Winemakers 4th edition at La Samana

Exquisite evening; unbeatable setting!

The evening was sultry; the air luscious with hints of fresh blossoms in the gardens; soft lighting led us into the foyer of one of the most delightful open-air restaurants on island. Belmond, La Samana, was hosting another fabulous evening of wine pairing which we were attending.

Given a beautiful warm welcome at the desk, we were guided through to the lower terrace. Meeting and being introduced to some delightful folk along the way, we were shown directly to the wine cellar, La Cave, where we were to have our first glass of bubbly for the evening.

The wine cellar is an unexpected place; it is the epitome of a true cellar, musty and chilly with the wonderful aroma of barrels, burning candles and of course wine. Deep steps and winding passages run right into the heart of the cliff under the hotel perching above like a shimmering bridal cake.

We were offered our first glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, the bottles of champagne were displayed on a table with shining flutes awaiting their turn to be filled with golden bubbles and a glorious white arrangement of flowers; we were then taken for a wander through the winding passages to a room where, on occasion, one may dine amidst aged bottles of wonderful wines, the table set with shining silver and glistening glasses. Oh, yes, pure enchantment.

Back on the terrace with our champagne, we stood gazing at the gorgeous view, the calm sea, watching planes come in to land as the gloaming gently turned to night. And then it was time to be seated so that the excellent pairing could begin.

The amuse bouche was heavenly, a small cup of warm asparagus foam soup garnished with a speckling of olive oil and paired with the same champagne we had been enjoying – certainly a promising start.

The following course was quite delightful, a Sea Scallop Carpaccio in Almond Milk garnished with a radish and tart granny-smith apple salad and yuzu vinaigrette; paired with Billecart-Salmon Brut de Blancs Grand Cru. This was the only champagne that did not make full marks on my taste buds; it did, however, go down smoothly.

Warm rolls were being offered constantly, they were perfect to sop up the juices from this and the next dish.

The second pairing was a wild salmon fillet braised in champagne and set on a bed of endive surrounded by a caviar sour cream sauce. Oh my! Paired with Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut 2006, nothing could be more delicious. The smooth sauce, perfectly braised fish, and champagne could not be bettered; or could it?

The next dish, veal fillet tournedos, was slow-cooked and served with roasted asparagus and shallots and a juice of roasted coffee foam; paired with Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois. The woody influence came out strongly, mature and rich, sophisticated and stylish, nutty and full-bodied – certainly a champagne that can hold its own with roasted coffee flavours. A perfect pairing indeed!

Finally, the dessert course, along with some petit fours, equalled fruit salad and cookies of sophistication. The fruit, melon and raspberries, finely diced and artfully displayed with a fruity gel and fruity coulis, wee meringue licks and a Breton Sable brought a light ending to a most enjoyable evening; paired with Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose, perfection in extreme.

Once again, the chef, sommeliers and staff at La Samana pleased all who experienced this Winemakers 4th edition. You don’t want to miss the next one!

Info:

Trellis, Belmond, La Samana

Phone: + 590 590 87 64 00

Reservations recommended

Ratings:

Staff friendliness: *****

Service speed: *****

Restaurant cleanliness: *****

Food quality: *****

Value for money: ****

Ambience: *****

After a four-year hiatus, the ancient and classical Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam will be showcased on the stage of Belair Community Centre on Sunday, May 28, starting at 6:30pm. The one-and-a-half hour recital will feature some 40 young dancers of Nritya Dance Company and teacher/choreographer Aparna Samaga.

“Recitals like this are so important in keeping classical arts thriving amongst the younger generations. Recitals inspire and motivate them into practicing and training in the classical arts. Our kids become ambassadors of our rich Indian cultural heritage,” said Samaga of the show. “Our main goal in conducting this kind of concert is creating an awareness of Indian cultural tradition to the St. Maarten public and encouraging all youngsters and kids to come and learn this divine art form and thereby help in keeping this art form alive.”

The programme will feature the beautiful South Indian Classical Dance form of Bharatanatyam, group dances to the tunes of Indian classical and fusion music and a Bollywood dance number which dancers recently learnt in a workshop taught by ace Bollywood choreographer Shampa Gopkrishna.

Samaga said a small dance drama, based on an Indian folktale will be staged this year. The story of the cow Punyakoti is strongly rooted in the cultural tradition of the Karnataka state in India. Heard in the past over many generations, and to be heard in the future also, this is the story of truthfulness, honesty and faithfulness. The mother cow Punyakoti, who is very innocent and mild, is caught by a cruel tiger Arbhuth; but she changes the tiger’s mind with her truthfulness.

“The story reveals the importance of truthfulness in our life. Truth is god. Punyakoti touches our heart, appeals to our emotions. Human beings have to learn lessons from animals,” Samaga explained.

The core of the recital remains Bharatanatyam, the ancient traditional art form with its origins steeped in divinity and its reflection of the Indian culture at its best. It is a highly complex movement language that is an amalgamation of multiple layers of melody, rhythm, emotions, story, mime, philosophy, poetry, physical energy and tempo. And yet, beneath all these layers lies the innermost core of the art – a merging of physical energy with spiritual ideals.

The dance form uses a sophisticated vocabulary of hand gestures (Hastas), rhythm (Tala) and expression (Bhava) and is composed of two distinct aspects: Nritta (Pure Dance and Abstract Movements) and Abhinaya (Mime or Facial Expression). Nritta is intricate rhythmic footwork synchronous in time and tempo to the music; and Abhinaya visually interprets the narrative of the lyrical composition.

Looking beyond the music and the drama, the rhythm and the poetry, Bharatanatyam is really moored in something more profound and spiritual. It is very easy to simply appreciate the outer beauty and glamour of the form, but for the audience to experience a Rasa (aesthetic experience) that exists beyond this physicality is the true test for an artiste.

Samaaga said Bharatanatyam isn’t meant to merely entertain. Every performance is an experience for both the artiste and the audience – a spiritual experience of sublime aesthetics. Linear geometrical patterns, a perfect balance of the body, eloquent expression, and precision of footwork to intricate mathematical rhythms are the hallmarks of this dance.

Tickets are US $15 for adults and $10 for children ages five to 10 and are available at National Institute of Arts (NIA) on Longwall Road, Kams Food World on W.J.A. Nisbeth Road, Oro Diamante Jewelers on Front Street, Blue Rivera (next to Cheri’s Café) and Victorious on Rue de St. James, Marigot. Entrance price will increase by $5 at the door.

For more information, contact Samaga at 1 (721) 526-8850.

Founder of SXM’s Girls Night Out

Nigeria, New York, Guadeloupe, France, Washington and Sint Maarten – Ogechi Anyanwu has called many places her home. But the latter, our island, holds a special place in her heart.

Ogechi, who founded SXM’s Girls Night Out, realized that women as consumers have a huge influence on our economy. This “power”, Ogechi has dubbed “sheconomy.” SXM’s Girls Night Out is an event that empowers businesses and entrepreneurs to tap into the “sheconomy” on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin while providing female consumers with an all-around perfect night out filled with shopping, cocktails, pampering and entertainment.

On Saturday, June 3, the 5th edition of SXM’s Girls Night Out will be held. Since the first edition in 2012, Ogechi and her team have seen the event grow in exponential numbers with more than 1,500 women in attendance last year. Out N’ About sat down with Ogechi to find out more about her popular event.

How did you become an event organizer?

When I was 19, I moved to France to attend university to study international law. Since I was four, I wanted to become an attorney, with the dream of fighting injustice. Yet in my last year, I realized that my dream wasn’t realistic as one of my teachers said, “Justice isn’t just.” Besides that, most of the attorneys I knew did not live a lifestyle I envisioned myself living. I moved to Washington and started studying entertainment business and management. I loved the idea of being part of creating a product that allowed people to escape the everyday hustle and bustle. During this time, I attended a lot of events and started being inspired by how to go about creating unique events myself; which I did as soon as I got my degree!

What inspired Girls Night Out?

During university, I attended a lot of events, which gave me many ideas. I also have always been a fan of empowering women and was drawn to the idea of creating a unique event that caters to them. I had also noticed that there were few events that took women into account from an economical standpoint. I saw a niche there; women are a HUGE part of our economy and should be recognized as such. Many events, marketing and businesses do not target women and their huge buying power the right way. SXM’s Girls Night Out is a combination of what I aspire to change, have seen, learned and fills that important “sheconomic” gap. It was also important to me that it would be a lot of FUN!

How did you go about creating this new event?

I presented my idea to my mom, Bernadette Davis, who many people know on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. She has produced many successful events; so I asked her what she thought about my idea. I also asked if I could be on her team should she decide to do it. She loved it and said, “You are going to make this event happen and I will be on your team.” We involved a few more key family members each with their own unique talents and ideas who have made SXM’s Girls Night Out such a success. Jennifer Simmons-Hughes and Ogechi have shared a vision of creating a production company from the age of 11 and 12. After the first SXM’s Girls Night Out event, Jennifer was inspired to open several Yogen Fruz chains in Holland. Linda Cocks is a multi-business owner and a tourism industry expert. Ijeoma Anyanwu is a marketing expert and creative director.

What are some of the difficulties in creating such an event?

It is hard to have to fight for sponsors each year on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. I think many people face the same issue on the island. Our event has proven successful, yet it is a bit of a struggle every year to get everyone on board. Logistically, if you work with the right people, everything runs smoothly; but there is always a chance that something unintended happens. Of course there are many more upsides, for example, this year a talented entrepreneur will be joining our event as a vendor. She is a designer and hasn’t had an opportunity like this to market herself. I just know we will make a difference to her business, which makes my team and me very happy. When you see and hear these kinds of positive reactions to your event, all the initial struggles are worthwhile!

Why should we women come out to SXM’s Girls Night Out?

You should come to our event because you will have a great time! You will be surrounded by friends, or make some new ones while you shop, sip, savour and pamper yourself. Dozens of vendors will be selling your favourite products and might introduce you to some new ones you will fall in love with. You will be sampling delicious cocktails and snacks while you enjoy an array of entertainment. There will also be mini-massages and mini-makeovers for those who want to relax. There will also be special workshops for those who want to learn and be inspired. It is a perfect night out for women to leave all the stress of the world behind! Oh, and there are many surprises too!

Surprises?! What kind of surprises?

It is our fifth anniversary – quite a milestone – so we will be giving away many prizes throughout the night. Besides all of the swag filled bags given to the first 600 women and the goodies you can win throughout the event; we will also have three GRAND prizes! By buying your ticket to SXM’s Girls Night Out, you will automatically enter a raffle. First prize is a Caribbean Cruise for two; second prize is a stay at a hotel on the island and third is a cash prize. For just $30 admission, you have a chance to win these and more!

If you could have three people over for dinner, dead or alive, who would they be, what would you serve them and what would you discuss with them?

I would have Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Beyoncé; I would serve a hot goat cheese salad with baguette and butter on the side as the appetizer, lobster in a cream sauce served with rice pilaf for the entrée and a cup of vanilla ice-cream wrapped in a crepe and topped with a creamy rum sauce and whipped cream. We would discuss being women with a dream, the journey to achieving our dreams and the things we had to give up to accomplish them. I would love to hear their stories on juggling being a woman, a partner/wife, a mother and an entrepreneur.

See you at SXM’s Girls Night Out on Saturday, June 3! Bring your friends, sisters and mom out for a great time. Come shop, sip, savour and be pampered. Contact info: www.sxmgirlsnightout.com, 1 (721) 527-8660 or info@sxmgirlsnightout.com

Fernando Clark will be hosting this year’s Laugh Till Belly Burst Comedy Show which is set for Saturday, June 10, at Princess Port de Plaisance. Clark tells us why he went on board as host again this year, about his life as a comedian and a bit about what fans can expect from him.

Who is Fernando Clark?

That’s a very interesting question. I am the fourth of five children. I have one brother living in St. Maarten and the rest are in the USA (with Donald Trump). As for who I am, I am the person that you hear on the radio in commercials and on talk shows. I am the face you saw as a presenter of the nightly AVS News. I am the person you see as the Master of Ceremonies for various events on the island. I am the guy who makes you laugh. I am no stranger to the St. Maarten community.

How would you describe yourself?

Easy going, like a lot of fun and laughter; but when it comes to my work, that is when I put on my serious hat. There are two sides to me, the fun and laughter side and the serious side. Sometimes I mix the serious and the fun; but when I have to, I keep them separated.

Education?

All my schooling was done in Aruba where I was born and I actually graduated with the subjects biology, chemistry and mathematics. But after school, I went into banking and finance. I worked in banking for 36 years and followed many banking and financial courses, so I always considered myself to be a banker. I also did some courses in communication and marketing. I combined all of them and created a product called Fernando Clark.

When did you discover your love for comedy?

Early in secondary school – I was asked to be the MC for school activities. But even before that, I enjoyed making people laugh. I loved to entertain. Then when I came to St. Maarten, I continued the trend. But it was during my school days that I actually discovered that I had what it takes to make people laugh. In those days, comedy was not as big as it is now, so people referred to a comedian as a payaso, which is Spanish for clown. So to aspire to be a comedian back then was not a big thing. Parents didn’t feel proud to introduce their child as “Meet my son, the clown.”

How did you get into the industry professionally?

There were people who kept telling me that I can do it; and they organised the first stand-up comedy show in St. Maarten. Entrance was free. The hall was packed and thereafter we did more shows. But it was my Fernando Clark RAW CD that got me to the Apollo Theatre in New York, and after that, it was smooth sailing. That was back in 1995. After that, I received invitations to perform in other countries. And that is when I started using my talent professionally.

What do you love about comedy?

Laughter is like a medication. It releases stress. I feel like a doctor when I make people laugh. Sometimes I encounter angry people and after making them laugh, they are a different person. If I can make people happy, release their stress and tension, then I feel that I have in some way contributed to somebody’s wellbeing. Could you imagine how life would be if there was no laughter? No comedy? I also love to hear a good joke. I love to laugh too, so I enjoy being entertained.

Why did you decide to host the LTBB comedy show?

For the opportunity to work with comedians from different countries. Imagine, we have a comedian from Africa. It will be fun working with him. I am sure he will bring a completely different style of comedy to St. Maarten. Each one has different styles and ways of bringing comedy across. So, it will be a mixture of good comedy. I definitely want to be a part of that.

What would you say to encourage others to come out to watch the show?

Miss LTBB? Are you crazy or insane? Be there. Come and release your stress, and actually laugh till your belly burst… Right now, comedy is one of the highest paying professions in the world. In Jamaica for instance, comedy shows outdo dance hall and hip hop parties. Don’t miss LTBB. Release the stress!

What do you think should be done to further promote local comedians in St. Maarten?

Many people think it is easy. Once they start and realise the work involved and the commitment it needs, they drop out. But St. Maarten has many great talented potential comedians. They need to be motivated and eventually compensated for their talent. But it starts with the individual person. We should not rely on others to pave the road for us, we have to make that first step.

What inspires you when it comes to creating your funny material?

Society. I look around, see funny things and write it in such a way to make people laugh and wonder: “How he came up with that?” In my last one-man stand-up comedy, I took the challenge to do a part about funerals. That was a challenge, but it was successful. Can you imagine people laughing about funerals? Those are the kinds of challenges that inspire me.

What, if anything, is off limits when it comes to comedy for you? And what issues would you say generally make the best jokes?

Unlike many other comedians, I don’t curse. Many of them use sexual jokes, I try as much as I can to keep away from that. But there is nothing that I consider off limits. Family matters, politics and relationships make good topics.

What’s next for Fernando Clark the comedian?

On September 30, I will do a long awaited one-man stand-up comedy. You will hear more about that after LTBB.

If you could invite three persons (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

If I have to invite them one at a time, it would be the late Dr. Claude Wathey, Vance James Jr. and Eldridge Van Putten, separately. That way, I know there would be no fighting. I would serve them KFC. If I had to invite three people together, I would invite The Mighty Sparrow, Paul Keens Douglas and King T-Mo. I know we would have a great conversation and lots of fun. I wouldn’t serve anything. T-Mo is a great chef, he would knock up something for them to eat.

By Laura Bijnsdorp

Adult Toy Box owner Pat Hunt says, “Male and female, young and old, tourists and locals, straight and gay; everyone comes into our store.”

I remember the first time I walked into the  Adult Toy Box store in Simpson Bay. I was 18 and my friends and I were looking for Halloween outfits. Sexually inexperienced in mind and body and seeing the rows of outfits, DVDs and numerous toys on store walls made me giggle nervously. My friends and I walked out of the store empty-handed with the overall consensus of “who uses these!”  In actuality, many of us were probably too embarrassed to admit that we did not think these items to be “strange.” In fact, we were quite curious. 

As we grew in our confidence as well as our sexual experience, we soon changed our tune. Talking about sex was no longer flustering; it was a regular occurrence. Sex toys became an acceptable topic and fun gifts at a variety of celebrations. I sat down with Pat on a late afternoon to learn more about Adult Toy Box, which she opened on Sint Maarten 13 years ago. “Everyone has a little kink inside of them. So I knew there was a niche for sex toys and enhancers on the island.”

This turned out to be true. Just two years after opening her first store in Simpson Bay, Pat, along with her good friend  Antoine, opened the second store in Philipsburg.  Antoine, better known to locals as Twanny, is still working at the Simpson Bay store. About her business partner, Pat says fondly, “He is a natural at making anyone feel comfortable. You are guaranteed to leave the store laughing if you encounter Twanny!”

This move might’ve been considered quite controversial on the island 13 years ago, but according to Pat and Antoine, most people today have embraced the idea of “spicing up” their sex-life. “The suspicion of sex toys ‘replacing a man in the bedroom’ has faded; as many have experienced that sex toys actually can add orgasms (don’t forget that women ARE multi-orgasmic), enhance pleasure and improve relationships,” Pat explains.

Sex is healthy; it helps your immune system, relieves stress, helps you sleep better, strengthens women's bladder control and relieves pain. Studies have even shown that sex can help prevent prostate cancer in men and improve heart health. Sex and intimacy can boost your self-esteem and happiness too. It’s not only a prescription for a healthy life, but also a happy one.

The choices are vast. For beginners, Pat recommends, “First talk to your partner, and once you are both open to the idea start slowly. Try massage candles, for example, they add to the romance, get partners in the mood and focus on foreplay. Masks, bullets (small vibrators) and lube are also fun and great “beginner” items.” Walking around the store, you can find toys to tap into wide ranges of “kink” and for those with tastes that are beyond that; Adult Toy Box takes special orders.

If would-be customers are too shy to come in, Pat suggests they invite friends over and arrange a home party with Pat where she can showcase products in a familiar environment. Adult Toy Box offers discreet home deliveries too; so if you are “toy-inquisitive”, there is always a way to comfortably meet your needs!

Whatever your choice, be sure to buy sex toys made with safe materials such as non-porous 100 percent silicone and phthalate-free rubber products. When in doubt and especially if you’re sharing, use a condom on the toy. Washing sex toys with soap and a sex toy cleaner after each use also prevents the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Most importantly, make sure to have the right information so you can have good, clean fun!

Pat: “We always encourage our customers to ask us many questions. This way, they know how to use the toy in the safest and most pleasurable way. Our goal is to make everyone feel 100% comfortable. You can ask us anything! Our staff is professional, trained, friendly and helpful. Also your privacy and anonymity are our priority!”

I experienced this “comfort” myself firsthand. My interview with Pat took over two hours because besides questions pertaining to the interview, I also ended up discussing my sex life with her! I walked out the door that night inspired; which made me happy and I am sure will make my boyfriend happy as well. Happy vibrations, here I come!

Adult Toy Box in Simpson Bay is open 10:00am-10pm and the Philipsburg store is open 9:00am -7:00pm. Contact info: 1 (721) 544-2412.

By Laura Bijnsdorp

Fat-shaming is the idea of placing shame on a person based on weight. This takes place at home, work, school and via media, the latter of which has brought fat-shaming and discussions around it to a whole new level.

One extreme example is YouTube’s “Nicole Arbour – Dear Fat People” video that has over 35 million views on her facebook page. In the controversial video, Arbour says, “Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up. That’s the race card, with no race.” She goes on to justify her point in the six-minute video that in my opinion is tasteless. Like many other “fat-shaming” posts, it appears to be purposely sensationalistic under a guise of “caring for people’s health.”

On the opposite end of the fat-shaming trend, a “fat acceptance movement” has been gaining popularity. Self-proclaimed “fat activists” fight to combat size discrimination that is experienced in employment, education, interpersonal relationships and the media. Unfortunately, some are just as judgmental as Nicole; condemning persons who “aren’t fat enough.”

Whatever your opinion, fat-shaming to “help” does not actually help. One can argue that fat acceptance can deny the negative realities of obesity. But fat-shaming is not the answer. Many people, especially those who are dieting, battle with the psychological and physical impacts associated with negative body image every day. The research is very clear that stigma and discrimination against overweight people make the problem worse.

According to a new publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), obesity and overweight have spread like wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. This is threatening the health, wellbeing and food- and nutritional-security of millions of people.

The document “Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security” shows that more than half of the region’s inhabitants – close to 58 percent (360 million people) – are overweight while obesity affects 140 million people, which is about 23 percent of the region’s population.

This is mostly attributed to our unhealthy food habits. On Sint Maarten, it isn’t hard to see that our idea of food has more fat, sugar and salt. We eat a lot of rice and beans, macaroni, fried chicken and fast food and we drink plenty of sweetened beverages.

Body shaming is never okay, but we also cannot ignore the fact that too many do live an unhealthy lifestyle on Sint Maarten. We need to work towards better health information, nutrition warnings, reasonably prices, healthy food options, taxes on unhealthy foods and affordable exercise programs.

“A real woman is curvy” is an idea that is also very much alive on the islands. I think that is where the problem truly lies. Fat or skinny; both can be unhealthy underneath. The issue is that most of us can’t go a day without hearing, reading or seeing everybody’s opinions on what a human body should look like.

Bodies are not public property. It isn’t anyone’s place to fat-shame or fat-enable. It is about the personal relationship you have with your own body – YOUR OWN BODY.

The following statements are all incorrect: “Real women have curves.” “Strong is the new skinny!” “That person needs to eat.” “A true man has muscles.” Instead of throwing around your unsolicited opinion, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I healthy, happy, and confident in my own skin?”

If your answer is NO, you have to realize that you have a personal responsibility to be happy. You need to make sure you get a clean bill of health from your doctor; and just as people need to stop judging others on appearance, you need to avoid using “I am proud of my body” as an excuse to live an unhealthy lifestyle. If your answer is YES, great! Keep on doing what you’re doing!

We are real people – women, men and children – who have bodies that aren’t just skin, muscles, fat and hair. Our bodies include hearts, brains and souls with each needing its own recipe of food, exercise, love and acceptance to stay healthy.

Mother’s Day in the Netherlands and America falls on May 14 this year. Here are some fun things to do. Fill them in and give them to your mother on Sunday.

Happy Faces shows outdoor movie

Every Saturday, the Happy Faces team from Robbie’s Lottery will be showing one movie in one neighbourhood on the island. This week, they will be showing the movie “Moana” on Saturday, May 13, at 6:30-9:00pm at Belvedere Community Centre.

The movie is FREE and everyone is invited to come and see it. Be sure you are there before 6:30pm as the movie will start on time.

There will be FREE pop-corn, juice, water and perhaps ice cream. Kids will receive a small surprise – so be on your best behaviour. Parents of course are most welcome.

Check the Out and About each week (and the Kid’s Herald) for upcoming areas where the movies will be shown over the next six months!

Sun rises at 5:36am

Sun sets at 6:42pm

Moon phase: first quarter moon, crescent waxing

Moon rises at 8:35am

Moon sets at 9:45pm

 

The Moon & the Tides

As the Sun sets on Saturday night, look to the western sky to see the new moon, just starting its 28-day cycle. A thin sliver of lunar landscape hovers near the foot of the constellation of Gemini, the Twins. Are those Gemini boys playing soccer with the earth’s natural satellite? Perhaps Cassiopeia should scold them!

 

The new moon is showing the earth its unlit face, with only a hint of the lighted side peeking around the edge. No matter how the moon looks to us earthlings, the sphere of rocky material that orbits us is always half lit by the sun, just as all the planets in the solar system. The changes we see in its appearance are due to how much of the lit face is aimed our way.

 

A full moon shows us the entire lit side, which is approximately two weeks from the true new moon, which is invisible to us, as its fully lit side is aimed away from earth. The dance of the earth, moon, and sun is a remarkable and rhythmic pirouette in which the three celestial bodies use gravity and momentum to swing around each other – the moon and earth do it every 28 days and together they swing around the sun every 365 days. And so go the days, months and years of our lives.

 

Because our oceans respond to the gravity of the sun and the moon, the tides are more extreme when the earth, moon and sun are in near-alignment, because their gravitational pulls add together. These are called spring tides, though it has nothing to do with the season of spring. Think of the water as springing forth! These spring tides occur when the moon is full but also when the moon is new. They are considered more extreme because the high tides are very high and the low tides are very low. Then one week later, the sun and the moon will be at right angles to each other, thus their gravitational pulls will not add together; in fact, they subtract! Physics is math, people! At that time, called neap tides, the high tides are not that high and the low tides are not that low.

 

Here in the Caribbean, we don’t notice that much of a difference in the high tides or the low tides. That is because our islands don’t really stop the movement of the ocean like a continent does. The water goes around us and keeps flowing. Long, continental coastlines, especially those running north and south receive the greatest tidal range. The greatest tides are said to be in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia on the eastern coast of North America. This is one place where the difference between the high tides and low tides can be as much as 40 feet! You can bet the folks living there are quite aware of the moon’s phase, especially those who make their living near or on the sea.

 

Watch the moon set about the same time as the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, and about 30 minutes later, the bright star Procyon will follow them down to the western horizon. The heads of the Gemini boys will set about 10 o’clock.

 

Ten is a great time to go out to check the stars and planets, providing the clouds are not blocking the view. At that time, the bright star Arcturus will be directly overhead, a position known as the Zenith, and Jupiter and the star Spica will be very high up too, in the southwestern portion of the sky. Due south and low – just above the horizon – look for two bright stars, Hadar and Rigil-Kent, these are the pointers that show the way to the Southern Cross.

 

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email lisa@thedailyherald.com

Festivities, history and adventure had kept us in the area of Antigua, Guatemala for longer than we had planned. Both Bart and I could have enjoyed ourselves there longer, but there was more of Central America to see and we only had a limited amount of time.

So we headed Southeast towards Belize; the next country on our list. But first, we had a few more highlights to check off our bucket list. The first: Semuc Champey, a famous river, which is a natural pit stop for backpackers in Guatemala. It is not an easy place to get to. We took an eight-hour shuttle-bus ride from Antigua to Coban, an unremarkable town. You can take tours to see Semuc Champey from here but most backpackers, including ourselves, make the effort to take another bumpy hour ride to Lanquin, a tiny village which is closer to the attractions of the area and nestled in a gorgeous valley between the Guatemalan highlands.

I noticed that the village must’ve only grown in the last few years due to the increasing tourism. Besides a few newly built shops, restaurants and guesthouses, there wasn’t much. When we got out of the bus a crowd formed around us; each person trying to convince us to stay at a number of different places for the night. I was happy that I had already made reservations. By recommendation of some friends I had made in Nicaragua, I had booked a room at a hostel called Zephyr Lodge. We found a young man holding up a ‘Zephyr Lodge‘ sign above his hand and followed him to a large pickup truck more fit for cattle than for travellers.

Luckily this ride was just a few minutes and eager to relax, have a drink and eat, we checked ourselves in. To our delight due to a mix-up we got a free upgrade to a very nice private room! A shower later and a cocktail in hand, we watched the sun disappear behind the mountains surrounding us.

We booked a tour with the hostel to see Semuc Champey the next morning. I was nervous because besides hiking to Semuc Champey we were going to climb and swim into a cave system nearby. I think caves are fascinating but the idea of navigating through possibly tight and dark spaces scared me.

With two-dozen other backpackers staying at our hostel we were piled into the ‘cattle-truck’, a half an hour bumpy and loud ride later we had arrived. Our guides who were young and energetic told us to leave everything but our swimming gear behind and led us to the dark cave entrance.

To light our way we didn’t receive a torch, but a long white candle that our guides lit for us one by one; telling us to follow him in a single-file line. While we entered the caves, another guide smeared our faces with mud in various designs. Painted faces, candles lit, we quietly followed one and other into the depths of a cave; it seemed like more of a cult-procession than a tour. Who was going to be sacrificed at the end? I told Bart to walk in front of me.

At times the cave and the pools of water would get deeper, forcing us to swim while holding our candle out of the water; other times steep rocks walls appeared before us and ropes and ladders were used to climb over them. Eventually, we got to the end of our route.

Sacrifices might not have been a tradition in the caves but our guide did show us a rock altar where ancient Mayans once performed sacred rituals. The Maya people believe that the cave is the "heart of heaven" where the secrets of many centuries are held. Close to this rock a large, deep pool had formed, Bart and a few other brave participants climbed up the slippery formations and dropped themselves into the pool.

I was proud that I had done the cave tour and although it was not as scary as I had thought, I was still happy when I saw sunlight. After a much-appreciated meal, our guides took the large group up a steep path made of steps, ladders and boulders; it was humid and I almost yearned for the cool waters of the cave once again. It had been a long journey of bus-rides & hikes but when we walked around our last corner and saw the mystical river-system Semuc Shampey, we understood why so may backpackers do so.

A turquoise collection of tiered pools atop a natural limestone bridge flowed amidst a wild jungle. It was a sight picked right out of storybooks with tales of nymphs and fairies. When we got our fill of the top-view we raced down the other side of the slope so we could take a closer, and wetter, look.

Once below, we swam in the water, jumped from the rocks and slid down the mini-waterfalls to get from pool to pool. Once we had explored enough we sat on the slippery rocks, letting the tiny river fish nibble at our feet while we enjoyed the sun. We ended the perfect day with pizza and games at the hostel and prepared to go on another adventure in the morning.

Back in Lago Atitlan, I sat next to a young Guatemalan DJ who gave me vague directions to what he called ‘the most magical place in Guatemala: Laguna Lachua. I had found a blog or two online giving a better summary of how to get there, but being off the tourist route, we did not fully know what to expect. We took a bus into Coban, another crowded bus to an isolated gas station, and another very uncomfortable bus ride to the secluded entrance of the park in which the lake was situated.

The only two other landmarks in sight were small wooden shack selling basic food items and a small dusty guesthouse. It was already late in the day, I had heard that it was possible to rent a room next to the lake at a campsite, but hadn’t confirmed anything as yet. To our relief, we spotted a park ranger, who, as a bonus, was very welcoming and kind.

He explained that we could rent a room for cheap price. The hike would be about an hour and we had to take our own food and firewood in. He offered to lock our large backpacks in the park office so we only had to take the bare minimum. Excited, we put some extra clothing in Bart’s smaller rucksack and crossed the dirt road and then decided we could create pasta that night with the onions, Vienna sausages, tomato paste and the tomatoes (only two) that the little shack was selling. The same shack also sold us some firewood and a few litres of drinking water.

Supplies in hand, we hiked into the park. It was quiet and peaceful; the only sounds were the rustling of trees and an occasional bird-chirp. Semuc Champey had been the prettiest river I had ever seen, and when Bart and I caught the first glimpse of Laguna Lachua; it could very well be the prettiest lake. Glassy water stretched from our feet to faraway mountains that were reflected in the clear lake.

At the campsite a kind ranger and his family greeted us. We were the only people staying at the simple lodging. We took a quick dip before the sun set, making sure to stay close to the shore, as we were told crocodiles inhabit the deeper areas of the 220-meter deep lake. That night we had fun making dinner on the firewood stove while listening to the rush of the heavy rainforest showers pouring down on the zinc kitchen roof.

The next morning, knowing it would be a while before we caught a bus in this off-the-beaten-track destination, we got up early. The rain had not stopped yet, so we got a free shower on our hike back. We repacked our backpacks, put on some dry clothes and sat on a lonely wooden bench on the side of the road waiting to get a ride to our next stop in Guatemala.

Follow Laura’s travels on Instagram: @laurasxm or read more on her blog: www.laurabijnsdorp.com/blog

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