St Thomas, US Virgin Islands

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Today, in light of recent events, I decided to do a little piece on my old home of St Thomas.  As you may have heard, the islands have been devastated by Hurricane Irma, which has become the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.  In the history of all these crazy big storms, this is the strongest with winds sustained around 185 mph and gusts over 200.  The devastation is still coming in, but at this time there are entire towns, islands, and in some cases countries that have been completely demolished by this incredible storm.  I lived here for a total of three years on two separate stints, and absolutely loved my time down there.  I still have a ton of friends on the island, and some that have since left, and the news that is coming in from all that I've heard is as horrible as you may think.  I have been reading lists to look for names of people I used to know, and watching videos of places I used to work or hang out at being swept away.  The Virgin Islands is full of very proud people and they will get through this and rebuild, but at this very moment, all contact is lost, and we don't know the state of many of our friends.  We setup groups on social media, chats on apps, and even setup a walkie talkie group on an app called "Zello" aptly named "VI Family."  That's how we all operated down there, as a family, no matter where you were from, or what your views were, we were all one big (albeit dysfunctional) family, and the outpouring of support during this treacherous time has been nothing short of amazing.  This might be my favorite place, it is impossible to explain unless you actually lived, worked, and experienced the highs and lows as a local there.  Today, I remember my friends, my family, and the beautiful and incomparable Island I called home.

Fun Fact: Christopher Columbus sighted the island in 1493 on his second trip to the "New World."  There is an uninhabited island called Great St. James which is right off the coast, and we used to have our sunset sails there when I worked on the boats.  This inlet is called "Christmas Cove" because apparently this is where Columbus spent Christmas (an anchor was found in the cove and dated to the time period).  Nowadays there is a food truck style pizza boat that bakes fresh pizza for boaters here called Pizza PI VI, it's as amazing as it sounds.

Helpful Hint:  Don't come here during Hurricane season, great little hint.  Outside of that, there are so many incredible things to do on this beautiful island.  Red Hook on the East End is where I spent most of my time, and lived, and it's a vibrant town full of bars and shops right along the water.  It's also where the ferry dock to St John (not to be confused with St. John's, there is no S!!!!), where you can take a quick hop over for happy hour or amazing beaches.  The Ritz-Carlton and Secret Harbor resorts are on this end, as well as Sapphire Marina and Village where I used to live.  You don't need a passport to come here if you are a US citizen, and you will find a mix of open-air rum bars, air-conditioned sports bars, and local shops with hand made goods.  If you are privy, try and do what we call the "Redhook 500" which consists of hitting every single bar in Red Hook in one night.  Don't forget to check out Duffy's Love Shack, the only parking lot bar in the islands, and definitely an experience, especially on Wednesdays for "Ladies night."

Macau, China

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Today I remember when I was far across the globe in Macau, which is technically classified by China as a "Special administrative region."  Macau is often called the "Las Vegas" of Asia for their luxury hotels and vibrant casinos, but it is even more than Vegas is.  Boasting the world's largest gaming revenue, the hotels light up at night full of dynamic and energetic colors welcoming all the worlds gamblers.  For me, it was incredibly exciting despite not being much of a gambler.  Much like Vegas however, the shows, streets, and thrilling nightlife kept me just as happy as all of the ones there to play.

To get here was quite easy (albeit a little scary), especially if you are visiting or staying in Hong Kong.  There is a "fast ferry" or "water jet" that goes between the two bustling cities quite often, and is exactly as it is called, fast, traveling upwards of fifty mph on the water.  Be prepared for a bumpy and rough ride tearing through an inlet off the South China Sea, many get sick.

Fun Fact: With a population of 650,900 living in an area of approximately twelve square miles, Macau is the most densely populated region in the world.  The Chinese government reacquired Macau in 1999 after over 400 years of Portuguese rule.  This event also marked the end of the Portuguese Empire and European colonialism in Asia as a whole.

Helpful Hint: Bring your walking shoes and ask for maps, maps, and more maps.  This is a walking city, and you can see everything you want to on foot for the most part.  Check out the Historic centre, the ruins of St. Paul's cathedral (dating back to the 1600s), the Macau museum, and (if your budget abides) the famous House of Dancing Water.  If you can, go to the Macau tower, which was technically modeled after New Zealand's Sky Tower, but you might think it looks an awful lot like the Space Needle.

 

Condado Beach, Puerto Rico

Today I remember back to my brief but wonderful time in PR.  Condado Beach is a pedestrian-first community, a mere seven minute drive from Old San Juan packed with beach front restaurants, and a safe corridor of shopping and fun.  I stopped off here on my way to the US Virgin Islands while moving, momentarily thinking I should have just moved here instead.

Puerto Rico would later be known to me as the "city," where you go to get amenities and the comforts of home, coming from the little islands to the East.  This place wasn't very exciting during the day, decent beaches, fun waves, and shops that were just okay.  When the sun went down however, this town turned into a lively and bustling city full of cultural excitement and wonder.  The beaches would fill with volleyball enthusiasts, and the streets with runners, skaters, and bikers.  In regards to Puerto Rico, this town is a middle to upper class community with casinos, nightclubs, and bars, set to be the "Miami Beach" of Puerto Rico, remaining one of the top tourist destinations in the province.

Fun Fact: Condado began its process of urbanization in 1908 by two Americans, Hernan and Sosthenes, also known as the Behn Brothers. The area made it to the streetcar line to Old San Juan, which was a big deal at the time. Its growth and development was catapulted by this, and ended up attracting well known tycoons such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, who ended up building a home here.

Helpful Hint: As much as you probably want to, don't bring the kids here, this isn't a town made for families or children.  The surf is way too rough, the nightlife way too loud, and the options limited.  This is an adult only, active, and loud area (mostly), and it is best to come here as a couple and not as a family (or solo!).  If you have some bucks to spend, stay at the historic and luxurious Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, converted from the late Vanderbilt's old 1919 timely summer Mansion.  There is also an amazing burger joint a block off the beach called "Buns Burger Shop," get a shake, you deserve it.  

Roatan, Honduras

Today I remember my time down in Central America, in the wonderful country of Honduras. Located about forty miles off the coast of La Ceiba near the northern part of the country, Roatan is a quaint getaway and diving mecca.  The island is located along the Mesoamerican barrier reef, the second largest reef in the world, and home to the Roatan Marine Park.  Divers from all around the world come here to experience the incredible visibility, amazing diverse marine life, and the extra laid back atmosphere.  

Fun Fact: The majority of the population of Roatán originated from the Cayman Islands. The settlers arrived in the 1830s shortly after Britain abolished slavery in 1838, and were mostly former slaves.

Helpful Hint: There are two safe and fun places you should look into when researching your visit to Roatan, West End and West Bay.  West bay is for tourists, with luxurious resorts and restaurants, while West End is a quiet diver community.  West end is the place to be if you are coming to dive, with more than eighteen dive shops in only a few blocks of town.  There are local bars and restaurants, as well as "dive resorts" and will make for a much more personal and relaxing experience.  Make sure you stop in to Sundowners on the beach and order a Salva Vida!

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Today I remember back to my time in Ubud.  When you think of Bali, you always think of pristine beaches and turquoise waters, but there is a lot more to the large island.  When we landed in Denpasar, I figured it would be a short cab ride to a beach, but we ended up on an hour long romp in a van much more inland than expected.  Ubud is an incredible town known as a hub for crafts and traditional dance, and even a monkey forest!  I highly recommend that you take some time from the beaches and visit here for at least a couple of days.

Fun Fact: While Ubud seems to outsiders like one small town, it is in fact fourteen villages, each run by its own committee.

Helpful Hint: Indonesia as a whole is incredibly affordable, and if you have multiple couples, a large family, or even a higher budget than usual consider renting your own private villa.  It can end up being the same price as getting lots of hotel rooms, and the amenities can be better suited to your group. Our villa came with it's very own pool, local chef, security (who mostly slept but made great coffee), and our own rooms.  It was great so we could all eat together in the communal dining room, play in the pool, etc.  Such a great alternative to being stuck in a bunch of hotel rooms, and much more spacious and family-oriented.  

The Cliff Walk

Today on Remember "When"sday I go back to Newport, Rhode Island.  A beautiful walk along the cliffs and among the mansions adds to this incredible site.  You will feel as if it is the 1920's and you are walking by a party full of the wealthiest citizens in New England.  You will walk by incredible homes with names like "The Breakers" and "Rose Cliff."  

Fun Fact: In 1975 the walk was designated as a National Recreation Trail ... the 65th in the nation and first in New England.

Helpful Hint: The walk is three and a half miles long, but much of it is rugged and not worth the length and difficulty.  Start at the Memorial Blvd entrance and walk to Belmont Beach, then turn around and head back.  Belmont beach is a great spot to take a break and watch the waves come in, and even surfers during the right season.

The Great Buddha

On this "When"sday I go back to Lantau Island outside of Hong Kong.  Many villagers hiked all day and into the night to reach the Buddha in the hills far away.  They have built a whole village around it now with shops, restaurants, and even live shows! The statue symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.

Fun Fact: The Great Buddha is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. 

Helpful Hint:  Spend the extra dollars and take the Gondola (cable car) over the hills and directly to the statue.  You can take the MTR to the Tung Chung station and then hop on the cable car over to your destination.  If you are feeling brave you can request one with a glass bottom!

Waterlemon Cay

On this "When"sday I go back to my time on Waterlemon Cay, St. John, US Virgin Islands.  The weather is always a nice and balmy eighty five degrees, almost every day of the whole year.  The colors are amazing, and the views breathtaking.

Fun Fact: Local lore states that when dueling was outlawed in the Danish West Indies, the remote strip of sand on Waterlemon Cay became the preferred spot to engage in combat.

Helpful Hint: If you are staying on St. John, or if you are taking the ferry over from neighboring St. Thomas it is best to have a vehicle.  The whole island is only eight miles across, but it is incredibly hilly and not easy to walk from spot to spot.  You can rent a vehicle in town right near the ferry dock, grab a road map, and drive all around the island.  This is a great first stop for some history, breezes, and views!

 

The Devil's Punchbowl

On this "When"sday I go back to just outside of San Diego.  The place is called the Devil's Punchbowl.  Amazing hike not too far away, and beautiful, but the water was cold!  Lots of local kids came here in the summer to swim in this fun place, and jump off the rocks!

Fun Fact: Even in the dead heat of summer the water can still be as cold as sixty degrees Fahrenheit.  

Side Tip: Go during the spring, summer may be too hot to go, and sometimes it will be closed because of the danger.  Pack snacks and water, it can take a while to get there and back, but it's totally worth it!

Marina Bay Sands

On this "When"sday I remember when I was across the bay from the most recognized building in SE Asia.  I have been to Singapore four times because my only sibling and nephew live there, but it has so much rich culture.  This building stands as a structure of amazing architecture and is known all around the world.  

Fun fact: The entire top piece of the building was meant to appear as a boat and was hoisted up in one piece along the side.

Side Tip: If you are visiting Singapore, go to the local hawker market for a cheap and delicious dinner bayside and catch a free show!

The Baths

On this "When"sday I go back to the British Virgin Islands.  When I was working on the boats, our first stop was here in Devil's Bay, a wonderful hike through "The Baths."  

Fun Fact: It isn't called that because of hot springs, it's named after the "Batholithic" rocks that are growing.  The ocean has been receding thus making it appear as the rocks are growing, but the ancient tribes thought they were rising.  One of the most beautiful places I've ever been.  It has a faux nickname as the "Ninth wonder of the world," little history humor.  If you ever have a chance, make a trip out there to enjoy this incredible hike, it's amazing. 

Side Tip: If you are staying on Tortola, or the US Virgin Islands there are many companies that do day trips out there as part of an island hopping/snorkel excursion.  The ones I know of are Breakaway Charters on St Thomas, and Bad Kitty on St John.  There are many others.