I’m looking out at the snow and feeling cold, thinking about how the first snow of the year is always exciting and how snow at Christmas is a gift, surprising even when expected, and how walking in the night snow with the ground so white you don’t need a flashlight is pure magic. But, after a snow or two or three, I’m ready for spring. Spring fever seems to come earlier and hit harder when I don’t get away to the tropics in winter. This has been one of those winters.
So I warm up with a pot of tea and music — steel drum, reggae, mariachi and trova — and I surf through my stash of photos taken closer to the Equator. Sometimes friends and family and people I don’t know ask for travel advice. There are many hot spots I’ve never visited and can’t say much about, but I’ve been a lot of places once and a few places many times. I’m not always sure I give the best advice, however, as I have discovered that I often love all the stuff that tourists don’t usually like about a place. This is especially true when it comes to the tropics.
1) Rain. It’s the first thing people worry about when they’re planning a trip to the islands. Will it rain? How hard? How often? How long does it last?
I love rain in the tropics. A heavy downpour at night is spectacular. Afternoon showers are refreshing. Morning rains often bring clear, bright skies and decorate flowers and foliage with brilliant beads of moisture. Afterwards, the world looks and smells brand new. The tropics are green and lush and full of blooms because…they get a lot of rain!
2) Shade. Many people like to bake in the sun, but I prefer shade on beach vacations. Sunbathing is both uncomfortable and unhealthy, but there’s nothing quite like spending the day in the shade of a seagrape tree, looking up now and again as the round leaves stir in the breeze to reveal patches of sunlight.
3) Quiet. Some people look for beaches with a lot of noise and action. I don’t. I want a strip of sand with few people, no volleyballs, no parties, and no umbrellas — that includes drinks with umbrellas. Fruity drinks are fine at the bar and in restaurants, but I’m not partial to people walking up and down the beach all day juggling trays of treats for other people who get louder as the day wears on. I like to hear the birds and the sounds of the sea and the breeze slipping through the leaves of the flamboyant and palm, the tamarind and calabash.
4) Critters. Lizards, iguanas, crabs, birds, deer, wild donkeys, goats…the more the merrier. Some people freak out if they find a lizard in their room at a “good” resort; we just give him a name and are careful not to step on him. Last summer I was sitting alone on a beach in the British Virgin Islands listening to the waves, almost soundless as they came to shore, and I heard a rooster crow somewhere on the hillside behind me. Hermit crabs made trails in the sand at my feet and hid amongst the rocks. There were iguanas in the trees, sea gulls crying from the air, and a happy-sounding goat serenade coming from the same direction as the rooster’s crow. Now, that’s my kind of beach.
5) Sunsets. I love sunsets in the islands. I think most people would agree on this one.