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Adventure & Luxury Awaits a Visit to Antigua

view of antigua from plane copyFor someone deprived of the experience of a Caribbean vacation, Antigua offers an ideal starting point. There’s all the expected elements to any seaward scenario — beautiful ocean views, fresh air, lots of sun and sandy beaches, but so much more as well.  

Pronounced "An-tee’ga", this former colony in the Caribbean Sea (17 degrees 5’ north and longitude 61 degrees 45’), is a 108-square mile island of limestone and coral recognized for its many coves, bays, clear turquoise-colored waters and 365 white beaches — one for each day of the year as the natives claim. To its south lie Montserrat and Guadeloupe; to the north and west are Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts and St. Martin/Maarten. Its sister island, Barbuda (Bar-byew’ da) sits 27 miles northeast with a land area of 62 square miles — and then there a scattering of much smaller land masses that are also under its umbrella. 

Largest of the Leeward Islands and furtherest out of the Caribbean Island arc, this small country was emancipated from England in 1981. Though a young nation, it has an ample history which laces it with an old-world British colonial charm. And, thankfully, that old world heritage means that the country hasn’t yet become overdeveloped so it not only has the luxurious resorts but a good part of both its capital and countryside remains untrammeled.

So for those only seeking to slink away from the modern urban hustle and bustle, this location throughly offers all those earthly pleasures easily found through a stay in one of the island’s more sumptuous retreats, in this case, Sandals Grande Antigua, one of the 14 resorts run by this Caribbean-based company.

Spread across several acres adjacent to the capital of St. John, a couple could be ensconced the whole time, engorging on all the dishes coming from an assortment of restaurants, cafes and beachside lounges. That’s not to say you have to be fat and horny to enjoy yourself, there’s time to splash and play as well. Any Antigua experience should include some daytime outdoor adventures as well as nightly culinary feasts. And for the first night, that’s exactly what was done, stuffing face at Coconut Grove, a nearby outdoor restaurant perfect for adjusting to the transition from NYC cold to a seasonal temperate climate. Seafood is the speciality and seafood it was — coconut shrimp, conch fritters, crab cakes and of course, a huge lobster.

The adventure side of the Island experience meant getting out a New Yorker’s comfort zone. And that too was divided into two experiences — on land and into the sea. 

Traveling to the southern coast for a watery experience, Horizon Eco-Fantasies had fun in mind if you are able to tax muscles and swimming skills. You begin by kayaking out through the mangroves to a skiff that takes divers out to waters which float 10 feet or so above the reefs. The company offers a guide for participants to paddle out in these sit-on kayaks to a beach where another guide led participants to a boat which brings snorkelers to Cades Reef just offshore from the mangroves. There everyone donned snorkels, masks, and fins while the boat hopped over the warm water -- a relief from the growing heat of a midday sun. For the inexperienced, jumping in can offer quite a challenge, especially because they didn’t really instruct the inexperienced. Both fun and daunting, South Coast Horizon’s Eco Park offers these half-day excursions which also includes snacks, and drinks. 

Of course any strenuous activity, especially in a place like Antigua, requires a healthy amount of consuming. That was fulfilled at Turner’s Beach Bar where all the sea food can be had sitting under a roof on an open deck with full service bar behind it. After a fulfilling meal -- and a little souvenir buying -- it was time for more earthly activity.

What better way to close out a day than with a late afternoon equestrian stroll. Well-equipped to manage small group horseback riding sessions, the Sun Fire Riding Academy — headed by the dreadlocked Sun Fire — offers even the most inexperienced rider a fun experience. Thanks to his able crew, this stroll engendered a pleasant exchange between rider and animal, even if only for the short time. With a stable of friendly older horses by Fort Beach, the experience presented a challenge of managing the reins while connecting with the horse. If you have trepidation mounting a horse, the handlers were pretty experienced in managing tourists of many sizes but they take it all in stride (so to speak). Followed nose to tail, the horse and lead handler took the gang on a leisurely beachside walk. But when they broke into a stride, the real horse riding experience really confronts you and your butt.

Van drivers then bring tourists back to the luxury of Sandals ready to be well satiated by an extended dinner at flagship restaurant Mario’s. There you can dig deeply into a menu that offers cuisine ranging from seafood favorites, Italian styled dishes, steaks and more.

Besides water adventures, there's another chance get into the island experience, jungle style. The expansive rainforest and countryside of the island offered ample opportunity to test one’s mettle -- and the ability to fly. The Antigua Rainforest Zip line Canopy Tour definitely offers strenuous testing. Antigua’s national park has a 13-stage zip line with eight different obstacle courses at the end, especially challenging when the staff test participants as they try to complete it. The zip line goes through a thick mass of trees and vines with the ground maybe 50-100 feet below. So no wonder you bond with other zippers as you fly -- or in some cases, stall --  station to station. As you get to end of the run, and obstacles get more challenging, everyone feels even more securely hooked onto the main cable so no one's likely plunge to the earth below.

Trying such an effort makes for an excuse to fill the belly again; Beach Limerz Bar & Restaurant provided ample authentic fodder. Afterwards, this nearby beachside bar provided an authentic taste of local foodie favorites. Dishes include dukuna, saltfish, pepper pot and fungi. Made of pickled beef, chicken or pork, potatoes and broth and topped with greens, pepper pot is the most famous. Fungi are corn fritters and dukuna, a local favorite, is made with coconut, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Hosts/owners Barry and Gail Edwards welcome visitors to sit at its big communal tables, eat and meet other people there; a giant wrap-around bar offers an ample view of the beach.

After a relaxing time enjoying the local fare, it was time to taste classic cuisine Sandals style. At night, the various on-restaurants offers time to commune with fellow visitors from all over the world. Daytime offers the challenge of trying all the different choices throughout the day. And one other excursion really gave the best overview of this island sojourn — the catamaran tour sponsored by Sandals itself. For two hours, the boat follows the shoreline stressing just how many beaches Antigua has along with its celebrities — such as designer Giorgio Armani’s — who vacation there as well. But sadly, just as one begins to settle into this life, the trip is over far too quickly.

Enjoying Miami's Cadet Hotel in South Beach at Year’s End

As part of any trip to the Miami area, a visit to the Cadet Hotel in South Beach, Miami Florida is perfect for either a vacation or business stay. The Cadet is an oasis from the frenzy of South Beach,  from its lobby entrance to the front desk, its quiet and elegant, all the way from the small bar that leads on through to your room. 

Temple Emanu-ElBefore exploring South Beach, the peaceful atmosphere and warm welcome from the Cadet staff — under the direction of General Manager Ardicio Galvao — sets a friendly and professional tone. And once you’ve settled into your room, you can then enjoy a bit of quiet, uncrowded bathing in The Gazebo, the Cadet's pool area where you unwind in a garden paradise. 

At one point, Miami’s South Beach area went into decline so that by the 1980s, it looked like it was ready for either demolition or renovation. That certainly was the case for the Cadet, where work had begun by its longtime owner Dr. Vilma Biaggi who lovingly renovated this historic hotel to its current beauty. 

Most important is the Pied a Terre Restaurant which has, over the years, received much acclaim for its fine modern French cuisine created by a special arrangement through visits by carefully chosen top French chefs with their latest creative contributions.

Wine Spectator Award of ExcellenceThe Pied a Terre has flourished over the years with a top ranking among Miami's ever-changing restaurant world. It has won top awards and has one of the finest wine lists anywhere, having been carefully selected from around the world by Pied a Terre General Manager Patrick Gruest. This fascinating Frenchman described how he chose the wines as well as the finest ingredients from around the world for his dinner selections. 

As an example, and a perfect opportunity to sample the wonders of the Pied a Terre's dining experience, check out its New Year’s Celebration 2017 menu. While you might not have time to travel to this wonderful restaurant in time for the festivities, the menu gives you an example of the dedication to excellence you'll experience at the Cadet.

Of course, South Beach is the Art Deco capital of the United States and, as with the Cadet, the neighborhood is a feast for the eyes in many respects. Art and great style are all around here. There's plenty to see and do within an easy walk from the Cadet; the beach is a few blocks away and Lincoln Road stores close by to the south. 

Fillmore ShowsNearby are the Miami Convention Center, the Fillmore Auditorium and the New World Center — home of the New World Symphony — as is all the club activity on Collins Avenue north and south of the hotel. 

On a recent visit, my wife and I had a wonderful time there and hotel room prices are very reasonable considering everything including the location, furnishings, decor and attentive staff. A beautiful room with king sized bed was $109 until holiday prices had kicked in. 

To learn more, go to:

Cadet Hotel
1701 James Avenue (at 17th Street)
Miami Beach
Florida 33139

Travel Tips for the Young & Young at Heart


Authors of Vagabonding Through Retirement: Unusual Travels Far from Our Paris Houseboat, Bill and Ina Mahoney have led the life of quintessential wanderers. They’ve not only traveled around the world, but actually lived in places from Laos to Bolivia, the Ukraine and France

Mahoney began hitchhiking across the country working odd jobs at 13; then he sailed the Atlantic as a merchant marine and the Pacific in the navy. He hopped trolleys, trucks, automobiles, and trains. Once he graduated from an adult high school he earned a B.A. at UCLA and an M.A. at Boston University. For 10 years, Mahoney taught world history in Paris. His second book, Is Muldoon Still in Paris, recounts his delinquent childhood and a third book, Mission Paris, is appearing soon. Bill speaks five languages and can tell a story in a dozen others.

Ina Garrison Mahoney grew up in the small Texas town of Blooming Grove. She then graduated from Southwestern University with a BA in speech and drama and an MA from the University of Houston. Taking a year’s leave of absence from her teaching job in Victoria, Texas, she went to France in 1958; when she returned to the U.S. five years ago, she had to relearn how to live as an American once again.

vagabondArmed with passion and a remarkable sense of adventure, this duo seeks out the world through the eyes of people of other cultures. In order to share how they create lifetime memories from traveling, they put together a quick guide to how to have memorable experiences through travel.

Here are their seven steps to get you on the way for your own set of “unforgettable memories.”

  1.  Browse through the library and bookstores guidebooks. Look for those authored by non-US writers. Both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet series were started by young Brits whose clientele weren’t seeking luxury. They have a vested interest in chocking their guides full bargains.

  2. While visiting those “not to be missed” sights mingle with the natives. Learn their customs. Visit their markets. Dine on their authentic cuisine. These experiences could go a long way toward giving you a better understanding of the numerous ways to do everyday things other than the American way.

  3. Search newspapers, as well as the guidebook, for bargain flights. Some airlines provide free overnight accommodations and food for long distance flights—quite a saving if you’re going to Southeast Asia.

  4. Lodging will be your main cost so search for alternatives to hotels. Guest houses are a great recommendation for Thailand. They have all the necessary facilities and with their constant turnover of young backpackers eager to share their latest travel experiences their recommendations are golden.

  5. An even cheaper travel option is a visa length stay in a city or country of your choice. Thailand and Bali are favorites, but any country has a great deal to offer.

  6. Search for alternatives to taxis such as pickup trucks with benches in the back. Motorcycles are easily rented, but helmets are not normally required. Driving on the left side of the road can present problems for Americans. It is often safer to be a passenger than a driver.

  7. Pack light, very light. “Same shirt, different day” is a great byline to keep in mind for any type of independent travel as handling your own luggage saves tip money. Clothes should be functional. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. It is an invitation a thief looks for.

  8. Be flexible. If your carefully planned trip falls through, don't fret—reschedule or forget it. Something else could be serendipity.

To  learn more, visit:

[Vagabonding Through Retirement: Unusual Travels Far from Our Paris Houseboat is available through all major booksellers and can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble]

Tibet: Five Fast, Fun & Fantastic Facts


Few countries in the world evoke the mystique of Tibet. Many people know the name but few know much about this country. Nicknamed the "Roof of the World" (it shares Mount Everest -- the world's tallest mountain -- with Nepal), most people simply know it as the former home of the Dalai Lama. For centuries, Tibet heavily restricted outsiders and it wasn’t until 1924 that the first European woman, Belgian–French explorer Alexandra David-Néel, visited Lhasa, the capital. 

Let’s start with the basics:


The Size of Tibet

Many believe that Tibet is a small country like neighboring Nepal or Bhutan. Actually, Tibet is huge. The Traditional Tibet (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo provinces) is 965,000 square miles. This is over four times larger than France and a whopping 25% of the land mass of China, which is a good reason why the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet on October 6, 1950 only 10 months after winning the Chinese Civil War and declaring the People’s Republic of China. Since 1965, China recognizes only the much smaller Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which comprises U-Tsang and the western area of Kham (474,300 sq. mi).

This Tibet is autonomous in name only because it is strictly governed by the Chinese Communist Party. Furthermore, China has steadily relocated Chinese into Tibet and there are now more Chinese (7.5 million) in Tibet than Tibetans (6 million). This does not bode well for Tibetans. The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned and they can be imprisoned simply for possessing an image of the Dalai Lama. Over a million Tibetans have been killed and 6,000 monasteries destroyed since the Chinese invaded their country.


Tibet’s Altitude

Tibet is the highest country on Earth with an average elevation of 13,000 feet. Altitude sickness is more prevalent here than anywhere else on the planet. If you visit Tibet, it’s recommended you give yourself at least 3-5 days of complete rest for your body to complete acute acclimatization or you can pay a heavy price. 

The most common type of altitude sickness, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) occurs at elevations above 7,500 feet. The two fatal varieties, High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), can occur at 12,500 feet. The elevation in Lhasa is 12,000 feet and 16,732 feet at Rongbuk Monastery. (On a personal note, I grew up surfing in South Florida and thought skiing in Mammoth, California (base elevation 8,000 feet) would be a cinch. I jumped right in and was having a blast until I suddenly became dizzy and couldn’t get my bearings. Ten minutes later, I was gasping for breath as attendants sledded me down the mountain like a deer carcass strapped to the hood of an F-150.)


The Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the fourteenth Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of the Yellow Hat Tibetan Buddhists. The first Dalai Lama was born in 1391 and each succeeding Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor. Tenzin Gyatso was chosen when, at the age of two in 1937, he correctly selected all items presented to him that had belonged to the recently deceased 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

However, the Dalai Lama today believes his lineage is much older and that he is the seventy-fourth reincarnation that can be traced back to a Brahman boy who was given a crystal rosary by Buddha himself (567 BC - 484 BC). Many Tibetans remain steadfastly loyal to the Dalai Lama and hold him in extremely high reverence which is a good reason why the Chinese won’t be stamping his passport anytime soon.

Longevity and The Quest for Immortality

Life extension has never been as popular as it is today. In 2015, Google’s Sergey Brin announced that he was investing billions of dollars into his Project Calico, Google’s attempt to “cure death.” In 1696, a monastic medical school was built upon the summit of Chakpori Hill in Lhasa. In 1959, the Chinese destroyed it with artillery during the Tibetan Uprising claiming the Tibetans had posted a couple of cannons outside the school. 

Some of the substances taught at Chakpori Hill reportedly had the ability to extend mortality far beyond that of the average human life span and at least two of them are in popular usage today. Himalayan dried goji berries are readily available in health food stores and shopping chains such as Trader Joes and Whole Foods. Li Qing Yuen subsisted mostly upon them (he also consumed ginseng, licorice root and gotu kola) and claimed that he was 267 years old when he died in 1930. Shilajit is an ancient tar-like substance of vegetable origin that oozes from the rocks in the mountains of Tibet. It has been reported to contain at least 85 minerals in ionic form, as well as triterpenes, humic acid and fulvic acid. The ancient Vedic Hindu text, the Charaka Samhita (200 BC), claims there is no disease that cannot be cured by Shilajit.


The Sky Burial

On the flip side of immortality is death and the Tibetans have a unique method for dealing with the deceased. The Sky Burial or Jhator was first mentioned in the 12th century Tibetan Book of the Dead. The ground in Tibet is too hard for traditional burial (solid rock or permafrost is only inches below the surface) and most of the country lies about the tree-line making traditional burial expensive and impractical.  

Beginning at dawn, rogyapas (body-breakers) hack the deceased to pieces and then use rocks to pound the flesh and bones into a paste with tsampa (barley flour mixed with tea and yak butter) before lighting incense to summon hordes of giant Griffin vultures who swoop in to feast. The immediate family may be present, but usually during a nighttime ceremony that does not include a view of watching their beloved reduced to mush. Tibetan Buddhists believe the corpse is nothing but an empty vessel devoid of spirit and giving sustenance back to nature in this manner is an act of generosity that is essential to their beliefs. The practice is in decline due to restrictions in urban areas and the diminishing number of Griffin vultures in Tibet.

[David J. Castello is the author of The Diary of an Immortal (1945-1959)]

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