About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

City Dive: Willemstad’s Deeply Rooted History & Culture

December 21, 2014 by  

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Rain falls on me and then stops. It starts again 15 minutes later and along with several other locals, I huddle beneath one of the shop awnings – they all seem to have one as if they prepared for the frequent rain spurts a century ago when some of these shops were likely built.

Today they are far from old in appearance despite the fact that the brightly colored plastered blocks that attach shop after shop are mostly worn away. The buildings mostly have a Latin feel to them with their vivid coral, yellow and pink colors, yet somewhere along the way, you begin to see southern Europe, African and Dutch influences sporadically thrown in, one of the things that makes Curaçao so culturally diverse and unique.

Architecture everywhere throughout Willemstad, Curacao’s capital and only major city, is bright and colorful, including its government buildings.

The island’s architecture blends Dutch and Spanish influences and Willemstad is on the UNESCO world heritage list because of its many historic buildings. Given its size, most of what you want to see in Willemstad is easily walkable — from markets, shopping and restaurants, to historical sites.

I was in photography heaven as I approached the entrance to historical Fort Amsterdam, which was built in 1634 by the Dutch West India Company.

Apparently, it not only served as a military fort but also as the headquarters of the DWIC and was the main of eight forts on the island. Today, it serves as the seat of the government and governor of Curaçao.  

Along Koningin Wilhelminiabrug, you’ll find even more incredible architecture to absorb. Here you’ll discover Willemstad’s Queen Emma bridge which is oozing with lights at night during the season.

Local boys played the drums for a crowd one evening as we gathered with other locals and tourism officials.

A toast and a celebration. And, among other surprises, Miss Curacao showed up.

Below is the bridge by day.

In the distance, you’ll see the abundance of colored houses, which is prevalent throughout Willemstad and Curacao. Below is a view of Handelskade Street, which runs alongside the river, another classic Dutch name. The buildings exude all things Dutch as you’ll note from the tall slender buildings you find throughout the Netherlands, especially Amsterdam where there’s limited space.

The cultural influences around me are far and wide. Afro-Caribbean meets Portuguese, Indonesian, Venezuelan and southern Africa all of which are infused with Dutch, which serves as one of the island’s two official languages, Papiamento being the other. While these may be the two core languages islanders speak, everyone seems to speak English well and Spanish can be heard frequently as you walk through the city, no grave surprise given its close proximity to Venezuela.

Colonial influences aside, each local I met and talked to seem to be wildly proud of their heritage yet even those who were not born in Curacao referred to themselves as locals. Saint Kitts and St. Martin were the two most common birthplaces I heard from islanders who now call Curacao their home.

Locals don’t tout diversity from surrounding islands alone however. This beautiful little island boasts cultural and historical heritage from Portugal, Africa and South America, as well as the Netherlands. I learn that Emlyn, one of our historical guides is a blend of Afro-Curacao and Jewish, not something I expected. Below, he waits for us inside the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest working synagogue in the western hemisphere.

While Jews may be a very small percentage of locals, the synagogue has deep historical roots dating as far back as the 15th century. Who were the Jews on whom the Dutch were pinning their last hopes for the retention and development of their island possession in the faraway Caribbean island of Curacao?

Both the leader and his group came from Amsterdam, which at the time had a blossoming Jewish culture. That said, their roots were unmistakably in Spain and Portugal and their ancestors had lived there for centuries among the heathen, Moslem and Christian civilizations later on.

I find this fascinating and all the “why’s” a particular religion lands in a place you’d least expect.

According to our ever so fun driver Larry, who is both a minister and a rapper, roughly 75% of the population is Catholic, which makes a lot of sense given its location. There are of course Moslems, Hindus, Christians and Jews too he says with a smile. “What about you?” I ask him. His religion is closest to Pentecostal he says. Protestants make up only around 3.2% and Jehovah’s Witness and Evangelical both sit roughly at around 2%.

Because nearly everyone speaks English, it’s not hard to learn about people in more depth than perhaps in other parts of the world where language is more of a barrier.

Meandering through the streets has always been one of my favorite ways to discover a place and its people, stopping periodically along the way and asking questions or merely sitting in an outside cafe and observing behavior and activities for hours on end.

Given that it was a rainy day when I set out to explore, I kept walking. My journey brought me through Columbus Straat which apparently used to be called Muur Straat and then down the Breederstraat which translates to Broad Street or Broadway. As you might expect from Broadway, there is shopping, as well as on its adjoining streets through the city center.

Not unlike shops I recall from my numerous African visits, the windows shout all things cheap, vivid and bright, from materials, tablecloths, tapestries, loudly colored plastic tubs and popular kids imports like the gigantic Happy Girl in a bright pink box and Transformers games to plastic sandals, trinkets, batteries, watches, liquid soaps and the occasional fast food eatery.

You can also find Curaçao liquor throughout the city. I was told that there are only five colors of Curaçao — blue, which is the infamous drink nearly every westerner knows, green, yellow, clear and red — although, apparently they all have the same taste. Later on, I discovered orange as well but never managed to taste it. Other flavors for the sweet lovers out there include rum raisin, chocolate and coffee.

The old market, otherwise known as Plasa Bieu, is the best place to sample local food. Wildly popular in Curacao is chicken over rice, beans and goat stews. Also oh so yummy and very traditional is Tutu, which is ground up beans with sugar.

Says Larry as he smacks his lips, “sometimes they put pigs tail or cheese on top of the stews.” Cheese, I say looking astounded….but of course it makes sense given the Dutch influence. They tend to use a younger Gouda cheese I was told when I investigated a little further.

It wouldn’t be island culture if they didn’t have pancakes. I expected them to be loaded with bananas or papayas like most of the Caribbean and Africa, however a favorite here? Pumpkin. Yes, really.

For food and market lovers, you also need to know about the renowned Floating Market, where produce vendors bring fresh vegetables and fruit into the harbor on brightly colored boats. Sidewalks are lined with stalls overflowing with all your favorite tropical fruit, including papaya, mango, watermelon, plantains, oranges, bananas and melons. They also sell massive sized avocados, my go to staple both times I lived in Africa.

Tamarind is popular among locals as are lemons, limes, coconuts, pumpkins, cucumbers and enormous banana leaves. I tried the chayota fruit which looks a bit like a small papaya in green – a bit tart but worth a taste.

The vendors are from Venezuela, which despite the fact that the country is only forty miles away, the climate is much more arid than Curacao. A factoid I found surprising was that the produce you find in abundance at the Floating Market is not actually grown on island.  Food lovers, be sure to read my Curacao Foodie post for fabulous photos and descriptions of classic local dishes.

One of the inside markets nearby had a stall with local remedies ranging from licorice, eucalyptus, tree bark and aloe, all in old fashioned pharmaceutical glass bottles with its name written in black marker. They are designed to treat such ailments as asthma, weak hearts, and constipation to menopause and the flu.

I assumed these vendors knew Dinah Veeris, the 75 year old local who studied natural herbal medicine for several years across 3 continents before returning to Curacao and opening her infamous Herb Farm which we had visited the day before. She runs it with her son and 97 year old mother who was instrumental in her learning the trade.

Like most Caribbean islands, stalls next to the floating market are bursting with artisan crafts. Fom long fabric purses you can sling over your shoulder, mini guitars, jewelry, wooden turtles, drums and paintings to colorful lizards, Curacao license plates, horns made out of bone, stuffed purple monkeys and wooden shakers, every stall seems to have something to tempt you. There were also giant suns for your garden, hammocks and hand carved boxes as well as beautiful artisan boxes and tea pots.

The main drag known as Shailio Caprileskade, houses the market stalls, which runs parallel to the heart of Willemstad, where you can find more traditional shops, such as electronics, housewares, lingerie and dress shops — sleeveless above the knee and laced with red glitter seemed to dominate. The large store at the main crossroads called BLING BLING didn’t go unnoticed.

Artisan crafts aren’t the only creativity you’ll find in Willemstad; art can be found on walls and in local shops. Below the art of the most renowned Curacao artist Nena Sanchez is plastered on walls inside the city. Born on the island, her art has been inspired by the bright colors of the Caribbean blue skies and turquoise waters ever since she was a child.

Her paintings of Dutch Caribbean scenes in a figurative style exude nothing short of joy.  It’s impossible for your mood not to lift in the presence of her masterpieces. She is mostly self taught, learning painting as an autiodidact, where she experimented over the years with acrylic on different materials such as wood, canvas and papers. Outside of Curacao, her work can be found in Europe, North and South America.

There are plenty of murals on the walls as well which is common in most Latin American and Caribbean Island cultures.

In the central square sits the word CURACAO in blocked letters 25 or so feet high, so large, you can get lost in one of them if you wish. How could I resist? It was a great place to escape the rain for a few minutes and take it all in from a higher viewing point.

Below is another modern, creative piece of work I discovered on a pillar in of all places, the Renaissance Hotel lobby, which is located in the center of Willemstad.

While I collect art and usually leave with a piece of local creativity, I didn’t fill my suitcase on this Caribbean adventure, but not because there weren’t fun things to collect. Shopping was most certainly in the air — it was Christmas season after all — however I was more fixated on food and the glorious beaches and skies than art on this particular trip.

Just like in New York City and elsewhere in the world during December, traditional and tacky Christmas songs blared through the external speakers into the pedestrian brick walkways which connected one shopping street to another. And of course, the streets were decorated to celebrate the festive season.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chichi’s, which many people take home when they visit Curacao. Chichi is a sensual, well rounded Caribbean figure, which represents the smart, strong, happy and caring elder sister everyone deserves. She is handmade and hand painted in bright Caribbean colors by local craftsmen and painters.

Chichi is the Papiamentu word for ‘Big Sister’. She represents the eldest daughter of the family, who binds the family together in a loving and caring way. She is a much appreciated female role model in the Caribbean community of today and a very live part of its colorful heritage.

Rooted firmly in Caribbean culture, Chichi was created by Berlin born artist ‘Serena Janet Israel’. The Chichi is said to have characteristics of the famous Austrian ‘Venus of Willendorf’ sculpture , and the women created by Fernando Botero and Niki de Saint Phalle, but is absolutely a unique personality on her own. You can even make one in a workshop at Serena’s Art Factory.

Above, I discovered a giant sized Chichi not far outside the city center in an area called Jan Thiel, which is home to Curacao’s luxury shops, resorts and restaurants. In this upper class neighborhood is home to the Papagayo Beach Club, a gorgeous beach and the upscale Laman Spa, where you can get massages under a lovely secluded tent on the beach.

The beach club is ‘tres modern’ in style and has an infinity pool, sandy beach, a bar and a restaurant, where we had lunch one day. You definitely get the feeling that this is where the “beautiful people” hang out, locals and tourists alike.

After a leisurely lunch at the beach club, all I wanted to do was sit in one of the lounge chairs in the sand and watch the waves come in for several hours. Nothing more, nothing less.

What I love about the fact that this little island only has Willemstad as its main and only real city is that anything you’d want to explore is not far away from it, regardless of where you base yourself. If you opt to stay in or around Willemstad, you can capture the culture and food by night and within fifteen minutes, be in an area that feels so remote you’ll feel like you’ve found a little slice of heaven, whether its a luxury resort you’re after or a sandy beach with very few footprints marked in its lovely soft sand.

 All photo credits Renee Blodgett.

 

Note: I was hosted by the Curacao Tourism Board for this trip but wasn’t paid to write this post nor expected to. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Exploring Krabi, A Hidden Paradise in Thailand

December 19, 2014 by  

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Featuring incredible landscapes and amazing experiences, Krabi is home to some unbelievable and unforgettable paradise destinations. While several travelers come here for a short break, it is most definitely worth a prolonged stay.

Where is this Gem?

Krabi is a town on the west coast of southern Thailand, around 820 kilometres from Bangkok. The reason why lots of travelers visit is because Krabi’s location lends itself for onward travel to popular islands such as Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta.

However, simply passing through this remarkable port of call is a big mistake. Not only does Krabi boast some spellbinding scenery featuring epic rock formations and mangrove-lined coasts, but its location is also perfect for those wanting to explore a bit of authenticity on their Thailand Holidays.

Where to go in Krabi?

Railay Beach

Situated around 45 minutes from the main town, this crescent-shaped beach is a phenomenal site to behold. The only man-made object you’ll see from the golden beach, which is surrounded by lush forests and imposing outcrops, is the odd humble fishing boat. This means that sampling a fresh seafood dish at one of the nearby restaurants is essential.

Krabi Tiger Cave

It doesn’t get more awe-inspiring than this. Look one way and you’ll be astounded by the endless scenery, but turn around and the tall golden Buddha statue is sure to bring out your spiritual side. The temple is made up of several natural caves, which monks call their home and consider a truly sacred place of worship.

What to do in Krabi?

Elephant Trekking 

These mammals are an extremely important part of Thai culture, as white elephants are considered sacred and a symbol of royal power. So, getting closer to these magnificent animals on a trek through the jungle is a great way of understanding just how loved they really are.

Mangrove Tours

The Krabi estuary features wonderfully scenic mangrove-lined channels, which enable tourists to get up close and personal with some native creatures. You’ll also be able to witness Khao Kanab Nam, the famous limestone rocks that rise a hundred metres above the water and are one of Krabi’s most recognisable symbols.

So, instead of briefly stopping in Krabi, make this superb destination a prolonged priority.

Photo credits in order of appearance: Railay Beach, by Xabi Ezpeleta, shared under a Creative Commons License and Image by Li Tsin Soon, shared under a Creative Commons License.

Note: this post was made possible and brought to you by partner Thomson.

 

In the Heart of Curaçao, Dinah Veeris On Why “Going Natural” Matters

December 19, 2014 by  

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I’ve always been a fan of natural herbs for as long as I can remember and that includes recipes of natural things that are known to have curing or healing properties. It could be in part from the magic wonders that my grandmother’s concoctions seemed to have when I was a child, usually created from a wive’s tale passed down from her grandmother or so the story goes. One of them was used when my cousins and I got the “winter croop” which we always seemed to get at the same time.

She would use a variety of mint oils and her magical concoction was stored in a glass bottle, the kind you’d find in old fashioned pharmacies in the sixties and seventies and today, only see in photos of early brands advertisements before plastic would take over every consumable we’d ever digest over the next several decades. When I started to hack up a storm, she’d get her glass bottle out of the cabinet, put it in a small pot filled with water on the stove and there it would sit until near boiling before she’d slap a third of it on my chest and back. By morning, I was good as new.

Old fashioned remedies are still used in many households including absurd ones like drinking water through a handkerchief upside down to get rid of the hiccups. Yes, we really did that. My grandfather swore by it and it always seemed to work. On a trip to Europe this year, I was amused to hear that someone else’s grandfather swore by it as well.

During a jaunt to Curaçao this December, I had the pleasure of meeting 75 year old Dinah Veeris who began her research in healing herbs in 1981.

Preserving traditions is often part of the reason people hang onto a recipe or natural process that has seemed to work for families over the years.  Dinah wanted to preserve all the natural wonders she learned from her now 97 year old mother who works with her at the Natural Herb Farm in central Curaçao, a small island in the Dutch Caribbean a mere 40 or so miles north of Venezuela and 30′ish miles from its island neighbor, the more well known Aruba. Below, the entrance to her herb garden and home.

Dinah refers to it as secret knowledge of former generations, many of which was never written down. After studying abroad — from Holland, Cuba and Indonesia to India and the California School for Herbal Studies, she returned to Curaçao and started her herb garden plant-by-plant in 1991. She has written a book about the herbs and their use and received several awards for her input in preserving the culture and the healing herbs, which can be found in abundance on her farm.  The place almost feels tribal.

From the hundreds of species of herbs at the garden, the actual benefit is much much higher. What we don’t often realize is that each herb may by useful for curing or alleviating multiple ailments.

Think about it. We wash our houses with plants, we use them for medicinal purposes, we use them as cleansers, antiseptics, immune boosters, and we use them for graver issues such as heart disease and asthma.

Says Dinah, “people are born with unique ways to heal.” Her belief is that people must live from nature. In other words, let’s return to our roots and use what the earth has given us to not just survive, but thrive. There’s a reason why Dinah’s work and people like her who are committed to preserving natural herbs, remedies and food is so important. Beyond important, it is vital to the future well-being of the human race. Sound a little dramatic?

As someone who is old enough to have used natural remedies when I got sick and fortunate enough to remember the taste of homemade meals before most Americans stopped making them, I am alarmed by the growing stats which are a direct result of our society treading away from our natural roots and you should be too.

Somewhere along the way, families began to resort to boxed macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper as their “go-to” dinner in the midst of a busy week. Sadly, there’s more boxed and bagged dinners in the western world than natural, organic, unprocessed food sources and medicine.

It’s not just that we resort to chemical-infused pharma products to cure our sore throats, annual flu bugs and growing depression, but the number of unnatural sources of food in a traditional American supermarket today far outweighs what is pure and real…..even in the produce aisle, we have to fish for “real organic” and the language on boxes has become so confusing that I’ve run into ill-informed Americans who think that potato chips are healthy because the phrase “natural potatoes” is written on the front. Does that mean that French Fries soaked in vegetable oil and deep fried until there’s no taste left, is healthy if the potatoes which are used don’t have chemicals in the soil?

I’m also old enough to remember what a hamburger used to taste like in America when there were no additives or hormones pumped in – in fact, I was stunned on a trip to Iceland (a great place to return to nature btw) last year when I ordered a hamburger and was astonished to find that my taste buds brought me back to when I was a child. You got it – the hamburger was made from lamb meat – no chemicals, no hormones, no additives, and I hadn’t tasted a natural hamburger like that in over twenty years. We’ve become so accustomed to crap mixed into our food that when it’s not there, our taste buds think something is off.

No truer can this be seen in small children who have only “crap food” as their frame of reference. My boyfriend and I suffer from seeing his children so addicted to pizza made with processed cheese and deep fried chicken from fast-food joints that they refuse to eat organic grilled chicken because their taste buds don’t know the difference between healthy food and garbage.

If you think that this isn’t a prolific and shocking problem in the western world, think again. And, it’s not just the poor inner city neighborhoods who suffer. Sure, the South Bronx and inner city hoods are not getting access to around-the-corner organic grocers but there are plenty of ill-informed Americans who live in middle class suburbs who would rather eat take-out pizza and chips with a soda than have a home cooked meal. Some simply don’t want to pay to eat healthier or don’t see enough value in it to do so.

What they don’t realize is that they are poisoning their bodies little by little until one day, the toxins turn into DIS-EASE and there’s no turning back. Stats don’t lie.

More than one-third (or nearly 80 million) of U.S. adults are obese.  And, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, diabetes has soared 167% over the last generation (a 30 year period) in the 0–44 year age group and 118% for those aged 45–64 years of age.

What if we all thought a bit more like Dinah and resorted to natural ingredients to live by, whether that’s for a healing aid or what we eat?

A wealth of knowledge about natural plants and herbs, I found myself wanting to pick up anything and everything on her farm after listening to her stories — everything seemed to have a healing property or two.

We had just come from the Aloe Vera Plantation not far from her herb farm, where we learned that pure Aloe Vera juice acts as a natural laxative. As someone who could use a little help there now and then, I bought some and so far, it’s been working like a charm. Through Dinah, I learn about another natural laxative found in the seeds of a plant called Trimustok di Boneiru. While Aloe Vera is no doubt, healthy, its pure juice isn’t the best tasting thing in the world. Apparently, the Trimustok di Boneiru seeds taste a bit like licorice, which would be a step up if you needed assistance regularly.

While the seeds and leaves of many plants are what give you the help you most need, healing can be found in soil and even from the bark of a tree, which has many uses. Oregano, which I use all the time in Italian cooking, can help with headaches and I’m sure without as many side effects as Ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Mala Madre or otherwise known as the bad mother plant (below) helps women going through menopause.

Kalbas are used to take away thirst and replenish your body. You can also scoop the fruit out and mix it with hot milk and salt on a hot stove and like my grandmother’s mixed mint concoction helped me through a chest cold, the Kalbas fruit concoction can help a child’s asthma and inflammation.

Kalbas syrup is also used for asthma as well as a shampoo which helps to retain your original hair color. It is grown only in Curacao and South America and aside from its healing and cleansing properties, keels of boats can be made from the wood.

The naam tree is apparently good for blood pressure and diabetes since it lowers a person’s blood sugar levels. Cactus is great for good digestion and you can use the rind of a watermelon on your face to keep your skin looking radiant. Before we had toothbrushes, the twig of a Stoki leaf was used to clear food from between your teeth. Dinah still uses it and she smiles as she puts the twig in her mouth and continues to share her knowledge with us.

We walk past the Wayaka (pakwood) tree, whose seeds can be used as a blood cleanser and is good for reducing blood pressure. The pakwood leaves can be used in place of soap for washing.  They call it a holy tree because it produces orange seeds and blue flowers.

The agave plant produces sisel, which can be used to make rope and of course the root, as many of us know, is used to make tequila. Yum!

We then pass through the Magic and Love herbs. I have to smile since I can’t wait to hear what Dinah will share next. Temetika, which is also known as the love bush, produces a leaf which is good to clear out tough kidney stones which won’t pass easily. You simply squeeze the leaves until they turn into a watery substance and drink it — the liquid reduces kidney stone size.

Temetika also came with an old superstition. People would write their lovers name on a leaf and bury it. If the leaf grew roots, it meant that your love was still strong. Of course, the majority of the time, it grew roots since its designed to do just that Dinah said with a coy grin on her face.

Dinah is passionate about her practice and lives and breathes it — from her book to her daily storytelling and shares which will hopefully help those she encounters in her path, she is committed to a world that uses the natural world to live by and to heal by.

The farm itself isn’t massive although the number of plants and herbs growing on it are plentiful enough to heal an entire society. Here, you can find more than 300 herb categories, including trees. While some are more common (oregano), there are also rarer herbs and trees found only in Curacao.

As you enter, there’s a small house surrounded by cacti and thereafter a courtyard with orange trees and chairs. There’s another building that houses bags, boxes and bottles of herbs you can purchase.

In the shop, I learn about Puta Luangu, a sticky and strong smelling herb, which can be used to heal wounds as well as combat diarrhea. Research has shown that it has several antibiotic qualities.

There is unusual fruit on the grounds as well. While the peel from the Lahara fruit is used to make liqueur and its fruit is used to make vinegar, rubbing it on your skin can alleviate rheumatic pains.

I discovered Flaira Kora, whose leaves are used by diabetics and externally used for itching and healing wounds. And, the seeds from a tree called Dividivi produce an oil that can alleviate hemorrhoids.

Below, a few videos I shot will give you a taste of her personality and herb farm in the heart of beautiful Curacao, the gem of an island I wished I had more time to explore.

Other frustrated souls are also taking the leap. A few years ago, I met Ron Finley at the TED Conference, who comes from a Los Angeles inner city neighborhood. People in his neighborhood couldn’t get reliable healthcare or food that wasn’t infused with pesticides so he got a warrant from the city for planting a food garden until he got 900 signatures so he could legally grow organic produce on his street without getting closed down. It didn’t come without its challenges however. Read more.

More recently, I met Erica Wides in the green room of the Dr. Oz show, who is behind the Let’s Get Real Show. Her mission is to teach the world the difference between “real food” versus processed food, which has become the predominant food Americans eat today. She said on national television, “artificial has redefined the original.  Food has become a hobby or fetish for some of us, it’s become another utility like gas or electric of a real booty call.”

She asserts that we don’t really know where real food comes from anymore, and that the “foodie elite” is sending out the wrong message…things mainstream Americans don’t even care about. The elite want people to care about whether food is seasonable or organic but that’s not what the average consumer in middle America is thinking about. If it’s too expensive or takes too long to prepare, many simply aren’t interested.  Hear hear Erica, whose message I thought was so important that I asked her to speak on the TEDxBerkeley stage last year.

As for what’s real? If it grows or flies, it’s food.

Other efforts I’ve been impressed by include Four Seasons chef Nick Mastrascusa on the Big Island of Hawaii, who worked with students at the Waimea Middle School to educate kids on real food, starting with planting and harvesting crops. They move the kids from the garden to the kitchen to prepare a meal, so they can learn the importance of fresh organic produce and farm-to-table dining.

Also, there’s Joseph Franzen from Louisville Kentucky who is working with local schools to implement more sustainable thinking in nearby communities.  I came across his house by accident while I was filming the Germantown area of Louisville during a trip a few years ago (read my interview with him and listen to the video I shot in his house after knowing him for all of 5 minutes). His project is called Global Issues and awareness among children and adults alike is growing as a result of his very important work.

Like Dinah, Joseph isn’t just growing natural food sources. Sure, on the side and back of his shotgun house in Germantown, he has made incredible use of a small space, growing everything from black-eyed peas, asparagus, peanuts, beets, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes to green beans, blackberries, peas, basil, stevia and luffa, which is a ripe, dried fruit that is the source of the loofah or plant sponge. He also has jops, popcorn and a flowering herb plant referred to as Jambú, which is known as toothache plant or paracress as the leaves and flower heads contain an analgesic agent spilanthol used to numb toothache.

Kudos to Dinah and people like her for their commitment to all things natural and to educating people about its merits, a hard task in the modern world, where pharma advertisements creep into our living rooms night after night and our markets are filled with more garbage than not.

Details:

Dinah Veeris

Den Paradera Curaçao
Seru Grandi 105 A, Banda Ariba
dinah@dinahveeris.com

Photo credits: Renee Blodgett.

Read through additional articles on Curacao from the most recent trip in December and also other posts on the Caribbean region.

Note: I was hosted by the Curacao Tourism Board however was not asked to write this article nor paid to — all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Merry Christmas From the Digital #RuralRockstars of South Africa

December 19, 2014 by  

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I almost never post a video that touts a corporate award in it, however truth be told it is big business who often sponsors awards, and whether it’s entirely a PR play for them or they really want to change the world, bottom line, change can happen as a result. That said, I still wouldn’t have posted it, however I have a personal story connected to South Africa, women and education and am passionate about change for all three.

As someone who has lived in South Africa a couple of times, and attended her 12th grade year there, I have a soft spot for the country. I ran across this video through one of our RSS feeds and rather than post it as it was, I decided to write about it through my eyes.

I learned about the deeds of the Good Work Foundation (GWF), which helps 185 rural adults qualify for their International Computer Driving licenses. What’s even cooler is that 81% of the students are women, as is the CEO Kate Groch. Go girls and go South Africa!

A staggering 7,394 online hospitality modules were completed and for the first year ever, 139 adults have graduated with a business-English certificate. More than 1400 children benefit every week as digital learning solutions come to them, in their rural space. One group of children achieved a 76 percent mathematics average compared to 48 percent last year.

Watch this very touching video as these digital #RuralRockstars talk about what it means to be “rural” and what it means to be both “rural” and “digital” in the modern world. Here, they also wish the world a Merry Christmas. I loved it. God bless their work and South Africa, a place that has always transformed me.

Learning How Aloe Vera Works Wonders at a Curaçao Plantation

December 19, 2014 by  

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If you read We Blog the World often enough, you know that we’re huge fans of sustainable travel, eco-green resorts and being as aware as we can about our environment and how to preserve it.

I personally am a fan of all things natural, whether that be the food that we eat, the products we digest — vitamins and supplements — or the lotions we use that get absorbed into our system. Aloe Vera is one of those natural wonders that can be used for healing — you can eat it, apply it on your skin or drink its natural juices, which not only have great digestive properties but keeps you running smoothly too. Yes, I mean just that. For those of you who have constipation issues and you know who you are, Aloe Vera may just be your ticket to better health.

I learned more about Aloe Vera at the Aloe Vera Plantation in Curaçao recently, where they make natural products under the Curaloe name, ranging from lotions, facial scrubs and masks, to pure juice you can drink.

Something you may not realize is that Aloe Vera comes from the lily family just like onion and garlic. Who knew? It touts so many amazing benefits that its no wonder that Aloe Vera has become the most commercialized aloe species, and processing the leaf pulp has become a worldwide industry.

In the cosmetic industry, it has been used as base material for the production of creams, lotions, soaps, shampoos, facial cleansers and other products. In the food and complementary medicinal industry, it has been used as an ingredient in health beverages.

Their plantation is part of something called the Curacao Ecocity Projects NV, where their mission statement centers around using good agricultural and organic farming and state of the art processes to harvest Aloe Vera.

harvest

The Curaçao Ecocity Projects plantation covers an area of ten acres, five of which are used to cultivate the more than 100,000 specimens that are growing at their plantation at this moment.

When we arrived, we soon learned just how complex this little plant is. There are apparently more than 400 different kinds of Aloe Vera and it has so many positive sources of pure health in its pulp, that you can live off it and coconut alone if you ever get stranded on a little island. Note to self….

It can be used for so many different things….as a natural antibiotic, to give you a boost of more energy, to ignite your immune system and also acts as an antiseptic for healing if you have a wound. Sun worshippers also know that it is very soothing to the skin after you get a sun burn.

Vera is Latin for the real one. I mentioned earlier that it acts as a laxative however, there’s only one part of it which is used to unblock your system — the very first cut of the plant, which is called Aloe-vina. I also learn that you can use Aloe-vina to color your hair and the result is the similar reddish auburn glow that you get when you use henna, an old time favorite of mine.

And, how’s this for a quirky factoid? People used to put Aloe Vera in their paint to keep the color vibrant for longer.  On the island, a very old custom that you rarely see anymore was one of hanging Aloe Vega upside down at the entrance to your house. Why? To keep bats away of course.

Production at the plantation is done 6-7 times a year. They apparently just finished a production shortly before we arrived and the next one will likely be in February 2015.  It takes 2 years for an Aloe Vera plant to mature to the point at which it can be harvested. The average time span for harvesting is approximately 10 years, during which they will collect 6 to 8 leaves from the bottom of the plant per harvest.

Since 2004, the plantation has been producing commercially and apparently their annual production level has increased steadily every year. They use specially designed and patented machines which have been developed especially for them and do not damage the active substances in the Aloe Vera gel.

Starting in 2006, they’ve been developing and producing their own products under the name of CurAloe, all of which contain a high concentration of Aloe Vera and other biologically active and natural ingredients.

I bought some juice (let’s just say its working as it should), the facial scrub and a face mask, which I love. For more information on their work and products, you can visit their site for specifics.

Details:

Aloe Curacao

Willemstad, Curaçao
+599 9 767 5577

Be sure to check out my other articles on Curaçao from my trip this December.

 

Photo credits: two small images taken from their website and the two plantation shots of the Aloe Vera plants credit of Renee Blodgett.

Note: my trip to Curaçao was hosted by the Curaçao Tourism Board however I was not asked to write this article or paid to. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Curaçao Cliffs, Waves & Oh So Quiet Moments…

December 17, 2014 by  

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The views are breathtaking and despite the fact that I have a perfect one before me, I decide I want to explore. It seems like the trail I’m on which goes along the ocean’s edge, will never end — not a bad thing for this bohemian spirit.

When you explore off limits and beyond boundaries, I find that you can discover a whole lotta magic when you’re least expecting it.

Awareness is always key to any transformative travel experience even at an otherwise seemingly standard 4 star property in the Caribbean, which is where the walk started.

My December visit wasn’t over crowded so I was always able to find a quiet spot, one which I only shared with some crashing waves and a few massive sized gekkos who discretely graced me with their presence at precisely the times I wanted to be undisturbed.

Like most Caribbean islands, they are harmless but everywhere.  Yet, they are a simple, pure and beautiful reminder that nature is what she is, as is her timing and there’s no point fighting it.

While I can see buildings in my view to the left as I make my way around the concrete path that follows the cliffs, to my right is nothing but wide open sea.

Known as a windy island, there’s a constant breeze in Curaçao, however it’s always warm enough that the breeze is a more of a welcoming addition than not, unlike the case in my late fall visit to Western Ireland where I longed for a fireplace more than the wind meeting my face.

I fell in love with the white washed rocks, all of which had cratered holes throughout – a bit moon-like at times. It must be appealing to the native gekkos too though it doesn’t appear to me they can hide their reptilian skin as well as more neutral colored rocks might.

The crashing waves are just loud enough to put me to sleep in that relaxing soothing way that a large sea shell’s calling winds make when you place it to your ear.  But, I don’t stop to rest just yet for I want to see what is around the corner.

More palm trees of course, an open thatched hut and a matching thatched umbrella with a few bathers hanging about.

There are views everywhere and it’s so quiet I find myself not wanting to leave – is there anywhere I really need to be I ask myself?

Most of us don’t take enough reflective moments to be so present in a destination that solitude fills your soul regardless of whether its soothing crashing waves you hear, crying babies or tooting horns.

For someone who finds it hard to meditate at the best of times, I am inspired to write more than sit although the pure silence minus those oh so lovely waves is telling me its time to sit and do absolutely nothing at all. And so, I continue walking and walking until there are no lounge chairs, no people, no footprints and no thatched huts.

Finally, there’s nothing at all except for the wide open sea….this is where I want to be, I think. This is where I need to be, I know…

Thank you Curaçao and the crashing waves for those oh so few but oh so precious magical moments.

For more great posts on Curaçao and the Dutch Caribbean, check out our Aruba/Bonaire/Curaçao section

 

Note: I was a guest of the Curaçao tourism board but was not paid to or asked to write this article. The choices for topics and what I write is entirely up to me and all opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

 

TravelPro Spinner Luggage: Lightweight, Innovative & Smart

December 16, 2014 by  

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Amazingly lightweight and innovative ‘smart’ luggage Marquis from TravelPro combines lightweight design with the best ‘smart’ technologies, making the line ideal for business and leisure travelers. 
I recently had a chance to test out one of their roller bags and we’re thrilled with its durability and design.  Their Spinner styles offer straight-rolling MagnaTrac wheels, Contour Grip and a PowerScope Extension Handle. This stylish collection also features 2-wheel Rollaboard luggage and matching Totes. 
Many extension handles I’ve tried out in the past are on the flimsy side — they tend to stick often or simply won’t close when you need them to. Below will give you an idea of the robustness and comfort of their TravelPro’s PowerScope extension handle.
Their Platinum Magna collection of luxury 8-wheel Spinner and Rollaboard luggage is incredibly lightweight and durable, which for this traveler, is critical.
I’m on the road all the time and it’s astonishing to me how heavy some major luggage brands are, reducing the amount you can pack for longer trips. It’s due to four revolutionary technologies TravelPro uses — MagnaTrac, Duraframe, PowerScope and Contour Grip — which not only make it lighter, but easier to maneuver.   
This was a huge plus and selling point for me. As a woman who still hasn’t learned how to pack light, lightweight luggage combined with durability is a godsend.
Easy to maneuver and steer is also a key feature for a woman traveler. While they obviously don’t specifically target women, I thought their combination of strength, light weight and ease-of-use was a great win for women travelers.

 The maneuver ease is because of its very cool self-aligning MagnaTrac system. Magnets instantly align the 4 spinner wheels to roll straight in any direction the user desires, avoiding the drifting and pulling that is so common with so many other 4-wheel bags out there. There’s also a very cool unique bottom tray which helps to stabilize the wheels for effortless mobility and enhanced durability over the long haul. The goal of this design was to make it easier for travelers to maneuver through ticket lines, crowded airports and airplane aisles. 

The bags are available in both stylish sapphire blue and elegant black. For those of you who read us often will know, we LOVE color here at We Blog the World and creative designs. Black, white and silver options only in bags, tech and travel accessories just don’t cut it for us. We look for the fun and the interesting, so we’re loving their Sapphire Blue.

A zippered, interior side mesh pocket serves as storage for bulky power cables, chargers, socks, belts, scarves or other accessories.

They also have a great compact Marquis Rolling Tote which we haven’t tried out but given that it has the same quality as what we have seen with the TravelPro Marquis spinner, we’d say it’s a great choice for overnight and weekend trips. The tote comes equipped with a business organizer, padded sleeve for storing a tablet or laptop computer and an area for clothing.

I also love the fact that TravelPro has a Lifetime Warranty for every piece in the collection. Sweet!  See this product video on the innovative Marquis Collection. 

Two thumbs up! We’d recommend this bag for both leisure and business travel use!

 

 

Note: TravelPro sent us luggage to test out however we are not getting paid to write this review and I can assure you all opinions are entirely my own.

Australia’s Flag Lady is an Icon for Sydney Railfans

December 15, 2014 by  

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Even though you may never have heard of her name, 87-year-old Kathleen Payne is Australia’s oldest trainspotter and a national icon. Known as the Croydon Flag Lady, she’s a breath of fresh air for Sydney railfans.

Kathleen Payne has inspired thousands of train riders who have made the 4,362 kilometer journey across Australia on the famous Indian Pacific train. This train apparently holds a special place in Kathleen’s heart because her late father Edward was aboard that same train on its maiden journey back in 1970.

She has been greeting the transcontinental Indian Pacific train with a wave of a full-sized Australian flag as the train rushes through the inner Sydney station of Croydon for decades. The friendly crew of the luxury train knows she’ll be there, and provide advance warning of horn and headlights, to let her get in position. It can’t be seen in the video, but both driver and second man give a familial wave.

Chris Myles, an old Aussie friend of mine, has been in the transportation industry for over 20 years and was interviewed in the Today Show segment – he sent me a link to the national story captured on film.

Below is a shorter video I found on YouTube of someone who caught her in action in 2010.

The top photo, Kathleen received a souvenir from Maurice Bezzina. Photo credit by DAMIAN SHAW. Second photo is a screen grab from the Today Show video.

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