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Krys's Travel log

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Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!

Log entries 11 - 20 of 1158 Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Dec 23, 2013 08:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza - in Montego Bay

Caribbean Extravaganza - in Montego Bay Jamaica’s second city was, as expected, animated. Particularly in the downtown area, where people did some last minute Christmas shopping. Yet, overall, Montego Bay did not meet my expectations. I was hoping to see more beaches, beach-goers and beach bars. Just like travel guidebooks advertised. This was not the case. The few beaches in the area were tiny, had limited facilities and no-one seemed to be using them. The world-famous Hip Strip, a portion of Gloucester Avenue, was not chic and did not boast as many bars, discos or clubs as the travel literature would have it. I was very disappointed.

The newest fashionable spot in town was Margaritaville, right at then of the Hip-Strip. It was a complex of bars and eateries standing on the rocks by the sea. Although there was no beach, a couple of catamarans moored next to building acted as substitute where people could lounge. There was also a water tube running from the top restaurant floor all the way down to the sea, and people used it well. Food and drink at this venue were expensive. Burgers and chicken dishes cost USD19, seafood was USD25 and some drinks were approximately USD20!

Bigg’s Grill & Bar, by the Doctor’s Cave Beach, was popular and had a great setting with a long terrace filled with tables overlooking the beach and the bay. It was a great spot to observe giant stingrays coming close to the shore silently. The restaurant had a good selection of dinner dishes and even better drink menu. It was not terribly cheap, but it offered better value than Margaritaville. And there was free wifi. At some point of the evening, the very large owner came by my table and wished me Merry Christmas. That was a very nice touch, I have to say.

Aquasol Beach Theme Park (the Walter Fletcher Beach), where entry was JMD200 per person, was not a bad venue. It had a large bar overlooking the beach, beauty saloon and a very primitive karting course. Sadly, at sunset the beachfront bar was closing. People had to move closer to the main road, which offered no sea breeze or night views of the bay. They had a good selection of drinks and most of the personnel were friendly and good-humoured.

Memorabilia Beach Bar, on the other side of the airport, was a great spot. It had its own tiny private beach and the most artistic decor of all bars in Montego Bay. It sported all kinds of sculptures, seaters and chairs and tasteful lighting. Seriously pleasant. They also did food and showed music videos on 5’ x 6’ canvas spread just above the water’s edge. One of its other qualities was free wifi.

Montego Bay downtown area was compact. It was possible to cover in on foot from one end to another within ten minutes or so. The quality of the colonial structures was slightly below average. Lonely Planet and other guidebooks raved about the finest church of the island, the most attractive street, etc etc. St James’s Parish Church standing in the heart of Montego Bay centre was indeed rather nice. Yet, its description in the available literature were grossly exaggerated. The adjacent cemetery, boasting gravestones dating back to 1700s, did create an interesting combination, though. Now, Church Street, which was supposed to offer a collection of the most interesting buildings in Montego Bay was again over advertised. Understandably, Jamaica is not terribly known for its architectural heritage, so perhaps a couple of the houses along the street were ‘attractive’, but there are Caribbean islands around with much grander architecture, and much better preserved. The relatively pleasant Sam Sharpe Square (aka Parade) was the most animated when I visited on Christmas Eve. It was closed off from traffic that evening and the locals spread their mobile shops on the railings, carts, pavements, car bonnets or on their arms. A tall, skinny Christmas tree stood erected at one side of the square providing the festive feel.

Dec 22, 2013 08:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza - in Kingston

Caribbean Extravaganza - in Kingston The short, 45 minutes hop from Grand Cayman to Jamaica on Cayman Airways was just fine, despite some really sluggish boarding procedure and passengers’ poor discipline. The flight attendants were professional. The announcements were made in clear voice and instructions were simple and to the point. The flight left 30 minutes late anyway. As soon as the crew finished serving cranberry juice, the aircraft started its descend.

Immigration and customs procedures in Kingston were completely painless. I was out of the airport’s door within four minutes from disembarking the aircraft. So far, the best result of this trip yet. Granted - there were no queues. Despite being amongst the last passengers to disembark the aircraft, I was the first in line for immigration. Most of the passengers proceeded to the Jamaicans lane. There was also no-one at the taxi booking desk in the arrivals hall, either.

The taxis could be booked at the official airport taxi booking desk, immediately next to the terminal’s exit door. An exceptionally handsome young man declared that my ride was going to cost USD30 and grinned. I asked him about a cash machine and he instructed me that there was one available outside, and then he escorted me to my taxi driver. Frankly, I expected a slightly more chaotic scene there. At least a small swarm of taxi drivers hunting their passengers. That was not the case. Everything was really civilised. Perhaps the confidence on my face and no hesitation before proceeding directly to the taxi desk deflected any potential taxi hawkers. The handsome lad introduced me to the taxi driver and pointed out the cash machine. There were at least a couple of them. Both with Scotiabank. They were placed in lockable booths, so it was perfectly safe to lock oneself in and withdraw the bills. The machines gave out Jamaican dollars only.

The ride all the way to Uptown Kingston seemed to take a very long time, but I think it was only about 20-25 minutes.

The Spanish Court Hotel surprised me with its quality! It was nicely lit from the outside and the interior decor was very tasteful. The lacquered polished wooden floors throughout made a great statement. My room (#303) was of a good size, spotless, and with pleasant lighting. The bathroom amenities were just fine and the towels were snow-white. There was a safe, a large TV and an iron. In addition to the very effective (although a bit noisy) air-con, the room had almost completely silent ceiling fan. The hotel offered free wifi throughout and breakfast was included in the rates. Plus, on arrival, guests were treated to a welcome drink: a choice of champagne, fruit punch or ice-cold water. Nice touch! The young, elegantly attired commissionaire, named Rohan, fetched me mine.

The venue boasted a pool bar on the second floor. The quirky pool contained just a single lane, but it must have been at least 15 meters long. The bar served food until midnight, two hours later than the main restaurant downstairs. And until the downstairs kitchen was open, one could order from that menu as well. Otherwise, the bar operated its own menu, which had a good selection of wraps, burgers, sandwiches and pastas. Sadly, the prices were consistent with large international hotels, but so was the food quality. I had coconut shrimp curry with plain rice, and it was superb!

I could be terribly wrong, but I think I spotted a hooker at the bar. She was gorgeous and had amazing body. She might have been a hotel guest, but that would mean her dress code stood out just ever too slightly. She was alone and moved from one spot of the venue to another, eventually ending up at the table next to mine. I am usually right about these things… Anyway, she timed herself badly. Before she could say anything to me, I ordered my bill and left. As I signed the bill, I took it to the bar, so there was no chance for her to spot at what my room number was.

In the morning, one of the CouchSurfers came by with his girlfriend to show me around Kingston. He took a day off work, borrowed a car from his work colleague and spent all day driving me around and walk me around the city. It was one of the kindest things someone has done for me in years. We walked around insanely packed Downtown markets, checked the famous Negro Aroused statue by the waterfront and the African-Caribbean Heritage Centre. I snapped some old buildings in the city and the markets. We also stopped at the National Heroes Park with flamboyant monuments dedicated to Jamaica’s political heroes, including prominent prime ministers.

In Uptown, I had a chance to take photos of the Redemption Song Monument in the Emancipation Park. Redemption Song is one of Bob Marley’s greatest songs. This world famous monument was not free from controversy when it was erected. It features naked black couple standing in water up to their thighs. They sport beautifully toned bodies. The woman has a lovely pair of pointing breasts and the man has a well proportioned penis, more accurately representing what size it usually is - unlike the classical Greek statues. Size matters in Jamaica!

Uptown was much quieter than Downtown. I was told that due to the proximity of Christmas, the markets were exceptionally busy. It was fun to see the commotion and the locals engaged with one another. There were parts of Downtown, closer to the harbour, which were also rather quiet. Omar, Roxi and I stopped for lunch in Roxi’s favourite jerk centre. We had jerk chicken and festivals, washed down with Red Stripe lager. We chatted about life, the universe and everything. They are such a lovely couple!

Then, we went to the ruins of Fort Rock and the museum of Fort Charles in Port Royal, at the end of the narrow peninsula on the other side of the airport. The sun was going down and it was time for me leave for the airport.

Kingston airport was really very strange. The check-in hall had no airline offices or ticketing desks. Just the check-in desks. If one wanted to speak to an airline representative, there were house phones available by some of the desks with laminated phone lists. Then, there was a small - although very pleasant - departure hall beyond the security and immigration. Yet, one could proceed to the gates only after the departure of the flight was actually announced on the speakers. A couple of security guards stood by the escalator leading to all gates and would not let anyone descent on them unless their flight was announced. It did not matter that the TV screens might already be showing ‘boarding’. Then, downstairs, where all the gates were, the airport was completely deserted. Granted, there was not seating available there, so it would have been much less comfortable lingering by the gates.

As my Montego Bay flight was announced, I was permitted to eventually go to the gate. Then, something fantastically strange happened. After my boarding pass was checked and I started making my way down the jetty, a couple of security people kept stopping passengers to check their hand luggage and give them pat-downs! They opened all bags and looked everywhere! I did not understand this. The bag security was already performed in the security area, with the x-ray machines and metal detectors. I was also travelling on a domestic flight! What they were looking for? What could I have acquired in the secured departure lounge?

The flight was late. It was supposed to take 28 minutes to make this trip, and it was an hour late! Whilst airborne, there was no time for any service. The seatbelt signs remained switched on throughout the flight. It felt like as soon as the aircraft took off, it started its descend.

At the Montego Bay airport, there was no domestic flights route. Everyone had to clear immigration and customs! Out of all 166 countries I have been to, Jamaica was the only one with a system like this. It was the most absurd and stupidest model, erm… experiment?

So far, the holiday in Montego Bay did not start very nicely. Two long queues at the immigration, filling out a customs form and queuing again at customs put me off. Little I knew that I was going to be scammed within sixty seconds from that moment. The taxi drivers at the Montego Bay airport are robbers. My hotel was just 3 miles from the airport. The ‘official airport taxi’ booking desk claimed it was very far and would not take me for less than USD30! I protested. I told them that I knew it should only cost about USD10, because it was so near. I was annoyed at that stage that I stopped caring and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. Not a perfect end of what had been a rather great day with a lovely couple.

Dec 21, 2013 08:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza - in George Town

Caribbean Extravaganza - in George Town The short 1h British Airways flight from Nassau to George Town was nothing special. Orange juice only was served. No snacks. Not too good, considering that this short hop can often set one back by £300 one way!

The arrival procedures on the Grand Cayman were simple, but less pleasant than those in Nassau. The immigration process was very slow. Fortunately, they allowed foreigners to queue also in the residents and Caymanians only lanes. The officer asked me a question: ‘why are you staying for such short time?’ - as if it was his business. The customs officer asked me if I was bringing any alcohol, tobacco or foods in the country. This was despite the fact that I had already checked the right boxed on the customs form. I smiled and said: “no sir, I am not bringing anything of this sort. But I do hope you have food and drink on the island”.

Taxi from the airport to the Seven Mile Beach cost $23, and it had to be booked in the taxi booth immediately outside the arrivals hall. I did not look for an ATM, as I was told in the booth that I would be able to pay in US dollars. At the hotel, they told me the same. US dollars are widely used and when you pay in USD, you should get change in USD as well.

Other than the sun a decent sandy beach, Grand Cayman had little to offer. The capital, George Town had virtually no sights. Apart, perhaps, four or five interesting buildings, one of which was the National Museum, based in a white wooden colonial house. It was complete with a porch, white wooden fence and a green postal tin - just like its red version in the UK. The other ones were the Post Office, the National Library and the Peace Memorial Hall. The last two were located at the Macdonald Square, which at the time of my visit was decorated with a large Christmas Tree (for those, who prefer the American politically hyper-correct version - the Holiday Tree). It was probably the nicest spot in town. The rest of George Town was filled with shopping malls geared towards the rich cruise ship passengers, who directed their attention to jewellery. The waterfront, or the cruise ship landing area, had a couple of food courts and eateries. I tried one of them - the Breezes by the Bay Tropical Grill & Rhum Deck. It had a decent menu. It featured conch fritters (KYD7.50-KYD12), fresh shrimp (KYD10-KYD19) and fish (KYD13-KYD16), and also did jerk chicken, burgers and pizza (KYD11-KYD15). Rhum-based drinks ranged from KYD8.75 to KYD22.50, depending on the quality of the main ingredient. Just as I asked for my bill, a French-Portuguese couple arrived and they spoke no English at all. Not a word. I quickly assumed the role of impromptu interpreter. The couple wanted to try something local but good quality. Well, they did not necessarily chose the best place for fine dining, yet the venue did have a couple of decent local dishes. I ordered them grilled mahi-mahi with jerk spices, still water for the lady and a glass of red wine for the guy. Luckily, I was leaving, so I did not have deal with any potential complaints, or compliments. The staff at the Breezes could not thank me enough, as if I saved their jobs.

I originally planned to do a tour around the island, but: a/ I did not get up early enough for this; b/ the concierge at the Westin said that the former capital, Bodden Town, was not really worth the effort and the Blue Iguana Recovery Centre was closed as it was Sunday. They suggested I went to the Turtle Breeding Centre instead. I cringed. I was not interested in a theme park packed with screaming kids wanting to hug a baby giant turtle. As the late great Amy Winehouse sang: “no, no, no”. This was not for me. I was happier just relaxing in a beach bar hugging frozen pitchers of ice-cold Caybrew lager. Sipping occasionally from it.

Dec 20, 2013 08:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza - in Nassau

Caribbean Extravaganza - in Nassau In the morning, I rolled out of the bed, extended my check-out time until 2pm and went for wandering about the city again. It was remarkably quiet. The difference between Friday sunset time and Saturday late morning was huge. There was little traffic and the streets were almost deserted. I did the main sights, except the fort, which I could not find. Took photos of the government buildings, the parliament buildings, the hight court, national library, New Straw Market, the ferry terminal called Festival Place, and a few buildings along the main avenue. I stopped at Señor Frog’s restaurant and bar and re-hydrated. The bar attracted mostly young Americans, who seemed to be on a mission of getting drunk before 12:30pm. The venue was very loud and drinking games were taking place on a central stage while a couple of DJs played dance tunes.

The next stop had to be a beach. I went to the main beach west of the city centre, which was nicely animated and had a few fantastic beach bars painted in vivid colours. One of them had full size sofas right in the sand! The beach itself was not excessively pretty. It did have white coral sand and a few palm trees sticking out of it, but it did not have an idyllic feel and it was not postcard photogenic. On the way back to the hotel, which was very conveniently located right in the heart of the city, I took a picture of a local policeman and his pushbike. He posed nicely, although he might have fought he was slightly too serious to put a smile on his face for my picture.

By 2pm, I checked out and jumped into a van taxi. The taxi driver had his six year-old son with him. They called the mother of the boy and argued about who should have him for Christmas. I understood from the conversation that the mother was not very interested in her son, and Antone, the taxi driver, had to raise him himself. She would not even want to participate in the cost of a Christmas present for the boy, claiming that should could not afford it.

At the airport I had a project to complete. I had to swap my Bahamian dollars into the US dollars. I had 165 dollars to swap. There was an office of the Royal Canadian Bank in the terminal, but I did not want to be charged a commission. The British Airways ticket desk swapped $85. The Bahamasair did $40. One of the luggage porters exchange $20 and my last $20 I got from a taxi driver.

There was no outward immigration check, just like in the UK. The departure cards were collected by the check-in staff. The security screening was in the US style and was taking very long. Out of the four lanes, only one was open.

Through the security, the departure lounge was rather small. There were few shops and it seemed that no airline had a VIP lounge. Which I thought it was strange. But there was at least one bar with a very Bahamian looking bar tender, serving a range of drinks and ice-cold beer.

Dec 19, 2013 08:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza - the departure

Caribbean Extravaganza - the departure Finally, the Caribbean trip mark two has started. A long taxi ride to London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 and a short visit to British Airways Lounge. That was the very beginning of it.

Good old British Airways. On board the old Boeing 767 aircraft, it turned out that I was allocated a different seat that the one I actually selected for this ten hour-long flight. A quick word with a flight attendant and I was offered a better seat. Not as good as the exit seat I wanted, yet still much better one that the one featuring on my boarding pass. British Airways have commenced retiring the B767 aircraft to a Californian desert. For the last 30 years, the airline allowed the airplane to go rather shabby. Although the one on route to Nassau and Grand Cayman did not look as terrible as some other B767 on BA’s fleet, the shape (and the capacity) of the overhead lockers gave the aircraft’s age away. It was well scrubbed and the seats must have been refurbished, which was comforting, bearing in mind the length of the flight one had ahead of them.

One of the common tricks to beat jetlag is to adjust the clock to the time of the destination just before departing. And yet, hardly any airline follows this recommendation. At about 5:45 am Nassau time, the crew started serving lunch. Chicken Tikka Masala and Macaroni ’n’ Cheese were the choices. Hardly any early breakfast dishes. By any standards. Skipping the meal seemed the most sensible option. And - I have to say - not much regrettable, from the look and smell of the food.

The crew, also allowed to age gracefully like the aircraft, beamed with years of experience. Not a single crew member in their 20s or 30s. With an exception, perhaps, of Marcus Lucarini - tall, blond speaker of Brazilian Portuguese, Italian and Spanish - who looks increasingly bigger every time I see him on my BA flights. Incidentally, on most flights I have taken in the last twenty years, there has been a solid looking male flight attendant, who - I expect - has doubled as a flight marshall. For some of them, like for Marcus, the sleeves of the uniform are not big enough. Therefore, during the safety briefing, airlines should never put them in the position to have to point emergency exits that are situated behind them. Anyway, the years of experience was the crew’s main strength. They were professional, polite and attentive. I had mixed experience in the past. Often, the crew was rather arrogant. As if one should be grateful and honoured to be on board a British Airways flight. More recently, I have had much better memory of their service. This flight to Nassau did not tick all the boxes but it was not too bad, despite the fact that Marcus’s back pocket button was chipped.

The captain announced that he was going to take an unusual route. Instead of going right down to the Bahamas, he decided to head for the Labrador Peninsula and then along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. He was determined to give us a smooth ride and wanted to avoid some strong winds lingering mid Atlantic somewhere. Provided this was not going to increase the duration of the flight, it did not really matter. Not to me, not to anyone.

In the US airspace, time came to try some of BA’s red wine. They had Finca Valero Tempranillo-Garnacha 2012 on board. It did not taste very nice. One has to bear in mind though, that it was being drunk 37,000 feet above the sea level in a aluminium tube pressurised to the level of 7,000 feet above the sea blasting through the air at 550 miles an hour. It might taste slightly differently in a proper 600ml wine glass on a beach in Tarragona. Fortunately, BA learnt to serve it slightly chilled. A trick about young wine my French friends taught me one late autumn afternoon in Champagne.

The airport of Nassau was compact. Just like in the US, all passengers leaving an aircraft in Nassau had to go through immigration, collect bags and clear customs, whether they travelled to the Bahamas or in transit to another country. This was one of the biggest absurds of travel in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The immigration procedure was taking long. For me, it took only about 45 seconds, but for many travellers ahead of me in the queue it was taking forever! How one cleared customs was also dependent on each individual officer. Some passengers had to open their bags and do a stocktake of their contents, yet I was asked two questions only: ‘how long are you staying in the Bahamas?’ and ‘which hotel are you staying at?’. And in a heartbeat, I was through.

The seemed to be only one ATM in the arrivals hall. It belonged to the First Caribbean Bank and it dispensed both the Bahamian and the US dollars. Van taxis were readily available and could take up to six passengers. But if there were six people travelling they would not be able to take six large bags with them. A ride to central Nassau took 20 minutes (but largely depending on traffic near the city) and cost $28. People going to the Paradise Island had to pay $10 more. Yet, the total cost of the ride was also determined by the amount of luggage and its size.

After checking in at the British Colonial Hilton, I took a stroll in central Nassau. It was very busy. The sun was setting and the massive cruise ships were getting ready to leave. Locals were driving from work home and tourists were doing last minute shopping. At about 6pm-6:30pm most bars and restaurants were getting deserted as the ships were leaving. That was interesting how the industry worked. The bars got really packed between 4pm and 6pm and then went completely empty until about 9pm, at which time the locals (and the resident tourists) were ready to go out.

Before arriving in Nassau, I made a contact with one of the CouchSurfers, who took me out. We started with a drink at the Sharkeez, were we met up with his cousin. Then, we took off to a fabulous bar, which had a toga party going on later into the night. We played darts with one of the local darts champions and downed cocktails. Next door, a nightclub opened and we roamed both venues until wee hours in the morning. At about 4am, we drove a few blocks towards the city centre and had fried chicken and conch - a local substitute for kebab.

Oct 31, 2013 08:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza 2 - a major milestone

Caribbean Extravaganza 2 - a major milestone Once one makes plans, one should make the flight bookings. Well, only if one is on a tight schedule, that is. A few weeks after making the plans and booking hotels, some of the flights get booked up and the plan goes to hell. Well, almost...

So, yesterday I started booking the remaining flights, mainly with LIAT, and it turned out that one of the segments was fully booked. This is due to the fact that on St Kitts there is going to be a major carnival and the flights got already filled up. I had a feeling that there was something up. When I was booking hotels, it was strange that most accommodation options were either unavailable or stupidly expensive...

And when I went online, decided to fail. It did spit out that the St Kitts to St Thomas flights were no longer available. Even connecting flights! Quick decision to skip this leg and proceed to payment and the website says 'error'. So, I call LIAT in Antigua and make a multistop booking. The computer system fails twice, the line gets disconnected... but eventually the lady on the side of the line finds a connecting flight out of St Kitts! Good job.

The route stays as it was, with a little more time on St. Kitts and quite a bit less of time on St Thomas and St John. But the major milestone is that all the flights between the islands are now booked, except the short hop in and out of Montserrat, which should be relatively easy to secure.

All the flights came to $3,142 (with an expectation that the Montserrat flight was not going to be dear) and there are 23 of them on eight airlines.

Oct 01, 2013 04:00 PM Caribbean Extravaganza 2 - the Plan

Caribbean Extravaganza 2 - the Plan So, it seems like I have just come back from the Indian Ocean Extravaganza and I am already planning another. This time to the Caribbean. Actually, this trip has been in the making for almost a year. The original destination was Galapagos, with just a small taste of the Caribbean, but my soldier friend decided to get married on Tobago and fiddling with the route that would have included Galapagos and Tobago proved just a bit too challenging. It was possible, but there was just a tiny bit of too much of flying long distances. Therefore, I came up with a new route. Exclusively Caribbean. It looks like this:

The Bahamas > Cayman Islands > Jamaica > Turks & Caicos > Haiti > Dominican Republic > St Kitts > Nevis > Virgin Islands > British Virgin Islands > Sint Maarten > Saint Martin > Anguilla > Gustavia > Antigua > Montserrat > St Vincent > the Grenadines > Tobago

This will increase my 'visited countries' count nicely :)

The trip will involve 21-23 flights (rather quick hops) on eight different airlines (five of which I have not flown on before) and nine short ferry cruises. It will expose my wallet to eight different currencies, five of which I have not used before.

Now, I already started the bookings. The outbound and inbound flights on British Airways are already booked. Outbound to Nassau and inbound from Scarborough. I also managed to booked flights in and out of Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos and Haiti. Fortunately, the flights are much shorter than those for the Indian Ocean Extravaganza and they are much better value for money.

From the accommodation point of view, I managed to book all of the nights except one in Haiti and two nights in St Vincent. Now, I will be splurging a little, hence the name 'extravaganza' in the name of the holiday. I will be staying at the Sheraton in Nassau (New Providence), The Westin Seven Mile Beach Grand Cayman, Hilton Santo Domingo (Hispaniola), The Westin Punta Cana (Hispaniola), Marriott St Kitts, The Westin St John and The Westin Dawn Beach (Sint Maarten). Staying at slightly less glamorous venues in between, but not much less glamorous - just a little less known.

The map above illustrates the route.

Sep 10, 2013 04:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - cost detail

The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - cost detail So, the total actual spend for the three weeks on the Indian Ocean's islands of Mahe, Mauritius, Reunion, Grande Comore, Nosy Be and Madagascar was £2,904.

This worked out about £1,000 a week, which has been my benchmark for a few years. The benchmark normally excludes internal flights, for which I pay in advance anyway. A £1,000 a week is what I usually take with me. So, this time it proved to be right, too. However, the cost of the Indian Ocean Extravaganza did not include the cost of hotels in Seychelles and Mauritius.

This is how the total spend breaks down by country:

Mauritius - £297 (14,124 Mauritian rupees)
Seychelles - £151 (2,794 Seychellois rupees)
Reunion - £913 (1050 euros)
Comoros - £599 (343,177 Comoran franks)
Madagascar - £943 (3,198,488 Malagasy ariary)

Perhaps this detail will be helpful to other travellers planning a trip in this part of the world. The graph above provides further breakdown of the cost by category for each country.

Sep 09, 2013 04:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - the summary

The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - the summary This was a good trip. Very good trip. The whale migration season added an extra spice and quality to it. Seychelles and Mauritius were real eye openers. They manage to project an image of luxurious holiday destinations amongst spectacular beaches. But they are relatively poor African countries, whose population has to work really hard to make the ends meet. And the beaches, at least on Mauritius were not the most dramatic or spectacular that I had seen. Seychelles might have had some, which I could not see as I visited the Mahe island only, but even those beaches on Mahe were not as spectacular as some reports suggested. And yet, the locals compensated for this minor shortcoming with their friendly and welcoming attitude. And the Seychellois were also very attractive too.

Reunion did not shock me. I expected it to be expensive and it was. But it did surprise me with its interior landscape full of rugged mountains, deep valleys, spectacular waterfalls, craters and seemingly impossible to reach villages. Indeed, most of the interior's most dramatic scenery was only accessible from the air.

Comoros were relaxing. Life moved very slowly there. But it was a poor country. Sadly, the authorities apparently had other priorities rather than assist with the development of tourism infrastructure. From all of the places I visited on this trip, Comoros had the most beautiful beaches, and these were just on of the islands, the Grande Comore!

Madagascar was incredible. Again. The people were lovely. Super friendly, welcoming, smiling and stunning!

So, how much did this all eventually ended to cost? Almost three weeks of island hopping with a total final budget of £2,818, ended up costing £2,904. I went £86 over budget! Not too bad.

The hotels cost £144 less, as I the Best Western on Reunion was cheaper than I thought, and hotels in Morondava and Tolagnaro of Madagascar were much cheaper than I expected.

I spent £106 more on tours, mainly on the helicopter tour on Reunion, which cost €60 more (the cheaper one I initially wanted to go for was not available) and a couple of whale watching tours, which I had not planned for before.

Food cost £97 more as I treated my friends in Antananarivo to two dinners and one lunch, (and they treated me to a home cooked dinner at their place!) and overindulged myself with lobsters in Madagascar overall.

I went just £8 over budget with drinks and nightouts, underspent £64 on taxis and other stuff like visa fee for Comoros, entry fees, donations and souvenirs cost £83 more in total. I bought a lot of souvenirs on Madagascar. Incidentally, the visa fee for Comoros was $50 and not $100.

Sep 08, 2013 04:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day7 (last day)

The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day7 (last day) This is the last day. Yesterday would have been my last day if Air Madagascar (Air Mad) had not played funny with their schedule. But with this extra day, I have time to do some souvenir shopping in Tana and have more time with Miguel and Vony.

I had plans to find out the gallery I shopped at 12 years ago for the slender wood carvings, which proved so successful as gifts to my friends. I was also thinking of getting some clothes from the Baobab Company, the Maki Company and the Kameleon Company. And perhaps also from the Fosa Company.

I only had until lunch. I needed to be at the airport for 3pm, so really would need to leave Antananarivo at 1:30pm to allow for traffic.

Madagascar is still my favourite place in the world. The political instability that created security problems in the capital, where it was no longer perfectly safe to walk around at night with valuables showing did not change that. It was disappointing, but Antananarivo was not my favourite spot in Madagascar anyway.

The people were still wonderful. And although less and less of them spoke French, they were still open, friendly, generous and welcoming. The friendliest people on the planet.

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