Travel Tips

1. If organization is not your strong point, be sure to write a list of all the items you need to take with you. That way you’re guaranteed to remember to bring important everyday items such as hats, sunglasses, underwear and a toothbrush (they’re easy to forget).

Suitcase handle2. Buy a suitcase in an unusual colour to set it apart from the pack. If you already own a suitcase in a common colour (black, blue or red), tie a piece of bright, patterned or unusually coloured ribbon to the handle. It’ll make it easier to spot your bag on the luggage carousel.

3. If you’re travelling with a spouse, partner or friend, don’t try to cram both of your belongings into one bag. You may think you’re being clever and “saving space”, but it doesn’t cost you anything extra for each of you to check in or each take a bag on the plane and the additional space in your luggage can be used to take gifts (if you’re visiting friends or family) or to bring back souvenirs. There’s also less chance of your clothing being creased and you don’t have to worry about your bag weighing over the recommended weight on the flight back home.  Plus, if you have to live out of your suitcase for a few weeks, it’ll make it easier for you to access all your belongings when you have a little extra suitcase space to play with.

4. When packing, pick one basic colour and build your holiday wardrobe around it. This will give you plenty of mix-and-match options and outfits to choose from.

5. Always pack a pair of sneakers. There may be a museum, park or other sightseeing destination that you may want to visit and will need to do some walking.

6. Pack shoes that can be worn with multiple outfits and not just one. Once you’ve selected the shoes you’ll be taking with you, wear the bulkiest pair on the plane to save you luggage space.

7. Rolling your clothes instead of folding them is a much more economical use of the space in your luggage. Rolling your clothes can lead to far fewer wrinkles, especially in delicate fabrics like silk, linen and chiffon.

8. Wrap shoes in a plastic bag before packing them into your suitcase. They may not be dirty now, but you never know what they’ll look like once you’ve worn them and it will save your clothes from becoming dirty, especially if you’re travelling to multiple places on your holiday.

9. Pack a sarong. This simple piece of cotton fabric that can have multiple uses: a picnic blanket, a fast drying towel, a travel pillow, tied into a bag for carrying things, can be used for sun protection, as well as being a great beach accessory! This lightweight item is so versatile that it would be stupid not to pack it.

10. Take a few various sized clear Ziploc plastic bags with you. You can use them to store make-up or bottles of liquids that may leak, for keeping your dirty clothes separate, storing souvenirs and just generally keeping your bag neatly organized.

11. Be sure to weigh all your baggage before arriving at the airport, airlines love to charge for any bags that weigh over the recommended limit. It’s not worth the extra charge!

12. Use a soft bag or even a duffel as a carry-on luggage. You’ll be less likely to have it gate-checked because it can more easily squeezed into the overhead bins.

13. Keep lip balm into your hand luggage, preferably one with some SPF protection. You’ll need it to keep your lips hydrated on those air-conditioned, long haul flights and to provide some sun protection while you’re on holiday.

14. Use hand sanitizer. Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer as well. Because you’re exposed to so many germs while travelling, keep a small bottle in your hand luggage to kill germs without drying out your skin.

15. Pack a spare pair of underwear and a change of clothes in your carry-on just in case your luggage goes missing. That way you won’t be completely stuck without all your belongings for a couple of days.

Passports16. Double-check the foreign documents you’ll need to travel with. Some countries require a visa for entry. Others, like South Africa, won’t allow entrance unless a traveler’s passport contains at least two blank, unstamped pages.

17. If you are traveling out of the country take a copy of your passport. You’ll probably never need it, but if you lose your passport, having a copy greatly expedites the process of getting a new one. A scanned copy that you e-mail to yourself works fine.

18. Learn the three-letter airport code for your final destination and make sure that your bag gets labeled properly when you’re checking it in. The codes aren’t always obvious abbreviations, so check the list at

19. If possible, pay for your checked bags online. It’s often cheaper than at the airport.

20. Avoid wearing layered jewelry and boots or shoes with lots of buckles while you’re travelling through airports. If possible, wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off at security checkpoints.

21. If you’re travelling without children, never join the airport security line with kids in it. Go for the one with business travelers dressed in suits. It will move much quicker.

22. Long flights are dehydrating. Ask for water or fruit juice every chance you get and try to stay hydrated. Avoid drinking coffee or alcohol and only have minimal amounts of sugar until the flight is almost over.

23. Eat light meals offered on the plane, even if you don’t feel hungry. Eating small, light meals can help to prevent motion sickness.

24. To combat motion-sickness, take an anti-emetic an hour before you may need it and then every 6 hours while flying (driving or boating). If you’re not a fan of tablets, try using 1000mg of dried ginger root (available in most health food stores) before travelling and again four hours later, if necessary.

25. To help prevent jet lag, avoid doing the math to figure out what time it is back home. Immediately adjust your watch to the local time of your destination once you’re on the plane and plan your in-flight sleep so that you’re asleep while it’s nighttime at your destination and wake up when it’s morning there.

26. Avoid cramps or the possibility of suffering from DVT (a blood clot in your leg) during long flights by taking short walks every hour. While you’re seated, rotate your ankles, do seated calf raises and don’t cross your legs.

27. This one’s for the ladies. Use panty liners. This applies even if you’re no longer menstruating. Panty liners can easily be changed every 4 hours to keep you feeling fresh during a long-haul flight and it’ll save you from throwing away a perfectly decent pair of panties at the end of the flight.

28. If it is night when you arrive at your destination, do your best to sleep or at least rest. If it’s morning do everything you can to stay awake. If you find that you are totally exhausted, try to hold out for a short afternoon nap.

Toiletries29. If you’re staying in one destination for a while and are provided with cupboard or shelf space, unpack when you arrive and then have a look at what freebies have been provided in the bathroom before heading out to buy any necessary essentials.

30. Did you forget to pack a toothbrush or deodorant? Before rushing out to the nearest pharmacy, try calling reception at your hotel or B&B. Most places will have a supply of basic essentials.

31. If you are in a country where it is unsafe to drink the water, keep your mouth shut in the shower, use bottled water when brushing your teeth and order all your drinks without ice.

32. Look for restaurants that are busy and filled with local residents. If the locals eat there, it’s generally a sure sign that the food is good.

33. If you’re traveling on a budget, look for free activities around your hotel or B&B. Look though websites for listings of parades, festivals, fairs, art shows, outdoor movie screenings, parks, museums that don’t charge admission.

34. Sprinkling some baby powder on your feet and legs will allow you to instantly brush off any sand that may be stuck to you.

35. Read your hotel bill carefully. If there’s something on it you don’t recognize, talk to a manager. Once you leave the hotel, fixing your bill gets much harder.

36. Finally, travel with an open mind. You’ll discover a lot more that way.


Blue holes and horseshoes

The mountains of Honduras in the background

The mountains of Honduras in the background

The past weeks at Mango Creek Lodge have been absolute bliss!  Days have been spent snorkeling around the numerous reefs and snorkel spots, fishing, day trips around nearby islands, relaxing in a hammock with a good book or going for long walks.  The sea life here is abundant and the water is pleasantly warm.

I was privileged enough to be taken to The Blue Hole (a nearby snorkel spot) by one of the guys at Mango Creek Lodge.  Randy’s knowledge of the fish, coral and other sea life is truly awesome.  Snorkeling The Blue Hole just wouldn’t have been the same without him!  Before we jumped off the boat into the tepid, aquamarine water, he advised us not to touch any of the coral as there’s a lot of fire coral around and it causes painful welts and stings.  Once we were all in the water, he swam around with us or swam down through holes in the reef, flushing fish out of hiding or coaxing them out from under the rocks with bits of algae growing on the nearby coral.  He’d then point at a particular fish, a piece of coral or something else he’d seen and wanted to show us,  would surface and then tell us all about it in amazing detail.   Thanks to Randy, snorkeling The Blue Hole was a very unique experience that I’m grateful for and one that I’ll never forget!

The Horseshoe is another nearby favourite snorkel spot.  It’s just inside the reef and about 3ft deep at the shallowest part and probably around 18ft deep where the reef hits the sand at the bottom.  Curved in a horseshoe shape, it has an abundance of fish and yet feels quite sheltered from the nearby drop-off and open ocean.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and our time on Roatan is almost up.  Tomorrow we board a plane to head back home, but we’ll never forget this place.  It has been a holiday of a lifetime.

The north side of Roatan

Squalls, Mangroves and Pirates!

A storm over the island

A storm over the island

A squall hit us in the early hours of the morning and the rain was utterly deafening. The wind blew so hard it felt like the roof of the cabana was going to take off any minute!  After managing to drift back off to sleep, we woke up a few hours later to an absolutely perfect Caribbean sunrise.  The sea outside was as flat as glass, the day crystal clear with not a cloud or puff of breeze in sight!

After breakfast, a panga (boat) was loaded up with cooldrinks, fishing rods and snorkel gear and we set off on a “tour” of the surrounding islands.  It started off with a boat ride through the narrow mangrove canals, where it was deathly quiet and very eerie.  The only sounds we could hear were the odd call of a bird or fish splashing in the water nearby.  Once we were out of the mangroves and began cruising around the surrounding islands, we were passed the island of Helene and another unexpected squall hit.  The rain bucketed down so hard that there was no way for our guide to even see where the reef was, so we had to turn the boat off and just sit there bobbing on the ocean, waiting for the rain to pass before we could continue.

Through the Mangroves

Through the Mangroves

The island that’s “haunted by Pirates” was up next and we didn’t stop (see blog titled “Living the Island Life”) rather we chose to continue on passed the island of Barbareta and on to Pigeon Cay – two tiny little cays sticking out in the middle of nowhere!  We were advised not to go near the smaller of the two islands as this is often used as a latrine by the local fishermen, but we did stop on the larger one.  We were able to walk around the whole cay in less than 5 minutes and other than some bush and a few palm trees, the only other thing living on the little island was a few hundred very hungry sand flies, which bit us from head to foot even with bug repellent on!  Our only chance to get away from them was to dive into the sea and go for a snorkel.  The water around Pigeon Cay was crystal clear and we could see really far ahead under water.  This was both glorious and a little scary as well … the glorious bit was that there were patches where the water changed colour, from light blue to turquoise and aquamarine right in front of my eyes.  Such beauty!  Unfortunately, I kept having this nagging thought in the back of my mind about being able to see a shark approaching, if there was one swimming around in the area.  Probably something I shouldn’t have worried about, as we never saw any sharks during our stay here!

Pigeon Cay

Pigeon Cay

Princess of the West End

West End beach

West Bay beach

A two-day trip to West End (situated at the West End of Roatan) added a nice change to the laid back life at Mango Creek Lodge.  West End is full of shops, dive resorts and restaurants and is the more touristy, beachy end of the island.  It also looks just like a picture postcard … clear, sparkling turquoise water with soft white sand beaches and rustling palm trees.

We booked into the Mayan Princess Resort for the night and did a bit of shopping and sight-seeing before going for a dip in the pool.  Dinner was eaten at a nearby Argentinian restaurant with a wonderful menu, before we headed back to the resort to finish off the perfect evening with a dip in the warm, glittery, phosphorescent sea underneath the light of the moon.

Living the Island Life

After speaking to a few of the locals (and reading Anne Jennings Brown’s book “Roatan Odyssey” later in 2008), it made me realise how steeped in history the little island of Roatan is.  There are many stories and legends of “Ghosts of the Past” that surround the island.

One of the most common is that men or pirates burying gold and treasure would kill a man, leaving his body with the loot to act as a watchman.  After centuries, the ghost or “duppee” supposedly gets tired of watching over the buried treasure and will make himself visible (said to be a bright hovering light) or will give someone directions on how to find this buried treasure!

Many of the locals have some rather strange beliefs (to us Westerners) and after meeting a few of the staff at the Lodge this morning, a dory (small boat used as a water taxi) pulled up with a few locals in it.  There was a woman on board who had a tiny baby with her and it was swaddled tightly in a huge blanket.  When I asked one of the staff why the poor child was wrapped so warmly in this blistering heat, she replied that they believe that if their children are younger than one year old and they happen to get rained on (sea-spray doesn’t count) that the child will end up disabled or deformed.  The blanket is protection in case of a sudden squall or light passing shower.

It is also believed that one of the nearby islands is ‘haunted by pirates’.  The ‘haunted’ island is quite large and completely covered in palm trees, as no one lives on it.  Some of the locals go there during the day (but never alone) to collect sand and palm fronds, but they all leave well before sunset and never attempt to go there at night, as that’s when the ghosts or ‘duppees’ come out!

Old fort

Old fort

This whole area is old pirate territory, the history really does start coming to life in the shape and form of old canon and gun stations and crumbling fortifications that can still be seen.  Old rum bottles, broken bits of pottery and old belt buckles are often found while exploring the through the bush or snorkeling up and down the coast and many sunken pirate ships have now become a natural part of the reef.

There still seem to be pirates about, just not the same kind as in the history books.  I saw some rather “suspicious” activity going on just outside the reef the other night, while travelling back to MCL in the panga.  Two large ships had pulled up alongside each other, both had anchored and then drifted really close together.  Two hours later they were still like that … looks like there may have been some illegal cargo swapping going on!

Roatan at last

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands and is situated between the islands of Utila and Guanaja in the Caribbean Sea, just off the mainland coast of Honduras.

Roatan Runway

Roatan Runway

The flight from Atlanta to Roatan was thankfully a short one (about 2 and a half hours) and flying over the Caribbean was absolutely spectacular!  The sights of the islands, little atolls and bright turquoise sea made me even more eager to reach our destination.  As the plane approached the island, I looked out the window to see the short runway surrounded by the sea on three sides, a very scary sight!  Thankfully we touched down safely and were welcomed by a wall of stifling hot tropical air as we stepped out of the air-conditioned ‘plane.  Welcome to “Paradise”!

Clearing customs took almost and hour and was a rather uncomfortable experience as we were all jammed into this tiny room, like sardines in a can, before being filtered through the two Customs Check Points.

At long last, we made it through and looked up to find a guide from Mango Creek Lodge there to fetch us.  It was then that reality began to sink in … we’re finally here, in the Caribbean!

The View restaurant

The View restaurant

On the way to the Mango Creek Lodge we stopped at a restaurant called The View, that has a magnificent panoramic view looking out over the reef and Turquoise Bay, which is very aptly named.  After a quick lunch, we continued on our journey over the winding, bumpy road passed fields and palm trees to Oak Ridge and BJ’s bar, where the panga (boat) was moored and we set off out though the reef and into the ocean, headed for Mango Creek Lodge.

Cabana at Mango Creek Lodge

Cabana at Mango Creek Lodge

Our ‘home’ for the next two weeks is a cute little thatched cabana on stilts, built out over the water.  Each little cabana has unique hand carved wooden doors and a lot of the furniture at MCL is individually hand carved too.  The cool interior of our cabana is scented with the wonderful aroma of cedar wood (which the furniture is made from), a smell that will hopefully evoke many happy memories of our holiday here in the future.

Carved door

Carved door

Leaving on a Jet Plane …

The Caribbean has always been a dream destination for a holiday and at the beginning of 2006 this dream became a reality.

Our destination would be the island of Roatan, situated in the Western Caribbean, just off the coast of Honduras.  Tickets were finally purchased and my Visa arranged shortly thereafter … if only everything else had gone so smoothly.

A month before the departure date there was a small issue with the tickets. We happened to find out that the airline we were booked on had discontinued flying direct to Atlanta (from Durban) a few months before, so the only flight available to us was now via Washington.  The provisional flight that the travel agent arranged happened to land too late and we would end up missing the flight to Roatan … there is only one flight per week!  Huge problem.  After spending just over an hour at the airline trying to explain all of this to them and trying to get on a flight that would allow us to catch the once-a-week flight to Roatan, we got home feeling exhausted, only to find that the consultant at the airline had cancelled the Atlanta-bound tickets while pressing on our return tickets!  Being carbon-like paper, it now looked like we had whole a bunch of invalid, cancelled tickets and ended up having to request the other airline to reissue our return tickets.  What a mess!

Departure day finally arrived and after catching a taxi to the airport, we boarded the plane and then sat and waited and waited, and waited some more!  It was almost 45 minutes later when we finally took off.  The hold-up had been eight very inconsiderate passengers who had booked in their luggage but hadn’t bothered to checked in!  Just as the airline was about to off-load their luggage so that the plane could leave, these eight people decided to show up, all full of smiles and comments like “Oh look, they waited for us”!  Surely they must have heard the numerous boarding calls?!

Eight hours into the flight, we touched down in Dakar to refuel.  It was just after midnight, Dakar-time, and the outside temperature was a very humid 25 degrees.  We weren’t allowed to exit the plane and had to stay on-board which was a pity as I was already tired of being in such a small, confined space and would have loved a short walk just to stretch my legs.  We still had many hours to go before arriving in Washington!

Washington Airport

Washington Airport

After many more hours of flying time, we finally landed in Washington, but still have two more flights to go before getting to the island:  Washington to Atlanta, where we’re overnighting to get some decent sleep and then finally Atlanta to Roatan.

Thank goodness for standby lists, as we were able to get onto an earlier flight, which cut our (8 hour) layover time in Washington in half and we landed in Atlanta this afternoon.  Not knowing much about Atlanta, we ended up heading downtown to take a walk around the Peachtree Centre before having an early dinner and some well deserved sleep.  One more flight to go …