Life, Travel, West Indies

Trench Town, Jamaica and the Symbol of One Love.


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 A Dreadly Rockin’ Morning in Trench Town, Jamaica, was written after an inspiring visit to the iconic urban ghetto in Kingston, Jamaica. The story was first published on The Expeditioner travel website on the 20th of February, 2016.

 

Reggae music pulses from inside the compound as wafts of marijuana smoke float skywards under the blazing morning sun. The enormous sign, painted in the Rastafarian colors red, green and gold outside the gate at 6-8 Lower First Street reads, “Welcome. Trench Town Culture Yard. Birthplace of Jamaica’s Legacies.” It stands alongside a huge black and white portrait of the late Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley O.M., the acclaimed Jamaican-born rock star who took reggae to the world.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect the morning I ventured into the heart of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica. Since the late 1960’s (in the aftermath of Jamaica gaining independence from Britain in 1962), this poverty-stricken area of West Kingston has maintained a reputation as a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood. For much of the last half of the 20th Century, politically motivated violence between militant gangs aligned to rival parties — the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and the PNP (People’s National Party) — left urban Kingston reeling. Some guidebooks still warn against visiting. Though things have improved and shootings are less common, it’s still one of the Jamaican capital’s poorest neighborhoods, worlds away from the beachfront resorts that lure most visitors to the tropical Caribbean island.

But lured I was on a recent odyssey through spellbinding Jamaica, compelled to pay tribute to the place that inspired many of the world’s great reggae artists. In the bleak, violent reality of ghetto life, the Trench Town community fostered pockets of incredible creativity and spirituality. And it was here, in this hotspot of humanity, where opportunities to lift oneself out of the zinc-fenced yards were almost non-existent, that reggae and its musical predecessors rocksteady and ska were born.

To read the full story go to http://www.theexpeditioner.com/feature-articles/A-Dreadly-Rockin-Morning-in-Trench-Town-Jamaica.

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Life, Travel

Vale Gigi


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A few weeks after my beloved grandmother’s funeral, I found myself staying at a hut in Norway in the middle of the mild northern European summer of 2015. By mid-morning when the sun had gained some strength, most days I made my way out to the large veranda to sit amidst the birch trees and wild summer flowers. Quiet days followed, often alone in contemplation, overlooking the glassy waters of the Oslo Fjord.

For many years my grandmother Gigi’s life and mine had been closely intertwined, bound in a relationship born out of deep love and respect and an element of duty. Her final breathe came half way through her 102nd year as the cycle of her long life found its end. Immersed in the magical long days of the Scandinavian summer, I allowed myself time to reflect upon the tapestry of memories embedded in my heart of the fiercely intelligent, kind-hearted woman who had been an ever-present figure in my life since the day I was born.

Sometimes I curled up and dozed in the sun, my body unravelling from the state of vigilance that had built up over the years I cared for my grandmother whilst my two little boys were still very young. Sometimes I took long silent walks through the forest while bright sunlight filtered through the tall canopy of pine trees. I passed hundreds of wild blueberry and raspberry patches and ate delicious berries straight from the bush.

Even this simple act flooded me with memories and transported me back to a happy weekly childhood ritual. While my two younger siblings and I piled on to my grandparent’s bed to watch the Muppet Show, my grandmother would bring in a big bowl of fruit and sit peeling and cutting up different fruits for us. Often she patiently peeled grapes for her treasured grandchildren long past the age we were old enough to eat the skins.

There were many things I admired about my grandmother. She considered herself a fortunate soul, despite having seen and endured much sadness and tragedy throughout her lifetime. She was curious and thoughtful, warm and loving and made deep friendships wherever she went. She lived a love-filled life as a result of the care she had always bestowed upon her family and friends.

The natural mystic in me takes solace knowing she died on the same date in the Hebrew calendar, the 2nd of Tammuz, that her cherished husband, my wonderful Papa also passed away twenty-four years earlier.

Cricket, Travel, West Indies

Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica. 13th June, 2015.


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Marvellous Effort That!

In a comical tribute to the late great Richie Benaud, who passed away earlier this year on the 10th of April, 2015, Australian fans turned up to day 3 of the Second Test match against West Indies dressed as the much loved cricketing icon. The question is… were they wearing the cream, the bone, the white, the off-white, the ivory or the beige?

Cricket, Travel, West Indies

C’mon Aussie C’mon, Dominica, West Indies.


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HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FIRST TEST, WINDSOR PARK, DOMINICA, WEST INDIES.

Call me crazy but…put me on a tropical island with the promise of test cricket and I truly do find heaven. So when the stars aligned in 2015 for some cricket watching West Indian style on the islands of Dominica and Jamaica, all that was left to do was pack the bags and start dreaming of Zen.

The First Test began at Windsor Park in Roseau, Dominica on the 3rd of June. After two absorbing days of cricket viewed from the stands, having seen the Australian bowling line up of Johnson, Starc, Hazelwood and Lyon dismiss the West Indies for 148 before tea on the first day, and thirty-five year Adam Voges steady the visitors first innings to become the twentieth Australian to score a test century on debut, my two young boys requested a change of scenery on day three. “Please take us to the hill mummy. It looks really fun there. We want to go to the hill. Come on, let’s go, pleeeaaasse mummy,” they both implored.

So off I traipsed to the rickety makeshift ticket office outside the ground to purchase additional tickets for an afternoon on the hill under the blazing Caribbean sun. And thanks to the good natured, kind hearted fun loving Australians we met soon after, that’s when the fun really started.

Within a few minutes our cricket bat was spotted and seconds later a ball appeared. Before we knew it some of the guys from The Fanatics touring party and eight of their jovial tag-a-long mates, dressed by the way in delightful green and gold mini-dresses and matching yellow headbands, had surrounded the kids for an impromptu game of cricket.

Chaos ensued as these friendly, good natured, beer drinking Aussies proceeded to embrace and entertain my two young boys for the rest of the afternoon. When they weren’t playing cricket on the hill, they carried the boys on their shoulders, danced with them, included them in everything they did and went out of their way to make sure they were having the time of their life! My seven year old later declared it the most fun he’d ever had!

At one point they staged a hilarious mock wedding with a ‘bride’ and a groom called Gravy, named after the well known West Indies cricket fan from Antigua called Gravy.

For those of us actually watching the game…the cricket was absorbing as the experienced Marlon Samuels, 74, and debutant Shane Dowrich, 70, fought hard for West Indies in the second innings putting on a solid partnership and for a while it looked like the game might go into a fourth day. But West Indies again capitulated losing their last seven wickets for 35 runs, setting Australia just 47 runs to win the test. Enter David Warner who belted 28 in the blink of an eye as we cheered Australia to an emphatic victory late on the third day.

Cricket, Life, Travel

Submerged beneath the turquoise water. Barbados, West Indies.


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And so finally I returned. On a pilgrimage of sorts. To the small Caribbean island nation of Barbados. I wondered whether the sense of belonging that overwhelmed me sixteen years ago, the first time I visited, would again take hold. For years I had carried within my heart incredible memories of my first trip to Barbados, when I was twenty-six and alone in the world. Inexplicably back then it felt like I’d come home.

Midway through May, 2015, I found my way back. To the same little strip of beach on the south coast of the island, at a place called Worthing, in the parish of Christchurch. From my balcony I stood mesmerized by the sparkling Atlantic. Ever-changing shades of turquoise and blue like a colour swatch card made purely of water. Overtaken by a strong magnetic pull to be submerged beneath the warm tropical water; akin to the pull of an infant to the breast. An energy source crucial for survival.

If I listen closely to my heart’s desire, time and again it leads me to the water’s edge. In his landmark book, Blue Mind: the Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, the American marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols, describes the human – water connection as, “A mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”

There are many other things that bond me to Barbados. For a start we both share a deep love of cricket. And though the West Indies team is not the great cricketing force they once were, cricket is still a popular national pass-time. Historically cricket represents so more than just a sport. As the great Antiguan cricketer Sir Vivian Richards once told me, “…cricket is more like a religion than a sport.” When West Indies teams of the past were unbeatable, the spirits of the entire region lifted. (more…)

Life, Travel

Mexican Dreaming at the Casa Azul, Coyaocan, Mexico City.


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Inspired by a visit one morning to the Frida Kahlo Museum in the colossal metropolis of Mexico City.

Palpable magic permeates the air moment you enter La Casa Azul, the house built in 1904 by Frida Kahlo’s German born father, Karl Wilhelm Kahlo. Now home to El Museo Frida Kahlo, the museum is dedicated to the life and legacy of the legendary Mexican artist.

Painted a luminous shade of cobalt blue, the Casa Azul stands proudly on a corner block between Calle de Londres and Allende in the suburb of Coyoacan, Mexico City. Built to overlook an internal courtyard and garden, this is the house where Frida Kahlo lived much of her life. The immaculately preserved rooms feel like giant still life installations. The day I visited dappled sunlight bounced around inside and out adding to the magical feeling.

In the kitchen, dining room and large artist’s studio, Kahlo’s objects, furniture and personal items have been left untouched allowing an intimate glimpse into the private world of the remarkable much loved daughter of Mexico. Of the two bedrooms on display, one is upstairs directly off the large studio where she painted. Incredibly the other bedroom was the room used at different times by Leon Trotsky during his two year exile in Mexico, and later by the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Frida’s tempestuous husband. Throughout the house countless original Frida Kahlo paintings, and a few by Diego Rivera hang on the walls.

As I wandered around Casa Azul taking in the decorative aesthetic symmetry of the rooms, from the lovely kitchen with its traditional yellow and blue tiled Mexican hearth, to the large fastidiously organised art studio where Kahlo’s 1940’s wheelchair rests in front of her easel, I wondered about the woman behind the carefully constructed image she presented to the world. (more…)

Travel

The Artisan Market of San Cristobel de las Casas, Chiapas State, Mexico


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In the picturesque mountain city of San Cristobel de las Casas, Chiapas State, Mexico, a visit to the Mercado Artesanal, the Artisans Market, is a must.

Mexico is famous for beautiful textiles. From intricate embroidery adorning decorative clothing, to colourful woven cotton blankets, this is one of the best markets in the country to see examples of fine hand-made craftsmanship; it’s like walking through a breathing Mexican museum.

Also on display are stalls crammed with hand-made leather goods, delicate beadwork, exquisite amber and turquoise jewellery, paperbark artwork and of course the painted ceramic skulls one sees for sale all over Mexico.

Many stall holders come from indigenous Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages surrounding San Cristobel. Some sit quietly, deep in concentration going about their work, embroidering, sewing or making jewellery. Others pass the day alongside family; parents manning stalls with sons and daughters. In a memorable encounter, an old woman, her long black hair plaited down her back, looked me in the eye and told me, “Mucho trabajo, mucho trabajo”, (much work, much work), while she showed me table runners covered entirely with embroidery.

Artisans pass traditional knowledge and skills down the generations, so when the time comes grown children inherit the family’s market stall and as such secure their livelihood. For those souls not lucky to be born into a family of craftspeople life is very different. In the streets outside, women tailed by numerous children approach every few minutes trying to sell wares others have made. It’s common to see boys as young as seven or eight working to shine shoes or sell candies for a few pesos. In the historic cobblestoned centre of San Cristobel de las Casas, where preserved colonial facades now house hotels and hip shops, the contrast between the city’s riches and immense poverty is impossible to ignore.

 

Travel

Butterflies of Mexico and the Day of the Dead


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“If we fly by your side, avoid chasing us away, we are fragile and you may harm us.”

“Si pasamos a un lado tuyo, evita espantarnos, somos fragiles y nos puedes lastimar.”

This beautiful sentence touched my heart while walking through the butterfly enclosure at Xcaret, an enormous ‘eco fun park’ on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, close to the famous beaches of Playa Del Carmen and Cancun.

Butterflies hold a special place in the hearts of the Mexican people. In one of the great migrations of the animal kingdom, at the end of October every year, up to a billion orange and black Monarch Butterflies undertake a four thousand kilometre journey from Eastern Canada to the forests of western central Mexico. They arrive at the Reserva de las Biosfera Mariposa Monarca, (the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve) to begin their five month winter hibernation in the tree tops, some thirty metres above the forest floor in the oak and evergreen trees.

Their arrival in late October coincides with Mexico’s most important national holiday, Dia de los Muertas; the Day of the Dead, on the 2nd of November. According to Mexican folklore, many people believe the butterflies are the souls of their departed relatives who return to be with their families around this special national holiday.

As the name suggests, Day of the Dead celebrations remember and honour the lives of the dead. Mexican families often spend the day picnicking in the cemetery by the gravesites of their loved ones. Sometimes their dead family members’ favourite foods are placed alongside the grave. In the city of Campeche, the government has even granted permission for some families to exhume the bones to allow them to be cleaned before being returned to their burial site.

I love the idea that the cycle of life and death plays an important role in the rich Mexican culture. If you think back to the beautiful butterflies, one of nature’s most evolved insects, their four-stage life cycle; from egg to larvae to cocoon and finally the metamorphosis into a butterfly is an incredible example of nature’s infinite intelligence. Both male and female butterflies die soon after mating, the female once she has laid her eggs, having done what she was placed on this earth to do.