Next in Our Imagine Series: Cuba

Imagine….  

You’re driving back in time, to a warm place at a pivotal time in the Cold War.

Sitting atop the backrest of a canary-yellow 1950’s Chevy convertible, you cruise down Havana’s wide boulevards between columns of tall swaying palms, then inch through its narrow pastel Art-Deco alleyways where strings of laundry and balconies of neighbors hang out overhead.   Your attention is beckoned by one colorful, boisterous scene after another, while peering down from the walls along Havana’s streets are myriad images of Fidel, as the locals him, and of Che – vestiges of the divide that until recently made the 90 miles separating Cuba and the United States an all but uncrossable chasm.

These days, Cubans open not just their hearts but also their homes.  You are lucky to land in the casa particular (a local’s home) of Katya, whose thriving bakery business is runs right out of her casa’s kitchen, wafting the aroma of chocolate and rising dough throughout the home at all hours, day and night.

This morning, custardy quiche and a soft-from-the-oven chocolate croissant arrive on your breakfast table on dainty antique china.   Both the fare and the presentation are clearly points of considerable pride for Katya, and you marvel at the contrast between the rose-colored sofa and family heirlooms in her charming pied-a-terre, and the gritty sidewalk, chipped marble steps, wad of electrical wires, and sporadic water supply that dictates when you can take a shower each day.

No matter what hardships – or because of them – the Cuban people revel in their music.  And tonight, after sunset, you set out for a mecca of that music: the Buena Vista Social Club.

In its heyday, the Buena Vista Social Club brought together some of the island’s best musicians, performing a uniquely Cuban sound known as ‘Son.’ In the 1990’s, the Buena Vista Social Club was introduced to us in the US with a new recording, spurred by the American guitarist and musicologist Ry Cooder, who fulfilled a dream in playing with some of Cuba’s best.  The BVSC is both a sound – or a feel – and a place. The club, which sits a few blocks from the Capital, is now a destination for touristas. But the music that lifts the audience from their seats is Cuban through and through. Towards the end of the show, you find yourself in a conga line that winds past the tables and up onto the stage. Though briefly, you have made the big-time, strutting your Son steps at this famed Havana venue.

To fully inhale Cuban culture, of course, you must sample its cigars.  And there is no better place than Vega Quemado del Rubi plantation out in Pinar del Rio. The drive takes about two hours west from the capital along one of Cuba’s few highways, your car sharing the road with locals’ bikes and donkey-carts.  

On the plantation, you’ll get a primer on producing the world’s finest cigars.  No fewer than 539 steps precede snipping the end of one and lighting up. You learn about different heights of tobacco plants for harvesting, and the drying and aging of leaves, draped just so across planks – 50 per plank  – that are staked on supports reaching the ceiling of a great wooden barn whose open doors and windows allow a breeze to caress the tobacco.

Although you’re no cigar aficionado, Juan’s deft rolling of the tobacco into a paper-thin wrapper leaf and patching of the end with a hand-cut plug mesmerizes, and entices, you.   And as the open-air hut fills up with the plantation owner’s sweet yet peppery puffs of tobacco, you are swept up in this dream of emerald-green rolling tobacco fields, and take a deep draw.

As your day draws to a close, it occurs to you that the distance between Cuba and the US – or at least its citizens – is even less than the narrow straits of Florida that flow between our lands.  

That was a trip of lifetime”, you say.  “Let’s do it again next year.”

 

Cliff Jumping and Caves in Jamaica

Have you ever wanted to jump off some cliffs into beautiful tropical waters? Then the landscape of Jamaica is perfect for you! Visit the famous caves and rugged coastline from popular movies and get your slice of paradise!

Channel your inner adrenaline junkie and jump in the beautiful waters or take a dip in the hot springs of the jungle. Experience relaxation in a whole much of different ways in Jamaica.

Adventure in the Maldives

Want a completely tropical and relaxing vacation? Look no further than the Maldives! Enjoy sleeping just inches from crystal clear blue waters, enjoy your morning coffee with a beautiful sunset from a submerged hammock, and of course gorgeous views everywhere you look!

Take a fun bike ride around the islands, enjoy fruity refreshments and desserts in the heat and just enjoy everything the Maldives has to offer!

Next in Our Imagine Series: Oysters

Imagine…

June may not be spelled with an “r”, but I have an oyster story for you…

Back in the ‘90s, a man named Skip had a taste for oysters and a hunch that the muddy, windswept flat just north of Cape Cod would be the ideal spot for tidal nutrients to nourish his perfect bivalve.

Now it’s 2015, and on one pleasantly breezy afternoon in late June, we had the good luck to visit his now-famous oyster farm, Island Creek – witness his breeding process, meet the dock workers, and tour the “beds”.   There was even the promise that we could slurp oysters to our heart’s content. And they weren’t lyin’.

Before we got to eat these oysters, though, we wanted to learn a bit about the 2-year process from seed to slurp. Duxbury Bay waters are too cold for natural spawning, so the process starts in sheds on the dock.  Skip hand-picks what he considers to be the “American Pharoah” of oysters. He sets these adults in isolation tanks where perfectly regulated warm waters foster their spawning. On their road to becoming delicious gastronomic treats, these early sand-like embryos graduate from tank to tank as they grow in microns of inches.   Along the way, they are fed with a rich soup of plankton, grown right on premises and mimicking the nutrient cocktails of various prime venues from Nova Scotia to Seattle. Here is the genesis of the oyster’s complex flavor, which will be finished off with a distinctly Duxbury essence as they grow to full size out in the bay.

At last it was time to head out on the water.  We set out with the tide, nearby boats resting on their sides in the mud where only 3 hours before, they had bobbed about.   These tidal ebb and flows that Skip had recognized as an essential quality for his oyster farm are the same currents that now swept our craft off the dock.    We motored through some of the 30 farms that now operate here in Duxbury and before long, reached our destination, Oyster Creek’s farm-side buoy and our on-the-water dining room for the afternoon.

After dropping anchor, our guide CJ went from boat captain to master shucker.   He started with an oyster-shucking primer: Don protective shucking gloves. Find the little niche in the point of the oyster.   Wiggle in the blade of your oyster knife. Listen for a “pop”. Then turn the blade a quarter turn. The juicy treat lies plump and white inside the pearly shell.

Island Creek’s oysters were indeed as plentiful as promised.  And as fresh! No cocktail or mignonette sauce was needed. The oyster’s flavor revealed the briny water of their nursery and mirrored the salty breeze that cooled our al fresco dining room.   As I slurped them directly from the shell, tossing the shells overboard, juice dripped down my chin. Sips of Pinot Grigio created a party in my mouth. And the boat rocked on the rising tide.

If you want a seat at this exclusive oyster feast, you’ll have to call early, in a month that does have an “r”, like  March.

 

Sharing the love of travel!

 

A Private Island in the Maldives Awaits!

Have you ever dreamed of escaping your daily life to a private island in paradise? Well, there is a private island in the Maldives just waiting for you! White sand beaches and crystal clear blue water as far as the eye can see and not another soul in sight!

Take strolls along the sand or dip your feet in the surf to create the perfect picture of relaxation. This particular island is aptly called Dream Island!

A Week Long Grand Canyon River Trip

The Grand Canyon is truly a majestic sight to see. Another way to experience this wonder of the world is from the Colorado River below it! Follow the flowing river and admire the various rock formations and layers up close and personal.

Get a good night’s sleep by the water’s edge, enjoy hearty buffet-style meals and dip your toes in the water of one of the more secluded beaches you will ever visit. Get your hiking fix by climbing a one of a kind ladder and following a trail along the canyon wall for views and perspectives that you will need to see to believe.

Next in Our Imagine Series: Morocco

Imagine…

Morocco!

You hear the muezzin’s call to prayer, you can almost smell the ginger.  You are lured down the sloping Tala’a Kbiraf  into the crumbling medina, deep in the heart of Fez.

The mayhem of this Moroccan souk quickly swallows you.  It’s a teeming and twisting warren where tables of goat heads and homemade soap are crammed alongside crates of chickens whose squawks compete with the clang of artisan tools from the ceramic studio.   Mules laden with gas tanks plow through the narrowing pathways, as shouting schoolboys careen between them, their backpacks swinging. You melt into a stream of humanity between djellaba-clad mothers and shopkeepers, and, alongside your Berber guide, you begin to market.

Today you are on a journey to learn the art of tagine cooking.  The market’s scents of rosewater and white artichokes fresh from the earth envelope you as you sort through quince and test aubergines for ripeness.  You select a chicken from the feathered flurry of the pen, then gratefully accept the vendor’s offer to deftly slice the neck and de-feather it for you in the nearby boiling pot.

Wafting scents of fiery cumin and warm cinnamon draw you to the neighboring stall where you weigh out grams of spices to create your own Ras el Hanout, a blend translated as Top of the Shelf that will be the secret to your delectable tagine.   Back at your guide’s Ottoman-style home, called a riad, you chop and sauté all your new ingredients and the kitchen fills with an exotic aroma.  You know that this dish will be unlike any beef stew you have ever made.

And then there’s the khobz, or flat bread.   You knead the dough, but in an ancient neighborhood where homes rarely had their own ovens, you take your tray out into the bustling medina, to the nearby community oven.  For a few dirhams, the baker shoves your bread into the wood-fired oven, to bake next to your neighbors’ cookies.

During your week in Fez, you mingle with bidders at the rug auction and meet with a seamstress to have a caftan custom made.  You sip steaming mint tea as your foot taps to the alluring beat of a drum circle, and you treat yourself to a steam bath in the communal hammam.

You have practically become a local!

That was a trip of a lifetime!”, you say.   “Let’s do it again next year!”

If Morocco is not your dream destination, then join me next month for a sail through the Galapagos Islands.

Til then,

Rare Finds Travel Design

…sometimes rustic, often luxurious, but always unique!

 

Key West Road Trip to Paradise

Want a sunny adventure through paradise? Try a road trip through the Keys to Key West. Rent a car and put the top down to feel the wind in your face as the palm trees fly by! Complete a one of a kind scavenger hunt through some fun spots along Highway 1.

Eat at Alabama Jacks, visit a sea turtle hospital, or the diving museum, or actually take a day to explore a national park. Save the best for last by soaking up the fun and sun at the one and only Key West!

Next in Our Imagine Series: South Pacific

Imagine…. you are on a minute volcanic island in the South Pacific.  It’s the most remote, continuously inhabited island in the entire world and its storied occupants are the Moai.  It is they you have come to meet.

 

Ramon will introduce you.   He and his wife Josie are hosting you at their guesthouse at the edge of Easter Island’s lone village, Hanga (translated as “bay”) Roa.  Avocado trees, laden with dark fruit, and pink fluffy Chinaberry trees edge their flowered garden where you sit at breakfast, enjoying homemade guava jam and their tales.  Josie’s grandfather was the archeologist who headed up the restoration of the Moai in the 1960’s, and Ramon’s grandmother was the last baby born in a native settlement on Ovahe Beach before the British converted much of the island into sheep pastures in the 1920’s.

 

Ramon will show you this beach, as well as the lava tubes where early Rapa Nuians grew bananas and tobacco and grapes with protection from the ceaseless trade winds.  He will 4-wheel drive you to the various ahu, or platforms, where the Moai stand proudly. You wander amongst them, their faces towering 40’ over your head and their impassive gaze staring inland, right past you.  You squint up at their proud noses silhouetted against the day’s clouds, and marvel at their oversized topknots, looking heavy and precarious. You sense the generations that have stood on this very ground, their sweat and hopes and despair all brought to the feet of these rigid yet spiritual giants.

 

Later on, Ramon walks you into the quarry, Rano Raraku. This is where, for 400 years or more, these carved likenesses of the islanders’ forebears were etched out of the tuff of the mountain.    They were rolled into sandpits and stood upright to be tattoo-ed and detailed with earrings and elongated fingers. The completed Moai were then rolled onto wood sleds, and dragged to ahus on the coast.  The islanders ran out of trees for their sleds before they ran out of stone for their Moai. This deforestation is just one of the ways that the Rapa Nuian society, as their tribes grew ever larger tribes and ahu ever more plentiful, exhausted their natural resources to near extinction.

 

As you walk through Rano Raraku, the abrupt dissolution of the civilization is apparent. Some Moai stand abandoned on the quarry’s hillside, the largest, Te Tokanga, or “El Gigante”, still lies attached to the mountainside – all 65’ and 270 tons of him.

 

On another day, a caballero rides with you along the remote north shore through a stark, stone-strewn landscape that once was woodland. You ride atop cliffs against which the cerulean waves crashed, through herds of wild horses, and past archeological remains from the 1500’s.

 

At dusk, you pause at Ahu Tahi,  Sitting on the soft grass, you watch the sun set behind these Moai.  They are still, timeless, serene, stoic, yet not blank. Their expressions are inscrutable yet moving, and you are anchored to this grassy spot long after the orange eddies of the sky turn to violet and the stars fill the heavens like powdered sugar.

Dinner awaits.  Down by the single harbor where scarlet and blue and mustard colored fishing dories rock, side by side, the Taverne de Pecheur has a table for you. On a batik-covered candlelit table, you savor Easter Island’s tangy specialty: ceviche

 

The last morning, Ramon takes you to the small airstrip and places a necklace of shells around your neck.  “Iorana”, he says. Goodbye, from Easter Island.

 

That was a trip of a lifetime”, you say.  “Let’s do it again next year!”

 

Sharing the love of travel!

 

Next in Our Imagine Series: Belize

Imagine…

the equatorial sun of Belize toasts your shoulders as Roberto drops anchor on the north side of Ambergris and hands you a hooked 6′ pole!  It is time to lobster dive.

Once overboard, outfitted with snorkel and mask, you scan the limpid shallows for lobster “carports”, 12’x20’ wooden flats that look a bit like flattened parking carports on the sea floor.  You are on the lookout for a protruding antenna or a flurry of sand from the Caribbean crayfish known locally as Spiny Lobsters.

It turns out that hooking the crafty crustaceans is not so easy!  You hyperventilate in the waves, but dive down, again and again, as your lungs scream and you laugh underwater at your poor prowess.  You slap the water and curse the reef gods, but you finally get the hang of it and snag one!

Lunch is not in doubt however as Roberto is a master lobster-diver.  Before you know it, the cockpit teems with your catch. He ties off the mooring ball and putters over to a secluded cove where, with pelicans as your only company, he whips up a BBQ lunch unlike any other.

You have been curious all day about the bulging sack of dried coconut husks in the cockpit, which Roberto handily converts into a beach bonfire!   And as the coals smolder in a shallow pit beneath some palmetto, he cleans and foils your catch, spices it up with onions and spritz of lemon, and slathers on his secret ingredient …mayonnaise!

As enticing scents and sizzles rise off the fire, you get an icy Belikin out of the cooler and float on the aquarium-clear water.

When Roberto announces lunchtime, you let the waves coax you gently up onto the soft beach and with your toes wriggled into the lapping water, you lounge on the warm sand and pull lobster chunks out of the charred shells, juice running down your wrists.

Later, you motor out to Shark Ray alley where you chum triggerfish to attract dozens of nurse sharks.  The idea is to jump in and barrel-hug them for, as Roberto reassures you, nurse sharks fall into a trance when you turn them over and rub their bellies.   The trick, it seems, is to get them turned over!

On your boat ride home from the Hol Chan (“little channel”) Marine Preserve, you feel quiet, reflective, and above all, sated.  

Ambergris Caye’s manicured resorts spread out before you.  

Did you really spend the afternoon like Robinson Crusoe?

 

That was a trip of a lifetime”, you say.  “Let’s do it again next year!”

Sharing the love of travel.