Costa Rica and the Pura Vida

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According to the calendar, Spring is approaching!  Thank God!  This has been a tough winter to say the least.  In December, I headed down to Costa Rica to shoot this Meet Me There episode with my crew from Denver and Los Angeles.  It was fast and furious and we covered more ground and went on more eco-adventure excursions that I can really recommend in such a short amount of time!  You can catch the action in the episode below.  I’d love for you to like, share, and subscribe to the episodes on Exclusive Resorts You Tube page in this link.  Enjoy the show!

Sticky in Grand Cayman

fish-smallWhen I first visited Grand Cayman many years ago on a Thanksgiving break with Exclusive Resorts, I was looking forward to some downtime, warm weather, island cocktails and fresh fish. When my friend Sara recommended Calypso Grill out in West Bay, I knew I would have to secure a reservation and try it out. Sara told me the fish sourced from the dock next door was fresh, delicious and well prepared. But the highlight of the night out for dinner would be the sticky toffee pudding.

I LOVE dessert and often times feel like it should be served first and not last. However, sticky toffee pudding didn’t strike me as an island inspired dessert that I must consume in order to make my Grand Cayman trip complete. Boy, was I wrong.

Chef George Fowler has made this delectable concoction a mainstay on the island. The dining experience in his French inspired restaurant is relaxed, yet has a proper feeling to it at the same time. The open air restaurant spills out onto the deck which offers an amazing starlit setting at night. My family has spent at least one night during all of our trips to Cayman dining on that deck, gazing at the stars and enjoying the breeze off of the bay.

When the waiter arrived with my Sticky Toffee Pudding, I was surprised at what was placed in front of me. This delicious smelling dish did not look anything like toffee or pudding. It did, however, look sticky!

 

Sticky...but not looking like pudding.

Sticky…but not looking like pudding.

Regardless of my biased pre-dessert arrival ideas of this calorie heavy dessert, I dove in for my first taste. That was the point when I started making a lot of guttural sounds that you make when you are really digging the taste of something for the very first time!  This Sticky Toffee Pudding was incredible!

Sticky Toffee Pudding is basically a light piece of cake, with a rich sauce drizzled over it and served with a scoop of ice cream.

DJ Duckworth and Chef George

Chef George and me – pre-dessert induced coma

Chef has fans far and wide and was even summoned to personally deliver some to Steven Colbert, comedian and soon-to-be replacement for David Letterman on the Late Show, for his birthday! Talk about top shelf service!

I’ve never been to Calypso Grill and not enjoyed the Sticky Toffee Pudding. It’s just part of the experience. While I really love trying out new dishes and different foods, sometimes sticking with what I know I love is the best option – especially when serious calories are involved! When dessert is in question, I know exactly how long I’m going to have to work out in order to keep my backside from spilling out of my bikini! I’d hate to waste all of those calories and gym minutes on a lack luster dessert. Sticky Toffee Pudding is well worth the work out!

You can see more about Calypso Grill and watch me and Corbin swim with the stingrays in this episode of Meet Me There! If you are so inspired, here is a recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding if you want try it out at home.

DJ Duckworth and Corbin at Calypso Grill

See y’all next time, Calypso Grill

Hawaii Reset

I consider myself a travel addict.

“Hi, my name is DJ. My last trip was 7 days ago.”

I have laid my eyes on many stunning places over the years. And probably like you, I’ve snapped endless photos of sunsets, a few sunrises, buildings, cathedrals and castles along the way. To anyone other than me, these photos produced a lot of yawns and some moments of radio silence. In one word were are BORING! But as an “addict”, I can’t stop snapping pictures. So my subjects over the years have changed moving away from things to people. Primarily MY people like Corbin, Leo and my family and friends. And of course myself. Hello, Selfie!

In June, I spent 7 glorious days in Hawaii. It was my first visit to the Big Island and it will not be my last. My one and only goal for this trip was to do whatever was necessary to hit my reset button. So instead of vacation days full of sight seeing, shopping and eating. My vacation plan consisted of the following.

1. Sleep

2. Eat

3. Chill out – without worrying about Corbin’s schedule, talking to lawyers, discussing the future,         over eating, blowouts, makeup, dry cleaning, bikini waxes, recycling the trash, grocery store lists, appointments, etc. This proved to be challenging until #5 kicked in. Keep reading!

4. Exercise

5. Enjoy an adult beverage

6. Repeat all of the above as needed

I stuck to my plan and can say that for the first time in a very long time I finally felt as if I had a solid amount of sleep! And of course along the way, I started snapping photos on my iPhone. By the way, do any of you travel with a real camera anymore? I haven’t in years but pulled it on on my recent trip to Antarctica with Exclusive Resorts. I snapped a great shot of the sunrise on my first morning because I woke up at my normal East coast time which is six hours ahead of Hawaii. I’m NOT a fan of sunrises! I captured many sunset photos, too! All very pretty, but yet still BORING!

On my last day, I took what I can only say are two of my favorite travel photos yet.

One is of this fisherman I met at a local market, Da Fish House.

The Catch of the Day

The Catch of the Day

He was getting out of his little Toyota truck as I was walked up. Why do big, giant men drive tiny trucks? Always makes me laugh when I see this. He spoke in a Hawaiian language that my Exclusive Resorts concierge Lahela told me was more of a local dialect. If you look closely you can see that his eyes are kind of gold in color. And then there are the tattoos and the fists full of yellow fin tuna. I could not stop checking this guy out. He was a site to behold. I kept trying to calculate how many dollars worth of sushi he was holding in his hands. Not to mention the shear size of this guy! Check out those man boobs! He and his friends had been fishing about 10 miles off the coast all night and were delivering the load of fish to the market.

A picture is worth a thousand words. This one is for sure. I only wish I would have put a mic on him (not sure what I would have clipped it to) and gotten his story on camera for our Meet Me There – Kohala Coast episode ! Guess that means, I should just go back,right? I mean, it is time for another trip. I’ve been home for seven days as I mentioned above. That’s long enough, don’t you think?

Oh, so you want to see my second photo?  Here it is.

Hawaii cloud video in Kahalo

Wow. Just Wow.

My friend Hadley and I were walking over for our last island cocktails and dinner when I snapped this one. I think I spiffed it up with a filter on my iPhone but it didn’t need a lot of editing. Mother Nature never does really. This one is all about the clouds and is not BORING in the least.

Feel free to share some of your favorite travel photos from Hawaii below if you’d like. I’d love to see them!

Gypset Chic in Sayulita

smallfishLiving in New York, I see a lot of really well dressed—and often over-the-top dressed—people on the streets. In my neighborhood, I often see one of New York City’s best dressed men. His adorable daughter and my handsome son are in the same grade. On Fifth Avenue, it’s all about high-end labels, handbags, shoes, and jewels. Seriously, some of these women, from head to toe, sport at least $100K worth of clothing and accessories. Further downtown, it’s street chic at its finest, from club kids to cross-dressers.

When I hit the streets of Sayulita in Mexico, I was not expecting to be wowed by the fashion scene, much less meet a fashion inspiration. Little did I know that I was about to be blown away by Sayulita’s gypset fashionista—Natalie, the owner of Pachamama gallery and boutique.

Natalie from PachaMama

Natalie from PachaMama
Photo by: Stefanie Michejda

I’ve talked before about “gypsetters”—those lucky artists, surfers, and bon vivants that you find flitting between places like Montauk, Ibiza, and, yes, Sayulita. Not only is Natalie a card-carrying member of the genre, she’s so much like the wind that she’s nearly impossible to track down. We showed up in Sayulita with our fingers crossed, hoping to cross paths and convince her to speak with me on camera. To our joy, she said yes, but only after she could get “camera ready.” I already liked this woman! She may be part of a carefree lifestyle but she knows when she needs to look her very best!

While she primped and prepped, I wanted to show off the store’s wares on camera for my episode of Meet Me There – Real del Mar. I couldn’t resist a short version of the gorgeous hand-embroidered caftans on sale. Each one was a piece of wearable art.

Then I spotted the jewelry case! Displayed casually in the black case were several exquisite necklaces made of black Tahitian pearls strung on soft leather cords. They called out to me! So with a triple strand of pearls around my neck and one arm wrapped up in a fringed snakeskin cuff, I had appropriately worked myself up into a retail lather when Natalie walked back into the boutique.

The first time I saw her, she was chic enough. But when she glided back into the shop, she looked like a Mexican gypsy goddess, dressed in a long silk slip dress that hung perfectly over her tanned, slender frame. She had adorned herself with tribal body paint with a trail of white dots marking the middle of her face. To top it off, and I mean really top it off, she had a HUGE – like three-foot-long – bird feather tucked into the top of her hair. And she wore it like she pulls off this look on a regular basis without a lot of fanfare and drama. I mean, I wake up thinking, “it feels like a Rag and Bone Jeans and boots kind day” where Natalie probably wakes up and thinks, “I’m gonna wear tribal body art and a three-foot-long bird feather in my hair”.

We talked about life, passions, black Tahitian pearls, family, art, and sailing to Mexico from Europe – which she did, of course. All of the things she loves are incorporated into her boutique, which is really an extension of her own family. Their photos hang all around the gallery, and each of her children looks like they stepped out of a magazine spread.

I love stumbling across a fabulous travel treasure, and Pachamama in Sayulita is one of my favorite hidden gems. After wearing the amazing caftan around the boutique for nearly an hour, I had to buy it. It’s stunning, colorful, and handmade by a group of local women. So I wasn’t just shopping, I was funding the local artisans!

Mexican Dress at Pachamama

Loved it – bought it!

I left the boutique feeling inspired as I headed off to my surfing lesson. I wondered if I’d ever see Natalie again. People like her seem to pop up in your life only once.

Fast forward three months:

I’m at the MOMA with Corbin, who wanted to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because, according to him, it’s the second most famous piece of art in the world. (We were just a few days away from our Paris trip, where he wanted to see the most famous piece—the Mona Lisa).

As I walked up to the desk to pay for our ticket, I spied a tall woman standing a few feet away, wearing an AMAZING long, silk, tie-dyed dress, and guess what? A bird feather in her hair! No. It couldn’t be Natalie. But there she was. Natalie the gypset goddess was standing next to me—at the MOMA, of all places, thousands of miles away from the shores of Sayulita. We exchanged hellos and talked a little, clearly both stunned to see each other. You really never do know who you’ll run into in New York!

Pachamama details: This magical spot doesn’t have a website, or a social media presence, or anything else. It’s way too cool for that. If you wanna shop there, you gotta get yourself to Sayulita! And when you do, tell Natalie you heard about it from me.

Grand Cayman – Meet Me There

smallfishGrand Cayman is a destination I have returned to many times.  It’s a beautiful place for starters. It’s super easy to get to from New York City on a direct flight on Jet Blue out of JFK.  The sting rays, star fish, sea turtles, sunscreen, sand, sunsets, 7 Mile Beach and star gazing are the things that always take me back to the island in the Caribbean.  This trip is brought to you by the letter ‘S’ it seems!  Check out the Meet Me There episode with me and Corbin!

 

Real Del Mar and a New Start

smallfishTraveling to a new destination is always a thrill. I’ve made several repeat visits to a lot of places over the last 10 years. I’m never bored in the places I return to again and again. Often times, I relish the thought of returning to some of my favorite spots – hello, 11th Moon in Laguna Beach! But it is always good to shake things up a bit and explore new territory. That is precisely what happened on my trip to Real Del Mar, Mexico.

Technically, it was a work trip—my first shoot for the Meet Me There series. But it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was reeling from my father’s recent death. My whole world had been turned on its head. When I traveled to Real del Mar, I was just coming off of my Dad’s funeral the week before. Some alone time on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, even with some work thrown in, was just what I needed. In fact, I’d never needed it more.

I was excited for this first shoot, and a little nervous. As the first one to arrive at the house, I had the views all to myself, and I settled into a lounge chair by the infinity pool and took full advantage of the solitude. It felt nice. Really nice.

Real Del Mar view

View to a Chill

I couldn’t help but think about my Dad and the trips he’d taken with me over the last 8 years. He would have LOVED Real Del Mar. Dad was the kinda guy who liked to sip on a cocktail and “shoot the breeze” about everything from his latest building projects to his new favorite recipe. We had done just that very thing on every trip we’d taken together. Dad was thrilled about the Meet Me There series and knew how excited I was about the project, too. It broke my heart to think he wouldn’t get to see any of it come together.

Surf’s Up

But as soon as my feet hit the ground the next morning, the team and I were off and running on an unforgettable Mexican adventure. It was my first time in Real Del Mar, so I signed myself up for some other firsts—like surfing!

I confess—I am not a huge fan of water activities. Sure, I like to swim in the pool and hang out at the beach, but you’ll never catch me clambering for a boogie board or spending hours playing volleyball in the pool. I’m a leisurely, poolside kind of gal! The water is a side attraction, not the main event.

But I’d recently made a list of my personal 10 Commandments—at the top of the list is a promise that I will take the leap, every time—no matter what. I couldn’t break my own Commandment.

Hangin' 10 and a few fingers

Hangin’ 10 and a few fingers

Nothing motivates you to get up on a surfboard like a video crew “audience” on the shoreline and a photographer floating next to you a camera up your ass, it really motivates you to get up on that surfboard. I knew I had to deliver…something…or I’d have brought us all out here for nothing. So I went for it and found myself surfing! In the Pacific Ocean! On my very first attempt to stand up. Mission accomplished! And I looked amazing (thanks to Henry, a whiz with the camera!) I never dreamed I could do it. Sadly, my honors performance on the surfboard really cut down on the number of water-soaked, four-letter rants for the blooper reel. Sorry kids!

Mingling with the Gypset

I’ve met a lot of characters while traveling, but I had my first real encounter with a gypsy in Sayulita. But Natalie is not just a gypsy—she’s part of the Gypset. What the heck is a Gypset? According to Urban Dictionary:

Gypset
…Fusing the ease and carefree lifestyle of a gypsy with the sophistication of the jet set, Gypsetters are artists, surfers, designers, and bon vivants who live and work around the globe, from Jose Ignacio, Uruguay and Ibiza, Spain, to Montauk, New York. Gypset Style explores the unconventional, wanderlust lives of these high-low cultural nomads and the bohemian enclaves they inhabit, as well as their counterculture forbears, such as the Victorian explorers, the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, and the hippies.

Natalie is a gypset lifestyle guru and the eccentric owner at Pachamama, an amazing little shop and gallery. As soon as I stepped into her store, I was totally mesmerized. I couldn’t stop touching things, like the black tahitian pearl jewelry strung on leather cords and the handmade, locally designed bags. I played dress-up in a hand-embroidered dress that ended up coming home with me. I also snagged some amazing gold spiral earrings! I haven’t decided if I’m going to wear the dress or hang it on the wall. It is simply stunning and so colorful!

photo 5

Natalie was dressed like a gypsy goddess. Not too many women can pull off a look that includes no shoes, a slinky slip dress, face paint, and an enormous feather in the hair, but she did just that.

The Essentials

When I think of Mexico, my monkey brain immediately goes to tacos and tequila. Mama Lucia tequila factory was an essential stop on our trip. We took a tour and did a little tasting. Well, maybe more than a little. But the tequila did not disappoint.

Mama Lucia tequila

Triple Threat at Mama Lucia

You can’t drink tequila without a toast. So with each shot, we did a different toast. I had to stop somewhere after four or five “toasts”. After all, I was working, and the fear of an embarrassing blooper reel surfacing still loomed large in my head. So when you see me swirling around in the episode with a shot of tequila in my hand, I’m not drunk! That was all part of one of our hula/shake-your-money-maker/throw-back-a-shot-of-tequila toasts! I promise.

Tequila tasting

Bottoms up!

The food in and around Real Del Mar was yummy. I’d spent the previous week in Arkansas with my family, eating more than my fair share of Southern comfort food. I was reluctant to overindulge on food while on the shoot—I had a swimsuit to wear, after all, and the camera doesn’t lie!

But when I arrived at Tacos on the Street, my dreams of moderation went straight out the window. The restaurant delivers exactly what the name suggests – Tacos on the Street. The food was fresh and the flavors melded together brilliantly. The tacos were so good, I ordered seconds and ate every last bit.

Tacos on my plate!

Tacos on my plate!

After two weeks in shock, a trip to Real del Mar was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was relaxing, invigorating, and never, ever boring. I learned a few new tricks and got way out of my comfort zone…and liked it. I’d go back in a second. But next time, I’ll work on my surfing and indulge in a few stiff margaritas and a few plates of tacos. But this time, I’ll leave my cameraman behind. My adventures—and my bloopers!—will be mine alone.

That's a wrap on Real Del Mar

That’s a wrap –  with my camera man Henry!

Kids Take Manhattan and One Reluctant Mom

I’ve lived in New York City for years, but I have a confession to make—I have never visited the Statue of Liberty. Or Ellis Island. Not because I don’t appreciate their significance to New York City and America.  But because I have a real dislike for being part of aa sea of tourists.  But now that’s changed, in a big way. After seeing them both on the Exclusive Resorts Kids Take Manhattan Event, I’m glad I waited.

Lady Liberty

On this special Event, we had after-hours access to the Statue of Liberty. We saw Lady Liberty as she’s meant to be seen—without long lines or masses of tourists trying to snap photos. She was impressive close-up. And the only screaming kids were with us! They were thrilled to have room to run to get to the Statue before the rest us. Corbin and I wanted a little background, so we followed our park guide around to the base of the statue for a full rundown.

Statue of Liberty after Dark

Statue of Liberty after Dark

The guide told us that if we wanted to check out the view from her crown, to come back in January or February! Of course, I’d nearly freeze to death getting there, but the crowds are slim and the view is spectacular. Sounds tempting…except the freezing part. We’ll see!

The Great Hall

After our Statue tour (and the requisite trip through the gift shop), we boarded a private ferry toEllis Island. We walked into the main building and into the Registry Room, also known as the Great Hall. It was definitely great, in every sense. The room is awe-inspiring, and had a kid-friendly sit down dinner with the other ER members and their children. Corbin had a blast chatting it up with two boys from Toronto and another one from Alabama.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

The team of park guides took the kids off to talk with them about their own ancestory. The big kids (adults) hung back with our own guide, who gave us the history of Ellis Island and clarified some of the common day myths – for instance, there was not a book that immigrants signed at Ellis Island that led to names being shortened or changed all together! We all reconvened for a little dessert! Corbin and the boys took off, running, hiding, and playing among the massive beams in the Great Hall until we boarded the ferry for our return trip.

Our Personal Playground

How do you even describe a sleepover at famous toy store FAO Schwarz? Three letters—OMG! Corbin still hasn’t stopped talking about it! He was over-the-moon excited when we showed up. Within in seconds, he was off with the other kids and I left them to their “business”. I’ve heard bits and pieces of how the night unfolded, but I can tell you this: He was up until 2 a.m. and was pretty bleary-eyed when I showed up at 8 a.m. I’ve heard about hide and seek, playing on the renowned giant floor piano, and the candy. Literally buckets of sugary candy. Clearly a recipe for a successful night.

The dream is over, Corbin

Corbin, it’s time to go home!

Broadway

Our last outing was to see the Tony-winning Broadway show Matilda. Despite the great seats, Corbin wasn’t so sure about this one. But once it started and he realized there were really a lot of boys in the cast, he got into it—his lack of sleep the night before got the better of him. He fell asleep during the second act. Fortunately, despite his cat nap, he managed to see and hear some of my favorite scenes in the show.

Corbin before Matilda and his mid-show nap!

Corbin before Matilda and his mid-show nap!

We’ve since downloaded a few of the tunes, too. Corbin is a big fan of Roald Dahl, so he’s checking out the original book. He’s currently halfway through—which makes me infinitely happy. Any Event that leads to more reading is okay by me!

Showtime Selfie

Showtime Selfie