Our Trip to Antigua

We’ve been to a lot of tropical places over the years, but this was our first time to Antigua. It’s a small island in the Caribbean, in the same area as Montserrat, Guadaloupe, St. Kitts, St. Barts and St. Martin.
The island boasts 365 beaches—one for each day of the year—and I have to say, if you’re a beach person, the beaches are truly to die for. We stayed at Jolly Beach, which was a mile of soft, white sand and sea water that was so turquoise, it looked as if somebody had painted it.
The people of Antigua that I met were super nice and very friendly to tourists. Because I have a torn tendon in my foot, I couldn’t do any day trips that involved a lot of walking, so this vacation was basically just a week to relax on the beach.
It’s a long flight from Toronto to Antigua—5 hours. I sure wish there was a way to get there other than flying. The worst part of the trip was having to go through Toronto Pearson airport. It’s like being tortured. Your flight leaves at 6 am, so you have to be there at 3 am. You’re half-asleep, dragging luggage behind you, and they make you line up for ages to type in your information at kiosks (that are absolutely mind-boggling) so then they no longer have to pay agents to help book you in for your flight. They’re the winners, we’re the losers. Then you have to mind-wrestle with another set of kiosks to register your luggage. I’ve never witnessed so many pissed off people all in one place. It was a nightmare of bedlamic* proportions.
*No, you won’t find this word in any regular dictionaries. It comes from the Dictionary of Donna.
The airport in Antigua was the polar opposite—efficient, with actual agents waiting to sign you in. Bam bam bam and you’re done and relaxing in the lounge. What a difference. The Antiguan agent that I dealt with was quite delighted to hear that their tiny airport was 150% more efficient than the big-city teched-out Pearson.
I’ve been travelling for 30 years, but after this one week of travel, I have arrived at a few conclusions:
1. Travelling for one week is bloody exhausting. Especially when you’re working full-time and have to return to your job when you get back. It’s the preparation leading up to the trip, the whole airport experience, the squished-together-like-sardines-in-a-can plane experience, the getting yourself oriented once you arrive at your destination. Then, repeat in reverse only 6 days later. I was more tired when I got home than when I left. To top it off, they deluge you with work on your first day back. It’s just not worth it.
2. The travel industry is nothing but a complete and total rip off. By the time you reach my age of wisdom, you realize that people crooks running the travel industry are far smarter than the rest of us; they’ve discovered multitudinous ways to soak people for their hard-earned money.
It’s like this when you’re dealing with the travel industry: first, withdraw a massive chunk of money from your bank account; lug it all to the top of a windy hill; fling every last dollar into the air; watch it all blow away forever. That’s basically what happens when you travel to a resort for a week.
It’s rare to find true last-minute “deals” anymore, unless you’re looking to go to a 2-star resort where you’ll be sitting on a toilet with the runs all week. It used to be that you could book a last-minute great-value all-inclusive trip at a 4+ star resort during the off-season for under $1,000 each. Not anymore.
Ok, so you’ve booked your trip. Next, you have to pay for insurance (which, fortunately, I get through work) and cancellation insurance. Then they want you to pay extra to reserve your preferred seat ahead of time on the plane (the unreserved window seats we ended up with were perfectly fine), then they warn you that if your luggage measures and weighs more than XYZ, you’ll have to pay extra. Then they tell you how much more luxurious your trip will be if you pay extra to upgrade to the premium lounge at the airport, where you can eat and drink free while you wait for your plane (sure, I want to get bombed at 5 am in the morning!). Then they bombard you with emails for pricey day excursions that you should book ahead of time to get the most out of your trip.
Next, if you don’t have someone to drive you to and from the airport, you can either pay upwards of 50 bucks a day to park your car at a lot near the airport ($100+ a day to park right at the airport), or you can pay a limo/taxi to take you there. It was $65 plus $10 tip to go there. When you get back, they know they have you by the balls, so they charge you $100 to drive you home.
On the plane, the cheap bastards no longer give you anything to eat; you have to pay for airplane meals now even though you’ve already paid hundreds and hundreds for your seat. So I brought sandwiches and apples in my carry-on. They do still serve you a gulp or two of coffee or pop, but that’s it. Hand over more moolah if you want anything else.
Of course, once you’re at the resort, you’d better have lots of cash on hand because hotel staff expect to be tipped if they so much as blink at you. I understand that they don’t make the best wages… but hell, I ain’t Howard Hughes either!
3. I get really, really sick of people really, really quickly. When I’m at home, it’s nice and quiet. Nobody can invade my space unless I invite them to. So, what do I do? I go on a trip (to relax!) where swarms of people are in my face around the clock, everywhere I go, for 7 full days.

First, there’s the airport, where everyone’s pissed off and glaring at each other; and people run over your toes with their luggage on wheels; and airport staff are so fed up with everyone’s bitching that they actually tell you that they’re already sick to death of people and they’ve only just started their shift (I actually heard the carry-on scanning guy say that); and the boarding call, where people rush to nosedive ahead of you so they can get in line first, as if the plane’s going to take off unless we all get on there RIGHT NOW.
Then there’s being trapped on the plane beside a stranger with rancid breath who hogs the armrest for the entire flight, and you have to scrunch yourself to one side so their body and yours don’t become one; and you have to climb over people to go to the bathroom; and the person behind you continuously knees the back of your seat; and the baby 2 rows ahead is screaming bloody murder; and they give you customs forms to fill out while the plane is bumping up and down in turbulence; and the woman behind you with the grating voice never shuts the f–k up.
Then at the resort, there are 600 people and 100 beach huts. You do the math. If you don’t drag your ass out of bed by 4 in the morning to claim a beach hut by leaving your towels there (and then drag your ass back to bed to try to get in a few more hours of sleep), you will have absolutely no shade for the rest of the day. The sun down there is brutal—shade is a valuable commodity. I’ve never had to get up that early to go to work. But on vacation? I must be awake every day before sunrise so I don’t turn into a walking melanoma blister.
And later, once you’re finally ensconced in your lounge chair under your priceless hut, ready to zone out while you gaze at the picturesque sea and listen to the soothing sound of waves rolling up onto sand, that’s when all hell breaks loose. That’s when the masses of your fellow-vacationers are ready to gather at the huts that surround yours. But they’re not there to zone out—they’re there to party! There’s the boozed-up, raucous gang of 6 under the hut beside you, blabbing and shrieking non-stop… then there’s the teenager a few over blasting hip hop through a full stereo system that he has on his iPhone… then there are the peddlars wandering up every five minutes trying to initiate chit chat so they can sell you a condo or a coconut or some damn thing. Just try reading the book you’ve been longing to dive into. Just try hearing those waves.
Then there are people elbowing you out of their way at the buffet… and screaming kids running up and down the dining area because their parents are too ignorant to teach them that they’re supposed to remain seated at a table when they’re dining out… and the sweet sounds of construction from the resort next door.

I escape as often as I can into the sea, and that’s where I find Heaven on earth.
4. I really hate leaving my pet. My beloved cat, Otis, spent our week away at my mother’s house. It was the first time we’d left him with her, and it will probably be the last because he was enraged and did nothing but hiss at her the entire week. He spent every day huddled behind a chair in the basement, going upstairs only to eat, drink and use his litter box, then back downstairs. If she dared approach him, he would hiss fire at her. I made the mistake of emailing her on our first night away to find out how he was doing, and ended up worrying about him for the rest of the week. I couldn’t help it. He’s my cat and I love him to death, and I felt really bad imagining that he probably thought we’d abandoned him and that he’d never see us again. We had barely arrived home before we were in the car, driving over to pick him up. You’ve never seen a cat so happy to see two people. He couldn’t resist shooting one last hiss at my poor mother before he left with us to go back to his own home. What can I say. He’s not a fan of travel.
5. There’s no place like home. Don’t get me wrong; Antigua was a lovely island. The weather was heavenly—not too hot, no humidity, constant cooling trade winds. The beaches—perfect. The people—warm and friendly. I can see myself someday renting a private house or condo there for a month or two, and living in short-term bliss. But there really is nothing better than your own bed. And your own people-free space.
So I’ve decided that, from here on, unless I’m travelling to a place where I’ll be staying put for a month or two, I won’t be travelling at all. Until I retire, the remainder of my vacations will consist of a combination of day trips and lazing around at home. At this point in my life, there’s nothing that sounds more relaxing to me than that.

Then again… when I look at pictures of that beach…
Here are pics of some of the gorgeous shells and coral I collected during my many walks along the beach in order to escape the hut-people. They are definitely God’s artwork.


Memories of my many trips to the island of Curacao

curacao hut copyIsland Dreams

I’m in a seaside paradise,
where my heart is light and free,
where palm fronds wave and whisper
in the breezes from the sea.

Days of idle frolic
on dunes of sun-bleached sand.
Evening skies ablaze with stars,
moonlit strolls, calypso bands.

Sunsets stain the turquoise sea,
liquid gold dips silent, slow.
The sky is splashed with grenadine
and garnished with an orange glow.

curacao tropical colors copyThe bustling waterfront market
is rich with handmade wares.
Tourists spar with merchants
to barter prices fair.

Where sea meets blue horizon,
distant sailboats bob and weave.
I breathe the salty, spicy air,
and I never want to leave.

I travel often in my mind,
daydreams suffice for now,
until I can return again
to the isle of Curacao.

curacao beach copy

High drama alert: Fight on the beach!

During a stroll along the beach while vacationing in Naples, Florida, I stumbled upon a melodramatic scene of what appeared to be intense marital strife.

A group of terns were gathered quietly on the sand while one tern proceeded to “rant” at another poor tern for a good fifteen minutes straight. Whenever the recipient attempted to turn away, the noisy one would follow and get right up in its face. The other terns just sort of sidled away and kept their distance. It was hilarious. So hilarious, in fact, that several other beachgoers ambled over to watch.

It was a no-brainer that the one ranting just had to be the wife and the one being ranted at was the husband, who had obviously done something heinous enough to warrant the degree of beak-lashing that ensued.

So here’s how it all went down:

10.terns_angry wife in middle



That’s tern-wife in the middle of the group, screaming at the back of tern-husband’s head.


11.tern wife



Tern-wife: “You old crow! How DARE you look at HER that way in front of all of our tern-friends?”


12.wife gives hubby crap




Tern-wife: “I demand an apology right now, you old buzzard!”


13.wife waits for apology



A heavy silence looms between the crashing of 
the waves as she waits for a response. No response is forthcoming.

14.no apology forthcoming



Tern-wife: “You yellow-bellied sapsucker! Did you not hear what I just chirped? YOU OWE ME AN APOLOGY!”

15.hubby looks for escape




Dead silence. Tern-husband looks around for an escape route.

16.there is no escape




There is no escape! Tern-husband
 prays for the tide to roll in and wash his tern-wife out to sea.

17.wife pissed off


Tern-wife: “Have you no thoughts whatsoever in that birdbrain of yours? You look me in the eye when I’m talking to you…you SCUMSUCKING SEAGULL!”

18.hubby has audacity to leave




Hubby takes a deep breath and makes a run for it.


19.hubby gets an earful



Tern-wife: “WTF! You CHICKENSHIT! You DARE to tern away from meIsn’t it just like you to run from our problems!” (Notice the tern-friend nearby covering his ears with his wings.)


20.ripping hubby a new one



Tern-wife: “You get your tailfeathers back here and face the birdsong!”


21.wife is on a roll




Tern-wife: “I am at the end of my pier with you. You are nothing but a lame duck!”

22.hubby turns away again



Tern-husband peers out to sea longingly. He wonders if he has the strength left to hold his body underwater long enough to get the job done.

23.uh oh






Tern-wife: “I have a mind to rope you to a conch shell and toss you out to sea!”


24.someones still in the birdhouse








Tern-wife: “No response to that either, huh? Ok. I’ve had enough! I’m done! We’re over!”

25.wife waits for apology




Tern-wife: “You’ll be hearing from my tern-lawyer by sundown.”


It was at this point that I “reterned” to my lounge chair with the full realization that all men have an innate aptitude for tuning out their women, no matter what species they belong to.

Going to the beach can be such an educational experience.



Enjoying the sunshine in Naples, Florida

30.palm treesI’ve been neglecting my blog this week for good reason; I’m on vacation in sunny Naples, Florida! I’ve been getting griping reports about the recent dump of snow and ice and cold weather at home from my family and friends. All I have to say is this: It sure sucks to be you! 🙂3.stork




This end of Florida, near the Everglades, is so beautiful. Although we’ve had some on and off rain today, it’s 72 degrees and I’m wearing a spaghetti-strap dress and flip flops instead of a fleece hoodie and three pairs of socks!
44.three pelicans

If you’re into photography, the birds and wildlife down here are awesome. The house we’re staying in backs onto a river and there’s no end to the turtles and ducks swimming by, as well as the blue herons, anhingas, ibises and other tropical birds poking around for food.63.anhinga


So I’ll try to post as often as I can over the next three weeks, but they will be sporadic.25.naples pier beach

Until then, the beach beckons.



What to do with all those seashells you’ve collected?

Last February while we were vacationing in beautiful Naples, Florida, I spent a great deal of time combing the beach for seashells. Like I needed any more! I have a storage drawer in my craft room that’s bursting at the seams with hundreds of shells gathered during every beach trip we’ve ever taken (along with vials of beach sand from each place).

I’m afraid that collecting shells is a raging addiction. Every time I stroll a tropical beach, I am mesmerized by these beautiful mini sculptures scattered in the sand for as far as the eye can see. To me they are perfect little pieces of art, crafted by the sea and offered up from her depths to be admired and enjoyed. I absolutely cannot pass by without scooping them up.

So—what to do with all of these pretty shells once I’ve arrived back home and sorted them into yet another storage drawer in my ready-to-explode craft closet?

shells in vase4 shells in vase1

In the beginning, the simplest solution was to fill large glass vases and place them around the house on coffee tables, countertops, on my desk, even in the powder room. A great decision because each time I pass by them, I’m transported back to places where the sand is creamy, the water is turquoise, and the skies are filled with warm sunshine; my shells are pure joy in a glance.

shells in vase3 shells in vase2

Of course it wasn’t long before I ran out of places to display shell-filled vases. So once again—what to do with my ever-growing collection?

I decided to use the natural shapes of the shells that I’d collected during my first year in Naples to create a King Neptune-type design that I called The Old Man of The Sea.

shells_man of the sea2

To begin, I pencil-sketched a rough outline on plain white canvas, brushed some skin-tone watercolor paint into the face area, then laid out the different shapes where I thought they would fit most naturally. Next I glue-gunned each shell into place (burning the hell out of my fingers in the process!). I also spread glue on any bare canvas around the shells making up his beard and sprinkled the area with beach sand, which helped fill in and add a bit of sparkle to his beard.

After leaving it to set overnight, I glued the finished canvas onto the glass of a plain white picture frame. I found that setting it on top of the glass instead of enclosing it under the glass gave the whole piece added dimension, and I also liked how the strip of glass framed the canvas.

shells_man of the sea1

I ended up giving the finished piece to our friends who own the vacation house where we stay in Naples. It’s the perfect home for The Old Man of The Sea; after all, it’s where he came from.

The following year I used more shells to create another design: Mermaid of The Sea. Again, I started with a plain white canvas but this time, I painted the canvas with blue and green watercolour, then sprinkled salt over the wet paint to create an underwater effect. Next, I did a rough sketch of the mermaid’s position, then spray-glued the bottom third of the canvas and sprinkled beach sand over it and around the sketched mermaid’s tail to create a realistic sea floor.

shells_mermaid shells

Then I painted the mermaid’s face and arms and glue-gunned the shells I’d chosen into a pattern that formed her body/tail. I also made a little coral reesf in the right and left corners, incorporating a few fish-shaped buttons. To the right of the mermaid, I used tiny glass beads to create a transparent sea creature—I can’t tell you what type of fish it is…let’s just say it’s another one of those undersea mysteries!

shells_mermaid transparent fishshells_mermaid coral

A piece of coral I had was shaped a bit like a fish, so I placed it in the top left corner, glued on some shell fins and a glass bead eye, and you’ll notice that there are a couple of button fish swimming behind it.

shells_fish coral

Last but not least, I used gold yarn to make her hair. The flower adorning her hair is another tiny piece of coral.

shells_mermaid hair

I have yet to frame this piece, which I think would look nice in a little girl’s room. I may use the same type of frame I used for The Old Man of The Sea. It’s just one more thing I have to get around to doing.

We plan to visit Naples again in 2015. I’ve already asked my husband to duct-tape me to my lounge chair if I attempt to do any beachcombing. I suppose I should just call a spade a spade and start cleaning out a new spot in my cupboard now.

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