Tag Archives: Caribbean

Stories Published!

IMG_9067My story on my travels through Kansas – from Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, to Manhattan and through the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve – has been published in the March issue of Trailer Life Magazine, currently on newsstands.   http://www.trailerlife.com/trailer-travel/destinations/in-the-land-of-oz/

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And my December visit to Guadeloupe’s Marie Galante, the “Island of 100 Windmills,” is currently on the AAA Home & Away website.

http://homeandawaymagazine.com/Content/Article/5256

(If asked for zip code, enter 73099)

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Marie Galante: ‘Island of 100 Windmills’

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Bezard Windmill. Photo by Richard Varr

My trip last month to Guadeloupe, part of the French West Indies, took me to the archipelago’s outer island where the pace is like it was 40 years ago. At least that’s what the locals will tell you on pancake-shaped Marie Galante, only 9 miles or so in diameter.

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Sugarcane fields on Marie Galante. Photo by Richard Varr

“It’s a very simple life and a very nice life, too,” says Celine Malraux, a local author whose husband owns Distillerie Bellevue, one of the island’s three rum distilleries. “Everybody has their gardens with fresh avocados, breadfruit, mangoes, with everything they need to grow. Rum is cheap, fish and lobster are cheap. At the same time, you buy fish from the hands of the fisherman.”

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Rum tasting at Distillerie Bellevue. Photo by Richard Varr

Marie Galante is breezy, there’s no traffic and cows graze in verdant meadows. It’s smaller tourist draw is mostly French visitors; I heard hardly a word of English during my December visit. Palm trees cluster along the edges of sugarcane fields as far as the eye can see. In fact, sugarcane is still the basis of the economy just like it was when plantations took root in the 1600s.

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Bezard Windmill. Photo by Richard Varr

Marie Galante is known as “island of 100 windmills” – a nickname that lured me to learn more about the island and its history. The name stems from when 106 windmills crushed sugarcane during the height of the plantations; now 72 remain, although mostly brick stumps and dilapidated in overgrown brush. Rusted gears are often seen scattered in and around the structures. Only two actually turn: the Bézard Windmill on a grassy hill and the other on the grounds of Distillerie Bellevue.

Marie Galante’s rum brands are rhum agricole – particularly popular in the French Caribbean and made from sweet cane juice, not molasses. Bellevue produces aged brown rum at 45 percent alcohol and clear white rums reaching 50 and 59 percent. “They’re lighter and fit into different types of drinks and go very well with citrus, lime, grapefruit or orange,” says Malraux. The island’s two other distilleries are Bielle and Poisson.

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Murat Plantation Great House. Photo by Richard Varr

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Windmill stump at Murat Plantation. Photo by Richard Varr

To learn more about Marie Galante’s plantation life, I stop by the Murat Plantation museum with windmill ruins, well-preserved stone walls of an old sugar factory and a restored Great House on a scenic hill. The plantation started in the mid 1600s, but the Great House wasn’t built until the early 1800s when Frenchman Dominique Murat took over the land. Murat is among 17 sites of notable slavery history as part of the Conseil Général of Guadeloupe’s “Slave Route – Traces of Memory” project that showcases monuments, forts and other locations as well.

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Views of Capesterre. Photo by Richard Varr

To get to Marie Galante, I took the hour-long, high-speed ferry from Guadeloupe’s Pointe-à-Pitre. It docks in Grand-Bourg, not far from the village’s main market and central St. Marie Church. I grabbed a taxi for an afternoon well spent visiting distilleries and driving on roads that carve around the gently sloping hills topped with swaying sugarcane stalks. Other highlights not to be missed include the views overlooking the red roofs of seaside Capesterre and seemingly perfect Feuillère Beach nearby, shaded and poignantly framed by palm trees.

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Feuillère Beach. Photo by Richard Varr

St. John: Coves, Beaches and Beauty

Trunk Bay. Photo by Richard Varr

Trunk Bay, St. John. Photo by Richard Varr

St. John seems to be the jewel of the USVI – mountainous and scenic with wonderful coves and white sand beaches. I went there on a day trip from St. Thomas by ferry, with the ferry landing in the small and walkable town of Cruz Bay with its modern shopping villages. More than half of the island is national park land, with the remainder as small towns, homes, store clusters and private lands. I found the island to have more of a resort feel as many living on the island are originally from somewhere else.

Annaberg Plantation Sugar Mill ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

Annaberg Plantation Sugar Mill ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

My tour included visits to the ruins of two former plantations – the Annaberg Sugar Mill, with its old windmill and factory buildings; and the Cinnamon Bay Factory Ruins, with its stone smokestack and the stone shell of its sugar factories. “This is where they boiled the sugar cane, made molasses and stored it before shipping,” says Kenneth, my tour guide and taxi driver.

St. John hiking trail. Photo by Richard Varr

St. John hiking trail. Photo by Richard Varr

From the high roads along the edges of hilly terrain, we could see the north shore’s many fine beaches along Maho Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay and Hawksnest Bay. “Maho Bay is the favorite nesting area for sea turtles.” Kenneth tells me. The highlight of my St. John trip, however, was snorkeling along Trunk Bay’s 225 yard underwater snorkeling trail. The beach at Trunk Bay has snorkel rentals, a snack bar and bath house. Although it can get crowded, it will be a must stop on my next visit.

St. John:  Kenneth Taxi Service, 340-513-2438

Story Published!

Natural Bridge. Photo by Richard Varr

Natural Bridge. Photo by Richard Varr

My story on the wild side of Curacao has been published in the latest issue of Porthole Cruise Magazine, now available on newsstands or at Barnes and Noble.  To read an excerpt:

http://www.porthole.com/CurrentIssue/WetWildCaptivatingCuracao.aspx

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

Anguillan Sculptor Turns Driftwood into Art

Cheddie Richardson of Cheddie's Carving Studio. Photo by Richard Varr

Cheddie Richardson of Cheddie’s Carving Studio. Photo by Richard Varr

By Richard Varr

Mermaid. Photo by Richard Varr

Mermaid. Photo by Richard Varr

A mermaid gestures with her arms extended, her delicate fingers reaching out to touch me.  I take a closer look at this wooden figurine only to see her staring eyes and puffy lips carved with the precision of artist Cheddie Richardson’s steady hand.  The mermaid’s slender, smooth and varnished torso juts out from one of the twisted branches, as Richardson has turned dried and lifeless driftwood into art evoking the feeling of his Caribbean homeland.

“I carve animals, birds, fish or anything that takes the shape from the driftwood – the driftwood tends to speak to me,” Richardson says of his artwork on the scenic and tranquil island of Anguilla with its white sand beaches.  “Whatever the shape, I’ll just bring it out.”

Gallery. Photo by Richard Varr

Gallery. Photo by Richard Varr

Cheddie with artwork. Photo by Richard Varr

Cheddie with artwork. Photo by Richard Varr

Pelican. Photo by Richard Varr

Pelican. Photo by Richard Varr

I stroll though his gallery and see dolphins, fish and the slender necks and beaks of pelicans and other seabirds carved from the spiny and pointed driftwood branches.  Small sailboats decorate the walls as well.  Richardson often carves one or two branches while the others serve as the artwork’s base.  “I try to leave as much of the natural wood as possible, so when you look at it you see what we started with.”

Carving. Photo by Richard Varr

Carving. Photo by Richard Varr

“I work with driftwood right from the island,” he adds.  “It’s wood that you’ll see when you go to the beaches, or to the lagoons and ponds.  And when you come to my gallery, you can see what I’ve done to those pieces to create art.”

“I try to create the fish in the sea,” he tells me.  “So when you go to the restaurants and see snapper, or when snorkeling, you will see all these fish.  I try to stick with the birds and fish you see around here, and boats as well because boat racing is a big thing on island.”

Cheddie Richardson in his studio. Photo by Richard Varr

Cheddie Richardson in his studio. Photo by Richard Varr

Richardson leads me downstairs to his studio, a small room with his chisels, a ban saw, drill press and other tools.  Unfinished artworks are scattered around.  But what catches my eye are the heaps of driftwood cluttering the floor.  “I go out and find them.  And I have my friends and guys who work for me find them,” he says.  “I’m always looking.”

Hummingbird. Photo by Richard Varr

Hummingbird. Photo by Richard Varr

Richardson, a sculptor and artist for more than 30 years, says he works on over 100 pieces at one time.  “When I see a piece of driftwood, I sketch it and I can always come back to it,” he explains.  “One day, I see a fish.  The next day I might see something else.”  Projects include a sandpiper with its chiseled eyes, beak and layered feathers already discernible, the face of an eagle and the head of an owl still taking shape.  And nearby is a bird book he uses for reference.

“I get a good feeling because I’m creating from a natural piece of wood,” Richardson tells me.  “So I hope you get a good feeling.”

Gallery. Photo by Richard Varr

Gallery. Photo by Richard Varr

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Cheddie’s Carving Studio, The Cove, Anguilla  264-497-6027 cheddie@anguillanet.com

Anguilla: The Tastiest Seafood Salad at Tasty’s Restaurant

Seafood Salad at Tasty's Restaurant. Photo by Richard Varr

Seafood Salad at Tasty’s Restaurant. Photo by Richard Varr

While on Anguilla, I had a seafood salad like no other.  I dined one evening at Tasty’s Restaurant, a popular and renowned island eatery founded and owned by Chef Dale Carty.  What makes his seafood salad so unique?  Small pieces of fresh seafood – snapper, conch, crayfish, lobster and shrimp – are cut into small pieces and then spiced and sauteed individually, just like a larger portion might be served as an entrée.  The seafood bites are then placed on the side of the dish – not mixed with the salad.

Chef Dale Carty.  Photo by Richard Varr

Chef Dale Carty. Photo by Richard Varr

Chef Carty, Anguillan born and raised, came up with this idea when ordering seafood salad in other restaurants.  “A lot of times I got cold crab out of the can and small baby shrimp.  I really hated those salads,” he recalls.  “I thought to myself, I really should be able to come up with a nice, fresh seafood salad with fresh grilled pieces of fish.”

“It’s not all mushy,” adds Carty.  “It happens to be our signature dish that has given us most of our write ups and exposure in magazines.”

Tasty’s Restaurant specializes in traditional Anguillan cuisine, while some dishes are spiced with an international flair.  “Conch Creole” and “Coconut Crusted Filet of Fish with spicy banana rum sauce” are on the menu, for example.

“I think I represent real traditional Anguillan cuisine and ambiance – everything in one,” he says.  “When I created Tasty’s, I wanted locals and tourists to dine with me and we’re one of the only establishments here that does both.”

“Everywhere I go, when I order a seafood salad, I think why can’t they just put fresh pieces of fish on the salad instead of canned crab or baby shrimp,” he again says about his signature dish.  “That just doesn’t cut it.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

http://www.tastysrestaurant.com

Hotel Beach Plaza, St. Martin: Location, Location, Location

Pool at the Hotel Beach Plaza, Marigot. Photo by Richard Varr

Pool at the Hotel Beach Plaza, Marigot. Photo by Richard Varr

Location, location, location.

Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

That’s what I particularly liked during my March stay at the Hotel Beach Plaza, an airy, beachfront property on a scenic bay in Marigot, the capital of St. Martin’s French side of the island.  A glass roof tops its lobby atrium filled with palm trees and other tropical vegetation – home to chirping birds and the soothing sounds of Caribbean whistling frogs in the evening.  Upon entering the hotel, I noticed there are no doors into the lobby and no windows or doors on the other side facing the Baie de Marigot.  “With the open space, you’re directly connected to the sea,” says hotel General Manager Eric Mayer.  “The lights reflecting from the water are amazing and people arriving at reception are immediately drawn to the water.”

Renovation Plans.

Renovation Plans.

The three-star, 144-room hotel is an older property showing its age with some worn edges and in need of repairs.  But that’s likely to change as the hotel is scheduled to undergo a $15-$17 million (USD) renovation and will be closed from August 26 through December 12, 2013.  Upgrades will include adding a spa, new beds, improved electrical infrastructure and general improvements throughout the property.  “The idea of the renovation is to keep the same Caribbean and colonial feel,” says Mayer.  Upgrades in 2014 will include a new auditorium and meeting rooms.

Saturday fish market. Photo by Richard Varr

Marigot’s Saturday fish market. Photo by Richard Varr

As for location, the hotel is hardly a ten minute walk to the heart of Marigot with its popular shopping district along rue de la Republique, ferries to St. Barth and Anguilla, and the nearby Marina Royale with its scenic harbor and waterside restaurants.

Marigot's Marina Royale. Photo by Richard Varr

Marigot’s Marina Royale. Photo by Richard Varr

On Saturday mornings, the bayside open-air market bustles as locals and visitors flock to stands of fresh produce and fish just off the boat.  Souvenir shops are especially popular with cruise ship passengers bused in from the port of Phillipsburg on the island’s Dutch side.

Fort Louis atop the hill along Baie de Marigot. Photo by Richard Varr

Fort Louis atop the hill along Baie de Marigot. Photo by Richard Varr

Views from the hotel’s beachside include sailboats along a gentle turquoise seascape and the crumbling remains of Fort Louis perched atop a hill – part of the scenic vista to the east.  “You couldn’t be closer to water,” says Mayer.  “Even if you’re working, you feel like you’re on holiday.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

http://www.hotelbeachplazasxm.com

Hotel Beach Plaza. Photo by Richard Varr

Hotel Beach Plaza. Photo by Richard Varr

Blogger’s Note:  I was a guest of the hotel and also paid a press rate during my stay.  I found the rooms very comfortable and would return.  I also found very reasonable Internet rates for this hotel – especially during high season on St. Martin.