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Friday Focus: Dana Carmel

This Friday Focus features world traveler and blogger, Dana Carmel. Dana and I ‘found’ each other through a post on my blog and discovered that we shared a connection to Westmoreland, Jamaica’s westernmost parish. You see, Dana met her husband and travel partner, Jave, in Westmoreland. They later married near Montego Bay. She’s been back to Jamaica several times and, in this interview, shares memories of her first and subsequent trips to Jamaica. Read on to learn more about her.

Friday Focus Dana Carmel

Dana & husband, Jave

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles although I lived in Panama for close to four years as a child when my dad was in the military. I’m a married law school grad working full time in contracts management for a multimedia company here in L.A., but I’m slowly but surely transitioning to becoming self-employed and traveling on a more consistent basis through my travel planning and tour operating business, Time Travel Plans. Travel, voluntourism, and writing are my life’s passions, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can pursue those passions full time.

How often do you travel?

I try to travel as much as possible with 1-2 trips abroad each year and some local California or domestic U.S. trips in between. Exploring my home state and taking trips within the U.S. holds me over until I can satisfy my foreign wanderlusts.

How do you decide which places to visit?

Well, it depends on who I’m traveling with. Time Travel Plans is the exclusive travel planner for all Passporters Expeditions (PE) which are annual volunteer trips abroad sponsored by Passporters – Live Don’t Merely Exist. So when there’s a PE trip, we kind of take a vote on where we should travel based on cost and the humanitarian needs in a particular country.

 

When traveling with my husband Jave, it really just boils down to affordability and how much time we can afford to take off from our jobs.

What brought you to Jamaica?

I was planning a destination birthday celebration for my 26th birthday, and I initially invited some girlfriends to Puerto Rico. Several months before our trip and before we’d booked any reservations, my brother and cousin who’d just returned from Jamaica couldn’t stop talking about their trip. They had such a good time on their “guys’ getaway” that I decided to switch my birthday “girlfriend getaway” from Puerto Rico to Jamaica, and I’m so glad I did!

Friday Focus Dana Carmel

Dana in Negril

What has surprised you most about Jamaica?

I didn’t know much about Jamaica before my first visit, so learning about Jamaicans’ rich history and culture was very surprising to me. Most of us black Americans don’t know our country, culture, or language of origin. So to go to Jamaica, a predominately black country, and to see the locals take such pride in their culture is so refreshing. I haven’t been to West Africa yet, but Jamaica reminds me of what certain West African countries might be like. My only hope is that Jamaicans will preserve their West Indian culture and values and not try to assimilate to Western standards.

What misconceptions or myths have you laid to rest?

You know, I don’t think I ever bought into any misconceptions or myths about Jamaica or Jamaicans. Some people think that all Jamaicans smoke weed and wear locks, but that’s just not true! I will admit that I’ve always thought that no one can dance quite like Jamaicans, and I have to say that it’s the truth! No one gets down on the dance floor like Jamaicans! I grew up dancing and I’m sure that even young Jamaican kids could outdance me.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done here?

I married Jave who’s a Negril local! I call him my “Jamaican souvenir” – ha!

Tell us a favorite Jamaica story

Every trip changes my life in one way or another, but my birthday trip to Jamaica literally changed my whole world!

 

After landing in Montego Bay, as we drove from Sangsters International to Rose Hall Resort, I remember seeing a pickup truck full of Rastas with their dreadlocks blowing in the breeze. This was prior to all of the recent construction in St. James, so there was still a lot of greenery along the road to the resort, and our ocean views were blocked by all of the greenery. I remember thinking to myself, Maybe we should’ve gone to Puerto Rico.

 

We arrived at our resort early in the morning, so our room was nowhere near ready. The check-in clerk invited us to eat breakfast, and afterward, we all sat out on some beach chairs near the pool overlooking the ocean. Soon enough, we were all knocked out. It was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life – mouth wide open as the wind gently cooled us. After checking in, we went down to the beach, and I floated on my back for a good hour or so and I literally felt all of my life’s problems and worries seep away. I’d never felt such a sense of peace except for when I was in Bermuda which also holds a special place in my heart. But I felt like I was at home in Jamaica, and one of my friends and I romanced the idea of quitting our jobs and moving there.

Friday Focus Dana Carmel

Tryall Club

 

My birthday in Jamaica was the most memorable. We climbed Dunn’s River Falls and spent the day in Ochi followed by a special dinner back at our resort. The next day we went to Negril to Rick’s Café and to Seven Mile Beach. As we were walking the beach, the beach hustlers kept harassing us to take a glass bottom boat tour. Once we negotiated the price down, we were game. There were two guides on the tour. One of the guides introduced himself as Jave. I told him that he had beautiful eyes, and he thanked me and smiled. Jave and his co-worker Steve took us snorkeling at the reef – scaring us with all sorts of weird-looking sea creatures from the reef.

 

After the tour and back at the beach, Jave asked me if he could have my phone number, but he didn’t have his phone on him. Not thinking that I’d ever actually call him or keep in touch, I programmed his number in my phone. As we walked away, I turned around and saw Jave leaning against the boat and watching us as we walked. At that moment, I had an uncanny feeling that this Jave guy would somehow be a huge part of my life, but I didn’t know how.

 

A few weeks after our trip, I came across Jave’s number in my phone and decided to give him a call. And the rest is history…

Name 5 of your favorite places to go or things to do when you’re on the island.

Sweet Spice (Negril) – As soon as we arrive in Negril from L.A. and once we’ve had a chance to freshen up, Jave knows that I have to stop at Sweet Spice for either their curry chicken or their lemon pepper chicken. My trips to Negril are incomplete without eating at Sweet Spice.

 

Seven Mile Beach (Negril) – This is my favorite beach in the world. Not because it’s necessarily the most beautiful (although it is a beautiful beach), but because it feels like home. Jave and I met on this beach and have spent countless hours there. Our favorite thing to do in Jamaica is to walk this beach. We used to dream about our lives on our Seven Mile Beach walks in the early stages of our relationship. We even got married at Rondel Village on this beach.

 

Blue Lagoon (Port Antonio) – The Blue Lagoon is beautiful yet a little creepy at the same time. With a mix of salt and fresh water, it’s unknown how deep the water is in the lagoon and the water is quite dark in some parts which means that it’s probably quite deep. When Jave and I visited, I asked him if he wanted to go for a swim, but he refused since he doesn’t swim in water he can’t see through.

 

Frenchman’s Cove (Port Antonio) – There’s a garden leading to Frenchman’s Cove, and as we made our way out of the garden to the mouth of the cove, I felt like I was in the Garden of Eden. Frenchman’s Cove truly looks and feels like paradise. There are even vines that you can swing from into the water!

 

Ketto (Westmoreland) – This is the community where Jave grew up and I definitely think of Ketto as my second home. I always tell Jave that it reminds me of an island-style “Little House on the Prairie”. Like so many communities in Jamaica, Ketto is a small neighborhood where a few families share the same yard and everyone knows everyone else’s business. In Ketto, you’ll be awakened by cocks crowing in the morning or by someone shouting your name from across the yard. Cold showers or outdoor showers, communal dining, and convenience stores run out of the front of people’s homes are common in Ketto as in most other rural Jamaican communities.

How do you balance work, travel, and your personal life?

I just try to keep things in proper perspective and prioritize God and family above everything else. Apart from that, travel is what balances me! I also samba to release stress. Samba is such a huge part of my life now!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m so proud that I’m forever bonded to Jamaica through Jave. When we finally decide to have kids, Jave and I are both committed to instilling them with a sense of pride by teaching them as much as possible about both their African-American and Jamaican heritage.

Dana Carmel is a world traveler, cultural explorer, and a community servant. When she’s not at her day job, she spends her time volunteering locally and abroad. Also, she spends a lot of time plotting travel adventures for her travel business, Time Travel Plans. Read about her volunteer and non-volunteer adventures around the world at www.TimeTravelPlans.net.

Friday Focus: Kristi Keller

This week’s Friday Focus visits with Kristi Keller, a Calgary native who fell in love with Jamaica and has visited the island about twenty times since 2003. Kristi has also spent months at a time in Jamaica.

Kristi Keller

Kristi relaxing on the dock at Pelican Bar, Black River

1.     Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada.  As a youth I was a dancer and a country girl, spending most of my time riding my horse.  As an adult I spent my time being a single mom and working for a communications company, and then for the municipal government.  My corporate time totaled roughly 15 years.  Life was pretty normal and uneventful and I just blended in….until I started traveling.

2.     What brought you to Jamaica?

In 2003 I won a trip to Jamaica through a local radio station here in Calgary.  Before that I had never considered traveling abroad at all.  Travel was not on my radar other than visiting family in the USA.

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Kristi at Blue Hole waterfall, St. Ann

3.     What were your first impressions of the country and how did those match up with what you knew or had heard from others?

Since I had never experienced a foreign country or a different culture EVERYTHING about Jamaica struck me from the very first minute on the ground.  Landing at a tiny airport (back then), stepping off the plane onto the runway, the amazing greenery and palm trees everywhere I looked, and the heat.  In that first week on the island I was part of an organized group and had to stay with them and participate in the excursions they took us on, but I distinctly remember wanting to get the hell off of that bus and go explore!  I wanted to know everything and everyone!  From that first trip I knew that I hadn’t even seen or learned a fraction of what Jamaica is all about.  Staying in resorts and spending time with an organized tour group doesn’t let you learn anything except how to eat, drink and shop a lot.

4.     What made you return, how many times have you been back and how long, on average, do you stay?

I returned to Jamaica 2 months after my initial trip and the reason I went back so soon was because I received an offer I couldn’t refuse by a Jamaican police officer I briefly met.  He said that if I ever want to come back to Jamaica he would show me what the island was REALLY about.  It was a done deal and I went back, stayed at a home in the countryside and toured the entire western half of the island.  I went to places that tourists don’t normally go, shared a yard with a family of donkeys, met people I would have never met if I had been staying in a hotel, and just absolutely fell in love with the island. 

I’ve been to Jamaica twenty times (and counting) since 2003.  My trips evolved from 7 days, to 10, then to 14 and eventually I quit my job  and left Canada for months to stay in Jamaica.  I’ve done that twice now.

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Crashing waves in Hanover

5.     What does your family think of your visits?

For that second trip where I flew back to hang out with a complete stranger, my mother thought I was on crack.  She was very worried about my safety, knowing that Jamaica has a bad/dangerous reputation.  Now, after all these years and trips I think my family just doesn’t care anymore.  My mother wonders how I can just keep going back to the same place every single time and wonders why I don’t want to discover something new.  But what she doesn’t understand is that every single trip IS new.  If you do Jamaica the way I do Jamaica there is no sameness in any trip.  I drive around the island solo and discover something new every trip.  I stay in local guest houses (not hotels), experience new things to do, meet new people and learn something new every single time. [Read more…]

Friday Focus: Lola Akinmade-Akerstrom

This month, InsideJourneys inaugurates Friday Focus, a series of interviews with writers and travelers.

October’s Focus is on Nigerian born writer/photographer and editor for Matador Goods, Lola Akinmade-Åkerström.

Lola holds an MSc in Information Systems from the University of Maryland and has a solid background in Geography. She specialized in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for 10+ years and her affinity for the geosciences and maps meant she was born to travel.

Her work has appeared in Vogue, National Geographic Traveler, BBC, San Francisco Chronicle, Travel Channel’s World Hum, Forbes Traveler, Sherman’s Travel, Fodors.com, ISLANDS Magazine, United’s Hemispheres, Guardian UK’s Been There, Smithsonian.com, CITY Magazine, Pology, GoNOMAD, Away.com, Transitions Abroad, Matador Network, amongst others.

Some of her articles and photography have been syndicated on MSNBC, Yahoo, New York Daily News, Chicago Sun Times, Huffington Post, and Time Warner.

She has also worked as a field journalist on the web team during Eco-Challenge’s Expedition Race in Fiji and currently volunteers as a photojournalist with the Swedish Red Cross and World Hope International, documenting their projects in countries such as Nicaragua, Sweden, and Cambodia, and C.H.I.E.F – an NGO based in Nigeria that promotes grassroots health development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and the empowerment of women.

Lola describes herself as fiercely passionate as well as compassionate and has a generous heart. She is also guided by her faith.

Here’s Lola Akinmade-Akerstrom on writing, traveling and her approach to both.

What do you find most challenging and most fun about being a travel blogger?

I actually consider myself a writer/photographer and blogging is just one of many platforms I use to share work. What I find the most invigorating in terms of blogging about travel is that I can bring people alongside me and provide a ground-level perspective of where I’m journeying through.

There are various challenges based on what type of travel blogger one is. There are many bloggers whose main goal is to make money through advertising on their site so their challenge is trying to get traffic and viewers. There are others who want to score free trips so their challenge is showing PR companies that they’ll get some return on investment.

For me personally, I earn most of my income from freelancing and so my own challenge is to always have a fresh pool of ideas and a steady backlog of work.

What does it mean to you to travel?

Travel is two-fold for me, and I consider it a part of my life. As idealistic as I am, I also try to keep a balanced view on life. I can’t make travel so consume my life that without it, I feel helpless. Yet, travel is an integral part of my life because I’ve been traveling overseas ever since I was 1 year old.

Lola Akinmade-Akerstrom

Lola Akinmade-Akerstrom

In terms of travel being two-fold, for me travel is not only about traversing the world, counting countries, and absorbing every other culture while losing yours in the process. Travel also requires that I be an ambassador for my own culture, sharing it and educating others I meet along the way as well.

I see travel as an investment and I wrote about my views here.

What places are on your bucket list and why?

Though I’ve been blessed to visit so many countries (roughly 40 so far), I’ve actually chucked out any bucket lists I had. Because my attitude and philosophy towards travel has changed with time, I’ve stopped looking at life as a checklist and more as a moment by moment experience. If I never get to go skydiving off Kilimanjaro in my lifetime, I won’t have regrets because it wasn’t on some bucket list that defined my life.

That said; I really want to go to the North Pole. It has always been a childhood dream of mine and I know someday it will happen. I also want to visit Mongolia as well as travel through and spend some time in a lot more West African countries.

Describe your dream trip.

I’ve been drawn to the South Pacific for some time now. Though I’ve visited Australia and New Zealand as well as spent 3 weeks in Fiji, my dream trip would be to spend 3-6 months in the South Pacific, island hopping and visiting every single one of those remote islands.

Tell us about a place you visited that you didn’t like.

Brussels was the one place I really didn’t dig. I’m always open to giving it another chance.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself through traveling?

There’s a certain down-to-earth vibe that comes with being a traveler. One thing I’ve learned is to never take anything or anyone at face value. I’m very open-minded and always give everyone the benefit of doubt. I’ve also learned through my travels just how versatile and flexible I can be.

What gadgets do you have to have when you travel?

I still don’t own a smartphone mostly because I want to balance working on my travels with actually experiencing each moment. This may change within the next few months, but right now, I don’t miss having one. I always have a travel netbook as well as a DSLR camera when traveling. I often use my camera to capture what I call “visual notes” which I then piece together into an article (in addition to traditional note taking) when I’m back at my desk.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to point readers to a couple posts that I think might be helpful. I always get questions about breaking into travel writing and photography and I’m always open, honest, and realistic in my responses. Here are a few articles/posts worth reading.

Thank you, Lola, for sharing your insight and your articles with us.

Read more about Lola Akinmade-Akerstrom or follow her blog by visiting her here.

 

Interview with Blogger, Ozias Sanchez, First Year of Freedom – Part 2

Interview with Ozias Sanchez, who’s also called “Mozes,” First Year of Freedom, Part 2

Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working on your blog?

Well, I don’t spend too much time going around from blog to blog, so the only blog I look at regularly is Marcia’s blog: Inside Journeys. And I have to say, although I really don’t have a particular interest in traveling, her blog is a lot of fun to read.

Name some of the bloggers whom you look up to and why?

Well, like I said, I don’t actually read other people’s blogs, so I don’t know anybody in specific I look up to, but I’d have to say anybody who gets more than 1000 views a day.

Do you think Pagerank plays a vital role in a blog’s life?

Any blog that wants a steady access of new viewers, yes.

What would you prioritize? Content? SEO? Traffic? Readers?

In all honesty, content. I don’t really care if tons of people read my blog or not. I mean, yes, it’s nice to have people stop by every once and a while and leave a comment, but I’m more concerned with practicing my writing than actually getting people to come see it.

What’s the best thing a blogger can give to his/her readers?

Something that they can read to get away from the world, or relate to. Nothing beats the feeling like somebody who feels the same way you do.

A lot of people are interested in blogging for the money earning potential. What are some tips for people interested in making money from blogging? What are some realistic expectations in regards to what can be made?

Money from blogging? If this is your goal, don’t get your hopes up, this is definitely a hard goal to reach. All I have to say is, if you want to make money from blogging, you better have an interesting opinion on controversial subjects, or be an expert at something used every day. Unless you’re somewhere along those lines, don’t expect much.

What was the most challenging moment in your blog content development process and why?

Probably the theme of the blog, because it’s the biggest part about your blog that you have to keep consistent, so I was having trouble deciding something like that.

Everyone has a favorite/least favorite post. Name yours and why?

My favorite post is my Lady Gaga one, because it got tons of views, and I’m really proud of it, and my least favorite one is probably the one about the aliens. I had nothing to write about, so I had to pull something straight out of my… well, never mind. I mean, the post is still truthful.

What’s your take on sponsored reviews?

Don’t pay to do something that can be easily done on your own for free.

If someone was interested in blogging, what would be a few things you would suggest?

Don’t blog about what you had for lunch, unless it was still alive.

Any final thoughts?

Nope, just thanks to Marcia for the interview!

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