Celebrities, Cuisine, Culture and History

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1. The 1992 movie “Captain Ron” was almost entirely filmed in Puerto Rico.

Ackee has a scrambled-eggie look.

Ackee has a scrambled-eggie look.

2. Ackee and saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica. Ackee is an orange-yellow fruit whose flesh has the texture of scrambled eggs. Jamaica cans ackee for export to Caribbean expatriate communities around the world.

3. Legend has it that the frangipani tree, sometimes called the “flower of the Caribbean,” was spread around the world by Catholic missionaries, including to Hawaii where its flowers are woven to make leis.

4. The concept of zombies comes from Haitian voodoo culture, manifested in today’s popular TV series “The Walking Dead” and the 1979 horror classic “Dawn of the Dead.” Then there was that 2010 send-up made in Cuba and titled “Juan of the Dead.”

Viva los muertos.

Viva los muertos.

5. Two of the most remote islands of the Caribbean are San Andres and Providencia with a history that includes both Puritan settlers and pirates. Nicaragua, 150 miles away, is the closest mainland, but because of the twists and turns of history the islands are actually a territory of Columbia, three times further.

6. Nearly forgotten today is the Battle of the Caribbean. Between 1941 and 1945, German submarines attacked oil refineries and tankers throughout the region, including fierce raids on Nicolas Harbor in Aruba and Castries Harbor in St. Lucia, both in 1942.

The Germans boasted about their raid against Aruba.

The Germans boasted about their raid against Aruba.

Pilar at the Hemingway Museum, jus outside of Havana.

Pilar at the Hemingway Museum, jus outside of Havana.

7. Ernest Hemingway spent most of his working years living on a hilltop estate outside of Havana. After his death, the Cuban government turned the property into a museum dedicated to the famous author. Hemingway’s boat, a 38-foot Wheeler purchased in 1938, is on display on what used to be a tennis court.

8. St. Lucia died a virgin at the hands of the Romans, so it’s a bit ironic that her namesake Caribbean Island, pictured at the top of the page, specializes in hosting honeymooners.

9. Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels at an estate in Jamaica he named Goldeneye, not to mention a children’s book “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.” Fleming moved to the island right after the end of World War II.

Ian Fleming at the desk where he wrote James Bond novels.

Ian Fleming at the desk where he wrote James Bond novels.

10. The U.S. Virgin Islands are the only American jurisdiction that calls for driving on the left. Why? Because Denmark drove on the left in 1917 when the islands were purchased by the U.S. Shortly afterward, Denmark switched to driving on the right, while the USVI continued their left-sided ways.

11. West Indian accents are distinctive and melodic. Trinidad with its profoundly diverse ethnic make-up has a reputation for having one of the most suggestive. CNN ranked the Trinidad accent as the 11 sexiest in the world, describing it as “an undulating, melodic gumbo of pan-African, French, Spanish, Creole and Hindi dialects that, when adapted for English, can be sex on a pogo stick.”

12. Voters of the Dominican Republic voted overwhelmingly in 1870 to ask the United States to annex their country, which is about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The U.S. Senate rejected the petition that same year, 28-28.

13. Puerto Ricans often refer to themselves as Boricua, which means a person of Boriquen, the Taíno Indian word for the island we call Puerto Rico.

Yup, where the oysters grow on trees.

Yup, where the oysters grow on trees.

14. When he returned to Spain from the Caribbean in 1492, Columbus told the queen that oysters in the islands “grew on trees.” Hearing this, contemporary artists depicted shellfish hanging like so many pears from branches. Columbus wasn’t lying entirely. Caribbean oysters did grow on trees; they clung to the roots of the mangroves, which left them exposed at low tide.

15. Beginning in 1824, freed slaves from the U.S. migrated to the Samana Peninsula of Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Their English dialect was officially discouraged during the 20 century reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, and only about 8,000 people are said to speak “Samana English” today.

The castle of the Mundo King.

The castle of the Mundo King.

16. A couple decades ago an eccentric German millionaire named Rolf Schultz built a wondrous, five-story castle on the side of a hill on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. Calling himself “Mundo King” (king of the world), he assembled a huge collection of sculptures and paintings dedicated to the notion that Earth has a gigantic parking garage for alien spacecraft beneath the ocean. Alas, the king is dead, but paid tours of the castle continue.

17. Qualifying as indigenous, people of Bequia are allowed to hunt whales from small sailing craft which receive position reports from lookouts signaling from hillsides using mirrors. Bequia has a tourism industry, too, and every so often foreign visitors are horrified as islanders harpoon and butcher a whale right in front of them.

Bequia islanders butcher a whale.

Bequia islanders butcher a whale.

18. You cannot bring a dog into Jamaica unless it comes from the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Jamaica is rabies-free, and dog smuggling is a serious offense.

19. Grenada is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg. The U.S. invaded Grenada in 1983 to topple a pro-Cuba, pro-Soviet regime. After the victory, U.S. President Ronald Reagan joked that Grenada had to be invaded because “you can’t make eggnog without nutmeg.”

20. Some English words from the Taino language: banana, caiman, canoe, cay, cocoa, coconut, hammock, hurricane, indigo, mahogany, mangrove, savannah, tobacco, tomato and yam.

Tainos go boating.

Tainos go boating.

21. Down island driving can be a challenge because of bad, roads, crappy vehicles and a cheerful insouciance on the part of local drivers. By far the worst driving, statistically speaking, happens in the Dominican Republic with 29.3 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people. The death rate would probably be higher if road conditions allowed for higher speeds.

22. After turning down roles in “Splash,” “Midnight Express” and “Officer and a Gentleman,” John Travolta spent some of that free time sailing the Caribbean.

The West Indian manatee.

The West Indian manatee.

23. The West Indian manatee’s closest living relative is the elephant.

24. People of the Caribbean Basin love to drink something called Malta, which is a lightly carbonated, beverage brewed from barley, hops, and water, much like beer but non-alcoholic.

25. Little known stateside, the cassava is a food staple in the Caribbean. Problem is: This fibrous root vegetable contains a lot of cyanide. Islanders know to soak cassava for 18-24 hours, then cook it thoroughly to avoid poisoning dinner guests.

Who wants to try my casava dish? It's a first for me.

Who wants to try my casava dish? It's a first for me.

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