttles.
  3. Free welcome maps and booklets should be available.  I’m in your city, boosting your economy.  I shouldn’t have to purchase points of interest information in your city.
  4.  Information desk should be located near gates, and I am not talking about the Hudson News stores.
  5. Knowledgeable persons should be manning formation desk at all times.  Duhhh!
  6. 24 hour foreign exchange should be available for departing and arriving visitors.  And last but not least
  7. More pet rest-stops.  Man’s best friend needs to relieve themself too.  Do I need to say more?

My list can go on and on to the point where it may sound like I need a personal valet too. Lol.  I appreciate the finer things in life but I am not always in a position to afford them. However, I still need to give some credit to the check-in process, because I have always managed to board my flights for my destination on-time.

Fellow bloggers what are your airport peeves?  I may not have a solution for them but would love to hear them nonetheless.

Iconic Logos, Catchy Slogans


Almost every US state and most foreign countries have adopted a logo or slogan as part of their marketing strategy to entice prospective visitors to come to their locale.  You maybe familiar with catchphrases such as “Virginia is for Lovers” for the state of Virginia, “Live Free or Die” for the state of New Hampshire, and “The Last Frontier”  for Alaska just to mention a few.  I am not aware of a survey that quantifies how many tourist actually visit a country or state based on the logo or slogan they may have seen or heard.  Even though a slogan may be recognizable, I firmly believe that it is not what draws tourist to a particular place.  It is not even given consideration when planning itineraries.  In fact, many may not even know of the country’s tourism campaign until they arrive at their destination.

On some of my trips they have been a few logos and slogans that have caught my attention, mostly because they resonated with me in an appealing way.  Either the slogan captures the essence of what their country is all about in just a few words, and I get it, or the graphic is clear, effective and accomplishes its task in conveying the intended message.

Incredible India

  • On my first visit to India, when I landed at New Delhi airport I noticed the slogan, “Incredible India” written in big bold letters.  I thought this slogan was strange until I began to witness and experience the sights, sounds, and yes, even the smell of India.  Spicy scents wafted on the night air, especially curry.  Wherever I went from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur I encountered strange, different, or intriguing experiences which kept baring out the slogan and I would find myself saying  ” This is truly incredible.”
  • Another slogan that came to life for me was “Pura Vida” from the beautiful Central America country of Costa Rica.  Translated “Pure Life” it has captured the heart of the nationals and has overflowed even to every visitor.  It is evident in the lush rain forest, abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, scenic greenery, flowing rivers, natural waterfall and wild life.  Everyone seems to have a vested interest in maintaining their healthy eco-friendly environment.  I was impressed to see the slogan at every turn and to hear it as a greeting on arrival and departure.

Barbados Logo

  • The Flying Fish is prominently portrayed in one of many logos for the beautiful island of Barbados.  The fish is known to jump out of the water, spread its wings and fly for a very short distance before diving back into the water.  It is truly a sight to behold when you see a school of flying fish in action.  It is a local delicacy and served as part of the national dish Cou-cou and Flying Fish.

If you plan to visit the World Travel Market in London on November 6 – 8,  you certainly will get to see many logos and slogans, as well as, meet country representatives and possibly receive giveaways that will bare their subtle messages of enticements. It is estimated that 51,000 travel professionals will attend this year to promote their country’s tourism vision.  Over 5000 exhibit booths will display and showcase all things travel related.  Other regions worth visiting for the three day event that brings together the travel industry and trade networks are: Africa, Arabia Travel Market, Asia, and Latin American.

Travel Blogging – A Dream Deferred


Freelance travel blogging for companies or just blogging about my personal travels is something I’ve always dreamed about. One day I went to my former manager for advice on becoming a blogger. I thought I had potential and maybe a little talent too 😀. So, I got my courage up and went to his office. I knew I was placing myself in a vulnerable position as I outlined my personal interests and reasons why I wanted to become a blogger.

My boss was an accomplished writer and communicator. His work was respected and his opinion valued. The meeting was scheduled on his calendar for more than a week. As the date drew nearer, my anticipation rose to levels of excitement that I could barely contain myself. I sooooooo looked forward to that meeting. I thought for sure I would get some rock solid guidance and a firm nod of approval. After all, we both worked in the communications field.

His secretary offered me a seat in his conference room. We exchanged pleasantries until I felt it was time to introduce the main reason for my being there, which in my opinion, was to seek his expert counsel. In retrospect, it took some courage for me to express to him my interest in pursuing a different type of communication.
Blogging 8
What if he didn’t think it was a good idea. What if he fired me on the spot. I had not considered these scenarios and I’m glad I didn’t. Ignorance is truly bliss. I had placed complete faith and trust that my manager would be encouraging, would catch my vision, would possibly be my mentor or recommend one, and would give a tip or two on how to get started as a blogger. Instead, what he said to me caused my excitement to sink like lead in a hot air balloon.

“Blogging has become nothing but a lot of noise, he said. It is hard to hear anything worthwhile with so much noise.” I’m sure much more reasons were given that I can’t recall now, but after those fateful words I began to have second thoughts. Usually, I am not easily dissuaded. However, I was thrown into a capability funk which I could not shake for a few months. I was completely disappointed to say the least. You see, in actuality, I was questioning my skills and talent as a writer and needed some validation. Bad mistake. Since he was a seasoned communicator, and I believed, a visionary, I did not anticipate such lousy advice coming from him.

Suffice it to say, I have gotten over that inept counsel and have since become a blogger, a travel blogger at that, and loving it. Yes, my dream was deferred because of second guessing myself after that meeting. I do not share his views on equating blogging to noise, but he is entitled to his opinion. My blog is a way for me to express myself, share my opinion, and offer my expertise as an itinerary planner. Therefore, just so you know, I’m going to be making a whole lot of noise using my blogger’s voice.

Here are a few lessons learned from this experience:
1). Be careful whom you share your dreams and aspirations with, they may turn out to be nothing but dream-dashers.
2). Believe in yourself and your God-given skills and talent
3). It is okay to defer your dream but never give it up
4). Pursue your dreams and ignore the naysayers
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I have many travel stories to tell so blogging is the perfect forum for me. This month I will begin a blog series where I will highlight a country I visited, back in the day, before all this technology was available to me. I may be dating myself here, but that’s alright. Thank you for reading my blog and listening to my brand of ‘noise.’

Hurricane Harvey and the Unprepared Visitor


As I write, the longhorn state of Texas has been undergoing adverse weather conditions for a few days now, and which has already claimed the lives of two persons.

What should you do if you are a visitor with a young family and caught in the throes of such a natural disaster?  It may not be possible to pick up your bags and head home immediately.  You may have to hunker down and wait it out until all immediate dangers are passed.  So how should you respond in these circumstances and how would you pass the time with your family?

Constantly watching the local channels to keep informed may become overwhelming or alarming for everyone.  Therefore a responsible person, possibly Mom or Dad, should listen to news updates and report to the family the latest forecasts, alerts and evacuation notices.

Engage the younger children in the preparation activities.  Organize your personal effects like change of clothing, food items that can easily be carried and does not need reheating, flashlights, batteries, etc. into your backpacks.  Secure everyone’s identification documents and important papers which may be needed later on.  Find a shelter and cooperate with local authorities.

Allow everyone to participate in the planning process which will help to keep them calm and focussed on the family’s safety plan. Information should be disseminated to younger members on a need-to-know basis to avoid distress or panic.  Throughout the entire process, the adult’s goal should be to reassure their children that their security is their number one priority.  A well executed plan will ensure that the entire family remains safe.

Everything is big in Texas, and no doubt at a time like this, it is seen in the genuine way Texans show their generosity, kindness and helpfulness to strangers who may need a helping hand.

I am praying for everyone’s safety there.  This too shall pass.

 

Inexpensive Travel


I love to travel and want to share how very important itinerary planning is to inexpensive travel.

From a very young age I became fascinated with other parts of the world and determined I would some day travel to these exotic destinations. Magazines such as “National Geographic”, “Conde Naste” and “Traveler,” contributed to my high hopes and dreams of visiting these picturesque places which I can proudly say have since become a reality.

Coming from a working class family background, proper planning has always been considered a key ingredient to ensure success.  So, I decided that I would limit my overall spending to $1,500 and not a penny more for international travels.  Time and time again it’s thrilling to see my budget succeed and vacation plans accomplished. Careful planning has enabled me to visit every continent except Antarctica which is by choice (it is simply too cold for me there), and to find creative ways to see epic sites and wonders of the world that are simply to spectacular for words.

At http://www.traveltinerary.com I will share my opinions, recount my experiences, offer travel itineraries/recommendations and tips to enhance your overall travel experience.  Should you choose to take advantage of my expertise in itinerary planning, you will be ensuring the start to an enjoyable vacation but spending considerably less than what most people may pay handsomely to see.

Whether you are a first-time traveler, solo traveler, millennial traveler or some-time traveler, my goals in creating affordable travel itineraries are to help: reduce your stress level, keep more of your travel dollars in your pocket, expand your vacation options, offer possibilities which may appeal to your spirit of adventure and give you a well thought out plan that you will love.

I am here to help you plan an itinerary of memorable vacation experiences which you will want to later tell your children, grand-children, friends and family about one day.

Let’s get started with the form below.  You will not regret it.

Must-haves


I like to read all the must-haves, travel essentials, top tips, do’s and don’ts related to making travel life easier.  I believe that everyone out there when planning a vacation would love to have all these travel tips in one convenient place, right at their fingertips.

When I travel to the tropics, among the many items I carry in my suitcase are 10 of my favorite must-haves.  Considering that the weight limit for carryon luggage is approximately 20 pounds, what I choose to carry is very important.  The selections must meet my three standard packing requirements: be lightweight, be compact and be trendy.

So here goes.  I must have:

    1. Sneakers that are durable, lightweight, and made from materials which keep my feet cool and fit comfortably.  They are perfect for walking distances, gives adequate support for rough terrain, are stylishly designed and colorful too.
    2. A Hat with a wide brim which provides the right amount of shade on a sunny day.  This trendy head gear protects my face and the exposed portion of skin on the back of my neck.
    3. Clothing such as silks and linens are perfect to wear to keep cool day or night.  A Beach and Linen Dress are an integral part of my wardrobe that does not require much manipulation.
    4. Believe it or not, in the tropics the  Umbrella has a dual purpose.  It provides shade from the sun’s rays and protects from the driving rain.  This necessary item fits in small spaces and is a daily staple in my handbag.  Whether the day’s forecast predicts rain or sunshine, I will certainly be prepared for either occasion.
    5. A Water Bottle for my daily exercise routine. I may also use it to carry a cold beverage such as freshly squeezed lemon in chilled water or a drink of hot cocoa as I view the sunrise or watch the sunset on the horizon.
    6. Besides making me look cool at the beach, Sunglasses help to protect my eyes  from the sun’s glare as I relax on the sand while watching the tide’s ebb and flow near the water’s edge.
    7. A decent Shawl to wrap around my shoulders to keep me warm in the cool evening breezes. Also, I may use it to accessorize my dress for a more semi-formal look at dinner time.
    8. Lightweight carry-all Tote Bags are handy items to take to the beach, supermarket and almost everywhere I go.  I can fold and tuck them neatly into a clutch purse when not in use.
    9. You wouldn’t be in the tropics if you didn’t encounter mosquitoes and sandflies or as the locals call them no-see-ums.  I use Bug Guard towelettes to wipe the exposed areas of my skin for protection against these pesky insects.  The repellent properties saves me from much unnecessary itch and pain, not to mention ugly skin discolorations.
    10. A Portable Power Bank that will keep all my electronic devices fully charged.  It helps to keep me connected when I am unable to access ordinary charging outlets.

The mentioned 10 items are not the only items in my suitcase, but without them I would be miserable.  Obviously, other items like my binoculars, camera, cosmetics, laptop, etc.,  are very important to me too.  By following my three packing requirements whenever I travel, I have always managed to carry what’s needed and never had to use any of my spending money on items I would have otherwise left at home.

Memorials and Museums


Do you like to hear a good story even when you are on vacation? If you do, then start digging.  You are bound to discover a memorial or a museum that will enlighten you.  I think of the historical pair as first cousins in purpose: honoring people of the past and preserving things.

Memorials honor the memory of someone or event where people died. Museums, on the other hand, preserve tangible artifacts worthy of mention and stored for posterity.  Both honorary houses tell real life stories. The stories maybe intriguing and bittersweet. Recounts of acts to mankind maybe sad, tragic and even unthinkable.  Pre-historic items may be old and fragile.  Beautiful works of art may be priceless and untouchable.  They all have a story.

Whenever I travel, I feel compelled to visit a museum, but more so, a renowned memorial site. The more I visit, the more I realize the lingering effects on me. I can nonchalantly stroll through a museum ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ but may not recall much of what I viewed earlier on in the day (thank God for photography).  For example, when I toured the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, the frescos were very beautiful, until after staring at so many for so long they all began to look the same to me.  No disrespect.  That day I may have been suffering from a ‘to much condition’ I will call bias: to much  beauty, to much information, to much art syndrome.

Not so with a memorial.

Let me tell you why.  Memorials are unforgettable, inspirational, impactful and in my opinion, worth the time taken to visit.  Oh and did I mention, filled with story you will find interesting too?  Hours maybe even days after attending a memorial location I can recall the history as reported to me by the tour guide. Obviously, the personal factor is what I relate to and which draws me mostly to them.

Some of the remembrance places I visited include: The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa; Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel; Pearl Harbor in Hawaii; Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Cu Chi Tunnels & Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Raj Ghat(Gandhi)Memorial in New Delhi, India; Taj Mahal in Agra, India; 9/11 Memorial in New York City; The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial both in Washington, DC, just to mention a few.  Every visit has left an indelible impression on me. For sure, I am not the only one affected.  Crowd ambience is often palpable and the sense of loss profound. But that’s to be expected. Commemorative locations are usually quiet and reflective.

You may think any tour guide worth his/her salt should do an exceptional job of retelling a melancholic part of their history.  I agree, after all, it is in their best interest and may make a lot more cents (pun intended) for them.  Seriously, to gain a deeper respect for your host country’s people, culture, struggles and history, I strongly advise adding to your travel itinerary a memorial site visit as a must-do.   The story alone is all worth it

Wanderlust Beginnings


I began my travels in high school. My first trip abroad was to the United Kingdom. This was an auspicious occasion for me, leaving a third world country for a first world country many times larger than my homeland Barbados which is 166 square miles, 21 miles long and 14 miles wide.

It was my first time on an airplane too. From that time of wanting to see places that I had only seen in pictures and coupled with the desire of always wanting to know what lay beyond the horizon gave birth to my wanderlust beginnings.

I have visited over 80+ countries and every continent except Antarctica. I travel mostly solo. From my travels I have created several scrapbooks that recount these trips in detail. I’ve acquired a menagerie of refrigerator magnets that have become a focal conversational piece in my home for all first-time visitors and traveling friends. They are often amazed at the places I have visited and listen intently to stories/experiences of my travels. Usually, their final question is, “Where are you going to next?” and my enigmatic response is, “The world is my Oyster!”

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