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!