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

Ride an Ostrich in Curaçao, The Largest Ostrich Farm Outside Africa

December 27, 2014 by  

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While ostriches may not be a common bird for most of us living in North America, I grew accustomed to having them around when I lived in South Africa. I have ridden them a few times and in the northern Transvaal and we used to eat ostrich eggs on the farm where I stayed, oh so delicious compared to chicken eggs. The yolks tend to be richer and so you feel that much fuller that much quicker.

Because of the Dutch influence on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to come across an Ostrich Farm, but truth be told, the farm did produce more than a few ‘aha’ moments. Those from South Africa or who have traveled there know about its Dutch influence of course, but what I didn’t expect was just how “South African” the ostrich farm was going to feel.

So yes, near one of the biggest conservancy areas of Curaçao, you’ll find a little piece of Africa. Here you’ll also get access to beautiful views over the St. Jorisbaai and be able to watch the equally stunning views of the sun setting at dusk while hanging out with ostriches, crocodiles, pigs, iguanas and parrots.

You start out in a sun-covered land rover, a multi-colored one that is.

The truck will drive you through the property, while you learn about ostriches and the farm itself.

Up close. Adorable right?

Adorable that is until they want something from you….like food.

While the ostrich is the world’s largest living bird, the average adult male ranging from between 8 to 10 feet tall and weighing in at over 250 pounds, their bite is worse than it looks. Rather than your finger having one of those wounds you can tell your grand kids about in years to come, it feels more like a tight pinch, nothing more, nothing less.

We learn a lot about ostriches from our guide, who humored us with mistakes that what he refers to as “farm interns” made early on.

Truth be told, while they are incredibly powerful birds, they are also incredibly graceful.

Take a look at his longer slender neck and how he slowly veers back, looks up and approaches the branches above him with both grace and ease.

There’s a sense of purpose that the ostrich has which I find so fascinating. Awkward looking legs, not unlike a chicken has, he walks with force and yet elegance at the same time.

That’s not necessarily the case when they do a mating dance which one such ostrich did for our guide who claims that the ostrich can’t tell the difference between a human and a bird. And, I thought you said these birds were smart, I thought.

Before you think they’re slow thinking and call them silly looking, remember that ostriches can outrun you, able to achieve speeds greater than 40 miles per hour when running and they are able to maintain that speed for more than 30 minutes at a time. One individual ostrich stride can take him 12 to 15 feet in one shot.

They are smarter than many apparently and indeed, strong. The vast majority of the bird’s body weight is encapsulated in its long and powerful legs.  Odd factoid here! Unlike other birds, the ostrich has only two toes which apparently enables the bird to attain greater speeds than many of its predators. Also worth knowing is that his legs are capable of crushing a skull. Like the slow hippo you don’t think can do any damage when you initially see his lazy walk, don’t get in his way.

The reason it now takes a truck to get through the property is due to the farm’s growth over the past ten years. What started out as a family business in 1995, has now grown into a 9 acre farm and I couldn’t help but feel like I was in South Africa driving through it on more than one occasion. It is in fact, the largest ostrich farm outside of Africa today.

What’s great about this eco-friendly property is that there is wheelchair access and plenty of kid-friendly things to do as well, including a museum, making it an ideal stop over for families.  The land itself is also beautiful with plenty of cacti around. I even made a few friends who indulged me while I played around with my Canon 7D and the sky’s magical clouds.

In the afternoon or it appears anytime of day really, ostriches love to eat. On the tour, you can feed them — you don’t realize just how massive these birds are until you get up close and have food to give away. Warning: hold onto that plastic bowl tightly since let’s just say that they’re not light eaters.

Even though they’re eager for the feed, an enclosed gated area keeps you safe from their strong feet and claws. Although they have wings, oddly enough, they cannot fly. Instead, the wings are used for balance and you’ll notice that they’ll extend their wings when running and then, if the bird suddenly needs to change directions, his wings can serve as a rudder, so he can quickly take another route if necessary to avoid danger or predators.

The wings are also used in mating rituals and courtship displays which we saw on the grounds – hilarious! The bird raises his wings and the one being courted will sag hers. The mating dance was much shorter however than the long mating ritual I experienced with Blue-Footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands.

In addition to its museum, you can purchase stone sculptures, wood carvings, African ornaments, wall hangings, feathers, jewelry, painted ostrich eggs and trinkets. At its on-site Zambezi restaurant, you can even order Ostrich on the menu, which you may or may not want to do if you’ve made friends with several of them on the farm during the day.

Details:

The Ostrich Farm

Weg naar Groot St Joris
Curaçao
Tel: (+5999) 747 2777 or 747267

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 in general.

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

 

 

 

Learning About Niçoise Cuisine at New York’s International Culinary Institute

December 26, 2014 by  

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You don’t even have to read this site that often to know that I’m a huge fan of French culture, art and food/wine. We Blog the World has a ton of content on France in general and I’ve written about the food in Paris numerous times, the most recent being my trip this summer and fall (yes, I graced Paris with my presence twice this year — be sure to read my write-up on Michelin star La Cuisine) and Normandy and Brittany in September. Also learn more about Calvados and the foodie scene from my trip.

So, whenever there is an opportunity to go deeper into the world of French food, you don’t need to twist my arm very hard to say yes. This month at the International Culinary Institute in New York City, Anthony and I attended a food event dedicated to southern French cooking, specifically Nice.

What was so magical about it was how it started….in a fog of smoke you wonder? No, not quite, but in a fog of smoking cold and scary looking frozen air so to speak. Yup — the very cool effect of cooking with liquid nitrogen.

Cooking with liquid nitrogen isn’t new but it’s certainly not common and you don’t get the experience of eating a dish immediately after the process in too many places. Apparently as far back as the 1800′s, ice cream was made with liquid nitrogen, but today, it’s really only used by the more innovative and cutting-edge chefs.

The mayor of Nice (pictured below) and the head of the Nice Tourism board flew over for the event, as did some of the best chefs in Nice.

Below, the head of Nice’s tourism board gives liquid nitrogen a try :-)

As does one of the chefs….

The result? Well, it looks a bit like smoke comes out of your nostrils after you take a bite. Below, Anthony and I play around and experiment, after all….we were there to learn, cook and of course eat and liquid nitrogen was part of it.

You might be wondering by now, is liquid nitrogen safe? Apparently so, except for its extreme temperature. It will cause any metal it comes in contact with to become freezing cold, but wearing dry gloves is enough to protect your hands from creating a “tongue stuck to the flagpole” scenario. Oh joy!

And, what about the next question that may be on your mind? WHY cook with liquid nitrogen? Here is a link to a video showing a chef cooking with liquid nitrogen from 2008 at the Tang Restaurant in Dubai, the only restaurant of its kind in the Middle East that employs molecular gastronomy. And, here’s one from the Molecular gastronomy school in Paris, where they taught students how to use liquid nitrogen to make cocktails, instant ice cream and smoky meringues in 2011. You’ll learn a bit more about the process there.

Whether you consider it a novelty or more than a novelty, we had a blast with the experience as did our fellow chefs.

The liquid nitrogen experiment seemed to go on for quite sometime (below), which is another great thing about a French culinary experience….no one is ever in a hurry.

What was interesting was the fact that they prepared each dish two ways. Below is the non liquid nitrogen version of the Provencal Onion Tart, prepared by Chef David Faure.

Afterwards, it was time for our cooking class, which was all about pastry. We were given access to a variety of ingredients, showed how to cut the dough and sent to work. I rounded up ingredients from other teams of course since the chef encouraged it…..

The result was a plate of pastries that included a mishmash of berries, spices and chocolate.

Our team below.

All the teams actually fit into the International Culinary Institute’s kitchen, the very same kitchen where you can take classes in culinary arts, pastry arts and international bread baking. Additionally, they do Italian Culinary Experience and Spanish Studies programs, Sommelier Training, cake techniques and design, advanced chef training and entrepreneurship. They also offer unique farm-to-table courses, which include fun field trips in New York and California.

Its hard for yours truly to put her phone away and so I was in fact, Instagramming my foodie shots throughout the evening.

Then, when we were done with so called “class time”, the Nice chefs got to work, which was remarkable to see. No doubt, they were having a blast on the other side of the Atlantic, where they had a unique opportunity to work together to prepare a delicious array of dishes for a hungry crowd.

The result? Traditional Niçoise fish soup from Chef Gilles Ballestra, Ratatouille Nicoise (fish and chips) with stewed vegetables thanks to Chef Jose Orsini, Beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs of Provence from Chef Frederic Galland and Niçoise doughnut pastry with fried sorbet. The main wine that was served with the dinner was a Cotes de Provence from Chateau La Gordonne.

Did we learn a lot? Bien sur, but we had a lot more fun than shall we say, studied….We left as happy campers and a cool French chef apron to boot.

Photo credits: Renee Blodgett and Anthony Compagnone.

Merry Christmas From 20 Countries Around the World

December 25, 2014 by  

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For the prolific travelers among us, you may very well have celebrated Christmas in a variety of countries over the years. In some, you may have found some similarities to how you celebrate it in the states if coming from North America and the same could be said for European traditions which have their own unique customs depending on the country.

In the United States, children hang stockings by the fire, leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus and religious families might go to midnight service on Christmas Eve and perhaps even on Christmas Day as well.

We put up lights, and in smaller towns, we’ll decorate our lawns with sleighs, snowmen, and reindeer. We watch children holiday special re-runs, and make hot apple cider and pumpkin pie. The family sits around a big table and we gorge ourselves on turkey and ham dinners, pot roasts and sweet potatoes. We love hanging bright bulbs on Christmas trees and aside from the ones at home in our own living rooms, we take great pride in observing the massive sized trees we put up in city courtyards, malls and parks.

In other English speaking countries like Canada, the traditions are not that different than the states except that in the Eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, they focus on fir and pine Christmas Trees. A well known Canadian tradition is to send the biggest, best fir tree to Boston.

Down Under, the Aussies celebrate Christmas smack in the middle of a hot summer. While they might put up trees and celebrate the classic dinner with their family like we do in Europe, Canada and the states, they also party outside — think beach parties and barbecues and well, maybe even a Surfing Santa. And because they don’t have reindeer in Australia, think kangaroos instead.

I have spent several Christmas holidays in the United Kingdom — in the outside suburbs of London in the county of Surrey and Berkshire and once up north. In England, families hung Christmas cards along the side of their doors, we went caroling on one occasion and of course we ate up a storm and not just on Christmas Day but the day afterwards also — the celebration extends to what they refer to as Boxing Day which is December 26.

We had party horns and silly hats that we’d wear around the table and while gifts were part of the holiday, it was nowhere near as extensive as it is in the states where Christmas appears to be more and more about shopping, parties and trolling up and down aisles of a massive mall than it does about spirituality and togetherness. They do, however, take their dinners seriously — from roasted potatoes and veggies to stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce and dressing.

In other northern European countries, the Christmas Tree is celebrated of course, but they have slightly different nuances of what they do and of course when.

Below is a Christmas tree decorated in and surrounded by gold in Copenhagen Denmark discovered on Pinterest.

Below, more gold influence on a Christmas tree decorated in Germany.

On the other side of the world in Japan, they celebrate Christmas a little differently, even though the tree is certainly part of it. A more modern style tree shown at the holidays in Tokyo.

The Japanese may celebrate Christmas in as big of a way if not more than the yanks except the customs are different as is their style — from decorations to the tree itself. (not the color and modern flair of the tree above and the cutesy Asian-influenced design in the tree below.

In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents and in some ways, is more akin to Valentine’s Day in the states and the UK.  In Japanese Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Meri Kurisumasu’. And it’s written in the two Japanese scripts like this; Hiragana: めりーくりすます; Katakana: メリークリスマス.

In Costa Rica, people decorate their houses with tropical flowers. The nativity scene, called the Pasito or Portal, is the center of the display and is often decorated with fruit and flowers as well. People also add other models including houses and animals. Christmas wreaths are made of cypress branches and decorated with red coffee berries and ribbons. And, like in western European cultures, most homes, shops and public buildings are decorated with bright Christmas lights.

In Brazil, not unlike Costa Rica and other Latin cultures, the Nativity scenes are also popular. Many Brazilian Christmas traditions come from Portugal since Portugal ruled Brazil for many years.  

Christmas plays called Los Pastores (The Shepherds), are popular, similar to what you’ll find in Mexico. In the Brazilian versions of the play, there’s also traditionally a shepherdess and also a woman who tries to steal baby Jesus. Many, especially Catholics, will go to a Midnight Mass service or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Roster). In Brazil, Santa Claus is called Papai Noel & Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man).

In Armenia, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th when they apparently also celebrate the ‘Epiphany’ (which means the revelation that Jesus was God’s son). Epiphany is now mainly the time Churches remember the Visit of the of Wise Men to Jesus; but some Churches, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, also celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

In Egypt, since only 15% of people are Christians, apparently few celebrate Christmas. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they have some very unique traditions for Christmas. Christmas Day isn’t celebrated on the 25th December but on 7th January (like in Ethiopia and by some Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia).

The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk and in celebration and good spirit, people sing special songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service.

For the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), from 25th November to 6th January, Coptic Orthodox Christians have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet. The don’t eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). This is called ‘The Holy Nativity Fast’.

In Ghana, people celebrate Christmas from December 20 to first week in January with lots of different activities.  Talk about diversity – apparently over 66 languages are spoken in Ghana and each language group has their own traditions and customs.

December is also the start of the cocoa harvest, which is huge in Ghana. On Christmas eve is when you’ll find people attending church services and they also drum, dance and sing. And, like many other cultures, children participate in a play or drama and there are nativity scenes.

Back in Europe, the people of the Czech Republic start celebrating as early as December 5 when children wait for St. Nicholas (Svatý Mikuláš) to arrive alongside both devils and angels. The children perform for this St. Nich usually in the way of a poem or a song and in return, they receive baskets of fruit, candy and chocolate.   The rest of the presents are often opened on Christmas eve, not Christmas morning.

Christmas trees are not common at all in China where the focus is more on different kinds of decorations like colorful paper lanterns although they do also put up something referred to as a Tree of Light.

In China, only about one percent of people are Christians, so you’re less likely to see Christmas celebrations anywhere other than the major cities. Santa Claus is referred to as Shen Dan Lao Ren and to say Merry Christmas in Chinese, you’d say Sheng Dan Kuai Le or 圣诞快乐’ in Mandarin and ‘Seng Dan Fai Lok or 聖誕快樂’ in Cantonese. Another quirky factoid is that Santa is known as Sheng dan lao ren which means Old Christmas Man.

In Mexico, Christmas is largely a religious holiday and like other Latin cultures where catholic is dominant, there are plenty of Nativity scenes.  Because it’s Mexico, there are also posadas, re-enactments of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. The final Posada on December 24 ends with a big Christmas dinner, a piñata and Midnight Mass. Like in the states, the kids open their presents on Christmas morning.

In Sweden, Christmas begins on December 13, with the St. Lucia ceremony. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

On St. Lucia Day, the youngest daughter in the family dons a white robe with a wreath of evergreens and candles upon her head. Accompanied by her siblings, she serves her parents Lucia buns and coffee in bed. Two days before Christmas, families set up their Christmas trees. On Christmas eve, the mother of the house lights candles for all to carry on a precession to church.

In India, Christmas is quite small compared to other religious festivals and celebrations, largely because there’s only 2.3% of people who make up Christians.

One of the largest Indian Christian Communities is in Mumbai and they are mostly Roman Catholics. Many of the Christians in Mumbai came from or have roots in Goa. Midnight mass is a very important service for Christians in India, especially Catholics. The whole family will walk to the mass and this will be followed by a massive feast of different delicacies, (mostly curries) and the giving and receiving of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service.

In Haiti, French is the main language spoken o Happy/Merry Christmas is Joyeux Noël just like it is in France although some people speak Creole where it’s ‘Jwaye Nowe’. On Christmas Eve, children place their newly cleaned shoes, filled with straw under the tree on the porch and it isn’t uncommon to find houses lit up and open for visits until 3 in the morning.

In Greenland, people visit each other in the villages of Polar Inuits, where they celebrate and drink coffee and eat cakes. Traditional presents are model sledges, a pairs of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone in the village gets a gift and children go from house to house to sing songs, not unlike traditional caroling in Europe and the states.

On Christmas Eve Church Services are held and most people go to them, many in national costume. Some men wear the white anoraks which are worn on special occasions.

In the Philippines, formal Christmas celebrations start on December 16 when people go the the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses with the last mass being held on Christmas day. The masses held before Christmas are called the ‘Misa de Gallo’ or ‘Simbang Gabi’ in Filipino. Since its the only Asian country with so many Christians, Christmas is the most important holiday.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU and YOURS!!

We wish you the happiest holiday season regardless

of where you happen to be on this

December 25 day, 2015.

Photo credits: The holiday bulb is from GFCorbett from Instagram, Santa Claus on surfboard from boardjoy.com.  Denmark tree on Pinterest and Germany tree from ibtimes.com, First Japan tree from majiroxnews.com, second one from Pinterest, third one from JapanCrush.com. Costa Rica Matt Cardy from GettyImages. Brazil from www.stnicholascenter.org. Armenia is from Getty Images KevorkDjansezian. Egypt from Ed Giles (Getty Images). Czech Republic credit is from Matej Divizna (Getty). Mexico from Juan Jacobo ZanellaGonzalez (Getty). Sweden from Jann Lipka (Nordic Photos / Getty). India – Ele Rein/Moment (Getty) and Greenland is from commons.wikimedia.org.

A Drive Through the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao

December 23, 2014 by  

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I knew nothing of the Dutch Caribbean before a few months ago except for the fact that it existed and that Curaçao was part of it, a small island just 40 or so miles north of Venezuela and 30 or so miles from the luxurious island of Aruba that perhaps more people have heard of on their travels.

Curaçao is a little undiscovered gem, largely because it’s less known, small in size and not yet littered with tall resort properties on every pristine beach. You can still find a piece of beach you can entirely call your own or go on a beach or cliff walk and not see another soul. Bliss!

The island only has one major city, which is historical Willemstad, centrally located towards the southern part of the island however it’s only an hour or so to drive to pretty much anywhere you want to go for sightseeing.  Curaçao’s architecture blends Dutch and Spanish influences and Willemstad is on the UNESCO world heritage list because of its many historic buildings.  Below is the Fort Amsterdam, now home to the governor.

A local man takes a cigar break from work in the central Fort Amsterdam courtyard.

You can see Dutch influences throughout the island, but most notably in Willemstad’s architecture as demonstrated on Handelskade Street below, which runs alongside the river.

There is a ton to do in Willemstad so be sure to read my write-up on the city, which includes a wide range of activities from art and history to natural herbs for healing, ostrichesAloe Vera and Curacao food. While we didn’t see any music or dance performances, traditional culture remains alive and costumes are vibrant and fun. Seeing – and participating in – dance is a big priority for my next trip to the Dutch Caribbean region.

While I’m a sponge for cultural activities in any new destination, those who know me well know that I’m a big fan of getting close to nature as often as possible. This scenic little island has tons to do for the avid hiker and water activity seeker — I’d recommend renting a car to explore the island so you can stop as you wish and not be rushed or restricted by a tour.

In the north of the island, Christoffel National Park and Shete Boka National Park are both worth a stop.  Christoffel National Park is a protected nature area at the Northwestern end of the island and is most known for its flora and fauna. The park, which covers almost 2,000 hectares includes three former plantations, Plantage Savonet, Plantage Zorgvlied and Plantage Zevenbergen, a mine complex, Newton, and the island’s highest point, Christoffel Mountain.

Shete Boka National Park, also known as Seven Bays to locals, runs along a rugged coastline and begins close to the bottom of Curacao’s highest peak, Christoffelberg. Imagine ten kilometers of rocky coastline, some of which touts some great “crashing wave” action and ten pocket beaches where 3 species of sea turtles are known to lay eggs.

While I did not go this inlet, apparently the most popular one to visit is Boka Tabla, where huge waves roar into an underground cavern. You can get into the mouth of the cavern via a series of steps which are cut into the cavern — what a glorious place to experience the northeast coast. I wish I had more time to spend in Curacao’s natural environment.

Two hiking trails worth noting in the area include Boka Pistol Trail and Boka Wandomi Trail. The first one gives you access to the area where sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs and you can get stunning views of flat limestone hills and Wandomi takes you along rolling lava hills and limestone bluffs to a charming bridge. Both walks are roughly an hour long.   Below is a shot of Boka Pistol in all its glory.

This is an example of a boat you can take to go snorkeling in the area, which my crew did the day I was being tortured by a bug.

Nearby is the Blue Room where my colleagues went snorkeling while I suffered through dramatic sniffles and head congestion. The Blue Room is a sea cave near the famous Mushroom Forest dive site. Water mist is snorted out of the waterline cave entry as a wave surges in. How cool is this? You can snorkel over to the cave and swim in. Inside, you’ll find a huge room with air and plenty of overhead space.

Making your way south, you can visit the Country House Museum, which is a restored thatched roofed 19th century manor house that contains fishing, agricultural equipment, antiques, paintings, tapestries and more. It’s worth mentioning the architecture again. While I cited examples of Dutch influenced buildings in Willemstad above, it’s worth noting that the Dutch influence is prolific throughout the island.

Below is a simple country house — while it’s not as colorful as some of the government buildings and shop fronts you see in central Willemstad, you’ll see the European influence regardless with a twist of Caribbean thrown in.

The country houses on Curacao were built in the 18th and 19th century, most of which used as plantation houses at the time. Historically at that time, Curacao boasted roughly 100 small plantations and the centre of each plantation consisted of a country house, where the master and his slaves lived. While a number of these country houses still exist, many of them have been restored and turned into museums, art galleries, restaurants and shops.

Culturally, the Dutch influence mixed with some Spanish and Afro-Caribbean also show up in religious statistics. Roughly 75% of the population is Catholic, but there are also Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Christians and Protestants, although the latter only makes up around 3.2% and Jehovah’s Witness and Evangelical both sit roughly at around 2%.

While Jews may be a very small percentage of locals, worth noting is the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which is the oldest working synagogue in the western hemisphere and has deep historical roots dating as far back as the 15th century.

Another example of architecture and religion combined is shown in the below shot of Church Sint Willibrordust in the town which shares its name.

A small town northwest of Willemstad and close to the coast, it is located not far from the western end of Bullenbaai, which is a bay on the central west coast of Curaçao that covers one sixth of the length of the island’s west coast. It extends from the lighthouse at Kaap Sint Marie in the north to the town of Sint Michiel in the south. Many towns throughout the island boast a beautiful chapel at their center.

That brings me to diversity, which Curaçao has in spades. The culture of Curaçao is apparently represented by its Flag – the blue sky and blue sea are divided by a yellow bar, which represents the sun. The stars represent the island and its tiny uninhabited sister island Klein Curaçao while the white stars signify peace and happiness, and the five points of each star symbolize that the people of Curaçao come from five continents (Africa, Europe, Asia, North and South America).

There are roughly 128,000 people on Curaçao collectively from over 50 countries. Curacao is apparently acclaimed for its well-earned reputation of harmony and tolerance among religion and races. While there are only two official languages (Dutch and Papiamentu), most people also speak English and Spanish, given its close vicinity to Venezuela and the rest of South America.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk more about Curacao’s magical coastline and water activities. Below are a few shots of the beach in front of and around the Renaissance Hotel in central Willemstad.

Below is a beach and view from a walk in and around the Hilton property I took one afternoon.

As dusk hits the beaches on Curacao, the sunsets couldn’t be more spectacular. Below are a few shots I took as the sun was beginning to set at Lion’s Dive and Mambo Beach.

And, then there’s exquisite Diving, which I didn’t know before I landed on its soil as odd as that may sound. Curacao lays claim to some of the best scuba diving in the area — world class, my guide tells me.

From Watamula on the west side to Klein Curacao, there are plenty of pristine coral reefs and diverse marine life. Water temperatures range from 78-84 degrees F making it more pleasureable than some of its colder water counterparts and visibility is apparently always around 100 feet or better. There are nearly 100 dive sites, primarily on the leeward side and just a few dive sites on the rougher and more rugged windward side. Below is a shot taken underwater during a Watamula dive.

While we’re talking about wildlife and natural beauty, its worth mentioning Curacao’s Birdwatching culture, something I made fun of before I hit the jackpot and saw a Quetzal on my first trip to Costa Rica and then later gazed into an owl’s eyes from 3 feet away for over a half an hour on the Galapagos Islands. (Ecuador)

While I’ve always been a fan of nature and wildlife (I grew up on a lake in the Adirondack Mountains), I never saw the point of birdwatching — this wasn’t until I began to spot some wondrous looking birds on my travels and suddenly my perspective was changed forever, part of the magic of transformative travel.

While I didn’t take in any birdwatching in Curacao (there simply wasn’t time),  I did go to the Ostrich Farm where you can feed, pet and even ride them.

Additionally, the island has some remarkable birds with a lot of influence from neighboring South America. Translation – exotic, vibrant and colorful. Below is a Venezuelan Troupial (Icterus icterus) taken on the west coast of Curaçao.

It’s dry and arid btw even though there’s always a breeze. This means that cacti is found everywhere. The below shot was taken at Dinah Veeris natural herb garden – if you’re into natural herbs and holistic living, then it’s worth a stop – tell Dinah Renee from San Francisco said hello.

Speaking of all things natural, on the east side of the island not far from the Ostrich Farm lies a 10-acre Aloe Vera plantation with over 100,000 Aloe Vera plants, where you can try the pulp, drink the juices and cover yourself in soft Aloe Vera creams and lotions.

There are also plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the island – it’s not uncommon to find fruit trees growing in the backyards of people’s homes and there are fruit stands where you can have a freshly made drink on a moment’s notice. There’s a great stand in central Willemstad that serves a wide array of choices including Tamarind, which is a popular among locals. Below is an orange tree on the grounds of Dinah’s home, which is the central hub to her herb garden, mentioned above.

Other fun and adventurous things to do in Curaçao include snorkeling, hiking, boating, horseback riding (a great place for this is in Christoffel Natational Park which spans across 4,500 acres and has tons of equestrian trails) and sports fishing.

I didn’t realize sports fishing was so big in Curaçao since it wasn’t on our agenda, but like the “wow” discovery I had in Chilean Patagonia which attracts thousands of sports fisherman each season, there are charter fishing companies who can take you out on the water. For sports fishing fans, popular big game fish on the island include sailfish, marlin, tuna, tarpon, wahoo, snapper, bonefish and dorado.

That also means there’s plenty of fresh fish to eat on Curaçao and not just at the coastal restaurants. Below is a red snapper that was locally caught and pan fried in a plantain creme and a pesto chutney, which I tried at Shore’s American Seafood Grill at the Santa Barbara Resort, located along the coast roughly 45 minutes south of Willemstad.

I stayed at Santa Barbara Resort my first couple of nights on the island – you can read about my experience as well as several other hotel and resort options for trip planning purposes. I had plenty of other incredible food experiences as well so be sure to see my Curacao food write-up for some fun suggestions and photos.

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

Photo credits: Church Sint Willibrordust photo credit from Curaco-TravelGuide.com, Christoffell National Park from GreenGlobalTravel.com, Boka Pistol shot from pbase.com, Underwater photo of the Blue Room and boat/bird shot both by Aime O’Keefe, Green Country House by jankok-lodges.com, the bright fish underwater by sunrisetravelcuracao.com of a Watamula dive. Bird shot from commons.wikimedia.org/.  Flag of Curaçao from Wikipedia.org. All other photo credits including all three sunset shots, the middle one shot on my iPhone: Renee Blodgett.

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.

 

 

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.

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