Cuban Dining…Good Without Excitement

The food in Cuba was good, but void of the heat and spices I enjoy so much.  Actually, I would venture to say that had I stayed there for a few more days, I might have grown a bit bored with the cuisine.  While the Cubans tend to be conservative when it comes to experimenting with ingredients and flavors, the local produce is fresh and usually organic. And the chicken, rice and beans, a national staple, were perfectly prepared each time I had it.

Also, there were days in a row where I had delicious lobster for lunch and dinner, so I am not really complaining.

With the new ripple of paladars and privately-owned restaurants popping up, I look forward to a little more excitement in their culinary growth. 

Dining in Havana

Lamb in Vinales

Lobster in Vinales

Lobster in Havana

Pumpkin Soup in Havana

Chicken Sandwich at a Rest Stop in Pinar del Rio

Ceviche in Varadero

Chicken in Special Sauce at El Aljibe

Flan in Vinales

Dining in Vinales

Isla del Rosario and Playa Blanca, Colombia

We chose in early, clear Sunday morning as the day to take our trip over to Isla del Rosario and Playa Blanca. We met our small tour bus in front of our apartment at 6 AM, and in true Caribbean fashion, every single one of the other 12 people that were to accompany us on this trip were late. Gotta love island time! At about 7:15 AM, finally all loaded onto the bus, we headed to the peer to take the small boat over to Rosario Island. After paying a small entry fee to the pier (approximately 5 US dollars), we all headed to the speedboat to be on our way.

This was no ordinary boat. It really was a speedboat!  We were told that we would get to Rosario Island in just under an hour. Zooming past the other slow boats, feeling small splashes of the cool water on our faces, and taking in all the beautiful sites, was so exciting. We didn’t even have enough time to get seasick. The farther we traveled away from the shores of Cartagena, the more blue and beautiful the water became. We did not think this was possible. At one point our captain brought the boat to a stop to allow us to peer into the crystal blue water to look at the many beautiful schools of fish. This pause  also allowed us to come up close and personal with a group of young boys out enjoying the day, doing some boating of their own. We were also greeted by moving boat marketers peddling their goods.

Once we arrived to Rosario Island we had the choice of going ashore and relaxing for an hour and a half or going snorkeling. We chose to go ashore and relax on the beach. The water was filled with coral. Hard, sharp coral. This was definitely a time for those sea shoes we see so many people wearing. We didn’t have any.  I actually attempted to walk into the water wearing my expensive Fit Flops, but the currents were too strong, and the coral and rocks too slippery. One of my flops broke, and of course I did not have a backup. One of our guides/boat hands, called Chocolate (he says it with a thick Latin accent!), took my shoe, disappeared for about 15 minutes, and returned with the shoe repaired as good as new. When we asked him how he did it, he motioned with his hands as if he were sewing with a needle and thread. Unbelievable! Please note:  he did ask, repeatedly, to have one of our dive watches in return. Instead we gave him a hefty tip.

While on the island we enjoyed fresh lobster and ceviche, along with crackers and the local beer, Aguila light, for 5 US dollars. We resisted the urge to go back for seconds and thirds and fourths. When our stay, as brief as it was, on Rosario Island was complete, we headed, via boat, to Playa Blanca. The boat ride took maybe 10-15 minutes. Offloading at Playa Blanca was a bit adventurous. With the help of the boat crew we were lifted from the boat to water, and we walked through the shallow water to shore. We took the armbands we were given at the beginning of the trip to the beach side restaurant, and traded it in for a huge plate of fried fish, coconut rice,  plantains,  salad and a cup of lemonade. Absolutely delicious!

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in a beach chair (chair rental was approximately 7 US dollars), drinking local beer (at about $1.50 US Dollars per can), talking to the many, many, many beach vendors, and loving life!  All too soon it was time to head back to Cartagena. Our captain informed us that the ride back would be a little faster and a lot choppier. He was spot on! We sat back and enjoyed the roller coaster ride on the water.

We are researching options for staying a couple of days on Isla del Rosario and Playa Blanca on our next visit. We may also consider paying a boat captain to take us over without all of the group travel hassle.

Day trips from Cartagena to Isla Del Rosario and Playa Blanca can be arranged at one of the many tour guide offices throughout Cartagena for approximately $36 US dollars. While our transportation to the dock/pier was included, we had to make our own way back to our apartment at the end of the trip.  We weren’t informed of this beforehand.  A taxi ride from the dock to Boca Grande is about $7 US Dollars.

TravelingWrite Visits El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto Rico

El Yunque Rain Forest, located in Sierra de Luquillo, 40 km southeast of San Juan, is a mountainous, cool, sub-tropical rain forest. While we have visited Puerto Rico several times before, this was our first visit to El Yunque. I cannot believe we waited this long. This is definitely a sight to behold! The forest is home to a variety of unique plants, at least 26 of which are found nowhere else. It also hosts some of the most beautiful and unique animal species, such as indigenous tree frogs, or tiny coquis, that are known for their lovely evening serenades, and the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (very, very rarely seen).

Wasps and bees are present in the forest. The sap in plants such as Comocladia glabra may cause a poison ivy-like reaction. The rocks can be a bit slippery, so wear sensible footwear. In the several hours that we spent there, we did not encounter any of these occurrences.

The El Yunque Rain Forest is managed and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. There are extensive hiking trails, picnic facilities, an exhibit hall (El Portal) and tour bus parking. The North side has a lookout tower, and the South side is quiet and beautiful. It is worth it to spend a couple nights here to take in the rain forest’s beauty and tranquility.

Be sure to stop by Restaurante El Dajao for a delicious, traditional meal after your day at the Rain Forest.  We did, and enjoyed great mofongo and amazing pasteles (traditionally served at Christmastime, a popular tamale-like dish of Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago).

At the Lookout Tower

Pasteles at Rest. El Dajao

So Thankful For…Mofongo in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Thanksgiving, primarily celebrated in North America and Canada, is a holiday that brings family and friends together to give thanks for their harvest and blessings of the year. At TravelingWrite we are so very thankful, indeed, for our family and friends. We are also thankful for travel and the joy that it provides us. Since this holiday is mostly centered around gathering to enjoy delicious food, we thought we’d share some of the food we enjoyed on our most recent travels to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Mofongo, a fried, plantain-based dish, is made with fried green plantains that are mashed together with a wooden mortar and pestle, and combined with pork cracklings (yummy!), olive oil, garlic and broth. It is stuffed with pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, crab, or vegetables, then covered with a stewed sauce. Mofongo is THE dish to try when visiting Puerto Rico, and is one of our absolute favorites! On this visit to Puerto Rico, we stopped by Restaurante Airenumo in Old San Juan and enjoyed a quick, basic lesson on mofongo making. What fun!

Celebrating My Way Around Cartagena

Having checked into the lovely Hilton Cartagena so early in the morning, my plan was to take a long nap in preparation for the evening. Once I looked out my room window, overlooking the beautiful lagoon, that plan changed. I didn’t want to miss a single moment here! So, I got myself ready and hit the beach. I looked for a sports bar that was showing college football, to no avail. I did find a few nice waterfront spots, though. So, I settled on one, pulled up a seat and enjoyed lemon-garlic prawns, rice and an Aguila Light beer…or 3.

After a few hours of beach bar lounging, I headed back to the Hilton and got ready for a night out on the town. The partying began with a cocktail party on the Hilton terrace, complete with traditional Colombian dancers, followed a long night of live music, Salsa dancing and rum (Habana Club rum, that is!) at Cafe Havana. What a night!

A Night Out on The (Old) Town in Cartagena

Our “splurge” night in Cartagena was definitely one to remember!  On the recommendation of many, we had dinner at Restaurante La Casa de Socorro, located in Getsemani.  It was truly an amazing dining experience!  La Casa de Socorro is the place to go for delicious, Colombian Caribbean cuisine.  The fish soup appeared to be the preferred dish of the diners around us, but we opted for the fresh, oh-so good ceviche, grilled  prawns and a whole lobster topped with melted queso and grilled prawns and calamari.  Perfect!  A must visit.

Restaurante La Casa de Socorro
Address :

Centro, Calle Larga Center, Calle Larga
Frente a Centro Comercial Getsemaní Against Mall Gethsemane
No. 8B- 112 No. 8B-112
Teléfonos Phones
57 5 664 4658 +57 5 664 4658
57 5 6644659 +57 5 6644659
Celular Cellular
+57 315 7186666 +57 315 ​​7186666
Cartagena, Colombia Cartagena, Colombia

Entrees start at $25,000 Colombian pesos

Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida

Our guest travel blogger, Celeste, visited the lovely Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida in the weeks leading up to the impending hurricane and the RNC Convention. 

Where to Stay: Tradewinds Island Grand Resort at St Pete’s Beach, FL – http://www.tradewindsresort.com/properties/island-grand.aspx

Tradewinds tag line: “Just let go.” An appropriate theme as this was our first overnight trip without Maura (20 months old).

Resort features separate family and adults only pools… lots of activities for kids if you’re looking for a family destination. For me, it was great to watch other mom’s chase their toddlers on the beach while I just sat and relaxed. We of course did the resort’s Pub Crawl – hitting all 5 bars on the resort. Happy hour prices at Beef O’Brady’s were a great deal, karaoke at RedBeard’s Sharktooth Tavern was quite entertaining!

One evening we walked to Blue Fugu – Japanese Steakhouse restaurant. The Hibachi Chef was entertaining, the Sushi was excellent, and the Sake was tasty.

Another night we went to Sea Hag’s Bar & Grill – casual indoor and outdoor marina waterfront dining. I wasn’t super impressed but it was good. We didn’t realize until we were leaving but it’s actually a Notre Dame bar… ND Flag hanging above the entrance.

One day we took a trip to St Petersburg… visited The Dali Museum – The Dali Museum Collection is rich in works from artist Salvador Dali’s entire career (1904-1989), with key works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity. We spent some time walking near Old Bayside Marina and then headed down Central Avenue to see the National Historic Site – Open Air Post Office. We then returned to the Grand Central District which boasts many bars and restaurants. We had a pint before heading to dinner at Primi Urban Café – excellent Italian food and fantastic Tiramisu!

Ladies Spa Day in Chicago

Ingrid’s Travel Boutique planned a Chicago spa day for good girlfriends from Washington, DC.  A full day of pampering at Bliss Spa, a night at The Westin Michigan Avenue, dinner at Hugos Frog Bar & Fish House (AMAZING!), cocktails at The Wit, and a wonderful time together! A great time was had by all.

Breakfast at Wave before the Spa

View of Lake Michigan from the Spa Locker Room

Belize City, Belize…Not a Fan

Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize, with a population of over 70,000 people.  Belize City is located at the mouth of the Belize river on the Caribbean coast.  The city is the country’s principle port and it’s financial and industrial hub.

Our short visit to Belize City was not an impressive one.  We arrived via cruise ship to a port tended mostly, and fortunately for the city’s economy, by locals.  The moment we hit land we were bombarded by vendors, peddlers, beggers and drug dealers.  We arrived at about 9:30 am, with plans to walk around and see the city.  The weather was warm and mild, we were hours ahead of the predicted rain, and we were really excited to meet locals, enjoy local cuisine and see the historic sites. 

Having seen some of the good, bad and ugly of many a small island town, this place was “yuck’!  Filthy, smelly, and just so many unsavory peddlers.  Having said all of this, we were fortunate enough to meet a few friendly locals.  At the local mom and pop store, at the post office, at the water taxi depot, at the taxi stand in the center of the city, and at the man-made beach at the Cucumber Beach Club.

Our taxi driver (along with his 7 year old son) drove us from the center of Belize
City to the Cucumber Beach Club and Marina,  about a ten minute, $10 USD (bargained) drive.  Once, there, our taxi driver introduced us the gift shop manager, gave us his cell phone numberr, and told us to give him a call 20 minutes before we were ready to return to the port.  After a day in the sun, a few local beers (Belikin Lighthouse Lager  was my favorite!), and great conversation with our bartenders (the owner/manager was there and showed the personality of a doorknob!), we headed back to the city for a quick, local bite before heading to the ship.  Our taxi driver took us to his friend’s place for the best grilled whole red snapper ever!  While we know how beautiful and amazing the cays of Belize are, we wanted to check out Belize City.  If you can overlook the filth, the unsavory street peddlers, and the stench, and focus more on the friendly locals, the pretty (though man-made and somewhat “stiff”) Cucumber Beach, and yummy local cuisine, you can probably make the most of a quick visit to Belize City.

Enhanced by Zemanta