After a brief hiatus, Travelverse is making a comeback. You see, while we love traveling, we also have to face the reality of being working twenty-somethings who need to make a living; thus, this blog suffers. But now we’ve regrouped with plans to grow and become more efficient, providing you with more blogs, more regularly.
While in Paris you might want to try a pastry from a small cafe near the Eiffel tower or have fish and chips in a pub while you are in London. When I was in Vietnam there were some things that I really wanted to try that are specific to Vietnam and southeast Asia and I found two of them in the Mekong Delta.
The experience I was looking forward to trying the most was snake wine, which is rice wine infused with snakes. The preferred snake tends to be venomous, but don’t worry the venom is supposed to be broken down by the alcohol. You will also see the occasional scorpion thrown in with the snakes. Snake wine is believed to reinvigorate a person and I wanted to see if that was true. Ask Darren, I was stoked about it. I didn’t want to try the pre-bottled commercial ones, I wanted to try homemade snake wine in a small village somewhere. When I first found my ideal snake wine it was in small hut on the side of the river (the snake wine is pictured).
Loc warned me that his first time and only time drinking it ended with him puking minutes after he drank it. Now Loc is a Fraternity brother, which means we did our fair share of drinking in college, so if he threw up I knew that it had to be worse than Everclear or 151. To be honest I never pictured it to be that dark brown, like poop water, or for it contain 50 plus different snakes stacked on top of each other and that dark brown sediment at the bottom, which probably comes with aging. Loc convinced me not to do it. I ended up listening to him and chickening out. I am lame I know. I don’t really regret it because I had plenty of homemade wine minus the snake that was very good.
The another thing that I really wanted to try that I found in the Mekong Delta was a durian. A durian is popular in southeast Asia and is apparently called the “King of Fruit” due to its overpowering smell. There are actually places, like your hotel, which will have no durian signs and it is even banned from some public places due to the smell. So, why would I want to try a durian? It is simple, I just wanted to see what the hype was all about.
The vendor I bought the durian from sliced the fruit for me, and by the way durians aren’t cheap. Inside each section contains the seeds which are surrounded by the flesh. People say that if you can get over the smell then it is actually very good. The flesh was creamy, soft and a little sticky. Someone people believe the sweet flavor is akin to villain pudding, I on the other hand did think that the flesh was soft and a little sweet and sticky but also found it to have a pungent garlicy flavor. In the end I found the garlic flavor off putting and couldn’t finish the durian. The garlic flavor could have been the smell, I am not sure. After awhile I just realized that I did not want anything more do with it. I left half of the durian on the the side walk for any hungry passerby. The durian was gift that kept giving because the aftertaste stayed with me the whole day. My attempts to get rid of the aftertaste with multiple beers, Vietnamese coffee and tea failed.
Overall it was a good experience. My next few blogs will be about the Mekong Delta. Stay tuned.
You know that spot on your back, mid-height and dead center? A spot that seems purposely biologically situated so you just can’t scratch it if you get an itch there? It’s like the Bermuda Triangle of tickles. Or have you ever been in a cast only to have a straightened wire hanger become your best friend? Well, as a wanna-be jet setter you may find yourself in a similar, less tangible predicament. While you sit behind your desk or stuck in traffic while doing your 9 to 5, the sight of a plane soaring overhead may trigger the itch to pack your bags and take the next flight out. Unfortunately, most of us lead lives bounded by everyday responsibilities and limited vacation time, so what do we do when we just can’t scratch that itch to travel?
Suggestion #1: Surround Yourself with Pictures
Whether it’s photos from previous trips or places you want to go, put at least a single photo within line of sight that you can stare at and get lost in. For some it may be a Fantasy Island-like beach, for others it could be the bright lights of their favorite city, whatever your view of choice just give yourself something nicer to look at rather than a damn computer screen.
Suggestion #2: Display Keepsakes
This is taking it one step further. By placing a keepsake of a memorable trip on your desk it can help ease the waves of stress and frustration that plague you at work. Whether a shell from a beach or a touristy souvenier, anything to remind yourself of being elsewhere is better than looking at a desk cluttered with papers and busy work.
Suggestion #3: Have a Trip Queued Up
The best possible way to make your day better when you wish you were on vacation is to have a trip in the works. Sure, it sucks to count down the days to something fun – in fact, it can be torturous – but the antipation is better than waiting for nothing. If you have no current vacation plans, start making some. If you’re in the midst of the long road to your departure day then set small deadlines related to your trip that allows you to take your mind off the daily grind every so often; make itineraries, research your destination, whatever it is that will build your excitement and make it seem like you’re already gone.
Let’s be honest, no matter how hard you rub or whatever way you bend that clothes hanger, an itch just isn’t satisfied unless you give it good, hard, direct scratch. No matter how many pictures you look at or what keepsakes you keep near, your memories or fantasies will only be a temporary fix to a problem that won’t go away until you’re stepping aboard that plane.
In a new Travelverse feature, today’s Video of the Day (VotD) comes from Japan during the rush hour train commute. Keep in mind this is a country renowned for their efficient public transportation and revolutionary high speed trains, so next time you hear someone bitching about being stuck in traffic or on a crowded subway… slap them.
Fresh off of a Caribbean cruise, I figured what better topic for Travelverse’s inaugural Top Five list than narrowing down the best Caribbean Islands to visit. Whether lined with resorts or succumbed to poverty, rich in history or rich in shopping, the seemingly infinite islands of the Caribbean offer a variety of enjoyment and culture – even if only separated by mere miles of ocean. Granted, I’m no Blackbeard, as I haven’t been to every single dot on the map that’s cluttered between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico; however, I think my island count is somewhere around twenty, which I believe merits me to create the following list…
5) St. Maarten
An island with a split identity, St. Maarten is divided straight across the middle with the French side (Saint-Martin) to the north and the Dutch side (Sint Maarten) to the south – both sides having their own unique identities.
In Saint-Martin, you can enjoy a latté while people watching out in front of a patisserie. “Mercí” and “si vous plait” are commonly heard as French (along with English) is the official language on that half of the island. At the “aéroport”, a daily Air France A340 flight from Paris lands on the world’s shortest international runway, mere stories above onlookers heads at Sunset Beach. Meanwhile, over in Sint-Maarten, Dutch is the language of choice and there is a surprisingly large number of South Africans, transplanted from a time when the both countries were under Dutch rule. Though the differences between sides are apparent, colorful Caribbean architecture and looming mansions dotted in the hills are found all over the island overlooking “mega-yachts” anchored in bays owned by the likes of Oprah, P. Diddy and so forth. French or Dutch, all of St. Maarten has become a destination for jet setters.
St. Maarten – aside from its obvious beauty – cracks the Top Five because of it’s one of a kind cultural clash. An island of two worlds (remnants of its colonial past), the only thing keeping St. Maarten from securing a higher spot on this list is its increasingly touristy feel contributed to by its abundance of jewelry shops and duty free stores, which is starting to make the French-Dutch island seem more like the Caribbean’s consumer capital – St. Thomas.
Often overlooked, Dominica almost appears uninhabited at first glance; however, as this lush, green island grows larger on the horizon, small shanty towns nestled in its hills vaguely become visible. A throwback to swashbuckling days, Dominica is exactly what you fantasize a Caribbean island being: isolated and desolate – as if a hidden treasure is lost somewhere under the blanket of green felt that coats its densely forested hills.
Being completely honest, Dominica might not be the best location for casual travelers who prefer their white sand beaches to be butted up next to a five-star resort. Poverty consumes Dominica; there are no affluent areas, no mega-yachts and no mansion vacation homes. Rather, there are small buildings and shacks made up of a combination of concrete and scraps of metal. The island’s residents walk the streets with stern faces, raggedly clothed and sometimes carrying machetes (which are used in cutting off bananas and other fruits from trees). For a visitor, their first impression of Dominica could be one of hesitation, but muster up the courage to give a simple smile and wave to a curious onlooking local and your initial reluctance will fade away as quickly as a grin erupts on their once expressionless face.
The poverty and conditions of Dominica can be saddening but what the island lacks in resources it makes up for with character. Unmatched scenary where rainforests flow from mountain peaks to the edge of the shore; locals who – reserved at first – welcome you with warmth and affection; and simplicity, where life moves at a slower pace. All of which is exactly what a Caribbean vacation should entail.
3) Puerto Rico
I’ve wanted to visit Puerto Rico for years and finally I made my inuagral trip to the unofficial 51st state this past December. Needless to say, I was definitely not dissapointed. Not your typical Caribbean island, Puerto Rico is an island rooted in Spanish culture with a dash of Mexico and coated in an American glaze. Unlike Dominica, American tourists would feel very comfortable here (as Spanish and English are both official languages) and non-American tourists would like the idea of visiting a location that has many American traits without dealing with annoying Yanks.
A good sized island, Puerto Rico has much to offer including El Yunque rainforest and their one of a kind bioluminescent bay; however, Old San Juan itself is reason enough to visit. Originally built in colonial times by the Spanish to keep out the Brits, Old San Juan is a fortified city, walled off with now-unused lookout posts surveying the surrounding sea. Within the walls lies shops, restaurants and homes, all lined by cobblestone streets and wrapping around various plazas. The old buildings – splattered with festive pastel colors and dressed with white window shutters and twisted cast iron railings – are a proudly preserved in their original form, only to be upkept rather than remodeled.
Many would complain that Old San Juan has become too commercial – and those who have seen the area evolve over the last 50 years may have good argument – however, you can still walk its bumpy streets, hearing school children singing Spanish songs as you grab some helado from a street vendor to top off the delicious tacos you just ate at a hole in the wall cantina. Nothing seems too touristy about that.
While many Caribbean islands are heavily influenced by their colonial past, Barbados clinches the number two spot for being a country that has truly established its own identity since breaking away from the British rule in 1966. With their own currency, own language (Bajan) and only 4% European population, the only sign of previous foreign occupation is the left-side of the road driving and the occasional red English phone booth left over from years past. Barbados is one of the few islands of the Caribbean who have proven they can stand on their own, and with that comes an immense pride that is obvious when you visit.
While it has built itself up, Barbados puts forth an effort to remain small. There are no tall buildings like in Puerto Rico; in fact, Barbadian law states no building can extend beyond the height of the tree tops, keeping the islands tropical beauty intact. Beneath these trees the island offers everything possible including resorts, beaches, forests, shopping and nightlife; yet, somehow Barbados does not fall in to the same touristy trap as aforementioned St. Maarten. Whether its roaming the shops in Bridgetown or hitting the bars in Saint Lawrence Gap, tourists always find themselves side by side with Barbadians – who partake in all the island has to offer just as much as any visitor – which alleviates that touristy, manufactured vibe.
Besides, you can’t not like an island that produced this…
1) St. Lucia
Once a hidden gem (and still in many regards), St. Lucia is quickly gaining steam as the best destination in the Caribbean – and rightfully so. The island has the perfect mix of what one desires in a Caribbean getaway; a vibrant port city surrounded by tall, sweeping, rainforest covered mountains enclosed by a circumference of pinkish-white sand beaches – all of which provides the three necessary elements for an ideal Caribbean island: scenery, culture and relaxation.
Perhaps no other island in the Caribbean looks as magnificent as St. Lucia. With the highest mountains in the region, the island’s volcanic peaks fade off in to a cloudy mist early in the morning (the best time to explore the rainforest before the day gets too hot), only to reveal themselves later in the day when th fog burns off. Many zip lines, mountain biking and hiking trails snake through the mountains, where fields of banana trees and waterfall oasis’ can be found throughout.
After spending the first part of the day active in the mountains and taking in the sights, come back down to sea level and explore the more populated towns such as Castries or Marigot Bay, where the St. Lucia’s culture is in display at afternoon markets and bazaars. Food, trinkets and bric-a-brac a found in abundance, as well as St. Lucian locals living out their daily lives in an atmosphere that makes you feel comfortably at home.
Lastly, in order to complete the trifecta, it’s time to relax. St. Lucia offers pristine beaches of multiple variety. If you prefer a more pampered afternoon there is Reduit Beach, where the neighboring resorts offer beachside service and water spot rentals; however, if you desire a more subdued tanning session, there is is Jalousie Beach, which is nestled at the foot of towering mountains and between the volcanic peaks of the Petit Pitons – whose steep sides extend below water level to create magnificent underwater walls for wanna-be Jacques Cousteau’s explore. Finish your day off back in town enjoying the sunset with an ice cold Carib beer and your choice of local cuisine – just be sure to top it off with St. Lucia’s own banana ketchup (a sweet twist on french fries’ best friend).
And just like that, you got everything one needs from a Caribbean vacation… and what makes St. Lucia the best over all the other islands is how it does it so effortlessly.