On Bermuda Time: Reflections on an expatriate life in the Caribbean

Moving to Bermuda was never my idea, but when my wife followed her career to the City of Hamilton I hardly protested. After all, who wouldn’t want to relocate to an idyllic archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Bags packed and container full, we waved goodbye to our metropolitan apartment and soon discovered what so many island ex-pats already knew: Bermuda is a wonderful place to call home. Of course, living outside one’s country has its perks. Ex-pat life stokes reinvention, exploration and the willingness to try new things. With it comes unforced cultural exchange and memorable firsts like when I tried carting home groceries on a scooter.

It was a few days after my arrival when I initially drove my 50cc rental bike to the market. Not yet the bag-packing veteran I am now, I neglected to bring a backpack for my groceries so I stuffed them in my scooter’s rear wire basket. I did my best to cram it all in, but after driving over one of the island’s ubiquitous speed bumps my locally-grown squash up and popped out. No harm done, really. I safely pulled over and retrieved what I’d lost, but had it been my jar of roasted garlic tomato sauce I might be singing a different tune. The next day I made a beeline for the hardware store and purchased three bright-yellow bungee cords, gear I now know is indispensable for island life.

It’s all part of the Bermuda learning curve I suppose, but I’ll take tropical hiccups over big city headaches any day. Consider the tree frogs. I’ve since had visitors who couldn’t imagine falling asleep to a cacophony of amphibians each night but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the U.S., chirps from the tiny beady-eyed frogs would probably drive me crazy. But in Bermuda I somehow think they’re charming-certainly better than listening to honking horns and police sirens. Since relocating to tropical climes, I now have similar thoughts about rain. How can I fault the occasional shower when it provides the very water I drink? In Bermuda, rainwater is collected on whitewashed staircase-shaped roofs then funneled into cisterns below. If there’s no rain, you pay to have water delivered to your home. And guess what? It’s not cheap.

The trick is to celebrate the subtle differences instead of grumbling about them. Ex-pats may make up more than twenty percent of Bermuda’s residents, but it’s important to realize that we’re all just guests. Sun-drenched, lucky-as-clover guests but guests nonetheless.For example, you’d think buying a car would be easy but the process has its share of hurdles, beginning with obtaining a driver’s license. Paperwork needs to be filed, doctors need to be seen, tests need to be taken. Sure, it’s frustrating, but car ownership is a privilege afforded to the very few-literally, since island car rentals are verboten and residents are permitted only one per household-but I’m just grateful to be part of the process. No huffing and puffing here and that’s exactly my point. Living abroad allows you to experience a dynamic new life. Who am I to bellyache about how it unfolds? Much to the contrary, the varied cultural differences are the main reasons why being an ex-pat is so wonderful. Although living in such a beautiful place doesn’t hurt.

In summer, Bermuda’s temperature rarely rises above 85 degrees and in winter, it averages a balmy 65. From the desk of my home office I see palm trees swaying in the breeze, the pale blue Great Sound and lush bougainvillea dotting the hillside. The island’s infamous pink sand beaches are nearby too-in fact, my home is just a five-minute walk to some of the finest slices of sand I’ve ever seen. Flanked by majestic rock formations and teaming with tropical fish, Bermuda’s beaches are unrivaled and certainly a pleasant backyard to call my very own-at least for a little while.

David LaHuta reports on travel, tourism and the great outdoors for the New York Times, Caribbean Travel+Life and Outside Television among others. His island blog, Bermuda Shorts, can be read daily at http://davidlahuta.blogspot.com.

Last minute tropical Labor Day getaways

Ready, set, book. The East Coast was largely spared the wrath of Hurricane Irene and no other pending tropical storms are threatening to ruin your upcoming three-day weekend. Why not jet away for a quick tropical vacation? From the East Coast, many Caribbean islands are a nonstop flight away, and from the west and Texas, Mexico is an easy jaunt.

Consider the following great last-minute Labor Day packages and head out on an impromptu trip:

Puerto Rico & The Virgin Islands
CheapCaribbean.com is offering package deals starting at $359 with departures on September 4th and 5th. The four-star Grand Melia golf resort in Puerto Rico is discounted from its normal price of $799 for a four-night stay, and the three-star Chenay Beach is just $399.

Cruise Crazy
Cruise.com is having a massive Labor Day sale. The Norwegian Spirit sails Sept. 4 from New Orleans to Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize City and Cozumel for $499. Upgrade to an ocean view cabin for just $100 more. Other Labor Day deals include:

  • 6 nights to the Western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale on the Carnival Freedom for $399
  • 7 nights to the Western Caribbean from Port Canaveral on the Carnival Dream for $479
  • 7 nights to the Bahamas from New York City on the Norwegian Jewel for $649
  • 7 nights to the Western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale on the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas for $745

Airfare to the Bahamas, San Juan, San Jose and Cancun
Forget the two-week rule, you can still snag decently-priced round trip tickets. We used Fly.com and found rates as low as $201 for flights departing between August 30th and September 3rd, returning September 4th through September 7th. Fly Boston to Nassau for $336 round trip, Atlanta to Cancun for $306 roundtrip and Orlando to San Juan for $201 round trip, plus many more.

West Coasters love the ease of access and upscale luxury to be found in Cabo San Lucas. Time2Cabo.com has a number of packages, including a three-night all-inclusive options at Solmar Beach Resort for $822, a three-night fishing package at Marina Fiesta Resort & Spa for $349 per night and daily breakfast and a fourth night free in the “Suite Romance” package at Esperanza for $5,630.

Riviera Maya
The luxurious Ceiba del Mar in the Riviera Maya is offering special savings for Labor Day weekend, with rates from $129 per night and include European Plans with daily breakfast or Luxury Gourmet Plans with a-la-carte meals at the resort’s restaurants, as well as snacks and premium beverages such as wine by the glass and top-shelf liquors.

Image courtesy of the

Summer Travel: Seven great luxury beach getaways

The weather is warming and we’re itching to hit the sand (after a few more weeks in the gym, naturally). Summer travel stories are often full of suggestions for budget and family-friendly getaways … but what if you just want to splurge? Economy be damned. Play up the “luxe” factor at these great summer beach destinations for those seeking to see and be seen, enjoy world-class restaurants and nightlife and enjoy five-star service along the way.

The Hamptons
Long Island’s stretch of beach towns is sleepy from Labor Day to Memorial Day, but once the warm weather hits, the crowds descend. The truly wealthy helicopter in, while the rest of us will fly to Islip airport and drive or take the Long Island Railroad and Hamptons Jitney in from New York City. By day, relax on the white sand beaches, stroll the tony shops in East Hampton or South Hampton. By night, relax at a private estate rental or the posh lodging at The 1770 House or the Mill House Inn.

Martha’s Vineyard
Hie thee to the Vineyard and you just might have a famous neighbor – or four. Members of the Kennedy clan, Oprah, and even President Obama have spent vacations on this famous New England paradise. Much less flashy than The Hamptons, beach-seekers arrive via ferries from locations like New Bedford and Hyannis. A ferry boat from Manhattan operates seasonally, and select regional carriers offer flights from cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Providence and Washington. Rest your head at the island’s Relais & Chateaux property, The Charlotte Inn.

Relax in the sunshine amidst the shadows of America’s Castles – the summer homes of the country’s robber barons and wealthy elite, most of which are now museums open to the public for tours. Not sure you “know” Newport? Picture The Great Gatsby. In summer months, the harbor fills with yacht and sailboats and the well-heeled stroll the town. Fly to Providence (40) or Boston (70 miles) and enjoy the drive. Stay at Relais & Chateaux property Castle Hill inn & Resort, offering beautiful ocean views. Newly re-branded Grace hotel, Vanderbilt Grace, offers another option.

Just a short direct flight from many East Coast cities, Bermuda draws rave reviews from travelers seeking Caribbean-like beaches and a relaxed atmosphere without the long travel time. Lounge on pink sand beaches, sip a Dark n’ Stormy and frolic in the turquoise waters. By night, party in Hamilton, the island’s main city and popular cruise port. Rest your head at new Rosewood resort Tucker’s Point, Mandarin-managed Elbow Beach or intimate boutique property The Reefs. Bermuda’s closest land mass is North Carolina, meaning it enjoys a similarly temperate climate.

The French Riviera
Really need to get away? Try the French Riviera. Crowds descend as early as May for the Cannes Film Festival and then spend the summer flocking to the ritzy beach town of St. Tropez, where as many as 80,000 tourists visit each day. Marvel at the massive yachts docked in the harbor, sample a traditional Tarte Tropezienne, or browse the luxury goods at Louis Vuitton or Hermes. Then get out – even the three-star hotels are overrun this time of year.

Mackinac Island
Midwesterners spend summers on this grande dame of luxury island getaways. The car-free island transports visitors back to a more genteel time, where the island’s Grand Hotel is king and the pace is slower and more refined.

Los Cabos
Texans and Californians know that their home states are hot all summer long, so they often flee the confines of the United States for our friendly neighbor to the south, Mexico. Untouched by swine flu or drug wars, Los Cabos remains a paradise of the rich and famous, who come for the beaches, party life, and ultra-luxury hotels. Our favorites? Stay at Capella Pedregal, an intimate property with the country’s only private tunnel, the always-on-top Las Ventanas, a Rosewood property, celeb favorite One & Only Palmilla, or the ritzy Esperanza.

[Flickr via slgckgc]

AirTran helps this travel writer put the “fun” back in flying

Flying is not usually a fun experience, and, as a travel writer, I often dread the drudgery of airport security, limited fast food options and cramped middle seats. But sometimes, you’re surprised. After a marathon security line at Baltimore-Washington International airport and a trudge down to the end of Terminal D, I heard peppy music, which I thought was emanating from the rum bar a few gates down. I’d noticed the balloons at the check-in gate and spotted more ahead. As I rounded the corner, I spotted it. A full steel drum band, massive dance troupe, and cameras everywhere.

Had I accidentally wandered into a Make a Wish Foundation flight? (This had happened once before.) No – it was AirTran’s first flight to Bermuda, and I was apparently on it.

Passengers excitedly milled around the gate area and curious patrons strolled down from other flights to see what was going on. A large table was set up with complimentary bagged sandwiches, chips, soft drinks and cookies emblazoned with the AirTran logo. Employees in Bermuda shorts offered literature about the island, and the native Bermudian dance troupe, flown in for the occasion, performed a routine before boarding the plane in full regalia. Luckily the flight was only about half full and they were able to fit their four-foot tall hats in the overhead bins …

As we boarded the plane, each passenger was given a gift bag with a pink Bermuda tee shirt, literature about the island, and other AirTran swag. Passengers chatted excitedly, flight attendants were more friendly than usual, and behind me, a pilot told another passenger that he’d arranged to take this flight solely so he could say he was aboard the inaugural route. As we disembarked and headed towards customs, a group of flight attendants said the same thing.

When we landed, the city’s fire trucks greeted the plane with a “water gun salute,” essentially hosing us down from either side. The whole flight clapped.

And it reminded me as I typed this on the GoGo WiFi at 39,000 feet – this is why I’m a travel writer. Because sometimes, getting to the destination can be as fun as the destination itself.

The following nonstop flights between Baltimore/Washington and Bermuda will be available beginning April 7, 2011, through October 24, 2011:

Nonstop Service Between Baltimore/Washington and Bermuda

From To Flight Departs Arrives Frequency
Baltimore/Washington Bermuda 1811 12:55 p.m. 4:15 p.m. Daily
Bermuda Baltimore/Washington 1812 5:05 p.m. 6:40 p.m. Daily

The following nonstop flights between Atlanta and Bermuda will be available beginning May 26, 2011, through September 6, 2011:

Nonstop Service Between Atlanta and Bermuda

From To Flight Departs Arrives Frequency
Atlanta Bermuda 1815 10:20 a.m. 2:20 p.m. Daily
Bermuda Atlanta 1816 3:10 p.m. 5:20 p.m. Daily

Top 20 countries for life expectancy

“Old people” – we all hope to live long enough to earn this distinction. In some countries, the probability of living well into your eighties is much better than in others. The worldwide average for life expectancy is just a smidge over 67, with the highest and lowest countries fluctuating by over 20 years in each direction. 39 of the bottom 40 countries are located on the African continent, and 3 of the top 5 are European micro-states. The United States ranks in at number 50, boasting a life expectancy of 78 years old.

At the bottom of the list is Angola, a country in southwestern Africa with a machete on its flag. The average life expectancy in Angola is almost 39 years old. At the other end of the spectrum is Monaco (pictured above). Monaco is a micro-state in Europe with an extremely high standard of living. The average person there lives to be 89 years old. The 50 year gap between these two countries represents the difference between yacht ownership and subsistence farming, and every other country falls somewhere in between. For the full list, check out the world fact book at cia.gov.

20. Bermuda – 80.71
19. Anguilla – 80.87 (at right)
18. Iceland80.90
17. Israel – 80.96
16. Switzerland – 81.07
15. Sweden – 81.07
14. Spain – 81.17
13. France – 81.19
12. Jersey81.38
11. Canada – 81.38
10. Italy81.779. Australia – 81.81
8. Hong Kong82.04
7. Singapore – 82.14
6. Guernsey82.16
5. Japan – 82.25
4. Andorra82.43
3. San Marino83.01
2. Macau – 84.41
1. Monaco – 89.73 (at top)

flickr images via needoptic and adomass