The Mermaid Lagoon (… or Argyle Falls)

Our rental car was dropped off Thursday morning and like eager beavers, we hopped in ready to hit the road. Tobago can be difficult to get around within a car of your own and so for a modest fee of $300 TT per day, or roughly $60 Canadian, we opted to go on a road trip of the entire island. Narrow, windy roads featuring excessive honking, a few gasps of terror, and stunning coastal views took us from the south of the island all the way around it’s perimeter. Along the way we stopped at countless bays and beaches, walking barefoot through the sand and dipping our toes into the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

While it was all a joyous adventure, what I really wanted to share with you today was our visit to Argyle Falls. There’s something about a waterfall that reminds me of fairytales. They have a magical quality about them that I can’t explain and the second I reach one, all my worries instantly fade away. Friends and I carefully made our way down a steep and rocky path hidden in the bamboo, led by our encouraging guide for the day, to the bottom of the falls. Being sure of our footing, we took a step back and looked up at the fresh water pouring down.

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Like anyone would be, I was instantly transported to being in the mermaid lagoon from Peter Pan. With the big pool of water to swim in, the boulders to sunbathe on, and the waterfall flowing in the background, the three of us became mermaids of the falls. Balancing on bamboo, floating in the calm pools, and getting our massages from the waterfall spraying onto our backs, we lounged in this little bit of paradise.

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The falls are 54m in height, starting from the very top and going down a few different cascades to reach the bottom, where we chose to spend our time. It’s easy to access, just outside of Roxborough with signs that you can’t miss. When we went, a small group of people were there who soon left, leaving us to our very own private lagoon. The water is very cool but welcomed and refreshing on a hot day of 33 degrees and humidity! You could probably get away with going there on your own, but we enjoyed having a guide to help us get down to the bottom of the falls. He also made an excellent photographer while we splashed in the water.

Once we’d had our fill of the waterfall, we scrambled back up the path and hit the road towards Charlotteville… but that’s a story for another day!

Maracas Falls and Bay

If you’re in Trinidad for any amount of time, spend a morning exploring Maracas Falls and then make your way to Maracas Bay. The falls are a nice little hike up a somewhat well-maintained nature trail that shouldn’t take you more than twenty-five minutes at a slow pace. At the start of the trail is a fountain of fresh spring water that you can safely fill up your water bottle with for the journey.

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As you wind your way up through the woods, be careful where you step as rocks may be loose and if it has recently rained or is raining, the path can be slippery. Bring out your inner nature child and continue on your way and you’ll come to be awarded with the beautiful views of the waterfall pouring down a 298 foot cliff. As we visited in the dry season, the falls weren’t as spectacular as they are known to be during the rainy season, but even so it was a nice trip for an afternoon.

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Once you’ve had your fill of the falls, you can spend the rest of your day baking in the sunshine at Maracas Beach. The drive to the beach alone is a beautiful one filled with winding, narrow roads that make their way up and down the mountainous landscape. Maracas Beach is a utopia of palm trees, turquoise sea water and soft, white sand all nestled in a bay surrounded by picturesque mountains. The beach has washroom facilities and a number of bake and shark stands, each one claiming to be the best. Locals and visitors flock to Maracas and are given options of rental equipment, sunbeds, umbrellas, etc. Or you can take one from the book of a backpacker and opt to settle onto your towel on the sand.

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Sunday Snapshot: Maracas Bay, Trinidad

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Trinidad has blown me away with its beautiful landscapes. Maracas Bay is just one of the jaw-dropping backgrounds that can be found on this island.

Reconnecting with Nature in St. Lucy

“And then I realized, adventures
are the best way to learn,”
-Unknown

Easily one of my favorite moments in Barbados was having the opportunity to spend the afternoon with great friends up in the island’s northernmost parish of St. Lucy. After walking down a country road we were awarded with breathtaking views of rugged coastline. The afternoon was spent exploring the cliffs and going under into the Animal Flower Cave. Words can’t do it justice, so I’ll leave you with some snaps. Lean back, put on the music of crashing waves and seagulls, and come on an adventure.

Barbados on a Budget

Barbados is known for its white sandy beaches and being the birthplace of Rihanna. What it’s not known for is it’s affordability. The Caribbean isn’t a popular place for those on a backpacker budget, as many are drawn to the extreme budget prices seen in Southeast Asia or South America, but the Caribbean is home to some of the most beautiful islands in the world and shouldn’t be missed just because it seems a little pricy. Here are some traveler tips to make the most of your time in Barbados without breaking the bank:

1. Shop Local

Food prices in the supermarkets can be extremely expensive. It’s best to shop locally as much as possible. Cheapside Market in Bridgetown is where I have found the most affordable local produce. Be sure to ask around about prices, as they will vary vendor to vendor. You’ll soon learn who sells at the cheapest price. You can also pick up cartons of fresh coconut water for $12 BBD, roughly $6 US. Saturday morning is the best time to go, with all the vendors out and piles and piled of produce for you to choose from.

2. Rent a House

All-inclusive resort prices in Barbados can be nearly double what you would pay for a week vacation in Mexico. Get the most for your money (and stay a little longer!) by renting a private residence with a couple of friends for a month. This can easily be done for $400 per person, making your stay just over $12 a night. Your place might even have a pool, gazebo, and mango trees! If you don’t have a month to stay, there are some hostels and budget guesthouses on the island, mostly on the South Coast and starting from $18US per night.

3. Barbados National Trust Hikes
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There’s plenty of over priced tours in Barbados, but not everything costs money! Barbados National Trust takes locals and tourists alike out to different parts of the island every Sunday. The hike is free of charge, although small donations are accepted. They say that if you go on the hike every Sunday for a year, you will have hiked the whole island. Barbados National Trust holds three hikes every Sunday, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. Hikes last about 3 hours with an average of 7 – 10 miles covered.

4. Hit the Beach!

Barbados is full of beautiful beaches that stretch around the island. The West and South coast beaches are most popular due to the calm, swim friendly waters of the Caribbean Sea. Head to the North and East coast for the rugged beauty of the crashing waves of the Atlantic. Every beach in Barbados is public, free of charge, even if it backs off of the fancy hotels. Brownes Beach, Pebbles Beach, Accra, Batts Rock, Paynes Bay, Sandy Lane, Dover, the options are endless. You can find everything from nearly empty beaches with nothing but sand to beaches filled with people, sunbeds, umbrellas, etc.
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5. Take the Public Transportation

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If you plan to take a taxi everywhere, good luck. You can get anywhere on the island for as little as $2 BBD. You have three options when it comes to public transportation: the big, blue, government-regulated buses, the privately owned yellow bus, or the ZR vans. Each one is $2 one way, no matter how far of a ride you have ahead of you, so don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Each option is an extremely different experience, with my personal favorite being the ZR. In a van that sits about 12 comfortably, the drivers will often squish in at least 18, with the most I’ve seen being 22 people, crammed in for a speedy ride with loud music. If personal space is your thing, this might not be the option for you, but it’s definitely an experience that should be had. And here’s a fun game for you: can you find the #3 ZR with the handcuffs and condoms hanging from the rear view mirror?

6. Drink Local

Forget the fancy drinks, Barbados is all about the rum, with the local rum being Mount Gay. Rum shacks can be spotted all over the island, with many selling rum by the shot or the glass for cheap prices. If you’re out on St. Lawrence Gap, the Old Jamm Inn offers 2-for-1 rums for $8 BDD. If you’re looking for something else, the local Banks beer can often be found for 4 for $10 BDD.

7. Eat out at Oistins Fish Fry

A Friday night at Oistins is a must for travelers experiencing the island. You can get a huge meal with a meat or seafood and two sides of your choice (often macaroni pie, rice and beans, breadfruit, salad, etc.). Loud music, good company and Bajan food makes for a good evening out that won’t leave your wallet hurting in the morning… unless you get carried away with the rum punch.

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The Day I Learned to Crack Open a Coconut

“At the beach, life is different. Time
doesn’t move hour to hour, but mood
to moment. We live by the currents,
plan by the tides and follow the sun.”
-Unknown

The bus weaved it’s way up and over the hills that make up Barbados’ east coast, winding down the road until at last it came around a corner presenting the most beautiful of views, capturing us all into silence. We were high above the rugged coastline, looking down upon the many cliffs that jutted out into the Atlantic and the palm trees that dotted the shore.

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A very religious island, Easter in Barbados is a big deal. Everything is closed on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, causing a mad rush around the island on Thursday to get everything the family needs for the weekend and everyone you run into is in a great mood with big smiles and wishes of a blessed Easter. I was told that it’s a very bajan thing to rent a cottage in Bathsheba on this long weekend and that’s exactly what a group of us did. Packs strapped to our backs we hopped off the bus to the smell of the ocean — and seaweed.

Unfortunately, Bathsheba is having a bit of a seaweed problem. Cliffs of seaweed have replaced most of the white sand and the smell of it fills the air. No matter, seaweed or no seaweed, we were in for one of the best days on the island (although, I’m often declaring every day here as the best day).

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With a cottage rented to sleep six, fifteen of us headed in and dropped our bags. We made a quick lunch and got comfortable on the deck, eating and chatting and eager to go explore the shore.

Our adventures to the shore taught us many valuable lessons that day. Mainly that cracking open a coconut with your bare hands requires determination and never ending smashing against a jagged rock. That you have to have a delicate touch (which I do not have) to break free an almond from its shell without pulverizing it into dust. That island boys from the West Indies can scale up a coconut tree in the blink of an eye. That dried up seaweed is actually kind of painful to walk on and that there is nothing better than an afternoon by the sea side.

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Together, we climbed up cliffs to get better views of the east coast, waded in the ocean, found some great pieces of coral reef that had dried up on the sand and would have made an excellent center piece for my table at home, and chilled on some rocks to the sound of people telling jokes and the waves kissing the shore.

All roads that afternoon led back to our orange cottage for a night of beer-induced impromptu sing-alongs, sharing coconut water, stories, food and all of our years of wisdom combined for a friend’s twenty-first birthday. But before we say goodbye, dig in to some photos of our afternoon in such a special place and just maybe our next stop could be the moon.

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Bathing in The Hot Pot

Amidst a long stretch of the white sand beach off the shores of the Caribbean is a natural little pool that flows out into the sea. Though shallow, there is a strong undercurrent that allows the pool to shift it’s shape often and will carry you out to sea if you’re not careful!

Situated in front of a factory, the water that cools the generator of the factory becomes warm from the machinery and flows back out into the ocean, causing this small body of water to become unusually warm. Locals flock to Brighton beach to bathe in this water, adults chatting as they lounge and children jumping in and out and allowing themselves to be carried further towards the sea by the current.

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Three of us made our way to the hot pot after hearing from some local school children that it was something we had to try out. I’m not confident on the sanitary conditions of the hot pot, as the water comes from the nearby factory and is probably not very clean. My friend’s ring was completely discolored after we spent twenty minutes there and there was a man pouring what looked to be the remaining bit of CLR or car fluid out of the jug, sloshing it into the water. Despite that, many locals claim that the water in the hot pot has healing properties and can help those suffering from rheumatism and arthritis. Many will even fill up jugs and water bottles full of the water and take it home with them once they’ve had their fun for the day.

Whatever its health and safety level you will always find it filled with bajans and it was a great local experience to join in!

Stillness.

Stillness.

The silence that engulfs the air, making it thick with it. The pauses between words, that beautiful calm filled only with the beating of hearts.

I love the sound of silence, the stillness of a lazy morning or the setting of the sun. It feeds the energy in my soul, energizing and rejuvenating it. I come away from stillness feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world — literally.

When I lose sight of my intentions for this life of mine, I try to find that space of stillness. Life sweeps you away sometimes, the good and the bad of it tangle you up until you are tumbling around in it. That’s what travel feels like to me, constant motion. Every moment in a day is intensified with electricity. It’s an exhilarating chaos that I often try to keep up with.

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I can last a long time without that stillness, when everything is an adventure. I crave the adventure and the change that it brings. It’s only when I take a second to pause that I realize my soul, as much as it loves the rush, needs to be still. As much as it craves the excitement, it also craves the stillness. For a moment.

I’ve been developing the skill to be able to find stillness at any time, in any place or any moment. While I’ve not yet mastered it, I am able to find stillness within myself in the sound of the crashing waves of the ocean, in the fresh air of the mountains, in the feeling of a deep breath, the sequence of a sun salutation, or in the calm of a familiar cabin.

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Re-connecting with stillness brings me back. It reminds me of my purpose, it brings joy to my heart and fills my spirit with all of the inspiration and excitement about life that might begin to slip away in the tumbling of constant motion.

the festival of colors

Pure joy was in the air, you could feel it all around you as soon as we approached the Hindu Temple. Uncle Charlie quite literally met us with open arms, diving in for hugs all around as he introduced himself and welcomed us into his community. His clothes were stained purple, his face dusted in a white powder, his hair showing off streaks of pink.

It was the festival of colors; The festival of love; Phagwa; or what the West more commonly knows it as, Holi. It’s the Hindu festival of spring where people of all ages come out to play in an afternoon of throwing colors and water at each other. The children particularly enjoyed their day of freedom, where they could spray adults with water, chasing them and dumping colorful powder all over their hair and bodies without getting in trouble.

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People young and old frolic on the streets, outside temples and buildings, eager to leave the festival with as many colors adorning them as possible. The atmosphere is light and playful, there’s not a frown to be seen. In fact, the dirtier you get the happier you become until laughter is bubbling out of you.

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As foreigners, we were met with delight from everyone participating. Eager to show us the beauty of the festival, we were given second and third helpings of delicious Indian food, best ate with your fingers. People came up behind us and streaked our faces with hues of purples, blues, golds and pinks. Children chased us round and round, bursting with laughter as they sprayed us with colored water.

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We danced, we ate, and we sang. We watched performances by children in the community. We got mouthfuls of blue powder in our mouths that stained our teeth. All in the name of spring, of new beginnings and of celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

The more colorful the crowd, the more blessed they are. It was the warmest welcoming I’ve received in Barbados so far and a day so filled with love, joy and beauty that I’ll never forget it.

The Traveler’s Shift

I zoom through. Cities, countries, museums and temples, I zoom through them all. That has been my past travel experience nearly everywhere but Thailand. It paved the way for the title of this blog, a whirlwind. A travel affair where I leave after one short, intense kiss. I land in one destination and move frantically through it, desperate to see it all in three days or a week and then I disappear, leaving a city or a country behind me without seeing but a sliver of it.

I’ve questioned this way of travel before and yet I continued to justify it. In some places this was enough time, in others it was painful to say goodbye. I always knew that I would return to those places that captured pieces of my heart, return there and really spend time living that city. Not just darting in and out of every beautiful attraction, but learning the way of life of the people.

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Having been in Barbados exactly two months now, I am finally realizing how drastically different it is to live somewhere than travel somewhere. There is a beauty to the development you feel when you settle into a place but feeling settled wasn’t what I expected it to be. It began as another holiday where I felt desperate to see it all within a week, despite having four months to soak in the island. I’m not certain when I shifted away from feeling like a tourist. There’s moments where I do feel like a tourist, when I’m excited to go explore more of the island or when I want to sign up for a tour to see the caves.

But there was a shift, a moment that being here began to feel normal. I mastered the route to my internship, I began greeting people in the same manner that they greet others; a good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to all who walk by. A you good? instead of the proper “how are you doing today?” that people at home so frequently use. The taxi drivers on my walk to my internship less often ask me for a ride and have begun stopping for a chat on how my day went. There’s the coffee shop that I grab an iced tea from on a particularly hot morning, the store with freshly squeezed juice that is just around the corner from work. I have a favorite bar where I can go, relax, and listen to beautiful artists sing beautiful songs over two-for-one rums. A beach that a group of us have made our home for regular bonfires.

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I had a surprisingly negative reaction to the shift. At first, I hated the shift. I hated the normalcy of it all, the routine. I instantly wanted to leave. I travel to escape routine and yet here I was, going about my mundane tasks every day. And yet am I not traveling? Am I not in a new country experiencing all that comes with a new culture and environment? It’s been only two months and I’m itching to leave, to wander, to explore somewhere new even when I know there is still so much to experience here.

Part of me still hates the shift but an even larger part of me hates that I am letting myself hate the shift. This is what it is to really learn about a place, to live in it. The savior in it all has been an emphasis on balance. Yes, there is routine and normalcy in my days here. I am not just traveling, I’m studying abroad. But there is also so much beauty in that normalcy. There is beauty in the same people that I talk to every day, there is beauty in having a favorite spot to unwind, there is beauty in the fact that although I’m here to study I have every other waking opportunity to explore a brand new island filled with new experiences to be had.

There is beauty in knowing that this is a part of what traveling is, of experiencing it in all it’s forms and I am filled with gratitude to have the opportunity of this experience.