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8 things you learn sailing on General Patton’s yacht

This past Sunday, I was delighted to make my debut in my other hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing about my journey from Marquette to Duluth aboard the When and If, the yacht belonging to General George S. Patton. Click here to see the PDF and get all the history on this amazing boat, the oldest and most authentic to visit Tall Ships Duluth.

1. Making friends is easier when your boat is famous. Everywhere we went, from, people wanted to ask about the boat, talk about old Blood ‘n’ Guts, find out where we’d been, and learn our stories.

2. It helps to have a professional photographer on board. I wish I could have Emma Louise Wyn-Jones with me all the time! Check out more of her amazing photos on her Facebook page.

3. Even in August, swimming in the middle of Lake Superior is colder than you could possibly imagine, even when you’re diving headfirst from the legendary Black Rocks in the Upper Peninsula capital of Marquette.

4. A boat is the only way to get around the wild, unspoiled, and gorgeous Apostle Islands (which, despite living mere hours away, I had never visited before this summer).

5. Being a crewmember (even a guest one) at a Tall Ships Festival is like being a gorilla in a zoo (and I mean that in the best possible way). Luckily, we had intern Ben Shaiman (Official Blogger of Tall Ships America) onboard to show us the way.

7. Lake Superior is not to be taken for granted. The Edmund Fitzgerald is just for starters of shipwrecks.

8. Pasties are delicious for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

6 TIMES THE OCEAN LEFT ME

6 times the ocean left me speechless

Happy World Oceans Day! As a Mermaid-American, I have been drawn to the ocean for as long as I can remember, and the more I travel, whether by sail or by land, the more I realize how much it means to me. Here are 6 times in my travels the ocean left me speechless. Let’s preserve our oceans so generations to come can experience its power and beauty.

 

 

Diving off the pier into the phosphorescent harbor of Ascension Island and feeling the blackfish nibble my feet.

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Snorkeling (and kissing!) friendly wild stingrays off the reef in the Cayman Islands.

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Climbing the mast of the Oosterschelde after 30 days at sea and seeing the entire Atlantic spread out before me like a shimmering blue carpet. I felt like time had stopped we now lived in a flooded world.

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Releasing a baby sea turtle into the ocean off Baja, California at sunset, watching it crawl down the beach and get swept up by the waves, to happily live the rest of its life at sea.

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The first time I stood in the bow of a schooner in rough weather, and felt the boat lift off the surface of the water. When I jumped, it was like leaving the earth for a while.

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Racing a pod of joyful pod of hourglass dolphins off the Falkland Islands.

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What’s your all-time favorite ocean experience?

I Got Zika While Traveling: Here’s What No One Told Me

Did you know I got zika on my latest trip through Central American and the Caribbean? I knew it was a risk when I left, but I went anyway. I tried to spray myself with DEET as much as possible, but what most people don’t know is that in the tropics, it’s virtually impossible to protect yourself 24/7. The symptoms first kicked in in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, and followed me into Belize. It put me out of commission for a week, but I still wouldn’t trade my trip for anything. For me, it’s just part of being a traveler, but not everyone feels the same. My latest piece for Oyster explains everything: IMG_20160319_101644009

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There’s a guy in Anguilla building robot boats, and it may revolutionize sailing for women

 Vincent Cate and his three sons have dubbed themselves the Island Boys. They sound like a boy band, but they’re actually a father-son team of boat designers living on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, and they may just change how we sail. Inspired by the Dashews, the supercouple of boat designers, he’s on a mission to build a better boat.
Vincent recently came to me for advice about why more women aren’t into sailing and if maybe a better designed boat might help?
My answer? Absolutely!
Let’s face it, as much as we talk about the romance of the sea, sailboats are just horrible to live in most of the time. Toilets you can’t flush properly and a frequent lack of hot showers; lack of laundry facilities, and getting really, really, really hot. When I’m on a smaller boat, I tend to feel like I’m constantly in the way of someone or something. My dream is to live on a boat full-time, but the more cramped the quarters are, the less appealing it is.
Women like adventure as much as men, and we aren’t complainers. For me, personally, I don’t like feeling useless or like I’m in the way, and on a small, cramped boat, that happens all the time.
Seasickness is a big issue too, especially on monohulls. (No, it doesn’t effect women more than men–women are just less likely to put up with it). Catamarans are much better, but even they’re not perfect. Vincent says he has a solution: a solar-powered robotic boat, that people will be able to live on full-time for next to nothing. Yes, please!
The read model on the Island Boys website shows the basic idea. There are 4 floats in the corners that are shaped so waves you can around them, which makes for even more stable boat than a catamaran.
Here is video showing model and some future ideas: 

I had to ask him a few questions about this (not so) farfetched plan, and what it’s like to work with those four charming sons of his.

What gave you the idea to start designing solar boats?

When I was around 12 I had a little electric boat. I took out the 2 AA batteries and connected a small solar panel up with alegator clips. It went fine across the pool. I said, some day I will build a big solar boat.
So I have been thinking about it for a long time. I am 52 now.

How did the boys get involved?

The boys like doing something interesting and this is interesting. The older two are home schooled, so the programming of this was a home school assignment really.

What’s the appeal of this kind of boat? How does it improve on current designs?

I think it will sell because solar does not cost anything to operate (so much cheaper than power boat) and is simple to operate (does not require the skill level that sailing does).
The boat will be very roomy and stable. It can be roomy because we are above the water so space is sort of easier. Having the right shape floats spaced far apart makes for a very gentle motion. This makes the boat safer and less trouble with seasickness.
I think with lots of electricity we won’t worry about running the watermaker or water heater and with lots of room we can have a real shower. Real beds, real fridge, laundry, etc.
I really think it will feel closer to a regular home than to a normal sailboat. So I think women can feel like “nesting” and not “camping”.
Many people when sailing like to take a break in a hotel. With this boat I don’t think there would be much desire to switch to a hotel.
I live on a Caribbean island, Anguilla. A nice house next to the ocean costs a lot. If I can make floating houses that cost less, I think I can sell them. A boat gets a great view. Also, you don’t have to pay property tax. So if we can get the stability and costs, it should be good.
Not only will these boats be comfortable, roomy, and technologically advanced, but they’ll also be cheap to operate! Sounds like a win to me.
Cate has a crowdfunding campaign going on now, and adds in recent years there’s been a rush to snatch up the “.ai” domains assigned to Anguilla. Whether these are actually Artificial Intelligence researchers or just sci-fi nerds, it’s putting money in Cate’s pocket, which means these solar boats may become a reality sooner than later. And then I’m moving in.
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Why Do I Sail? New Essay in Misadventures Magazine

I’m thrilled that my new essay–parsing out the whys (and why the hells) of why I sail, is featured in the new online edition of Misadventures Magazine, inspired by my recent pilgrimage through the Caribbean on wind power.

Misadventures is wonderful new print and online publication that seeks to cover adventure travel from a woman’s perspective, something that’s desperately needed in the current media landscape. Please check it out and subscribe!

 

 

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Sponsored Post: Rethinking the Travel Souvenir

It’s no secret that I don’t have a lot of souvenirs from my travels. When I travel by boat, there’s usually not a lot of storage space, but even when I’m on land, I pack light–and I mean LIGHT. “Is that it?” people would ask me on my last three-month trip, pointing to my school-sized backpack and tote bag. As if hauling around your entire house on your back (as friends of mine have done) is something to aspire to?

I like traveling this way for many reasons, and I don’t plan to change. Besides, the most important things to hold onto are the memories, right?

But this also means I don’t have a lot of room for extras or souvenirs, and when I do find something small that I can hold onto or give to someone else, I value it all the more.

For instance, the matching initial necklaces that my mother gave me right before I left on my last trip. Personalization says, “No matter where I go in the world, no matter who I meet, I am still me. This is where I come from.” That’s a powerful statement, especially for a traveler.

Uncommon Goods also “travels light.” Despite being a catalog company, they don’t clog my mailbox with paper, and they work with small artists and suppliers whose names and faces appear on every product page, so you know exactly where every item is coming from. Committed to keeping this planet green for future travelers, they carry only products made from natural, recyclable, non-animal components.

Plus, when it comes to the small things, Uncommon Goods has some of my favorites. Not only can you personalize these gifts based on where you’ve been (such as maps and GPS coordinates), but where you’re going. In a world that seems bigger and smaller all at once, these items both serve as a physical token of your memories and a talisman to protect you on your travels to come. And when you order online, they’ll be waiting when you get home! Here are some of my favorites:

 

Hand-Engraved Compass Necklace

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I’ll tell you a secret about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s gotten me in trouble while traveling too many times to count, up to and including missing flights! But these sterling-silver necklaces will always point me the right way.

Latitude Longitude Pendant

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Personalize this pendant with any latitude and longitude for a memory that’s meaningful to you–even if it’s the middle of the ocean. For me, it’s Ascension Island–a place of sea turtles, lava rocks, and one magic night in the South Atlantic, onboard the tall ship Oosterschelde.

Custom Latitude Longitude Keychain

 

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Not surprisingly, I’m a sucker for nautical-inspired jewelry. Shackles, lines, and rigging get my salty soul excited. That’s why I’m crazy about this customizable keychain. The whipped shock cord holding this keychain together makes me want to close my eyes and feel the spray on my face.

Custom Sand Bijoux Bracelet

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I’ve fallen in love with a lot of beaches in my time, and I wish I could take them all home with me. Cayman, Port Antonio, Tulum, Ascension, Scheveningen. But what can you do with a bottle of sand? If you wear this bracelet, you can carry it with you wherever you go–even on the New York subway. Just send in your favorite sand using the custom mailer. Don’t have any? Designer Holly Daniels Christensen has a Sand Bank of hundreds of beaches from all over the world.

Custom Map Pillow

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Travel feeds my soul–but so does arriving home after a long journey and laying my head down in my own bed. With these customizable map pillows, you can choose a nautical chart or land map from anywhere in the U.S. on which to curl up and dream of your next adventure.

Thanks to Uncommon Goods for sponsoring this post. As always, my opinions are my own!

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Happy #Cinco de Mayo! Here are 5 reasons you’ll wish you were spending it in Yucatan

Ole! Today, communities all over the country are celebrating the historic Cinco de Mayo battle by guzzling cheap tequila and wearing oversized novelty sombreros. But on my recent trip to Yucatan, I experienced the natural beauty and rich Mayan culture that represent the more authentic side of Mexico–and I can’t wait to go back. If you think Yucatan is just the beaches of Cancun, you couldn’t be more wrong. The capital city, Merida, is a destination in its own right, complete with boutique hotels like Luz en Yucatan. Here are 5 other reasons to go to Yucatan and experience “The real Mexico:”

Cenotes

There are no aboveground lakes or rivers in Yucatan or Quintana Roo, as the locals will remind you. What they do have are cenotes–underground caverns that were sacred to the Mayans, and it’s easy to see why. Some are above ground, some are in caves, and every one is different.

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Practically every municipality in Yucatan has at least one or two, some nearly undiscovered  (at least by tourists). Two of my favorites I visited were Casa Cenote, an above-ground oasis (perfect for claustrophobes) where the mangrove roots seems to sparkle under the water, and the Cenote Zaci a colossal cavern smack in the center of Valladolid that Batman would be proud of.

Culture

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Most people go to Yucatan to relax and beach out, but they forget to take time out to visit the best art museums in Mexico. These include the MACAY museum in Merida, which features works by abstract painter Fernando García Ponce and muralist Fernando Castro Pacheco, and the utterly charming Casa de los Venados in Valladolid, the single biggest collection of Mexican folk art in private hands, including the most colorful examples of Day of the Dead Catrina art and Oaxacan alibrijes (fantastical animals) I’ve seen. The colonial architecture in Merida and the surrounding towns, including the Palacio Municipal (below) and the Casa de Montejo, built from recycled Mayan temples, is not to be missed.

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Nature

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The sleepy fishing village of Rio Lagartos, a few hours north of Merida, offers guided boat tours through the mangroves where you can spot flocks of flamingos up close, then have a refreshing natural spa day bathing in the same clay that makes the flamingos pink. Celestun and Progreso are other coastal areas off the tourist path, popular with vacationing Mexicans, where you can observe eagles, pelicans, crocodiles and other critters.

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Food

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Stale tortilla chips and guac can’t compare to the traditional Mayan specialties of Yucatan sopa de lima from La Chaya Maya, salbutes and panuchos from the Merida central market, or the delectable oddity known as marquesitas, a confection made like a rolled-up waffle and with the texture of a thin potato chip, filled with Nutella and cheese, sold at every event.

Entertainment

At night, Yucatecans love to get outdoors and have fun–and usually it’s for free! Every weekend, streets close to traffic and you can stroll up and down the avenues listening to Yucatecan Serenade, traditional big band music that Mexican old-timers will come out for and dance salsa all night long

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Or you can see traditional Mayan athletes strain human endurance by playing pok ta pok, the traditional Mayan ballgame that involves hitting a ball through a stone ring using only their torsos. It’s not for weaklings!

 

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Luz en Yucatan: Redefining the Urban Retreat in Merida, Mexico

I have a confession: I’d never heard of Merida, Mexico before I was invited to go there as a guest of Donard and Tom, the cheeky proprietors of Luz en Yucatan, who claim to rent rooms “by the day or by the moment.” How was it possible that I’d never heard of Merida? I mean, come on! It’s the capital of Yucatan state! But part of the wonder of travel by sea is that you end up in the last places you expect, and after having spent two wonderful days at this hotel, using it as a basis to discover this charming, safe, and delightful city, I’m going to tell everyone I know to visit Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state and the epicenter of Mayan culture.

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Located across from the 16th-century Santa Lucia chapel and just a few blocks away from the city’s Grand Plaza, the hotel is ideally located, within walking distance of the historical cathedrals and museums of downtown, as well as the grandiose architecture and nightlife of the Paseo Montejo just to the north, a king-sized, mansion-lined avenue that’s been called Mexico’s answer to the Champs-Elysees. After locating the small sign, backlit and almost mysterious against the facade, I rang the bell and entered the wrought-iron gate, already feeling like I was being ushered into a special hideaway, or some quaint turn-of-the century home that dates to when the henequen (sisal) barons of Merida were at their peak. In fact, the house was formerly part of the chapel, and it shows–the mood is plainly contemplative. Maybe it’s the buttery light filtering through the stained glass in every room–there’s a reason they call it Luz.

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Handing me a towel for the pool, the front-desk attendant asked me if I wanted a beer, like I’d been invited to a backyard carne asada. “It’s free at Luz!” he announced grandly. Heck, yes. And so is tequila–I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the bar cart with six different types of Mexican tequila, as well as a bottle of ruby-red sangrita to mix it with in the traditional local way, shot glasses aligned like little topaz jewels. Filing it away for later, I took a refreshing dip in the lagoon-like courtyard pool, then climbed up an outdoor staircase trimmed with climbing vines, feeling like Rapunzel on the way to a tower–one I actually wanted to be stuck in. Sinking into the pillow-top mattress of the king-size bed I noticed the flatscreen TV, cavernous tile shower and vessel sink, not to mention the strong WiFi signal in every area of the hotel for when the outside world calls. A brand-new remote-controlled air conditioner and a 10-gallon jug of drinking water helped keep me cool and refreshed as a fruit salad, even as I air dried.

Decorated in folk art and with creamy orange light filtering through the stained glass windows, I was in paradise, but what really took my breath away was when I stepped out onto the private terrace. There, I could relax in one of Yucatan’s ubiquitous hand-woven hammocks or sit and drink a beer at the built-in bar, and let the buzz of the city rooftops fill my ears, in the bustle and yet apart from it.

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A lot of hotels tell you to “make yourself at home:” Luz takes it to dizzying extremes. For those not staying in the penthouse, downstairs, there’s a communal kitchen and a full dining room. My penthouse included a full outdoor kitchen, complete with refrigerator, microwave, and anything you could need to throw a gourmet bash. A longer-term traveler would choose Luz in a heartbeat, and I pondered extending my stay myself. Fantasies of making a new life in the most charming city in the Yucatan, cooking out on the patio, and strolling down the Paseo on Sundays started to flit through my head.

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Oh, and in case you weren’t convinced, pricing at Luz is on a sliding scale, based on how successful you feel. A struggling artist? Pay as little as $54 for a ground-floor single. A jetsetting CEO? Snag the penthouse for $104 and stay awhile. And don’t worry: they have no cancellation penalty because “life is hard enough.” Isn’t that the truth? Well, not at Luz, at least.

IF YOU GO

Luz en Yucatan is located at Calle 55 #499 x 60 y 58, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Call 011-52-999-924-0035 (Mexico) for reservations or email info@luzenyucatan.com

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TripAdvisor

Thanks to Luz en Yucatan for inviting me to experience the hotel. As always, my opinion is my own!

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5 Best Places to Eat for Cheap in Caye Caulker, Belize

Belize is known as the most expensive country in Central America, but it doesn’t have to be if you know where to look for cheap eats. The food in Belize is exploding with Caribbean flavor, and it’s all made with love. During my week in Caye Caulker, I became a bit of an expert on finding the best, cheapest places to chow down. Here are the 5 best cheap places to eat in Caye Caulker, Belize:

 

  1. Southside Pizza

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Pizza is hit or miss in the Caribbean (weird processed cheese, ham toppings, oddly-textured crust). But not at Southside. Here, the gooey mozzarella cut into triangles is like the best of New York-style meets the best of Chicago-style. I wish the pizza in Minnesota was this good. You cannot eat just one of these slices. One tip: call ahead. This pizza takes a long time, but it’s so worth it.

  1. Belizean Flava

If you see a bunch of guys in the street standing next to a grill and yelling at you, you’ve come to the right place. Turn to your left, go up the stairs, find a hardworking Belizean lady leaning over a fiery-hot oven, and you’re there. You can get a plate of lip-smacking BBQ chicken (or jerk if you’re a spice lover) for $15 Belize ($7.50 US), which includes two sides (including salad, garlic mashed potatoes, rice, or fries) and two (count ‘em two! rum punches). It’s the best deal in town. This is also where I indulged and ordered lionfish for the first time (an invasive species in the Caribbean, and thankfully highly delicious when grilled in foil with peppers and tomatoes). I must have eaten here 4 times during my week in Caye Caulker, and my friends started going there too.

  1. Ice & Beans

Three words: Free Mini Donuts. And their French press Belizean coffee is the best in town. Even the guy from Best of the Fair–who gets his fill of fried foods daily–told me he goes here daily for his free mini donut and coffee fix.

  1. Errolyn’s House of Fryjacks

Have a fryjack, you’ll never go back (I came up with that). I’m officially obsessed with these puffy, deep-fried Belizean breakfast specialties. Personally, I can devour five of them plain in one sitting, but if you’re more adventurous, at Errolyn’s they come stuffed with ham, cheese, beans or any other breakfast food you can imagine.

  1. Best of the Fair

This is pure indulgence, but hey, you’re on holiday. As a dedicated goer to the Minnesota State Fair, I felt right at home eating the Tornado Potato, Bubble Waffles, and deep-fried corn dogs.

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6 Things No One Tells You About Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Belize for people heading down the  Central American “gringo trail.” Its location on the coral reef make it an amazing destination for diving, snorkeling, and sailing.

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I came there on a sailboat and we anchored in the harbor for almost a week, taking in the scene, amazed by the friendliness of the people and the laid-back island vibes along the main drag, enjoying rum punches from Margarita Mike’s, jerk chicken from Belizean Flava and deep-fried Snickers bars from Best of the Fair.

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But a couple of things surprised me, too. Here’s what you must know before visiting Caye Caulker:

  1. It’s only 10 minutes away by boat from the larger city of San Pedro. I met locals who said they had been able to jetski or windsurf there.
  2. It’s surprisingly easy to get to Yucatan, Mexico. You can catch the once-a-day Water Jets Ferry to Chetumal, Mexico, and from there get an ADO bus to Cancun.IMG_20160331_115223651
  3. Like a lot of the Caribbean resort towns (Utila specifically) there isn’t enough nightlife to pack every club every night, so the bars in town have an an unspoken agreement that they each get a specific night of the week to be the “place to go.” The first night we were there, it was Barrier Reef Sports Bar, the next night, I&I Reggae Bar. All you have to do is ask around to find “the scene”–or it may just find you.
  4. Although there’s no real “beach” to speak of, it’s a popular destination for kiteboarders, who launch off the split on the north end of the main drag. We went to a BBQ and met people from all over the world to come to Belize to try this thrilling extreme sport. The flat conditions make it an excellent place to learn I’m told. There are at least two companies who offer lessons, but be sure to get up early for the best wind!
  5. That “street food” you see may not actually be street food. On the main drag, a couple of guys stood outside near two huge grills, calling to passersby, saying “follow your nose!” We did, and ended up a short flight of stairs at Belizean Flava (right next to the Sports Bar) enjoying the best BBQ and jerk chicken in town for $15 Belize ($7.50 US) complete with two sides (I chose coconut rice and salad; my friends had garlic mashed potatoes) and two rum punches. It’s a family affair–the cook was the waiter’s mother, who’s lent her secret spices in top restaurants all over Belize, and she was back in the kitchen. (The guys outside were just grilling and yelling!)
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  7. It’s dusty! The roads aren’t paved, and the sand and dust from the beach gets everywhere, including on every product in the supermarket, making everything seem much older than it is. After walking around all day, my feet and flip-flops were practically white with dust. You’ll want to rinse off every time you get back to your hotel (or in my case, boat).IMG_20160329_161539208_HDR