Brian Major | December 21, 2015 3:03 PM ET
A Digital Caribbean Slide Show For 2015
When I was kid back in the 1960s, almost everyone looked at travel photos in slide form. My Mom would pull out the family slide projector, about the size of a small suitcase, find a blank wall space and turn out the lights.
I remember we had some pictures my Dad took during the 1967 New York power blackout, and some images of our relatives in Atlantic City. Somehow I never grew tired of looking at those photos on the wall.
Today our images of places far and near are encased in phones, tablets and laptops, to be shared on social media. But for me the impact remains the same after all these years.
This week I looked back through the hundreds of photos I’ve taken this year while traveling across the Caribbean. Nearly every image is worth the proverbial thousand words. More importantly, each reflect the diverse landscapes and lifestyles of this always-inspiring part of our world.
Naturally there’s a lot of sunshine and blue skies in my 2015 photos. In March I photographed the colorful hills of Pétion-Ville under blue skies streaked with razor-thin clouds from my upper-floor room at the Marriott Port-au-Prince.
The Pétion-Ville hills are filled with pastel-colored new homes built in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. The residential structures and the new 175-room Marriott hotel are symbols of the country’s odds-defying resurgence as a major Caribbean travel destination.
Later the same month I stood on the balcony of the Hyatt Ziva/Hyatt Zilara resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, looking out into bright skies laced with feathery thin clouds over the brilliant blue Caribbean Sea. The new resort’s crisp white architecture and tall palm trees perfectly compliment the spectacular natural environment and gives Jamaica, already extremely popular among US vacationers, another signature property.
It’s said time and tide wait for no man, so in April I embarked for the dual-nation island of Sint Maarten, where I took a morning walk with journalist friends across Orient Beach on the island’s French side. Being a French beach, there was nudity, often a sort of double-edged sword in my experience. Fortunately on this day the skies above at least were consistently beautiful, framed by large banks of pillow-like clouds.
Contrary to popular perceptions, the Caribbean is filled with historic sites and architectural treasures. In April I traveled to Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city and a focus of the government’s strategy to expand the island’s explosive tourism growth beyond the Punta Cana resort region.
Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and among other distinctions was the first permanent establishment for 15th century European explorers in the Americas. It’s also the site of the first cathedral, hospital, customs house and university in the Americas. I took dozens of photographs along Calle Las Damas, the oldest paved street in the Americas.
Puerto Rico never seems to remain off my radar for long and in May I found myself in the island’s Cabo Rojo district, located on the southwest coast. The name Cabo Rojo (“red cape”) is attributed to region’s red-tinted seaside cliffs and salt flats.
Local history is equally colorful. People from Cabo Rojo’s El Combate neighborhood are known as “mata con hacha” (“those who kill with axes”) based on a folk tale about a long-ago fight over the region’s salt mines. People from Cabo Rojo fought with axes against people from the adjacent town of Lajas, who retaliated by throwing stones and as a result are known as “tira piedras” (“those who throw stones”).
I spent hours strolling Cabo Rojo’s cliffside lighthouse, Los Morrillos, locally as El Faro. The facility was built in 1881 over cliffs rising 200 feet above sea level and features sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean off Puerto Rico's west coast.
The summer found me in the southern Caribbean island of Barbados, researching some personal family history at the Barbados Museum & Historical Society while also spending time at the newest Sandals Resorts property, Sandals Barbados.
Positioned in a secluded nook of Dover Beach, Sandals Barbados is ideally located to provide guests with a taste of the island’s beautiful natural environment. The resort is within close proximity of local entertainment districts and attractions, and unlike at some all-inclusive resorts, Sandals Barbados guests are encouraged to explore the island’s restaurants, nightclubs and numerous cultural and historic sites.
Next came Aruba, where this non-morning person awakened at 4:30 a.m. for a sunrise horseback ride to the island’s Natural Pool. August found me on the tiny island of Anguilla, where I joined what seemed like the entire island on beautiful Mead’s Bay beach for the country’s annual boat races.
Finally in December I boarded Windstar Cruises 212-passenger Star Legend for a seven-day Caribbean voyage departing roundtrip from San Juan with calls in Culebra, Puerto Rico; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy; Marigot, Sint Maarten; Jost Van Dyke and Prickly Pear Beach, B.V.I. and Little Bay, Montserrat.
Naturally the highlight was Montserrat, which includes a capital city buried by a recent volcanic eruption. Dormant for 400 years, the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted on July 18, 1995, weeks after showing initial signs of activity. The event leveled the 40 square-mile island’s southern half, including the Georgian-era capital city of Plymouth and the main seaport.
The eruption buried streets, homes, buildings and businesses in 39 feet of pyroclastic mud and ash. Montserrat’s southern region was evacuated and an exclusion zone was created. I was among a rare group of media permitted to tour Plymouth; visits are only occasionally available under license from the Royal Montserrat Police Force.
The eerie, vacant terrain features block-long, three-story buildings, now buried up to just below their roofs in earth. I peeked through the broken windows of wrecked hotels and once-active commercial stores to see desks strewn with papers hastily left behind.
Beyond the exclusion zone, present-day Montserrat is like many Caribbean islands. It features tall, winding hills, lush tropical forests, leafy hiking trails and quiet beaches surrounded by reefs well-suited for snorkeling and scuba diving. Wandering across the volcano zone is like another world.
It was almost like watching at a slide projector show back home.
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