Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Caribbean Tales - 4 Days in St. Kitts & Nevis

Our introduction to the Caribbean Islands was through St. Kitts. While researching which islands to visit, St. Kitts was highly recommended by some bloggers. I am glad we went here first because it did not overwhelm us in any way. It was a decent place to chill and watch life go by at a slow pace; more than that, there was not much to explore. Having said that, we loved lazying around, taking in the vibe of our first Caribbean island and soaking in the culture.

Our hotel was on a lake with a view of the Golf Course, very serene.

We landed in Basseterre after a 25-hour journey from Bahrain. The airport was a breeze and we were just glad that our luggage managed to get through the two flight changes! We were greeted by several taxi drivers who operated huge 12-14 seater vans for cruise passengers who were the main source of tourism for this island. I was extremely distressed climbing into these vans due to my muscular weakness and so, the very next day, we hunted the rare sedans and saved the numbers of those taxi drivers. If you need special service like that, check with your hotel and they would definitely help.

We had chosen Frigate Bay for our 4 days in the island. This area had several restaurants for evening dinners, was close to the main beach that had many bars and looked like a nice place to stay. Our hotel Royal St. Kitts was amazing - it was newly furnished, had calm views of a lake, had a supermarket right outside and was always bustling with activity due to a student hostel in the premises. St. Kitts is fairly deserted, so a little activity in the surrounding was highly welcome!

Chai-biscuit mornings in a hotel apartment is always fun!

The super market came in handy on several occasions - exchanging money, buying water, buying nutty bars for an occasional hunger craving and discussing the island with the manager/owner. Interestingly, this man had followed his son from Hyderabad, India . The son was studying medicine here and he came here with his wife to look after him and probably enjoy the Caribbean life! Not a bad idea at all.

As expected we slept like a log on the first night. The next morning we went to a highly rated restaurant close to our hotel - Ritual Coffee House. We were surprised to find waiters who had flew from India to live and work here. It is always a pleasure to talk in your own language in a place so far away from your home - we instantly connected and these men became friends for those few hours. We waved to them whenever we passed the coffee house, which was atleast twice a day!

Ordering breakfast at Ritual Coffee shop was a ritual!

After a heavy brunch we slept again only to leave for the port area in the evening. We walked through Independence square and The Circus to Port Zante. This place had a lot of cruise passengers ready to leave the port for the day. Colourful buildings, cafes, souvenir shops, jewellery shops, entertainers - the port had it all. We met a number of Indians here as well who had come from Mumbai and settled here. A lot of them were from my Sindhi community - oh, I love that!

The best thing about St. Kitts was this volcano view (in the picture above). Eveywhere you went you could see this. After our brief introduction to the main city we went back to Frigate bay to have dinner at the most famous Shiggidy Shack. Maybe it was too early in the evening, or there were too many mosquitoes - we didn't find this place very exciting. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and called it a night.

For day 3 we booked a tour with a lady driver that we had met during one of our journeys to and fro from the hotel. She took us all around the island in one day so that we could see most of it. Roads in the Caribbean tend to be very narrow and navigating them wasn't our cup of tea - so this was the most appropriate way to see the country. The best place was probably the Brimstone Hill Fortress from where you could see great views of the city. Attractions like Romney Manor, Black Rocks, Timothy Hill were all ok.

Black Rocks

Breathtaking views of the Volcano

We came to the Fortress in the evening to avoid the cruise passengers - great decision! The road to this spot was extremely narrow and I don't know how new drivers in the country do it!

Love the greenery in Romney Manor

I tried to take nicer pictures from here - Timothy hill - but all my poses went awry!
View of Frigate Bay from Timothy Hill

After a long day through pretty roads, we ended up again in Frigate Bay for dinner. Chinchillas was a delight since there were lots of people, students mostly, chilling in the area. The food and music were great too. Apparently the lane was a party till 4 am which we missed - sleep in the Caribbean comes first!

On day 4, we went to the most famous beach in St. Kitts - Cockleshell beach. We did not like Frigate beach at all, so this was a little better. Being an island, we were not impressed by the beaches we saw here. Maybe tourists like Volcano hikes and Sugar plantation tours in this country - which we did not take!

Loved the overcast, beach weather!

In the evening we went to the port area to walk the by-lanes of Basseterre. This island has a population of about 50,000 - it seemed everyone was outside because every place was so full. There were no international brands (except Dominoes pizza). To us, it looked like a city from India of the 90's. Time had stood still - in a good way. There were tailoring shops, smaller restaurants, petite utility shops, hawkers, et al. It was a different experience.

We didn't walk into the tiny lanes because they say you need to be careful in these countries. I don't know how much of it is true because we met only beautiful souls - like the nurse turned van driver who kind of lifted me to help me inside her huge van, like the waiters from Punjab who had left their families and travelled across the continents to find their livelihood here, like our receptionists who seem to be working 24-hour shift everyday..

I absolutely loved Caribbean for their people. Antigua is where we were about to go next... stay tuned to inhale the beauty of that picturesque island!

Some handy tips for St. Kitts and Nevis:

- Although U.S dollars are widely accepted, try and get some EC dollars while in the island - things are cheaper that way.
- Ask for a sedan if you don't need a huge van for a taxi, they are extremely rare, but you could find one.
- No better place to stay than Frigate bay. Our hotel was the best!
- If you are looking for beaches, St. Kitts is not your destination.
- See if you can take a guided, walking tour of the main city. We missed that and could have learnt and seen more that way.
- We found St. Kitts to be a one-day cruise ship port. Hmm!
- While in the Caribbean, keep an eye on your airlines. They change schedules on a whim like they did for us but we were smart to check on them all the time!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Caribbean Tales: How to select islands for an Indian Passport holder

The cricket fanatic in my husband wanted to visit the West Indies. We didn't visit any stadiums though but that is for another post! Frankly, we had no clue since we didn't have any friends who have visited the islands. Living in the Middle East, we usually go to Europe or Asian countries owing to shorter flight duration. And so, Google was my only friend when searching for the islands to see.

This page stating Visa Requirements for Indian Passport Holders is highly accurate. To reconfirm you must go to the immigration site of various countries and check. You can also find their twitter handle and message them; chances are high of getting a reply. I even emailed a few embassies and got a response, although I found better info online!

If you are flying via USA, you will need an American tourist visa. We didn't check before going if U.S. needs transit visa; it does! Thankfully we had one, and it is probably because of this we didn't pay much heed to transit requirements.

From whatever I read online, we can safely conclude that you can visit most Caribbean nations while on a cruise without a visa. A clear exception to this is Cuba (the ONLY reason we couldn't visit this amazinggg island). You can take a 4-day, 7-day, 14-day, etc cruise leaving from Miami, Puerto Rico, Galveston, or any other port, visit these islands as a day tripper, and no one will ask you for a visa. It saves you a lot of hassle, plus you can see more in less time.

Frankly, a cruise works really well. Inter-Caribbean airlines are known for baggage loss, several delays and cancellations, and what not. I had read horrid tales and frankly I was super scared. Thankfully, nothing went wrong in our case and we were saved. But we did lose several hundred dollars due to cancellations for we didn't want to visit Hurricane (Maria and Irma) hit islands. The airlines give you vouchers for canceling and we have no plans of visiting the Caribbean in the next one year... so.

If you are like us who want to stay in an island for several days to soak in the culture, you could make an itinerary like ours. Since we were new to the region, I just researched for direct flights from one island to the other and made my itinerary. The following route is easily possible with direct flights and no visa hassle:

Miami --San Juan -- St. Kitts & Nevis -- Antigua & Barbuda -- Dominica -- St. Marteen -- Kingston -- Miami

(You get Visa on Arrival at Antigua if you have a US visa and you don't need a visa in St. Marteen if you have the same.)

However we had to change itinerary due to Hurricane Maria. It is sad what happened to St. Marteen and Dominica due to the disastrous winds and rainfall. We canceled and rescheduled our flights and lost a lot of money which is nothing compared to the life and infrastructure lost due to the same. My heart goes out to all their beautiful people...

Our revised itinerary looked like this:

Bahrain -- St. Kitts & Nevis -- Antigua & Barbuda -- Kingston & Ocho Rios -- Miami -- Bahrain

Now finding direct flights can be tricky. Don't be alarmed if you go to a travel site and see no flight on your day of departure. Just go to google and type, say, Antigua to Kingston flight and you will find the day of direct flight from your departing country.

I would strongly advice you not to take connecting flights in the Caribbean as the web states many horror stories! Check Liat and Seaborne reviews if you want.

Apart from Visa and direct flights, we went to Google Images for advice! It all looks so beautiful! Jamaica was on the top of our list. Cuba needed visa from India which was not possible for us. Antigua has 365 beaches. St. Kitts had easy access from Miami, and a high recommendation from bloggers around the world.

Our itinerary was sorted..

Coming up next - Exploring St. Kitts.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Laughing Stock

We all have that one friend who is the butt of all jokes. Whatever he/she says becomes fodder for the 'bully' and an amusing piece of comedy for the rest of the group members.

Unfortunately, in my circle of friends, that person is me! So much so, that the 'first among equals' is planning to publish a comic book in my name.

Do I care? Not so much. I love laughter even if it is at my cost. We are mature adults and we know our boundaries. I sometimes get really annoyed and give a piece of my mind to the Boy! Oh, I should mention that I am the least confrontational person you will ever meet, I can never say anything to those jokers! I speak my heart out to the Boy and he tells me it is harmless fun and then we just carry on with our banters.

When I was younger, my cousins use to pull my leg a lot. Sometimes I took things really personally, but I realised that they were just trying to find humour in a situation. I realised that I could take jokes from those I liked; random strangers/acquaintances? - not so much.

In school, this one guy was always after my life due to my 'Punjabi' surname. It was fun for a while, but then when I thought a line was being crossed, I stopped entertaining him. I didn't budge until he came and apologised... it was the most fun I have had in 10th grade!

You see, I have always understood one thing - they can make jokes on you till you want them to. The day you put your foot down, they stop. But laughter comes rarely in this stressful life of ours, and so I let them use my anecdotes and be merry. I am all for wit and humour done in good taste. Infact I make concious effort to add to their tales! I give them sufficient matter to pick on and elaborate in their own jester-like manner. And why not, I like a good chuckle as well.

Frankly, I feel the world has become too touchy. Whatever you say or do is interpreted in so many different ways. A good stand-up comedian cannot crack jokes without offending the feminists, a certain gender or race, an age-group, people with different life choices... you get the drift. We have stopped taking life with a pinch of salt. We need to understand that not all situations need our evaluation on whether it is principally correct. Some things are intrinsically funny, just let them be!

Coming back to being a laughing stock - what would you rather be? A sulk or a sport? An entertainer or a bore? Let me be straight with you - if you have an eccentric personality like mine, you really don't have a choice. And so, I would happily indulge in designing that comic book. Infact, I am planning to initiate the process! Wish me luck, and patience! 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy New Year!

Hello Dear Blog!

Long time no see! I have so much to tell you. One year has passed and I haven’t really spoken to you. But first things first, Happpyyyyy New Year!!

2017 was such a roller coaster. While the first half of the year was awfully unpleasant, the second half passed in like half a second. Needless to say, I liked second half more, and why not! I was on a vacation for most of it.

You know how I spent my new year’s eve? I was stranded at an airport without the Boy for over 17 hours! It became one of my funnest experiences ever. I had gone to my favourite sister’s wedding and was about to land just before the new year’s eve party. A one of its kind fog swayed over Bahrain and our airport closed down for more than 12 hours. The plane was diverted to Abu Dhabhi and we stayed the night. They say they haven’t seen anything like this in 30 years!

So, at first I was all teary eyed because I was alone on new year’s eve. After that we-should-have-fun-hour passed, I was all fine chatting with men, women and children around me. I made friends with soooo many people at the airport, slept on the sofa, ate way too many times in the lounge, took a nice hot shower, exchanged numbers, was called an angel... haha!

I landed in Bahrain after 24 hours for what was suppose to be just a 3.5 hour journey but I was absolutely fine. Guess I have excess patience and tolerance and excitement for new adventures!
I have to tell you all about my Caribbean trip as well. I need to sit for days and jot down every bit of that. I don’t want those memories to fade, oh how much I want to live those moments again.

I missed you dear blog. I wish to write and then write some more. I am in a very different zone right now. I feel I am in between holidays. I feel I am relaxed and stress free and just want to do what my heart desires. I don’t want to get into worldly affairs. I don’t want to start stressing over things that are not in my control. I want to live for a while..

The last few months have been so awesome. There have been moments of confusion and anxiety, but that is a part of this amazing adventure called life. Did I tell you about my 35th birthday? Ah, it was the most fun I have had in a very long time. So was the Boy’s 35th.And our 9th wedding anniversary? Yes, yes, yes, you need to be updated on my life.

This feels like a 16 year old girl’s blog, but didn’t it always sound like that. I am reading a book called ‘The subtle art of not giving a f*ck’ and that is what I will give.

I will be back with my Carib tales. You stay put my darling!

Your forever friend.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Live and Let Live

Have I become weird or is it totally annoying to wish someone on a Whatsapp group? I feel I will be judged if I don’t wish someone. I feel there are prying eyes on each group who have nothing better to do than check who is wishing whom. 

Just today, there are three people that I have to wish on a couple of family Whatsapp groups, and guess what, they are not even in the group! It is like being pushed to call someone else's phone and screaming so that the birthday girl hears her wish. Do such wishes even count?

When I wish, I really want to wish. I hate being forced. 

On being forced, Karwachauth is around the corner! I have expressed my views on a fast that puts you on gunpoint and tells you that if you don’t fast your husband would die! Really? I have those superpowers? Thank goodness I don’t come from a family that fasts on various occasions believing they will be rewarded for their good Karma just by doing so. How rebellious I would have been in that case!

Forcing someone, passing sarcastic remarks, saying ‘oh, you don’t remember me’ is such a put-off. I am not an awesome person, I am not sweet, and I am certainly not meant to please people around. I am very selfish and I will do what I feel like. Stop forcing me!

I use to hate my mother tell me what to do. She came under my wrath quite often. The Boy understands my trait very well, and so he has never ever told me to do anything. Any ‘order’ is met with such scolding that poor fellow doesn’t ever utter a word. I hate being told to do something so much that even if someone asks me for a glass of water, I hate it!

I can do a million things for a person if I feel like doing it. Putting me under pressure puts the said person in my hit-list. Sarcastic comments go very badly with me and I tend to act in exactly the opposite manner. If I want something, I ask people very politely keeping their comfort zone in mind and having very low expectations of things being done. All I expect in return is being able to live my life the way I feel like.

Is this a rant? No, this is general observation from what I have been seeing around me lately. Only my family and because I love my Boy, so his family, can make me do things. Other than that, I owe nothing to anyone. Infact I wish on Whatsapp groups only because I don’t want our families to get rude remarks on our behaviour, you know, if there was a parent-teacher meeting a.k.a a wedding around the corner.

How people live in a made-up society of I-called-you-for-dinner-so-you-call-me-for-dinner is something I will never understand. The forced give and take is abhor-able. No one wants to do it yet everyone follows the societal norms. You can call me an outcast if you wish, but I will do what I feel like. 

Over and out! 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Drinking Game

I started drinking alcohol at the age of six. My dad is a regular whiskey consumer; I distinctively remember taking a sip from his glass and going eww. After that, I took a break for 10 years or so.


My next rendezvous was with a screwdriver from my brother's glass. This must be when I was 17. We were on the dance floor with a few of his friends and he offered me to drink. It is the coolest thing to have an older brother. And some cute guys for his friends whom I refused to call bhaiya!

He then offered me to buy my own whenever we went out dining sans the parents. I was not a fan and this use to be a half yearly occasion which really didn't worry an elder brother.

I made my friends have their first drink from my kitchen when we were 19 maybe. Mom was watching and it wasn't a big deal.I just knew how to mix Vodka with orange juice or Sprite. I did just that and we all had a ball in my pink room. Yes, it was always pink even till when I was 26.  The bravest thing I did was to make myself a drink once while chatting online with the Boy. I can't remember what got into me; I tiptoed into the kitchen at 1 in the night and made myself a Vodka and something. I remember washing the glass nicely before sleeping and feeling super grown-up.

On my last birthday before I got married, I got sloshed with my bestie and saw a movie. It was a laugh riot and the memory of it is still clear in my head. Oh, I think I have a blog post as well - the perks of blogging and documenting my life here since 10 years!

After marriage, drinking became a norm. It was the start of hostel life for me which I never experienced before the age of 26. I was starting to live alone with a boy and with that came weekends, clubbing, bar hopping, exploring the best pubs in town and socializing with his bachelor friends. I got drunk numerous times and had a lot of fun. Why is life more fun after a couple of drinks, I'll never understand. And yes, I never got out of control or lost my mind.

I wrote another drunk post here. Well, ummm, meh.

I am not addicted, but I also don't believe in drinking carbonated drinks without adding a certain rum/vodka in them. If I am with friends, I don't mind beer or wine. I absolutely love to drink with girls because we end up laughing so hard. This brings me to the second part of this post..

To be cont.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Making the Two Left Feet, Right

Have you ever gone a full 34 years of your life without going on stage and doing a little dance? Well, I have. And a ramp walk doesn't count!

My classmates and teachers were all very sweet, but the performances that we had in school required a high level of strength and stamina which I didn't showcase. So while there were concerts every second year, I either stood in a choir and sang (apparently like Michael Jackson, at least that's what the cutest Sir in school said when I sang 'Heal the World'!!) or I watched over kids from Nursery and ate from their tiffins during break time.

Did you know kids bring the tastiest meals and when you are a didi monitoring them, they can give you their life, leave alone alphabet shaped frymes. I even had my favourite kids whom I looked forward to meeting every day.

I had another friend in tow who did not perform because she had too many male admirers in school! She and I became besties and in the duration, I gathered my own share of fans.

Well, I digress.

Post school, I was too conscious. My friends and family were extra sweet and so they never pushed me hard enough to get out of my comfort zone. While I danced on every dance floor I saw, I stayed away from any place that came under public scrutiny. My steps didn't match Katrina, but when I saw Sunny Deol, my confidence went up by leaps and bounds. God bless that angel.

Marriage brought me another pair of left feet in the form of the Boy. While I lacked confidence, he didn't seem to have form. From what I can safely assume, Sunny Deol learnt from him.

Now we have a multitude of friends here in Bahrain. Some are sweet and some are crazy. The sweet ones would go out of their way to make life comfortable for us. The crazy ones, however, don't care about how pleasant all experiences are, they just want memories which can lead to all sorts of leg pulling.

On a drunken night we decided to do a funny mime dance for a friend's party. Since it was a standing performance, both me and the Boy agreed. What followed were some of the best experiences of my life.

We asked a friend to help us out who bailed at the last moment. We then devised our own dance steps which we could perform at ease. However, we were being too simple and it didn't seem to work. We looked for a cheap choreographer, and luckily found one called V.

On the first day, V came and by all means was devastated to see her disciples. While three could do whatever maneuver she did, four of us threw tantrums. The Boy even talked about walking out because he was too confused with every left, right, turn, twist, jiggle... 'I did not sign up for this,' were his exact words!!

We thought we will let fate decide and see how it goes, one day at a time. On the second day, we had come practiced and V knew what she was in for. She taught us simple, cool and funny steps and all was good with the world. We joked, we practiced, and had a lot of fun. It was just a 4-minute jig, and time seem to end pretty fast.

Me and the Boy practiced at home as well. Our confidence came with the fact that we knew all steps! He can make the cutest faces and I can just woo with my, you know, being there!

On the D-Day, we all were nervous as hell. In my gold sequence skirt I stood at the back with the Boy and hoped all to go well. The music started and there was a lot of hooting. Bringing on the Kala Chashma brought more cheers. I just forgot one step. I did not fall (the Boy had a back up plan for that, he said he will start doing Naagin dance if I did fall!).

People came up to me and praised the Boy's cute expressions and my skirt. I told you, I woo by just being there!

I can't think of a better experience. From absolutely zero confidence, to attaining at least some of it, we went a long way in the last week. I thought of the many moments of feeling rejected in school. When we grow up, we can be whatever we want to be. We have a judgmental society that stops us from doing what we love, but that should not stop us. For all you know, that society is unsure of its own strengths and weaknesses and applauds you for your bravery. I can vouch for this because I saw people with confidence crumple a tad under pressure.

And these crazy friends, keep them close. They can make you do things you never thought you could do. They balance the hot and sweet in your life, they bring equilibrium to madness and sanity, they dig you out from your shell pretending nothing is wrong. You think they don't understand you, but they do, in a whole different way. They have that unique ability to change the next 34 years of your life for you.

Like they did for me.

I know, the skirt. The right side even had a slit!
The dance picture has others, and I am not authorized to post!