Saturday, 20 December 2014

'Snap Gapping' our way to the end of 2014...

I’m sooooo late catching up on November's post because I've been ‘snap gapping’ again – this time to the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf.

Glasgow to Bahrain via Dubai

Trav and I went to Bahrain to visit and stay with a couple of dear friends who live and work over there, so we were in fact, tourists by default. Bahrain is a country that hadn’t actually been on our radar as a holiday destination but it really is a well worth a visit if you have a penchant for fascinating, cosmopolitan, and multi-cultural locations that are as rich in heritage as they are in fun and excitement. It has to be noted there has been and still is some political unrest on the island but at no time did we feel unsafe. On the contrary, we felt at ease everywhere we went by day or by night, as the Bahraini people are so friendly and welcoming.

Our lovely friends Sue and Pete took us out and about for the ten days we were there and what a privilege that was for us – the country is vibrant and booming. Some days we ventured far into the hot white sands of the desert. On other days, we immersed ourselves in the Bahraini cafĂ© culture and drank Arabian coffee and ate succulent dates (never in equal numbers – you can have one or three, for example, but never two or four). In the evenings, we ventured into the city and to hotels like The Soffitel or The Ritz Carlton for decadent sundowner cocktail and a delicious dinner.

Sundowners over The Persian Gulf

We traveled from Glasgow International to Bahrain via Dubai with Emirate Airlines. You can sign up for an Emirates air miles loyalty card and news of flash sale prices on the Emirates website. As you can see there were heavy grey skies over Glasgow as we left!

Grey skies over Glasgow!

Highlights of our Bahrain Trip: Top of the list! Catching up with our lovely friends Sue and Pete!

Visiting The Tree of Life - in the shimmering white sand of the Bahraini desert stands an isolated and very old mesquite tree. Its girth is broad and its branches are wide and dipped with the effort of holding up its green foliage. Some of the branches are now artificially supported to prevent them snapping. Local lore dates the tree in millenniums but a study was conduced in 1986 in conjunction with by the Smithsonian Natural History Museum of Washington DC, USA, and it was then concluded that the tree had been planted in c1583 AD during the Late Islamic Stage. But the really interesting thing about this tree - is that to this day its source of water remains a mystery. Some believe the tree gets water from an underground spring but that doesn’t explain the complete lack of any other trees or green vegetation in the vicinity. I loved the journey out into the desert, passing working oil rigs and desert settlements and I particularly loved the sight of this lonely old tree on its unique hillside desert setting.

In the desert to see The Tree of Life and count oil wells!

Amwaj – the floating city. The Amwaj Islands project is an artificial island development in Muharraq, Bahrain. Known as The Floating City - it is still partly under construction but has a shopping mall, restaurants, hotels, waterfront villas and chalets and apartments - all intertwined with a series of canals, enabling residents to park their boats by their own back garden. There is also a white sand beach where we paddled while also admiring the skyline of Manama in the distance. The island project is beautiful, ambitious and totally incredible.

Amwaj - the floating city

Here I am at the marina in Amwaj Bahrain

Bridging the International Gap. The King Fahad Causeway links Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and is one of the world’s longest bridges between two countries. You need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia but you can drive to the midpoint on the causeway and enjoying the glorious view across both countries.

The road to Saudi Arabia

Grand Prix International Circuit: Bahrain is famous for its F1 venue. Tens of thousands of visitors attend each April. Here I am standing in the vast sand car park outside the stadium!

At the F1 Grand Prix Circuit in Bahrain - the flags, the grand driveway and the hot sand car park! 

Shopping: There is a certain freedom that exists in Bahrain that attracts many shoppers from neighbouring Gulf States. We (mostly) window shopped in many of the air-conditioned malls which have lots of familiar western outlets like Marks and Spencer. In the Souks, we browsed in and out of exotic perfume shops amongst rich and heavenly fragrances with prices that made your eyes water.

Traditional Arabian clothes and Marks and Spencer!

Sue and I at The Mall

Nights Out! In the evenings, we either socialised with the ex-pat set at the Bahrain Football and Rugby Club or watched incredible sunsets while sipping cocktails on balmy terraces that overlooked the sea. It was fabulous and exotic.

Ladies night at The Ritz Carlton Bahrain

I’ve just written up a full ‘Snap Gap’ travel report on Bahrain for Loveahappyending Lifestyle Magazine which, if you’d like to read more about Bahrain as a travel destination and more of my recommended sights, you can read it by clicking HERE.


I’ve agreed to write several more of these types of travel reports for LLm throughout 2015 and it was while planning which locations to feature in the magazine that I came to realise that Trav and I have been fortunate to have visited 32 different countries over the years – and some on several occasions. These include: The United Kingdom, The United Arab Emirates, Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bahrain, St. Barths, Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba, Curacao, Cyprus, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Spain, France, Grenada, Greece, Honduras, Israel, Italy, South Korea, St. Lucia, Monaco, St. Martin, Martinique, Mauritius, Maldives, Turkey, United States, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, British Virgin Islands.


You can create your own world travel map using this website: http://matadornetwork.com/travel-map

December Update: During December we also ‘Snap Gapped’ from Glasgow Prestwick to Tenerife. We flew with Ryanair and rented an apartment for a week. While Trav was away on a diving course with AmarillaDivers I was working on the edits for ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’. It was wonderful- and at the same time rather strange – to go from 4 degrees C to 24 degrees C in just over four hours of the flight time. From these photos you can see that it wasn't all work! We are back in Scotland just now for Christmas and so I want to wish you a very happy Christmas and best wishes for the new year.

Tenerife in December - sunshine, writing, having fun and catching up with friends

I’ll be back before the year end with a round up of 2014 – the writing and the travelling - and to share with you our hopes and plans for 2015 and to hear about yours. See you then my lovely friends!

Love, Janice xx

Monday, 20 October 2014

Caribbean Island Update – our three months in paradise…

Apologies for going AWOL - some of you might have thought I’d got lost in the Bermuda Triangle or something - as I’ve been home from the Caribbean for almost three weeks and you’ve not yet heard a single ditty from me about our last month spent on the island.

My unusual lack of chatter (and it is unusual - just ask any of my friends) has been due to many factors - such as extended jet-lag, a nasty jet-caught virus, dentist appointments (for the awful reoccurring tooth abscess), important family events and looming magazine deadlines.

So yes, dear reader, it does indeed seem like real life was waiting for me the very moment I got off the plane in Glasgow!

A couple of months earlier when we first arrived on Utila, a tiny Caribbean island off mainland Honduras, it seemed as if we had endless days of summer stretching out in front of us. Indeed, during the first two months we spent on the island, we felt like we were in some kind of time-warp. Then suddenly September arrived and the month sped by particularly quickly.

A couple of months earlier we arrived on the island of Utila in a very small airplane - which certainly ranked as one of the most exciting journeys Trav and I had ever taken!

September on Utila was an incredibly hot, humid and calm. As I reiterated last month, Utila is known as the whale shark capital of the Caribbean and so swimming with the whale shark is the hottest topic of conversation on the island. These magnificent creatures swim so close to the island on the very calm late summer sea. Going out on the boat looking for whale sharks is the number one activity in September and spotting the characteristic ‘boil’ - an area of sea rolling with tuna and other fish rising up as the whale shark feeds beneath the surface - is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever witnessed. Rather than using diving gear and air tanks, you simply use a mask, snorkel and fins to swim with these magnificent creatures - but as they come so close to the surface to feed - that is all the equipment you'll need to fulfill your dreams of swimming with the biggest fish in the sea.

This photo, taken by ace underwater photographer Dave Thatcher, is of my husband Trav,
swimming with a whale shark off Utila in September 2014

Other September Highlights:
Our days on Utila began the moment the sun blazed through the windows of our Little Yellow House at 6am and they were filled with an equal measure of work and play. Except on a Thursday, which from our very first week on the island, was the day that Trav and I had reserved to catch up with each other and relax completely. During September, lots of our lovely island friends managed to join us for a few hours at the beach on ‘date day’, making Thursday’s a real highlight of our week. The fun we had was in no short measure (he-he, see what I did there?) down to the lovely bar staff at Neptunes at Coral Beach – especially Brooke and Jen - who make us feel so welcome and kept the shots lined up!

Thursday 'date day' fun at Coral Beach and Neptunes Bar

So, except for Thursdays and our exciting days out on the Caribbean Sea looking for whale sharks, while Trav was working as a Dive Master at Eco-Marine Dive Centre,I was busy working on my new novel. I’m excited to tell you that ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’ is now almost finished. The writing part is all done but I still have a bit of work to do on editing my chapters and polishing my prose, in order to make this book the very best it can be before it goes off to be professionally edited and formatted for publication. Over the past three months, I have had so much fun and inspiration writing this fast paced romantic adventure novel, which makes this a story very close to my heart, and so I do hope that you will enjoy reading it when it is published.



So what else did we get up to in September on Utila…?

Mid Month Trav and I went along to a rock music gig on Bandu Beach to support our lovely friend Dave and The Barefoot Band who headlined in the Utila Live Music Festival. They were fabulous and we rocked out all night under the stars and had the most amazing time!

Rocking out under the stars with friends to The Barefoot Band

Utila Independence Day just happened to be on our ‘Thursday Date Day’. So we met up with our friends and had lots of fun on the beach, swimming in the sea and then sipping cocktails at the bar, all before hitching a lift back to the dock at Eco-Marine on the dive boat (hence why it looked so crowded) while singing our heads off and having a great time. As the dock at Eco had just had an enormous rope swing installed - that also became the source of lots more crazy fun, enthusiastic gymnastics - and wrenched arm muscles!

Crazy Utila independence day fun... yep, that's Trav on the swing!

The Biggest Surprise of the Month was getting news that our son James, who is an English teacher and lives over in South Korea, was getting married to his lovely girlfriend Sujeong - on that very day!  We had been aware they were planning to get married, as they had recently applied for a marriage license, but as it came through much faster than anticipated they just decided to ‘pop over’ to the registrars office and ‘do it’ straight away.

The official wedding photo of the newly married Mr and Mrs Horton

As you can see, James and Sujeong didn’t bother with wedding tradition, favouring the casual and unconventional. The groom wore his Cure t-shirt and the bride carried a lollipop. Although Trav and I were sad that we couldn’t attend this very special occasion in person, once the power came back on, we did manage to be online during the registration of their marriage and so felt like we were there ‘virtually’. Then we raised our glasses to the happy couple to wish them every happiness in their future married life together.


The Biggest Pain of the Month other than constant power outages that made keeping our over-heated bodies cool and charging my laptop practically impossible – was me getting an awful tropical tummy bug. I was really sick for a week before I eventually went to the pharmacy for something to help, only to find that the cure also knocked me for six with nasty side effects. I must admit to feeling pretty sorry for myself for a good couple of weeks during our last month on the island and so, once I felt I was on the mend again, I wanted to make the most of our last few days there by taking some time out to join Trav and the crew on the boat searching for whale sharks.

I'm out on the boat with the Eco-crew looking for whale sharks with Dive Master Dave

Utila in retrospect: what is it about this small island that makes it feel so unique? Trav and I have been lucky enough to have visited over a dozen islands in the Caribbean and yet I still cannot quite put my finger on what makes Utila so special. On the website Utila Guide.com the island is described as ‘the Caribbean as it used to be’ and ‘a Key West of 20 years ago’ and I feel this must be true as it certainly has a ‘trapped in time’ appeal. It feels retro. Timeless. I fear that one day the rest of the world will discover Utila or Utila will catch up with modern commercialism and it will be spoiled. There are already cruise ships visiting the neighbouring bay island of Roatan so it really is only a matter of time.

For us, on our first night here, it was undoubtedly the orange-fire sunset on the sea that made it so special. The next day it was the blue sky and sunshine and white sand beaches. Then it was Trav discovering Eco-Marine Dive Shop at Sandy Bay, run by lovely Tara and Steve (Daddio) and meeting the wonderful and generous ‘family’ of people who work and dive there. Then it was going out on the boat to dive and snorkel on the most amazing coral reef in the world in water that is as warm as bath water.

Visiting the Cay’s – tiny tropical white sand palm tree filled islands off the coat of Utila for lazy Sunday picnics was pretty special too and so was spending our evenings in fun company at some fabulous bars for drinks and dancing. The food on the island is really good too and the fish and seafood is undoubtedly the best I’ve ever tasted. All so very very special.


Utila is unique, quaint and unspoiled, some may call it basic, with no chain stores or fast food businesses. There are reportedly less than twenty cars on the island (I only ever saw one or two) and people get around on foot (bare or flip-flopped) or on a scooter or golf cart. The infrastructure on the island, electric and internet, is patchy at best and fresh water is a precious commodity. We bought our drinking water every other day in five gallon drums. Fruit and vegetables are brought to the island by boat from the mainland (Honduras) on a Tuesday and a Friday and shops sell out quickly so the advice is to buy a good-looking vegetable as soon as you see it or it will be gone in the blink of an eye. There are limited health care facilities on the island; there is a clinic and a pharmacy but anyone needing hospital is taken to the mainland by boat or plane. There is opportunistic crime here, just like anywhere else, so you have to be aware of it without letting it make you edgy. The one small bank on Utila is visibly guarded by armed police both inside and out but half of the time, just like the electric supply, the banking systems are down and you can’t use your plastic to withdraw money.

Things happen. Things don’t happen. It’s all part of island life. One thing, of which I am sure, is that there is nowhere in the whole world quite like this beautiful crazy laid-back piece of paradise and it is so very very addictive. It is said (see the crazy ‘Come to Utila’ song on UTube!) that once you have experienced life on Utila you may not ever want to leave. We had to leave after our visa expired after ninety days, but Trav and I are already making plans to return as soon as we can, but next time we’ll get a visa extension or we’ll plan to do a quick visa run to Mexico or the Caymans and back again  (lots of residents who don’t actually have a residents visa do this) so that we can stay on Utila for longer. I plan to write another book and to submit my regular magazine features via the internet but I’ll plan to take my time next time around. I totally underestimated how much there is to do on Utila so I’ll be sure to leave more room in my days for the time-consuming task of sun worshiping, swimming in the sea, yoga (which I discovered for the first time on Utila) and generally chilling out – if chilling out is at all possible in 38 degrees C?

So is it the simple lifestyle that makes Utila special? No modern day stresses? Sure, there are nuisances, like sand flies and electric outages, but none of them can ever compare to the bliss of truly living in the moment, of waking up to sunshine every day and not having to wear many clothes or worry about fashion or hair styles (the latter two items could just be me..?)

Our final week on the island was an emotional one because Trav and I have met some truly lovely people on the island whom we hope will remain our lifelong friends. Utila is an amazing place, but actually, it really is the people we met who made it feel so special and so much fun.

So our final few days were about saying goodbye and promising to stay in touch or saying ‘see you next year’ to those who remain on the island or have promised to return, too.

On our last night on Utila, our host for the evening was the enigmatic ‘Papa’ who travels to Utila from Germany to dive with Eco-Marine every year for several months. He generously invited Trav and I and the whole Eco ‘crew’ to join him as guests at his home where he cooked his special garlic shrimp recipe for us all. It was a fabulous evening of wonderful food, drinks, enthusiastic conversation and laughter. And although Trav and I knew that we were saying a fond farewell to our lovely friends, we also knew that just like Papa, we had a reunion to look forward to in 2015.

Early in the next morning, we were given a lift in our landlady’s golf cart to the air strip on Utila, where we waited for just forty minutes before boarding a small aircraft to mainland Honduras. During that time we were eaten alive by mosquitoes and I sincerely wished I’d chosen a good squirt of Deet over my Coco Chanel perfume that morning. What on earth was I thinking?

For two nights we stayed at a hotel in San Pedro Sula. The city is reported to be the most dangerous city in the world (outside a warzone) and it has been so for the past two years running. Consequentially, we stayed inside our hotel’s luxurious walls for the entire time we were there, taking advantage of the room service, the sumptuous bathroom, the hot water and air con, before we traveled back to the airport to head for London Heathrow via Miami USA.

We then flew from London up to Glasgow. It was a bit of a shock for us to go from 38 degrees C to whatever it is was in Scotland that day and then there was the seven hour time difference to adjust to - but we were home and my thoughts were full of seeing our lovely sons and our friends in Scotland and cuddling my little dog, who may or may not have missed me as much as I missed her!

BUT A NEW ‘Snap Gap’ adventure begins very soon…!
During the first week in November - Trav and I are heading off on another exciting ‘snap gap’ adventure and to a very different part of the world this time. We are travelling to the Persian Gulf and visiting the Kingdom of Bahrain. We will be flying with Emirate Airlines from Glasgow to Bahrain via Dubai and Trav will be celebrating his birthday during our time away. We are incredibly excited to be seeing our lovely friends Sue and Pete once again!

Between now and then I will continue to work on editing and polishing my new novel ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’ as well as putting together my exciting new monthly ‘Bookshelf’ features and ‘Snap Gap’ travel features for Loveahappyending Lifestyle Magazine. I’ll also be updating this blog with any other news about my writerly progress, the ups and downs of our life back in Scotland, and what I might be thinking of packing in my suitcase for our next trip. So please come back soon and do feel free to leave a comment - as I do love to read them all and I promise to reply.

Love, Janice xx


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Caribbean Island Update – another month in paradise…

August was our second month spent here on Utila, a tiny Caribbean island off mainland Honduras. It has been a much quieter and more laid back month than July – when there was the island carnival and music festival. It also feels much hotter, not so much because the temperature has risen but because the wind has dropped. We no longer get that wonderful easterly breeze rushing through our Little Yellow House cooling us down, and there have been nights when we have succumbed to the high price of the electricity and used the air-conditioning for an hour or two - when the island’s electric power supply is on that is – and it’s off far more than it’s on!

August on Utila - everything is calm and the sea is like a translucent blue mirror.

In August and in September all the divers on the island get excited because the increased temperatures and the calm waters brings the whale sharks close to the reef and to the island. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea and my lovely husband Trav was at last able to achieve his dream of swimming with a magnificent whale shark this week!

Trav is happiest under the sea.   Trav with a lionfish
 Top News: Trav has now completed his Dive Master Internship


Now, it doesn’t look like it from all the fun photos I have to show you this month, but I promise you that I have been working very hard too - writing and researching my new novel ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’. So far I'm on target and I'm on schedule!

Despite what it looks like - I have been working hard too - honestly!
                                                                               
So as we go into September I’m very aware of how fast our time here is flying by - and I still have so much I want to do - both on the novel and also on the island. So when I'm not actually sat down writing, you'll find me out and about researching. As boats feature heavily in my story, I've been particularly interested in looking at boats and going out in them, all in the name of research!


Research!

We still take a Thursday off work to have some fun together and we usually go to our favourite beach. Sometimes we have the whole place to ourselves to sunbathe and snorkel on the reef and other times we meet up with lovely friends for lunch and drinks - and deck jumping!

Jumping off the deck at Coral Beach!

This month we had another fabulous day out on the boat with the lovely peeps at Ecomarine Dive Center. Last month we were diving and snorkeling and we stopped for lunch at an island called Pigeon Cay. This time we took a Sunday picnic to an island called Water Cay. The Cays are a string of tiny, mostly uninhabited, tropical islands off the coast of Utila. It was wonderful to spend a whole day relaxing on the white sand under the shade of the palm trees or laying in the shallow and incredibly warm water sipping rum!

At Water Cay, Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras. Top group photo copyright: David Thatcher


Then after all the highs there was a bit of a low point to the month when Trav and I both came down with a horrible tropical head cold. I got cold sores on my mouth and Trav had to stop diving for a couple of days as his ears wouldn't equalise. But the worst thing was that I then had a nasty re-occurrence of the tooth abscess that I first got during our trip to South Korea a few months ago (see my previous post on South Korea). You see, I just didn’t have time between that trip and this one to have the tooth properly crowned, so the flare up wasn’t totally unexpected, but it was very unwelcome non-the-less. I took a course of the antibiotics that I brought with me in our medicine kit, and I hope that will keep the problem in check, until we get home on the 1st October and I can get a proper dental check up.

The big highlight of the month came right at the end – with Trav’s graduation party and snorkel test. He graduated as a Dive Master as the same time as a lovely lady called Cat, who is also from the UK. It’s tradition for the graduating Dive Masters to put on entertainment – which usually involves them getting their own back on their Instructors!

Trav and Cat put on a fun version of the UK TV show ‘I’m a celebrity – get me out of here!’ except theirs was ‘I’m a PADI Pro – get me out of here!’ The PADI Pro’s had to answer crazy questions and were rewarded with shots of rum if they got them right. Particular fun was had at the ‘Reef Tucker Trials’ when Fish Lips, Moray Eyes, Fire Worms and Squid Balls had to be eaten!

The final part of the night involved the graduates having to earn their Dive Master T-shirts by doing the famous ‘Snorkel Test’. This involves rum being poured into a mask and snorkel and it being drunk through the nose and mouth. Trav has been saying for weeks that he wasn’t going to do the test but in the end he was persuaded otherwise. But to make Trav’s test more embarrassing for him, his instructor made him wear a far-too-small wet suit throughout. The whole night was great fun and I’m so proud of my Dive Master husband!

Dive Master Graduation Party and Snorkel Test!
 
September is going to be a very busy time for us here on Utila. I still have to work hard on finishing ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’ and Trav will be working at the dive center as a fully qualified Dive Master. On top of that there will be the island's Independence Day celebrations mid-month. During the next few weeks, Trav and I will have to make even more time for having fun together, in order to fully appreciate the time we have left on Utila before we suddenly find ourselves back in Scotland; at the start of what will be wintertime.

I’ll try to post some writing updates during September and maybe some sneak snippets from the chapters I have written, albeit unedited, until my lovely editor gets her hands on the manuscript. I’ll also do another monthly round up at the end of September before we travel home. In the meantime don’t forget that you can find me on Facebook and on Twitter.

Do please feel free to leave a comment - I so love to hear from you - and do come back soon!

Love, Janice xx

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Caribbean Island Update – one month on Utila…

We have now been on Utila, a tiny Caribbean island off mainland Honduras, for just over a month and in that time we have really settled into the laid-back pace of island life. I have to keep pinching myself to find out if I’m only dreaming of being in this tropical paradise. The thought of spending another two months here is a blissful thought - and we feel very lucky indeed!

At Coral Beach on Utila
We came here so that my lovely husband Trav could scuba-dive on the most amazing reef in the world, and where this month and next, he hopes to dive with Whale Sharks. Whale Sharks are the world's largest fish and the tropical island of Utila is known as the Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean. Trav came here as a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and he is now working as a Dive Master Trainee. He was recommended to Eco-marine Dive Centre in Utila and feels very happy indeed to be diving with such a fabulously friendly, fun, and totally professional bunch of people. He says he is learning so much and loving every day here.

Eco-Marine Dive Center Utila. Photo Copyright: Steve Dankewich
The island of Utila is known as The Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean. Photo Copyright: Dave Thatcher

While Trav is out diving, I’m writing a new novel, it’s a romantic adventure set in the Caribbean. I’ve never written a novel in just three months before, and I’m finding it challenging to keep to my strict writing schedule when I have so many wonderful distractions around me!

And this month there have been many distractions, as it has been both Utila Carnival and the SunJam Music Festival. I posted lots of photos on my Facebook Page of the carnival, which was great fun. Trav and I hung out with the dive crew from Eco-Marine that day and we had a fantastic time, which concluded with far too many drinks at the infamous dive bar Skid Row - for me that is - as Trav is far too sensible and would never drink too much rum!

We had so much fun at Utila Carnival 2014!

So when do I write and how do I also manage to fit in some down time?
I begin working each morning early and I edit the previous days work. Then I try to write at least 2000 good words. I do take one full day a week off with Trav, usually a Thursday. This is the day when we go to the beach, do some snorkelling, have a lovely lazy lunch with drinks, and chill out. We always have lots to talk about and it’s great to have a whole day off in which to appreciate exactly where we are and what we are doing.

A lazy day on our favourite beach - and sometimes we have the whole place to ourselves

I’ve also taken the odd impromptu day off writing, like when I was asked if I’d like to join the team and have a day out on the dive boat, seeing the whole island from the sea and snorkeling on the reef. It was a fabulous day and we also stopped off at The Cays – a small chain of tiny islands off Utila. We had lunch at Pigeon Cay the only Cay with a restaurant. It was a day not to be missed and it was actually super research for my book. I just had to work harder on my writing the next day!

An amazing day out on the dive boat around the island and to Utila Cays

I do also take a half day off on a Wednesday, as I’ve started taking yoga classes. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and although I find it challenging (I often get myself completely tied up in yoga knots) it really is doing me good to stretch my aching writerly muscles and strengthen my back.

Most writing days I stop at around three pm, as I’m usually feeling pretty wiped out by then. I go for a swim in the sea and then I have a glass of wine. If we are eating in at our Little Yellow House, I’ll prepare something simple, usually involving a salad: the tomatoes and avocados here really are the most flavoursome I’ve ever tasted. We eat out every other night (and eating out here is really affordable) and we usually choose fish. We haven’t eaten meat here at all. The fish is amazing and of course it’s so fresh. I particularly love tuna and king fish.

Mmmm.... seared tuna at Neptunes Restaurant
Consequentially, with all the swimming and exercise and such a great diet, we are getting much fitter and slimmer here on Utila and it’s not so hard to do!

But it'’s not all perfect here in paradise – as it is really hard to deal with the bugs and, being close to the beach, it’s the sandflies that bother us most. I honestly have hundreds of bites all over my body, constantly driving me mad with itchiness. I’ve tried every suggested spray, oil and remedy, in fighting them off, and although they have all helped to a certain degree, nothing is really effective. Local people say that after a few months your body becomes immune and it doesn’t react, so that the bites don’t bother you so much. I’m hoping that is true. Meanwhile I find the best relief from the itching is to float about in the sea every day, rinse off and then to use an antihistamine cream. Poor Trav is currently suffering with a heat rash too, but a cream from the pharmacy has hopefully got that under control.

Any other downsides to report…? I won’t dare complain about the incredible heat or the intense humidity, but I will have a wee whinge about the electricity supply, which has been off more than on and which makes for a very sweaty night’s sleep. We don’t have air-con, but the ceiling fans make a great draft when they are actually going. But hey, this is Honduras after all. I’m just glad I brought the solar powered torches and wind-up lanterns with me that I got off Amazon before we left.

I’ll post again here soon about life here on the island and how the book is progressing and I’ll also do another monthly round up at the end of August. You’ll also find me on Facebook and Twitter. Do come back soon and before you go please feel free to leave a comment - I so love to read them and promise to reply!

Love, Janice xx

Monday, 14 July 2014

Writing Update - and I’d really love your input ….

While I’m on the Caribbean island of Utila, I’m writing and researching a new romantic adventure novel set in the Caribbean.

I’ve been asked to provide a short synopsis of the novel by the end of this month to the lovely publicist who is organising it’s launch tour later this year.

I’m only on chapter three so far with this novel but I’ve already had to work in advance and decide on a title - ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’ - and have the cover designed.

I do love this cover...!

A ‘short synopsis’ is the story description ‘blurb’ you’d expect to read on the back cover of the book. It’s meant to entice you into wanting to read and buy the book and tell you what it’s all about without actually giving away any spoilers or telling you how the story ends.

All writers know how hard this is to do – especially for a book that’s not finished yet. So I’ve had a bash at writing one but before I email it off – if you are a reader or a writer I’d really appreciate your opinion and input.

Question: Do you think my ‘story blurb synopsis’ for Castaway in the Caribbean ticks all the right boxes or do you have anything to suggest from the outline below that I might do differently?

 Please feel free to leave a comment, message me on FB or Twitter or send an email


Love, Janice xx



UPDATE: Thank you for all the fabulous comments here and on Facebook and for your emails. This writing malarkey is so much easier with constructive feedback and team work! I'm thrilled to have your help and, taking account all of your suggestions, this is the final version that I have now sent off to Charlotte, my lovely publicist:

   Thanks so much!


Love, Janice xx

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Double booked and hanging out...

We have now been on Utila for four days and at last we have found somewhere to settle. You see, upon our arrival, we discovered that our pre-arranged rental apartment at Sandstone had been double-booked. We spend our first night on the island at ‘Rubi’s Rooms’ which was a clean but very basic room. The second and third nights we stayed at ‘Old Tom’s Apartments’ and, although we could have rented here for longer, it was right in the center of town and we found it too noisy at night.

Rubi's Rooms - clean and with a great view but very small and basic
 
We had this upper floor apartment for two nights but it is in town and it was too noisy at night for us

Then finally, with the help of real estate adviser Mike at Utila Apartment Finders, we found the perfect place with The Little Yellow House. It is just across the sandy track road from our original choice at Sandstone but we think it is much better. The Little Yellow House has two porches – front and back – and a great sea breeze blowing through the house all day, which is, believe me, absolutely essential, as the electricity here is so expensive (the second most expensive in the world apparently) that no one uses air-con. The heat and humidity here is pretty intense both day and night – and I have to admit to you that I’m drenched in sweat while typing this post!

The Little Yellow House and it's sea view from the front porch. Our home from home for the next three months!

While we were waiting for Mike to get back to us yesterday with news of somewhere to rent, we waited patiently by hanging out at the beach. Coral Beach is a short (complimentary) boat taxi away and the beach there is idyllic. There are sun loungers, hammocks between the palm trees, and a fabulous restaurant and a bar called ‘Neptune’s’. We tried ‘Long Island Iced Teas’ (recipe below – and it doesn’t contain tea!). From the menu, Trav ordered skewered shrimp and I had jambalaya. It was amazing. While we were at Coral Beach we met a really lovely couple from San Pedro Sula who have invited us to stay with them at their home for a couple of days before we fly home. Trav and I have accepted their generous hospitality.

Hanging out at the beach while we waited for Mike at Utila Apartment Finders to find us a place to stay!

The recipe for Long Island Iced Tea:
Rum, gin, vodka, tequila, triple sec, lime & coke

Today was Trav’s first day at work. His new office is the Caribbean Sea. He is working as a Dive Master Intern at Ecomarine Dive Center and this is him at 7.30 this morning as I waved him off from the Little Yellow House front porch. He looks pretty excited to be doing something he has dreamed of doing for a long long time!

Scuba diver Trav's new office is the Caribbean Sea...
My jobs for today are to unpack our stuff, to wait in for the internet engineer to connect us, and then to go into town to get us a few provisions for the fridge. The cost of living here is very inexpensive and all the prices at the bars and restaurants (of which there are many) are wonderfully affordable. The currency here, in case you were wondering, is the Honduras Limpera.

Next time I post, I hope to have settled into the laid back island lifestyle and into a routine of writing my new novel ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’….



So come back soon...!

The planes kept getting smaller!

We flew to the island of Utila, the smaller of the Bay Islands just off the coast of Honduras, from London via Miami and via San Pedro Sula in Honduras with American Airlines. We started off on a huge long range triple seven aircraft and then we connected to a slightly smaller one to San Pedro Sula. From there we flew along the coastline in a twelve-seater airplane to a place called La Ceiba - and on this flight I sat right at the front and found I had no choice but to put my feet in the cockpit between the two pilots!

Our twelve-seater airplane to La Ceiba Honduras
We landed in La Ceiba and had to wait for half an hour for our connecting flight for the final leg of our long journey. We saw a couple of planes land and take off again - going to the Cayman Islands and other exotic sounding places - then a tiny little Cessna airplane approached. We thought it looked rather old and battered. In fact, Trav quipped that he ‘pitied the poor buggers who had to get in that plane’.


As it turned out, we were those poor buggers. I’ve been in a small plane once before, a sea plane flying over the Maldives, but never anything like this - as it didn’t even have seat belts. However, you can see by our smiling faces as we were boarding that we were feeling rather excited by the adventure of it all. We landed at the airstrip on Utila safely, having experienced an exhilarating flight and having seen the outstanding beauty of the island by air. It was all simply breathtaking!


My next post is coming soon and I have a lot to tell you about what happened once we arrived on the island!