10. Black Sand Beach Reynisfyara, Iceland
When I talked about a top ten beach list I bet you weren’t thinking this beach would be on the list huh? Yes! You'll get my review of the best beaches I've been to so far. But there is just something magical about this beach adjacent to the village of Vic that I had to include it. I came across this beach in January, 2016. The roaring waves crashing of the black sand juxtaposed against the basalt columns forming a pseudo-pyramid and the view of Reynisdrangar just off of the water is so magical. Legend has it that the jutting rocks were two trolls pulling a three masted ship towards the shore. They were turned to stone when they got caught by the sun rising. On the east side of the beach there are more jutting rock formations in the ocean and a cave made out of the same basalt columns that gave me that eerie feeling. It’s exactly like watching the Lord of the Rings Return of the King. Be careful! The water is very strong on this side of the island. My tour guide forewarned our bus of tourists not to get too close. This Japanese girl, who didn’t understand much English from a conversation I had with her didn’t heed his warning. She went straight for the shore with her boyfriend immediately behind to take a picture. Consequently, the waves came in and pushed her to her hands and knees while her boyfriend ran away. Before I could even understand what was going on, my tour guide was already at full speed to grab a hold of her and take her to safety. One, I would dump that boyfriend if I was you gurl! Two, I was impressed. There are not a lot of people in this world that has that kind of a reaction time. If he acted a second later, another wave would have taken her down to Poseidon.
It was a sunny March Wednesday in Havana. Like a light switch, my spirits wake up and want to do cartwheels from the deep Winter slumber in New York I fall prey to every year. Showered and well rested, I walked to Hotel Nacional, the most famous hotel in Cuba where I intended on meeting my roommate Kwame. He left the day before and had not had any connection with me for two whole days because of opposite schedules. Wifi connection in Cuba was sparse at best. And American phone companies don't offer international plans in this communist country just yet. Needless to say, I was anxious to see if he got in okay. He doesn’t have a lot of foreign travel experiences under his belt. And Cuba was hardly anywhere near an all inclusive Sandals Resort. We agreed to meet at 4pm on the day I got in. As the doorman of the hotel courteously welcomed me in, I easily spotted my roommate sitting in one of the lobby couches dressed in a print button down short sleeve and matching shorts looking relaxed like he's been on vacation for weeks. He had his head down and legs crossed reading the Lonely Planet's Guide to Cuba; a seemingly basic book that will turn out to be our saving grace in a couple of days. I smiled. I was so proud of him. I felt like we were international spies that agreed to secretly meet each other in another part of the world at a specific time and he came through.
It was a Saturday night. I was out at some bar in the Central Hong Kong district trying to feel out the Hong Kong night life. It’s usually easy for me to strike up a conversation anywhere. After all, people have told me I have a very magnetic personality;) This night was an exception. Nobody was really up to meeting new people. And this goes without the lack of trying. I struck up a few conversations here and there but they just wanted to hang out with their friends. It was that kind of a night. I bounced around a few bars and finally settled on one that's less crowded and planted myself in the middle of the bar. Not noticing the guy right next to me, I ordered a drink from the barkeep. “Visiting Hong Kong?” The guy next to me asked. "Am I that obvious?” As I take a sip of my martini trying to keep my cool. Turns out he’s an expat who’s been working in Hong Kong for 8 months. We talked about the culture. We talked about the comparisons between the Japanese and Hongkongers with me having just flown in from Osaka. And I voiced my thoughts on Hong Kong being the New York of Asia. It smells like New York. It’s busy like New York. It’s like home away from home without any rat sightings.......yet.
Jim was his name. He was an expat. I prefer meeting locals but since a good percentage of the Hong Kong population is made of expats, he was good enough. He guessed my nationality pretty quickly. “Filipino” he said. It was commendable! I’m ethnically ambivalent to most. But apparently, many Filipinos live in Hong Kong. It was news to me. I’ve been in Hong Kong 4 days in before I met the guy and I didn’t see anyone looking like me. He told me that a large amount of Filipinos hang out in the vicinity of the Central station of the Hong Kong subway line on Sunday afternoons. “What do you mean?” I asked. “They are everywhere!” He said. He bought me my next round, welcomed me to Hong Kong and went home. I was perplexed. Do these Filipinos have a huge function on Sundays? I know we are generally a happy people but what kind of Filipino holiday celebrates every Sunday?
There’s a big Filipino community in Chicago where I grew up. My mom and dad are usually elected officials from different organizations who would hold such functions and schedule party events. It could be a bowling league, a church bible study or a sixteen year old girl’s coming of age. My parents are very involved. That’s why I was interested in this mass gathering of Filipinos.
I went on with my night trying to to do more of the same but failed miserably. Don’t worry, I raged the night after. But at that point, it was time to throw in the towel.
Then next morning, I slept in. I totally forgot about my conversation with Jim. I was hungry and focused on finding this restaurant my coworker in the U.S. recommended. Coincidentally, it was near the Central station, the same place I wandered around the night before. I took a shower, got dressed and walked to the subway. As I got out on the Central stop, I noticed the large amount of Filipinos standing and leaning by the building next to it. I started to remember what Jim mentioned but this was hardly the exaggeration that I envisioned. Then every corner I turned, more Filipinos kept popping up on my radar. In fact, throngs of them were just loitering on corners sitting and conversing about life. Some were playing cards. Some were eating. Most of them were women. The small amount of men that I saw were busy wrapping cardboard boxes in tape stuffed with presents to send to loved ones in the Philippines. This is a common tradition amongst Filipinos working abroad in more affluent countries. Providing for their family members in their homeland with gifts strengthens the bond across hundreds to thousand of miles.