Volcn_BarOn the day before Easter, several friends, a guide from Habla Ya, and I set out to climb Volcan Baru, in Boquete, Panama. The climb is approximately 14.5 kilometers, with a 6,000-foot elevation change, reaching the summit at 11,479 feet. It was a pleasant, sunny morning, and we set out at a steady pace; signs were random and infrequent, so it was hard to judge just how far we had gone or how far we had to go.

We wanted to be halfway before stopping for lunch, but we couldn’t find any signs to figure out where we were. We were tired and hungry and didn’t know how far we had come (later on, we discovered that we all were having the same thoughts at this time: “What did I get myself into, and will I be able to make it to the top?”). At this point the “road” (mostly loose gravel) was quite steep, and each time we turned around a bend, another steep section appeared.

'Krissie Critiques' presents the 2010 Ford Mustang V6! Don't forget to check out my pro travel tips at the end!

CIMG0002sizedThe Ford Mustang was the first car I can remember ever wanting; I must have been about 5 or 6 years old when I first noticed it. I remember sitting in a service station and peaking out of the window across the street at a gas station. A purple, convertible fox-body mustang was next to the pump as some teenager filled its tank perhaps getting ready for an evening out with friends. It was the first time that the concept of a “dream car” had occurred to me. Now age 24, I'm wondering why I waited so long to test drive this thing! 

The Dominican Republic — one part baseball mecca and one part beach colony, with a ton of Caribbean history and culture thrown in for added flavor.


The island of Hispaniola sits in the eastern Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico. The western third of Hispaniola is controlled by Haiti. The Dominican Republic  (DR) occupies the rest. The Dominican Republic sends a steady stream of talent to Major League Baseball. You’d be hard-pressed today to find a National or American League team that doesn’t have at least one Dominicano on its roster. One town, San Pedro de Macoris, practically specializes in producing infielders. The DR also is known for its all-inclusive beach resorts — more than 30 of them at last count. Lodging, meals and just about everything else are included in a single, sometimes staggeringly low price.

But is that all there is to the country? Not by a long shot. The capital city, Santo Domingo contains enough history of the Americas to make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of that history is packed into the Zona Colonial, where the age of almost everything except the residents is measured in centuries. For instance, the Pat’e Palo restaurant has been doing business on the same spot for 500 years, which makes it three centuries older than the United States! The Hotel Palacio, where I stayed on a baseball trip a few years back, is a mere 400 years old. The remains of Christopher Columbus are buried here. At least the natives here think so. There’s also a museum where you can see treasure from sunken Spanish galleons.

Even the thoroughfares have history; Calle de las Damas, so named because frilly ladies used to promenade there, is the oldest street in the Americas. It runs just below the perimeter wall of the old Ozama Fort, which is not your typical Caribbean bastion.

dr_cocomanMost colonial fortresses were erected to discourage pirates; Ozama was built to lure them in. Its buildings were designed to resemble a European church — from a distance. Only when they came into gun range did the pirates learn that the canons of this “church” were really cannons.

Americans still can’t legally visit Cuba because of the US embargo (although thousands skirt that ridiculous rule annually), but two stretches in the Zona Colonial can give you a sense of what Cuba is like. One is the seaside boulevard known as the Malecon. The other is El Conde.

The Malecon is lined with major hotels, casinos and restaurants overlooking the Caribbean. This is where we encountered a tasty liqueur known as Guavaberry. But don’t go looking for a bottle of this stuff to take home. It’s sold only on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. You can order it online, though.  When the sun goes down, lovers take over the concrete benches on the side of the street closest to the sea. On Sundays, the Malecon is closed to traffic. Kids play basketball and soccer and fly kites in the street, while vendors sell sweets, cold drinks and ice cream.

El Conde is a tree–shaded alleyway in the Zona Colonial lined with restos and shops. You’ll also find the Cubania cultural center, a good place for Cuba Libres, daiquiris, piña coladas and mojitos. This spot was used to simulate Havana in the film Godfather II. If you’re into jewelry, El Conde also is a good place to find larimar, a stone similar to turqoise — and found nowhere else in the world.

dominica_republic_palaciocourtAlong both the Malecon and El Conde, you’ll see folks selling pieces of art done in the style of the Taino people, the original inhabitants of Hispaniola. The one thing you won’t find is any trace of the Taino themselves. The Spanish colonizers — and the diseases they brought with them — pretty much wiped them out. The decimation of the Taino by the Spanish led to African slaves being brought to Hispaniola, a pattern that would be repeated by Europeans throughout the Americas, including in what eventually became the United States.

One of the must-sees in Santo Domingo is a restaurant called El Conuco. They specialize in traditional cooking known as criollo. The food is tasty, but that’s not why you go. What makes this place a command performance is the dance they call “bachata in a bottle.” Bachata is a traditional Dominican music and dance style. The dance is performed by a couple who take turns spinning on one foot, while balanced atop an empty bottle of Cointreau.

The weather is warm and the Presidente beers are always — and I do mean always — ice-cold. In fact, don’t be surprised if your beer arrives with little chunks of ice stuck to the bottle. If you’re inclined to rent an SUV and go exploring, the countryside is also tropically beautiful, especially in places like Baiguate, with its waterfalls.

But the most beautiful thing about the DR may be the people who call it home. Most are bright-eyed, quick to smile, warm and strong in spirit despite the poverty that makes life a struggle for many of them. Ultimately, they may be the nation’s best tourist attraction.

About the authorgreg_gross

Gregg Gross has been a writer and journalist for 41 years. He has worked for the San Francisco Examiner, the Associated Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune. An avid travel writer for a few years, one of his goals ia to dispel the myth that black people don't travel. His travel blog is "I'm Black & I Travel."(


Photos: Top, Photo-Dominican Republic’s Baiguate Waterfall
All photos courtesy by Greg Gross

Let’s do Cuba!

cuba_dance_folk_kidsBig changes are happening with Cuba travel. The BP oil spill has not impacted Cuba. Many more Americans will finally be able to visit the island as President Obama is set to relax prohibitions soon. His new rules will mean hundreds of thousands more visitors flooding into Cuba. But, there is no need to wait for changes from Washington and be left out  if there are overbooked tours and too few rooms and services. If you're engaged in education, healthcare, law, architecture, the arts, and many other professions, you can go now, on a license and without complications.

Cuba Education Tours assist at every stage. With an official status on the island, the tour programs get priority treatment after ten years of stellar relations with Cuba. Cubans are eager to meet you and make friends with their northern cousins. Cuban Education Tours can help you discover with peace of mind on safe, legal, quality programs organized by Cuban, Canadian and American experts. No other destination beats the fun and friendship found in Cuba!

From Goree Island’s House of Slaves to the African Renaissance Monument, Senegal’s capital city of Dakar is a journey in enlightenment.                                                                      


I must confess, I’ve always thought that a vacation to Africa was reserved for those with time, inordinate amounts of money, disproportionate needs for adventure and, of course, Europeans on holiday.  Africa in my mind seemed exotic, rugged and raw, and an out-of-the-ordinary trip that required mental and emotional preparation equally as much as it required planning.  So when my mother and I were offered the short notice chance to explore the French –speaking, majority Muslim country of Senegal, a west African country which many people could not without delay pinpoint on a map and unsurprisingly, where North American tourism borders insignificant, I was, to say the least, somewhat hesitant, not having a clue as to what to expect.

paris_Prince_Adingra_2When I moved to Paris in 1992, it was the culmination of a long-time dream.  Though I had always wanted to live in France to perfect my French language skills and to experience another culture, I had no idea how enriching life in the French capital would be.  To this day, I consider my move to Paris to be the single, greatest act that I have undertaken, both personally and professionally.

What is there to love about Paris?  Aside from the graceful beauty of the city and the incredible cuisine, there is a wealth of culture and history that extends far beyond the legacy of monarchs, mistresses, and the French Revolution.  France is every bit as multicultural as the United States, and the interweaving of cultures – Western and Eastern, Afro-centric and Euro-centric, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim – in a nation that has such fierce pride in its national identity makes daily life both fascinating and educational.

Place_Jamaa_al_FnaIt was my last night in Morocco, and I really wanted to hold my boyfriend’s hand. Now I had read and heard that in the Arab world where modesty is key, publicly displaying affection is unwelcome. But it was the last night that I would get to walk through those crowded narrow streets, curiously taking a glimpse at the sea of new faces that passed by, smelling things that I had never and would never smell in America, and seeing the most beautiful shade of blue that existed. I never thought that I would be only 23 when I first visited Africa. I was lucky to be there, and I never forgot that. In just a couple of nights, we had already made it a habit to take a stroll through the streets around 9pm, an hour or so before the famed open air market, Place Jam'aa Al Fnaa, closed.


CubabandWe were in Cuba delivering supplies to a Cuban health care facility when we learned that United States Government regulations are rigid. We had to fly a chartered plane from Miami to Cuba; then we faced many questions from Cuban immigration and customs officials after we landed at the airport. But once admitted, we felt quite comfortable, except for the uneasy feeling we were in some sort of dream.

After adjusting, I stood on the front lawn of the 1930s-era Hotel Nacional de Cuba, with its history of mobsters and movie star guests. I sipped a rum-based Mojito while overlooking an azure sea filled with fish, but I saw nary a fisherman or fishing boat in sight. The reason: On both the north side and the Havana side of Cuba, fishermen are not allowed to leave the harbor with anyone – including family members – on board. The fear of the revolutionary government is that a fishing boat will head to the United States coast of Florida, 90 miles away, allowing escape from the communist environ of Cuba.


When I first went to, Salvador the capital of Bahia-whose official name is São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos-I was going to do some research on a book I was writing about Afro-Brazilians who, after obtaining their freedom from slavery, returned to West Africa in the 19th century. It was an impromptu decision, and my nephew and I chose the day of February 1 because it was the first date he could get away.

It turned out to be a good time because on the February 2, Salvador was celebrating the feast of Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea in Candomblé, and Rio Vermelho was where the celebrations took place. We got a hotel on the beach where we had a front view of the celebrations, which went on all night and all day. The experience gave me a taste of the zest for living that infuses Bahianos, the people from Bahia.


During a recent visit to Belize, I had the opportunity to learn more about the Garífuna culture and experience a little of their Independence Day celebration.  The Garífuna culture is spread throughout the country with strong influences in the cuisine and music of Belize.  From the very beginning I could tell that I would like Belize. My experience began at the border crossing between Guatemala and Belize by bus.



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