My 2018 Year in Review

Here we are — December 31, 2018. My how this year has flown by. I can’t believe that 2018 is about to come to a close. As typically happens at this time of the year, many of my Facebook friends are posting 2018 reflections and 2019 goals. One of my friends did something different — he posted a listed of all the airports he traveled through in 2018. Of course, that prompted me to do the same (and made it easy for me to reflect on my year in travel).

My 2018 Airports

JNB – MPM – VNX – DAR – ZNZ – JFK – FLL – CTG – MSY – PHX – DTW

I brought in 2018 in the same place I will bring in 2019 – Johannesburg, South Africa – which is easily one of my favorite places on the planet. The creative vibe and energy here just can’t be beat. I’m a January birthday baby and if you didn’t know, I celebrate all month. I also love beaches, so of course, the celebration involved multiple beaches. My birthday celebration started off in Maputo, Mozambique. I checked into my guest house, dropped off my bags, and met up for dinner with some friends from one of my travel groups. We ended up at a house party with some new Mozambican and Angolan friends and had the time of our lives. As they say, what happens in Maputo, stays in Maputo.

Beach cottage in Vilanculos

Beach views in Vilanculos

Next, up was Vilanculos and the Bazaruto Archipelago. Vilanculos is a coastal town in southern Mozambique, known for its beautiful beaches, water sports, and snorkeling/diving opportunities. Vilanculos is also the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, a chain of six islands off the Mozambican coast. The beaches and snorkeling there were superb.

I finished off my month-long solo birthday celebration in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and my dream location, Zanzibar. I spent my actual birthday, January 16th, on a secluded beach in Paje. That evening, I met my tour guides for dinner at the Rock restaurant, which is famous because it sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was high tide when we arrived and we had to take a small boat to get to the restaurant. It was low tide by the time we left and we were able to walk back to the beach. Talk about a cool experience! I returned home at the end of January and settled back into the real life. (sigh)

The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar

Beach views from my hotel pool

After a 2.5-month travel break, next up was Louisiana for the New Orleans Jazz Festival. I’m always happy to visit family and eat too much good food there. But, the highlight was my Detroit home girl, Anita Baker, who closed out the show. She put on a great performance.

For Memorial Day, I went to Fort Lauderdale which was completely rained out. Luckily, I was only there for two days before moving on to Cartagena, Colombia.  Colombia was a new country for me, not on my bucket list, but one which I thoroughly enjoyed. The first highlight was my visit to Palenque, the first free town in the Americas founded by escaped slaves. Located about 45 minutes from Cartagena, in the foothills of the Sierra Maria mountains, today Palenque is inhabited by the descendants of those slaves, who are proud of their heritage and retain many African customs. Their very existence is a testimony to the human spirit and resilience in the toughest of situations. The second highlight was Tayrona National Park and Cabo San Juan beach. It took six hours to get there, including three buses, a horseback ride through the jungle and short trek, but boy was it worth it. I spent a relaxing day on the beach and the lunch of fried fish, plantains, and coconut rice was the icing on the cake.

Entrance to Palenque

Dancers and musicians in Palenque

Cabo San Juan Beach, Tayrona National Park

Over the summer, I returned to two states where I formerly resided: Arizona and my birth home of Michigan. In Phoenix, I was honored to see a family friend consecrated as Bishop and I visited with friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. Of course, I couldn’t leave Arizona without visiting Sedona, one of my favorite places in the state. The beauty and serenity there is unmatched. In Michigan, I celebrated the 20-year judicial anniversary of a judge I previously worked for. It was great to see former colleagues and friends.

Sedona, AZ

I’m ending the year back where I started – South Africa. This country has become my second home and I miss it every time I leave. But I’ve decided to do some venturing out in 2019, to explore other countries and finally make it Machu Picchu. I may see less of SA in 2019, but my heart will still be there.

Wishing you a Happy New Year and more travel adventures in 2019. Cheers!

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Birthday Musings and Bucket List Progress

I celebrated a birthday yesterday and arrived at my dream destination – Zanzibar! As I begin another year on the planet, I thought it was a good time to re-visit my progress on my bucket list over the past year. I’m pleased to say I knocked off four more items on the list.

I finally took a DNA test to determine my genetic ancestry. In many ways it confirmed what I already knew (considering the slave history of America)  – I’m mixed with primarily West African and some European ancestry. But I was pleased to learn I’m 72% African, with traces of DNA from Cameroon, Congo, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal. Needless to say some of these places have moved up the ladder on my list of places to visit.

I spent 3 months in southern Africa (over their winter no less) to see how I would adjust to living abroad. I temporarily rented an apartment in Johannesburg and lived like a local. It was an amazing experience and concluded that I would adjust just fine.  

I traveled to my 10th African country, Mozambique. This hidden gem, with a long coastline along the Indian Ocean and spectacular beaches and islands, has become one of my favorite countries on the continent.

Lastly, I had my first Travel Blogger of the Month feature article in Griots Republic, where I discussed eco-tourism in Africa and introduced my new travel-related business, the Travel Africa Movement (TAM). TAM was born out of my desire to encourage more people to visit Africa and experience the sights, sounds and wonders I have on that beautiful, but often-maligned continent. I have both a Facebook group where members share travel deals, information and resources about travel to Africa, as well as a website where I offer packaged group trips and tee shirts. I’d love for you to join me on an African adventure.

I’m looking forward to another year of travel and cranking away at new places and things on the bucket list. I already have Malaysia and Thailand in the works, and I’m hoping to finally visit Machu Picchu later this year. But for now, I have to go. I’m headed to the beach.

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What Trump’s New Cuba Travel Rules Mean For You

Cuba

In 2014, former US President Barack Obama announced sweeping changes to America’s policy towards Cuba. The United States re-established diplomatic ties and re-opened the American embassy in Havana. Obama also authorized travel by general license for all 12 categories set forth in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, eliminating the need to apply for a specific license for most travelers. Though tourism remained banned, Americans could plan individual “People-to-People” trips with a full schedule of educational exchange activities. Travelers could meet the regulatory requirements with museum visits, cultural sightseeing, conversations with Cubans about their society, and keeping a daily journal. These relaxed rules made travel to Cuba easier and more affordable for the average American, who prior thereto was relegated to expensive group trips. It also benefitted the growing number of Cuban small business owners, including the owners of casa particulares (private lodging similar to a bed and breakfast) and paladares (private restaurants), taxi drivers and tour guides.

As many travelers were dreading, on June 16, 2017 President Donald Trump announced changes that would reverse some of the Obama era policies. The new rules, dubbed “A Better Deal for Cuba”, prohibit Individual People to People travel and any direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services, including state-owned hotels, restaurants, tour buses, and other businesses (the State Department will be publishing a list of prohibited entities). Trump also announced increased enforcement actions, with travelers subject to immigration checks or Treasury Department audits to ensure they fall under one of the permitted categories.

On the same day as Trump’s announcement, the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued FAQS regarding the policy changes. Here is what we know:

1. INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE TO PEOPLE TRAVEL WILL NO LONGER BE AUTHORIZED

 As directed by Trump, within 90 days OFAC intends to issue regulations that will end individual People to People travel to Cuba. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued. The new policy will not result in changes to the other (non-individual people-to-people) authorizations for travel.

For persons with pre-planned trips, there is no need to cancel. As long as you have completed at least one travel-related transaction (i.e., purchasing a flight or reserving lodging) prior to the June 16, 2017 announcement, you are exempt from the new rules (provided the travel-related transactions are consistent with then current OFAC regulations).

2. GROUP PEOPLE TO PEOPLE TRAVEL WILL STILL BE AUTHORIZED

According to current OFAC regulations, travelers utilizing the People to People authorization must maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.

Group People to People travel will still be allowed, but it must take place under the auspices of an organization that  sponsors such people-to-people exchanges and travelers must be chaperoned by an organization representative to ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.

3. INDIVIDUAL TRAVEL UNDER THE SUPPORT FOR THE CUBAN PEOPLE CATEGORY WILL STILL BE AUTHORIZED

The Support for the Cuban People category encompasses travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, which include activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.  The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba.

US Senator Marco Rubio, who co-authored the new policy, clarified via Twitter that individual travel under the Support for the Cuban People category is authorized as long as travelers stay in privately owned lodging rather than military run hotels.

However, in order to qualify under this category, individual travelers will seemingly need to have more engagement with NGOS, organizations and individuals working to promote democracy and/or to improve the lives of the Cuban populace.

4. AUTHORIZED TRAVEL BY CRUISE SHIP OR PASSENGER VESSEL WILL STILL BE ALLOWED

Travelers will still be able to engage in authorized travel to Cuba by cruise ship or passenger vessel, provided it is not with a prohibited entity.

5. TRAVELERS MAY STILL PURCHASE AIRLINE TICKETS FOR AUTHORIZED TRAVEL TO CUBA

The new policy does not change how persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction traveling to Cuba pursuant to the 12 categories of authorized travel may purchase their airline tickets.

6. TRAVELERS MAY STILL PURCHASE AND IMPORT UNLIMITED AMOUNTS OF CIGARS AND ALCOHOL INTO THE UNITED STATES FOR PERSONAL USE

Under current OFAC regulations, travelers engaged in authorized Cuba travel may buy and import unlimited dollar amounts of Cuban cigars and alcohol in accompanied baggage, provided it is for personal use only. It is unclear whether this policy will change under Trump’s new rules, but as of now it is still effective.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR FUTURE TRAVEL TO CUBA

Once you peel back the layers, Trump’s new changes represent only a partial shift from Obama policies. Individual trips may be more difficult to plan and coordinate, but they are still allowed. And as before, individuals traveling to Cuba are required to keep records of their Cuba-related transactions for at least five years in case of a Treasury audit. Now more than ever, it’s important that they do so.

 

What are your thoughts on the new Cuba travel policy? Does it affect your travel plans? Share your comments below.

 

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