Tag: exploration

Take a Trip on the TSS Earnslaw: Queenstown, NZ

If I learned anything during my trip to New Zealand last year, it’s that even in what’s supposed to be the beginning of summer, its weather can be pretty unpredictable. Especially in Queenstown, a town in NZ’s South Island, where one day it could be pleasant and sunny and the next, snowing.

We had planned a trip for Milford Sound, a nature cruise in a fjord renowned for its beauty. But as our luck would have it, bad weather had closed the only road in. No tours were running – no buses, no boats or helicopters. We woke up that grey and drizzly morning feeling deflated. All the articles we Googled recommended activities that were inside and we didn’t want to waste our last day. As we lamented over breakfast, our lovely Airbnb host offered us the perfect solution – a trip on the TSS Earnslaw.

The TSS Earnslaw is a nautical marvel – a steamship built in 1912 (the same year as the Titanic) that’s still running today. You do have a book a tour to get on the boat, but it’s worth it, and I would 100% recommend the Walter Peak Farm Tour package (roughly $66 U.S.).

It’s general seating inside the ship, and most of the boat is free to explore. It was EXTREMELY chilly on the day we boarded, especially when the ship got moving across Lake Wakatipu, but being outside the main cozy seating cabin meant spectacular views and some seriously fresh air. (My advice: If it’s cold, layer up and bring gloves and a hat!) Plus, if those teeth start chattering, you can pop into the toasty steam room (think coal, not sauna) where you can actual see the ship’s staff shoveling coal to keep the boat running.

Refreshments also are available inside the cabin, but if you chose the farm tour, save your appetite for the delicious tea and snacks that await you when you dock. Though I love tea, the highlight of the visit for me was getting to MEET and FEED the farm animals. Never before have I seen such an adorable combination of ducks, sheep, cows and more. You also get to see a truly impressive sheep herding demonstration by the herding dogs who work right there at the farm.

On the way back across the lake, enjoy the ride while a charming gentleman plays familiar piano tunes and other ship-goers sing along.

New Zealand is definitely one of my all-time favorite travel destinations and I can’t wait to go back. If it’s not on your list yet, it should be!

xo,
Katie

Utah’s Mighty Five Roadtrip Summary

Day 0

Waited in line for 1.5 hours in order to pick up a rental car. I was extremely angry, until they gave me this beauty…

(c) ABR 2017

Day 1

We hiked 3.9 miles in Natural Bridges National Monument. I really wanted to hike the loop that went through the canyon here, but we didn’t have time. We settled for hiking down to each of the bridges instead. We also had to convince a ranger that we didn’t have anything against National Monuments, and we forgot the name of our hotel for the night since I left our itinerary at home.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 2

It snowed over night, and while we were trying to drive up to the Moab area. Due to the weather, we skipped out on seeing the Needles sector of Canyonlands, and went up to Island in the Sky instead. It was windy and cold as heck, but we still managed to hike to the second overlook of Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Grand View, and Mesa Arch (7.3 miles). We dressed really warmly so that we could stay out in the weather, and people kept commenting on how prepared we were. When we got back into town, we met someone who had flipped their car in the storm that we had driven through. It was a sobering moment.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 3

Fearing crowds, we got into Arches early and hiked to Delicate Arch first thing. Luckily, the weather was much nicer this day. Nice enough that we actually managed to take our jackets off (unlike the day before), and enjoy our picnic lunch without freezing. After seeing the arch that is on most Utah license plates, we checked out many other arches, and managed to hike another 7.4 miles.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 4

Capitol Reef was probably the least developed park of the five, but we started the day off by visiting another arch. I wasn’t expecting to be super excited about it, after Arches, but it was actually really cool. We also climbed up to a view point of historic Fruita, where Fremont Native Americans and then Mormon farmers lived, and walked through Capitol Gorge (6.5 miles hiked this day). This park felt a little disorganized, but it was nice to escape the crowds, and I loved the variation.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 5

Bryce Canyon was… mindblowing. I had no idea that Thunder Mountain in Disneyland was based on a real place, but here it is! Hoodoos every where, and even though we had to slip down ice, and slog through mud, the hiking here was wonderful. We visited Tower Bridge (another arch, go figure), and then wandered through the Queen’s Garden (where the trail winds through the hoodoos) and by the end that day we had hiked 6.4 miles. It was beautiful, and blessedly not all that crowded.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 6

Our last day was a mix of proud and disappointing moments. We wanted to hike Angel’s Landing, but the ranger at the gate freaked us out about parking, and there were only nasty port-a-potties at the visitor center. So, the start to the day was awkward. But we did find parking, and we powered up the steep incline of Angel’s Landing to the saddle before the part of the trail that crosses the spine of the mountain. I was scared, there were cliffs on either side, but it was worth it! I was so proud of us for making if up the cliffside and facing our fears, and we finished the trail in nearly half the time that the park signs thought we would. After lunch, we also made it out to Emerald Pools. But that was it for us and Zion, because it was so busy. There was no parking and it definitely turned us off a little bit. 7 miles hiked!

(c) ABR 2017

Top 10 Things to Do in Haiti

  1. Le Citadelle
Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

This is the landmark that I wanted to see most in Haiti, and it was everything I hoped that it would be. Le Citadelle is the massive fort that was built overlooking Cap-Haitien by the Haitian army after France was defeated. It was meant to protect the north from any attempt by the French to take back the colony, but such an attack never came. Now Le Citadelle is a UNESCO World Heritage open for visitors to learn about the history and heritage of the Haitian people. In order to tour the fortress, you first need to hike or ride a mule up a steep, cobblestone path. People with mules will follow you up the trail if you opt to hike, just in case you get tired, but it is just fine to keep going on foot. The fortress itself is well worth the struggle up the hill, for those of you uncertain about hiking, and the views of the verdant, surrounding mountains definitely add to the appeal.

  1. San Souci Palace
San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace is just down the mountain from Le Citadelle, and it is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. However, this beautiful ruin wasn’t as developed or crowded as the fortress. Here, we were guided through the building by a guide from the nearby town, and the only other people there were a couple locals enjoying the views and shade of the high walls. We learned that San Souci Palace was the home of Henri Christophe, also known as King Henri I, after the country won its independence from France. When it was built, San Souci was said to rival Versailles, and after seeing Le Citadelle, I could imagine that this was true. Much like the fortress, this site tells an important story about the history of this often misunderstood Caribbean country.

  1. Grotto Marie-Jeanne
Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Ever since I first visited Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, I have been in love with caves, and so far, I have had the opportunity to visit some in almost every country that I have visited. Haiti was no exception, thanks to the itinerary that Tour Haiti put together, and the cavern that we visited was Grotto Marie-Jeanne west of Port Salut. This cave was not well developed compared to some others that I have visited, but that was honestly something that I found very attractive about it. One half of the cave was easily accessible to the whole tour group via some stone steps. The other part of the cave required that we crawl through some narrow spaces, and carefully climb down some steep and slippery inclines. I would only suggest this for people that are good hikers and sure on their feet, but it was really cool. It was a true caving experience, even though it was not technical, so that was quite unique.

  1. Bassin Bleu
Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu is one of the most popular, natural attractions in Haiti, and it is essentially a waterfall and a deep, stone swimming hole. Getting here is difficult, as the road to the trailhead passes through the river, and is quite steep. There is also a bit of a hike from the parking area to Bassin Bleu, which isn’t all that difficult for hikers, but might be hard for people not used it. The walk is quite beautiful, however. There are several pools below Bassin Bleu, as well as the river, which you cross on the walk there. Bleu itself, as its name suggests, has blue water, and it is deep enough to jump from the rocks into the water (but follow guide instructions for safety). There is also a lovely waterfall here that has a little nook behind it, where you can relax and enjoy this little, tropical oasis. It is a bit busy here, however, so it is good to go as early as you can.

  1. Beaches (Cap-Haitien, Jacmel-area, and Port Salut)
Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

The Caribbean is known for its beaches, and Haiti is no exception, so it only makes sense to experience some of the country’s coasts. My favorite beach was north of Cap-Haitian, because it was very unique. The sand was dark here, and there were cacti growing on the coast; it was unlike any other beach that I have seen in the region. Alternatively, the beaches of Port Salut were nice, white sand that was fun to stroll along. Sadly, this area was hit quite hard by the recent hurricane, so I am not sure what the current state of this place was. However, there are many beautiful beaches in Haiti for the ocean-lover.

  1. The Observatoire
The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

In the mountains above Port-au-Prince is a little bar that sits on the one of the best views of the city that you can get as a tourist. Catching a sunset here should be a priority if you are spending any time in Port-au-Prince. This viewpoint reveals the city’s beautiful side, and getting to see the surrounding mountains and the coast all at once really paints the perfect picture of just what a dynamic area Port-au-Prince sits in. The drive up here is beautiful, if steep and sometimes crowded, and the restaurant itself is a wonderful place to relax in the open air and take it all in.

  1. Jacmel
Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

This little coastal town is a well-known tourist destination in Haiti. Besides its historic marketplace near the port, the mosaic along the shore is a common sight in pictures of the town. However, a good guide will show you the city’s other works of art as well. There are mosaics all over the city, and all but the one on the beach were done by the town’s own artists, many of them children. Jacmel is also the perfect place to buy paper mache, which is a true art form in Haiti. When I initially heard about it, I was imagining that stuff we all made in elementary school, but this is some real sturdy and beautiful paper mache, a must-buy in Haiti.

  1. Explore Port-au-Prince
The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

This is low down on my list, just above two things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t able to, because Port-au-Prince actually kind of scares me. I have just heard so many bad things about this city through the media, and through some of my contacts in Haiti as well. That being said, I’m not sure a trip to Haiti would be complete without seeing some of the capital, and if you go with a good guide, it is no problem. The iron market in Port-au-Prince is really amazing, and has been rebuilt since the earthquake; it is also a great place to pick up souvenirs. Hotel Olofson is a wonderful stop, because of its historic and beautiful architecture, and Petion-Ville has some nice restaurants and bars to check out as well.

  1. Ile-a-Vache

I haven’t actually been to this location (or the next), but if I ever had the chance to travel back to Haiti, this is one of the places that would be at the top of my list of places to see. Ile-a-Vache is a small island off of the southern coast of Haiti, which is known for its pristine beaches. Based on what I have heard, I actually think that this may be one of the most untouched coastal areas of the Caribbean, but that is changing rapidly. Resorts and cruise ships have set their sights on this little slice of paradise, so if you visit here in the future, please be sure to support local people- find out what hotels and restaurants are owned by Haitians (and are safe) and give them a try. Anything owned by a large company is almost guaranteed to send most of your money out of the country.

For more information on this stop, check out Nerdy Nomad’s Post on Ile-a-Vache

  1. Pic la Selle: The Highest Peak in Haiti

Hiking is probably my favorite thing, period. So, while I had an amazing time in Haiti, I really missed it. Some of my fellows on the tour that I took to explore the country would consider the walk up to Le Citadelle to be a hike, but it was paved and it wasn’t all that long of a walk. So, for people like me, I would suggest trying something a little harder. Here I have listed Pic la Selle, the highest mountain in Haiti, because I love bagging high points (but I am no mountaineer). That being said, this isn’t actually a hike that I have done, and I am sure that there are alternative options for hiking in Haiti as well. I am listing some resources below for further info:

Summit Post Entry on Pic la Selle

Trekking in Haiti

Tips for Travel To and Through Haiti

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Getting There

There are three obvious ways to get to Haiti, by cruise, by air, and by bus from the Dominican Republic. More and more tourists are coming to Haiti via cruise, and I am not 100% supportive of this mode of travel, due to the behavior of many cruise companies. If this is the only way that you can visit Haiti, any support and good experiences are better than none, but just be aware that most, if not all of the money you spend will stay with the foreign company that owns the line.

First view of Haiti on the bus ride to Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

First view of Haiti on the bus ride to Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

Since I was living in the Dominican Republic for the summer, I opted for the bus route from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince because it was very affordable (only $70.00 USD round trip when I went in the summer of 2016 with Capital Coach Line). The ride from one city to the other took about 7-8 hours, and there were trips that left either 2-3 times a day. The buses are also not what comes to most people’s mind when I tell them that I did this; they are standard public touring bases, with AC, nice seats, and even movies that play. While you are riding in relative luxury, however, this can be a stressful way to travel, because getting through the border is no walk in the park, especially if your Spanish or Haitian Creole isn’t all that good. If you do travel this way, expect to be stopped on both sides. From Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, you will get out on the DR side without your luggage and get your passport examined, and on the Haiti side they may or may not examine your baggage and they will need to stamp your passport. From Port-au-Prince you will need to get your bag and passport checked on both sides. It is likely that the bus company will collect your passport from you before you leave, so you will get it back during this time.

The being said do NOT give your passport to ANYONE except the bus company employees or the officials behind the passport windows. There are people that will insist on seeing your passport on the way up to the windows, and they may even flash forms at you to confuse you into thinking that you don’t have what you need. But if your bus line didn’t give it to you, you don’t need it, and if you do, let the official at the window tell you. You never want to let anyone get a hold of your documents. You will also have people try to take your bags from you. For the most part, they are not trying to steal from you, and just want to make money by carrying things for you, but I would suggest not allowing them to take anything from you. I just sternly told people no and kept my bag close, and that worked well enough. If you struggle with anxiety, I might suggest another route into Haiti, but I can say from experience that this is do-able, and I think that the bus-line that I went with knew what they were doing.

Getting Around in Haiti

The drive to Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

The drive to Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Before I left for Haiti, I saw a lot of discussions about renting cars on Tripadvisor. While I love roadtrips and really enjoy driving in other countries, I would NOT suggest getting your own car. There are very few clear street signs or lights in Haiti, and the roads can be in sub-par condition. There was even one instance in which I thought there might have been people trying to build a roadblock on the highway, and we had a day where we got two flat tires in a row. The driver that we had on our tour, as well as the taxi driver that I had in Port-au-Prince, knew how to deal with all of these things in a safe and confident manner. Furthermore, you are supporting legitimate business in Haiti by hiring a driver, so it is good for your own sanity and good for the hard working people of this little country.

Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016

Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016

Besides driving, we also took a plane from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien, so while I don’t have experience with Port-au-Prince’s major airport, I can say a few things about flying here. First of all, if you fly into the country, expect to have people trying to grab your bags from you at the airport. Again, it is likely that they are just trying to get some money for carrying your things, but be wary. I would highly suggest flying in-country especially if you want to see the north and south of Haiti. The smaller airports aren’t stressful at all, and seeing the country from the air is really lovely. Just know that you don’t have assigned seats on in-country flights, even though your ticket will have a number. Just sit where-ever you can find space.

Quick Note About Haitian Currency

I had a hell of a time trying to get Haitian gourdes. My bank wouldn’t order any for me ahead of time, and the Miami airport had none available for exchange when I was there (not sure if they had just run out or what). People do take USD is many places in Haiti, but it is overall easier to use the national currency. I would highly suggest that you do try the above two options just to see if they will work for you, but they may not. So, travel to Haiti will small USD bills, that you can trade at the airport in Haiti (some larger hotels might also be able to help you, but don’t count on it if possible), or for use while traveling. 1s, 5s, and 10s are preferable because if you have to use your USD you will want to tip people, and buy snacks and drinks and this will be nearly impossible with big bills. I was also warned by a friend’s family from Haiti to avoid trying to get money from the bank. As a foreigner, it will be obvious what you are doing and it might make you a target.

Check out Tour Haiti and Port-au-Prince Taxi and Tours for resources for travel to Haiti.

Also, since I am in the middle of writing about Haiti, here are two links for some great organizations that you can donate to if you would like to help the Haitian people.

100k Jobs in Haiti

Konbit Mizik

Have any other tips on traveling to Haiti? Or questions about my experience? Comment below!

Call of the Unknown and the Roots of Adventure

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London

Most people who love to explore the outdoors are aware of some story about nature and tragedy. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer tells the well-known tale of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest, when a storm swept the mountain and killed twelve people, including experienced guides. The 2010 movie 127 Hours depicts the true story of Aron Ralston, a legendary Colorado climber, who became trapped in Blue John Canyon when a boulder crushed his arm. He narrowly escaped 6 days later, starved, and having had to cut his own arm off. The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer follows the historical struggles of the men who fought to conquer Eiger in the Bernese Alps. Within this book is the account of Toni Kurtz, a young climber who died on the mountain in 1936 while hanging, trapped from a rope a mere 60 meters from his rescuers. The list goes on, and on. For every story of triumph in nature there is always a poignant, tragic reminder that human life is fragile, and nature can take that spark as unfeelingly as ever.

So, why is it, in a world of Western comforts, complete with a universe of fictional worlds to explore from the safety of our homes, that people still go out to face the forces of the natural world? Why risk death to summit a mountain, or see the depths of an otherworldly canyon in the middle of the wilderness? In the past, when exploration was tantamount to national pride, the sacrifice of George Mallory perhaps made more sense, but in the modern world, in which nearly every corner of the Earth seems to have been explored, even this motivation has lost its relevancy. Yet, we keep exploring, and putting our lives on the line. Why? Why, when the planet has been mapped and we all know what can happen when we fail?

I believe that exploration is part of us, a siren call that led us from the heart of Africa to the rest of the planet. There is no other multi-celled organism that is as common and widespread as humans, and we cannot say that our modern technology is behind our ability to spread and adapt. Long, long before Columbus ever set out on his fateful journey to the “Indies,” North and South America were fully colonized by humans. There were intricate civilizations and a myriad of different cultures there; most of these women and men were descended from the brave people that dared to face the freezing weather of the north in order to cross the land-bridge between modern-day Alaska and Russia. Likewise, before Europeans struggled against the wind and waves of the Pacific, the ancestors of the Polynesian people faced the true unknown and ventured out into the water. Wave after wave, generation after generation, we humans have explored. We have put our lives on the line for uncharted vistas.

So, while people that still live by this code can be confounding, I think it is good to know that the spirit of the original humans lives on in us. We have thrived because we spread, we innovated, we adapted, and we explored. Perhaps continuing to tout the flag of our ancestors will help us, improve our happiness, and keep our minds open. Yes, the world has been mapped and named, but for each of us, Earth is a massive expanse of new people and places. Exploration is just as important as ever. It binds us to the real world, connects us to new cultures and perspectives, and keeps us feeling alive.

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El Yunque Y San Juan!

There are two big attractions in Puerto Rico that I knew about long before I got there- Old San Juan, and El Yunque, representing the rich history and natural beauty that La Isla del Encanto has in spades. For anyone staying in San Juan, they are both very accessible as well, since El Yunque is only about an hour away and there are plenty of tours to get you there if you don’t have a car. Both are expansive enough to spend an entire day, depending on what you like doing, so research both and plan accordingly.

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Castillo del San Felipe del Morro (c) AB Raschke

Old San Juan is home to two major forts that are part of the US National Park system- Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal (as well as Fort San Juan de Cruz across the bay). These were our first stops during our visit to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States. It can be a little tricky to find parking in this area, so I would highly suggest trying to get there a little early in the day. Also, if you park in a parking garage and happen to come out and find a car parked behind yours, just look for a parking attendant. They really make good use of all the space they have in those parking structures, but from what I saw, I don’t think they will leave you penned in by other parked cars. Both of the main forts are covered by a single ticket, and have a tram that runs between them and into the city for anyone who needs a lift.

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Casa Blanca (c) AB Raschke

While I am not a huge history buff myself, both Castillos were so well maintained, expansive, and all-encompassing that I really found myself feeling like I had been teleported back in time. This is a truly inspiring place, and it is just amazing to see what was built to protect Puerto Rico’s main port in the days of European powers scrambling for footholds in the New World. The views of the city, the ocean, and the island itself are also just breathtaking from the National Park. It was more spectacular than I could have guessed, even though this was something that I have been looking forward to seeing for a long time.

Outside of the national park, Old San Juan has a variety of museums, historic buildings, shopping, and delicious dinning opportunities. Like I said, it is the kind of place where you could spend all day. We stopped at a little Jamaican restaurant on a side street for lunch, and enjoyed a large, Caribbean lunch in a cramped, but welcoming little building who’s age I could only guess at. Afterwards, we wandered

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Old San Juan (c) AB Raschke

around, enjoying the architecture of this part of the city. The buildings here are not only beautiful in a way that only historic buildings can achieve, but they were all the colors of the rainbow, and a clear inspiration for the setting of Pirates of the Caribbean. During our time exploring, we happened upon Casa Blanca, the first fortification on the San Juan islet according to Wikipedia, and one of the oldest, still-standing buildings in the Americas. Entry was free, and the area was tucked away enough that most of the crowds appeared to be elsewhere. We took our time exploring the rooms, and looking at the colonial furniture and technology… imagining life in another time. Despite its age, it would still be an enviable house today, as it has remained lovely and airy, and has some fantastic views of the bay.

Besides Old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital has other great places to visit, including beautiful beaches, modern shopping and dinning areas (including Plaza Las Americas the 13th largest mall in the US), and some great cultural experiences like bomba dancing in Loiza. To top it all off, the public transit in the city is fairly expansive and easy to use, and San Juan even has a very nice train that runs through the center of the city. While it doesn’t currently connect to Old San Juan, it does have an extensive bus network that it can get visitors to.

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La Coca (c) AB Raschke

Finally, last but certainly not least, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Puerto Rico is El Yunque, the great rainforest of the eastern side of the island. The visitor center here, as a gateway into the park, made me feel like I was entering Jurassic Park (can you tell I am a nerd yet from this entry?). The forest is dense and feels like the setting of a movie, rather than reality. It is just that beautiful. The buildings of the visitor center kind of play into the whole Jurassic Park feel as well, but that is neither here nor there. The main attractions of El Yunque are up from the visitor center in the mountains. There is enough hiking here to spend the whole day exploring, and trails for all different skill levels. There are also two main waterfalls – La Coca and La Mina, and a historic observation tower to explore. There are also restaurants and little places to buy snacks and refreshments along the road, that shouldn’t serve as your primary source of water while exploring, but are wonderful places and recharge and cool down after hiking in the heat and humidity.

My sole complaint about El Yunque is its popularity. It

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La Mina (c) AB Raschke

is out of this world, so as soon as you get there, you can understand why it is so crowded, but some of the more popular areas can be a drag to negotiate. First, parking can be a real problem. In order to hike to La Mina, we had to park about 0.5 miles away and walk up the road to the trailhead. The trail itself was so busy that sometimes it felt like we were waiting in line, and once we got to the waterfall, we didn’t even bother staying because it was swarming with people. I was happy to be there, and it is definitely a place that I would suggest to anyone who likes hiking and natural beauty, but it is good to go with some expectation for how crowded it can be there. If you would like to avoid the crowds, come during Puerto Rico’s slow season, arrive at the park early, or drive up to the very top of the road and explore one of the more difficult and remote trails.

Puerto Rico: Quick Introduction to the Isla del Encanto

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(c) Red Cross

I just got back from my two week excursion to Puerto Rico- part Spanish immersion, part exploration- and I have a few things that I wanted to write about before I started working on more specific entries for my experience here. First off, I want to briefly address something that surprised me about Puerto Rico, most likely just because I was naïve. Puerto Rico is a US territory, and it has been since 1898, but the social relations between the island and the mainland US have been strained at times, to say the least. Despite this, and the fact that Spanish, not English, is the primary language here, I fully expected this place to be like the US. Like I said, I was naïve, please don’t judge me too harshly. On the off chance there are other people with this misconception, I would like to begin my entry by saying that Puerto Rico is most certainly NOT the Caribbean US. This island has an entirely unique culture, it’s own government, different architecture, and is basically its own country. Yes, Puerto Ricans are legally US citizens, and I think that the island is fairly welcoming to US visitors, but it isn’t a place that one should visit if they are expecting all the cultural comforts of the mainland US… well, unless you are the kind of traveler who prefers all-inclusive resorts. That being said, it has all the appeal of an international location, without the need for a passport. It also has some very real Latin-Caribbean culture, with more development than most other Caribbean nations.

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Besides the cultural aspects of the country, there are practical considerations for travelers as well.

(1) Don’t drink the water. Again, I was naïve, and I went in thinking that since Puerto Rico is part of the US, the water would be fine to drink. Technically, it is safe, but after a week of saving pocket change by drinking out of the tap, I got sick and so did my travel partner and one of my fellow immersion students. Just don’t risk it.

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(2) Road tripping is very feasible, but be ready to be very defensive. Puerto Rican drivers can be very aggressive, and they will make lane changes even when there is very little room between cars. However, they can also be very patient and sit behind slow drivers for a long time. So, you have to balance your desire to get somewhere with making sure that you don’t get hit and you don’t hit anyone else. It is basically like driving anywhere else, but I do think you will be a little surprised at just how small of a space local drivers can merge into mid-highway. Also, be aware that some of the major highways have some serious potholes due to the tropical weather here. Keep your eyes peeled.

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(3) As of right now (Summer 2015), Puerto Rico is experiencing a water shortage. Some hotels, not all, will have little signs letting you know about this and imploring you to save water. Some are more interested in making sure you have the luxury of guiltlessly wasting water, and won’t say anything. This situation is serious, however. In San Juan, many locals only had water for 24 hours in three days (24 hours on and 48 hours off) when I was there. Through my immersion, I had more of a chance to experience the situation first-hand, and it definitely makes life more difficult in a lot of ways. It would be good for us visitors to do all that we can to not waste this precious resource.

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(4) Finally, to the fun part, when planning your road trip to Puerto Rico, use the roads that run around the entire island to your advantage! There is TONS to see and experience all over Puerto Rico. Make sure that you plan enough ahead so that you don’t miss anything you’d really love to see.

Culture Highlight: The Kalinago of Dominica

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Karina Cultural Group (c) kalinagoterritory.com

Culture: Kalinago

Other Names: Carib

Resident Area: Dominica (Current)

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Map of Kalinago Territory (c) kalinagoterritory.com

Population: ~2,208[3]

Language: Kalinago [4]

Religion: The historical Kalinago religion is believed to have stressed the importance of balancing good and evil in the world, as well as maintaining close, healthy relationships between people and the natural world. [5]

Volcanic Peaks: The Kalinago people once believed that the volcanic peaks of the Caribbean gave life to this islands. Beautifully carved conch shells and stone statues called “zemis” were made by the Kalinago to represent these peaks, and they represented the spirit of fertility. Some of the small zemis were buried in fields in order to help crops grow [5].

Yearly Cycle: Unlike the Western world view, which emphasizes four seasons, the ancestral Kalinago people, like many people living in tropical areas, followed a yearly cycle with only two seasons- the dry and wet seasons that characterize the tropical world. The wet season is represented by the Frog Woman, and the dry season was represented by the Bat Man [5].

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(c) Lennox Honychurch

Culture: Historically, the Carib people had standard gender roles, but the women of their society were highly revered, and held as much socio-economic power as males [1]. They had a fairly egalitarian society, and their government consisted of a chieftain who consulted with a tribal council [1]. They were skilled at fishing, hunting, and farming, and their ability to the navigate the Caribbean Ocean on their canoes allowed them to explore many of the islands in the Caribbean, long before the arrival of the Europeans [3].

Examples of Kalinago Myths

Government: The Kalinago Territory is governed by the Carib Council. This council is tasked with managing the territory, and settling disputes between residents. Currently, there are five members of the council, and elections are held every five years. [2]

History: The Carib people originated in the Orinoco River Basin of South America, and eventually explored and settled the southern Caribbean islands. During the process of colonizing, the Caribs fought with the Taino people, and eventually displaced many of the older Arawak communities [1].

The Caribs were well known for their skill in warfare, and when the European people invaded the Caribbean islands, the two fought eachother, although the Carib people were disadvantaged by the Smallpox infections that the European people brought with them [1]. Despite this, there were able to hold Dominica from both the French and British forces for nearly two centuries. Eventually, however, the island was taken by the British, and the Kalinago people were relegated to 232 acres of eastern Dominica. In 1903, this area was expanded to 3700 acres and would become the Carib Reserves that is still home to the Kalinago people today [3].

Experts on Kalinago Culture:

Karina Cultural Group 

Karifuna Cultural Group

Lennox Honychurch

Further Reading

Chances for Travelers to Learn More From the Kalinago People:

Kalinago Homestay Programme 

Experiential Learning

Living Village Experience at Touna Kalinago Heritage Village

References:

[1] http://www.avirtualdominica.com/caribs3.htm

[2] http://kalinagoterritory.com/the-territory/the-carib-council/

[3] http://kalinagoterritory.com/the-territory/history/

[4] http://kalinagoterritory.com/culture/language/

[5] http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=388

[Map] (c) Kalinago Territory Website (http://kalinagoterritory.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Dominica_Kalinago_Territory_Map.jpg)

[Seasonal Image] from Lennox Honychurch’s website (http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=388)

Disclaimer: One of the reasons that I love traveling is that I get to learn about other ways of life, and new ways of seeing the world. I feel that my spirituality and understanding of the Earth has much to gain from other cultures, and I definitely think that my own culture can only provide me with a very limited view of the universe around me. Due to this, I think it’s appropriate for my blog to not only showcase my travels, but some of the cultures that I come in contact with along the way. That being said, before I post the first of these, that I am no expert about any of the cultures that I am posting about. I will do my best to provide links and references to actual experts, and places to learn more. I am also hoping to promote any efforts that people from the cultures that I am discussing to preserve their way of life, as well as share it with others. In any case, I am open to suggestions for improving these highlights, as well as any concerns about misrepresentation.

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