When my wife Cheri and I first began to travel, we went warm: Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Southern United States. We wanted sun and blue water, laid back attitudes, and rum drinks. We were on the Margarita Road. Later, as we grew older, we heard the call of other great cities and places, but we never tired of packing the swimsuits and following the jet stream to hotter climates.
In the garden of the little hotel we used to own in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, we built a sign post showing five of our favorite destinations and one we hoped to visit soon. It always served as a reminder of our years of traveling pleasures. We always hoped it would be an inspiration to our visitors and guests for their own journeys.
These are the places we remember:
New Orleans The final northern outpost of the Caribbean. N’awlins is music, food, witchcraft, ghosts, and love simmering together under a blanket of humidity and history. Walking the French Quarter is a step back in time. You are surrounded by romantic sights and sounds better suited for a gentler age with candlelit bars, mule-drawn carriages, and cobblestone streets. The guy blowing sax in Jackson Square for tips might be the best musician you have ever heard. The white-haired lady behind the counter in some greasy spoon might be cooking the best meal you ever had. New Orleans is all about pleasure—for all the senses. Indulge.
Key West The southernmost city of the continental U.S. is a strange but wonderful mixture of expatriated Cubans; cruise ship day trippers; pirate wannabees; tourists running from the cold; and rogues, rascals and ne’er-do-wells of all kinds running from spouses, jobs or themselves. Yes, Key West is Mecca for Jimmy Buffett fans, but it is also Hemingway, treasure hunters, smugglers, Fantasy Fest, sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and the type of party that can only be found at the end of the road. And it is home to one of the world’s great bars: the Schooner Wharf.
Tortola, BVI The British Virgin Islands have always offered shelter: to exhausted European sailors who traversed the Atlantic in wooden ships; to harried pirates and privateers hiding from the law; and to pale, stressed-out tourists fleeing the freezing north. Tortola is a classic tropical isle with jungle-covered volcanic peaks running down to awe-inspiring beaches on blue water. Start out in Road Town where travelers have quenched their thirst on Pusser’s Rum (the official rum of the British Navy) for hundreds of years. Then head up and over the highest peak to Cane Garden Bay, a delightful beach and body of water where you can find sun; water; a great little restaurant run by a sweet fellow named Pouie; the Callwood family rum distillery set back in the jungle; and peace.
Ambergris Caye, Belize is a coral island with no beaches. Instead, there are long wooden docks leading out into the Caribbean where you can sun, lunch or jump into the clear blue water. It has one town (San Pedro) with three streets. Ambergris Caye is the old Caribbean before condos and all inclusive packages took over. Swim or dive the reefs during the day, then settle in with the locals at a dance hall at night. The island is quiet, calm and unbelievably friendly. Everyone you meet—in the hotel, the restaurants and bars, or just walking through the streets of town—will smile and say hello. Ambergris Caye is how the Caribbean once was and still should be.
San Francisco “The City.” Our home for 30 years. Hidden in the shadows of its modern exterior, it is still the Barbary Coast. Eat good pasta and drink cheap red wine in North Beach. Party all night long in the after-hours clubs south of Market. Take a cable car up Nob Hill to hear the Grace Cathedral Choir before stumbling back down the hill to the mysterious alleys of Chinatown for dim sum. Every one of San Francisco’s famous hills and the valleys in between has its own neighborhood with its own culture, food, music, and fun. The City By The Bay sits on a fault line while hanging over the rim of the continent. Perched on the crumbling edge of the world, San Francisco does the only thing it can. It keeps on dancing.
Havana America has no greater love/hate relationship than the one it has with Cuba. From Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill, to Meyer Lansky and the Mob running the rackets from Havana, to Fidel and Che thumbing their noses at the US government, Cuba has been part of America’s consciousness. Havana draws us for its history, its island beauty, its music, and mostly for its people who have showed the world that poverty and politics cannot diminish the pounding rhythm of the carnival of life. Deep in our Caribbean souls we long to see Cuba. We will go there.