During hall initiation at the University of the West Indies Mona campus, I was renamed “Junkanoo.” This Bajan had never heard of the Bahamian festival, but my animated personality and dance performances at fresher competitions earned me the unique hall name. Some Bahamian hallmates excitedly explained that staunch revellers traditionally make their costumes from cardboard and colourful crêpe paper. They recalled stories about the playful rivalry among Junkanoo groups, and listed some must-do’s in the Bahamas. Throughout the entire conversation, I was grinning and calculating. Brass bands combined with whistles and cowbells push my activate button — and brass music dominates Junkanoo. When I discovered the dances for the street parades in Nassau on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are choreographed, two costumes floated through my thoughts, and I was mentally “rushing” in the street. The fact that Junkanoo is one of the first and last Carnivals on the Caribbean’s calendar — in the coolness of night — is a bonus.
I’ve been working on Caribbean Beat for many years, and one of its unintentional but inevitable perks is becoming exposed to a lot of fascinating places. It’s very easy for me to briefly lose focus at my desk while working on a destination feature, and I think Havana accounts for most of my time spent daydreaming at work. With an atmosphere that feels like a living time capsule, from baroque-style buildings with their distinctive colourful façades to the magnificent Havana Cathedral and Capitol, the choice of places to explore in Havana seems endless. I certainly couldn’t be without a capable camera to capture the city’s characteristic architecture. Another Havana icon I would love to see up close are the well-preserved classic cars. A sightseeing tour from the backseat of one of these rumbling antiques would surely make it an authentic Havana experience, and not just a daydream. I should get back to work . . .
Whale-watching in Dominica
I’ve been wanting to explore Dominica for years, not least because it’s one of the best places in the world to go whale-watching. The island’s western coastline drops off steeply, creating deep, near-shore canyons in the bays of the Caribbean Sea where its resident population of nearly two hundred vulnerable sperm whales can safely breed, calve, and shelter year-round. These well-studied cetaceans even have their own unique culture and dialect. Whale-watching in most places is seasonal, because the whales are migratory — so the fact that you can spot Dominica’s residents all through the year, and that they’re so accessible, makes the Nature Isle truly unique. The best months for whale sightings are from November to March, when you might also be lucky enough to see mighty humpbacks breaching, too! With Caribbean Airlines now offering direct flights from Port of Spain, it’s something I can’t wait to experience.
The Baths, Virgin Gorda
The Baths in Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands, are an impressive natural wonder and unlike anything else in the Caribbean. It is without a doubt the perfect place to relive my favourite childhood pastime of climbing any and everything. It’s a natural playground, characteristically volcanic, and with many attractions scattered between Devil’s Bay and Spring Bay. These gigantic granite boulders are a prime spot for bouldering, a style of free climbing without ropes. The unique and complex formations possess a variety of challenging and technical routes I would like to try. These routes are found in the hidden caverns, grottoes, tunnels, and overhanging arches, with more being discovered yearly. It’s always a plus when you’re surrounded by soft white sand and refreshing tide pools to gently catch you if you fall, and you can easily transition from tough climb to relaxing swim if you so please.
Kristine De Abreu
I’ve hiked through Tobago’s rainforest, dived with whale sharks and canoed through limestone caves in Belize, hiked the table-top mountains of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana, and fished the flats of Los Roques. Adventure travel is my favourite type of tourism — the more rural the better. Travel is the best aspect of my job, but it’s mostly business, with very little time for sightseeing. One place I’d love to return to is Guyana. I’m eager to visit Iwokrama, “the Green Heart of Guyana,” as an adventurer. I find myself daydreaming of exploring the untamed rainforest, populated by exotic wildlife, and traveling on the waters of the mighty Essequibo River with my family. We are all passionate about nature and fueled by adventure — an unbeaten path is calling.
Canaima National Park, Venezuela
My fascination with Venezuela started years ago, when I made a last-minute decision to join a feisty tour group out of San Fernando, Trinidad. Our destination was Merida, high up in the Andes, and boasting the highest cable car ride in the world. The entire bus-ride from the airport was a thing of wonder, too. The Venezuelan terrain was larger than life, with broad shallow rivers and giant boulders. I half-expected our bus to round a bend and to find Clint Eastwood perched on a horse, contemplatively chewing a twig. Venezuela is simply a land of superlatives, and that always makes for great travel stories. So my bucket-list fave is Canaima National Park, the home of the world’s tallest waterfall, Kerepakupai Merú — also known as Angel Falls. The park covers three million hectares and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Gran Sabana awaits me there, with its giant tepuis — table-top mountains which tower above the savannah. “Tepuis” will sound exotic, too, when I tell my stories.