Eiffel Tower in December

 

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There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris ~ Ernest Hemmingway

When you think of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has to be the first thing that comes to mind. My mom and I planned a trip to Paris and London in 2014 and had an amazing time running all over the place. I truly believe that you will never regret making memories through travel with the ones that you love. First stop, Eiffel Tower!! After all, it is the one of the top recognized structures of the world and the most visited monument with almost 7 million people per year. After touring Paris in the winter, le croissant and French onion soup are a close second! The Eiffel Tower, named after Gustave Eiffel, is built of wrought iron and located on Champs de Mars. The iconic tower was built from 1887-1889 for the World’s Fair.

Upon checking into our hotel, located on George 5th, the Eiffel tower was located to the right a couple of blocks down. We were fortunate enough to be able to walk to the tower during the day and at night, walking anywhere in December can be bone chilling cold.

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A quote from one of my favorite movies, Sabrina~ “La Vie En Rose: It means seeing life through rose colored glasses, but only in Paris where the light is pink”

As you can see, in the picture above, the Eiffel Tower in December is often surrounded by gray clouds, blistery cold wind and rain or mist. The tower stands 1,063 ft tall, which equates to an 81-story building, making it the tallest building in Paris. As the elevator takes passengers to the observation deck, it can be a little scary looking down. If you are afraid of heights as my mom is, close your eyes. At one time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world and remained such for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York was built in 1930. The Eiffel Tower is the second tallest building in France.

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View from the lift

As we reached the site of the Eiffel Tower, I was taken aback by the number of guards carrying automatic weapons pacing back and forth, of course this was in 2014. I was familiar with high levels of security as well as police in the United States at touristy areas, but couldn’t remember at that time seeing military with semi-automatic weapons. I wasn’t sure if I felt safer or if it made me more aware? The picture above on the left is standing on the observation deck and the picture to the right is standing in line.

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The tower has three levels which visitors can explore. The first & second levels have restaurants while the upper level, also known as the observation deck (906 feet high), is a fantastic place to take pictures. If you love to climb, tickets are available for visitors to access the tower via stairs. Keep in mind it takes 300 steps to reach the first level. No thanks! I could barely climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but then again those stairs are leaning. We opted to take the elevator (lift) complete with large glass, viewing windows.

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View from the top

$$ Saving Tips~ There are several different modes of transportation to/from the Eiffel Tower. Check with the concierge if you are staying at a hotel or preview a map. We walked from our hotel. It is not necessary to book a tour of the Eiffel Tower, but may be convenient if you are traveling with an elderly family member or small children to ensure less walking, waiting and standing. Many of the tour companies pre-pay the tickets to bypass standing in the line. Some of the tours include dinner at the restaurant within the tower. Others tack on sailing the Seine River. If traveling in the winter, there isn’t a need to purchase the fast pass Eiffel Tower tickets because the lines are short. Save your money and purchase the regular ticket. It was a total of 20 minutes from the time we stood in line until we were at the top of the tower.

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Touring Tulum

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Ferry Ride to Tulum

Tulum is the site of the pre-Columbian, Mayan, walled city ruins which lie on 39-feet tall cliffs dating back to 13th & 15th centuries. Tulum is located along the Caribbean Sea in Quintana Roo, Mexico and is one of the best-preserved of all Maya coastal sites. Tulum is one of the last cities inhabited by the Mayan people. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have resulted in very high fatalities, disrupting the society and eventually causing the city to be abandoned.

We sailed into Cozumel and then took a ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, which is located in the state of Quintana Roo. We hopped on a tour bus in Playa del Carmen for an hour ride to Tulum.

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Tulum was formerly known as Zama, The City of Dawn, due to it’s position facing the sunrise. Sitting along the Caribbean Sea, Tulum means wall, fence, or trench. Designed as a fort, with access to land and sea, it was a site to defend against invasions, worship and operated as a crucial trade hub. The population is estimated to be 1,000-1,600 inhabitants.

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Europeans discovered Tulum during the Spanish expedition of 1518, Juan Diaz specifically. As described in the novel, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Tulum was described as tall, impressive buildings according to the authors John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. Maps and sketches were created of the site and discovery of an inscription date of AD 564 on the stele (stone), showing that the stone was most likely transported to Tulum from someplace else.

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On your way out of Tulum there are amazing food options! We had the best tacos of our lives served with a plastic bag of pico de gallo to pour over. They serve HUGE margaritas with a salt rim. If you are on a tour, be sure to pay attention to the departure time, especially when drinking those margaritas. We almost missed our tour due to the language barrier and….possibly tequila.

$$ Saving Tips~ Be sure to have pesos, Tulum does not accept US currency. I would advise against using a credit card, unless you speak Spanish. I love sharing all of our “lessons learned the hard way” with travelers. We used a credit card for lunch after we ordered and ate the food, of course, then realized that the waiter could not relay what the credit card machine was saying. He was handing us the pin pad but our credit card doesn’t have a pin, didn’t know if it was asking for a zip code or what? Then he went back into the kitchen to tell the cooks in Spanish and they all were staring at us but apparently, no one spoke English. It took so long to figure out that we almost missed our departure time.

I advise against ordering a Dip n Dots ice cream unless you’ve never had one and are absolutely dying to try it. Our daughter was insistent on having an ice cream on the blazing hot and humid day in March so they ordered one and next thing we knew, we were totally ripped off! Of course, they only accept pesos but it equaled $10 US dollars for one tiny cup.

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Taco Time!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Port Falmouth, Jamaica

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After four years of construction, the $220-million, purpose-built Historic Falmouth Cruise Port, opened in 2011. Located on the north coast of Jamaica, Falmouth is the capital of Trelawny parish. It is 60 miles from Ocho Rios port and 18 miles from Montego Bay.

Prior to exploring any port, always do your research first. When sailing with Royal Caribbean, we made it a point to read the customer reviews on Jamaica. Most were fair, some were poor relating to safety and theft. All of the reviews about Falmouth Port were favorable, as vendors are approved, the port is well guarded and only cruise ship passengers can get in. So, we decided to browse around the port and see what it had to offer. Normally we book an excursion or tour when in port, but this time we decided to explore on our own.

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Jamaican Patty

First stop, Jamaican patty!  What is a patty? It’s a type of pastry filled with meats such as ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, lobster, or fish and mixed with spices, vegetables and cheese. Patties are similar to a turnover but not sweet. Turmeric is added to give the pastry a golden yellow color. Patties are common in Jamaica, the coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Patties are considered a meal often eaten with coco bread.

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Hair braiding

252Why is hair braiding so popular in Jamaica? Cornrows got the name due to the raised braid in a continuous row. In the Caribbean, braids are known as canerows, which is an ancient traditional African hairstyle using an underhand style very close to the scalp. Cornrow braids originate from Africa dating back thousands of years. Cornrows are a specific type of braid, small and tight. They are very popular with Jamaican men and women. Cornrow braids are also appealing to tourists and for this reason, hair braiding is available all around the port.

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Margaritaville

 

Margarita Hot Tub

Margarita Hot Tub

Of course we ended up at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville!!! Complete with a pool, swim-up bar, mini version of Dunn’s River Falls, and a hot tub shaped like a margarita glass (pictured). Even though it is very touristy, we loved grabbing lunch at Margaritaville- something different than the cruise. As you step foot off of the ship and into the terminal, you’ll be greeted by red-roofed, Caribbean-style buildings, housing, and businesses. There were musicians performing in the center of the port and plenty of craft markets, rum and jewelry stores. We felt very safe and no one approached us to sell merchandise.

Despite what you may think, Jamaican music includes much more than just reggae. There is Jamaica folk, ska, rocksteady, dub music, dancehall, jazz, mento and reggae fusion. The music culture is a fusion of elements incorporating Trinidad and Tobago.

Tip~ don’t sample rum unless you plan on buying a lot! My husband was sampling several different types and then we were obligated to purchase and ending up giving it all to our room attendant as we carried on luggage.

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For those of you who like to venture out a bit and explore, check out some of the architectural sights such as Falmouth Court House and St. Peter’s Anglican Church. We did not explore outside of the port; however, several tourists complained of being hassled by vendors. I would recommend booking a tour through a tour company and not walk around on your own if you’d rather not be hassled.

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$$ Saving Tips~ Discuss cost of hair braids with the vendor prior to getting your hair braided. Please note, you can bring alcohol on board the ship and they will hold it for you until departure but you cannot take it to your room.

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Fortnum & Mason, London

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

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Meringues

Entering Fortnum & Mason reminded me of stepping back in time to the department stores featured in old movies. A store complete with glass candy jars, sculptures made of colored chocolates, free samples, an array of sliced meats sold by the pound, decorated Christmas trees, smiling staff, velvet overstuffed sitting chairs, the sound of Christmas music, shiny staircases and a fireplace. The display windows are breathtaking at Christmas time. Nothing in the U.S. compares to Fortnum & Mason.

The Holiday Window Displays

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2015 Christmas Display Window

 

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Window Display

Located in the Piccadilly Circus shopping area of London in the city of Westminster, Fortnum & Mason is famous for their holiday window displays which change with each season. In 2016, the theme was Together We’re Merrier incorporating unusual pairs using 3D sculptures.  In 2015, pictured above, Fortnum & Mason opted for a traditional scene complete with reindeer, instruments and festive food which was an instant favorite with kids.  Fortnum & Mason collaborated with Kristjana S Williams to create hand-painted geese, puddings and sweets. In June 2016, Disney took over the windows displays to promote the release of ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. Disney is the first company to take over designing a window display for Fortnum & Mason in 309 years! The window displays captured Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll story using such props as a looking glass, chess piece, butterflies, teacups and pendulum clocks. No matter what season it is, the window displays are always a conversation for the viewers.

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White Chocolate Ice Skates

There are some blog posts which have one or two main pictures. Not this one, there are so many fantastic pictures which capture the true feeling of Christmas at Fortnum & Mason. Just one of the many specialty items were the meringues, big, fluffy and made to perfection. They were absolutely colossal! For those of you who are not familiar, a meringue is a dessert made of whipped egg whites, sugar, salt, cornstarch, powdered sugar. When the powdered sugar is added to the meringue, it forms a pavlova (meringue cake). When making meringues, it is all about the stiff peaks! Meringues are often flavored with vanilla, almond, coconut by infusing with oils rather than using extracts. The staff are happy to hand out samples and it was my first time eating divinity.

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Décor

Fortnum & Mason is best known for supplying high quality foods. The brand picked up recognition and saw rapid growth throughout the Victorian era. Even though they are more of a department store today, they continue to carry a variety of exotic, specialty products. More recently, in 2012, The Queen opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor. Eventually new departments were created such as the Gentlemen’s department on the third floor. The third floor is also the location of a celebrated tea shop and several restaurants.

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Fragrances~ Fortnum & Mason carries an exclusive collection of soaps, lotions and 1707 fragrances for men and women. In addition, they are an exclusive retailer for high-quality perfumiers. An example of some of the fragrances sold at Fortnum & Mason are Clive Christian No 1 for Women, 50ml at £450.00, Imperial Jubilee No1 costs £650 ($1043) for 50ml.

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Christmas Time at Fortnum & Mason

Hampers~ Fortnum & Mason sells loose-leaf teas and world-renowned luxury picnic baskets, known as “hampers” in England. These hampers were originally sold to Victorian High Society events. The hampers contain Stilton Cheese, champagne quail eggs, and smoked salmon at a cost of £35 to £25,000.

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Interesting Facts~ Fortnum & Mason began in 1705 by Hugh Mason as a small store in St. James Market. What is a British Royal Warrant? British Royal Warrants grants the retail establish the permission to advise that a specific product is sold to the Queen. These warrants can only be granted by Queen Elizabeth II, Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Whales to companies selling goods & services. In November 2010, PETA UK started a campaign against Fortnum & Mason’s sale of foie gras (duck or goose liverwurst). Fortnum & Mason is privately owned by Wittington Investments.

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img_7040$$ Saving Tips~ Fortnum & Mason is an experience in itself whether you shop or not. Samples are available at the meat, cheese and confectionary counters. We chose to purchase very small, inexpensive items as souvenirs, plus we wanted the cute, green bag and the complementary gift wrapping which comes with all purchases. I purchased two Christmas bars of soap. Stop in to their tea house and have a cup of tea, after all, it’s Queen approved! We didn’t have a chance to sit down for tea at the store but we found a smaller Fortnum & Mason at Heathrow airport in Terminal 5. It’s the perfect way to end your trip before saying goodbye to London!

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Fortnum & Mason Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport

Strike Zone, bottom fishing in Maui

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Probably fishing is my first passion ~ Luke Bryan

img_3059Our son is at one with the ocean and all he wanted for his birthday was to go bottom fishing. There are so many options to choose from in the islands, so we needed to do a little research to find out what the tours offered. Our main question was, “do we get to keep what we catch?” On Strike Zone, they split all the fish that is caught so that everyone gets to bring some home. Plus, all of the gear is provided, no experience necessary and you don’t need a fishing license. Lunch and drinks are provided as well. This was perfect for our son!!!

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There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind.  ~Washington Irving

The boat leaves out of Maalaea Harbor first thing in the morning and it is about a 6 hour trip. They use 4 poles to high-speed troll on the way out to the spot where they will bottom fish. Enjoy gorgeous views of Maui as you ride along the Pacific. Each person is given a ping pong ball with a # on it. When a fish is on the line, they call out a # and whomever has that # gets to reel it in. Hanapa’a! Try your luck at marlin, yellowfin, skipjack tuna, mahi mahi or ono. Once you arrive to the bottom fishing destination, drop your pole for some snapper, trevally, wrass, sea bass and maybe even a shark!

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I love fishing.  You put that line in the water and you don’t know what’s on the other end.  Your imagination is under there.  ~Robert Altman

It’s what’s for dinner!!! Below are the fish that my son brought home for me to cook. Top row is ta’ape (bluestripe snapper) and bottom row is palani (eye-stripe sturgeon).

For more information on Strike Zone tours call 808-879-4485.

 

A day in Galveston

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A picture is worth a thousand words so they say.

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Hilton Galveston Island Resort

When I think of Galveston, I think of horse-drawn carriages, spring break, The Strand, the Seawall and 4 wheel bicycles. We had 24 hours to see all we could see in Galveston before boarding a cruise to sail the Caribbean. What to do? It was the first time visiting Galveston for all of us. We chose a hotel located right on the famous Seawall, the Hilton Galveston Island Resort. We had ocean view from our room, a much different ocean than what we are used to in Hawaii.

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The weather on the Gulf is very unpredictable. In fact, ships are delayed coming into port and pulling out due to heavy fog at times. The ocean is less blue and more gray than Hawaii. Needless to say, we were not there for the ocean. We were off to sight see! Situated right on the seawall, we grabbed a 4 wheel bike and peddled on down Seawall Blvd. The 4-wheel bike was a first for all of us. Tip: ride in the back seat to take frequent breaks from peddling and the front passengers are unaware. Bike rentals are available all along Seawall Blvd. I can’t remember how much we paid but it was fairly inexpensive and by the hour.

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The Strand

First stop, The Strand historic district. The Strand is 5 blocks spanning from 20th to 25th street fronting the wharf. It is lined with Victorian style buildings full of restaurants, antique stores, and curio shops. I love seeing the massive cruise ships all in port visible from all streets. The Strand hosts all kinds of festivals throughout the year and is a major tourist spot. The actual street, created in 1830, is called Avenue B but has been referred to as “The Strand” named by a German jewelry store owner who thought it sounded better. The Strand is named after a street in London and means shore or riverbank. Galveston is known for it’s horse and carriage rides, trolleys, county museum, factory outlets, galleries, beef jerky shops, and confectionaries.

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The Strand suffered catastrophic damage after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Many buildings and businesses first floors were entirely wiped out.

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La Kings Confectionary

Best part about La Kings Confectionary, a throwback from the 1920’s, their products are available for order on line!!! So, no need to hand carry or shove all of their yumminess in your luggage. Tourists are drawn into the shop by the sweet aroma filling the air outside. It smells like waffle cones and homemade caramel sauce. La Kings uses 19th century methods of making candy, using traditional equipment. Our kids loved the 1920’s soda fountain that serves malts, shakes, ice cream sodas, sundaes, splits, and floats (pictured above). La Kings also makes Purity ice cream founded in 1889 on Galveston Island. Some of the award winning treats are: fruit slices, salt water taffy, handmade chocolates, pecan logs, divinity, and pecan pralines.

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Pleasure Pier

As we rode bikes along Seawall Blvd., a pier in the distance became larger and larger as we approached. It was Pleasure Pier! Since we rented the bike by the hour, we chose not to explore the pier, observing from the road instead, listening to all the screams coming from the roller coasters. In addition, you can’t walk on without a $10 per person walk-on pass. We didn’t want to pay $40 to take a look around. $26.99 per person will get you unlimited rides. Family packages are also available for $89.99 2 adults/2kids, $94.99 3 adults/1 child or $99.99 4 adults.

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Port of Galveston

Strolling around the Strand we ended up at Galveston’s Pier 19, where we noticed a huge offshore oil driller, the Ocean Star. The jack-up rig is now a museum which visitors can take a self-guided tour. The oil drilling equipment is on display and visitors can learn about oil to gas production. Admission is $9 for adults.

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Black Pearl Oyster Bar

When in Rome….we smelled the wharf and instantly craved oysters on the half shell. After asking around town, several locals mentioned the Black Pearl Oyster Bar located at 327 23rd Street. Yelp rates the restaurant 4 stars- another good sign. When we saw people waiting in a long line outside the door, we knew it had to be great! Oysters are severed as Oysters Rockafeller with spinach cream cheese; Oysters Haelen topped with crab meat, cheddar, and bacon; or Oysters Diablo with spicy diablo sauce, shrimp, and cheddar. Other menu items include Po-boys, sandwiches and fresh salads for lunch. Choose specialties such as, barbecue shrimp, crab cakes, fish tacos, crawfish etouffee, ribeyes or grilled pork chops. For seafood options, try the hand-battered fresh fish and choose from flounder, snapper, salmon, ahi tuna, talapia, or catfish. Yum!!!

1975205_10153988257281838_2938178253686608160_nDining in Galveston~ there are a ton of restaurants located up and down Seawall blvd. After returning our 4-wheel bike, we popped into The Rainforest Café. Not exactly unique to Galveston or Texas for that matter, but we always love a great chain restaurant that we don’t have back home.

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The Strand

 

 

 

 

 

Stingray Sandbar, Grand Caymans

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snorklingWe love to cruise as a family for our annual vacations. Planning our adventures consists of sitting down together and reviewing all of the excursion options. Usually my husband will pick something historical, such as Tulum in Cozumel, Roman Coliseum in Italy or castles in Spain. Our kids generally choose an activity much more adventurous than what I would choose. When reviewing the options for George Town, Grand Cayman, they chose Stingray Sandbar immediately!  Stingray City, a natural channel located in the northwest corner of the Cayman’s North Sound, houses rows of shallow sandbars which draw tourists year round due to the abundance of Southern Stingrays.  We booked a tour through our cruise line Royal Caribbean. There are several boating companies offering similar trips, some include sailing. We hopped aboard the Cayman Explorer for a short ride out to the sandbar with views of the emerald Caribbean waters. Important note, eat a good sized breakfast and bring snacks in your bag, as they do not feed you on board, and after swimming in the ocean, you will be very hungry. As soon as we pulled into the sandbar area, large stingrays were visible. It looked like black spots moving all about the ocean. I was very nervous to get into the water and felt more apprehensive as the tour guide announced, “no water shoes, watch where you step and stay together.” Of course the kids and my husband jumped in before I did and eventually I made my way in.

Coming from Hawaii, I wasn’t nervous about the ocean or waves, but the feeling of having a large stingray rub up against my legs as soon as I stepped in the water was unsettling. You really need to know how to swim on this tour because the tide can change rapidly. Lifejackets are supplied but I would advise knowing how to swim. The guide had the group stand in a circle as he grabbed a large stingray and walked around letting each person pet it. It feels like a wet mushroom. Ika (squid) was passed around for those who were brave enough to feed the stingrays. Of course, my son grabbed several pieces and caught the stingray opening it’s mouth to feed on his GoPro. That was exciting to watch back. I couldn’t help but to think about the sharp barb sticking up out of the water as the guide held the stingray. At one point, he even put the barb in his mouth for show.

Interesting Facts~ Stingrays first started gathering to the sandbar area decades ago due to fisherman cleaning their fish and throwing the contents overboard in the shallow waters. Today, divers feed stingrays by hand in this area and it is thought that they gather here due to the sound of boats coming, symbolizing feeding time.

 

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Grand Cayman