Trinidad And Tobago Host Celebrations, Beautiful Beaches

trinidad and tabago

The dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, just off the north coast of South America, offers a distinct blend of culture, eclectic cuisine and an assortment of eco-adventure activities. Celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom throughout 2012, two special events coming up in November highlight why Trinidad and Tobago is also known as the cultural capital of the Caribbean.

During Diwali, a festival of lights that happens on November 13, small clay lamps are filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil and kept on during the night. Firecrackers drive away evil spirits and everyone wears new clothes.

Diwali is celebrated around the world by a number of cultures and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

The Hosay FeTrinidad and Tobagostival on November 24, began as a

religious festival but is now more of an ethnic pageant.

In Trinidad, Hosay is a chance for artisans to take to the streets with their skills and handiwork prominently displayed, reminding Trinidadians and tourists alike that East Indians and Muslims form a vital part of Trinidad’s cultural fabric.

Trinidad and Tobago feature secluded beaches, quaint villages, private villas and award-winning eco-attractions that include the Main Ridge Rainforest, the oldest protected reserve in the world and the six-time award winner for World’s Leading Ecotourism Destination.

Some of the top beaches in the country are found at Maracas Bay and Blanchisseuse, on Trinidad’s north coast. On Tobago, great beaches include Pigeon Point Beach, considered Tobago’s most beautiful beach. Also called Pigeon Point Heritage Park, the area features excellent beach facilities and beach chair rentals as well as bars and a restaurant.




Trinidad and Tobago also offer a number of adventure opportunities. Hiking, biking, kayaking and cave exploration top the list with something for all ages and abilities. Rainforest hiking trails, limestone caves, hidden waterfalls, cycling through lush island countryside or kayaking past wildlife filled mangrove forests make Trinidad and Tobago a favorite of travelers from around the world.

[Photo Credit: Flickr User TaranRampersad]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: How To Avoid Posts Where You Might Get Eaten Alive

tribe in papua new guinea cannibalsHave you ever received a phone call from someone who was hoping to entice you to live in a country where cannibalism is still practiced? I have.

“I have a great opportunity for you in Port Moresby,” said Hollis, my State Department Career Development Officer (CDO)/used car salesperson.

I Googled Port Moresby from my office at the American Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, and the results weren’t encouraging. And when I asked a more senior person at the embassy what he thought, his first reaction told me all I needed to know about the place.

“Papua New Guinea,” he said. “Don’t they still eat people there?”In the peculiar world of the Foreign Service, diplomats are always obsessing over their next post. No matter whether you’re in Paris or Bangui, it’s hard not to think about what’s next, thanks to the unique bidding system, where State Department Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) typically bid a year or more in advance of taking up a new post.

The practicality of this system is that if you’re in a two or three year assignment, you typically know where you’re going next near the midway point of your tour. If you love your post and are heading somewhere dreadful next, you have plenty of time for the apprehension to build, but if you’re excited about your onward assignment it can make even the worst job or post seem bearable.

If you have a one-year assignment to a danger post, you typically bid right before or after arriving in say, Kabul or Baghdad. And since serving at a post like that gives one some serious bidding equity the next time around, nearly everyone manages to go somewhere they want after serving in conflict zones. So your ticket to Afghanistan can be tempered by a ticket to Sydney or Rome that’s already in the bag by the time you land in Kabul.

If you’re a traveler who has thought about joining the State Department’s Foreign Service, but want to know more about how likely you are to be able to live in the regions you prefer, this is a primer on what to expect if you join the Foreign Service.

First tour: FSO’s start their careers in a class called A-100 and are given a “directed assignment” to their first post. Officers can express bidding preferences but whether you get what you want is a real crapshoot. If you have a foreign language proficiency, your chances of going to that country/region are good, but don’t bank on it.

Career development officers (CDO’s) take a variety of factors into account in deciding who goes where: job/career fit, family and school considerations (i.e. they are less likely to send someone with school age children to a post with no accredited schools), health considerations (if an FSO has a family member with health issues), language ability and the timing of when the job is open versus what job and language training the person would need to fill the position.

Second tour: The second tour is also a directed assignment but here’s where things get really tricky, as far as bidding strategy goes. Junior officers can only get one full language course in their first two tours, and they have to do a consular job as well. So if, for example, you exhaust your language training on the first go around, or don’t fulfill your consular obligation, your bidding options can be severely hampered.

In my case, I was given Albanian language training prior to departing for my first post in Macedonia, and since I wasn’t proficient in any other foreign languages at that time, I could only bid on jobs at English speaking posts and jobs, which didn’t require foreign language proficiency.

The second assignment is supposed to be based upon bidding “equity.” Those who are at the toughest posts – and here, toughest is defined by those with the highest hardship and danger pay ratings – have the most equity, and should get the first pick of assignments.

But in reality, FSO’s with connections or good karma sometimes manage to float by from one good post to another while others go from bad posts to even worse ones. I loved living in Macedonia, but since it was rated as a 20 percent hardship post at the time I was bidding for the second go-around, I thought I would have plenty of equity to get one of the 20 jobs I bid on for my second tour.

tobagoBut then I got the Port Moresby phone call from Hollis, who explained that I didn’t have enough equity to get any of the 20 posts I’d bid on, and would have to take my chances with the leftovers. CDO’s are very much like used car salespeople, so he was trying to push the places that no one had bid on. After weeks of wrangling, I was given Port of Spain, Trinidad, which wasn’t at all up my alley, but seemed quite acceptable compared to Port Moresby.

Mid Level Bidding: Once FSO’s get tenure, the directed assignment process is over and officers lobby and interview for jobs based on their own merit. The equity system is still in play but less so. In decades past, some FSO’s managed to specialize in one geographic area, but these days, with huge missions in Baghdad and Kabul, no one can get away without at least bidding on hardship posts, and many officers are getting sent on unaccompanied assignments in dangerous places against their will.

Tips: In an A-100 class, it’s essential to try to find out through the grapevine as much as you can on who’s bidding on what. The most important thing to gauge is what jobs everyone is putting at the very bottom of his or her list. Let’s say, for example, that nearly everyone has Khartoum as the bottom of their list, but you have it somewhere near the middle of your list. Well, guess who’s got a pretty damn good shot of spending Christmas in Sudan?

In general, you want to present bid lists that make sense and that you can defend rationally. Trying to tell CDO’s you prefer Dublin, Sydney and Prague because they have good beer in each place is a sure way to get a one-way ticket to Dhaka. And last, but definitely not least, if you have high-level connections, use them, and remember that you can always negotiate.

Bottom line: Joining the Foreign Service is a little bit like joining the military, in terms of signing your fate over to the government. It’s obviously far cushier, pays better and is less dangerous, but you can’t completely control where you go and you can get sent to places you do not want to go without your family members. If you’re flexible, adventurous and not extremely risk averse, it might be a good career option for you. But if you’re just hoping for an easy way to live in Sydney or Rome, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Read more from “A Traveler in The Foreign Service” here.

[Photos by Dave Seminara and friar's balsam on Flickr]

Hotel News We Noted: July 27, 2012


scrub island resort


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that this is the month of the Olympics – and we’ll be doing our due diligence by bringing you the best hotel news, packages and trend data over the next few weeks in this column and elsewhere. This week, however, we’re highlighting spots of summer with a slew of new hotel stay reviews, openings, trends and far-out amenities.

As always, if you have a comment, thought, or want to share details from a great hotel you’ve recently experienced, send us an email.

Now Open: Scrub Island
If it’s private island luxury you crave (who doesn’t?) try the newly opened, yet unfortunately named, Scrub Island Resort on the east end of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (shown at top). As the first luxury resort built in the destination in more than 15 years, the hotel is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Set on a private island and rugged cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, you’ll enjoy a choice of 52 rooms as well as two-, three-, and four-bedroom villas, a spa, restaurants, three private beaches and a 55-slip marina. Rates for a July stay start at $400 per night.

Opening Soon: Margaritaville Atlantic City
Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, on a blanket with my margarita, that’s where I’ll be. More likely, we’ll be in the casino at the Margaritaville Atlantic City, predicted for a May 2013 opening. A hotel-within-a-hotel at the Resorts Casino, the Jimmy Buffett hotel will not be the first – there are already casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Las Vegas, as well as a hotel in Florida and a number of the iconic restaurants nationwide. USA Today reports that the complex will have a restaurant, bar, shops, year-round beach bar and the first ever Margaritaville-themed coffee shop.

Fun Perk: Sing-A-Long Movies at the Westin Resort & Casino, Aruba
This fun Starwood resort adds a twist to their traditional “dive-in” movie theme with a family-friendly Sing-a-Long Movie Summer. Every Tuesday through the end of August, guests gather in the resort’s free-form pool to watch and sing along with classic films like “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Wizard of Oz” and more. Summer rates at The Westin, Aruba start at a reasonable $179.

Hotel Review: The Reef at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
We are going to give the most positive review we can of our recent weekend at Atlantis in the Bahamas‘ Paradise Island. Keep in mind, we’re probably not the hotel’s target demographic – we don’t have kids, weren’t traveling on a company’s incentive trip budget, and don’t generally love gigantic hotels. The famed casino-resort-cruise ship stopping point was to be our home away from home at the wedding of a friend, the one reason we didn’t book a stay at the One & Only Ocean Club on the island instead.

The price for The Reef? A steep $398 per night pre-tax, which totaled out to an additional $120 per night … and this with a near 50 percent wedding rate discount. The rooms were spacious and the kitchenettes offered a good perk – we ordered from the handy FoodStore2Go to stock up for breakfast and other munchies. Red Flower bath amenities were a lovely touch; the horribly scratchy sheets (we’ve had better at a Hampton Inn for sure) were not.

Generally speaking, service was beyond, even the expected, “Caribbean time” slow. The staff (with the exception of housekeeping) was rude and unhelpful, and the resort was packed to the gills with the patrons dropped off from cruise ships each day. The Cove, the resort’s most luxe portion, was by far the best for adults, but even then, a DJ spinning morning and night at the pool made it feel more like Las Vegas or Miami then a relaxing Caribbean escape.

Rooms in other towers – the Beach, Coral and Royal – looked dated and in need of refurbishment. Sadly, rain deterred our plans to visit amenities like the Dolphin Cay and our time was cut short at the Aquaventure water park, but those definitely seemed worthy of a visit, particularly for families with children. The Mandara Spa, however, was a standout – the spa was still very crowded (go early in the day) but the treatment was one of the best we’ve had.

The final verdict? It’s the perfect day visit from a cruise ship or another resort. If you have kids and want to entertain them, it’s an easy alternative to Disney World. If you’re on someone else’s dime, enjoy! The island is beautiful. If you’re coming as a couple, save your money and go elsewhere.

Three Island Destinations Rarely Visited By Cruise Ships

island destinations

Cruise ships love to call on island destinations. Those that live on those islands are glad to see them and their cash-spending passengers too. But for travelers who just happen to be on a land vacation at the time a cruise ship calls, this is bad news. Almost instantly, a quiet, serene island paradise can be overrun with thousands of cruise passengers trying to cram a whole lot of island into a little bit of time.

Still, there are some island destinations rarely visited by cruise ships that are host to some of the best beaches and island life in the world. Here are three of them to enjoy.

Tobago (pictured) is one of the two southern Caribbean islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada. Tobago is known for its Carnival, is the birthplace of the limbo and sees few cruise ships – mostly small ones.Tikehau is a coral atoll in the Palliser Islands group, part of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, known for its pink sand beaches. To get there, a daily flight between Tahiti and the Tikehau airport delivers travelers to the island paradise. Cruise ships do not stop here.

Manihi is also a coral atoll in French Polynesia, popular with snorkelers for its beautiful and diverse marine fauna. Home to a number of pearl farms, Mahini is largely uninhabited and home to the Mahini Pearl Beach Resort.




[Flickr photo by nosuchsoul]

Leatherback Turtle Eggs Destroyed In Trinidad

leatherback turtle
Construction workers moving sand on Grande Riviere beach in Trinidad have accidentally crushed a large number of leatherback turtle eggs. The workers used bulldozers to redirect a river that was eroding the beach, popular with tourists who like to see the turtles hatch.

BBC reports that 20,000 leatherback turtle eggs were destroyed, while Trinidad Express Newspapers quotes Environmental Management Authority CEO Dr. Joth Singh as saying, “only a few hundred” were destroyed.

The Grande Riviere River was encroaching on the beach and the turtle nesting area, and a local hotel owner asked the government to shift its course. The workers ended up bulldozing a portion of the nesting site.

Leatherback turtles, which are a critically endangered species, are famous for laying their eggs in the same spot where they were born. Trinidad’s north coast has huge nesting areas that have become popular with visitors. The Trinidad Express reports that locals and tourists have joined together to sift through the wreckage in search of hatchlings that can be saved.

[Photo courtesy Crazy Creatures]