Hand-Made Elements

This is a romantic “boy meets girl, moves to an island and starts their own enterprise” story. South African, Charlene Bosch met Italian, Gabriele Tixi aboard Queen Mary 2, where they both were working at the time. They feel in love, got married, decided to quit living at sea, and moved to Bonaire in February 2011.

Charlene always had a passion for design and learned the art of working with glass from her mom. She started a little dichroic glass business, selling hand-made jewelry at the cruise port’s market stand in Bonaire six months of the year. Her unique designs reflected the beautiful aqua colors of the ocean and the bold and bright tones of the Caribbean. Visitors to the Dutch Caribbean island enjoyed purchasing local jewelry that was inspired by the surroundings.

With growing demand for her products, Charlene and Gabriele decided to open a store, Elements Bonaire in downtown Kralendijk. Soon their families moved from Italy and South Africa to join the business. Now they have stores in Bonaire and St Maarten.

elements Bonaire

I visited the store in Bonaire which was decorated with color changing tree in the center of the room surrounded by a vast collection of glass bracelets, earrings, pendants and household gifts. Themes of designs included Africa collection, Ocean collection Sunset collection and many more. Each piece was beautifully done and no two pieces looked alike. Gabriele flaunted glass cufflinks from their men’s collection. Shapes include turtles, angel fish, squares, triangle, long rectangles, packed in a zebra strip box, keeping in line with Charlene’s African roots.

elements Bonaire

Dichroic glass consists of multiple layers of metals which are vaporized in a vacuum chamber and electro beamed onto the glass. The glass is then cut into various shapes, layered together and then fused at almost 1500˚F for around 9-12 hours. From every angle you can see the colors change. The glass gives off brilliance and shine against different shades of light.

elements bonaire

All of Elements jewelry is made with stainless steel which is hypoallergenic and does not tarnish. They also make custom ordered products, such as monogrammed champagne glasses for wedding gifts and party favors.

The pieces range from $15-$55 and are also available online.

Bonaire’s Mr Saltman

Walking around downtown Kralendijk, Bonaire, my curiosity led me into a store called “The Saltman.” Having seen the Cargill Salt hills on the southern part of the island earlier that week, I had some idea about the connection of salt with Bonaire. Production of salt started in Bonaire circa 1636 by the Dutch West India Company and their African slaves. Even today, over 20% of the island is used for production of sea salt, in a completely natural way through sun drying.

Walking in the store, I was completely overwhelmed with “everything salt.” From salt crystals, table sea salt, salt mills, bath bombs, to bath salts and lotions, this was a salty oasis!

saltman

I was greeted by the owner Mr. Sjoerd Vanderbrug (aka Saltman) himself. Vanderbrug is Dutch, who moved to Bonaire from Indonesia. Never been I had met someone who was so passionate about salt. He explained to me in what seemed like 100 Benefits of Sea Salt, why salt was the single most important spice that sustained human life, how it has been used over civilizations from preserving food through the winter to exfoliate the skin, that sodium is the sixth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, how it regulates blood pressure and pH balance, and keeps your teeth clean. He spoke about how the discovery of salt on Bonaire put the island on the map, as there were no other valuable resources. saltman bonaire

So “whats the difference between Himalayan vs Kosher vs Regular vs Sea Salt” I asked the Saltman himself. The difference is in source, production, texture, color and taste. Regular table salt is highly refined and enhanced with iodine (an important dietary supplement), whereas sea salt is made by evaporating water. Himalayan sea salt has a pink color from traces of iron oxide found in it. Kosher salt is more coarse than regular salt and is often used for sprinkling on top of food. When cooked, there is no remarkable difference between the flavors of different salts.

Vanderbrug buys the salt from Cargill and spends considerable effort into marketing the product. He started with a dome shaped box to resemble the salt hill and expanded his packaging to boxes, tubs, salt mills (grinders), loose salt and bags of colored bath salt. When cruisers and vacationers come to Bonaire, they want something they can take home as souvenirs and gift to their family and friends. With the limited number of local products available on the island, Bonaire Sea Salt definitely stands out. It is also available at local restaurants and airport gift shops.

La Placita Bonaire

Adjacent to the shop, Vanderbrug also has a coffee shop and a bed and breakfast.

How to Prepare for a Visit to India

The first visit to Asia is always the most memorable. All of your senses will be blasted the moment you get off the airplane and arrive in the land of a billion plus people. Each year, I take a group of travelers for a cultural and volunteer journey to North India, where they first hand experience authentic food, people and projects. Here are some tips I have put together for the first time travelers to north India to help them mentally prepare for an experience of a lifetime!

Indian chai in Kolkata

1. Follow the chaos – One of the first impressions people have in India is of having little to no personal space as there are people everywhere. You will see hundreds of people, cows, dogs, cars, cycles, motorbikes, pushcarts – all sharing the same streets. The smells, sounds and sights can be overwhelming for the first time visitor, but one gets accustomed to it. Often times, you will be in small spaces with lots of people, thinking there is a fire hazard. Also, there is no custom of forming lines or taking turns anywhere. My advise – follow the chaos, or wait forever.

Chaos in the streets of India

2. Dress conservatively – Someone once told me, “I don’t tell Indians how to dress when they come to the US, so why are they telling me what to wear in India.” Blending in with the locals in any part of the world would not only attract less attention, it would also give you respect. Remember that as a foreigner who looks different from everyone else, you already draw some attention. On top of that, you don’t want to wear shorts, mini skirts, baseball hats and stand out more. While big cities in India are more tolerable with their attire, North India (New Delhi, Punjab, etc.) demand a more conservative approach.

3. Eat everything – Food is a very important part of Indian culture. You will be served chai (tea), soda or water at shops, offices, homes, etc. often accompanied by a small snack. It is impolite to decline food or drinks offered by your host, no matter what time of the day. Even if you are not hungry, you have to accept it, thank them and at least take a bite. If someone invited you for dinner or a visit, they will make sure you eat until you cannot move, offering second and third helpings of food. Saying no means you didn’t care for the food and an insult to the chef.

Indian curries

3. Ignore the beggars and street peddlers – This is hard to do as you may have never seen such adjunct poverty before. Indian streets are full of beggars and it is very difficult to look away from the innocent kids asking for pennies or trying to sell boxes of tissues so they can feed their younger siblings. How these kids come to work on streets and if supporting them is ethical, is a topic of controversy. As a tourist, it is better not to indulge in giving alms on streets as it would result in hundreds of more people surrounding you.

4. There is no fixed price – Haggling is part of the shopping experience and very few shops offer fixed prices. This would comprise of high end boutiques or shopping malls. Everywhere else, you will be quoted a price based on how you look and speak (tourist trap). The general rule is to offer 1/3 off the quoted price and settle in the middle. You will see that no two people walk away from a store paying the same for the exact same item.

5. Partake in the gift change culture –  In India, it is customary to bring a hostess gift when visiting anyone’s place (whether for a meal or not), such as sweets, cakes, flowers or gifts. Although everything is now available for sale in India, the locals still appreciate items brought from abroad. If you take a small gift such as souvenirs, chocolates, make up, toys, clothes, etc. for your hosts, maids, drivers, etc., they would appreciate it more than cash. Often times, your host will give you gifts as well, simply for visiting their home in India.

6. Act like a celebrity –  If you have fair complexion, blonde hair or light eyes, prepare for a lot of stares, especially from kids. They will look at you as a specimen they have not seen before, and may approach you with curiosity. Be friendly and smile back, acting like a well mannered celebrity. And don’t be surprised if an entire class of high school students, along with their teachers, want to take photos with you as the centerpiece.

gina in india

7. Keep the clock, lose the time – Concept of time in India is different from what we are use to in the West. If someone says they will see you at 9am that does not mean at that exact time. You never show up for a party until 1-2 hours after the invited time. Flight, buses and trains mostly stick to the schedule, so don’t be late for them.

8. Respect everyone – In Indian society, we hardly address people by their names, unless its a professional environment. Anyone elder to you is your “aunty” or “uncle”, anyone around the same age as you is a “bhaiya” brother or “didi” sister. An older person can call a younger person by first name or “beta” son or “beti” daughter. This approach follows though daily interactions in shops, restaurants, homes,  etc.

The tips mentioned above are not meant to be “rules” that you must follow, but suggestions that would significantly improve your experience during your travels.

Celebrate your BODY in Santa Fe

The city of Santa Fe is aptly known for high spiritual energy that stems from its unique landscapes and Native American history. It is home to a number of spas, yoga and meditation centers, spiritual healers and alternative medicine practitioners. While the choices are endless, many locals pick BODY of Santa Fe as their daily destination for a complete inner and outer retreat. Continue reading “Celebrate your BODY in Santa Fe”

Myths and facts of Rio

They say you never truly know a place till you actually go there yourself and experience it first hand. People warn you, advise you, paint a picture of a destination for you. But everyone has their own lens of looking at things so where one finds danger, another may feel safe, where one sees chaos, another may find beauty. Continue reading “Myths and facts of Rio”

How to avoid travel scams

Tying a whistle around my wrist to ward off the con man

I have heard numerous stories over the years about how people have returned from a vacation with sour stories of stolen passport, money or expensive items. And then there are others that fall victims to con artists and willingly fall into the trap of giving it away free willing. In fact, some people have a business of scamming tourists and are pretty good at what they do. If you have watched the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, you know what I am talking about.

If you want to avoid a travel scam, the first rule is to be smart and alert at all times. You are relaxed, on vacation, want to make friends, talk to strangers, so it’s easy to let your guard down. But this is when you can get into trouble! Never leave your luggage unattended, even in a taxi or a bus. If I have to go to the facilities, I look for a family or a large group that I have observed for a while, then politely ask them to watch my bag. Don’t ever hand over your passport or important documents to anyone. If they need to make a photocopy (for whatever reason) demand that you go with them.

When I went to Morocco, I was forewarned by numerous people about the famous con artists I would encounter there. I would say I managed to stay away from all but one. While on the train from Rabat to Fes, one of my girlfriends was approached by a young man who pretended to be affiliated with a tour guide company. He offered us a train station pick up, a tour of the city and return transportation, all arranged before we reached our destination. After much discussion and contemplation, we decided to not take a chance of being stranded in the Sahara! Follow your instincts at all times.

Other signs of a scam in progress are when someone approached you from nowhere, is making an extra effort to convince you, or is offering a really good deal that is hard to refuse. Scam artists will never give you (even if they promise they would) receipts, addresses or brochures that have a price on them. It would always be a verbal contract, tailor-made especially for you. When in doubt, don’t do it.

Another time, while walking down the shopping area in Hong Kong, a shopkeeper saw me admiring the high-end watched in the showcase. He asked me to come inside so he could show me his sale items. Next thing I realized, I was walking through alleys and stairs, walking into a tiny office in one of the buildings. As soon as we reached this place, I walked out without taking a look at the items. If your gut tells you something, listen to it.

Scams during shopping are the most common. You may enter a store and pay the full asking price for an item, only to realize that the person before you paid a fraction of that. Do your research by asking locals, checking in different shops and parts of town and bargaining when the culture demands. Having some knowledge of the local language and not coming across as a complete tourist also helps.

Morocco vs. India

 My friends travelling with me must be tired of listening to me say “This reminds me of India” dozens of times since we came here. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between India and Morocco, to say the least. Here are a few worth pointing out…

Over crowdedness: When I was walking around in Casablanca, it was a similar experience as being in New Delhi i.e. utter chaos everywhere. Traffic pouring from all directions, hundreds of cars and bikes, none following road rules, yet finding their way through the mess without any incidents. My American friends felt very scared of riding in the petit taxis holding on to their seatbealt-less seats in run down cars fearing a collision at every turn.

Pollution: Again, the car exhaust fumes, dust, dirt, garbage-quite like any big city in India! It’s hard to breathe and throat hurts sometimes.

Bollywood: I heard  the song dil to pagal hai playing in a taxi where the guy insisted it was Arabic music! Another stalker in Rabat who pronounced me “Princess of Morocco” sang me some Hindi film songs. Many street vendors sell Bollywood DVDs. Shah Rukh Khan is supposedly very popular here as a few people mentioned him to me randomly. Posters of Aishwarya Rai are found on billboards and stores.

Shopping: I was so surprised when I walked into a convenience store the other day to buy some water and found many of the products that I grew up with in India. Lux and Pears soap, Fair and Lovely creams, etc. were cosmetics I have not seen in the west at all! Also, the street vendors, road side book stores, knock off designer bags, etc. eminds me so much of Connaught Place in New Delhi. Even the shops inside the Medinas make me feel like I am walking in a Redi (sort of flea) market. How much you pay for an item depends on how well you can haggle. No tension there-I am an experienced bargainer!

Culture: Apparently, the tradition of arranged marriages and joint families is common here as well. The people are very friendly and always willing to help. I have been warned of men verbally harrasing women by whistling, commenting, etc. but am quite used to it having lived in India for so long. They also like to talk to foreigners, perphaps to entertain us in exchange of cash.


Architecture: The area of Rabat where our volunteer house is takes my memories back to my hometown of Chandigarh in northern India. Here, there are two story bungalows with gardens, surrounded by a high wall and gated entrance. The roads are clean and there is a lot of greenry. The styles of the homes is also very much like what you would find in stand alone houses in India.

Me: I constantly hear from locals “You look like a Moroccan” and am actually getting preferantial treatment (such as not being ripped off and being allowed to take pictures, etc.) so I decided to become one! Now when they ask me if I am Moroccan, I say “I am half Moroccan and half Indian.” Funny thing is other volunteers at the home base actually belived this too! I am sticking to my story for now.