I have mentioned in at least one earlier blog entry that I used to travel quite frequently for work. When I did that, I learned to join all the rewards clubs, such as Hilton, Marriott, Hertz, etc. One of the best of all of the programs is Starwood (Starwood Preferred Guest.) That is the mother company that owns the hotel chains Four Points, Sheraton, W, Aloft, Westin, and a small collection of really fancy properties that they call The Luxury Collection. Note that airline mileage programs are similar, though in my experience it can be easy to earn airline miles but tricky to actually “spend” them due to a labyrinth of special rules and restrictions. Starwood points in contrast, are very easy to use.
Firstly, let me be clear that this entry is about an island rental villa that is NOT somewhere that The Working Stiff or most of his circle of friends and family would be able to stay!
It so happens that we were renting a house down the hill from this place a few years ago. A vastly less ritzy place to be sure, though quite nice and adequate to our needs. One morning I took a walk up the hill from our rental to take some photos of the beautiful trees and flowers all over the neighborhood. I came upon a gate with a driveway beyond leading to what was clearly some sort of gorgeous and exclusive estate but was mostly hidden from my street view. I was taking a few pictures of the landscaping outside the gate when a man yelled down and invited me up the driveway to check the place out.
Not long after dawn on a mid-summer day the morning sun began to burn off the cooling curtain of mist that the Atlantic night had left behind. The dune grass bent to a light breeze and soft waves lapped at the powdery sand as a pod of dolphins played in the ocean just beyond the end of the jetty. A few early strollers on the promenade shared the fragile quiet with a group of piping plovers that danced at the water’s edge, teasing the waves whose watery fingers reached gently up the beach.
Another shameless plug for a travel accessory that we have really used on numerous trips and has proven itself to be worthy of our high esteem.
Mrs. Working Stiff is of Irish descent and has a very fair complexion that she goes to great lengths to protect from potential sun damage. She is always researching the latest technologies to help her enjoy being outside in tropical climes (or Pennsylvania and the Jersey shore in the summer for that matter!) Through her I have learned over the years about special clothing with SPF protection, and a laundry additive that adds some level of SPF protection to otherwise ordinary clothing. I have learned about such things as rash guards and have learned that some beach umbrellas offer SPF protection and some don’t. (I just thought a beach umbrella gave you some shade.)
The wife and I were watching an episode of Penny Dreadful on HBO the other night and there was a scene with one of our favorite characters, Mr. Lyle. My wife referred to his appearance as “The Wizard of Oz,” and I initially heard it wrong as “The Lizard of Oz.” Which reminded me of a wonderful lizard experience we had a few years back on St. John, USVI. In truth I haven’t had many lizard experiences at all, which I think is pretty much OK, but this one was something to remember!
We were sharing a rental villa with our regular vacation partners, my brother and his wife. It was a compact but very comfortable masonry house that was beautifully embellished with local stone in a style common to many homes on the island. Perhaps the greatest feature of the house was a long covered stone and tile porch that ran along one side and allowed lots of room for outdoor dining, relaxing with the morning coffee, or just admiring the view. Sort of a long sheltered gallery with several archways from which you could look out onto the small yard or the scenery beyond. There was in fact quite a view because the house sat near the edge of a craggy bluff with crashing surf below in a small bay formed by the spit of land that accommodated our neighborhood and a substantial peninsula across the water to the east.
Where: The Four Seasons Resort on Great Exuma, Bahamas
When: One June Afternoon, several years ago.
What: Had some very expensive rum at a ritzy resort bar.
Why: The Working Stiff and his party was thirsty, and the rum was good!
One June some years ago we were vacationing on the Bahama island of Great Exuma, which is the main island of the Exuma Chain, roughly southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital. The wife and I, along with my brother and his wife had rented a 2-bedroom house on the beach perhaps 10 miles north of Georgetown, the island’s largest settlement and center of activity. The house was built in a classic Bahamian style, with 2 queen bedrooms on either side, each with their own full bath. There was a fully equipped kitchen, living and dining area, and a small patio on the back with a beautiful beach as the backyard. The house sat on the east, or windward side of the island so was frequently windy with a few choppy waves, but very nice for hanging out and enjoying the occasional swim. The beach was beautiful and the water was warm, if just a bit rough for snorkeling. I enjoyed taking my coffee out onto the beach for a walk most mornings during our stay, enjoying the warm breezes and the cool sand between my toes as the sun rose a million miles away off to the east over the Atlantic but yet somehow so close. One morning I was even able to pry the wife out of bed to have coffee on the beach with me. She resisted the idea but thanked me afterwards.
Mrs. Working Stiff and I both love it when our travels take us past a movie location. We have never dedicated a whole trip to that pursuit but have taken a few side trips, added some extra miles here and there, to check out a place where scenes from movies were filmed. This past March I took a solo road trip out west to St. Louis to attend a retirement party for a co-worker. Knowing that St. Louis is the largest town on the old de-commissioned Rt. 66, (not counting Chicago and Los Angeles at either end,) I studied my Rt. 66 book for site-seeing opportunities. That led me to learn about the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River from Illinois into Missouri just north of the city of St. Louis. The bridge was opened in 1929 and closed to vehicular traffic in 1970. It is open to foot traffic but frankly is now so off the beaten path that you need to really want to go to it. (I did.)
This is a shameless plug, but only because we really use these things and they are fantastic! These Cool Off Towelettes are available in various quantities. If you buy them in bulk the price really goes down.
They are a small towelette in a little foil packet, not unlike the ones the BBQ joint gives you with your rack of ribs, except cooler. They are infused with a combination of witch hazel, aloe vera, alcohol, and numerous other ingredients that cause an immediate cooling effect on your skin when you wipe it on. When you are all hot and sweaty after a few hours on the beach, or just from strolling around or doing whatever on a hot day, tear one of these open and wipe it around the back of your neck, behind the ears, crook of your arm, behind the knees – wherever you like. The sensation is similar to wiping down with a cool towel and stays with you for 10 or 20 minutes. It won’t change the weather but it can really help you transition from the beach to the restaurant, or a hot walk in the sun to a cooler ride home in the car. We don’t travel anywhere in hot weather without a few of these handy.
Sometimes an interesting travel experience can be had on foot not far from home. Yesterday was a beautiful summer day, maybe 80 degrees with just a few clouds against a bright blue sky. In taking an afternoon walk around my neighborhood I saw this lovingly cared for late ‘60s Pontiac Ventura parked on the street. Looking at the car from across the street in front of this perfectly manicured yard and neat little twin house, it all just made a pretty picture that for me reached back into a distant past of perfect suburbia full of Detroit steel. Not necessarily my past mind you, but a real past for many I’m sure and one that I could still feel on this summer day.