A Travellerspoint blog



overcast 28 °C


This seems to be a new theme, finding time to write a blog from the Air Canada lounge while delayed in travels. Sigh, but what can ya do? I am grateful for good friends who fetched me on this latest 12 hour delay, took me shopping and fed me a fine supper

I am attempting to return home from a business trip that is worthy of a little blogging and a few pictures. I spent the past 5 days in Sint Maarten, four of which were spent presenting at and attending a conference for Air Traffic Service (ATS) providers from the Caribbean and South America. Despite the fact that the island (particularly our resort) was plagued with Norovirus, and I did get sick, and that I was inside from 9-5 on the four business days, it was a pretty good gig. Especially when 30cm of snow was falling back home.

Sint Maarten or St Martin is the smallest island in the world divided between two countries, France and the Netherlands. Salt was the original draw but for me, the biggest draw was its warmth and of course the airplane watching. Although it has a relatively short runway anchored between a beach and a mountain it is one of the busiest Caribbean airports. The airport which employs 52% of all the employed on the island, is perhaps the biggest attraction. Every day the beach is filled with tourists coming from the cruise ships to stand underneath arriving aircraft or to stand behind larger departing aircraft, the largest of which is the KLM747, and be blown across the beach and into the ocean. Some idiots hold the fence in hopes of becoming airborne. It works. It all seems a little crazy to me and the first day, I ran away but I will admit to joining my group on Friday to stand beneath the KLM. We figure the worst case scenario was an ironic news story, 15 air traffic controllers and service providers killed beneath a B747. Good grief. I did not, however, risk my life, hearing, vision or my camera to stand in the sand blasts as the flights departed. Rather I took pictures from further down the beach.


Most of my pictures were taken from the veranda in my room overlooking famous Maho Beach.


I did get a chance to do a little exploring. One night we cabbed it 25 minutes to the French side for some fine dining on the beach. Although the meal was delicious, it was not long after that the Noro hit me so fond memories were lost on that.


We also went into the city to the carnival and a youth concert.


I extended my stay by one day to explore and to get a sensible itinerary into Canada so I had all of Friday to explore. As previously mentioned, the day started with the remaining gang underneath a B747 which was kinda cool and not nearly as loud as I thought.

This is from the first sighting to overhead and landing


Those behind a departing aircraft


From there, my new friend Kent, a trinie from TT, (that’s my newly learned slang for a guy from Trinidad and Tobago) and I decided to hop on the local transit and check out the island. First of all, I must comment on this most excellent trans-island service. You can pretty much stand anywhere, watch for a large mini-van with a sign in the window indicating the destination (Maho, Phillisburg), wave down the driver and go from one side of the island to the other. All for $2 usd. You cram in with all who care to join and stay on board until you say “stop driver” at which point he pulls over and lets you out. It is as simple as that. Almost like hitching a guaranteed ride from anywhere to anywhere. I love it. Doesn’t get any more efficient than that and I don’t think we ever waited more than 10 minutes. Alternatively you can take an expensive taxi for $25 usd +extra for additional people. There doesn’t seem to be much gain in that approach.


Our first stop, Philipsburg. This is a typical tourist trap for cruise ships and people who clearly have more money than I. Most of the shops were gold and diamond shops and were therefore, of no interest to me. There were some electronics. Because I had done some pricing back home and had Shirley on standby, I can confirm that with the current US exchange, there are no deals. Everything I priced in camera gear was cheaper back home even with the relief of no duty or taxes. It was a pretty cheap shopping day for me but it was still fun chatting to all the charming salesmen.


So after strolling around the area for a bit we decided to make our way to the French side and the capitol of Marigot. This had a completely different feel. The currency was the euro, the language was French and the architecture had a European feel. There is a small outdoor market but again, mostly tourist stuff, cheap t-shirts and handicrafts but it closed due to rain shortly after we arrived. I don’t think I missed much.


We did sit and have a wonderful French/Creole meal. I loved my coconut cooked conch.


We then crammed into another stuffed minivan that dropped us at a very busy roundabout where we waited for one last van home. Although we didn’t do much we had the best day filled with much adventure and tons of laughs.

Overall a great week at the office. I enjoyed the work, learned lots and loved the warmth. Neither the lost luggage on the way down, the overcast skies, the norovirus or the never ending journey home has dampened my spirit and I so, I look forward to the next adventure.

A few more snaps


Posted by curlygirl 14:27 Archived in Sint Maarten Comments (1)




Since I have a five hour lay over here in Halifax airport, I figure I would jot down a few things of note about Havana and my experience there. My typical reflection post.

1. I loved staying at a casa. It was simple but warm and comfortable with the best hosts. I felt like I was at home. It is a realization how excessive life is back home. So, if you are up for it, check out Hostal Casacuba.

2. Life is not easy at the casa or for the average Cuban people. Families have ration cards for groceries and have to line up daily for basic necessities. The average salary is $20 CUC (about $20 usd) a month. Although it is obvious that anyone who can earns a buck on the side. Doctors who make about $30 a month often do work on the side.

3. Water! There is no ready/guaranteed access in the home. Pressure is low, there is not always enough gas pressure to keep it warm or like last night, you just run out. Orlando was good enough to borrow water so we could have showers before we traveled. Yes, borrow. That means lugging buckets from neighbors to the barrels on the roof.

4. Water! For the first time ever, I did not find bottled water to be readily available. I sometimes went to 6 or 7 stores before finding any and if I found the large bottles, I bought at least two. It was hot and you have to drink to stay hydrated.

5. Cubans can move! Man, I don’t know how but if there is music playing, the people are smiling and moving in a way that would make you think their hips are built different than ours. I could never go on the dance floor without making a complete fool of myself. People have so much fun dancing.

6. People are comfortable in their skin. No matter the size, they are in tight clothes and rocking it on the dance floor. They look good too.

7. Wifi is fairly new to the average person. Internet is sold on the black market for $3 an hour in the form of a little card. Hundreds gather in the local hotspot to make calls and text. Tons of people have cell phones. I am told they come from relatives living in the states. For now, you rarely see people on their phones outside those hotspots.

8. The reported literacy rate of Cuba is 97%

9. I want to learn the Rumba and the Salsa and wish I could have taken up all the offers for lessons as I walked down the street.

10. I need to learn Spanish. English was pretty limited in our area. It seemed better in the tourist areas.

11. I love taking pictures and feel especially lucky to have had this opportunity to take pictures in such a warm community with welcoming people.

12. The boys are very pretty.

Dan was snapping pictures as we moved through the city this week. Here are a few images of our activities.


Great week with great people.


Posted by curlygirl 15:06 Archived in Cuba Comments (3)



overcast 25 °C


It has an absolutely wonderful last day in Cuba. Although it may not be reflected in the images because for much of the day, I did not have my camera in hand.

After a late breakfast, a few of us headed out to explore with only two real objectives. We wanted to walk to the artists’ market and take in an exhibit at the Fine Art Museum. Our stroll to the market was slow because we did stop and take a few pictures along the way. We just can’t help ourselves. The market had no real surprises and was really no different that any tourist market so we didn’t stay long before leaving empty handed.


We took another fun taxi ride to the museum where we saw a Peter Turnley exhibit. This proved to be an awesome end to a week of photography. Peter is an American photographer who worked for Newsweek for years and has been featured on the cover 43 times. Lexi, had previously done a workshop with him in New York city so was very excited to see the exhibit which featured his early work, his photo journalism as well as his collection of photos from Cuba. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have been introduced to this work or to see such an amazing collection. He has photographed so many major world events including the Tiananmen Square riots, Rwanda genocide and the falling of the towers on 911. It was really moving.


After a quick lunch, we returned home to pack up our things before I headed out with Dan and Sandy for the most surreal couple of hours of music. We returned to the Rumba bar, first visited last Sunday, to see Dan’s favorite band. This was nothing short of insane and I am not sure there is any way to describe it in words. The room is quite small so when arrived one hour before the show and it was already packed. Not nearly as packed as it would become. By the time the show started, if you were one of the lucky ones, and we were, to have a seat, you were not moving out that spot and it got increasingly crowded as the show went on. I wish I had my camera but I grabbed a couple of shots early on from my phone. Rumba is said to originate in Cuba with the African culture and is a form of drumming and chanting/singing. It was so loud that at times I thought my phone was vibrating but it was just the rhythm. The band had 10 people on stage ranging in age from 35 -75 and everyone looked like they loved it. They had two dancers who were performing the traditional chase of the vagina. They both hold a scarf which is part of the dance. It is such a sexual dance but is simply magnificent. Everyone in Cuba can dance and the Salsa is impressive but this is insane. I have NEVER seen people move like that. As the night goes on, other people take the scarf and perform while the crowd goes wild dancing, singing and clapping. At one point I was buried in a sea of Cuban hip gyrations and let me tell you, they can gyrate. The Cuban men are absolutely gorgeous and the biggest flirts. Everyone is so nice too. One of the drummers who could tell I was loving the show, came over after and introduced himself and thanked me for coming. I absolutely loved every second and felt very lucky to have such an intimate and local experience.


I am so impressed with the love of dance in Havana. Every night there are live bands with 10-14 members performing at several clubs, both for matinee shows at dinner time and a late night show. No matter the time the dance floor is full with all ages and sizes. Awesome.

It was a wonderful last day and after enjoying supper with our gang we took some time to review our “fun’ photos of each other. We all really gelled with each other and our host family.


Posted by curlygirl 09:41 Archived in Cuba Comments (3)



sunny 32 °C


Another sunny and very warm day in Havana, although I think the humidity is down a little. I also just discovered there is air conditioning in my room so I need not swelter anymore.

Today we headed out for some more sightseeing and shooting. Our first stop was the cemetery Colon, which is similar but less dramatic than the Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Still it was huge and lovely. Lots of interesting symbolism on the tombs. I am sure you could spend days there never understanding it all. The columns that appear short or broken off represent a life lost too young. We also saw the most famous grave in the cemetery of a woman who died young in childbirth and her husband is said to have come for 40 years to try and wake her. People still bring flowers to make wishes and ask for health and fertility.


Our next stop was for lunch and one of the highest building in Havana with glass walls providing a panoramic view. This really provided some perspective on the size of this city.


We dropped into the National Hotel which is spectacular and has a ton of history in pictures. Even a picture of Jean Cretian with Fidel Castro.


The we rented two identical purple 1956 Buick convertibles and went for a city tour. This was terrific.


We got home after a long hot day and Lexi and I, having lost Neil, decided to walk the water front as the sun was setting to grave a few more shots.


Last on the agenda was a visit to the famous nightclub/show bar, the Tropicana. Great show that was full of interesting surprises including a little opera. Our ticket included rum so it was a bit of a late night, but well worth it.



Posted by curlygirl 12:46 Archived in Cuba Comments (4)



sunny 30 °C

Since I have some time, I thought I would write a little about our experience and group.

The casa experience has been really great. I would never opt to stay in a hotel given the option. The accommodations are simple but more than adequate. I have a room with my own small bathroom. Sandy and Lexi have a room each but share a large bathroom. Neil and Sally are in a nearby apartment and Geoff is nearby at another casa since he joined late. As I mentioned hot water and electricity are not guaranteed. I had a refreshing cool shower this morning. But honestly, it isn’t that bad when the air is hot and humid. I will say, it would be lovely to have a pool to dive into but not if it meant giving up my casa. Our host family is so sweet and seem to enjoy having people around despite the fact that it means they are all crammed into one little room.


Every morning is a full breakfast including multiple fruits, bread, homemade mango and guava jelly and freshly cooked eggs, made to order. The suppers have been brilliant and Nuika is an awesome cook. All theories that the food in Cuba is bad have been discarded. We typically have rice and beans, a protein, pork, chicken or seafood. One night we had yucca (a starchy vegetable) cooked in oil and garlic. It was so good; I was eating out of the serving dish at the end. Tonight we had a kinda lobster and shrimp paella that was to die for and really garlicy tamales.


My group is really lovely. Everyone is very laid back and we are all my age or older with the exception of Jeff who is 30. He is actually MIA this morning after seeking a little fun last night long after we were in bed.

I miss the internet but it is probably good for me to be disconnected. Not good enough that I would elect to avoid the walk to the park. It is only a couple blocks away and it is really a hoot seeing hundreds of people huddled into a wee bit of green space to experience the outside world. Likely, a new experience for many of them although cell phones are very popular. For $3, you are almost guaranteed an hour of internet. Neil has been gracious enough to come with me which is nice since it is quite dark and I am the only person sitting there with a MacBook on my lap. As safe as I feel here, it is a comfort. He enjoys touching base with his wife back home as well. Neil is a real character, he is fluent in Spanish, speaking it at home with his Chilean wife. This is a real asset and hindrance. He loves stopping to chat to people and sometimes this goes on forever. But we always wait patiently for the signature handshake, indicating he is ready to move on. Honestly, he has provided great insight into life in Havana when he shares what he learns in conversation.


This morning we all stayed home and spent some time reviewing our images, learning about processing and getting some great feedback from Dan and each other. Everyone’s images are so different. Crazy how we can all walk the same streets and capture the same scenes so differently.


At 5 we went to a nearby bar for the salsa matinee. Unfortunately, it started late so we only got about 40 minutes with the live band before having to leave for dinner but it was AMAZING. There was about 12 people in the band and the music was awesome. The dancing was even better. Holy crap, there is no way to join in without standing out like a sore thumb because ever single person on the dance floor can move like professional dancers. I so want to learn Spanish and Salsa dancing.

We have a busy day planned for tomorrow so it is off to the park and then to bed.

Posted by curlygirl 18:22 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

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