The Pointe-Á-Pitre is to Guade”loupe” You In

The Pointe-Á-Pitre is to Guade”loupe” You In


If I’m in the photo or the photo is really really professional, then the photography credit goes to Paul Woo.


After 7 days on the water, we settled back in readjusting our sea legs onto our first bed on land. After checking out and saying our goodbyes to our skipper-chef husband and wife team Brian and Marta, we drove an hour back to Fort-de-France.



Fun fact: our taxi driver Cedric was the exact same one who had rescued Koichi a week ago after a severely delayed flight that left Koichi with no means to call a taxi at midnight until a sympathetic local couple on the same flight assisted in finding and calling up Cedric.

Then the serendipities kept coming: just as Kimmy remembered she had left her North Face jacket back at Simon hotel where we stayed at a week prior, Paul also recalled he had accidentally left his cell phone in the taxi that Cedric’s mother was driving and thus compelling her to come back to the airport anyway. Then taking advantage of the drop-off for Paul’s phone, Kimmy and I also made a roundtrip retrieval mission for her jacket, which still somehow left us plenty of time for our afternoon 45 minute Air France flight to Guadeloupe.



Also known as “Butterfly Island” due to its geographic shape, Guadeloupe made for a quick entry with a cursory glance at our vaccine cards when we landed at 3:30pm at Pointe-à-Pitre. We then hailed a 30 euro taxi ride into the city and settled in at our charming Airbnb Appart Coeur de Rhum before exploring the town at sunset.



The town center begins at Place de la Victoire:



Mémorial ACTe, the largest memorial to enslaved people in the world is here, is located about a 10 minute walk south from the town center:



We then walked around town, the most other central spot being St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral:



Nearby enjoy the brutalist distinct architecture of Hotel De Ville:



Across the street is a fascinating art complex Awtis An Resistans.




We then tried to find whatever street looked interesting.



…before finally finishing our tour by the Spice Market.



It was here where I had a hunch to finish our week with a Lebanese dinner at Damas Gate, taking it all in and resting up after a long week on water. We even invited The Yacht Week resident DJ Alex EBS to join us for drinks, who had noticed I was wearing TYW attire at FDF airport before we flew back together to PTP. He also happens to be on our same flight out tomorrow morning to Miami!



We all just tested negative on BinaxNOW + Telehealth again so we’re heading home now. Another week of successful in the books during these crazy times.



- At time of posting in Guadeloupe, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 80% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny


Santa Ana Over To Tazumal

Santa Ana Over To Tazumal


After an early breakfast at 8am and disappointigly finding out that Joya de Ceren — the Pompeii of El Salvador — was temporarily closed for renovations, we instead set off for San Andres: a pre-Columbian site in El Salvador beginning in 900 BC and abandoned by 250 AD after the volcanic eruption of Lago Ilopango.



This site was occupied again in the 5th Century, along with many others in the valley of Zapotitán. Then between 600 and 900 AD, San Andrés became the capital of a Mayan district with control over the other regions of Valle de Zapotitán.

After paying the $5 USD admission fee and washing our hands with a quick vaccine card and temperature check, we were treated to a 45 minute guided tour of the site (Spanish speaking only).



From San Andres we then drove onto Lake Coatepeque for lunch. Created from a volcano, the lake is located 20 minutes south of the city of Santa Ana with an altitude of 745 meters above sea level and a depth of 115 meters. 20,000 people live around the lake.



A splendid scenery for an alfresco lunch by the water.



The lunch was so filling that everyone fell asleep. On my birthday of all days. Hmph!



Driving on for another 30 minutes we managed to reach Tazumal an hour before closing at 4pm. Like San Andres, Tazumal is a pre-Columbian Maya archeological site excavated in the 1940s. 



But unlike San Andres, there is no guided tour; once you pay the $5 admission fee, wander and climb up to your heart’s content here.



The best part was when we sat on the grass and watched the world go by.



Leaving at 4pm right at closing, we drove back east 20 minutes to Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador.

Everyone comes to Santa Ana not only for a more authentic Salvadorian experience, but also for the Cathedral. Are we in Milan?



Right by the cathedral in the public square is the gloriously built Santa Ana Theater:



Don’t miss the other architecture in this area unique to Santa Ana; you can’t find this in San Salvador as readily.



Golden hour is the best hour:



After a light dinner and drinks at Simmer Down we then headed back to San Salvador while making a pit stop grabbing wine, beer, spirits, and snacks at a local gas station.

Returning to our hotel hour later at 7:30pm, we kicked it on our balcony rooftop back and went in deep the usual monsoon way when we’re in good company.

Happy birthday to me.


Mecca Wasn’t “Ta’if” on Us!

Mecca Wasn’t “Ta’if” on Us!


About a 2 hours’ drive north of Jeddah lies Ta’if. Located within the Mecca region and one of the oldest towns in Saudi Arabia, it has been famous for its rose production and views over Mecca itself:



Along the way we stopped to say hi to the numerous baboons that live here and amongst the mountains. The young ones, if they’re not busy fighting each other, can be a little feisty in trying to steal your stuff from the car. 

The older ones are calm as Zen:



… also enjoyed some charcoal mint tea by the side of the road:



Once in Ta’if proper, we got ourselves acclimated with a view over the Mecca region:



We then toured the Al Gadee Factory and learn how roses are distilled to produce rose water and oil:



Afterwards at the recommendation of one of our beloved monsooners from Egypt, Karthik, we boarded the cable car at the top from the Ramada Hotel (also know as the “Jeju Island” honeymooners’ spot for Saudi newlyweds):



Each way takes 18 minutes. Once you near the bottom of the cable car ride, you may notice a barely unused (at least when we saw it on a hot Tuesday afternoon in October) waterpark guarded by a very lonely and bored-looking lifeguard.



During sunset, we opted for an al fresco dinner with a view at BelleSoire:



Afterwards we strolled along one of the numerous parks in the area, filled with families:



And from there we drove onwards into the hills for our hotel.



The next morning we drove back into Ta’if’s city center, first stopping at the Al Katib and Kaaki House, which architecture combines Roman style with Islamic motifs:



We then began our morning stroll at the Bin Abbas Mosque:



Nearby is the local souq, where you can sample some of the area’s naturally harvested honey and halwa:



We then had breakfast up on a rooftop overlooking the souq before driving out into the Al Shafa mountains for another local rose farm:



After having fresh pomegranate juice there all by ourselves (I swear we are the only tourists in the entire region), we headed back into Ta’if again for lunch.

And “when in Rome,” we were suggested the camel meat; a cross between a lamb rump and pork shoulder, it was just as good as how I remembered when I last had it a decade ago in Shiraz, Iran:



And after lunch, we returned for our last night in Jeddah. . . .



This deserve a section in of itself; I have yet to go into details HOW we got back and forth between Ta’if and Jeddah.

The short story is as much as we did NOT need or want to, our local Saudi driver — a devout Muslim and local Saudi born and raised in Jeddah and hailing from a generation of Saudis also based in the Mecca and Jeddah region — insisted that we SHOULD drive through Mecca/Makkah, the holiest city in Islam.

Local Saudi from Jeddah & Mecca (and our driver): “The fastest way between Jeddah and Ta’if is through Mecca. Are you okay with that?”


Me: “Are you joking? No!”



Driver: “No I’m serious. We go through Mecca. It’s fine.”


Me: “What? But we’re not allowed…isn’t it illegal? I don’t want to get into or you into any trouble” (I pull up Wikipedia)


Driver: “I’m Saudi. I know. I’m from here. Look at second line: ‘loosely enforced.’ It’s fine now. It’s okay. You just can’t go inside to see Kabbah because you need clearances for that. Special papers because of COVID. Even I cannot see Kabbah now because I don’t have clearance papers. But rest of Mecca city okay! No traffic, much easier and faster Insha’allah!”


Me: “Haha, you’re funny. Stop joking around! I’m going to take a nap. See you in Ta’if.”

(I then fall asleep in the car as we begin our drive)

15 minutes later I wake up only to freak out at the sight of sailing through the multiple checkpoints towards Mecca without any checkpoint guard bothering to stop us (and they’re looking in every car including ours!):



Whether it was me with my mouth agape underneath my surgical mask because COVID-19, or Mihaela as an American/Serbian brunette who didn’t even think of covering her hair up with her makeshift abaya (our driver never reminded us to), every guard at every checkpoint (I counted at least 2-3 throughout our drive) indeed looked inside our car and waved us all through. I can tell our driver was totally judging our anxiety and shock.

For the record, we drove through Mecca and all of these checkpoints twice over between Ta’if and Jeddah on the roundtrip, let alone both on separate days at different times with nobody seeming to mind on either day.

Have times really changed? I’m confused. I’m speechless. I’m left dumbfounded and shooketh.



Even as we protested at least 4 times before our drive that we did not want to disrespect the rules, our driver didn’t even let us negotiate as he began to suggest that we would be disrespecting him as a local who’d know better than we would. And the last thing we wanted to be was to be one of those disrespectful entitled foreigners who’d assert that we would know more about a country than our very own hosts.

Oddly I’m therefore also grateful that he insisted so much. As if the universe, or some energy “up there” really wanted us to be here, or that they really wanted to show us things are changing. And who are we as mere mortals to really know how the universe really works anymore?

Driver: “I told you. Look, it’s ok. It’s fine now.”


Me: “…this is not so you can get a better tip right?” (half joking tone)


Driver: “No tip! Jeddah, to Mecca, to Ta’if is just better and faster drive for us all. Look, relax, Google says so.” (Indeed, it says so)

Uber — 5 star rating for all the reassurances? Our driver even told us to look at our Google Maps for any places to get coffee.

Driver: “Before we leave the city for the next stop, do you want coffee? donuts? We have 3 Starbucks by Al-Haram…but can’t stop too long; have to keep driving.”


Me: “…(what is going on)”



As we officially entered the city our driver points out the Burmese neighborhood that is home to an older, more established Burmese community of 250,000:



Although at every exit I had thought we we would take a turn to leave Mecca, our driver continued onwards into the city center. He seemed intent about getting his Starbucks fix. This was a screenshot from his phone:



Who were we to stop him?



We began to see signs for Al-Masjed Al-Haram, the location of the Kabbah and the holiest site in Islam.



Our driver kept onwards to Al-Haram:



We then crossed a long tunnel:



And then I saw it. I recognized all the buildings.



Once we reached the King Abdul Aziz Gate . . .




. . . I knew we were at the feet of the holiest site in Islam, the world’s most expensive building valued at 100 billion US dollars, and the crossroads of history during its second expansion:




And I definitely recognized the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, the world’s second most expensive building in the world valued at 15 billion dollars.

This photo is from Wikipedia:



And this photo is from me…because I just drove right underneath it:



And inside you can find pilgrims performing Umra:



I ask a friend for context as our driver stopped to get a Frappucino:



With that and a Frappuccino in our hands, we headed onwards past Al-Haram:



We even stopped to see some of the other mosques in Mecca:



…as well as an all-girls university:



We then continued onwards our respective destinations, whether it was Ta’if or Jeddah:



…and as I’m posting this where I am in my hotel, numerous Saudis have already walked by looking at my photos, and giving me a smile. They know.

And I’m still confused. And grateful. Something or someone is watching out for us. Or times really have changed.



The response so far has been 100% unanimously positive. I was so worried. Thank you to my Muslim supporters around the world:



- At time of posting in Ta'if, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 38% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


Picnic on the Edge – Jebel Fihrayn: The Edge of the World

Picnic on the Edge – Jebel Fihrayn: The Edge of the World



After our first day in Riyadh with an early 6am rise and coffee, Salwa’s partner Mohammed picked us up in his car where we began our 2.5 hour drive to the Edge of the World:



Stop by for the Saudi Arabia’s distinctive black camels before you go off-roading!



Where am I?



The Edge of the World is an unexpected and dramatic geological wonder within the rocky desert northwest of Riyadh. Considered as Saudi Arabia’s own “Grand Canyon,” it boasts its unique name because from atop the escarpment, you have an uninterrupted view of the horizon.



The view reminded me of the Yangykala Valley in Turkmenistan.



We then spent an hour here underneath Mohammed’s shade enjoying alcohol-free beer, coffee and tea.



Afterwards by 11am we headed back into Riyadh where we caught the 3pm domestic onward Saudia flight to Jeddah.



We landed at 4:30pm in Jeddah where it wasn’t taxi drivers or family members that greeted us, but a freaking aquarium:



Another one of Salwa’s travel partners, Abdulazis, picked us up here where we drove into Jeddah for sunset.



We parked up at Joujou for dinner where sights that couldn’t have been imagined years ago were occurring naturally here. Let alone being informed by literally everyone we were one of the first foreign tourists to visit the “new Saudi Arabia.”



I took full advantage of it:



- At time of posting in Jebel Fihrayn, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 19% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


A My-“Riyadh” of Potential

A My-“Riyadh” of Potential


Got my third booster for COVID-19 yesterday! And what better way to revel in my potential side effects of the booster than a 12 hour red-eye flight from NYC to Abu Dhabi to Riyadh?



The days of loopholes and hurdles to obtain a business or transit visa for Saudi Arabia (or trying to get invited to a wedding… or even an “archaeological dig”) have long been over: Since September 27, 2019 it has been possible for citizens of Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, China and the whole of the Schengen Zone to get a tourist visa, let alone an e-visa within minutes. All I had to do was apply on Saudi Arabia’s E-Visa website and get access to the country (excluding Mecca) for 90 days!

Then all you need is (from left to right in the photo) your proof of:

  1. Negative PCR test for COVID-19 within 72 hours of your departure flight
  2. E-Visa after applying through their online portal
  3. Arrival Registration after submitting proof of being fully vaccinated for COVID-19
  4. Saudi Arabian travel and health insurance that automatically comes with your e-visa application



With flights I picked the aforementioned 9:05pm Etihad EY100 Flight from JFK to Abu Dhabi (AUH), with a 1 hour layover for Riyadh (RUH) afterwards. The perk of this itinerary was also getting to come early to check out the new AMEX Centurion Lounge in Terminal 4 of JFK:



There’s an Equinox studio inside for compression stocking therapy, massages, physical therapy, yoga studio and a small gym, as well as a speakeasy bar downstairs:



After an uneventful 12 hour flight from JFK, transiting through Abu Dhabi to the gate for Riyadh took about 20 minutes:



At 8:30pm I arrived an hour later into Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia which also has limited flights from Europe and Hong Kong. 



They also now have their very own dedicated “tourist visa” line, something you’d never expected to see 2 years before. 


This is the first time in the country’s history where tourism is officially allowed and we are those very people at that doorstep!


They take your photo and fingerprints here, and don’t even ask you any questions.



Without them even batting me a look, I was in and out with an oddly handwritten and stamped visa within 15 minutes.



Crossing customs was also a breeze and I was out in the airport ready for my pickup:



We then drove 30 minutes into the city for our centrally located hotel



We immediately hit the sack at 11pm, waking up the next morning at 7:30am for breakfast and finally meeting our local guide and head of Haya Tours, Salwa. She’s one of the first women in Saudi Arabia to not only drive her own car (women were legally allowed to drive in the country only 3 years ago), but also owns and runs her own tour company!



We began our day at Al Masmak in the city center: a clay and mud brick fort in the Riyadh city center and one of the most iconic part of Saudi Arabia.



Its location took centerstage for the restoration of the House of Saud.



Then we headed to Dheera Souq.



Located in the old part of the city, this market has a plethora of little shops arranged in rows along narrow streets selling carpets, gold, silver, souvenirs, antiques, traditional clothes, accessories and even furniture. Most of the shop owners here speak English and welcome good hagglers. They seemed a bit … closed when we arrived.



Right by the souq on your way back to the fort is Deera Square, aka Alsafat Square/Justice Square



…which is also known for this:



With nothing else open nearby, Salwa insisted that we stop here for saffron coffee and dates with tahini dip. To be honest, that’s a winning combo.



We next visited the Grand Mosque. Not only the largest active place of worship in Riyadh, it is one of the largest mosques in Saudi Arabia and seats up to 17,000 worshippers.



Before lunch we visited the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. First opened in 1999, the design of this museum was inspired by the form and colors of the sand dunes of the “Red Sands” located outside Riyadh and includes a unification hall which shows the establishment of modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud after he captured Riyadh. A handwritten Quran is also in display.



We then visited the Kingdom Center Tower and its observation deck



At 99 stories and 302 meters tall, it is Saudi Arabia’s 5th tallest tower and you can go to the very top of the “bottle opener” at the 99th floor for the walk across its Skybridge:



You can view the rest of Riyadh from both directions:



And below the Kingdom Tower is one of Saudi’s most popular malls, one of countless in this country.



I find it ironic while the USA is axing Victoria’s Secret shops by the hundreds, you can still find them here in Saudi Arabia:



Leaving the mall and Kingdom Tower, we then enjoyed a long awaited traditional Saudi bedouin local lunch at Najd Village:



After a long day around Riyadh, we strolled a bit at sunset before a hearty dinner of smoked BBQ baby back and short ribs at Salwa’s son’s joint 7Rib.

Tomorrow we get up early for a 6am drive to the Edge of the World!


- At time of posting in Riyadh, it was 23 °C - Humidity: 19% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


“I Love Lamp”-edusa

“I Love Lamp”-edusa


Definitely didn’t look nearly like this 24 hours prior to taking this photo…



After a week rampaging throughout Sardinia’s coastline including a pitstop in Corsica — with a final night belonging in a 90s teen prom movie (I really can’t describe it in any other way … it was that … perfectly bittersweet) — we tried to take it easy the next morning with a spa day relaxing in Olbia.

Some of us having pulled a second all nighter for our final sunrise, we returned to the yachts, quickly took the trash out, made one final camp check, gave our goodbye hugs to Mihaela, Ann, and Jeanette from the marina, and walked over to the hotel Priscilla, Gina, Alex, etc. were staying in.



All I can remember it was a dreary struggle of a morning, especially after coming down from a high of the night before. Once I saw a bed, my body fell hard without even realizing until later how the marina arrivals — Sabrina, Donna, Sampson and I — were likely pissing everyone else who booked the hotel as they graciously still let us use their rooms to crash in for an hour (I’M SO SORRY).



After Priscilla, Donna, Sampson, Sabrina and I got a quick hour’s sleep in thanks to a late check out, we tried to look for a quick brunch before the next round of goodbyes with Priscilla, Gina, Sampson, and Raubern. I then felt like I was living through the entire ending scene of the movie “The Half Of It.”

I don’t know how we eventually made it so underslept but Donna, Sabrina, Evie, and I then managed to take a cab over to Jazz Hotel by the airport where we then both ran into and said goodbye to Song at the Jazz Hotel, and then had an early dinner with Daisy, Ihita and Radhika before taking advantage of the hotel sauna afterwards.

The next morning Donna, Evie, and I said our goodbyes to Sabrina after breakfast and set off on a morning flight back to Rome, where we would transfer to a quick flight to Lampedusa.

However, while walking over at the gates in Rome airport I had mistakenly assumed “Palermo” was Lampedusa (we’re actually heading to Palermo the day after) and therefore was misled to the wrong gate. And the whole time we just sat, chatted and watched Evie perform on a piano nearby without realizing we had all the time in the world to go to our actual gate.



By the time we began to board at 1:06pm, it was already too late: the agents told us we had the wrong tickets, I then realized Palermo was not Lampedusa, and that the 1:10pm Lampedusa flight had already taken off. I took a deep breath, consoled myself it was only fair after a week of successes in flying 34 people into and around Sardinia, and walked over to the last flight out to Lampedusa in another part of the airport. Then leaving my bags with Evie and Donna at our new gate with only 2 hours to spare until that backup flight would take off, I ran out of the airport with their 3 passports and vaccine cards in hand looking all over for the ticket offices.

This particular Wizz Air flight out to Lampedusa from Rome was not showing up on my searches online, and the Wizz Air website did not allow me to buy a ticket on the same day. I therefore had no other choice but wait 30 minutes physically in line, sweating out everything I had drank and ate the past week wondering what my alternatives would be if I couldn’t buy this flight. After another 20 minutes at the counter figuring it out and finally getting our new flights, I was directed back to the check-in desk (thankfully having been allowed to cut in front), where I had the awkward task of explaining to them how I wanted check in 2 passengers who were already past security at the gate itself. By the time I had returned back through security to rendezvous with Donna and Evie, they had already began to board.

Crisis barely averted.

And the whole time I could recall how this near exact scenario had played out 4 years ago when I was trying to get to Slovenia, where Rome airport was also involved and I barely made it work (Mihaela was part of that experience, and it would be the same trip where we would meet Ashley Jia, who had just joined us for Yacht Week! …you never know…).

Yet what I find even more remarkable about this particular incident afterwards, was that everyone else in our Yacht Week group were also going through missed connections of their own AT THE SAME TIME: Priscilla and Gina were also led to the wrong platform for their train from Rome to Florence, and ended up instead on a wrong train to Bologna. Ashley missed her flight home in Rome. Sabrina would find out last minute her flight out of Sardinia would be canceled and would have to spend an extra night there.

I began to wonder whether these comedies of errors was emblematic of something bigger; that no matter how frustrating or random these inconveniences would seem at the time, they serve to remind us they’re just detours — or even required pit stops — that eventually get us back onto the paths we’re supposed to be on. They seem like mistakes at the time, but they might be anything but. Either way we all felt some sense of farflung interconnected camaraderie despite being separated by hundreds of miles of land and ocean knowing we were all going through the same thing…and instead of feeling frustrated at our present predicaments, we actually got a laugh together out of them. That’s a special kind of kinship.

Furthermore I wondered had we picked the right gate to Lampedusa, we wouldn’t have be sitting next that piano for Evie to play on, which could have inspired a random onlooking passenger, that mom dancing with her baby behind Evie, or even our social media, to look at life in a new light as if we became part of a greater ripple effect…

…and yet these are also thoughts I consider when I pull 2 all nighters in a row. One can dare to dream.



Back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea as the southernmost island of Italy, Lampedusa is the major island of the Pelagie Islands and considered to be part of Sicily. We arrived around 2 hours later than planned at 4:30pm.



This island has been inhabited by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. You can tell it has Arabic influences to moment you arrive into town.

After a week in the very Wester European influenced old towns of Sardinia and Corsica, I felt immediately at home here.



With population of 5800 people, the island is 12km long and 3km wide, boasting a Middle Eastern-influenced capital “town” full of charms and vibes.



Fun fact is that we’re not really in Europe; this island geologically belongs to Africa.



For the average visitor who must go somewhere “unique” to the island, they should head straight to L’isolotto dei Conigli (the Island of the Rabbits), regarded as the “world’s best beach” on an official TripAdvisor poll.

We took the hourly 1 euro per person bus from the center of Lampedusa’s central town which gets to the beach on the west side of the island within 15 minutes.



What we did not know was that you need to make reservations ahead of time via your accommodations to visit the beach, otherwise expected to be placed on a waitlist (aka sit on an uncomfortable rock wall) where you could wait up to 2 hours to get in.



Thanks to a kind Italian nuclear engineer named Claudia (and her parents!) from Naples living in London, her watermelon themed umbrella kept us sane for our 2 hours underneath the sun.

Once our 2 hour wait was up and after the folks with reservations having been let in first, we finally got to see what the fuss was all about. I also needed to stretch my legs after that.



For sustainability purposes, they only allow a maximum of 550 people at a time on a beach, with a maximum of 2 hour shifts at a time before you’re expected to leave to make room for another group to arrive. The beach opens late morning and closes at 7:30pm.



Once you’re in you have to hike down a rock path 15-20 minutes to finally reach your destination.



And once you do, it’s baptism by paradise.



Wait this long to get in and you just want to flip your hair:



No excuses:



Lampedusa was also a location for many film shoots, so movies fans may also recognize some locations and film stars here. We recognized one:



After our time here was up, we headed back into town for a cab pickup at our lodgings for our onward 6:40pm DAT direct flight to Palermo.



- At time of posting in Lampedusa, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear