Caricom Visa

“What is this visa – I have never seen it before” – it was this chance remark from the Visa officer at the American Embassy that made me realise that the Caricom visa that I had got for attending the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007 was pretty unique.

Wikipedia tells me that this was a special visa issued jointly by a number of Caribbean countries which was valid only for the period around the cricket world cup. So, it is a visa not likely found on many Passports. Made me feel nice – not sure why though.

Another travel scam?

HolidayIQ got this email recently…

Hello,

How are you doing! I hope you are fine? I’m sorry i didn’t inform you
about my trip to Scotland for a program, I’m presently in Scotland and
got mugged at a gun point by some armed robbers on my way to the hotel
where my money and other valuable things were kept including my
passport. I would like you to assist me with a loan of 1620Pounds to
sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.

I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the
matter effectively,I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist
me with,I’ll Refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me
know if you can be of any help. I don’t have a phone where i can be
reached.

Please let me know immediately.
Regards

DR.THAMMAN

Adam Baron’s photo of St Lucia, Caribbean

I was in St Lucia in the Caribbean last April on a cruise ship from Barbados. While I fell in love with the place, I did not have a snap that did justice. I found one. Here it is.

St Lucia and the Pitons

There are a number of cool snaps of cruise ships and the Caribbean (including the one above in a big format) on this site : Adam Baron Photo.

Click here for my first post on St Lucia : the only place I truly want to go away to forever.

Best Hotels by Travel + Leisure : Where is Aman?

Another ‘Best Of’ list. Travel + leisure magazine has announced the best of tourism for 2007. Included are the Best Hotels, Best Cities, Best Islands, Best Airlines, Best Cruises, Best Car-rentals, Best Tour Operators and so on.

The big Indian story of course is that the Oberoi Udaivilas comes in as the Best Hotel in the world. The really interesting news for the cognoscenti is the absence of any Aman Resort in the World’s top 100 list for 2007. Intrigued, I checked out the 2006 list – Amanpuri had come in at a low 72nd rank last year. Is this a reflection on the properties of Aman or on the readers of T+L?

Choosing an Island vacation

Here is a neat ad made by Barbados Tourism. Like all successful modern destination marketing ads, this goes beyond the simplistic use of superlatives and long nature shots. it obviously has all of that – but it also has a clear storyline that appeals to the well-heeled, well-educated, travellers who are rapidly becoming THE market segment everyone wants.

Would want all our tourism marketing organisations to learn a few lessons from stuff like this.

Medusa the temptress has a step-sister..

Remember how sea-farers of antiquity fell prey to the temptress Medusa? Well, a little known mythological fact is that Medusa had a younger step-sister who mysteriouly disappeared at birth (a bit like Nirupa Roy who was forever losing Amitabh Bachan or Sashi Kapoor at birth all across the 70s). Many centuries later, Nostradamus – yes, him again – predicted the imminent reappearance of the lost step-sister in a little island in the middle of the ocean, bearing chinense, a temptation of unknown evil.

Last night, the step-sister appeared before me and she gave me what I now realise, was chinense. With less than 8 hours left before I am carried away to the mystery island never to return, I am fighting time to set out the secret of this evil temptation for all to be-ware.

The step-sister is called Lucia, the evil chinense is red and comes out of a small bottle!

And the extent of its evil power has finally been found – somewhere between 150,000 to 325,000 scoville units.

Scale Veil

It has always seemed to me that one’s perception of things is influenced hugely by one’s sense of scale, which in turn is a direct outcome of past experience. This came back to me strongly while on my Caribbean trip last month.

I went to two countries. The larger country has 250,000 people; the population of the smaller one is 100k. Accompanied by a number of my country-men, I set out to explore these countries. Very soon, I started to notice a pattern. My compatriots would try to explain Indian scale to the hosts. For eg. ‘Most large Indian cities have over 10 million people” or “India has a billion people” etc. This would be met a polite nod from the host – it was clear that our caribbean friends had no conception of what we were saying. Not that they did not get the numbers. Just that they could not even remotely comprehend the reality of these numbers.

Soon, I started to see the reverse to be true as well. We, indians could simply not comprehend the reality of a people who were born in and lived their entire life in a country with a population that most self-respecting housing colonies in India would have.

Scale (in this case, of population) is a veil through which we see everything around us. Travel can sometimes bring this fact home with a vengeance.

Cruise city

(Here is an intro video of a one of the world’s largest cruise ships – not the one I was on)

I was on a big cruise ship on the busy Caribbean circuit last month. With almost 3500 guests & 1100 staff members and a power plant generating a massive 62 Megawatts, the thing is a veritable floating city. Facilities were appropriately over the top. 1800 rooms, 3 theatres with the largest seating 1400, 8 fine-dining restaurants, 3 swimming pools, a casino, spa, art auctions, golf lessons, duty free shopping, stand-up comics, the list goes on & on…

This was my first cruise – so here are the first impressions. Irrespective of the great number of blandishments on board, the real fun is in going ashore. As I had suspected all along, the idea of travel without connecting with alien cultures & people is not too much fun for me. Dont get me wrong – I loved the indulgent luxury of the ship. It is just that I cannot handle it for too many days.

But on the other hand, the plus points of your room moving with you as you travel to different places are hard to ignore. For instance, you can unpack and store away your stuff just once and then bother about it only when you are ready to disembark. For those of us weary of too many hotel room nights and packing/unpacking sessions, this is absolutely seductive.

Maybe, smaller cruise ships with a more intimate atmosphere and tailor-made shore itineraries are more my thing. For instance cruises by Seabourn & Silversea.

Swimming with turtles

Tried it in Barbados a few days ago – highly recommended. The day after the World Cup final, we hit the Paynes Bay beach in western Barbados. One of the attractions there was snorkelling with sea turtles. The routine goes like this : you clamber aboard a boat that takes you a little way into the sea, you pull on your snorkel and fins and jump into the water, the boatman throws chunks of fish into the water and soon you find a number of very large turtles swimming gracefully around you. Awesome.

The last time I saw sea turtles at such close quarters was in Lakshadweep. These creatures that look so ungainly on land are a delight to watch in the sea as they glide effortlessly past. They belong there and we dont.

Here is a video I found on Youtube which should give you an idea of what I am talking about

Paraadise Maan..

As the clouds parted I saw heaven. And as I watched the twin peaks tower over a smoking valley right beside a tourquoise cove, Antony the Preacherman, Guide, Taxi-driver & itinerant philosopher called up the perfect-est rainbow in recorded history. The seduction was complete.

There probably is no point on earth more remote in mind, spirit and space from today’s India than St Lucia. In spite of its waddling tourists, in the quieter back-lanes of St Lucia I have, for the first time, found a place I would want to live in. And fresh lobsters, tropical blooms, incredibly relaxed people, the bluest ocean meeting the bluest sea and exotic racially-mixed women are not the only reasons to live there. Although for me, they do the trick well enough. Go there if you can. I will meet you soon at Tyrone’s bar in Soufriere.

Click here for my posts on Beach Vacations.

Click here for my posts on the Caribbean.

Tourism websites

Websites that promote tourism destinations are a breed that I have been observing with interest over the last few years. In the last 2 years or so, a few internet savvy Destinations Marketing Organisations (DMOs) have clearly pulled ahead of the pack in the quality of their online wares. I find today a select bunch of websites so engaging, informative and pulsating with the excitement of vacations that they almost pull me to the destination. For some reason Australia and New Zealand produce great tourism marketing websites. Here are links to a few sites that I find very nice.

NewZealand.com

Central Australian Tourism

Australia.com

Another interesting site is Doitcaribbean, which is the tourism website of all the caribbean countries. For those of you planning a tour of the west indies, I would strongly recommend checking it out.

(Here is the famous “Where the bloody hell are you” ad from Australian Tourism)