What Makes The Best Beach?

I ran across this article in Conde Nast Traveller identifying what the writer considered to be the 29 best beaches in the world. It’s an interesting list that might make some Americans mad, because no beaches in California or Florida make the cut, whereas beaches from Scotland (which has two in the top five), Ireland, Iceland, and Canada–not normally associated with beaches–are represented. The only American beaches to be featured are Honopu Beach in Kauai, Hawaii, which looks gorgeous and comes in at number 11, and the only beach on the list that I’ve been to: the vast, sprawling beach in Okracoke, North Carolina, with its signature grass-topped dunes, which comes in at number 27.

What makes the best beach? It’s obviously a subjective determination that is influenced by personal preference. For me, it’s a combination of things, like the qualify of the sand, the color and condition of the water (I’m not a surfer and don’t need huge, crashing waves), and whether it’s so crowded with people you can’t really notice the beach for all of the people on it (which is probably why no beaches from California or Florida make the list). Ideally, I also like a beach you can walk, and a beach with some natural beauty nearby–like hidden beach in Palawan, the Philippines, shown in the photo above, which is number 19 on the list.

Based on my personal interests, I think the best beaches I’ve been to are the snug little beach at the foot of the long flights of wooden stairs at the Ti Kaye resort on St. Lucia, which is surrounded by jungle and rugged hillside, and the sweeping crescent beach at Nueva Vallarta in Mexico, where you can walk for miles. My guess is that everyone who likes a beach vacation now and then will have their own personal list of favorites.

The Conde Nast Traveller article did teach me one, thing, however: if you’re going to Scotland, be sure to take your beach towel and flip-flops.

One Country’s Approach To COVID

Our trip to St. Lucia was the first time we’ve been out of the United States since the COVID pandemic turned the world topsy-turvy. It was interesting to see how a different country was dealing with the issues presented by a pandemic that still lingers after two years.

St. Lucia is one of those countries that requires a lot of documentation before you can enter. That’s totally understandable: it’s an island nation, and its health care facilities could be overwhelmed if there was a bad outbreak. The necessary paperwork includes vaccination cards and booster cards, on-line submission of travel authorization forms that have to be approved by the St. Lucia travel office, and proof of a negative COVID test that was taken within three days of your departure date. The three-day test and travel authorization approval can create some friction. You hope to get the test results quickly enough to transmit them to the travel office in plenty of time to get the approval.

In our case, we didn’t get the test results until the day before our departure and then hit a snag when the travel office asked us to retransmit data only a few hours before our early morning flight was scheduled to leave. That required us to do some scrambling at the airport, by calling the travel office to ask them to look at the resubmitted data and send a new authorization approval so that the airline could print it out on paper and we could take it as part of our packet of documentation. That started off our trip with a jolt of stress, but fortunately, thanks to the help of a friendly woman at the St. Lucia travel office, the very nice people behind the counter at American Airlines, and the fact that my uptight traveler ways caused us to get to the airport very early, we got the paperwork done and were on our way.

When we arrived in St. Lucia, we had to present all of our materials–vaccination and booster cards, printed travel authorization approval form, and negative test results–in the new first step of the arrival process. We waited in long lines as nurses wearing full COVID-proof garb, including face shields, went through the paperwork for each traveler and carefully examined the various materials. If you passed muster and were fully vaccinated, as we were, you were given a plastic wrist bracelet just like the kind you would get at an amusement park and told to wear it during your entire time in St. Lucia. (I’m not sure what was done with the unvaccinated.) Then, with bracelets on, we were directed to a different line for different officials to review our passports and other entrance forms.

On our drive from the airport to Ti Kaye we didn’t see any locals wearing masks or bracelets. At our resort, however, the staff always was masked, and the rule was for guests to wear masks in common areas, such as when you were entering the restaurants for lunch or dinner. At the upper restaurant, our wrist temperatures were taken and logged in a book whenever we showed up for breakfast and dinner, so somewhere there is a fulsome record of my temperature on each day of our stay. No one wore masks on the beach or poolside, and temperatures weren’t taken at the seaside grille where we had lunch.

The morning of the day before our departure we had another COVID test taken, by a nurse on site at Ti Kaye, and then got a document attesting that we had tested negative. We took that to the airport when we left. At the airport, we had our temperatures taken again and had to fill out an additional form attesting that we had tested negative, and then presented the airline desk with all of the paperwork (including our vaccination cards) in order to get our boarding passes. Whether it was the time involved in paperwork review or just the holiday travel crush, the airport featured long lines, and even though we got to the airport more than two hours before the flight we just barely caught our plane. When we finally got back to Columbus, early this morning, we breathed a sigh of relief and finally cut off our bracelets.

In short, if you’re traveling internationally, be prepared to jump through a few extra hoops, endure some stress, and pay careful attention to the paperwork requirements. And give yourself some extra time at the airport!

Banana Ketchup And West Indian Hot Sauce

If you go down to the beachfront restaurant at Ti Kaye, you’ll find three condiments: regular tomato ketchup, banana ketchup, and West Indian hot sauce.

Banana ketchup, you say? I’m not a fan of regular ketchup, but banana ketchup sounded so tantalizing I had to try it. And since I’m always on the prowl for some good hot sauce, the West Indian hot sauce is right up my alley.

The banana ketchup and the hot sauce have almost exactly the same color, as shown in the bottles above and on the plate below, where you can see the banana ketchup on the lower left and the hot sauce on the upper right, bracketing my conch fritters. The banana ketchup is pretty good. It’s very mild and sweeter (and a lot less acidic) than tomato ketchup, and a nice complement to french fries. I’m a bit surprised that banana ketchup hasn’t made inroads in America–at least, not yet.

The West Indian hot sauce is a killer. It’s chunkier than the ketchup–with the chunks no doubt bringing the heat–and it’s got a lot of flavor, with a spice level that creeps up on you, and some of that fine, post-consumption lip burn that hot sauce aficionados crave. I’ve used it on regular french fried, sweet potato fries, conch fritters, and saltfish accras, and it hasn’t disappointed in any combination.

They say that part of the joy of travel is the thrill of discovery. I’m glad I discovered banana ketchup and West Indian hot sauce on this trip.

Mixed Messaging

This message on the rear windshield of one of the local vehicles in St. Lucia stopped us cold for a bit. You could read it as a warning that the car is full of bad energy and you should avoid it like the plague, which is how I first understood it. But later I realized that you also could read it as a heartfelt request that negative energy please not descend on the car’s owner and occupants.

Or, it could be a consciously ambiguous message, meant to convey both meanings at the same time. I kind of like that reading the best–it is well suited to fans of the Cleveland Browns, like me.

Our Sunset Cruise

Yesterday afternoon we took a sunset cruise along the west coast of St. Lucia, heading south to the two peaks–the Pitons–that are a kind of trademark of the island (and that are featured on the label of the local beer which is itself named for the mountains). Visitors can climb the peak on the right in the photo above, following a trail that runs up the western slope and, according to one of the locals, is “two hours heading straight up, then two hours heading straight down.” The eastern peak features a sheer escarpment that can only be tackled by dedicated, and well-equipped, rock climbers. Much of the west coast of the island is similarly rugged, with many cliffs along the oceanfront and small fishing villages located in the sea level areas in between.

The crew plied us with very tasty rum punches and we listened to a great reggae music mix as we sailed along. A school of dorsal-finned sea creatures–the crew said they were small whales that were about the size of porpoises–encircled us as we sailed south, frolicking in the waves before turning west to head toward deeper waters. We also saw many flying fish zipping briefly over the surface of the water before diving back in It was a beautiful evening offering just about perfect sunset cruise conditions with clear skies and the temperature around 80, and other boats were on the water, also enjoying the striking sunset colors and the warm surroundings.

The after-sunset in St. Lucia is a pretty sight, too. There’s about a half hour period where the sunset glow lines the rim of the western horizon, providing enough light to see clearly as the sky turns purple above and you head back to the dock. It’s a great time to drain the last dregs of your rum punch, tap your feet to the reggae beat, and look forward to the dinner to come.

Hiking Back To The Road

To get to Ti Kaye you take an access road that winds about a mile and a half through the jungle until you reach the resort. This morning Richard and I decided to work off our breakfast and hike to the point where the access road reaches the main road.

I say “hike” because, although the access road is paved, there are many steep hills and sharp turns and it feels like a hiking trail. And the last incline before you reach the road is the mother of them all: straight up a hillside at a constant 45-degree angle in 80-degree heat under bright sunshine until you reach the intersection. By then your heart is hammering, your hamstrings are screaming, you’re gulping air, and your health care app has concluded that a billy goat has run off with its cell phone home.

But when you reach the top you get to experience a strong sense of pointless accomplishment and useful justification for tipping back another Piton when lunchtime rolls around. And the view from up there is pretty good, too, as the photo below reflects. That’s a neighboring fishing village that tumbles down the hillside to the Caribbean.

The Stairs At Ti Kaye

At some beach vacation locations, it can be difficult to get some meaningful exercise. You shuffle back and forth between pool and beach and room and, despite your best intentions to go on some strenuous outings, you become an inert, chaise lounge sprawling lump who happily dozes off in the hot sun. As a result, you don’t experience much of that cardiovascular activity your doctor and trainer say is so important.

That isn’t a problem at Ti Kaye in St. Lucia. That’s because Ti Kaye is built into a cliff, and to get from the top of the resort to the beach you need to climb up and down a switchbacking set of stairs that hug the cliffside. There are 152 steps in all (Kish counted them) and they start out as stone steps at the top of the cliff and then turn to wooden stairs as you near the beach level. There are so many steps that you can’t capture all of them in one photo, but the picture above shows a few of the flights near the bottom, and in the upper left you can get a glimpse of the steps farther up the cliffside.

Fortunately, there are landings at each of the switchbacks, so you can plausibly act like you are stopping to admire the views below, rather than needing to gulp down as much air as possible. Going down is a lot easier than coming up, of course, but when you do reach the top you feel a certain sense of accomplishment, and it is easier to justify having the next local beer or rum-based concoction.

Bird, Undeterred

Here’s what I consider to be pretty much conclusive evidence that the behavior of creatures is not solely determined by genetics, and that environment has an impact: Caribbean birds. St. Lucia, the southern Caribbean island we are visiting, has many familiar bird species, but the conduct of the birds is definitely different from the conduct of the birds of the Midwest.

This pigeon-like bird rested on the guardrail of our cottage, about a foot away from me, for a long time this morning. Unlike jumpy central Ohio birds, he didn’t flutter off at any movement on my part. Instead, he confidently strutted up and down the railing, eyeing me with apparent disdain because I wasn’t eating anything that would yield a crumb or two for him to seize. His pugnacious attitude reminded me of the tough-guy pigeon gangs you see in New York City, or Paris.

The pigeon’s haughty ‘tude, however, was nothing compared to the sparrow-like birds that hang around the breakfast patio. Those little guys hop closer and closer to the food on the plate, undeterred by repeated shooing, until they finally dare to perch on the side of the plate and take a nibble of a half-eaten pastry. And when guest rise from their table, the birds descend in force and tear away every scrap of food they can get in their beaks like they own the place.

In the Midwest, birds are timid creatures who don’t want any part of interaction with humans. In the Caribbean, birds are aggressive in taking what they want, whether humans are nearby or not. And I have no doubt that if you transported Columbus birds to St. Lucia, they’d get roughed up a bit by the natives at first, but then would quickly learn that if they want to rule the roost, they’d better adopt the Caribbean approach and take what they want.

Vacation Time: Ti Kaye

The beach and bar at Ti Kaye

Kish is very good at spotting interesting places to visit, and she struck gold with Ti Kaye — but at first, it sure didn’t seem that way!

Ti Kaye is a resort on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. St. Lucia is located far to the south, almost to the coast of South America. The island itself is rugged, volcanic, mountainous, and breathtakingly poor. We flew in to the airport at Vieux Fort, at one end of the island, rented a car, and set off to find Ti Kaye. The island, however, has extraordinarily poor roads, featuring bone-jarring potholes and blind turns and lacking any meaningful signs. We drove and drove on twisting roads, past decrepit shacks with corrugated iron roofs, trying to follow complicated directions. At one point, we drove through a tiny hamlet of silent, staring people and apparently starving dogs running through the streets.

The beach at Ti Kaye

The beach at Ti Kaye

Twilight began to fall, and our spirits sank along with the sun. Finally, after it seemed we would never find the right turn, we saw a Ti Kaye sign and turned off the “main” road into a rutted, stony, mostly unpaved driveway. After heading downhill through a narrow tunnel of vegetation — as I wondered what I would do if I saw a car coming in the opposite direction — we came to an apparent dead end. At that point, I felt the red surge of rage that only an exhausted, put-upon, bitterly disappointed traveler can experience. We realized, however, that we apparently were supposed to take a hairpin left turn and drive up a hill, and after we did so we found a slice of nirvana in the form of Ti Kaye Village.

The dining area at Ti Kaye

The dining area at Ti Kaye

Ti Kaye consists of a main building with a bar and dining room and a long, rickety staircase leading down to a small beach that has its own restaurant and bar. The grounds are filled to overflowing with gaily colored tropical plants and rich, deep, almost velvety shade. The guests stay in white wooden cabanas sprinkled throughout the Ti Kaye property. Each cabana has high interior ceilings and slow-moving fans, large beds with white mosquito netting, and fantastic outdoor showers. Our cabana had a long wooden porch with rockers and hammocks, and sitting on that porch first thing in the morning, reading a book and drinking a strong cup of coffee, was a glorious experience.

The front porch of a Ti Kaye cabana

The front porch of a Ti Kaye cabana

The food at Ti Kaye was fabulous and the staff were wonderful. We stayed there over Christmas and New Year, and they worked very hard to impart holiday cheer and good humor. Our days were long and languid, as we were content to stay on the grounds reading, sunning, and enjoying the excellent Ti Kaye hospitality. Like any good Caribbean island, St. Lucia has its own local beer, called Piton, and it was very fine indeed to sit on the Ti Kaye beach in the blazing sunshine, nursing a Piton and enjoying a good beach book. We also did some snorkeling in the little harbor and watched as cruise ships and large white-masted vessels sailed majestically past.

Our only bad experiences on the trip, in fact, came when we left the Ti Kaye grounds. We went to Soufriere, where one of the locals named Simon volunteered to be our guide, stuck to us like glue while we went to the ho-hum hot springs and volcano basin, and then angrily expected us to pay him an arm and a leg for the experience. We also went to Castries, the largest city on the island, where there was a pretty standard Caribbean market and lots of people trying to sell us trinkets. So we gladly beat a retreat to the friendly confines of Ti Kaye, cracked open a cold Piton, and had one of the wait staff smile widely, shake her head slightly and say: “Daddy be drinking!” And, magically, all was well once more.