7 things I learned (so far) travelling in South America

It’s only been two years now that I’ve been dipping a toe in the ocean of experiences on offer in our closest neighbouring continent. On my own I’ve only visited Colombia, Peru and now Chile but I’ve learned a few valuable lessons along the way that I think can be applied to most travelling situations.

1) Not everyone speaks English

Native English-speakers often make the (arrogant) assumption that most persons in foreign countries speak at least some English. I know I did. The immigration officer in Colombia’s Medellin Airport quickly proved me wrong though, as have a vast number of denizens of South America since.
Last year in Peru I took an entire cycling tour in Spanish because my guide spoke not a lick of English.

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These guys no hablan el ingl√©s, but were great nonetheless ūüôā

It turned out fine because my understanding of Spanish is vastly better than my speaking ability, but it was a valuable experience for me as a traveller. I’ve noticed that in both Peru and Chile, a large number of people on the tours are actually locals, or from neighbouring countries. Therefore it makes some sense that English isn’t a requirement to work in the tourism sector in this part of the world. I will say though that MOST of my tour guides have been able to speak some English, but I’ve had to improvise along the way when it comes to ordering food, buying anything anywhere, conversing with fellow tourists, etc. While I encourage learning a few key phrases in the language of the place you’re visiting, Google Translate (download your language of choice offline) is essential for excursions to South America.

2) Skip the capital

Ok ‘skip the capital’ is a little drastic, I mean you could stand to spend like a day in capital cities, of course, but in my experience so far, you wouldn’t miss it if you did pass it up. I’ve had my richest and most memorable experiences outside of the capital cities in the countries I’ve been to (and not just in South America).

Learning from my experience with Lima last year (i.e., bored out of my mind after one day) I opted to only spend one full day in Santiago at the end of my trip. I’ll use that time to visit some museums (Santiago seems to have a really vibrant art and museum culture) and eat some food and then get the hell out of dodge.

3) Do a food tour

I’m a firm believer that the best way to get to know a country and its people is through food. I make it a point to do at least one food tour in every country I go to. Food tour guides have also proven to be the most comprehensive, holistic ambassadors for the country, because food has its roots in every single aspect of life – from culture, to religion, to the economy and class divisions. It was a food tour guide who took me to temples in Thailand and then in Japan, and explained the prayers and rituals they have there.
It was food tours that took me down lanes and alleys traversed mostly by locals, giving valuable insight into daily habits and ways of life in the countries I was visiting.

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Ceviche in Peru (along with a few varieties of corn, which Peru has by the hundreds, maybe thousands)

If you only do one tour in a foreign country, I strongly recommend you do a food tour, but make sure your belly is up to the challenge.

4) Less is more

If you told me even a year ago that I would not only own a backpack, but I would be using it to traipse up and down Chile, I’d be like ‘Ok weirdo, you don’t know me AT ALL!’

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My sexy Osprey Porter 46 ūüėć

Some people balk at the idea of backpacking. God knows I did. It’s definitely not for everyone – packing minimally for a few weeks of travel. But there are certain advantages to having nothing but a backpack when traveling – like when you have to climb a few flights of stairs cause the hotel or hostel you’re at has no lift and you’re on the top floor. Or when you’re rushing to catch a bus and can run like the wind because you don’t have a suitcase to yank along behind you. Not having to wait at a luggage belt or deal with lost luggage. And the list goes on. It challenges you to be resourceful and versatile.

I washed all my underwear and thermals in a hotel sink last week and HOPED to the heaven above it would all dry before I had to check out the following day. It did. Thank God.
My scarf on my Chile trip is actually a Turkish towel I got in a subscription box and I carried it because it’s a versatile item – scarf, sarong, light blanket or towel (of course).

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Plot twist – it’s a towel!

Packing light forces you to be economical with space and weight, and you’ll always be pleasantly surprised how much you don’t need to carry with you.

Some blogs I read recommended just buying toiletries in your destination, instead of loading up your luggage with them. If you’re not comfortable with no toiletries at all, buy some travel-sized bottles and decant your must-have potions accordingly.

Packing cubes have become travel essentials for me and I use them even when I’m not using a backpack. They help keep your clothing compact, separate and easy to find.

If you’re travelling somewhere temperate, I’ve tried and tested the Uniqlo Heattech line and found it to be toasty warm when you need it to be, but extremely thin and light weight. Pair it with the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket – also super packable – for extra warmth.

5) Functional wifi is a luxury, not a right

One thing I’ve had to get very comfortable with when travelling in South America is a lack of connectivity.
While it was very easy to get wifi or data plans in Asia, South America has proven to be more of a challenge on two occasions. In Peru, my schedule was just so packed I couldn’t get to a mobile provider store to get a SIM. Their set up is similar to T&T’s where you have to go to a dealer to acquire a SIM card, but even more stringent as even the phone kiosk in the airport couldn’t sell me a SIM, I had to go to a flagship store. And in Chile, I got my hands on a SIM, only to have it stop working on me 15 minutes in because apparently my phone isn’t ‘unlocked’ for Chile. You can imagine how thrilled I was by this, seeing that I’d already spent my money. But to be honest, not being reachable all the time is a real blessing. It means I can concentrate on the experience in front of me and not get caught up on what’s happening elsewhere. I’m a hyper-connected person when I’m home so it takes something as drastic as complete digital isolation to give me the space and breathing room I need to be fully engaged in what I’m doing in the moment. Sure it gets annoying, not having the resource of the internet in a fix but you can prepare for eventualities ahead of time and go brave. Also! I’ve had my fair share of janky wifi in hotels – both high end and hostels. My most reliable wifi to date has been at a hostel in the Atacama desert. My fancy lodge in Patagonia had the worst wifi ever – it didn’t even work properly in the advertised communal spaces. So be prepared to be disconnected, and be prepared to love it, even if you don’t want to.

6) Layer up 

The Andean mountain range and its surrounding topographical siblings provide a healthy range of sub climates across the South American continent. I’ve experienced sub zero temperatures giving way to T&T-like heat within a matter of hours; torrential rainfall and immense gusts of wind combined with hail and snow and then abruptly, heat again as you descend to sea level. To cope with this you have to get comfortable with the idea of layers and pack smart. Right now, as I mentioned previously I’ve been using the Heattech as a base layer (this post isn’t sponsored by Uniqlo, promise) and had every intention of using a lightweight sweater over that, then my down jacket, and when necessary, a waterproof shell from Columbia.

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At the Tatio Geysers, where the temperature dipped below zero (at over 4200m above sea level) but quickly rose as we descended back to 2000m (where San Pedro de Atacama sits)

Being able to remove and add as necessary makes moving across the varying climates much more manageable and comfortable. Don’t forget the hiking boots if you’re heading for even the slightest of rugged terrain. Opt for something waterproof and with ankle support.

7) Relax and enjoy the ride

I’ve grown so much as a traveler since my first real solo trip to Thailand early last year. I did nowhere near the level of planning for this trip as I did for Thailand. I think that’s a normal and healthy progression. I encourage anyone travelling solo for the first time, or indeed even if you’re not travelling solo to take some time and prepare your agenda. However, be prepared for things to go off track from time to time. Sometimes you might miss a flight or a bus, sometimes you might realise your hotel is NOT what was advertised and you end up with no water in your bathroom (true story) after 12 hours of travelling and multiple delays. Sometimes your hotel calls to say they can no longer accommodate you (also a true story). Sometimes a tour you were reaaaalllly looking forward to and kind of planned your trip around got altered or cancelled due to the weather (true story x 2 in Chile) MEH. Wah yuh go do? Having a credit card and a sense of humour will take you far when travelling, not just in South America but anywhere in the world. Have all your necessary documents secured, upload copies to Google Drive or your cloud service of choice, make sure your bank knows you’re travelling and do your best to keep a positive attitude on the road. Shit happens but you don’t have to let it ruin your trip.

I’ll add more travelling lessons as time and my adventures progress, but I hope what I’ve written here is helpful so far if you’re considering exploring this beautiful continent. If you have any questions about any of the places I’ve been or am planning to go (Bolivia or Ecuador looks like it’s up next) leave me a comment or reach out to me on IG @CeolaB.

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Thoughts in Transit // Go Alone 

Current location: Gate A6, Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, en route to Chiang Mai. 

  

I figure the only time I may have to write on this trip is while I’m in transit.

My days have been packed to capacity with tours, dinner outings and roaming the streets. 

Since I began planning this vacation, people have expressed a healthy mix of concern and admiration for the fact that I was coming here alone. 

I won’t pretend it’s an easy decision to make. Going anywhere alone can be intimidating.

Halfway across the world? To a country where you know neither a soul nor the language? 

Well that…is straight up terrifying. 

Or it should have been. But for me it was easier done than said. I don’t know why. Maybe I was fed up. Fed up of saying I wanted to go places and never going. Fed up of saying ‘Oh that’s on my bucket list’ while ignoring the fact that my time could be up any hour of any day and my bucket list remained unchecked.  

I spend dumb money. All the time. I buy things that go to the back of my closet and never see daylight again until a year later when I decide to clear my closet to donate, and it gets thrown into the pile of ‘stuff I bought a long time ago but never wore and now it’s not my style anymore so bye’.

I figured it was time to start spending money on experiences and memories, rather than disposable things. 

 

except stocks…probably. and gold.

 
The next common excuse for me has been, even more so than finances, that unfortunately I don’t have a dedicated travel buddy. Not one in Trinidad anyway. There’s no friend I can message in the dead of the night and say “Hey, let’s go to Thailand nah.” and have them reply “Ok cool, will start looking at flights.” and mean it. 

That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their priorities and interest. It just so happens that I don’t have one whose priorities and interests align with mine at the time I need it to. There are any number of limitations when seeking a travel companion – their finances, time, they were planning to go somewhere else, they don’t necessarily want to go where I want to go. 

Again, that’s ok. That’s no one’s fault. But what I could not keep doing was allowing that to prevent me from going. 

So I made the decision to get my shit together and book a flight. 

  
I plan to blog more about my actual trip but I figured a good place to start would be some of the things I learned while preparing for this journey. Hopefully this will help or motivate any one of you who’s been thinking about taking the plunge and buying the ticket to actually do it. 

1. Plan plan plan plan plan. As a solo traveler, and as a female no less, it was imperative that I have as much of this trip planned as I possibly could cater for. Now that’s not to say you can’t have spontaneous moments on your trip, but I spent a lot of time checking hotels, cross referencing reviews on TripAdvisor, checking the distance from said hotels to places of interest, evaluating public transportation options close to potential hotels, checking tours and comparing prices across different providers. One big challenge I encountered planning this trip was that many tours require two persons minimum. That, or you pay out of your eyeballs. For example, one tour increased to USD$130 from USD$50 because I am but one person. Eventually I found the same tour (and pretty much everyone offers the same tours) at a much more reasonable cost. I booked most of my tours on Viator and the balance on tour operators recommended on TripAdvisor forums. For hotels and flight I used Kayak and then checked reviews on TripAdvisor. For Thailand I originally reached out to one of those vacation concierge services. The price they quoted me was INSANE, especially since one of the reasons I chose Thailand was because I’ve often heard that it’s one of the most affordable places to visit. These people were recommending a budget of USD$300 a day! What?! I was going for 14 days. And that’s not even including airfare. So I decided to book everything myself. Sure it takes longer but my budget was half of their recommendation by the time I was done. So yeah, get ready for some serious leg work in the run up to your trip, if you want to save some coin.

2. Leave a trail. Again, top of mind for me in planning this trip was my security. Not that I’ve heard Thailand is an unsafe place per se, and my experience so far confirms that Thailand feels a lot safer than home. However, you can’t take for granted the fact that you’re out here alone and IF something happens to you…it shouldn’t be for lack of sense on your part. I printed off two copies of my hotel bookings and my flight confirmations and left a detailed itinerary with my parents, which said where I would be on each day – which tours I was taking, along with contact information for each tour provider. Let me put it this way (and of course this is morbid) if anything were to happen to me, God forbid, my loved ones should AT LEAST know where to find my body. Just saying. I also created a Google Sheet with the same itinerary and shared with a few responsible friends, just in case I had any changes to my schedule, I could update it there. 

3. Stay in touch. I check in with my dad everyday. I also have an app installed on my phone – bSafe. Highly recommend it for solo travellers. It basically allows you to send friends (who also have to download the app) updates with your location. If you’re in a crisis, there’s an alarm feature that will send them a push notification, and start the camera on your phone, record for an amount of time then send that recording to them. I gave said friends my parents’ contact information so they could reach them if they got an alarm from me. I would have installed it on my dad’s phone but I don’t know if he would have been as proficient at checking it as my more digitally inclined friends. Once I got to Thailand I got a local SIM card. Since Thailand is such a tourist destination, there were SIM cards marketed especially to tourists, offering 7-day data packages and access to wifi hotspots. It’s ESSENTIAL that you have data on your phone while abroad. And roaming makes no financial sense. Pop a SIM card in your phone, activate data and also have a way to contact hotels, tour operators, new friends (ew) on the cheap. It’s a no-brainer. 

4. Don’t overpack. This is a good rule even if you’re not travelling alone, but especially essential when you’re the only one available to tote luggage. I’ve been in some really horrible situations as a solo traveller before, in places like London, no less, so I wanted to be sure I could manage my baggage on this trip, both from a security perspective and a struggling to get up some steps perspective. 

5. Be realistic about your timeline. I knew there was no way I could see and do everything I wanted to do in the time I had. I had to prioritise. Jet lag is a bitch. I’m running on about four hours of sleep a night since I’ve been here because my body thinks I’m trying to take a day nap. Taking that exhaustion into consideration, as well as travel times, distance from sights, duration of tours, etc, you need to know what you can do in the time you have, and be willing to cut some things off your check list, where possible. 

6. Conquer public transport. This is a big thing for me no matter where I go. I’m not a big fan of buses but if there is a metro, I dey. Get acquainted with the various public transportation options, since you won’t be splitting the taxi fare with anyone and that cost can rack up. Luckily for me, Bangkok has about a bousand different ways to get around and I was able to learn the MRT (subway) and BTS (sky train) system pretty quickly. It’s so much cheaper and quicker than taking a cab. 

7. Make Google Maps your bestie. Any map service should work but Google Maps is my personal pick abroad. I use it to map out my journey regardless of mode of transportation. I also use it to get an idea of what taxi fares would be like, know how long I have to nap on a tour bus, and just generally a way to figure out where the f I’m going if I’m walking. It’s saved my butt more than a few times. You also have to stop and ask for directions less, which is important for me as a solo female traveler because I don’t necessarily want to give anyone the impression that I’m lost, ever, in life. This circles back to the importance of having data on your mobile. 

8. Get familiar with the culture. Before I left I looked up some of the cultural disparities between my home and my destination. You think “Oh I’m going on vacation, let me pack my shortest shorts and strappiest tops and get ready to skin out.” NAH. Thailand turned out to be a very conservative country. Most of the temples enforce a strict dress code for visitors – no bare shoulders or knees, and no tight fitting clothing. I can’t lie, getting dressed here has been challenging but I’m getting better. It’s also useful to know what’s generally frowned upon in a country so you can not do those things. Check your attitude once you board that plane because you are no longer on home turf and you are in people country with no contacts. No Visa face here people, only jail. 

9. Find contacts. Look up the embassy or consulate of your home country in your destination country. If there isn’t one, find the closest one to you. Ask around among friends to see if anyone has any friends or family where you’re headed, so at least you have a number and a name if anything goes awry. Trinis like salt, there must be a few where you’re headed. Ensure that they’re fine with you contacting them if need be and save that number. 

10. Keep your phone charged. Without a functional phone, most of the technological aides I described earlier, as well as the basic function of calling your hotel or taxi is null and void. Invest in a few battery packs, keep them fully charged and walk with extra charging cables. Don’t assume you will find a port or an outlet everywhere you go. Be sure to check the electric socket where you’re going too. Never know if you may need a converter. 

11. Invest in a monopod. A lot of people like to scorn selfie-sticks. I think that’s more ego and less sense to be honest, especially if you’re travelling alone abroad. If you don’t like the idea of using an extendable monopod, then make sure you’re cool with close, tightly-cropped pictures of yourself, no pictures of yourself at all, or constantly depending on a stranger to take a photo for you. About a month before I came I bought the new Go Pro Hero Session 4, which is a miniature, hardier version of the popular camera. I also bought an extendable monopod and a head mount. This is probably the best thing I’ve bought in a while. It not only captures video but time lapse photographs, and you can download the Go Pro app to your phone to control it remotely. Bear in mind this version of the Go Pro has no screen on the back so you’ll be flying blind unless you hook up to the app. 

Those are all the single traveler tips I can come up with at the moment. I think I covered the most essential bits. 

Sorry if this post doesn’t have much by way of pictures and whatnot, like I said, this is a rush job.

For prettier and more entertaining updates you can follow my trip on my social pages – @CeolaB (Instagram) and CeolaB (Snapchat). 

Hopefully this encourages you to take that vacation you’ve been meaning to take, and go to that place you’ve always dreamed of going, even if it means going alone.  

 

Travel Diary // Eating the Big Apple I

Hi, I’m back and slowly but surely getting over my intense NYC withdrawal.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram and Snapchat (@CeolaB), you probably witnessed me successfully eating my way through The Big Apple last weekend with my best friend Sandi and her sister Ashanna.

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No makeup selfie on the way to Brooklyn from JFK. Shout out to Jose who was the best host ever (AirBNB y’all).

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These beauts on the A train ^^^

Normally my trips to NY are just huge shopping marathons with my mom but on this trip I wanted to focus on eating at places I’d never been to before. I polled my FB friends before I left to try and get a gist of some of the best NYC eateries that I should hit up while on vacation.

Naturally I couldn’t hit them all, but I think I achieved my goal of enjoying a true foodie experience in New York.

Check out the pics below for a run down of all the grub I had.

Spice was one place that kept coming up when I asked about good food in New York. It’s a chain restaurant with extremely quick service, which doesn’t come at the expense of the quality of the food. We had a great meal and all our entrees came with complimentary appetizers. Don’t mind if we do.

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That night we decided to check out a Zagat rated southern comfort restaurant nearby where we staying. Peaches Hot House was packed to capacity when we arrived around 8:30pm. We placed our names on a board and went outside in the cold to wait, staring daggers at this group of folks who were taking forever to pay their bill and leave.

Eventually we got a seat and started in on some good ol’ comfort food. Not too shabby, but admittedly, didn’t live up to my expectations. I was super excited about the mac n cheese and blackened catfish but the fish turned out tasting a bit overseasoned and¬†the cheese was slightly too sharp given the tartness of the salsa on the catfish.

Sorry about the dodgy pics, the lighting in the restaurant was next to none and I didn’t want to blind my fellow diners with my flash.

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That was day one of my NYC eats. Look out for the next post in which I gush over Chelsea Market.

Photo Journal // St Vincent & The Grenadines Part Deux

Day 2 – Bequia

The highlight of my trip was most definitely my visit to Bequia. For whatever random reason I’ve always wanted to visit Bequia, so even when the sky was behaving quite schizophrenic on Saturday morning, I was super stoked to hop aboard the 8am ferry with Odini, Kern, Louis, Karen of SoKa and Jeremy of Fashion is Payne to Bequia.

The ferry itself is an hour-long ride and EC$45. Not too shabby to get to paradise.

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Wut?

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I love the colours in St Vincent.

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Once we disembarked (Odini didn’t get sick, much success!) we trod off in search of breakfast. Odini seemed hell bent on acquiring Mac’s Pizza, which was of course closed when we got there, so we opted for breakfast from the Gingerbread House instead. Not too bad, a bit pricy but such is life when the main clientele of a place is comprised of yachties.

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Instead of the recommended gingerbread, I opted for a shortbread cookie, a macchiato and some waffles which turned out to be pancakes.

After everyone finished eating we set off again to Princess Margaret’s Bay, which is a relatively short walk from the harbour.

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Just down some stairs…

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And around a bend…

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And then you’re there!

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One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Bequia was everything I was expecting. The only thing that could have made it better was if the water wasn’t so blasted cold, and if the wind didn’t keep blowing sand all over my face every time I tried to sun worship.

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If you look closely you can see the entire right side of my face (my right, not yours) is completely covered in sand.

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Following some spelunking at a cave near the end of Princess Margaret Bay, we decided to head over to Lower Bay next.

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People who live in St Vincent have NO excuse not to have amazing legs…everything is a climb boy…

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But then you get where you’re headed and it all seems worth it.

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For those of you who were wondering, we did eventually get Mac’s Pizza, on our way back to catch the 4pm boat back to the mainland. Entirely too short a stay in beautiful Bequia, but good company, good food and gorgeous surroundings can make the time fly.

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Some pretty good pizza to end an amazing day…like the boat said ‘No Complain'(ts).

Now when the world gets me down and I go to my happy place in my head, I’ll be in Bequia, xoxo.

Photo Journal // St Vincent & The Grenadines Part Un

So this weekend I hopped across to St Vincent and the Grenadines, mainly to visit my friend Odini (you may know her as the mastermind behind menswear label Peta Odini) but also to scratch an item off my bucket list – to visit Bequia.

When my obsession with getting to Bequia began, I’m not quite sure, but it’s been on my to-do list for quite some time now. When LIAT had a sale on fares earlier this year I rather spontaneously booked a flight for the same time I knew Odini would be home.

Our mutual friend Kern (check out his T Shirt line Shop F.A.W.) decided to beat me back on spontaneity and booked his ticket to come with, like, 2 weeks before I was scheduled to head up.

Day 1 – Jack Sparrow Tours

On Friday we met our tour guide, Iston, of Jack Sparrow tours for a full day of traversing the Leeward side of the island Рfrom Fort Charlotte to Wallilabou to Dark View Falls near the town of Richmond.

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Fort Charlotte is small, but packed with history. Commissioned paintings show the bloody history of the Black Caribs, the French and the English as they battled for dominance of the island. You also see how the Free Slaves came to the island and settled. A really creative way of depicting the history of the island. I thoroughly enjoyed following the story through the art.

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The view from Fort Charlotte was stunning.

IMG_9321So this may be a smidge controversial, but along the Leeward coast, we stopped at a food truck near the fishing town of Barrouallie to sample the ‘black fish’ or pilot whale, which is still hunted in St Vincent. The meat itself had a texture reminiscent of smoked herring, but it obviously wasn’t smoked. Delicious really…and the yam and coconut dumplings were a great accompaniment.

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Next we headed up to Wallilabou Bay to check out one of the sets of Pirates of the Caribbean. They shot the scenes for Tortuga here, and there are a few props and scenes left behind that conjure up images from the movie in your mind. I kind of feel like I have to watch the movies again now. Our tour guide Iston was actually an extra in the films so he was super excited to introduce us to his former place of employment.

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A selection of coffins. Apparently these are from the scene where Jack Sparrow shoots himself out of a coffin while in Tortuga.

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We finally arrived at the Dark View Falls near the town of Richmond. This is after our tour guide stopped by some friendly neighbourhood dealers and grabbed a handful of very green Vincy (that’s marijuana) to show off to our British tour-mate. Anyway, Dark View Falls are gorgeous, but FREEZING cold. In fact all of the water in St Vincent seems to be freezing cold, but the Falls took WIN. We braved the cold water because we’d come too far not to. There you can see Louis (Brit) enjoying the refreshing pool while Kern and I contemplated how best to approach this popsicle situation.

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Too late to turn back now…

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Eventually we trekked up to the second falls higher up. My feet were NOT happy about what was essentially a hiking¬†expedition over spiky ass rocks and cold ass water. My feet kept cramping up every time I stopped moving. I took my time, hence Kern is standing there like ‘Wtf woman, hurry up!’

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Small thing though…waterfalls are awesome photo ops, made marginally more awesome by selfie sticks.

IMG_9360On the way back from the Falls we stopped at a restaurant where I finally got to taste the infamous and much-lauded Hairoun Bitter Lemon. Fun fact: Hairoun takes its name after the Kalinago¬†word for St Vincent, which is Hairouna. The actual brand dominates in St Vincent – their branding is EVERYWHERE and it seemed to be a fixture in every shop and restaurant. Also…quite delicious.

Stay tuned for Part Deux where I take you to the GORGEOUS island of Bequia ‚̧

Ceola does Colombiamoda // Day 2

My Day 2 and Colombiamoda’s official Day 1, Tuesday was a very long but very exciting experience.
It’s not every day you get to see how a world class fashion show and convention is orchestrated and executed. Not to say I took a glimpse backstage or anything, but the entire operation from the point of view of a spectator was seamless.

The day began with the herding of the press into our cool Inexmoda/Colombiamoda mini-buses to get us to the venue – Plaza Mayor – in time to go through the rigorous security checks and get seated comfortably for the inauguration of the trade show. Present was the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who spoke about the tremendous growth the country has seen not just holistically but especially with regard to their position as the fashion hub of Latin America. The fashion industry of Colombia accounts for some 15.7% of employment in the country and there has been a 20% reduction in imports since 2013, an indication that far more preference and support was being shown to the national product. Those are statistics we in Trinidad & Tobago can only dream of seeing one day. If I’ve learned anything from this experience so far…it’s that Trinidad & Tobago has a long way to go before it can reasonably claim to have anything even resembling a fashion industry.

When I worked in government, we used to host a few developmental forums, and invited representatives from places like Singapore to conduct workshops and lectures on how to move from third world status to first world status. While Colombia may not be, on paper, a first world country (yet), I would not be surprised in the least if we would find more relevant and poignant solutions to our current crime scourge and societal issues by looking to countries like Colombia.

Anyway, enough politicking, on to the fashion! And fashion there was! This entire complex is basically a fashion mecca – so large ¬†I haven’t even been able to see more than 30% of it’m sure. I hope to rectify that in the time I have left here. Yesterday was mostly a day of runways or “pasarelas”.

First up was the Non-Stop Runway, featuring four designers – Andr√©s Paj√≥n, Bastardo, Mariang√©lica Guerra and Purpuratta. Andr√©s Paj√≥n was my favourite in the lineup, due in part to his bright, colourful designs, heavy embellishment and distinctly feminine aesthetic. It also helped tremendously that he sent his models down the runway to Busy Signal’s Tic Toc ūüôā

I also really enjoyed the intricacy of Mariang√©lica’s collection. Her largely neutral colour palette allowed the details of the interwoven fabric ¬†to shine through. Loved the pops of teal throughout as well.

The next show I hit up was presented by fashion magazine Fucsia – Ashes by designer Vanessa Gomez. It was a collection inspired by rock and roll bohemian and it showed. I loved the incorporation of fragmented knitwear throughout the loose, flowing fabrics. There’s no way you can wear this collection and not feel like a rockstar. Loved the styling as well.

La Alcald√≠a de Medell√≠n…or the Mayor’s Office to us English-speakers, presented three designers, all of whom went above and beyond my expectations – Natalia Londo√Īo, Love Citizens and Andrea Landa.

Natalia Londo√Īo was soft structure with amazing prints. I¬īve noticed, throughout all the collections, a subtle but very consistent attention to and respect for detail. Natalia’s was no different.

The super cool Love Citizens were next. While they were principally beach wear, their outerwear and separatess stunned, particularly the white mesh & neoprene (I think) skirt and jacket pictured below.

Last for this segment was Andrea Landa. She blew me away…so much detail – both the hand crafted macram√© and the slashed leather were stunning, juxtaposed with the relaxed fit of her garments. Easily one of my favourites for the week so far.

Next on the agenda was a super fun show – the Ipanema x Paradizia presentation. The suits were bright, colourful and detailed…pretty much everything we seem to want from suits nowadays. It’s only kind of amusing how little we purchase¬†swim wear now for actual swimming.

Last but not least was one of the few brands I knew about prior to arriving in Colombia. Custo Barcelona, in partnership with Haceb, produced a beautiful¬†collection. It was cacaphony of colours, prints and textures. It’s amazing how one does not even question the combinations presented…it just makes perfect sense once you see it in motion.

And so concludes the first official day of Colombiamoda! Hope you enjoy the clothing as much as I did ūüôā Time for bed…10+ hours of fashion looks a lot better on paper than it actually is in real life – exhausting.

Let me know which are your favourite looks in the comment below! h

Color Revolution SXM (Part Un)

So what exactly do you do when your editor calls you and asks you if you can go to St. Maarten to cover one of the most talked about fashion events for the year? There is no choice. You say yes. You plug in for a vacation day, make sure your passport has¬†some months left, make sure you don’t need a visa, and you say yes.

You board that plane for a six hour excursion, taking the maxi of the skies – LIAT – hope for the best where luggage transfers are concerned and you touch down in one of the most beautiful islands you’ve ever had the privilege of visiting – St. Martin.

For those who may not know, St. Martin is an island divided between two nations – France (St. Martin) and the Netherlands (Sint Maarten). The majority of the trip was spent on the Dutch side of the island, as we were all based in Simpson Bay near the airport and close to all the bars, hotels, clubs and casinos. St. Maarten is a happening place…they don’t have happy hours, they have happy days – virtually every drink is two for one for ridiculous periods of time in any of the multitude of bars and restaurants you visit. The beaches…gorgeous, but beware, the water is incredibly cold.

I was there to cover Color Revolution SXM, a hot, colourful, exciting initiative by a combination of forces РCaribbean Fashion Style Journal (aka CFStyle.com) and the newly formed National Fashion Development Association (NFDA) of St. Martin. The designer lineup read like a dream Рdesigners from all over the Caribbean (Trinidad & Tobago bearing the strongest representation) and the United States of America were hitting up the picturesque isle of St. Martin to serve up some FABulous fashion.

We kicked off the weekend with an Opening Gala Ceremony at the Blue Mall in Sint Maarten. We sipped some bubbly, snagged some hors’ d’oeuvres and waited for the metaphorical curtain to raise. Once the speeches were speechified, we got a preview of some of the collections we’d be seeing over the course of the next two days – Kimya Glasgow, Kaj Designs and Kai Designs. There was also a presentation by one of the sponsors, a Blue Mall resident retail store, Opera. There was an after party but I bowed out, blaming my exhaustion from a long morning of travel and no nap time before the gala. The rest of the media went though, which probably explains why I was the only one awake and ready for our Tiki Hut Relax & Snorkel Adventure the next morning.

I met my media liaison (now referred to as Mama Cotton from here on out, or maybe just Laura) around 8 to grab breakfast and waited as she issued an assembly call for all remaining passengers. We ended up departing with¬†a small but energetic group of seaworthy explorers – photographers, Colin, Sean¬†and¬†Clint, Analiese (model, former ANTM and BNTM contestant, and our hostess for the weekend), buyer/presenter Nikki, journalists Isaul and Devon, and Laura. I go into the details of this particular excursion in another post, so stay tuned for that! Didn’t want to get too sidetracked from the fash-on (as Analiese kept referring to it).

Once we returned from our VERY eventful morning activity, it was time to decompress and begin preparing for the first runway night of Color Revolution SXM, titled ‘Color Elegant’. Hosted in Philipsburg at the Harbor Facilities, the first night promised a show from five designers, four of whom, I’m proud to say, were repping the red, white and black.

Donna Dove opened the show with a collection described as ‘wearable art’. This woman is a sweet, kind, soul and her love for what she does reverberates through the fabric that she artfully manipulates into fashion. Men’s shirts stitched and hand painted to create sexy cocktail dresses and voluminous gowns, distressed jersey creating more casual, but well styled skirts and tee shirt combinations, and glorious bubble hemmed dresses and tops that gave a touch of whimsy an otherwise structured collection. It was an amalgamation of different styles and disciplines, but it worked well on the runway. I have nothing short of hero-worship for this veteran designer, so perhaps it would be difficult for me to call her collection anything but exciting. I also loved the touch of the handpainted glass being used as an accessory by the models.

Kai Designs, one of the two St. Martiners scheduled to show over the weekend presented her line of crochet creations to the audience.¬†I can’t even begin to imagine how arduous creating a colour-blocked crochet collection must be. Kaishah Peters, the designer behind the brand, obviously put a lot of thought into the colour combinations, keeping them fresh and functional. Lots of knee length skirts, tube and cropped tops, and cocktail dresses came down the runway.

Anyone who’s been to Upmarket will probably recall Lisa’s Fabrics – a booth adorned with gorgeous, luxurious hand-dyed silk scarves, and more recently, kaftans and dresses. Well Lisa Sarjeant-Gonzales was there and she presented those beautiful creations to what turned out to be a very appreciative and receptive audience. I mean when you talk about Caribbean resort, this is what comes to mind – loose, flowing fabrics all colours of the rainbow, and as extra icing on the cake, necklines tastefully embellished with accoutrements sourced all the way from India. Remarkably enough, this was only the second time on the runway for Lisa, having showed for the first time the week before at the Power of Beauty Media Launch.

Husband and wife team, Shurnel Designs put the ‘Elegant’ in ‘Color Elegant’ with their line of simple but beautiful gowns. Attention to detail was key, with lots of ruching, twisting, and draping of silk blend fabrics to create the fantasy that was this collection. I liked quite a few pieces, notably a very wearable blue floor-length dress with a thigh high slit, and of courseeee the showstopping off the shoulder grecian-esque gown that Athaliah Samuel closed with. I mean you HAVE to be a glamazon to rock that dress right? Athaliah worked it¬†out like rent was due yesterday. Can’t commend this model enough for how she brings garments to life on the runway.

For a designer that only launched in November of last year, Charu Lochan Dass has had a hell of a lot to say. This is her third collection shown to date, her Resort 2014 collection that, from her lookbook, was a melting pot of monochromatic looks, as well as vibrant colourful prints. She opted to show only the black and white creations at Color Revolution though, and in my opinion, these were some of the strongest looks in the lookbook anyway (not that the others weren’t amazing, but black is life for me, so yeah, bias). Black and white print translated well onto the feminine collection – full circle skirts, floor length dresses, divine sheaths that screamed resort and a very sleek crop top and pant combination. Pops of neon pink throughout made things more¬†interesting and fresh, not that the collection needed much help in that department.

I left ‘Color Elegant’ feeling more patriotic than I’ve felt in a while. It was an excellent showing by the Trinbagonian contingent and through my well-developed eavesdropping (read: maco) skills I was able to ascertain that the international media and fashion industry stalwarts LOVED what they saw.

Stay tuned for (Part Deux)