Roatan: the food and the activities

Roatan is home to the second largest barrier reef–you know, after that other one in Australia–and, therefore, has a huge diving community. Full disclosure: I am not a diver, so I can only give partial advice. That being said, I did ask some people who know, and did take a snorkeling trip with a dive company. Next trip, I WILL get scuba certified.

Since I’m already talking about scuba, I’ll start with the activities…

You do not need to do a boat tour, but for approximately $75/person, it’s totally worth it. Our house was located on Orchid Beach–convenient walking distance from both West Bay and West End. Our first morning, we hopped in kayaks and paddled out to the reef, tethered the boats to a buoy, and snorkeled around the shallow reef. Not many large groups of tourists make it there, so the reef is very much intact and alive.

Several days we walked to West Bay Beach and set up camp all the way at the end, in front of the Grand Roatan Resort. If you go there a couple of days in a row, and are like us and will talk to anyone, make friends with Xiomara (Flaca for short). She gives a decent beach massage for dirt cheap and will give you tips on where to get cheaper beers and locally made (DELICIOUS) empanadas.

The water in West Bay is so clear and so blue (due to the white sand and probable blasting of the reef to create tourist swimming zones) and it’s an easy swim to AMAZING snorkeling. The reef is shallow, but if you carefully navigate past that part to the drop off, it’s quite surreal. Observing the other world that exists under the sea is spectacular.

*Do find out from the locals which days are cruise ship days. If there are only 1-2 in port, it’s still ok, but once you get more, this beach is kind of a zoo. Now, I was able to witness several cruise ship people suit up in their snorkel gear (with flippers) and carefully back into the knee-deep, perfectly still water. Those laughs were worth the crowds for a day, as people-watching is a favorite pastime of mine. Here’s a tip: If you’re planning to snorkel at West Bay Beach, and don’t want people like me to poke fun at you, put your flippers on in the water and just walk straight in. After all, the water looks like this:

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Shea ladies at West Bay Beach

For our snorkeling trip, we went with Clearwater Adventures and were so happy with that decision. Denisse Mazu, the dive master, was lovely and really provided us with a fabulous experience. When staying at The Pink Orchid, Clearwater couldn’t be more convenient as it’s, quite literally, a stone’s throw from the house.

Our snorkeling trip included a few stops at great reef sites as well as an old shipwreck. A truly unique highlight was our lunch stop in the village of Crawfish Rock, where Miss Dulce invites you into her home and serves a yummy, homemade lunch (for $10/person). Another family on the boat was far more prepared than we were, and brought some toys and trinkets for the kids in the village. I have a few pictures of the adorable kids, but if you’d like to see professional ones, that family just so happens to contain photographers and you can see the better versions here.

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Some of the children of Crawfish Rock

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The View from Miss Dulce’s Porch

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Crawfish Rock Dock

Another dive company that came recommended by someone more experienced than I, is Las Rocas, located in West Bay. I cannot personally vouch for their dive experience, but I can say that their $7 fish tacos were one of the best things I ate the whole time I was in Roatan. The restaurant is super casual, super beachy, and it just feels right. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the “monkey lala”, which is apparently the drink of the island and available everywhere. It’s kind of a cross between dessert and drink as it’s a combination of vodka, kahlua, vanilla ice cream, coconut cream, and half and half. This is not my drink of choice, but it is delicious.

So, on to the food…

  • I mentioned Las Rocas’ restaurant and you should definitely give it a try for a casual, affordable, beach dining experience.
  • Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken in West End is so good! Another destination if value is your goal (approximately $8/person for a full meal with sides). They don’t appear to have a website, but here is their Trip Advisor link.
  • Beachers, on West Bay Beach is a good day drinking spot that has tasty bloody marys and a scrumptious jalepeño cheddar burger that they just could not understand why I wanted without a bun. If you eat/drink here, you’re welcome to use the beach chairs in front…a win-win.
  • Roatan Oasis came highly reviewed and recommended, but we found it to be just ok. Some items were really good, but some were so-so. At the prices they charge, it all needs to be really good, in my opinion. Look here for other reviews though. Perhaps we went on an off night and I would certainly be open to trying it again, but give me fish tacos at Las Rocas over this any day.
  • Our last night was spent with a little treat to ourselves because, can you really ever treat yourself enough? As I mentioned in my other Roatan post, Caribe Tesoro is a B & B in a fabulous location, with a decadent restaurant called Leña Parilla. What a treat it was to sit right on their dock and watch the sunset complete with cocktails and exceedingly friendly waitstaff. Four of us opted for the tomahawk steak, and one went with the Mahi Mahi. Everything, from our grilled romaine Caesar salads to the steaks were delicious. The meat was perfectly cooked to the chef-recommend medium rare and was paired with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and asparagus. The wine list could afford to contain some higher quality wines, but we did end up with a good Malbec. My sister lived in Chile for 7 years, worked in the wine industry there, and is a level 2 sommelier. I am a self-taught wine aficionado (translation: I drink a lot of wine). So bearing that in mind, we thought the wine list could use some help, but we’re picky when it comes to our booze. For the more casual wine drinker, it’s probably fine. In their defense, they had been open one week when we dined. Our experience wasn’t complete until our very friendly and accommodating server (Glenn Jr) pointed out his “pet” barracuda living under the dock.
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Dinner on the Caribe Tesoro dock at sunset

Some miscellaneous info about the island:

Pretty much everyone speaks English, although the island is part of Honduras. The locals seem to speak Spanish, a local dialect, and English, which is apparently the first language they learn.

West end is buggier than West Bay. There are “noseeums” and mosquitos just waiting to devour a sweet succulent human such as myself. If you’d like to bring me with you, no need for bug spray, otherwise I highly recommend it.

Off the beatean path, and reportedly great, is Hole in the Wall. This place is NOT fancy, go figure, so disregard the reviews that complain about how rustic it is.

I did not make it to La Sirena de Camp Bay, but it is owned by the brother-in-law of a friend of mine, has great reviews, and is in a remote location that I WILL visit next time.

In true Caroline fashion, I did experience a touch of gastrointestinal distress (no one else did though), so I always recommend traveling with the appropriate drugs.

For now, that’s all I’ve got, but I shall return to this beautiful little island paradise one day.

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West End sunset

 

Roatan for the Win!

My family and I decided we’d do Christmas differently this year (er, last year, 2015) and planned a Caribbean getaway to the beautiful island of Roatan–the largest of the Honduran bay islands. We live in the Washington, DC area and were able to fly United from Dulles to Houston, Houston to Roatan.

At first sight, I was hooked…

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As we walked into the airport, an American expat greeted everyone and helped to organize the lines. She was a volunteer because she claimed “you can’t spend every day at the beach,” though I’m not convinced of that. After clearing customs, we were scooped up by our van driver and taken to Eldon’s Market for booze food and supplies. The store has a good selection of food, alcohol, and other necessities. If you’re renting a house or condo, this is a smart/essential stop to make.

As for rental houses, I did hours of research. Hours. Being our first visit to the island, I thought it would be nice to stay somewhere between West Bay and West End–two popular areas among visitors. Our house, The Pink Orchid, was nestled on a hill between them. I thought I did my due diligence in lodging research, but even I was pleasantly surprised by the house. The kitchen, for starters, was better equipped than my own (minus the Vitamix), the owners–on account of their variety of vessels from which to consume alcohol–could definitely be my friends, and the house was clean, comfortable, and charming… with this view:

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Pink Orchid deck hammock

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Pink Orchid sunset

If you’re trying to view the house website from an apple mobile device (without flash), try their VRBO site here. There is a dock just below The Pink Orchid where you can float, swim, or flag down a water taxi to take you either to West Bay or West End. The reef beyond the dock, which is an easy kayak to the buoy, is intact and teeming with sea life. Oh yeah, and the house comes with two 2-person kayaks.

If you’re interested in a similar area, but prefer a hotel, check out Xbalanque. We walked by it each time we went to West Bay Beach and it is quite chic, serene, and beautiful.

If staying in a town is more your speed, look no further than Caribe Tesoro. Seriously. We happened upon this gem of a B & B each time we walked from The Pink Orchid to West Bay Beach, remarking on its beauty with each pass. Quite unfortunately, it took until our last day to stop in. As far as I can tell, they are the only place with a beachside pool, which also has a little island with hammocks, a water slide, and a swim-up bar. The friendly staff and beautiful view are a nice addition to an already fabulous spot. After touring a few of the B & B rooms, as well as their 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo, I know a stay there is in my future. We spent one day of leisure at Caribe Tesoro, and were smitten with the place–enough to book dinner on their dock for that (our last) night. My next Roatan post will be more food/activity-focused, but I must mention that Leña Parilla, the CT restaurant is well worth a try.

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Caribe Tesoro in late afternoon light

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Shea ladies enjoying the swim-up bar

 

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The stunning water of West Bay

There are some un-touristy places to stay, that I did not visit, and can only mention by name, should you care to dig deeper:

-Sandy Bay is an area where many locals live, but also has rentals available.

-Even quieter, yet reportedly stunning, is Palmetto Bay (see 2 beautiful rentals I found here and here).

-Pristine Bay is home to the only luxury golf resort and 5 star restaurant.

As always, I recommend bringing meds to cover all sorts of potential ailments (primarily gastrointestinal in nature). See here for info.

More to come!

 

Washington, DC: the quick and dirty tourist’s guide

You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” ~Italo Calvino

Washington, DC is a beautiful, iconic city. A friend once said, after making her first visit to DC, that it looks exactly as our nation’s capital should look. I have to agree. Having lived in or near it for most of my life, I love to show it off to tourists. I am a self-proclaimed expert at the quick and dirty tour for out-of-towners.

If you have a few days, the museums are great and many of them are FREE. That being said, my quick tour doesn’t include them, but click here for info on the Smithsonian (i.e. free) ones.

Without further ado, here is the best way to take in the history and grandeur of Washington, DC quickly. I first did this with a friend who had just a few hours to see the sights. After the tour, he left saying it was the best part of his trip to the US.

W Hotel Rooftop bar views:

If you get lucky, you’ll see Marine One come in for a landing on the White House lawn.

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You can eat there for brunch or just have cocktails prior to going elsewhere. The view is fantastic, but you definitely pay a premium for it. It’s kind of a club scene after dark, which I don’t appreciate, so I prefer brunch/lunch/pre-dinner drinks.

*special note: if the snipers are on the roof of the White House, someone important is home, or will be soon*

 

The White House:

Just a short walk from the W Hotel

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My mom, sister, and a visiting Australian in between

 

Monuments and the Mall:

If you find yourself there during the day, park near the mall and take a walk. Even quicker, though, hop in a cab/uber after dinner and ask them to drive you past the Jefferson, stop (and leave the meter running) at the Lincoln–definitely run up the steps for photos, then turn and observe the Washington Monument towering over the Reflecting Pool. Round out the tour by driving past the Capital dome, my favorite building, and a stunner whether set against the dark night or a blue, cloudless sky. Right now there is scaffolding on it for repairs, but hopefully it will be back in all its glory soon.

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Vietnam Memorial

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World War 2 Memorial

 

Turn 180 degrees, and here’s what you’ll see (click here for the movie version):

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Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool

 

A side trip, which is WELL worth it is to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s somber, powerful, and wonderful.

 

Restaurant options:

Founding Farmers  – good for brunch, lunch, or dinner with yummy drinks and very reasonable corkage fees should you decide to bring your own wine to save some $$. The food is delicious also, but can you tell where my priorities lie? Yes, with the booze.

Old Ebbit Grill – historic (the oldest saloon in the city), iconic, and walking distance to the W, the monuments, and the White House. It’s a little dark on the inside, but so convenient.

Blue Duck Tavern – only nearish to all the monuments, but so so delicious.

There are, of course, tons of other scrumptious options for food, but I had to stay on task.

 

I Heart New York in a New Way Every Time

My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they’re misunderstood. I don’t think people realize how kind New York people are.”    ~Bill Murray

I lived in Manhattan for a year after college and have been traveling there my entire life (dad being a native and all). Still though, the experience is different each and every time I visit. Sure, it’s crowded and dirty and loud, but the city has such grit–in a good way–and energy and truth. Don’t get me wrong, without a second home or millions of dollars, I wouldn’t want to live there permanently, yet a little part of my heart will always belong to New York City.

Sometimes I like to play tourist, other times local. On my most recent visit, over Halloween weekend, it was probably more touristy, and one of my favorites.

I flew up after work on a Thursday afternoon and had just enough time to drop my bag at my aunt’s apartment before walking–my favorite head down, brisk walk that’s only acceptable in NYC–to a delicious Upper West Side restaurant called Bustan. Despite its small size, they were quite accommodating of our large (8 person) group. The food though… THE FOOD WAS DELICIOUS! I don’t think you can go wrong, but be sure to get the spicy feta dip. Ah-mazing! Out of all those people, everyone was happy, if not thrilled, with the food and drinks. Yum!

An undisclosed amount of alcohol may have contributed to a late start on Friday. We did, however, manage to cram a lot into the remainder of the day… starting with Artie’s Delicatessen–a quintessential NYC deli/diner with deliciously fresh omelettes. Then the bikes…

If you don’t happen to travel with a bike, you can rent one from Citi Bikes, which are EVERYWHERE. There’s even an app to track pick-up and return sites–important since some are usually empty, while others are too full to accept a return.

I used to live on the Upper West Side, so that’s where I prefer to stay when visiting. Such a beautiful part of the city, sandwiched between Riverside and Central Parks, for speed walking strolling and bike riding. We set off down Riverside Park on a gorgeous day, stopping occasionally at the piers along the way to the World Trade Center site.

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Riverside Park

 

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The Freedom Tower

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Pier pit stop

 

This was my first visit since the completion of the memorial/museum/Freedom Tower. Time constraints would only allow us to wait in one long line and recalling a memorable visit to the Empire State Building observation deck, we opted to go to the top of the One World Trade Center. You can, and should, buy tickets online before going. That being said, time sometimes gets away from you in New York, so should you find yourself down there without a ticket, buy them online (with your smart phone) instead of waiting in the physical line to purchase tickets.

I won’t blow the little surprise you get at the top–which is great–and the view is amazing, but it’s a little more theme parkey up there than I would like. Also, the observation deck is windowed, unlike the Empire State Building, making pictures full of glare. So, though it has a great view and is a large, wonderful, symbolic F-you to terrorists, it doesn’t have the romance of the ESB. Perhaps the tallest building in the Western hemisphere doesn’t need to be romantic, but I don’t think Disneyland-ish is the right atmosphere either. All that being said, go ahead and go up, just to say you did.

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9/11 Memorial Plaza

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The 9/11 Museum

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One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower

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Obligatory selfie from the top

 

Rather than supply a narrative about how I got from one place to eat and drink to another, I’ll just give you a descriptive list for the blur that was the next day and a half.

There is something in the the New York air that makes sleep useless.”   ~Simone de Beauvior

UWS Indian Food

I couldn’t decide whether to include this meal in my list of things to do. It’s not necessarily something I’d recommend, or do again when in NYC, BUT it’s cheap! And decent. Located on the Upper West Side, Alachi Masala is a byob restaurant, making for a rare, cheap, full meal in the city. I left completely full and paid $24! Of course, that doesn’t include the wine I brought with me… but still. Definitely not the best Indian food I’ve ever had, but it is good (except for the salad), and the price is great.

The Highline

If you haven’t walked the Highline, you must! DO NOT, however, do it after brunch on a weekend. I had a photo shoot there years ago, at 7 am (see here and here)–a time when weekend NY is surreal and empty. Sadly, the relationship didn’t last, but aren’t those photos fabulous? Anyway, I digress… go to the Highline at an off-hour. It’s such a unique, beautiful place. If you’re lucky, you’ll see something scandalous while glancing up at the Standard Hotel windows.

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Strolling the packed Highline with my bestie Kathryn Budig

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On the Highline with KB and the fab Kate Fagan

Queen of the Night

When I was told we were going to Queen of the Night on Halloween, I can’t say I was excited. Though I heard it was unique and great and crazy, I just couldn’t imagine that it actually was worth $200. Fast forward to getting to wear my blue bob wig with a fascinator/birdcage veil headpiece, and I was pretty excited. So, long story short, there are surprises, weird things, hot things, amazing things, and the dinner is actually really delicious. If you’re looking for something different, but still show-ish, go see Queen of the Night. Wear something fabulous and fancy.

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With my mom and aunt, enjoying blue lighting and complimentary cocktails

 

Cafe Wha

Sadly, I had never heard of Cafe Wha prior to going there… and my mom and aunt are the ones who introduced me to it! Please look beyond the fact that it’s in a basement, packed with people, and has stiflingly low ceilings. If you go at a busy time, you’ll wait in line until space opens up, then be escorted through a packed room to your table. Some how, some way, the wait staff is able to navigate through all of this and actually take orders, but more importantly, bring drinks without spilling them. I’ve recently become obsessed with pickelbacks and had a few of those. The truffle fries aren’t to be missed either. You could take away all of that though, and people would still go for the house band. NEVER, ever in my life have I seen such a fabulous cover band. Ever. They play current music, classics, Latin, 90s, 80s, whatever, and they do it amazingly well! I love live music and have seen more than my fair share, but this was really special. Located in the Village, it’s so worth going. Thank you, Comedy Cellar, for being sold out.

The best picture of the weekend:

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The subway. Halloween. 2 am. HILARIOUS!

As for New York City, it is a place apart. There is not its match in any other country in the world.”                                                                                              ~Pearl S. Buck

See you soon, New York. I totally heart you.

The End

Drugs, drugs, and more drugs!

I am a nurse infected with wanderlust. If an opportunity to explore a new place presents itself, I jump at the chance– sometimes with or without the means, much to the chagrin of my piggy bank, er …”savings account”.
Because of this passion for new experiences, and as a byproduct of my day job training, I travel with a small pharmacy for all of those “just in case” scenarios. Taking these precautions has enabled me to turn what could be a really terrible vacation into just one unpleasant day, for myself and my traveling companions.
When it comes to the aforementioned “just in case” situations, I am most commonly the one afflicted. From GI bugs in Bali and the Dominican Republic to strep throat from a rented snorkel in Hawaii– all little ol’ me. My bevy of drugs have also been helpful for friends with carsickness, food poisoning, panic, and insomnia. So, what, pray tell, is on my “essentials” list?

For starters, the OTC, or over the counter stuff:
Pepto bismal – always my first line of attack for any stomach issue. A doctor colleague of mine takes a prophylactic Pepto pill every day when traveling abroad to “coat [his] GI tract” and help prevent bugs from catching. Whether or not there’s actual science to that, I have no idea, but it sounds good. And who doesn’t enjoy a black tongue and black stool on vacation (both normal side effects of taking Pepto)? Kidding!
Melatonin- sleepless nights are a sure way to ruin a good time and melatonin is the most gentle and natural way to combat insomnia. When going for a long trip, you can even start taking it a couple days in advance at the time you intend to go to sleep in your destination (or the reverse, before you head home).

Now, onto the list you’ll need to see a doctor or nurse practitioner to prescribe:
For sleep/airplane-
Ambien- I don’t like to rely on this at home, but when you go to sleep in Los Angeles and wake up in Auckland, sometimes melatonin won’t do the trick and staying au naturale isn’t as important to me as being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my early morning arrival. Sleeping on the plane is sometimes a must.
Xanax- I like to spend my money on my actual trip activities, so always fly coach. Xanax is my way of tricking my body into thinking we’re in business class. Almost 30 years of horseback riding has riddled me with a bad back that is prone to muscle spasms from sitting in bad chairs for too long. Can we collectively say “airplane seat”? Since it’s a benzodiazepine, xanax or alprazolam also bears some muscle relaxing properties. It’s really lovely to have a relaxed mind (and body) when settling in for an 18 hour flight in coach. Everyone responds to drugs differently, but for me, xanax doesn’t put me in a coma, so I’m still able to wake up and stretch my legs. The risk of blood clots increases exponentially due to long  flights, so it behooves you to go easy on the sedation.

For the potential stomach bug-
Ciprofloxacin- this is only to be taken when truly needed (I’ve taken it twice). Cipro can take that traveler’s diarrhea and knock it right out. A friend, who shall remain nameless, had her 4 day hike to Machu Picchu completely saved by this drug. Damn raw tomato tried to take her down, but cipro enabled her to have just one terrible day and one underwear casualty. **I am not giving actual medical advice, just tips to bring to your doctor. Many travel clinics are very used to sending people on vacation with meds for the just-in-case scenario**
Zofran- for nausea/vomiting. This is a non-drowsy absolute gem! It has helped me when I just don’t feel right, when altitude is bothering me, and when I’m actually ill. Zofran is up there with Xanax in my travel bestie category. I’m a self-professed vomit phobe, so I never leave home without zofran, literally.

Altitude-
Diamox- if you’re traveling somewhere with high altitude, speak to your doctor about diamox. My favorite effect is that you can actually sleep at altitude when taking it. That being said, it has some weird side effects like tingling extremities and odd taste alterations. Everyone is affected differently, but I was helped immensely when in Peru at elevations of 12,000-14,000 feet.

Again, I am not peddling medical advice, but passing along tips to ponder and, possibly, mention to your physician/nurse practitioner. A few of these medications have helped me immensely while traveling.