You Meet The Nicest People….In The Caribbean !!!

        There are 320 million people in The United States, and that’s just the people we know about. Around me, in Columbus Ohio, there are 1,200,000. With that kind of population, you get all sorts of different people, attitudes, personalities; yes we are a melting pot of all sorts. But what about a country the size of your surroundings? Or how about a whole chain of small island countries the size, or even smaller than the town you live in?  Welcome to The Caribbean! Aside from maybe Tibet, people in, and from the Caribbean are hands down, the nicest people on Earth!

        So what countries are we talking about? If your geography is shaky, the Caribbean is made up of such countries as Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Trinidad/Tobago, Barbados, St. Kitts, Grenada, and Antigua, just to name a few. Population wise, Jamaica has the highest with 2,700,000 and Saint Kitts & Nevis with 54,000 people. These countries are also identified as The West Indies. (see map, or click for larger version.)

         In 2006 I traveled to the country of Trinidad/Tobago (see Hotel Snob article). I had always wanted to go there during Panorama, which is their national Steel Band championship. So in February of 2006, I spent 9 adventurous days which turned out to be one of the best travel experiences still today. Sure, the weather, food, and beach were nice. But what stuck in my memory the most, were the people.

        When it comes to traveling to, or in a foreign country, the first thing I try to do is not make it foreign by the time I get there. I do my research, looking at maps (Google Earth is fantastic for this), reading reviews or articles about where I am about to go. I probably spent 4 plus hours on the phone with a guy named Ron Kerns, who I knew had traveled extensively in T&T. I took pages and pages of notes, writing down names of streets, foods, and other places of interest. I already knew my hotel was going to be nice, but I prefer to venture out past all the tourist traps, or inclusive grounds of the hotel. You don’t travel 2000+ miles to stay in one spot with a bunch of people you left to get away from in the first place! I want to mingle with the locals, and see out what makes their country unique. And in doing so, I ran into the nicest people around.

  Taxi Anyone?

        Taking a cab anywhere can be interesting. Often it can be a pain. I remember getting ripped off by a cab driver in Columbus while in college. Apparently he (“wink-wink”) didn’t have change for a $10.00 bill, even after driving who knows how many people that night. Even more interesting was the fact that he had a bodyguard with him to enforce the “no change” rule. So a $3.50 fare was $10. Great.

        Enter the typical cabbie in The Caribbean. While in T&T, the cabbies always asked how I was doing, where I was from, etc. I remember one ride where we asked the cab driver what a good place to eat was, and if he could take us there. “Sure, I know a good place”! So while pumping the Soca music, (it was Carnival season mind you) he drove us to this fantastic tapas restaurant in Scarborough called Salsa Kitchen. “Pick yuh back up at what time”, he asked. Now that’s service! He even gave us his cell number, so that when we were done watching the Steel Pan competition, we had a ride back to the hotel. Same thing in Barbados. The cab driver who took me to the hotel from the airport, pointed out just about every bar, restaurant, and place of interest along the route. Not once was I ever ripped off.

The friendly owners of Salsa Kitchen!

Sunday School? But I am on Vacation!

       On a Sunday afternoon while at the Tobago Hilton, my brother and I were asking a few questions to the woman running the front desk. “Going to Sunday School tonight”, she asked. Sunday School? “Oh, you have to go to Sunday School, you’ll have a time”!  What we discovered was that every Sunday night, the town of Bucco Bay throws a huge street party with food, steel bands, dancing, and local craft vendors selling all sorts of stuff. This wasn’t the Sunday School my grandma dragged me to when I was six years old ! Lots of locals, and more nice people.  Later that week I had a problem with my room safe. It was later in the evening and I figured that there was no way anyone would be available to fix it. Within a half hour someone was at my door and he had it fixed in no time. Now yes, the Hilton has great customer service just about everywhere. But the guy (who was probably in his early twenties) hung out for a while outside our patio, and talked to my brother and I for a good twenty minutes, and had a few laughs. Before he left, we fist bumped and told him thanks again for fixing the safe. “No worries”, we were told.

                                          Round 2: Barbados

        On my way to Trinidad/Tobago, my flight stopped at Grantley Adams airport in Barbados. As we were flying around the island on the approach I was looking out the window and thought “Wow, this island looks pretty nice too”! I had a 3 hour layover before continuing to Port of Spain, but never ventured outside the airport itself. In 2007 Hilton sold their Tobago property to the government, so my plans on returning there were sort of quashed. But I soon remembered that they owned a hotel in Barbados, and I also remembered what I saw looking out my window as we flew over the island on approach. It took 6 years, but in May 2012, I spent 9 glorious days at Needhams Point near Bridgetown, Barbados.

       Now although I do like my nice hotels, I am pretty much low maintenance when it comes to housekeeping service. Empty the trash, refill my coffee, towels, and I am happy. Every morning as I would leave my room I would pass the house keeping staff, and Marcia (person who cleaned my room every morning) would ask me what my plans for the day were. One morning after a night out with some people I had met, the other housekeeper that was helping her, recognized me from seeing me at the bus stop. “Oh you were with those guys who had beers in your hand and were waiting to ride a minibus with  loud music”! I had to laugh because I felt like she was busting me out. In case you’re wondering, there are no open container laws (at least for passengers) and yes, there’s nothing like piling into a minibus with 8 other people, while the driver is bumping the Soca music! And for only $2 BD’s to go anywhere….why the Hell not? I laughed and said “Yeah, that was us, but we behaved ourselves”. “Well”, she said, “It looked like you were having a good time”.

        Every day, there were numerous instances which convinced me that the people of the Caribbean are the friendliest. While at the Mount Gay Rum factory, the bartender, 2 other locals and I,  talked for a good hour or so about music and other subjects. We had a few good laughs, and by the time I left, again, more fist bumps, handshakes, and smiles.

Bartender serving up good times!

          I headed towards central Bridgetown (5 miles from the hotel) to take more pictures and maybe do some shopping.  As I was hurrying to cross the street, I heard a “Hey there”! I turned around and saw that it was one of the girls who worked at the hotel. “Oh hey”, I said. “Looks like yuh hustling to do some shoppin’, yeah”?  “Yeah”, I told her “Just trying to make it to the jewelry store before they close”, I laughed. “Ok, well today meh day off, but I’ll see ya tomorrow”!  “Ok”, I said. (still amazed that she recognized me in a crowd of people). About an hour later I would be approached by a pan handler on Bridge Street who was trying to sell me some trinkets. Now, at this point I had just purchased about US $1200  worth of jewelry for my wife, and was carrying it in a shopping bag. “No thanks”, I said as I scurried across the street”. “Oh he is harmless” a woman who was passing by said. “Hi Donald, how yuh doin’ today”? she asked. As we walked toward the center of town, I asked her where I could pick up the #4 bus to head back towards Needhams Point. “Follow me, I’m heading that way”, she said. After about 15 minutes of walking, I learned that she was a bank teller, had  2 kids, and lived about 15 miles outside of Bridgetown. She pointed me to one of the bus stops along the road and said that a bus should be stopping soon. “Good meeting you, enjoy your vacation”, she said.

Kids on their way home from school.

The CSS Coincidence

            While in Barbados, I listened to local radio  in my hotel room. It’s fascinating to hear the similarities and differences between American radio and other countries. Even the commercials are entertaining. My grandfather gave me a shortwave radio when I was 13, so before the Internet, Apps, and websites which streamed other radio..that was the only way to listen to anything from another country. Anyhow, CSS (Caribbean Super Station) on 97.5 FM was my station of choice when I was getting ready for the day. As I made coffee, checked email, showered, etc., I would listen to “The Wake Up Show”, with 2 hosts named Nikki and Jase. When I got home I discovered I could listen to this station via streaming audio. One morning I decided to call in during the show. The station is located in Port of Spain, Trinidad but is broadcast throughout the Caribbean. The two hosts were ecstatic that I called in, and the conversation was hilarious. They seemed very surprised that someone in Ohio not native to the Caribbean would be a big fan of the music and culture. Later Nikki mentioned that her husband Gerry would actually be in Columbus visiting their son who lived here. What are those odds? I gave her my cell number and told him to call me when he got into town. A few weeks later Gerry showed up with  bottle of Angostura 1919 rum that…what a guy!

Gerry Clarke visits Columbus, Ohio.

     Since then I have befriended many good folks from Antigua to Trinidad and every place in between. And even a few who are living here in the U.S. You know who you are!!  If not…well here’s your Web Shout Out !!

      This article is dedicated to all my Caribbean Friends…most of which are listed below!

        Nikki Crosby -aka  “Hottmouth Granny” – Trinidad & Tobago

        Gerry Clarke – Trinidad & Tobago

        Leonard “Jam Crew” Lestrade – Saint Kitts & Nevis

        Lyle “Blackstone” James – T&T (now New Hampshire, USA)

        Peter Estwick  – Bridgetown, Barbados

        Adrian “Ammo” Julian – Antigua & Barbuda

        Stacy Lyons – Trinidad & Tobago

        Dayo Joseph – Trinidad & Tobago (now New York City)

        “Hollywood Sachy” – Trinidad & Tobago

         Arlene Lake – Antigua & Barbuda

         Jus Jase – Trinidad & Tobago

         Maurice Clarke – Trinidad & Tobago (now Columbus, Ohio)

         Ian Alvarez “aka Bunji Garlin” – Trinidad and Tobago

Posted in Caribbean, People, Travel | Leave a comment

Well I’ll be a Son of A Beach !

 

 You’re all grown up now. Graduated college, a decent paying job (with good vacation time), maybe even a wife, and kids. So what to do with some of that leave you’ve acrued while spinning on the hamster wheel of life? Got at least 6 good friends, maybe even some that are married? Tired of staying at overcrowded resorts, or just want something quiet that’s not infested with obnoxious college punks? Well, it’s time to pony up. Grab your friends, and rent a beach house! I’m not talking about a long weekend or even four days. I’m talking about 1 week (or more if you’ve even got that much vacation to burn) in a sweet 3 to 6 bedroom house, a stones throw away from the Ocean. Have no clue where to look eh? Let me introduce you to North Litchfield Beach, also known to many as Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

       When I was about 7 years old, I was introduced to a man name Jimmy Smith. Jimmy is a realtor, and his specialty is renting beach houses. Nice ones! Before my parents had to put my brother, sister and I thru college, we would hook up with our Aunt and Uncle and 3 cousins and go half-sies on a house, usually every few years. Around the first of the year, a paper booklet would come in the mail with big red and white lettering: James W. Smith Realty. It was a book with all the houses available for rent, their description,  price,  along with a small black and white picture. We would salivate like dogs while we asked “Are we going this year?!  Of course now with the age of the Internet, you can check out www.jwsre.com  under Vacation Rentals….and salivate!

       By now you might be asking “What’s so great about these? There are beach houses everywhere”! Good question. So I’ll tell you. 

       Location, Location

       Just off of Highway 17 (aka Ocean Highway) is an area of houses nestled just south of Huntington Beach State Park. All of these are privately owned and most are rented out (some all year round) via James W. Smith Realty. The nice thing about this area is that it’s secluded (low traffic) and away from all the hub-bub of Myrtle Beach (15 minutes north).  The beach is calm, uncrowded, and not a hotel in sight in either direction. Everyone in the area are either families on vacation, or owners. The area is clean, safe and as mentioned before, there is a house to suit needs for just a single family, to super sweet 7 bedroom houses with great ocean views for entire family/friends. I got married in 2009 and rented a killer 7 bedroom house (Carolina Days, see pic below) just across the street from the beach. The 3-5 bedroom homes can run anywhere from $1200 to $2500 a week, depending on the peak time of the Summer. 5 to 7 bedroom houses can go from $1800 to $4200/week. But when you divy it amongst 3 or more families, you’ll find that it’s a better deal than any hotel or resort around.

7 bedrooms, 2 wetbars, brazilian cherry hardwood floors, and even an elevator!

        Just up the road going north, is Brookgreen Gardens, a 9000 acre National Historic Landmark filled with sculptures, 150 year old trees, and wildlife. It’s a nature photographer’s wet dream, so bring your camera. Also, plan on spending a good 3 to 4 hours minimum if you want to see most of it. Definately worth the price of admission.

Brookgreen Gardens

 

       Up the road further is Murrells Inlet, aka seafood heaven, Restaurant Row. With many waterfront dining choices, you can’t go wrong finding a place to have dinner. From Capt. Dave’s Dockside Restaurant to Saltwater Creek, there are over 30+ places. Some even serve up BBQ. Be sure to stay on Highway 17 (non business) when heading north at the split.

      Of course eventually you will want to head into Myrtle Beach. Why not go to the coolest outdoor shopping / dining experience? Keep heading north on 17, until you reach North Myrtle. There you will find Broadway at The Beach. A boardwalk of shops and restaurants built around a small man made lake. Ripley’s Aquarium, IMAX Theatre, and 100+ shops surround the 35 acre complex.

Did I mention the cool beach houses?!

 
 
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The 10 greatest (free) things on the Internet!

 

    Who said you can’t get anything for free?! Well, here is a list of 10 things via the Internet that cost nothing, zero, zilch, nada! In no particular order. (quick disclaimer: while most of these are available via web browser, some are apps. But if you don’t own an iPod Touch, or smart phone by now, crawl out from under that rock!)

1. PANDORA - website/app. - I loves me some free (streaming) music. And if you know how to use Pandora, (ie thumbs up / thumbs down feature) you can pretty much dial up anything you want genre wise, or by artist. True, you’ll get a 15 sec. commercial every 8 to 10 songs, but that’s still waaay better than what you get from a radio station.

2. Google Earth - app/ web-based - Wanna burn hours on end traveling the world from your laptop? Google Earth is for you! Back in the late 90′s the closest thing available to check out satellite and aerial photography, was Bill God’s (Microsoft) TerraServer website. Hands down, this is probably the coolest program ever. Anytime I travel to a new city/town, I’ll study the lay of the land with Google Earth. You can even get plugins. For instance, the Ohio Highway Patrol has one that marks every fatal crash in Ohio, with description (drunk driver, semi, etc) Wanna test your pilot skills? The flight simulator mode is super kick-ass !! Note – not for the bandwidth impaired, unless you want to wait for blurry photography

3. IMDB - website/ app. – Playing a game of Dead or Alive? Can’t remember who played Lacey Underall in Caddyshack? www.imdb.com The Internet Movie Database. This website/app. has settled more arguments than a salary arbitration lawyer. Need I say more?

4. 5-0 Radio - app. – This is a free app. for iPhone/Droid. Wanna listen to the latest B&E in progress? This scanner/feed app. is the shizzbam-nizzle when it comes to listening to all way communication between dispatchers and Johnny Law. It’s guesstimated that the feeds run about 2 minutes behind realtime. But still, if the ghetto bird is buzzing around my ‘hood, I can find out why, by just punching in my city. Listen to Detroit, LA, as well as most major US cities, police and fire.

5. SomaFM - app./website – In 2000, a guy name Rusty wanted to provide free streaming music (ambient, lounge chill) to the masses, commercial free. Not only does it provide high quality streams to 5000+ listeners at any given time, but there are now over 15 channels. It’s all run entirely on donations. So if you listen often, don’t be a cheap skate, and send him $10/$20 every now and then. www.somaFM.com   

6. YELP - app./website – Yelp is a website/app. for anyone trying to sniff out the best restaurant, bar, or even the closest pizza joint. The app. for iPhone/iTouch is the way to go. Search by city, zipcode, or current location by GPS. Read reviews, bookmark favorite places, find an ATM, it does it all, even map out the quickest route there.

7. Real Player - an audio/video player that has stood the test of time. Real Networks were the pioneers of streaming audio. Sure, it’s a memory/processor hog, but isn’t Windows? Even better after 17+ years, STILL FREE! Did I mention that since version 12 (circa 2006) you can record and save live streams?!

8. Shazam - iPhone/Droid app – a sweet app. that identifies a song being played. You can use a microphone if you have the iPod Touch. The only minus is that it has to be an actual recorded song (you can’t just hum or whistle into it) Still pretty cool.

9. Trip Advisor - Website (the app. sucks) – Planning a trip to a foreign country and don’t want to stay in a roach motel? Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is a traveler review website which will allow you to review just about every hotel or restaurant anywhere. Members and reviewers are everyday travelers. On the plus side, they do not allow property owners or travel agencies to post. On the downside, you have to sometimes weed out the people who are miffed because everything didn’t go their way at a hotel or resort. (The British are hard to please at times, and can write some nasty reviews). I have been a member since 2006, and they have even sent me free swag, and gift coupons.

10.  Sky.FM  – Ahhh more free music! Love it! Love it! Another streaming music site, they broadcast (with very few commercial interruptions) everything from Top 40, Classic Rock, to Roots Reggae. While the free stream is 56k (still not bad) you can pay a subscription, and get 128k commercial free tunes. But again…the key word is, free. www.sky.fm

Posted in Apps, Internet, iPod Touch | 1 Comment

Yeah, I’m a Hotel Snob. Thanks, Hilton Honors!!

 

     In Sept. of 2004 I started a new gig with the US Govt. Not even 2 weeks into it I had to travel to Washington D.C. Afterwards, I found out that my coverage area included Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh. Knowing in advance that I would have to travel to these places a few times a year, I decided to sign up with the Hilton Honors rewards program. If you don’t already know, Hilton owns Embassy Suites, Double Tree, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Conrad, as well as their Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn properties. None of these chains (Hampton Inn actually being the low end) are dumps. Sure, it’s a monopoly, but a great one if you’re a points member. Add to this equation the fact that most of Hilton’s properties offer the “Govt. rate” (an agreed rate set by GSA based on location) and it’s a no brainer. Why not stay at a top notch place if it costs the same as staying in a Comfort Inn, or even a Holiday Inn Express?!

          So I sign up, and start racking up the points. After a week in Indy, Lansing, Charleston WV, and 2 weeks in El Paso, I had over 110,000 points. Now at the time, I was single, so living out of a suitcase from time to time wasn’t so bad. By Jan. 2006 I had finished the project that was responsible for putting in all those places, and now I had racked up some vacation time as well. What to do? My answer: Spend 10 days in Trinidad/Tobago at a sweet Hilton resort, using my points to cover 3 free days! This place was so over the top awesome, that when my brother looked at it online, he decided to join me (took the wife of course). Funny thing was if you asked him where on a map Trinidad was, he had no clue. “The Carribean”…good enough, I’ll go! To this day, they still talk about the beachfront views, massive pool, and a daily breakfast that was so good, you skipped lunch.

Hilton Tobago

      Fast forward to June 2007. My wife (then girlfriend) and I decide we want to spend a few days in Vegas. “We can just stay at a cheap place off the strip”, she says. Heck nooo! We’re staying at the Hilton Grand Vacation resort on the Strip! She was cool with it after we checked in, opened the door to our room and realized that they upgraded us to a full suite with kitchen, living room, and hot tub…Holla !! Hilton owns the Flamingo, but we haven’t stayed there yet. She has also grown to like the Double Tree resort in Clearwater, Florida.

      I have a friend that is a Diamond member and has racked up over a million points. This guy spent over a year and a half, going back and forth from Seattle to Dayton. Lets just say that he has stayed in some pretty sweet digs as well. So far, I’ve probably accrued around 325,000. My master plan is to stay at the Barbados Hilton (50,000 points/day). But needless to say that, unless I am in a jam, or just passing thru while on a drive to somewhere overnight, no Super 8′s or Motel 6′s for me, thank you!

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Is it Cigar Season yet?

 

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em !!

  Ahh cigars. People hate ‘em or love ‘em. Often a symbol of opulence, success, power, etc. To some, a big fat, smoky, stinky, whatever. I myself find that good cigars can be tasty works of art, handcrafted and appreciated by (most people) who enjoy its history, and the company of friends while smoking one or two. Realistically, there isn’t enough server space to hold all the information on cigars, types, how they’re made, where they are made, etc. But why not discuss my favorites, shall we? An El Yeffe top 10 with a’la Cigar Aficionado ratings!

#10 – Nica Libre (maduro, Nicaraguan)   Can’t afford Padron Anniversary 1926′s?? This comes close. Hell, they even rip off part of the design on the band. Very tasty nonetheless. I find the smaller sizes more consistent and smoother. El Yeffe rates this an 89!

#9 – Partagas Spanish Rosato - Honduran wrapper makes this a unique smoke, spicy but not overpowering. Can’t say I’ve ever had a bad one. Some question the draw consistency. I just wish my smoke shop, “ahem”, would carry them. Nevermind, I won a 20 pack on cigarbid.com!! El Yeffe rates these a 90!

#8 – Don Carlos Reserva #2 – Just the right size if you’re in a pinch for time. These pack flavor and yet still smooth, just what you’de expect from Fuente’s top line shizznit. Didn’t say they were inexpensive, but they are good!   El Yeffe rates these a 90.5!

#7 – Chateau Fuente King B – Great ring size (belicoso), a hefty smoke that packs a punch. Smoke this puppy outside for true enjoyment! One of the best of the “Sun Grown” cigars. El Yeffe rates this a 91!

#6 – Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve (Maduro) - My friends will tell you, I’m a total whore for top-o-the-line RP smokes. This one doesn’t disappoint, with yummy Nicaraguan filler and Costa Rican wrapper, it all blends well. El Yeffe rates this a 92!

#5 – Carlos Torano Exodus 1959 – great smokes (again..if you can find them) Very oily and full of flavor. I have these in about 3 different shapes and sizes, a great Dominican cigar! El Yeffe rates this a 92.5!

Carlos Torano 1959 (figurado)

#4 – Padron Anniversary 1926 (pyramid) – Hey..I dont rate them if it ain’t in my humidor, b!7ches! Yes, these are the best of the best, even better than a lot of Cubans. If they were cheaper in price, they’d probably be higher on the list. Another one of those “Best if smoked outdoors”, even trying one of these cigars could cost you (cuz you’ll want more!) El Yeffe rates these a 94!

#3 – Partagas Serie D #4 (Cuban) – Remember the first time you got laid? You’ll remember the first time you smoked one of these! One word, smooooooth! Don’t get hoodwinked, and make sure you obtain the real deal, as these are often counterfeited. Feeling lightheaded midway thru? Congrats, it’s a good Cuban! El Yeffe rates these a 94.5

#2 – Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 – Did I say Rocky makes good stuff? I probably have close to 65+ in my humidor. I used to buy the 15 pack Seconds (before they were $55)…winner, winner, chicken dinner! Never paid more than $40! Anyhow, these are bang for the buck, best cigar. Smooth, nutty, great draw, the whole shabang. El Yeffe rates these a 95!

{True Story} I was smoking one of these outside a hotel (outdoor restaurant) and sat at a table downwind from any patrons. Midway thru, the wind changed direction. After finishing a steak dinner, a guy walked to my table. I thought for sure he was gonna MF me, but instead he said “Man, if that cigar tastes as good as it smells, it must be great”! I then pulled out another one and offered it to him, but he declined.

#1 – C.A.O. Anniversaire Maduro – These guys have been cranking out the most consistent cigar since my lips first smacked the greatness of the CAO in 2003. Seriously, if I could time travel back 8 years, I guarantee that I could pull one off the shelf, bring it back, and you wouldn’t be able to tell which one was rolled then, or 5 months ago. Don’t be a cheap @s$, buy the torpedo! El Yeffe rates these a 96!

Posted in Cigars, Smokes | 2 Comments

Hello, Peeps!

 

   Welcome to El Yeffe’s Corner. Here in this Blog you will find insightful information, opinions, reviews, stories and discussions about some of my favorite topics. Though you may not agree on everything, feedback is encouraged. So buckle up and enjoy the ride through the Time Vampire also known as the blogosphere of El Yeffe !!

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