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Entries about beaches

Discovering Curacao

Off road driving, diving, dancing, relaxing and learning on the smartest island of the Caribbean.

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Curaçao

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Curaçao is a tiny island, a stone’s throw from the coast of Venezuela.
A former colony of Portugal, Spain and then Holland, today it is an autonomous, free and thriving nation. There is a huge oil refinery which processes much of Venezuela’s oil, plus a myriad of mechanics and engineering factories and businesses.

This is not a touristy island at all. Tourism is merely a blip on the nation's radar, coming in at only the fourth in terms of revenue generation after oil, machinery and aloe vera.

If you're looking for resorts and five star treatment, then don't come here. If you want to be in a tranquil, quiet, serene place, where everybody quietly goes about their business, and lives on equal footing in paradise, then this is perfect!

Curaçao is known for being the most literate and highly educated islands in the Caribbean, with the highest per capita standard of living in the region. You won't find a single vendor selling trinkets on any beach here.

Though Curaçao is largely independent, their citizens have Dutch sovereignty (and passports).

Languages

The official national language is Papiamentu; a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and native African languages. Curaçao is one of the only islands where the official language isn’t a formal European one. Papiamentu is spoken in offices, government, courts, etc... and the default language of ATMs, etc.
To me it sounded a lot like Spanish with a Dutch accent, and it was nice to be able to understand much of the language as a Spanish speaker.

High school classes are conducted in Dutch and tertiary courses are in English. Most people also speak Spanish and listen to Colombian and Dominican music... and so almost everyone I met in Curaçao spoke all four languages fluently.

Areas

Wilemstaad

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This is the capital and really, really nice. It is surrounded by a river system and beaches. The architecture is distinctly Dutch and felt like little Amsterdam by the sea.

Punda

This is the hub of activity in the city. Most of it is pedestrianised, with many shops, cafes and businesses operating harmoniously here. The bridge between here and Otrabanda is a notable highlight!!
There is a gorgeous laneway system here full of really nice open air places to eat, drink and socialise.

Rif Fort

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This is a gorgeous preserved area with restaurants, bars and shops. The views from the upper levels are magnificent. Throughout the week there are many events here, including Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba dance nights.

Jam Thiel

This is the swish beach area of the island. There are stunning apartment complexes, beach restaurants and bars lining the sand. What I like about Jam Thiel is that it isn't in-your-face flashy, but rather pretty subdued. Though it's obviously upmarket, it isn't exclusive and barricaded. The beaches and facilities here are accessible to everyone. There are great parties here, especially on Sundays.

Mambo Beach

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This is my favourite part of the island. There is a complex of many different restaurants and cafes here, both set back from the beach and on the perfect white sand itself. The best parties are also around here because of the range of venues.

In Curacao locals love all Caribbean music - from Salsa, Bachata and Soca... and they have their own style called Ritmocombinar, which to me sounds a lot like Zouk or Kizomba. On weekends you will find most of the local kids partying to ritmo and zouk at the upper floor venues on Mambo Beach.

Whilst having dinner with friends on Mambo beach, I asked some of the staff what they like to do for holidays since they aleady live in paradise. One of the barman said he and his friends go to Medellin (in the centre of Colombia) to get away from the beach and have fun in a big city. Talk about #ballers

Facing the beach is a man made barricade of rocks, roughly 100 metres from the coast, creating a very nice pool-like swimming bay, free of tides and waves. There are several sunbathing platforms in the middle of the swimming area. It really is magnificent.

Emporio and Latin Community

This is a great place to hear latin tunes. Many folks from Venezuela, Colombia and the DR come to Curacao for seasonal work, or emigrate permanently, and this is their spot. I met a nice couple from Barranquilla at Emporio who set up a business importing clothes from Antioquia to the islands.

Flag Day Celebrations

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During my time in Curacao the island were preparing for their national flag day. In the main city square, many groups were rehearsing music and dance performances. It was really great to see.
The day itself was incredible. At every corner for the capital city, there were music and dance performances in traditional dress, song competitions, etc.

Whilst watching one of the performances at Rif Fort, a lady pulled me out of the crowd to dance with her. She explained the steps as we went, and I didn't really make too much of a disaster out of it. It was really great fun.
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Kura Hulanda Slave Museum

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This one of the most comprehensive museums related to the history of slavery in the world, and an important place in the Caribbean.
There are many displays, documents, and artifacts related to Holland's slave industry that not only serviced the Caribbean, but also the US. The Dutch slave companies sold many thousands, if not millions of Africa slaves to the US.
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I did a tour with a group of Afro descended Americans, who were tracing their roots. Our guide was very informed and clear, and as a group we left very informed about that controversial side of history.
The site itself is particularly beautiful and tranquil, which made the experience just a little bit haunting.
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Diving

I experienced some of the best diving of my life here. There are huge shelves and walls full of sea life, and the water is really clear. The great thing abot the island too, is that there water gets deep straight off the coast. We simply walked out from the beach in our gear and swam out over the shelf. I was the only customer at the Chilean run dive shop.
The bloke who owns the place said he never looked back once he came here. It's a usual story in Curacao,

Dune Buggies

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One of the most awesome things to do in Curacao is go on a dune buggy safari. Most of the island is rocky remnants of coral (most of it was under water).
I drove in this beast with a nice group from Holland to the far reaches of the island, explring caves and coral mountains. It really was an incredible day out!!

Thanks Curacao, what a suprise

This is easily my favourite spot in the Caribbean. It is rich with culture, peaceful, prominent and safe - with amazing food, music and beaches.
I can't wait to go back!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 08:47 Archived in Curaçao Tagged beaches diving curacao scuba_diving dune_buggies rif_fort mambo_beach wilemstad flag_day_curacao jam_thiel Comments (0)

Saint Martin / Sint Maarten

Discovering the contrasts and harmonies of the beautiful, amazing French and Dutch shared island.

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St Martin is a beautiful island and a major sailing hub between Europe and the other Caribbean islands, plus Latin America. There MANY boats docked at various parts of the island. It's a pretty industrious place, with a lot businesses involved in boat and aircraft maintanence, motor engineering, etc. St Martin is an enormously multicultural island, even by Caribbean standards.....
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Language

St Martin and St Maarten really are split by language lines (but not by much else).
As soon as you cross from one section to the other, the signs change from Dutch or English to French... that also goes for the spoken language too. Shop assistants/hotel workers,etc in St Martin almost exclusively speak French. In St Maarten I almost exclusively heard English, some Dutch and Spanish.

Incoming....

St Martin is a first world island with great infrastructure, friendly people, high employment rates and is a proven attractive option for immigration.
I had my haircut at a salon owned by a Dominican lady, who brought her friends and daughters with her to help expand the business. She loves it here!! There is a fantastic Colombian restaurant along the main street next to the airport and most of the shops next to the cruise ship port are owned by Trinidadians.

When I told a cab driver that I am Australian, he told me that they have played cricket in St Martin since it arrived in the West Indies. Who knew!!
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Travel

St Martin is easy to get to. Almost every island in the Caribbean has direct flights into the island. I flew direct from Kingston Jamaica.
The airport is on the Dutch side. Just like Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire and Suriname, St Maarteners have Dutch citizenship. There is a separate imigration line for member countries of the Dutch kingdom to breeze through. The airport is very nice and close to ... well everything.
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Accomodation

The hotels here are first rate. I stayed at a huge resort next the marina, with awesome gym, two pools, casino, several restaurants, etc for roughly AUD$50 per night!!

Food

Though Holland isn't famous for it's cuisine, the French are.... On the French side you will find incredible cafes, restaurants and patisseries. Universally on both sides, the coffee is excellent.

Scenic St Martin

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful islands of the lot. I hired a car and drove around the mountains and to the many districts. The island is very, very small - you can do a lap in 3 hours without stops.

There are amazing shopping areas along the beach close to where the cruise ships stop. The prices were competitive.
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Nightlife

Don't come here looking for a tropical feista. St Martin is a pretty quiet island. Aruba, Dominican Republic, even Curacao are better options for party goers.There are great nightclubs on both sides of the island though. This is a good list: here

Thanks St Martin / St Maarten

St Martin was a really nice stop. Five days was a perfect amount of time, and I learned a lot about the Caribbean in general here.

Posted by SkinnyFists 11:24 Archived in Saint Martin Tagged beaches shopping caribbean st_martin sint_martin san_maarten dutch_caribbean Comments (0)

Jamaica: Kingston

Carnival, dancehall, reggae, beaches, mountains waterfalls in the tough, lone lion of the Caribbean.

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Welcome to Jamrock

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Jamaica is a small island that sits in between close hermanos Colombia and Cuba.
Whilst Ja's neighbours share one of the most adoring and close cultural kinships in the world, Jamaica stands tall, sternly tough... and largely alone in the Caribbean.

I spent a month here and had a great time! Learning about Jamaican culture was really interesting and the scenery; from beaches to mountains are really incredible.

If you assume Jamaica is a peace loving dreadlocked utopia, think again.
The Rastafari are in the minority and generally work in the farms and keep to themselves, though some now do work in tourism.
The dread locked guys you see hounding tourists to buy weed are not indicative of rasta culture at all.

The majority of the population are devout/strict Christian, and their values/behaviours are reflected accordingly.

Culture

Music

Modern dancehall has totally eclipsed traditional reggae, and that's all young people pretty much listen to.
Artists like Vybz Kartel and Shensea are now international stars and there are huge dancehall scenes around the world now, especially Canada, Japan, and an emerging one in Australia.

Usually, at clubs and parties, the DJ's will play old reggae and classic dancehall to warm up the crowd, and then the party will jump off with beat heavy modern dancehall.

One thing that Jamaica did take from her Caribbean neighbours... Salsa and Bachata music - especially Kingston.
Venues such as the Alibi have great Salsa and Bachata events.

Language

Though English is the national language, Patois is most widely spoken in casual terms.
People often mistake Patois as broken English. It isn't.... Patois hardly resembles standard English and is a language of it's own.
It evolved from the ancestral African languages and includes some French and English vocabulary. Some friends tried to teach me Patois phrases but... no nuh muss

Is Jamaica safe?

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As a foreigner everyone in Jamaica will tell you to be careful.
Jamaica is reportedly the murder capital of the world, with more homicides occurring per capita than any other country.
It is very common for folks to carry pistols. A friend who works for an accounting firm, carries a licenced gun at the behest of her father for self protection....

I had a couple of tricky situations.....
One, on the beach in Negril when a vendor tried overcharging me for a smoothie. His prices said $4, I verbally confirmed the price before ordering. Upon leaving he asked for $10, I told him $4. We argued for a bit until his friends came to support him (one of them had a bullet wound scar in his shoulder and meant business)..... it was clear that the customer (me) was either going to cough up, or end up in hospital, or worse.

LBGT Violence

Homophobia is part of Jamaican culture - it is violently embedded in Ja' music lyrics and the psyche of mainstream society. Going by how I heard people talk... Jamaica is not a safe place for LGBT people to visit at all...actually, that goes for any of the English speaking Islands. The Spanish and Dutch islands are much better suited for you guys and gyals.

Drugs

Two types of popular drugs are widely available, of extremely high quality and at very agreeable prices in Jamaica; the stuff Bob Marley liked, and the stuff Tony Montana liked. Be aware that both are illegal.
Though it's common to see folks smoking spliffs at the parties, on the beach or at the resort, just beware that it's not legal, nor is consumption tolerated in most places and the cops could do you in of they were so inclined..

Cops

There is a fairly strong police presence, but for me they seemed really unhelpful. I asked some cops for directions at the main bus terminal in Kingston. At first they made out like they didn't understand what I was saying, and after repeating my question... they answered in unintelligable Patois and turned away.
The military also drive the streets of Kingston in jeeps. Friends told me they have a licence to kill gangsters without question.

Nontheless, I loved Jamaica for the most part... and here's what I experienced there....

Kingston

Carnival

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A few days out from Carnival I registered with the Island Routes parade for the Kingston street party.
This was one of the best Caribbean experiences I had!

Upon arrival, we were ushered "backstage" for lunch and it was an opportunity for the participating ladies to get their costumes ready.
When it came to our turn, the masses of our group bumbled into the road with our bus, blasting bouncing Soca music... and as we slowly marched, danced and "wined" through the streets of Kingston, we were able to access the unlimited moving bar in the bus. Just pass your cup into the bus and scream your order and a very strong version of the drink is passed back.
It was utter chaos, and so much fun!!!
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Redbones

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The Redbones Café is a great outdoor music venue that also has awesome food!!
I saw a great reggae band here whist dining on the best jerk chicken feast ever!!

Usain Bolt's Records

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Sports restaurant owned by Jamaica's great sprinter is an awesome and entertaining visit. The food is awesome and there is a ton of Usain's memorabilia in house!!

Nightlife

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Kingston's nightlife is easily the best in the country. It's loud, boisterous, raucous and extremely risqué.
Though Jamaica is so staunchly Christian, strip clubs are big business and also act as great nightclubs. Both men and women across the board go to clubs and drop dollars for the super athletic six pack donning ladies.

Aside from the strip clubs, there are big dancehall/reggae parties at different venues at each night of the week.
Sunday party, Wet Sundaze, is hosted at a huge mechanics shop was an awesome time!!

One thing I loved about many clubs in Jamaica, is that they have cricket is playing on the big screens! Yeam mon!

Emancipation Park

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Hugely significant in Jamaica's history and culture. It's a gorgeous, safe and serene place to be. Many a wedding photo is taken here. I also saw a cool Brazilian capoeira group practicing here too!!

Negril

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Negril has arguably the best beach (7 miles long!!) in Jamaica and is where most of the resorts are. It's definitely the most tourist friendly spot and you are guaranteed a great time here. The super long beach is lined with resorts, restaurants and hotels. During the day you can chill, eat jerk chicken and sip Red Stripes, and at night choose from a myriad of great parties.

The highlight of my time was a catamaran trip along the region's coastline, stopping at Rick's Café by the cliffs. There is a jump platform from 40 feet to the deep sea. Of course, I did it, and the west facing sunset views from anywhere in Negril are spectacular.

Another highlight was a visit to a farm up in Moreland Hill.
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It has been owned by the same family for many generations, since almost directly after emancipation. The family have a statue gallery dedicated to the Rastafari religion.
This is a great stop to learn about Jamaican history and the Rasta man, see great views and awesome art... probably a cultural highlight of my time here.

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Montego Bay

"Mo Bay" is a nice seaside city, and the second biggest in the country. I stayed just a couple of days at one of the all inclusive resorts (Decameron) by the sea and had an absolute blast. The Decameron employs bilingual Colombians (Decameron is also all over San Andres) to look after the many Latino tourists who come here.
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'Pier 1' is huge party that shouldn't be missed, and the Hard Rock Café in town is super swish.
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The views from chain bar, Margaritaville are incredible!!
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Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios is a nice town, and is where the cruise ships stop on the island. I stayed at Reggae Hostel there and had a great time. Really nice staff and vibe. It's also right on the beach.

Mystic Mountain

Mystic Mountain is a great adventure park in the mountains next to "Ochi".
I ran a manually controlled bobsled (remember the Jamaican bobsled victory?!!) through the lush mountains. Kind of like a rollercoaster where the passenger controls the speed. It winds and loops through the jungle and you can really fly. Absolutely incredible. I also zip lined across the mountains and did their incredibly windy and fast waterslide. There are many informative displays about Jamaica's incredible sporting and cultural history here too... and the chair lift that takes you up to the park has amaaaazing views. Jamaica is one heck of a spot. Especially for adventure and culture. yeah mon!!
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Dunn's River Falls

Dunns River Falls is a huge cascading waterfall that flows through a mountain in Ocho Rios, with many amazing pools along the way. The activity starts at the base of the falls on the beach. The group held hands in single file and we collectively walked UP the waterfall together, helping each other in a synergetic climb. The journey is touch in parts, but the group effort makes sure everyone makes it.
It was totally AWESOME!!

Grippy water shoes are a must for this... I picked up a pair at the market for 5 bucks!

Bob Marley's House

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The place where he was born and now rests. . This is certainly a special place for Jamaicans and fans of reggae music. I joined a wonderful tour to 8 Mile, the town of Bob's family home where he was conceived and now rests alongside other members of the family who have passed.
We learned so much about Bob's upbringing, family and life here.
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Luminous Swimming

Just outside of Ochi there is lagoon where the phosphorus glows at night when activated. Sadly I don't have photos, but it was truly amazing to swim there under the stars and have the water radiating with movements.

Port Antonio

This was favourite part of Jamaica. The jungle/mountain scenery here is nothing short of spectacular. There are no resorts here and just a few hotels scattered around the tranquil lush region.

Blue Lagoon

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I went to the banks of the lagoon and found a boatman who takes tourist on raft tours. He was a top bloke and had plenty of stories to tell, as we cruised the gorgeous area.

On the banks, are some impressive houses - one of which was owned by Princess Diana, and others had been rented by Tom Cruise, Beyonce and JayZ, etc.
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We stopped on Monkey Island and the surrounding falls. I really can't explain how amazing it is!!

Somerset Falls

A friend showed me around to Somerset Falls. Just amazing. We took a boat along the flowing around the back of the waterfall, and through the sheet of fast flowing water to some rocks. We jumped on to the rocks, and then dove through the waterfall back into the river... it was quite an experience!!!
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Frenchman's Cove

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This is a private beach ($10 entry) and as amazing as any tropical romance film will show you. It's a small beach and impeccably kept. No vendors or hassles, and when I visited, only a few other people scattered around the place.

St Anne's

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St Anne's Parish is a small, lush and very tranquil area of the country. I joined a friend's work trip to visit some of the key places.
We visited a gorgeous preserved pak on the beach that had a great museum. Therein were artefacts from the indigenous groups, Tainos dating back many thousands of years. The guides gave us some very detailed desciptions of Taino culture and the many tools and artefacts that they had before the Spanish arrived.

We also visited some of the magnificent waterfalls in the area for a swim.
I jumped from some of the cliffs into the deep pools there - totally awesome.

We stopped for delicious jerk chicken on the way home... though bittersweet as it was my last day in Jamrock.

Finally

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Jamaica is a beautiful country, rich in culture and has the best food in the world!!
I had an incredible time and really, really, glad I went!!
Yeah man!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 12:46 Archived in Jamaica Tagged mountains beaches jamaica negril weed ocho_rios reggae lgbt bob_marley jamrock dunns_river Comments (0)

Dominican Republic: Part 1 (North Coast)

This article summarises the first of three awesome months spent in the Dominican Republic. Beaches, bachata, dancing, nighlife and trekking...plus warm boisterous culture and more.

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Welcome to the DR....

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Here's my favourite Dominican salsero and his classic from last year; as heard blasting in every bar, colmado, store, loungeroom and car in the DR.

Stay tuned for more articles about the Caribbean and music; because really no region on Earth has produced such a wide variety of strong musical influence across the world- from Salsa, Bachata and Merengue to Calypso and Reggae - it all came from the Caribbean islands via ancestral African influence.

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Knowing little about the DR I had originally planned to just pass through for two weeks, but before I knew it three months had passed, (and I wasn't ready to leave then).

The DR is the oldest country in the new world.
Columbus plotted world conquest from here, and the first batch of slaves were dragged to Puerto Plata.

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Santo Domingo is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has an underground metro (the only one in the Caribbean islands), awesome malls, great nightlife, incredible restaurants.... and for long termers - apartment blocks that rival even my home town in Melbourne.

Dominicans are friendly, welcoming, stylish, jovial, outgoing, cheeky and incredibly smooth, suave cats.
Santo Domingo marks what Havana could have become. The US colonised for a while and the SD is still the city of choice for US companies to set up shop in the Caribbean.

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I'll write a separate article on Santo Domingo (where I spent most of my time) later also.
Anyway here are some notes specofocally on the north where I spent the first 6 weeks.

Santiago

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Santiago is the second largest city in the country, but noticeably smaller, quieter and more manageable than Santo Domingo.
There are great parks and a few small malls to keep shoppers busy, and incredible nightlife.
Dominicans know how to party and have fun. There are a myriad of clubs and outdoor bars here.
People get around in collectivo taxis which are safe and fine to use.
Uber also operates here, which is highly recommended.
Uber drivers here are very serious about their work and keep their cars in top nic. Maintaining solid reviews is important to them.
Santiago is great for a few days.

Sosua

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It's notable here that during World War 2 the DR government granted asylum and safe passage to all Jews facing persecution. Most of those Jews came to Sosua. There is an interesting Jewish museum here outlining this interesting piece of history and with information about the DR's Jewish community.

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Sosua was once also known as the Pattaya of Latin America/Caribbean. A wild west of naughty clubs where big white wales would fly down from the US and Canada for "golfing holidays" and spend time with holiday girlfriends.
The DR government has since cleaned the place up in view of making the areas more family friendly.

Otherwise it's a great little town with a fantastic beach (note enormous waves), and an interesting walking street along the coast with restaurants, cafes and bars.

The town is interesting because it caters to both families and (still to) North American single men. Hotels have all of the sports/movie channels and you can choose from finer dining, American style burgers n fries, and traditional Dominican food.

Cabarete

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Literally 20 minutes down the road is the kitesurfing capital of the world, Cabarete. It is very, very different to Sosua.
Rather than the lads on tour, Cabarete has the young sports nut adventure seekers.
The beach is lined with kitesurfing/surfing/sailing schools, and there are a few "Sports Resorts" that offer yoga, cross-fit, acrobatics, skateboarding and much more.
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At night, many of the restaurants on the beach become clubs, and i have to say it's fantastic.
Get your merengue and bachata moves on with tourists and locals alike.
Dominicans are very proud of their music and will gladly help you dance to it.

The accommodation in Cabarete is incredible and affordable. I rented a beachside apartment within a five star condo/complex with pools/restaurant, etc. for US$50
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As it's more of a town for sporty folks, the cuisine offerings are decidedly healthy with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.
I had a great week here, and left feeling lighter, stronger, healthier with better dance moves in toe.

Las Terrenas

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This is a gorgeous little town with an extremely large European expat population. Many sea-changers came here and did the area a favour by opening quality bakeries and restaurants.

I did a great mountain bike excursion with the German fellow who owned a bike shop and his Spanish mate. Both guys in their 50's and fitter than me. We traversed the huge mountains in the area and across the amazing beaches. They also schooled me about Dominican girls. Invaluable info.

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Las Haitises National Park is close by and a tour is absolutely recommended. We took a boat out across the gorgeous Samana bay and hiked through some of the incredible caves and alongside the mangroves.
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Las Terrenas is THE place to learn any kind of Spanish Caribbean dancing. There are large number of schools teaching LA and Cuban style Salsa and of course Bachata and Merengue. I noticed a large number of European ladies living here long term for the dancing.

There are great hotels and guest houses here.

I stayed at a nice beachside resort for a while, but really enjoyed my time at an Airbnb apartment owned by a local family who really took the time to show me Dominican culture.

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The nightlife here is very much geared towards dancing. All of the schools have instructors in the clubs as a bit of promotion and to help tourists and locals alike improve their moves.

Playa Bonita, close to town is absolutely incredible!
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I did some surf lessons with the local school, which I highly recommend.
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Las Galeras

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Located the the remove east end of the coast, Las Galeras is very laid back, with stunning beachside hotels.
My pals and I took a boat from the pier outside of our hotel to the gorgeous Playa Rincon

Whales congregate in the area during mating season.
We joined a boat trip, and saw a LOT of whale activity... whales were breaching and rolling around.
It was fantastic.
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Wrap Up

The north side of the DR is very laid back, tourist friendly with great surf, incredible terrain and pretty decent nightlife.
When (not if) I go back to the DR, I'll definitely stay in Santiago for a long while.

The sputh of the country is just as awesome, but so very different, so stay tuned!!

I'll leave you with the other Dominican salsa hit of last year... highlighting the jovial and cheeky side of Dominican culture.. again blasting everywhere.

Until next time....

Posted by SkinnyFists 17:18 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged beaches dominican_republic republica_dominicana whale_watching bachata las_terrenas las_galeras santaigo Comments (0)

Colombia: Parque Tayrona

Trekking through one of Colombia's most beautiful national parks set upon astounding coastlines; where many a music video was filmed.

sunny

Parque Tayrona

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....is a stunning, well preserved national park with awesome terrain; stunning beaches, and a chance to camp under the stars amongst other intrepid travellers and local families alike.

Ask any Colombian for advice on where to visit, and they will undoubtedly mention Parque Tayrona amongst their very long list of places to go.
The gorgeous landscape and coastline features in many, many Colombian music and tourism videos:

Including this:

...and this amazing video from my favourite new band, Bomba Estéreo from Bogotá!!

Entry

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Before you can enter the park, visitors have to have to attend a briefing on rules, the tracks, accommodation, safe places to swim, etc.
There is a nice video (in Spanish) that goes with this.

You can book a tent / hammock at the entry point, though if you want alternatives (and there are a few), you can probably wing it (with one exception... mentioned later)

Security

Police take everyone's details upon entering the site and inspect ID's / passports.
They also thoroughly inspect all bags.
Drugs and alcohol are very sternly prohibited.
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My friend with a few tattoos was given very special attention by the police; though we both agreed it was more out of genuine intrigue.
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Trekking

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The walks are stunning in Tayrona, but be warned it is extremely hot and can be a bit of a challenge, so drink water!
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The hills aren't too steep though...
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You can also get around by horse!
Thankfully there are many breathtaking beaches to cool off in....
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Sleeping

You basically have three choices... hammocks or tents... or outrageously expensive cabins.
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Cabo San Juan is the most popular site camp site because it is set at the one of the best beach coves I've ever had the pleasure of chilling at.
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Tents and hammocks go very fast here, and most trekkers end up missing out.
The office starts registration at 1:30 or 2pm - you'll probably need to arrive an hour ahead to secure a spot.

If you have a silk sleeping bag liner and wondered when you're ever going to use it... this one of those rare occasions.
It was pretty apparent that the linen in the tents were not changed each day; and if you opt for a hammock, it'll fend off mosquitoes.

New Friends

Tayrona is really socially conducive without being too busy.
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We spoke with an Argentinian couple; the lady is a nuclear physicist who designs the complex systems that operate nuclear power plants.
She helped build a prototype for a proposed station in Australia, and was training Australians how to operate it (hope I haven't blown her cover)... interesting!_trek.jpg

Food and Supplies

The first night we stayed at the main camp site, where there are posh bungalows, etc - which is really nicely laid out and has a very nice restaurant.
I had this little beauty for lunch (fish and veggies cooked in banana leaf with salad thrown in)... seriously good!
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There is an awesome bakery on the beach about half way to Cabo.
They make their goodies in a wood fired oven, and have fresh orange juice and Colombian coffee on offer.
Their arequipe infused buns are muy rico!!

I'll be back

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With 19000 hectares, Tayrona is immense.
I hardly skimmed the surface, and will be going back to explore the more remote areas by boat next time...

The great state of Satander next...

Posted by SkinnyFists 09:13 Archived in Colombia Tagged beaches trekking parque_tayrona colombia_caribe colombia_beaches Comments (0)

Cuba (part 2): Viñales, Varadero.... and understanding Che

Out to the valleys, through the mega resorts, then stopping in Santa Clara to understand Che's journey.

sunny 35 °C

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Viñales

I jumped on a tour through the Viñales; a gorgeous, lush, hilly region of Cuba with many tobacco farms and rum mills.
We first stopped at a local tobacco farm where they also make cigars on site.

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The proprietor took us through the journey… from tobacco leaf to cigar... and rolled some right in front of the group to sample.
As with all production businesses in Cuba….90% of his output goes to the government.
The rest he keeps for himself for consumption or to sell on for extra money.
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Same deal for the rum factory where we stopped.
It was deliciously sweet stuff!

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Our next stop for lunch was in the lovely countryside at the foot of The Mural de la Prehistoria, where the cliffs had been painted in a huge art project in ancient times.
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Finally we stopped at the famous cave systems with rivers running through it; for a superb journey by foot and boat through the amazing stalagtites
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This day trip was arranged by a government owned agency (one of only two in the country).
Quality is pretty much assured here because of rigorous standards....
Further, in Cuba, every guide has to pass rigorous English, German and/or Russian exams...I'll babble/gush about Cuban education later ;-)

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Varadero

Varadero sits upon a truly magnificent coastline, with enormous mega all-inclusive hotels.

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I booked two nights at an all inclusive for a bit of chilled beach time, and also out of curiosity.
Upon arrival I was issued a wristband, which gave me licence to eat/drink wherever/whenever across the four restaurants, and several bars in the megaplex.

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They even had barbecues scattered around the beach making burgers to order.

I met mostly Canadian and Russian visitors….
It's worth highlighting Cuba and Russia's very close, long standing relationship.
Whilst there are huge personality and cultural differences, their greater good ideologies are largely aligned, and for this observer, there is an evident kinship.
Russian's have been visiting Cuba for a very, very long time, and also aid their comrades in many ways.

Back to the resort.... everyone was drinking and eating to the max, seemingly for the entirety of their (for many) two week stay.
I joined the hotel pool games, politely declined the drinking games, but had a great time in very luxurious surrounds.
Nothing was too much trouble!
My laundry was crisply ironed, and steaks, pasta and mocktails made precisely to order.

No internet of course, but I called home with the dedicated aid of the hotel's very courteous operator.
Yes, Don Draper would have loved this place.

At the enormous pool, there were games which I, and most of the other guests participated.
It was a nice platform to socialise.

The service and facilities across the board at this place was absolutely incredible.... for the equivalent of AUD$80 per night.
At home something like this would be ludicrously expensive.

The hotel sat upon the west facing beach.. and was absolutely incredible.
Perfect warm blue water, and flawless sand....

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One evening, I went to see a band billed as the Buena Vista Social Club.... which was a bit of a con, as only 3 of the members were actually affiliated with the group.... beware if you're considering this.

Nonetheless this band were absolutely incredible, with ace dancing too!

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After 30 minutes the 400 strong crowd were also up dancing for the remainder of the show!

Sanda Clara & Ernesto "Che" Guevara Mausoleum

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I boarded and very early morning bus bound for Santa Clara.

During the 3 hour bus ride the guide explained the Ché and Fidel's revolution in amazing detail, from inception, planning, rationale, key battles, and Cuba's transition and evolution.... after the revolution.
She also talked in great detail about Che Guevara - as we approached the mausoleum, including:

  • Growing up in Argentina
  • Education in medicine
  • Journey from Argentina to Mexico,
  • Joining Fidel in planning and executing in the war
  • Life thereafter as head of Cuban Bank
  • Involvement in the Congo ...and ultimate capture and murder in Bolivia by the CIA.

Ché's mausoleum has a very detailed museum with comprehensive documentation, photos and artefacts,and also acknowledges the fallen guerrillas who were captured and killed along with him.
It is a fine tribute to the Argentinian, who became saviour and hero to Cuba and international inspiration.

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Bound for Trinidad

I farewelled the tour group from that point and changed transports, bound for Trinidad, along with two Danish couples in their late 50’s.
They had travelled most of Latin America and gave me all of their contacts in Colombia…

Stay tuned for Trinidad!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 19:46 Archived in Cuba Tagged beaches caves vinales trinidad salsa varadero che_guevara mausaleum Comments (1)

Mexico: Yucatán

Mayan Riviera and Mérida; immaculate beaches, amazing ruins, wonderful towns, diving beneath the jungle and phenomenal oceanic sites.

sunny 42 °C

Ace Mexico

I had an amazing, adventurous and sun drenched two weeks in Mexico..... super accommodation, amazing beaches, awesome diving , interesting Mayan culture and amazing ruins, a bustling town in Merida, friendly people, etc… and an all round ace time.

Transport

I flew from Madrid on new budget airline, Evelop, opting for their premium economy package at roughly 300 euros.
This got me seat #A1 with silver service, extra snacks plus more soft drink and coffee than I should have had!
I arrived at Cancun Airport feeling very refreshed after the 10 hour flight .... and jumped on a bus bound for Playa del Carmen.

Note: I was initially refused check-in at Madrid for not having a return/onward journey ticket....
Sky scanner saved the day, and I quickly found a flight to Cuba via Interjet... all sorted in 3 minutes.
I had to show the email receipt to the check in clerk and her manager before proceeding.... you've been warned.

Playa del Carmen

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PdC is a lovely, easy going, friendly, safe and well layed out town, centred on the main Avenue #5, just off the beach.

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You can get almost anything in the pharmacies here; diet pills, romance assistance, hormone injections, etc, etc...
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Lodgings

I stayed at Playa Karma Hotel, and really enjoyed it there.
It’s very well priced, well appointed and very quiet considering the 2 minute walk over to the clubs/beach.
It's a family run place and they gave me a lot of advice and assistance for my onward travel.

Diving

There is a huge diving community here and it is very cost effective.
I did 3 full days of diving with Scuba Playa, at sites around Playa DC, Cozumel and the Cenotes for USD280 including gear hire and lunches each day!
They were recommended to me and I absolutely recommend them to you.
Their service, staff, culture, knowledge, general organisation and offerings are first class.
It was also phenomenal value.

Day 1: Wrecks and Mayan Waterways
We dived around one of the wrecks sitting just off the coast of Playa. It had sunk in 1996 and was immersed in a lot of coral and wildlife.
Between dives the boat took us to shore at the mouth of an ancient Mayan water system!
We walked along the canals and our dive master explained the history!

Day 2: Cozumel
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Cozumel is a small island facing Playa del Carmen and takes roughly 30 mins by ferry to get there.
I joined my diving compadres from Japan, Germany and China on or ready-to-go dive boat And set out for our sites.

The water was crystal clear with amazing visibility, which was great because there was plenty to see. We saw at least three massive turtles, many, many kinds of fish and coral.
Cozumel island itself looks pretty ritzy with many high end resorts, and caters to the serious diver.

Day 3: Cenotes
The Cenotes are underground caves located in the jungles, and now full of freshwater, with enormous stalactites formed over (possibly?) millions of years.

Diving these sites is not for the timid, and requires an advanced open water cert. at minimum to join a trip.
We followed our dive master single file through many caves and tunnels, creeping past stalactites and interesting formations.
The passages are dark and narrow, but very, very rewarding!!

We passed through many tunnels and very low depths (approx. 45 metres).
I had to conjure a bit of calm and courage at points, but it was all worth it.

Enormous stalactites enhanced by the glitter and reflection of the water, it really felt and looked otherworldly!!
Absolutely up there with the best diving experiences of my life!

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Nightlife

All of the big nightclubs are on one street (Calle 12), making them easy to either avoid altogether, or stumble between them.
I had a great time dancing Salsa and Bachata with locals and tourists at Salsanera, and also experienced the truly memorable Coco Bongo....

Coco Bongo

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Visitors to Playa del Carmen will inevitably become aware of Coco Bongo.
I was sceptical about it, but gave it a go..... and so glad I did.
For me, it was a unique entertainment immersion experience with great acrobatics, choreography and music.
The show starts at roughly 11pm and finishes roughly four hours later!
There are many sets with many themes and featured artists /films including Guns n Roses, Madonna, MJ, Tron, etc.

The Michael Jackson section was thriller and bad.... chaaamone...
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When the show ended, the fun continued into the night, as the DJ span Reggaeton to the max and everyone boogied till dawn.
Ushers even encouraged people to dance on the bar(!) and let loose.
I had a great time!

Chichen Itza

This is an ancient Mayan site, of what once was a metropolis designed and built from pure genius.
The detail would be poorly explained here, suffice to say it was a marvellous experience and a highlight for everyone visiting this region.
I recommend watching the film, Apocalypto before visiting!!

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After some hunting around I went with Cancun Bay tours.
The tour took in one of the more scenic Cenotes first with an opportunity to swim and then lunch.

At Chichen Itza we were divided in to English and Spanish language groups.
The guides were very informed having extensive qualifications in Mayan archeology, history and anthropology.
Their insights really added to the experience, and I left feeling somewhat informed and mesmerised at the end.

We were on the bus for a total of 5 hours, and in Mexican style the beer, tequila (mixed with lemon) flowed all the way home courtesy of the tour company!
The mood was jovial, the conversation flowed and everyone agreed it was a really amazing and experience!!

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Tulum

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After a really nice time in Playa, I moved south to Tulum in search of more Mayan ruins and a bit of PnQ.
Tulum is a tiny, friendly town with strong Mayan roots and the most amazing Mayan site I saw in Mexico.

My hotel, Teetotum was amazingly lovely, unique, and charming...
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Tulum Ruins

The ruins are worth the journey. Incredible! Set on the coast to add a bit of drama.
You can get close and in some cases climb the stairs of some ruins.
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The surrounding restaurants are a bit of a tourist trap and charge exorbitant prices.
I'd recommend going to Subway instead.

Tulum beach is lovely, sleepily super chilled, with no shortage of great places to stay, eat and drink.

Mérida

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The Capital of Yucatán is a beautiful city with warm, friendly people and a thriving arts culture.
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It would be a great place to live, and many Americans do immigrate here.
I saw really interesting art, co-ops, studios, galleries, resto-galleries everywhere... complemented by the music you can hear throughout the city!
Salsa, Reggaeton, Reggae.
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As the world celebrated Octoberfest, Merida was no exception.
An entire street was closed to traffic in favour of Bavarian style open air beer halls, bratwurst BBQs and German music.
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I stayed at the amazingly serene Lux en Yucatán, for seven nights and definitely recommend it.
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Mérida is an amazing town, and really shouldn't be missed if you visit this part of the world!

Muchas Gracias Mexico. Adios

Yucatán is an amazing part of the world, particularly for diving, incredible beaches and Mayan ruins.
It's very safe an easy to get around, and I had an awesome time.

Over to Cuba....

Posted by SkinnyFists 18:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches diving ruins maya cenotes chicen_itza play_del_carmen Comments (0)

Malaysia: Perhentian Islands

Super chilled, like Gilligan's Island with cabins on the beach, great food, wonderful warm personalities. Beach party at night.


View liftyrskinnyfists on SkinnyFists's travel map.

Perhentians

I flew from KL to Kota Bharu (near Thai border), and then took the very eventful (see: rainy, bumpy, getting soaked) trip across to Pulau Kecil - a gorgeous, stunning oasis.

Long Beach, Perhentians
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Lodgings

Checked in to Mohsin, on the coast which had a gorgeous view of the sea from it's elevated point.
Food there was terrific, but it's right next to the beach party (goes until 5am), and being an elder gent, I decided to check out in the morning and move to Coral Bay around the corner.
CB is worlds apart, so quiet and not many people around. I checked into Maya and got my own cabin with bathroom and fan for about $10 a night. So nice!

Diving

Did two dives on the Perhentians. The first was D'Lagoon, where we saw a lot of turtles, and other interesting fish. It was a nice easy dive.
The second was Sugar Wreck - a sunken ship way off the coast. Conditions were POOR! Super strong current and almost no visibility. We went down anyway, but a few minutes in we lost one of the group!
Protocol says to ascend after 1 minute to find them, our dive master indicated for us to stay put whilst he looked around.
Upon returning without our friend, he indicated to then just continue the dive(!!).
I freaked out, but did what the diver master asked. Eventually we found our lost friend, but the dive was a bit of a waste

Snorkelling

I decided to join the Maya snorkelling trip the next day.
Totally awesome!!!
The group was about 30 people on two boats and we went to 6 sites around the island. The water was crystal clear, and there were black tip sharks, turtles, barracuda, and bump heads everywhere!
Was a great trip and good group.
I met a couple from Germany who gave me a lot of insights into traveling India and South America, and a couple on their way to Sydney to work. Everyone on the trip (internationals) said they would like Melbourne better, I think the poor souls were disappointed.

Me with a new friend
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Long Beach is the place to party at night. There are two beach bars set up, and the nights I was there, a fire twirling (for want of a better word) group were performing. It was absolutely amazing. Put the Confest hippies to shame. Really spectacular.

The Perhentians are really nice, and worth the trip!

Sunset at the Perhentians:
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Posted by SkinnyFists 05:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged beaches snorkelling diving malaysia coral_bay perhentian_islands Comments (0)

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