Thursday, April 9, 2015

Next Stop: Guatemala

My exploration into the layers of Latin America's rich culture continues as I dive into Guatemala and its Mayan traditions. I'm honored to be hosted by the Guatemala Tourism Board and I'll be visiting the historic towns of Antigua, Lake Atitla'n and Chichicastenango.  I'll delve into the women's textile community of San Juan La Lagua, participate in Mayan rituals in Iximche  and explore cultural monuments, including Cerra de La Cruz, Plaza Central and Iglesia and Museo de San Francisco. I'm especially excited about scaling my third volcano, Volcano Pacaya, pictured above. So please look out for my Guatemala posts and photos in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding Paradise With MLK and Adam Clayton Powell

There's something about Bahamian out islands. I don't know if it's the isolation that allows for a more peaceful vibe or the honor for tradition and culture that permeates most of these tiny slips of paradise.  All I know is that it feels different whenever I land on an out island and Bimini is no exception. Serenity seems to fill the air. Clearly, I'm not the only one to feel this way since two historic African American activists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr, both found inspiration on Bimini.

New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. paved the way for equality and justice in the U.S. Flashy and bold, his favorite phrase was "keep the faith baby." And he demonstrated plenty of faith, first as the pastor of the country's leading  African American church, Abyssinian Baptist Church and then as the first African American to represent New York in the House of Representatives. He battled and pushed against segregation at every chance he could, demanding desegregation of the White House press gallery, eating in the whites only House restaurant and introducing so much anti-discrimination legislation that the rider that prohibits federal funding to any organization that practices discrimination is called the Powell Amendment. It was added to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and he became known as "Mr. Civil Rights."  But non-stop battles take a toll and Powell found refuge in the beauty of Bimini. During his last, controversial term in congress in the late '60s, he spent more time on Bimini than he did in DC. His house still stands, like a nonchalant beacon among the palm trees The house is pictured below, it's a rental cottage, the plaque that recognized its important history has vanished. Adam Clayton Powell spent his last years in Bimini. He died in 1972 and his ashes are scattered over the water that touches the island which supplied him with so much peace.

It was Adam Clayton Powell who invited Dr. Martin Luther King down to enjoy the serenity of Bimini. I think that Adam probably recognized the spiritual benefits of being surrounded by natural beauty, especially as you are waging a spiritual war against the country that refuses to recognize your humanity.  Dr. King was escorted on fishing trips by local fisherman, Captain Ansil Saunders. They sailed along the mangrove-lined Bonefish Creek and Dr. King was reportedly so soothed by the beauty that he declared that the island was as close to heaven as he could imagine on Earth. Dr. King wrote his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Bimini and four years later, he returned to write his very last speech for striking sanitation workers in Memphis. That final speech of "seeing the promised land," was written while Dr. King was floating in the creek and communing with the natural landscape of Bimini. He was assassinated the day after he delivered that speech. Two memorials honor Dr. King's presence in Bimini, one sculpture is erected in the middle of the mangroves that he loved and the other sits in the middle of Bimini's capital of Alice Town, shown below.

There are plenty of islands that offer relaxation so what makes Bimini so special? I believe that it's about much more than just finding solitude. Two ministers and civil rights activists connected to Bimini at pivotal times in their lives. I think that the warm simplicity of the people combined with the allure of the pristine landscape captured them. Bimini does not provide a lot of hotels, shopping or attractions, then or now. It's a small island that forces you to appreciate the joys of people and nature because that's all there is. And sometimes, that's enough.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Parading Police in Bimini

Observing the interactions and perceptions of the local police around the world is always interesting to me. I watched this parade for the Annual Police Church Service in Bimini. Citizens started lining up early and waved and smiled as the officers marched by in their crisp white uniforms.

The band played reverently and the pageantry and excitement that surrounded the whole event was fascinating. I learned that a church service is held annually at a different church each year, to pray for the officers safety.  It was sobering witnessing this proud spectacle and comparing it to the volatile police situation in the U.S. My country carries a complex and violent police history that is being challenged to change and I hope that one day that it can grow where respect is given on both sides, like I  saw in Bimini.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Searching For The Fountain of Youth

The legend of the Fountain of Youth and Ponce De Leon's search for it covers many lands and eras. It was actually the Arawak Indians who first described a mythical land with curative waters, enticing Ponce De Leon, who was the ousted governor of Puerto Rico, to search for it in 1513. Spain's King Ferdinand actually offered the verdant land of "Beniny" to Ponce, sending him off on an expedition to find it.  But like the European explorers before him, Ponce got it wrong. He landed in St. Augustine, Florida and never made it to Bimini, as we now call it.

Although Florida boasts a Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where visitors can actually buy bottles from the supposed Fountain of Youth, Florida was simply where the conquistador landed. There was no mention of him locating the fountain. But deep in the forest of South Bimini, the fountain that the Arawaks were referencing still supplies healing water.

Actually, it's a well and the water is buried way, way, down in it. I peeked in and saw a glimpse of the water but the bucket couldn't reach it. I was surprised to see the well or even an association to the Fountain of Youth because I always considered it a myth.

Still, the legend lives on and locals insist that the water from the well is healing and rejuvenating. I can't attest to that but I did attempt to dip into the pool, just to try it. If this water was sending people all over the world to find it, there must be something to it...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bahamas Blue

I've visited the Bahamas many, many, times but I don't recall being so struck by the startling blue water and sky. Every where I stepped on the small island of Bimini, I felt enveloped by the dreamy blue landscape. I was so taken that I coined the phrase Bimini blue whenever I became awestruck by the island's beauty, which was every time I strolled along the shore. When I arrived on the larger island of Nassau and realized that the scenery was still the same serene blue, I decided to change it to Bahamas blue. There are 700 Bahamanian islands so I don't know if all of them share the same beauty but there was enough on these two to soothe any winter-worn soul.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Next Stop: Bimini

I'm extremely excited to visit the Bahamian out island of Bimini this week. Located 50 miles off the coast of Florida, this little island is the closest Bahamian island to the U.S. but its old school culture and history is a world away. I'll be tracing the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote part of his Nobel Peace Prize speech while relaxing and sailing in Bimini and Adam Clayton Powell, the first African American  to represent New York in the House of Representatives and also an activist and minister who introduced MLK to his island retreat. Bimini is also noted as the place Ernest Hemingway loved to game fish and where the Lost City of Atlantis possibly originated.  So I'll have lots to post about! Look out for pix and updates from this fascinating trip soon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sampling Semla in Stockholm

The quickest way to understand a place is to dive into the culture. In Stockholm, I was extremely lucky to be invited to experience the Swedish ritual of fika. An important part of Swedish life that involves enjoying coffee and pastries with friends, family or co-workers, fika reveals the Swedish love of home life and sweets. Strolling the narrow streets of Stockholm, I noticed that every cafe was crammed with people lingering over coffee and big, puffy, rolls. Turns out those rolls, called Semla, are a hugely popular part of the Lenten ritual of fattening up before the fast. Only people seem to gobble more Semlor (plural) than they practice Lenten fasting these days.

I was fortunate to arrive in February, just when the Semla craze stirs up and even more fortunate to have two Stockholm based friends, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom and Germaine Thomas to invite me to fika and guide me through the tradition.  Fika (pronounced fee-cah) is like a coffee break except it's not tied to work or any pre-determined structure, you can have fika several times a day at any time you like. The semla is made from wheat flour, sprinkled with cardamon and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. It sounds rich and impossibly decadent because it is. I have to admit, I was intimidated by the size and heft of the Semla. How do you eat them without making a mess? As we settled into a bustling cafe in the Central station of Stockholm's metro, Lola and Germaine showed me. You take the lid off the bun and you're supplied with tiny spoons the scoop out the cream. As Semla experts, they informed me that these were good Semlor, fresh and made with high quality ingredients. Apparently, all Semla is not created equal and it's possible to get stuck with bad Semlor that tastes terrible. That definitely wasn't the case here. I dug into the creamy sweetness and sipped chai tea, savoring the sweetness. My favorite part was the almond paste but I especially loved trying fika with my Swedish friends.