Monday, July 30, 2007

Caribbean: Trinidad Steel Band, 2006

I was in Trinidad and Tobago in September 2006 for a few days of Carifesta, a Caribbean regional arts festival that takes place every three or four years in a different Caribbean destination. Most of the events took place in the stadium area in downtown Port-of-Spain, the capital, but there were plenty of events in other places as well. The events were not publicized in the most efficient manner, so in some cases it was hit or miss. I did get lucky, however, when I was in the town of Arima, which featured a small-scale arts event with calypsonians, Hindu and native American dancers, a steel band and another percussion band with an incredible amount of energy. The next Carifesta is scheduled to take place in Guyana in 2008. Information can be found at

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Caribbean: Day trip to Tobago, 2006

On my trip to Trinidad to observe Carifesta, I managed to squeeze in a day trip to its sister island Tobago. There are many attractions to this island, which caters more to the tourist than Trinidad, which is more industrial and has more safety issues than Tobago. With only one day I decided to hit the two main attractions, Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool, both of which are part of the boat tours that depart from Store Bay (left), which is walking distance from the airport and is on the southern part of the island. From the time you get out of the airport, there will certainly be someone to approach you to ask if you're interested in taking the tour. Looking back, I probably should have waited until I got to the bay to buy the ticket, but it worked out fine.

The boats pull out from Store Bay and with their glass bottoms enable you to see the fish and some of the coral underneath. Later you'll be given a snorkel in a very shallow area to see what lies underneath. It's a shame that I didn't have an underwater camera, because I saw one of the most beautiful sights ever: a rainbow parrotfish which definitely lived up to its name.

The next attraction on the boat tour is the Nylon Pool, a shallow pool of white water out by the reefs. It supposedly got its name from a member of the British royal family who was vacationing there. It is remarkable how far one is from the shore, swimming in that shallow water. The picture to the left was taken on the way back which shows how far from the shore we were.

I had just enough time after getting back to Store Bay and walking to the airport area to hop on a taxi to Scarborough, where there were closing ceremonies for Tobago's part of Carifesta. There is a nice little area near the harbor where the festivities took place to attract the local crowd and some visitors like myself. I stayed as long as I could and then took a taxi to get back to my flight to Trinidad. The timing was perfect.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Spain: La Alhambra, Granada, 2006

Back in April 2006 I traveled to Seville, Granada and Ronda in southern Spain. One of my trips was to the world-famous Alhambra, a palace for the Muslim rulers of the kingdom of Granada. Modern Spain began in 1492 when the kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, fell to the Christians. This picture of the palace was taken from the gardens called the Generalife, which are a little up the hill from the Alhambra. These buildings date from the 12th century and are typical of Muslim architecture of the time: plain on the outside, lavish on the inside. Particularly striking is the stucco work on the walls and ceilings; often times the walls are covered with Arabic script with a message repeated over and over.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Caribbean: Shirley Heights, Antigua, 2005

Antigua is another Caribbean island (south and east of Puerto Rico) that is popular with vacationers. At 106 square miles, it's larger than Anguilla or St. Martin and has even more beaches. One of the most popular sights on the island of Antigua is Shirley Heights. It's not the highest point on the island, but from this point the British, when Antigua was one of their colonies, could see the entry of ships in the harbor. Ruins of the old 18th-century British forts still stand on this point. Nowadays it's a popular place with tourists and those locals who want to sell crafts and other items to them.

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Caribbean: Shoal Bay, Anguilla, 2003

Here's a picture of me on Shoal Bay beach on the island of Anguilla in 2003, enjoying the blinding white sand and the bright blue water.
A few words about Anguilla: it's a small, scrubby, relatively flat coral and limestone Caribbean island, a little to the east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It has a quiet atmosphere in contrast to the crowds and casinos on St. Martin. (A side note: The island of St. Martin is shared between the French and the Dutch. The French spell it Saint-Martin, and the Dutch spell it Sint Maarten. All of the casinos are on the Dutch side.) The real attraction of Anguilla is the water around the island. I also found the people to be extremely friendly. There are some low-key, high-end resorts on this island. The easiest way to get there from the US is to fly to St. Martin first and then take the ferry from Marigot on the French side.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Colombia: Picture of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, 2007

After we finished a day trip from the city of Pereira to the Parque del Cafe ("Coffee Park"), a theme park in the heart of Juan Valdez coffee country in central Colombia, we saw that the Nevado del Ruiz volcano was visible...something that usually doesn't happen. This volcano is best known for the terrible mudslide in 1985 that killed about 25,000 people and buried the entire town of Armero (it hadn't erupted for 500 years before that tragedy), but there is no denying the mountain's beauty. We just took it in and enjoyed the unique opportunity to see it.