Perfect weather. Gorgeous beaches. And the food? Yes, the food is to live for. Oh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the vibrant disposition of the dominicanas. If you are a beer lover, you want to try Presidente. If you consider yourself remotely close to human, you’d want to try rice, beans, and some plantains. Try it, ask questions later.
While many know Dominican Republic for the (in)famous Punta Cana; an area where spring breakers forget the mounds of research papers waiting to be submitted at colleges throughout the country and succumb to those youthful desires, Punta Cana is more than that. You can find some respite far from the maddening crowd of twenty-something year olds and enjoy some quiet time. But do you really really want to?
I’d recommend staying at an all-inclusive resort such as the Melia-opt for the adult section, if you want to get in on all the action. Fine white sand, yoga classes on the beach, champagne bottles delivered to your room, and the most gorgeous (and potentially dangerous) men could be seen galavanting around the DR. Where, you ask? It doesn’t matter…pick a street, any street.
Panama is one of the those quiet gems. You know it’s there, but don’t really understand how much beauty is in one country. Ever been to Miami? Well, Panama City is Miami with a drop of pizazz, a splattering of culture and a whole lot of wonder! I’ve been to Panama about seven times in the past few years. I guess I have partaken in my fair share of water from the Gatun River! No matter how many times I return, I always manage to find something new and exciting. I’ll try to make you laugh- on one occasion, a few friends and I broke away from the weekday calling of work and ventured into a boat that took us to the middle of a lake outside of the city. The tour leader had planned a few ‘fun’ activities for the group. Our options: You could sun bathe on the deck (I’m Nigerian- I don’t play that), you could relax with a few adult beverages while letting your taste buds run wild, you could hop on to a smaller boat and go fishing, or play around with Sam! Who is Sam, you ask? Sam is the massive greenish yellow snake that lived on the ship. If I said it probably weighed 15 pounds, you’d think I was exaggerating. I promise, I’m not! Apparently Sam liked to hang out around the necks of guests (*snaps finger over head in a circular motion* while exclaiming in my deepest Nigerian accent ‘lai lai). The tour leaders brought the snake out and tried to wrap it around our necks. Once I saw him approaching with the massive creature, you would have thought the results from ancestry.com showed I was related to Usain Bolt! My bolting skills (pun intended) were impressive.
During one of my visits to Panama, I explored the Panama Canal. It is absolutely mind blowing how much revenue is generated from the Panama Canal on a daily basis. Ships passing through can pay as much as $800,000 or more to cross the canal. What is exceptional about the canal is the engineering. The mechanics used to configure the operation of the canal was well before it’s time. You can read more about the canal by going to…ahhh, never mind. Google is your friend.
On my last trip to the canal, the Vice President of the country-who happens to be a woman- sent a car to pick me up and granted me access to the new canal in Cocoli! This was a big deal because VICE PTESIDENT and only a few people had been granted access to tour the new canal. No, I’m not a name dropper but sometimes you have to get in where you fit in, n’est ce pas? The new canal recycles over half of the water it uses and can accommodate larger ships than its older counterpart. The little million dollar European built tugboats (as seen in the pictures in front of the larger ship below) are incredibly powerful as they guide the ship on either side as it passes through the canal. While the new canal isn’t open to the public yet, when it eventually opens up, you’ll be able to explore the museum, watch a video of the history of the canal ( in English or Spanish) and, of course, watch the ships go by.
No trip to Panama City is complete without a trip to the Panama Canal (where you can done and watch the ships go by) and Casco Viejo!
Fun Fact: Though the canal is one of the main generators of income for Panama, the banking industry is its numerò uno money maker.
Cocoli Locks: The New CanalMiraflores: The Old CanalMy guide for the day! He’s part Trinidadian! The best rolled Ice Cream Ive ever had was here: Ay Mi Negra!
Ever tried explaining to someone that there’s a small, but major, difference between the brand name and the country. That one letter will throw you off so quickly. I may have made the same mistake in a past life myself, but as Oprah says, “when you know better, you do better”
Colombia is excitement, culture, history and awe all rolled up into one! Whether you are visiting Bogota, Cali, or Medellin, you’ll find that the streets are filled with fun loving joyful exciting beautiful people. Yes, many of the women make implants as normal as selecting a new wig for the upcoming holiday season, but who are you to judge? Let them be great! I don’t think I had ever seen that many butt implants in my entire 37 years of existence. Cue the song, ‘Booty rocking everywhere!’
For you non-halloween loving folks, feel free to skip this paragraph (Kanye shrug) If you ever have the opportunity to opportunity to witness Halloween in Medellin, heed Nike’s advice and just do it! The feeling is electric. I’d tell you about the guy who showed up as a used tampon on the streets of Medellins next to the three wise men but we have better things to talk about. Am I right?
Cali IS the salsa capital of the world. Bring your flowy dresses and your salsa dancing shoes. Gentlemen, if the aguadenos hats are your thing, grab one and hit the dance floor.
No trip to Bogota is complete without a visit to Bolivar Square. In the middle of the square, you’ll find the most striking Botero sculptures, street artists, and great street food. Try the Arepas with cheese. It’s an acquired taste…let me know what you think. My personal all time favourite dish in Colombia is the Ajiaco soup. Mostly found in Bogota, the dish contains potatoes, corn, avocados, and capers. Can someone say delicious!
Should do: Check out the Botero Museum
Main Destinations: Bogota, Cali, Cartenega, Medellin
Confession: Hi, I’m The Global Empress and I have a deep fascination with monks. Come to think of it, I have a fascination for any being who could medidate for longer than seventeen minutes. The other day I decided to download the Oprah and Deepak meditation app, you know, to test my limits. I lasted through the first minute and a half and decided meditating was something I might have to revisit. Let’s put all that on the shelf for another day, shall we? I was thrilled to be in Myanmar and check out the Shwedagon Pagoda. If you ever find yourself in Myanmar, please visit a temple.
My time in Myanmar was filled with wonder, amazement, sadness, and yes, immeasurable beauty! The well known Shwedagon Pagoda held within it incredibly awe-inspiring erections that were strategically placed throughout the Pagoda. Towering figures of Buddha decorated every inch of the temple. The architecture boasted vibrant shades of white and gold. All guests to the Pagoda, as is the case with many temples, were asked to remove their shoes before entering. As my feet shifted between the wet ground and the uncomfortable green spikey mats, I gave myself permission to ignore my discomfort and focus on what the place meant to thousands of Buddhists in Myanmar.
While for tourists the Pagoda might be a place for some of the best photos, it is important to remember it is a place of worship for many. You’d find Monks sitting silently meditating in front of a Buddha statue, women leaving sacrifices, and children learning the spiritual practices of their parents. Then there was me, happy to be there but not sure how many more pictures I could politely oblige to without getting irritated. I quickly learned that the number, on an empty stomach, is eighteen. I should know- I counted. After the eighteenth ask, I decided a stern ‘no, thank you’ was enough. You can file that under #TravelingWhileBlack #BlackAndAbroad or #YouveNeverSeenABlackPerson. Any of the hashtags would do.
Much of the Myanmar way and lifestyle is warm and inviting, I’d be remiss to overlook the fact that there is a lot of strife in the region. The people of Myanmar are mostly Buddhist. For such a peace loving religion, you’d find contrary actions when it comes to the way Rohingya people are treated in the region. This small sect of Muslims who have lived in Myanmar for ages continue to be slaughtered on an ongoing basis. Many observers have deemed this an act of ethic cleansing, others say it is a genocide taking place right before our eyes. One man I interviewed said, “the Myanmar military is very good at burning houses and shooting the people as they run out” I had to remind myself that this was not a script for a movie. That people, like you and I, continue to live with harsh realities everyday.
*Prayers out to the Rohingya people*
Must Do: Haven’t you been paying any attention? Visit a temple.
Want a tattoo? Have a monk do it. The monks read your aura and self selects a tattoo that goes with your aura. You only pay for the ink and leave a small donation for the monk. And while I don’t know much about the whole aura business or tattoos, I think it might be pretty cool to get tatted up by a monk. Ah, there goes that fascination again…
Jordan was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I remember the driver picking me up from my hotel in Amman for the drive to Petra. He looked at me through the rear-view mirror and said, “You have water? It is going to be very hot” I smiled in anticipation and instantaneously decided to use the two hour drive to get to know my driver and the Jordanian culture. I probed about relations with the surrounding countries, Jordanian food, best places to visit in Jordan, and dating. He said, “Here in Jordan your mother picks your wife. You really want to make sure your mother knows your taste in women otherwise you’d end up with an ugly woman” I laughed at the idea of my mother picking a husband for me. I’d be ruined! I adjusted my position at the back of the car- we were going to have a great conversation. He took his eyes off the road for a brief second, then said, “You have the eyes of a Jordanian woman”. “African. You mean an african woman” I corrected him. He smiled then nodded in agreement.
There’s a pretty good chance you’ll absolutely love the Rose City. The Rose City also known as Petra or The Lost City is nothing short of gorgeous. The twists and turns will lead you to breathtakingly beautiful cravings in the mountains. The varying shades of sandstone colouring in the walls of the mountains rivalled nothing I have ever laid eyes on.
I traveled through the royal temple and tomb. When I reached the monastery, I paused to take in the structure. It was quiet- peaceful, even. I liked it. I liked the intimidating mountains that remind humanity of its place in the world but contradicted that reminder by letting us know how much could be achieved if we set our minds to it. I was snapped out of my reflection by the sudden sound of rap music blasting “…Ain’t no limit to this as long as we drop gansta shit” I was shocked. Was that Snoop playing? Why am I hearing this here? How is this possible? Before I had the chance to spell out globalization, a petite bedoiun turns around the corner on his donkey with music blasting as he sang along. I shook my head. Globalization! Bringing America rap to Petra one bedouin at a time.
What to see: The Monastery. The Temple.
What to know: ‘bedouins are hard as the desert, soft as the sand, move like the wind, and are free”
I’m Nigerian American! Let me tell you, we third culture folks have it rough some days. Rotating rehearsed response scripts between being American, Nigerian, and the most annoying, not Nigerian enough on a frequent basis. The “you aren’t really Nigerian” statement from my fellow Nigerians is most disconcerting as it carries a serious tone of judgement. Why so bothered, you ask? Because my Nigerians had magical dust sprinkled on them at the time of creation. Ask anyone. It’s quite true. Phrases like, “naija no dey carry last” and “Omo naija ni mi” should not be taken lightly. Who wouldn’t want to cling to all the excellence that is associated with Nigerians.
Nigeria is a beautiful chaos. The traffic, the motorcycles, the flowing garbs in various hues of reds, blues, yellows and greens will captivate you. There are currently over 182 million people in Nigeria. The giant of Africa certainly doesn’t carry last when it comes to procreating (insert side eye here) I’ve found some of the funniest people in Nigeria. If you ever spent a day on the streets of Lagos and didn’t find some event worthy of laughter, I’d strongly suggest that you check your pulse. No seriously, you should. There is always something to laugh about. A look to your left and a driver is beeping his horn telling the motorcyclist how he looks like ‘the head of a goat’ because he didn’t move out of the way quickly enough. A look to your left and the conductor of a truck overloaded with passengers is screaming while hanging recklessly from the vehicle with one hand, “Oshodi Oke, e wole e wole, ko si change o” It’s a sight to behold!
If you have plans to visit Africa and want to really experience ‘Africanness’, I’d recommend you skip Kenya and South Africa (for now) and head to West Africa -more specifically- Nigeria.
In Lagos (the former capital of the country) you can go salsa dancing, grab a local drink at a pepper soup joint, or head to a nearby beach. I’d recommend heading to one of the local markets to grab some artwork and fabric. Some of my favourite well tailored dresses were made in Lagos for less than $50 bucks. #truestory
The food is one of my favourite cuisines (nope, I’m not biased) in the world. If you want spice, I’d recommend the pepper soup. Nothing else could clear up your sinuses like some goat pepper soup. Remember to bring along some tissues, you’ll need them! Definitely try the suya. Suya is traditionally made with beef grilled over an open flame seasoned to perfection and served on a stick. Think of suya as a kebab but exponentially better in taste. Looking for something on the sweeter side, I’d recommend some puff-puff. It’s dessert but not quite dessert. Try it and let me know what you think!
I would be remiss if I didn’t write about the corruption, lack of consistent electricity, and the pollution that continues to plague the country. But what country doesn’t have its share of headaches. Nigerian continues to find its proper footing in the global arena. For all of its flaws, it is still is a place that would make your heart come alive almost instantaneously.
What’s all the fuss about Italian men anyway, right? So what if they look like Adonis himself. So what if the first words you hear from one of such creatures was, “Bellisimas! You are like the sun. There is only one of you” seconds after you meet him. You’d find these Adonis look-alike roaming the streets of Italy with no caution tape wrapped around them. Pardon me, I went on a rant. We are talking Italy!!! We are talking food that leaves a lasting imprint on your memory months after you tried it. We are talking art work that would tempt you to relocate just so you too could be part of this museum accidentally dubbed country. If you read my previous post, you’d recall that I always wanted to explore Italy. I intentionally kept that desire close to my heart hoping someday my feet would take me there. And when my feet did, boy did Italy knock my ankle socks off!
Italy was more exquisite than I could have imagined. No visit to Rome is complete without a trip to the Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the Trevi Fountain! Rumor has it I broke down and purchased my first pair of fashionable Prada shoes in Rome- who’s to tell if those rumors are true? Speaking of fashion, Italians take their fashion sense very seriously. Regardless of social status or age, locals take pride in the way they show up.
I stood waiting at the corner of the street for a bus. The local bus would take me to Old San Juan. It was a lovely day to explore Puerto Rico (rich port). The colorful summer dresses flowed carelessly through the streets, music played by a local musician filled one’s ears, and my stomach was filled with seafood Mofongo and Cuba Libre. My decision to take a local bus was driven, not only by cost, but mostly because I knew it would give me a glimpse into the everyday lives of Puerto Ricans. An hour later, I gave up on any hope a bus would arrived and hailed a cab to Old San Juan. Are you judging me? Ever tried standing in the sun for an hour after having a Cuba Libre? It’ll test even the patience of Mother Theresa (if she partook in such libations) I digress. The cab drove past El Morro right into into the heart of Old San Juan. We turned the corner to unveil colorful buildings that boasted remnants of the city’s past relationship with Spain. Over to the left- a canary yellow house. A little to the right -an aqua blue one. I hopped out of the cab, grabbed an ice cold drink and made my way through a few winding roads. My aim? To get lost then make an acquaintance or two en route to getting found again.
I wove in and out of touristy stores with little intent to buy anything. Opting instead to strike up conversations with store owners and locals in the area. I walked into a small store at the end of a block where a bald gentleman with kind eyes (I love kind eyed people) greeted me. Within a few minutes, my soul was somehow drawn to this store owner. There was something incredibly humbling about him. I stayed. We swopped stories of our travels around the world. He spent three months each year traveling the world. One month in Italy, another in Spain, another on a cruise around the world. “You are very fortunately, I remarked. “I’d love to visit Italy” He looked at me with his gorgeous brown eyes, and said words that would become my travel anthem for years to come- “keep it in your heart and your feet will take you there” It’s been over three years since I met that kind man. I make it a point to stop at his shop when time and chance permits. I consider him a friend. I’d like to think he feels the same way about me. Last time I visited him, I told him my feet had taken me to Rome because I kept it in my heart.
Fun Fact: Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States. Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the general elections.
The Lagos sun was shining down with an uncommon kind of vengeance that day. I rolled down the window of my father’s car as he drove and put one arm out the wide opening. I closed my eyes and felt the wind pass through my fingers. There are many memories of my childhood, but this one stands out so vividly. I didn’t care where we went as long as we were taking a journey. The journey made me feel uninhibited. Over 20 years later and nothing has changed. The journey is, and always will be, more important than the destination.
This blog is not only about travel in the sense of packing up a luggage with your favourite swim wear, a fabulous pair of sunnies, and boarding a flight to some exotic location. I won’t let you down -this blog does include those- but more importantly, it deals with our interactions with each other in spaces outside of where we call home. Sometimes those interactions are filled with love and acceptance. Other times, they are horrid and make you lose faith in humanity. No matter the exchange, the point is to learn something new, see God in all things, and leave your space better than you found it. This, to me, is the genesis of meaningful travel.
Location: Ouro Preto (Black Gold), Brazil
Fun fact: Ouro Preto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.