Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Page 4 of 5

Kava & Good ‘Talanoa’

Last night was a special night.

Rather than heading out to a local fundraiser party allegedly involving an inexpensive open bar (as tempting as that sounded), I opted to stay in and write, feeling very uncharacteristically responsible.

But then, just as I curled up with my laptop in the main room of the house I’m living in, my host family emerged with several imbe vaka viti, the local term for traditional Fijian woven floor mats, and informed me they were going to have a kava ceremony.

I’m always one for participating in the local customs of wherever I happen to be, so this was not something I wanted to miss.

Apparently each imbe vaka viti mat takes at least one to several months to complete, meticulously hand-woven by ladies who’ve passed their craft down from generation to generation. As someone who can barely sit through a full afternoon of crafting activities, I find this quite impressive!

A traditional 'imbe vaka viti' Fijian woven mat

A traditional ‘imbe vaka viti’ Fijian woven mat

I’d only experienced one other true Fijian kava ceremony before; last time at the hyper-touristy Beachcomber Island resort, which also happened to be the same night I came down with a gnarly case of e coli (again, I’ll save that story for another time…).

This is NOT a kava root (it's actually a palm root), but very similar to what a kava root looks like... I'll get a better picture next time I go to the Lautoka Market!

This is NOT a kava root (it’s actually a palm root), but very similar to what a kava root looks like… I’ll get a better picture next time I go to the Lautoka Market!

In the video below, Junior, who served as the chief of the household for the evening, kindly explains how kava is prepared:

Kava is prevalent throughout western Oceania and plays an important role in many Pacific Island cultures.

In Fiji, kava is consumed at any time of day, both in public as well as in private settings with close friends and family, often as an excuse to come together and enjoy a little talanoa, or good conversation in Fijian.

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My host family gathers for kava and talanoa at least once a week, which I think is super wananavu (Fijian for ‘awesome’) – generally speaking, the whole world could probably use some more talanoa these days!

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Sick Day? Nahhhhhhhh

Getting sick happens to the best of us… Unfortunately, it seems to happen to me far too often, especially while traveling internationally. No matter how many vitamins, special immunity serums or zinc tablets I take, some foreign bug always makes its way into my system.

This time around, thankfully, all that’s plaguing me is some strange sinus infection/head cold hybrid, accompanied by these bizarre fever dreams while trying to sleep the past several days, in which I believed someone was trying to nudge me awake all night long. Kinda freaky.

Having a bad case of sniffles in the tropics also feels oddly inappropriate. How on earth did I catch a cold here?

The smallest tub of ice cream I could find... But damn was it exactly what I needed

The smallest tub of ice cream I could find… But damn was it exactly what I needed

Despite being bedridden for the past three days, I will take this any day over last year’s nasty several-week-long bout of e coli, caught from some bad tap water down on the Coral Coast. I’ll save that story for another time…

As long as I don’t end up in an island hospital again, that’s all I care about. Trust me – no one ever wants to end up in an island hospital.

The island hospital I wound up in last year... When I drove by it last week, it actually appears to be shut down now, perhaps from Cyclone Winston damage

The island hospital I wound up in last year… When I drove by it last week, it actually appears to be shut down now, perhaps from Cyclone Winston damage

I forced myself to venture out of the house earlier today for the first time all week, just to buy Kleenex, Powerade and ice cream. Getting to wander around for a bit was nice, but almost having a fainting spell in the center of downtown Lautoka quickly reminded me I’m far from invincible.

I probably should continue to take it easy for the next day or so, as sad as that makes me… I desperately just want to feel good again so I can go out and explore!

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So, even though I’m still technically ‘sick’ and very much out of commission, I did my best to make today a relatively productive travel-planning day, and finally got my flights booked from Suva to Taveuni Island later in August.

I don’t even know much about Taveuni Island yet, other than that it’s Fiji’s third-largest island, home to scenic waterfalls and enticingly known as the “Garden Island of Fiji,” probably due to the island’s lush abundant tropical rainforests. Doesn’t sound like a bad place to spend a week.

After that, I’ll be heading over to Fiji’s second-largest island Vanua Levu for a while, where I’ll likely be volunteering for the remainder of my time in Fiji. Plans are still in the works, but I can already tell it’ll be an extraordinary adventure…

Just gotta get heal up first! UFF DA.

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Settling Into ‘Fiji Time’

I can’t believe I’ve been in Fiji for a solid week now. Even though the last seven days have been filled with more action and excitement than I can begin to fathom, it seems like just yesterday I was sleeping off my jetlag and post 11-hour flight Benadryl hangover.

Now, I think I’m finally settling into island life and ‘Fiji Time‘.

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I’m still continually impressed with how diverse Viti Levu’s topography is for one island, comprising of jagged mountain peaks, lush rainforests, serene valleys, hills, rolling plains of sugar cane… and I haven’t even explored the whole island yet!

Yes, Viti Levu is Fiji’s largest island and home to 70% of the country’s population, but considering the square mileage is smaller than the pint-sized state of Connecticut and significantly disparate from my native state of Colorado, I find its vastness completely fascinating, not to mention simply gorgeous.

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After contemplating Viti Levu’s immense natural beauty for some time today while gazing out at the glittering blue Pacific, separated only by a distant stretch of jungle, bush, other houses and possibly a steep cliff, I began to feel a familiar sense of exasperation, seemingly out of nowhere… I got a strong craving for Chipotle.

No, no… too soon!

Don’t crave Chipotle, don’t crave Chipotle…

I tried repeating this to myself like a sort of personal affirmation, similar to the mental practices discussed in the teachers’ after-school Hindi meditation seminar another volunteer and I attended last week, but alas, no luck.

Grilled chicken burrito bowl… Steak… Fajita veggies… Guac… Carnitas…

Then, it dawned on me: I’ve accidentally been vegetarian almost the entire time I’ve been here. Oops.

I’ll make sure protein’s on the menu tonight!!

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Perfect Day at Saweni Beach

Yesterday I got exactly what I wanted – a perfect beach day at the gloriously deserted Saweni Beach, an idyllic stretch of golden sand not far from the city of Lautoka.

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Primarily frequented by locals and situated well off the beaten path, Saweni Beach felt like an exotic secluded paradise, even with the eerily quiet grounds of Saweni Beach Apartment Hotel just behind the barbed wire fence only a few feet away.

My beach-going group consisted of 3 other volunteer friends I’ve met so far in Fiji, all representing different continents: North America, Australia, Asia and Europe. How cool and worldly is that?!

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You won’t find any cafés, bars or shops here, nor any of those aggressive vendors you’d surely confront at touristy beaches in Mexico or the Caribbean. Next time I go to Saweni Beach, I’ll definitely make a point to bring along extra sustenance besides a tall bottle of Fiji Bitter and bananas…

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Beer, beach, and sandy feet… No complaints.

Apart from one lone horseback rider, the only passersby encountered at Saweni Beach was a curious Fijian man and his toddler son, who gladly stepped in as referee during our impromptu beach volleyball game. I knew bringing my Lilly Pulitzer beach ball along would be a good idea!

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The sparkling blue water became smoother and clearer, almost appearing glass-like as the tide gradually crept in throughout the afternoon, reminding me once again how lucky I am to be here. Fiji truly is paradise!

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Perusing the Lautoka Market

While I really don’t consider myself a ‘foodie,’ I do thoroughly enjoy exploring international grocery stores and local markets while traveling. I always discover something I’ve never seen before!

Today’s jaunt to the massive produce market in downtown Lautoka did not disappoint – from exotic flowers, spices and freshly caught seafood to itty bitty, deceptively potent peppers practically guaranteed to erode the lining of one’s esophagus if consumed improperly, the Lautoka Market is a colorful experience for all senses.

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Fortunately, no one seemed to mind all my picture-taking. One woman laughed hysterically when I told her I thought her peppers were beautiful… They were!

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I’m far from a seafood expert, considering I come from an extremely landlocked place. But, I do know fresh clams are absolutely scrumptious boiled in coconut milk… We’ll see if I get brave enough to try preparing some for myself while here!

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PLENTY more pictures and stories to come!!

Get excited.

xoxo

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BULA!

I’m just about finishing up my third full day here in beautiful Fiji, where I’ll be living until mid- September. Currently, I’m on the main island Viti Levu in the western division city of Lautoka, the second-largest city in Fiji (following the capital, Suva). Lautoka is also known as ‘Sugar City,’ and for good reason – it’s tucked away in the heart of Fiji’s major sugar cane growing region, encompassed by fields of sugar cane belts as far as the eye can see…

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Today was also my third day volunteering at a fairly remote Fijian primary school that was severely affected by Cyclone Winston.

I’ve never seen such a picturesque locale for a school, perched atop a mountain with striking, panoramic views of the surrounding hills and sugar cane fields with the glittering blue Pacific Ocean beyond.

FijiSchool1FijiSchool3It’s just one other volunteer and I helping out here, where we’re scheduled to assist for approximately 2 weeks. During our orientation, the headmaster of the school told us about 40% of the kids are behind in terms of literacy, so tasks largely consist of  tutoring small groups of students on basic phonics and letter pronunciation. A lot of the children come from very poor families that only speak either Hindi or Fijian at home, which is very good for maintaining cultural traditions, but not necessarily the most encouraging environment for studying English reading and writing.

As someone with zero pedagogical experience, it’s safe to say the last few days have indeed been a bit of a challenge. It’s rewarding all the same though; even in my first days here, it’s dawned on me just how severely we take certain things for granted, such as literacy or basic educational resources.

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Also, as it turns out, geckos really do make a sound like a cheeky air kiss.

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misc. thoughts

Wanna know the scariest thing I’ve ever done?

Deciding to go follow my dreams.

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As a naturally anxious person, I can’t begin to accurately describe the sheer trepidation that goes along with giving up what most would consider a very nice lifestyle, not to mention the general concept of ‘financial security’ – no, I’m kissing every last ounce of my comfort zone and all things familiar goodbye.

But it’s okay. Honestly, it’s about damn time.

Santa Monica & Coral Coast, Fiji

I know there hasn’t been a ton of action on here in a while, but that’s going to change soon.

The last 18 months have been rough for me. Dark, really.

As this blog really isn’t meant to serve as my personal rant forum, I’ll give you the vague SparkNotes version: A lot of very unlucky, negative things happened in my life over the past decade. I didn’t deal with the emotions from those events particularly well. Along the way, I also made a variety of not-so-great decisions, which lead to more bad circumstances, all arguably preventable, and ultimately a lot of regret.

On a side note, everything you hear about regret and all its nastiness is totally true; I spent a year basically suffocating in it. I regretted making completely valid life choices, as well as not taking alternative options. I developed a terrible perception of myself. Sometimes I even convinced myself everyone around me hated me, too.

Yes, it was absolutely self-defeating. Worse, I didn’t care – at the time, I genuinely thought I deserved to feel that way.

After hitting multiple rock-bottoms, combined with new lows and frightful moments previously deemed unimaginable, I realized if I didn’t do something, my incessant depressive hole would not only destroy my relationships and overall health – it would eventually destroy my life.

Coming to that realization was just the first step. It still took me several months to figure out what the hell I was going to do with myself, and several more months after that to get a plan in action.

That brings us to today – I’m exactly where I’d hoped I’d be a year ago, which is cool. I’m still ridiculously anxious about a vast array of subject matters, and am acutely aware of the copious metric fuck-tons of work ahead of me, but – somehow – for the first time in my adult life, I’m actually confident in my decision.

Blue Blue South Pacific Ocean

As soon as I recognized the freedom I had, I knew this was my chance to do literally whatever I wanted… so I am.

In a little less than 3 weeks, I’ll be relocating back down to Fiji for 2 months to assist with Cyclone Winston disaster relief efforts, followed by an extensive adventure I’m still in the midst of planning – I have absolutely no idea what’ll happen or exactly what this trip will entail; all I know is I can’t wait to share the stories.

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8 Strange & Entertaining Things I Encountered in Fiji

This past summer, I went on an exhilarating solo trip to Fiji. It was my first time traveling down to that part of the world, and even though I was only there a week, those days were filled with enough crazy, awesome experiences to make the long 11-hour flight between LA and Nadi all worthwhile.

Here are the 8 of my favorite bizarre things I encountered during my trip to Fiji, starting from right when I got off the flight…

1. The Fascinating Fijian Money

I wish all $50 bills looked like this one!

I wish all $50 bills looked like this one!

Pretty much all ground transportation I took in Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, was paid for in cash, so one of the first things I had to do upon arrival was hit the ATM. I found the design of their currency beyond charming, and this is only one example!

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Fiji’s Nadi International Airport, just after sunrise the morning of my arrival

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The bus stop at Nadi International Airport, where you can catch transport all over Viti Levu

2. The Amusingly Wild Interior of this Fijian Bus

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How whimsical is the inside of the bus I took from the airport up Viti Levu to my hostel on Fiji’s gorgeous Coral Coast!?

Some incredible scenery from the drive:
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3. Odd Fijian Snacks

Because my flight to Nadi landed so early in the morning, I got kinda hungry on the 100-kilometer bus trek to my final destination. The ride departed a little after 6 am and I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet! So, during one of the longer stops along the journey, I ventured out off the bus to find some food.

Much to my dismay, Lucky Kiosk was not in operation

Much to my dismay, Lucky Kiosk was not in operation

Because it was Sunday, almost all businesses were closed, as is the norm across Fiji. Luckily, there was one lone convenience store open right across the street from the bus stop. This is what I found:

Chicken poulet "Twisties" and burger UFOs, or "Unusually Flavoured Objects"...

Chicken poulet “Twisties” and burger UFOs, or “Unusually Flavoured Objects”…

4. Fiji’s Hilarious Marketing Techniques

Below are some shots taken around Viti Levu’s vivacious Port Denarau area:

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I couldn’t help but find these just delightful…

5. The Mutton Aisle

The day before my departure, I took some time perusing a very large supermarket in the outskirts of Nadi. Overall it was pretty typical and had most basic features you’d expect in an average grocery store, with the exception of a moderately-sized clothing section, genuine shoe department, and a very impressive, not to mention intimidating selection of visibly potent local chili peppers.

I meandered along past another wall of miscellaneous trinkets until just around the corner, something caught my eye:

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Perfectly aware canned meats are a common food item in the South Pacific, it came as no surprise to see a wide assortment of canned beef stews, corned beef and other shudder-inducing meat products, but I did not anticipate so much mutton!Fiji_MuttonAisle2Fiji_MuttonAisle3

I love tasting new foods and experiencing new things, but given my grievous stomach issues at the time, trying mutton was unfortunately way out of the question. More on that whole situation later.

6. Bush Fire!

One afternoon while hanging out at the beach, my eyes started burning and watering uncontrollably from a sudden haze of dense smoky air. I noticed embers flying through the air, and sincerely hoped none would land in my hair. Several others took notice as well and were just as confused as I, until someone pointed out a very active bush fire occurring on a hill not too far away.

Shouldn’t someone do something about that…?

Well how about that... There's a legit full-blown bush fire going on over there!

Well how about that… There’s a legit full-blown bush fire going on over there!

We were told the fire wasn’t a big deal; evidently bush fires like the one currently blazing the hell out of that hillside happen all the time, and this one wasn’t even serious.

Just as the locals said, the fire eventually went away on its own, leaving nothing more than a fading gray streak in the air and a patch of missing greenery.

7. An Octopus Get Stabbed

It’s no secret the octopus is my favorite silly sea creature, so needless to say I was less than pleased when I watched one of these highly intelligent creatures get HARPOONED!

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Even though I was sad for a moment, I knew the poor octopus’ time had to come… Octopi are regularly captured for food in parts of Fiji – in some villages, whatever you catch that day determines dinner!

8. Dead Humpback Whale

One day while out on a snorkeling trip, our guide alerted us that a dead humpback whale had been spotted washed up on a sandbar not too far away. Yes, absolutely, we were going to check it out.

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Approaching the deceased humpback whale

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Getting up close and personal with the poor dead whale

It was eerie to say the least.

After a few minutes of observing this magnificent deceased sea-dwelling mammal, one bold passenger requested if he might be able to stand upon the whale.

With total concession from all aboard the boy, a French college student living abroad in New Zealand and in Fiji on school break, leaped readily from the boat onto the whale with a solid, albeit jiggly landing.

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He did say it was an exhilarating experience.

Before long, I too took my turn standing on the dead whale. Not to worry – they said the whale died of natural causes, and we did our best to pay our best respects to the whale… But more on all that later. ☺

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Why I’ll Never Travel to Cabo Alone Again

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A nice glimpse of the marina in downtown Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

In a desperate attempt to clear my head from the toxic accumulation of several month’s worth of high stress and general bad luck last year, I did something I’d never done before – I went out of town by myself on a complete last-minute whim, planning my entire solo trip less than a week in advance.

At first I didn’t even know where to go – my only criteria was the location had to be warm and far, far away from Colorado.

I chose my destination based primarily on flight cost, and at five days prior to departure, I only had three reasonably priced options: Cabo, Phoenix, and El Paso, Texas.

The winner was pretty obvious.

Using the Hotel Tonight app, I booked three nights at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos, the cheapest beachfront accommodations available somewhere in the stodgy outskirts of San José del Cabo. I suppose I should have expected something dreadful simply because of the meager price, but that’s just all part of the learning experience…

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Observing the nice cacti garden outside Los Cabos International Airport

En route to Los Cabos and enjoying a mango margarita outside the airport upon arrival, back when I still super excited...

En route to Los Cabos and enjoying a mango margarita outside the airport upon arrival, back when I still super excited…

I immediately knew something had to be off the moment my airport shuttle rounded the driveway of what at first appeared to be a live construction site, tucked behind a mountainous heap of dirt, overgrown brush and rusting debris. I couldn’t find the name of the resort anywhere.

“Are you sure this is it?” I asked the shuttle driver, hesitant to unload at whatever this strange, disheveled place was that looked nothing like the resort website.

“Ah sí, sí,” he responded hurriedly, clearly anxious to move on with his route. There were still several other passengers in the van waiting to get dropped off, already blitzed from too many tequila sunrises at the overpriced outdoor airport bar, which of course was conveniently placed right by the arrivals pick-up curb.

“Just get on with it, will yeh!” a particularly belligerent male could be heard shouting from the back.

I took a deep breath, gathered my things, and hoped for the best.

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The Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos did have nice plants

Entering the main hotel lobby of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos was like stepping into a blazing hot inferno, which seemed odd considering the exterior’s breezy, thatched hut-like appearance. The heat was absolutely stifling, so I certainly didn’t complain when the host at the front desk handed me a nice chilled face cloth, along with my greatly anticipated complimentary check-in glass of champagne.
However, just as I was finally starting to feel at ease, the series of unexpected daunting questions arose.

“So, señora, when does your husband plan to arrive?”

“What?” This was extremely confusing, since I knew I’d made my online reservation specifically for one person. I explained all this to the stocky male receptionist, that I was by myself and had reserved just a basic room for one with one king-sized. He eyed me skeptically, one of his bristly dark brows raised.

“Ah… So your husband arrives tomorrow then?”

“No… No! No. No tengo un esposo. Estoy solo.” What was so difficult to understand? Then it occurred to me, maybe the resort didn’t see solo female travelers often. Or ever.

“Ok then,” the receptionist muttered, clearly displeased. “So, would you prefer a room with an ocean view, or a room with air conditioning?”

“What!?”

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The most arid fountain I’ve ever seen, tucked in the middle of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

Not wanting to suffer through the projected 90-degree heat without it, I chose a room with air conditioning, hopeful whatever view I had would be pleasant enough. Before long, a bellboy who appeared no older than sixteen years old led me to my assigned accommodations – a ramshackle room in a dilapidated building I’m pretty sure was not fit to have anyone staying in it.

I actually did end up having a nice partial glimpse of the ocean out the side of my balcony, which was only partly blocked by a massive mound of dirt and decomposing rubble, but otherwise got a terrific uninterrupted view of what appeared to be the resort’s unsightly construction parking and leisure area.

The best part of my hotel room view at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

The best part of my hotel room view at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

Doesn't the scenery just take your breath away?

Doesn’t the scenery just take your breath away?

Everything about the room was just plain seedy, offering a dismal atmosphere similar to what one might expect from the local prison. Tiles were missing from the floor. The ceiling fans did not work. All lamps and lighting fixtures were missing light bulbs, except for one poor, dim fluorescent light flickering relentlessly overhead.

The cold tap in the bathroom sink didn’t work so the water only came out scalding, which made washing hands and brushing teeth a painful challenge. Fortunately, while it was possible to control the water temperature in the shower, something was very wrong with the shower head or water pressure as it seemed to spray uncontrollably in every direction, causing a small flood throughout the bathroom with each rinse.

For some reason the glass on my balcony door sported the name of a different resort, ‘La Jolla,’ further adding to the confusion.

Wait a minute... I thought I was staying at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos?

Wait a minute… I thought I was staying at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos?

Apparently to the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos, the concept ‘air conditioning’ means a very outdated, dubious-looking box contraption barely hanging by a few wires above the balcony door, occasionally spitting out mouse farts of air slightly cooler than the overall temperature.
I know I totally could have asked to change rooms, considering there was nothing even remotely satisfactory about mine. But, because I was only there for three days for the sole purpose of enjoying the beach alone, I did my absolute best to not mind the copious issues.

A highly retouched photo I took of my hotel room at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

A highly retouched photo I took of my dingy hotel room at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

Going into this trip, I had secretly hoped it would be something like my amazing Turks and Caicos solo travel experience the year before. A thrilling, life-changing (not to mention wildly relaxing) getaway full of memories I’d cherish for a lifetime. I wanted to meet exciting new people, make new friends, have more fun than ever imaginable and completely forget my life back home.

Clearly this was expecting too much.

A hazy beach view from the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos' pool area

A hazy beach view from the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos’ pool area

For some reason the hotel was eerily empty, with the exception of a few Mexican families, assorted senior citizens and one lone American couple around my age who mistakenly chose the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos as their honeymoon destination.

The social scene was indeed bleak.

On top of that, there was no open bar, but rather a grossly overpriced swim-up pool bar with a barely convincing 2-for-1 happy hour I eventually learned to take smart advantage of (which I’ll admit was a fun novelty, if not the resort’s only fun amenity).

The bartenders at the swim-up pool bar were also the only ones at the hotel who didn’t grimace whenever I asked them to refill my Klean Kanteen water bottle with drinking water, as opposed to buying pricey bottled water from the gift shop per the front desk’s suggestion. This was very much a budget vacation, no way was I paying for bottled drinking water!

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The swim-up pool bar at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

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No complaints here

My days in Cabo were spent mostly by the pool or at the beach, despite the resort’s warnings not to go anywhere near it. Red flags indicating dangerous currents waved prominently over the beach walkway, so I knew not to swim, but I saw no reason not to use this perfectly golden, entirely empty beach as my own personal sunbathing oasis.

I literally had the entire beach to myself – though the view was hazy, I could see down the coast for miles, giving me plenty of warning should any strangers amble by.

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I crashed early the first night, thanks to the sheer exhaustion from my red-eye flight there. The second night however, I wanted to explore – and to my dismay, there was nothing at all worth exploring in the vicinity of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos. In fact, the only other commercial establishments within walking distance (albeit very treacherous walking distance) were a miniscule cash-only cantina and a small strip mall best described as ‘plain sketch,’ containing a run-down Applebee’s and what apparently was the only available ATM nearby.

After declining the front desk’s recommendation to sign up for some expensive all-night party bus journey that just screamed FOREBODING MESS, I decided I’d venture over to Cabo San Lucas to explore on my own, hoping for the best and seeing where the evening would take me.

Ensuring I had plenty of daylight hours left to look around before dark, I paid for a taxi ride into Cabo San Lucas’ main commercial center, where I initially found myself thinking well, this is where all the tourists are!

The place was BUSTLING. Hoards of overweight middle-aged Americans, overwhelmed younger families struggling to hold onto their small children, and teenagers sporting cut-offs with matching puff-painted tank tops filled the sidewalks and streets, which were lined with an interesting combination of kitschy gift shops, authentic-looking cantinas, taco joints, timeshare offices, over-the-top touristy restaurants and flashy nightclubs.

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Strolling down the marina boardwalk in downtown Cabo San Lucas

I think I wandered every inch of downtown Cabo San Lucas possible. After walking up, down and around each street, up and down the marina, through the enormous dreary shopping mall and around the adjacent ‘Luxury Avenue’ area, it was time to stop and find a place to rest up and have dinner.

Refusing to give into the relentless cat-calling and inappropriate comments I knew would inevitably accompany my trek, ‘special offers’ from desperate restaurant-owners hoping to lure poor naïve souls in for who knows what, I eventually decided on Desperado’s Restaurant & Cantina, a grandiose Tex Mex eatery teeming with tourists and advertising a popular late night live music show. No, it was not ‘authentic’ Latin cuisine nor did the establishment seem to represent anything in regards to the local culture – I picked it solely because no one’d harassed me to be a customer, so I figured I’d be safe there.

As the evening progressed, it became increasingly more apparent the judgmental hotel staff at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos weren’t the only ones who thought it incredibly strange I was a single female traveling alone in Los Cabos. The server at Desperado’s found my plight fascinating, while others I encountered throughout the night had no hesitations in expressing their strong disapproval.

All that followed dinner was one uncomfortable incident after another.

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My view from the tiki bar in downtown Cabo San Lucas

First, I decided to grab a drink at the whimsical tiki-themed bar across the street, which looked tame enough. The entire place was empty, and the endearing bartender couldn’t have been more enthusiastic in telling me about their daily drink special: a free shot of tequila paired with the order of a Corona or Modelo. Why not…

Reminding myself I was technically on vacation, I went ahead and ordered the special, figuring a shot of tequila wouldn’t hit too hard so soon after dinner. I enjoyed a few moments of relaxation, sipping my Corona while occasionally glancing up at the large TV screen mounted above the bar, which blared a random medley of Taylor Swift music videos on a loop.

“So what are you up to tonight, señorita?” The bartender’s voice broke my trance, serving as a quick reminder to keep my guard up. He spoke with a thick accent in friendly, broken English.

The bartender carried on with collecting my empty shot glass and beer bottle, smiling at me warmly. I told him I just planned to see where the night would take me.

“Well,” he replied slowly, “I get off work soon, and I live only a block away, over there.” He gestured across the street. “If you meet me back here in an hour, I can show you the whole city.”

Flattered as I was, in absolutely no way did I intend to take this guy up on his offer.

“Meet me on this corner, this one here, in about an hour!” he called after me as I walked away.

“Yeah! Yeah, I mean I… I’ll have to see… I don’t really know… Yeah… Sure,” I stammered back, smiling, nodding and waving for what seemed an appropriate amount until I’d finally traveled out of reasonable conversation range.

Finding the social atmosphere I craved so badly was proving to be much more difficult than expected.

Cabo_Marina5 Cabo_Marina7

Nightfall was rapidly approaching, so I took a long walk along the marina to watch the dazzling sunset glisten over the water. Dazzling shades of orange and violet filled the sky and the mirror-like reflection in the water below, accompanied by a striking backdrop of stark red peaks jutting out from the horizon. It was truly mesmerizing.

Keenly aware of Cabo San Lucas’ reputation as a wild party town, it dawned on me by this point in the evening that staying out much later would not be a smart or safe decision, especially alone. I would have one more drink, I decided, and then return back to the resort. What could go wrong?

I stopped by a busy restaurant in the bottom of a nice-looking hotel, where I went ahead and sat myself up at the bar near a group of middle-aged American ladies and quickly opened my book, just so to avoid appearing quite so alone. Moments later, an older Hispanic man claiming to be the restaurant owner greeted me with a zealous welcome, followed by a strangely familiar interrogation with the same list of uncomfortable questions I’d sadly grown to expect in Los Cabos.

“Where is your husband?” Not here…
“He must be getting into Los Cabos late then. When does your husband arrive?” There is no husband…

In hindsight, I should have absolutely lied to everyone about being single and alone on this trip.

As soon as the restaurant manager learned I was alone, he exchanged an ominous glance with the bartender, who immediately presented me with a tequila shot. I explained that I had not ordered a shot, nor did I particularly desire one.

“Oh no that shot is free for you,” the manager exclaimed, laughing. “It’s specially to you from that bartender over there, he’s shy.” He pointed at the bartender who smiled back coyly. Not typically one to pass up a free drink, I took my shot reluctantly, praying it hadn’t been laced.

I returned my focus to my book, hoping the obsequious serving staff would leave me in peace so I could finish my last few sips of beer. Next thing I knew, two more tequila shots slid down the bar towards me.

“Those are for you,” the bartender said, winking. The restaurant manager had stopped by again too, clearly thrilled I’d been given two more shots.

“I really don’t need these…” I responded. It was not my goal to get wasted that night, much less drugged and assaulted. I managed to force half of one more shot down before tossing the remaining tequila over my shoulder (a favorite party trick from college).

To my dismay, the manager seemed enthralled by my apparent shot-taking abilities. “So señorita, what are you up to tonight after this? You know, I live real close to here… You should come over, if you want…”

Why do all these Mexican men think I want to go out with them, just because I’m traveling solo?!

“Here, try this shot next…” As if the situation hadn’t become alarming enough, the bartender presented me with one last complimentary shot – not tequila, but rather a creepy, grotesque substance in shot form.

“What is this?” I asked, wincing.

“That’s called a brain tumor,” he replied with a grin.

My stomach dropped.

I have a very sensitive family history involving brain cancer, and that was exactly the sign I needed to get myself out of there. I left cash on the bar for my beer and proceeded to gather my belongings.

“Now wait, where do you think you’re going?” Like flipping a switch, the restaurant manager’s temperament had gone from friendly and welcoming to almost menacing in an instant. I sensed he had nothing but sinister motives in mind.

“Sorry, but I just got my cue to leave. Time to go.” I grabbed my bag, waved one final adieu, and promptly left without looking back.

Cabo_SanLucas3

The marina boardwalk in downtown Cabo San Lucas

My heart palpitated heavily as I power-walked away. It was barely 9:30 pm, but I wanted nothing more than to just get back to the resort. After battling a group of wasted teenage boys for a cab and haggling with the inexplicably crabby driver for a somewhat reasonably fair rate, I was on my way “home” – finally, I could breathe.

Little did I know, the worst was just beginning.

…to be continued.

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Cabo San Lucas marina at dusk

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2, COMING SOON!!

How Turks Stole My Heart (& Why It Was The Perfect First Solo Travel Destination)

Turks and Caicos Islands stole a piece of my heart. Or, maybe I left a piece of my heart there voluntarily. Either way, I find myself wistfully longing for that experience all too often…

Aerial view of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

An aerial view of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

In 2014, I traveled solo to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, where I spent a magical week on the island of Providenciales at Club Med Turkoise Resort. I’d never stayed at a Club Med before, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

At first, colleagues sneered when I disclosed where I’d be staying. “Definitely try the trapeze!” a manager suggested enthusiastically. I was nervous to say the least, considering this was my first time traveling completely alone. However, once I realized that for the first time in my life, I would more or less have total control over my entire adventure, my anxiety turned to sheer excitement.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from my first solo travel experience. I genuinely anticipated keeping to myself the entire time, reading more books than I’d ever read before in one week and behaving extremely healthy, all while heeding my cousin’s cautious advice to “stay away from all men”. I even expected to eat every meal alone in my room and considered avoiding drinking and parties, turning my vacation into a sort of self-imposed detox retreat.

Turks and Caicos evening at sunset

Your hut or mine? Turks and Caicos Islands

Thankfully, none of that turned out to be the case. Anyone who’s ever stayed at a Club Med resort knows you simply can’t avoid the fun (at least not without really, really trying). But why would you want to?

From the moment I first arrived at Club Med Turkoise, I almost felt like I was at adult summer camp, complete with friendly, attentive GO staff members (serving as the adult camp counselors I suppose), ready to accelerate the party at any moment. In addition to being my first solo trip, this was also my first experience at an all-inclusive resort, and I quickly grew accustomed to the open bar.

Club Med Turkoise Resort, Turks and Caicos Islands

Club Med Turkoise Resort, Turks and Caicos Islands

To my surprise, I wasn’t the only solo traveler at the resort. Numerous other guests I met were also there alone, as if Club Med Turkoise were a secret mecca for singles tucked away in the northeastern Caribbean.

Some travelers were there to find love. Others were simply attracted to the resort’s adults-only policy and were thrilled to be away from kids (I will admit, that part was GREAT). There were also several solo guests just like myself – those wanting a fun adventure.

My first full day in paradise started out alone, as expected. After a few productive hours spent reading a book entitled “the Art of Sleeping Alone” and sunbathing, I soon found myself at the resort’s beach bar “Sharkie’s,” where a charming Australian bartender gladly refilled my frozen piña colada as many times as I desired. So much for that detox…

Beach in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Sunning in Turks and Caicos Islands…. hot dogs or legs!?

Within the hour, I’d somehow made two new best friends, both guys around my age who were also traveling alone. I’m not really sure whether they were captivated by my impressive drinking abilities or just wanted some female company, but my week in Turks wouldn’t have been nearly the same without those delightfully ridiculous individuals (you know who you are !). Our little group eventually comprised of new friends from all over North America, many of which I still keep in touch with today.

After one of the most dazzling sunset displays I’ve ever observed, one too many dirty martinis, and a somewhat blurry evening spent dancing and over-socializing at the resort’s scheduled pirate-themed beach party, I blissfully gave into the carefree Club Med lifestyle. Even despite the gnarly hangover and laughable sunburns, I awoke the following morning with a renewed thirst for life, eager and curious to see what fun would happen next.

Sunset in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Dazzling sunset in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

In addition to unlimited drinks at any of the resort bars, the all-inclusive plan at Club Med Turkoise includes three meals daily at their cafeteria-style restaurant, ‘Grace Bay’.

With the exception of beer taps alongside the soft-serve ice cream machine and numerous bottles of wine free for the taking at every table, Grace Bay directly reminded me of the dining hall at my college in the most delightfully nostalgic way – after a while you start running into the same people in line for food, making jokes with the chefs, sitting with the same crew at the same table, ideally one offering the best view for people-watching…

Blissful sunset Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Another blissful Turks and Caicos sunset

Despite averaging only about four hours of sleep a night the whole week, I’ve never felt more refreshed and revived as I did following my extraordinary experience at Club Med Turkoise. I could easily expatiate for hours on the ceaseless thrilling, risqué adventures that week had in store for me, none of which would likely have been possible had I not been traveling solo.

Club Med Turkoise helped me completely distance myself from my stressful life back home without even immediately realizing it – when  you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to imagine what a blessing it is to not fall asleep dreaming of perpetual to-do lists, looming deadlines and all the other miscellaneous work-related nonsense that seeps into your thoughts, eventually consuming your life. For the first time in months, my mind felt free and lucid, as forgotten memories came flooding back and my soaring blood pressure gradually declined to a significantly healthier level.

Calm waters in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Calm waters in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

I could talk endlessly about the incredible days at the beach, mostly spent sunbathing or swimming in the gloriously crystal clear, swimming pool-like water…

These leisure activities were far from boring – retrieving shells or coral tidbits with one’s toes while swimming proved to be a very entertaining pastime, as was tipsy sandcastle-building.

Every so often we’d encounter zany local fellows on the beach with names like Dondo or Morely, who’d stumble toward us through the sand and initially do their best to sell us a special deal on parasailing excursions or a banana boat ride. After inevitably declining the offer, however, their sales pitch quickly shifted towards promoting the Thursday-night ‘Fish Fry,’ a local favorite weekly occurrence and evidently THE premier social event on the island.

“Well you just gotta go to da Fish Fry,” Morely insisted. “You like reggae? You like hip hop? I think I’d like to see you dancin’ to some hip hop…”

The brash invitation inspired a series of hilariously crude inside jokes, mostly of questionable taste, primarily involving seashell-made shanks and other forms of inappropriate harassment.

Perhaps next time I visit Turks I’ll be brave enough to check out the weekly Providenciales Fish Fry, provided I have no fewer than two fierce male bodyguards for personal protection.

Late Afternoon at Club Med Turkoise Resort in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Lovely late afternoon at Club Med Turkoise Resort in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

I could go on forever about the fabulous parties, impressive live shows, leisurely evenings spent sipping Miami Vice cocktails while watching the vibrant Caribbean sunset, and rebellious nighttime shenanigans reminiscent of some of my favorite college memories.

To sum it up, my time at Club Med Turkoise in Turks and Caicos Islands truly changed my life for the better. There’s nothing I would change about that experience. If you’re considering embarking on your own first solo-travel adventure, and say “yes!” to any of the following points below, Club Med Turkoise might just be the perfect destination for you, too…

Mesmerizing Sunset in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

The most mesmerizing Turks and Caicos sunset…

Club Med Turkoise is the perfect first solo-travel destination if…

  • You want to meet new people, want practice meeting new people, or simply love meeting new people
    • During my time in Turks and Caicos, I feel incredibly fortunate to have met so many fascinating new people from all over North America and the world. I’ve kept in close touch with multiple friends from that trip, and have even met up with a few of them elsewhere since then!
Friends at Sunset in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

There’s never a bad sunset in Turks and Caicos Islands

  • You’re interested in trying your hand at unique recreational activities
    • I learned how to play bocce ball, participated in a grueling beachfront water aerobics class, and attempted Club Med’s trapeze twice… I most definitely won’t be joining a circus anytime soon, but at least I can say I tried it!
    • I can’t say I’m a sailor or particularly even know how to sail, but I developed a very strong love for sailing.
    • There’s almost nothing more relaxing than a full-body beachfront massage, accompanied by a soothing ocean breeze and the cathartic sound of gentle waves lapping the shore…
    • The sand here is PRIME for excellent sandcastles.
Sunbathing and Sandcastles in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Sunbathing and sandcastles in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

  • You’d love to explore the colorful undersea world below the crystal clear, azure blue Caribbean waters…
    • Another major perk about Club Med is that many snorkeling and off-site excursions are included, so I didn’t pay any extra for snorkeling during my visit.
    • Club Med Turkoise also offers scuba diving and more extensive snorkeling trips out to other islands that do cost a little extra. I didn’t opt into any of these this trip, but perhaps next time!
Carribbean Sea Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Pre-snorkeling in the azure blue Caribbean Sea encompassing Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

  • You’re not afraid of a good party
    • You can expect a vivacious themed party every single evening, which I’m fairly certain are planned well in advance –  I spoke with one seasoned Club Med female guest who always calls ahead to get the party theme lineup for the week of her trip, just so she can pack accordingly… I’ll definitely consider this next time.
    • As a female traveling alone, I obviously had to be smart and on my guard at all times, especially while drinking and partying. No matter how safe and trusting the environment, avoiding dangerous situations is ALWAYS a priority. Thankfully at Club Med, their friendly GO staff members seem to keep a look out for everyone, which is immensely reassuring. This may be a huge reason why I never experienced any uncomfortable situations during my stay there.
Dazzling Sunset in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Another piña colada, please! One more dazzling sunset in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

  • You’re in desperate need of a thorough escape from everyday life
    • With constant entertainment, unlimited cocktails, perfect uncrowded beaches and unparalleled island scenery, it’s impossible not to feel far, far away from the stresses back home while here.
Beautiful Morning at the Beach in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Beautiful morning at the beach my last day in Turks and Caicos Islands

So what are you waiting for? Whether you’re traveling alone, with friends or a significant other, take a break from reality and immerse yourself in the tropical splendor of Turks and Caicos Islands!

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