Wintering in Charleston (home B) conjures images of warm days and swaying palm trees. It’s the South – right?
The last couple years we have spent a good part of the winter in South Carolina. Loving the temps but quietly jealous of the snow storms in Northern Nevada (home A). Our fav – snow. Particularly snow storms.
A week ago today – the stars aligned and Charleston hit the jackpot. 5 plus inches of snow! The community came to a screeching but quiet halt. Downtown businesses and the airport closed for days – the schools for a week.
It was a peaceful, renewing calm that hit us like a marshmallow.
What a treat! Miraculous.
Palm trees and snow! Yin and yang – juxtaposition- whatever you want to call it. Southern living and mountain living weather converge into a medley of photos.
Also known as Most Serene Republic of San Marino, it’s one of the richest countries in the world, the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state and its oldest republic (since AD 301), the 5th smallest (4.5 miles long by 5 miles wide) and completely surrounded by Italy.
The capital, also named San Marino, a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits proudly at the top of Mt. Titano. It’s chock full of castles with breathtaking views that reach from the Adriatic Sea to the snow-covered Apennines.
It was deserted and oh so cold. The wind was whipping through the narrow streets and rocked my tripod. Our refuge was a cave like restaurant for vino and the first steak we’ve had in a month.
It’s been 18 years since our last trip to Hong Kong – this our third time.
We had marveled at the traffic on Victoria Harbor watching as hoards of ships, ferries and a few remaining junks crisscrossed with harmony and the night skyline lit up like a carnival.
This time we splurged and stayed on the 103rd floor in the Ritz Carlton on Kowloon – the highest hotel and bar (118th floor) in the world. Where the price of a cocktail paralleled the view. The skyline still an exposition.
The traditional junks have since left and been replaced by imitation tourist boats yet still beautiful in their design. A grand reclamation project on the harbor front mars the skyline and jeopardizes the front row seat had by premier hotels and businesses. Progress?
WOW – was the first word and impression that came to mind as we travelled from the airport to our hotel. Immaculately clean, beautiful roadways surrounded by luscious greenery. A city like I’ve never seen before. As we neared the downtown corridor phenomenal architecture appeared through the trees. WOW.
We were told by friends that either lived in Singapore or travelled there that everything was new – all of it’s history removed and the laws are strict. I expected a homogenous city and was super surprised to find quite the opposite.
Singapore was a 3rd world country – a seaport – wild, dirty, poor. In 1965 the country gained it’s independence from British rule and became a 1st world country in a single generation. Now the most expensive in the world.
Population 4,000,000 – 2,000,000 Singaporeans and 2,000,000 expats. The religious makeup of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian co-exist perfectly and have no influence on the government.
Home to one of the world’s busiest ports – it’s also a major transportation hub and tourist destination.
Most of the city was leveled and built from scratch however areas such as Little India, Chinatown and Little Arab still remain intact.
The diversity of nationalities have created the best food court. For some reason wines from America were not available and the countries represented were sold at a premium.
We’re going back. Generally we use Hong Kong as our hub but will use Singapore next time – after we save some jingo.
Brunei – an independent and Muslim enclave (two separate pieces actually) on the Island of Borneo surrounded by Malaysia and Indonesia. Governed religiously by a 600 year bloodline of Sultans, it has since its 1984 independence from Great Britain been governed politically by the same man as King. The current King/Sultan ( Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam), 71, has served as Sultan for 50 years this week.
The population of 440,000 is 78% Sunni, 15% Buddhist and 6% Christian. Guest workers from neighboring countries provide most of the low skilled work force. Taxis are scare since most everyone own cars.
Kampong Ayer – Water Village (referred to as Venice of the East) are wooden homes built on stilts housing approx. 10% of the population. A bustling community with taxi boats buzzing about.
Oil and gas provide for perhaps the highest standard of living in the developed world, but the application of Sharia law (e.g. death for blasphemy and blatant sexual discrimination) moderate the praise for this clean, healthy little country.
It’s wedding season and nuptials on Isla Mujeres off the coast of mainland Mexico prompted us to explore a couple of nearby Caribbean countries.
The most convenient jumping off point was Miami Beach – a quick acclimation and reboot for our brains because Spanish is the primary language.
*click on a photo to see a larger view
Isla Mujeres was a stunning backdrop for a picturesque wedding. Margaritas, scuba diving and basking in the Mexican surf and sun were the perfect recipe for a perfect wedding.
We sold our Mexican home in 2016 after 12 years of ownership and it felt so good to be back in the country.
Beach life leads to city life so we headed to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico – 2nd oldest city in the New World.
Beautiful blue cobblestone streets line this hilly town rich in Spanish colonial architecture and fantastic restaurants.
We explored the 500 year old Fort San Felipe del Moro (UNESCO World Heritage site) and Fort San Cristóbal.
A highlight was our stay at the 400 year old El Convento Hotel.
Off to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where the Zona Colonial is another UNESCO World Heritage site and rightfully named so.
A quick side note – UNESCO World Heritage Sites are spectacular! Use the link provided to read about them and be sure to add them to your list of “must sees” in your lifetime.
Santo Domingo was the first seat of the Spanish colonial rule in the New World and the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress (Wikipedia).
The buildings in the old town are breathtaking. Strolling the streets you will feel as if you have traveled back in time. Clean, with flowers spilling out of planters boxes and trees reaching for the sky.
Unfortunately, just outside historic Santo Domingo garbage lines the shoreline and poverty simmers at the surface.
A 9 hour commercial bus ride took us to Haiti where poverty has boiled over and covered the country.
The bus was not crowded and seats were comfortable. However, the toilet did not flush and overflowed from fullness onto the floor. I pulled up my pant legs so the bottoms didn’t get soaked and struggled to hold my breath from the stench. A brief moment of nausea followed by lots of hand sanitizer told me the adventure had begun.
A couple hours into the ride the bus pulled over to a hut and hot meals were delivered to everyone on the bus. Luckily we had packed a lunch.
The paperwork at the border was simple and seamless. We counted 8 separate security gates between the borders. It was dry and dusty – trash everywhere. It looked like the Middle East.
After passing through the gates there were two random stops. Armed buff men dressed in high fashion jeans, skin tight t-shirts and large gold jewelry looked in the cargo holds. A shake down or just typical? The driver and other passengers weren’t phased so apparently neither were we.
The bus ride ended in Petionville just a 15 minute ride from our final destination of Port-au-Prince. We had assumed we’d catch a cab.
HA! No cabs – what would make us think that there would be cabs??? Thank goodness the man who checked the luggage tags upon arrival (wore no uniform – we assumed he had some authority since he was checking the baggage and talked to the driver) asked us if we needed a ride. Sure! We followed him to his car and waited as he cleared all the trash from his seats by tossing it on the ground.
The Marriott. The only nice hotel in the area (one of three buildings taller than a couple stories in the whole city). It was gated and protected by 4 armed guards – our own little prison since we had been told to not leave the property unless we wanted to be be mugged or worse.
Extreme poverty makes ordinary people do extreme things to survive.
We hired a driver to show us the highlights. Thoughtful, caring and protective. He too, tossed his garage out the window. Hence, a city full of garbage.
The Iron Market – gated with armed guards – a place where tourists can shop quasi safely next to the true market where 100’s of stands selling everything from pots and pans to socks displayed their wares. Shoppers we’re not but it was one of three things to do in Port-au-Prince. We were told to follow the man in charge, closely – do not deviate, go slow and don’t do anything that may excite people.
Next was the museum – again gated and armed. A garden oasis in the middle of a concrete city.
Lastly, to the top of the mountain in Petionville where the rich people lived behind tall walls with concertina wire to a restaurant full of white people for the best view in the city.
The hillsides are blanketed in homes built on top of one another. Floored by the homes – something which we had not seen before – I asked the driver to stop so I could get out and take photos. With a resoundingly “NO” (since we were in his care) I was given permission to photograph with the window down as the car slowed a bit.
The roads are chaos – narrow, no street signs with people and cars everywhere. Constant motion outside the car where, often, the car is motionless and unable to move due to the congestion.
On the way to the airport we asked the driver to take us to see the Cathedral that had all but collapsed in the earthquake. It was to be another drive by. This time with my window up.
We stopped to make a left turn and I looked down and literally right outside my window was a dead man lying on his back in a pool of blood. His motorcycle had been picked up but he and a pile of clothes laid untouched. No cover and nothing cordoned off. Hundreds of people sat idly on the nearby steps and a cop was quasi directing traffic but other than that life just went on as if this was an everyday occurrence.
After sitting in the same spot for a few minutes it was determined we had to go right to eventually go left. 10 minutes later we doubled back by the accident and nothing had changed. No cover, no cordoning, no ambulance – nothing.
I don’t know if the misery of the Haitian people has always been present. But they are not recovering from the 2010 earthquake that killed 230,000 people and rendered 3 million homeless. It seems to be lawless and un-governed where sickness, hunger and hopelessness dominate.
It was a haunting and heart breathing short 3 day trip in Port-au-Prince. In 90+ countries we have not experienced a place from the inside of a car. What to do? How can a country so poor evolve?