Exploring Curaçao Beyond the Beaches

Before I arrived in Curaçao, I received a manual that detailed safety. I was worried because it said cars such as Kias and Hyundais were more prone to being stolen or highjacked for the car parts. Well my ass had already reserved a damn Hyundai. They went as far as saying to keep my glove compartment open and emptied to show that nothing of value is left in the car while I’m not occupying it. They even offered portable safes for beach days because it was common for locals to steal valuables while people were swimming. I just knew that I was going to get robbed at the beach.

Thankfully, I was never robbed and never felt in any sort of danger. Otrobanda, the neighborhood I stayed in, was very quiet and I rarely saw anyone loitering on the street. I didn’t take any valuables with me to the beaches, so the risk there was already mitigated.

The first thing I did was the Otrobanda Art Walking Tour, established by Avantia Damberg, a local visual artist. Our group of eight ladies strolled the historic neighborhood learning about its history and discovering the latest art murals and sculptures. There were a few homes in the neighborhood that were abandoned and in need of repair. According to Avantia, many of them were homes passed down to descendants who no longer live in Curaçao and/or cannot afford to repair them. The government has decided to provide significant financial assistance to those families that invest home updates.

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Lazy Days in Curaçao

I was minding my business on the second floor of a club in Amsterdam last year, when I got approached by a fine caramel-colored man with a raspy voice, perfectly white teeth, and a twinkle in his eye. We chatted for a moment, and he told me he was from Curaçao. I wasn’t familiar with the small Dutch Caribbean island just north of Venezuela, but if all the men there looked as good as he did, I was more than willing to visit. I added it to my travel wish list that same night.

Yes, one of the reasons I went to Curaçao was shallow – fine men.

Fast forward a year, and while I was scrolling social media, someone was raving about how great of a time she had in Curaçao and how rich the history was. She showed photos of a visit to the Kula Hulanda Museum, and that made me finally check out the flight prices. Continue reading

Traveler’s Diarrhea

I knew the day would come when the travel gods would call my number. I don’t know how I managed to enjoy so many meals without ever getting sick, but my day was coming. While I was in Panama, I stopped for lunch at this dingy spot outside of Casco Viejo called Cafe Coca Cola. I’d walked by it a time or two in the four times that I had visited Panama, but never cared to go inside. Everything about it screamed insanitary, but I’ve learned from experience that looks can be deceiving. I took a seat and read the history of the restaurant from the menu, learning that it was the oldest running cafe in the city, with the likes of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Teddy Roosevelt as previous visitors. With my mind now at ease, I ordered a plate of shrimp fried rice and a soda. Continue reading

An Unforgettable Weekend in Detroit

What up, doe!

A barbecue hosted by one of my travel communities provided me with an opportunity to visit the city of Detroit for the first time. I struck up a conversation with a Detroit native in the New Orleans airport on the way to Detroit, and he grew excited when I told him I was headed to his hometown. He spoke on the “new Detroit” I would be witnessing – a Detroit vastly different from the one that hit rock bottom five years ago with a bankruptcy. The economic resurgence made it a great time to travel to the D, and he was thrilled for me. Continue reading

The Cartagena Journals: Street Art and The Real Cartagena

Thursday

I hadn’t slept late since I’d been in Cartagena. What kind of vacation was this? I was up early again for the Real Cartagena Tour with Chris, Alex Rocha’s oldest son. The tour only included me and another couple because a group of five chose to sleep in after a long night of partying. The tour began in the Bocagrande, El Laguito, and Castillogrande neighborhoods. Chris explained Cartagena neighborhoods have six levels, with level six being the safer, more luxurious areas, and level one being the impoverished areas. Those three neighborhoods were level six after lots of gentrification. El Laguito was once the residential area of local fisherman, but they have been pushed out to other neighborhoods in the city. Residents of Castillogrande like to consider it as a level seven neighborhood, although such a thing doesn’t exist.

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Next we headed to the Old City. Continue reading

The Cartagena Journals: Playa Blanca

Wednesday

As fate would have it, Wednesday didn’t go as planned. I was supposed to catch an 8:00 am bus to Playa Blanca, but something weird happened. When I booked the tour through my Airbnb host, she gave me clear instructions about the meeting place and that I should arrive early. I arrived at the meeting place at 7:40 am, but never saw a bus arrive to pick me up. My Airbnb host said they called her at 8:00, 8:05, and 8:07 looking for me. I never saw them and they never saw me, but I know I was at the right spot. So my Airbnb host rescheduled me for the 11:30 am bus tour instead. This time the meeting place was at a closer, more precise location and I showed up right on time.

I was the last person on the bus, and there was only one seat left. The bus pulled away before I could even take a seat. As we headed to the beach, the guide stood to greet us all in Spanish. I could translate parts of what he was saying, but I was waiting for him to begin explaining everything in English. A brown-skinned man seated next to me leaned forward to ask his friend in English if he understood what was being said. The friend, like me, could only interpret some parts. When the guide ended his introduction and asked if anyone had questions, I raised my hand and said in Spanish that I needed an English translation. There was none, silly American girl. The two men near me and I quickly realized we were the only ones non-fluent in Spanish on the bus. In that moment of uncertainty, the three of us became friends who vowed to stick together for the day. If we were going to get left at the beach, at least we’d get left together. One band, one sound!

During a short rest stop, the tour guide found an 11-year-old boy to translate the details about the day for us. After confirming all of the information, I was comfortable for the rest of the ride to the beach. We arrived at our drop-off location and had to walk fifteen minutes before we got to the beach. A few vendors were already there when we arrived, but none of them were bothersome. Playa Blanca has a reputation for aggressive vendors selling some of the most random items, but my Airbnb host eased my worries by saying it would be less hectic because it was a weekday.

We were served lunch once we arrived to the beach, and I chose the fried fish. I finished my plate before the open bar opened for business, so I chilled with my two new friends until it opened underneath our shared umbrella and chairs.

The rum and coke flowed until they ran out of coke and orange juice. Then I just had rum on ice. Once that was gone, I tried two coco locos. Before I left for vacation, my doctor told me no drinking and no swimming for two weeks. I survived for one week.

lunch at Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca wasn’t the most beautiful beach with the clearest water, but the water was warm and the day was fun. My original plan was to do some journaling at the beach for most of the day, but my new friends had better ideas. We spent half the time taking photos for social media along with two female flight attendants we met at the beach. We chatted for a while, and the fact that we communicated well with our limited Spanish and their limited English was quite impressive. The group spent the rest of the time riding on jet skis and and a banana boat, while I drifted in the water peacefully. At the end of the day, all five of us agreed to meet up later that night for dancing at Bazurto Social Club.

It was dark by the time we arrived back in Cartagena. I took the short walk back to my Airbnb, but stopped for some dinner at an Italian spot named Di Silvio Trattoria right on the corner. One of the ladies from the beach messaged me on WhatsApp to say she wasn’t meeting us tonight. After a little convincing, she changed her mind. Then she changed it again. I had it set in my mind that I was going whether the other ladies arrived or not. The other ladies eventually flaked, and it was just me and the two guys at Bazurto. We had drinks there, but left soon because there wasn’t much of a crowd. Instead, we walked to the Old City for more drinks and conversation at two rooftop bars.

During the conversation, I discovered that both of the guys were Morehouse men, and one is my frat brother. He and his father are members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and his mother and I are members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. What a small world! We were family!

Our last spot of the night was at Eivissa. The music wasn’t touching my spirit at first, so I went to the restroom to freshen up a bit. While I was there, they started playing Beyonce. Well, that was my queue. I got so excited that I washed my hands in a hurry and ran out of the restroom without realizing I left my iPhone on the counter. The song was over by the time I reached the guys, but the DJ started playing a great set of back to back jams. At some point, I calmed down from dancing a bit, and reached in my purse to grab my phone. That was when I realized I lost it.

I started looking around, and noticed a group of women who “fit the description” of sex workers staring me down. I just knew they had it and were watching me to see my reaction once I realized it was gone. As a flood of assumptions and panic came over me, two gorgeous women with beautiful skin and perky boobs walked up to me and returned my phone. They had found it in the restroom. They knew it belonged to me because my photo was the lock screen, and there weren’t many black women in the building. God bless them forever because I certainly thought some sex workers took it for keeps.

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The energy of the DJ never picked up again, so we walked up to the upper level rooftop bar, to hang out for the rest of the night. The DJ at that level was playing EDM. EDM wasn’t our preferred genre, but we stayed anyway because the weather wasn’t that miserable and the view of the Clock Tower was nice. Once things starting dying down, we all decided to leave after agreeing that we would meet sometime again tomorrow.

The Cartagena Journals: Salsa Lessons and Yellow Fever Vaccines

Tuesday

When I woke up Tuesday morning, my plan for the day was to eat more. I hadn’t been eating enough food and drinking enough fluids since I’d been in Cartagena. I made a sandwich with the groceries I purchased the day before and drank a cup of tea before departing my Airbnb for the first stop on my itinerary – the health department for a free yellow fever vaccine. The yellow fever vaccine was required for a lot of the countries on my top 10 list, including Brazil, Rwanda, and Ghana. The U.S. was charging nearly $300 for the vaccine, and I refused to allow Big Pharma to profit off me with that exorbitant markup. In many Central and South American countries, the cost of the vaccine is minimal.

I headed straight to the Departamento Administrativo Distrital de Salud (DADIS) around the corner from my Airbnb. In broken Spanish, I told the woman at the front desk I was there for a yellow fever vaccine, and she asked for my passport. She wrote my passport information on a form, handed me a number, and told me to take a seat. There were a handful of people already in the small waiting area, and I sat waiting about an hour before my number was called.

I went into an exam room with three nurses. One asked if I was allergic to anything, how old I was, and where I was staying. For people with limited Spanish, there was a cheat sheet with the English translation. Meanwhile, another nurse had already put the vaccine in the needle, wiped an area of my arm with alcohol, and stuck me. The vaccine was manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, the same manufacturer of the yellow fever vaccine in the U.S., and the shot wasn’t painful at all. The nurse confirmed the vaccine was good for life, gave me the yellow fever card along with a white slip, and sent me on my way. I gave the slip to the woman at the front desk, and I was done. The entire process was simple and free. I walked out of the health department grinning while thinking about all of the countries I could visit since I now had a yellow fever card. This might have been the highlight of my trip.

 

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The Cartagena Journals: Zumba and a Chiva Bus

Live from the Miami Airport! I’m headed to Cartagena, Colombia, but doctor’s orders prevent me from having any fun. No drinking, swimming, or sex. I’m pretty sure that mud volcano is off limits as well. I’m not complaining about being unable to visit that mud volcano, though, because I never really wanted to do it anyway. It just seemed disgusting and a cesspool of bacteria with everyone’s bodily fluids. Still, how am I supposed to be on holiday without liquor? I think I might just take my chances after a few days.

Sunday

My flight arrived three hours late, so I didn’t have any time to get acclimated to the city. I went directly to my Airbnb in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, settled into my room, got money out of the ATM around the corner, and accepted an invite to Zumba in the park with my Airbnb host. When we arrived to Plaza Trinidad in Getsemani for Zumba, it was filled with locals and tourists. I hadn’t taken a Zumba class since college, and I was certain my moves weren’t up to par, but I was going to try anyway. I made it through three songs before I decided the moves were getting a bit too advanced for me. I gave up and watched the regulars do their thing for nearly two hours. Once it ended, I took the short walk back to my Airbnb and got some rest for the next day.

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30 Things I Learned by Age 30

1. Self acceptance.
I spent most of my late teens and 20s feeling like a failure because I had these highly ambitious expectations for myself. By the time I was 18, it was clear that I wouldn’t accomplish a lot of those goals and it shattered my world. Rebuilding an image of myself as someone I never expected to be – never wanted to be – was daunting for me. Embracing all of me has been a struggle, but thirty years of life has shown me how phenomenal I am on my most basic days.

2. Life is for living, not merely existing.
My grandmother had both legs amputated this year, and our family made the difficult decision to place her in a nursing home. Despite our undying love for her, we could no longer care for her in the way she needed. I am witnessing her life slowly deteriorate, and I am also witnessing her strength and will to live and not just exist despite the circumstances. So much of what my family has weathered this year with my grandmother has made me value the things beyond going to work and going home. I want to have good stories to tell my nieces, nephew, and their kids. When my life is reaching is final days, I don’t want to dwell on all of the things I missed in life. Much of that is why I stopped waiting for others a long time ago; I’ll go on a solo adventure in a heartbeat.

3. People are multifaceted.
I didn’t quite comprehend this until Fidel Castro died, but it makes sense. There seemed to be a 50/50 split between those who despised him and those who loved him. I’ve been to Havana and I’ve seen the effects of the Castro regime. I’ve seen the effects of socialism. Upon news of his death, I reflected on how I felt – how I was supposed to feel. Should I rejoice that the evil dictator was dead or should I mourn for the man who loved his country so much that he overthrew the Batista government for it? It made me realize that good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. Humans are complicated creatures and we all have our Achilles’ heel.

4. I have trust issues.
Thirty years of life has taught me to show skepticism toward everyone, and I hate it. I hate that I allowed enough people to betray me to the point that I don’t even trust myself with judging someone’s character. I’m taking small steps to build a healthier level of skepticism by allowing people to earn my trust with time and consistency, but I have a long journey ahead of me. There must be some balance, and I’m understanding that there will always be a risk of being hurt because people are not perfect.

5. I can’t do it all alone.
My mother birthed two children, but I felt like an only child because my brother was ten years older than me. Since he was uninterested in all of the girly things I wanted to do, I found contentment in my own company. As a result, I have always been fiercely independent, but I’m learning that some things in life require the assistance of a friend or family member. I’m making a greater effort to stay in contact with the people I know and love. Continue reading

A Desert Safari in Dubai

As a first-time visitor to Dubai, I was adamant about including a desert safari on my itinerary. I went with Platinum Heritage based on a personal recommendation from a friend, but it was one of the more expensive tour options. There were several companies that offered these safaris, many of which could be found on Groupon, Viator, and Cobone. I wasn’t interested in the adventure of dune bashing or sand boarding, and preferred a more authentic experience in the desert. Platinum Heritage offered that, so I have no regrets about choosing them.

I received an email from them the morning of my tour that provided the exact pickup time from my hotel. When I arrived at my hotel lobby, the guide was there already waiting for me. He guided me to a Ford Expedition, where there was another guest inside. We all went to another hotel to pickup four other guests, so our group included six people and a personal guide. We rode about 40 minutes to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, and received a swag bag with a refillable water bottle for the day. We took a short break to don headscarves to protect our faces from the desert sand. From there, we transferred from the Ford Expedition to a vintage Land Rover and began our drive through the Arabian Desert.

Platinum Heritage Dubai

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