HURRICANE WATCh

Protect Your Vacation

The National Weather Service last week predicted 11 to 14 more tropical storms between now and November, including seven to nine more hurricanes. What's a beach addict to do?

* Buy travel insurance. Chances are great that, even if there are nine more hurricanes this summer and fall, all will miss your vacation spot on a given week. But if you're laying out thousands of dollars, it could be worth putting up an extra $100 or so to guarantee your luck. You can't buy "hurricane insurance," but consider a trip cancellation policy that includes hurricanes as a reason for canceling. Better yet, buy one that allows you to cancel for any reason. Travel agents can advise you on a policy, or comparison shop at sites like www.insuremytrip.com.

* Be prepared to cancel. CoGo was sympathetic to a honeymoon couple that arrived in Cancun recently to find that their resort and nearby restaurants had no electricity and the beach littered with debris. But turns out they had a trip cancellation policy and decided to go despite hurricane warnings. All insurers agree: If you choose not to cancel, you can't expect money back when things turn out to be grim.

* Choose your island wisely. If you have to have that Caribbean fix and don't like to take chances, consider the so-called ABC Islands -- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- which are so close to the equator that they are basically hurricane free.

* Check with your travel provider. Many companies are attempting to allay concerns. Hyatt, for example, promises refunds if a hurricane hits before or during your stay. Last week, the online travel agencies Orbitz and Expedia announced they will waive booking fees if you need to change plans because of a hurricane watch or warning, and will work with resorts and airlines to try to get them to do the same.

HEALTH WATCH

Leaden Spice

Spices sold in markets in developing countries may look wonderful and fresh. But beware: They may contain lead.

Researchers were originally flummoxed about the causes of lead poisoning in two unrelated families, until they tested spices the families bought while visiting relatives in the Republic of Georgia and India, and used frequently.

Alan D. Woolf, director of the Program of Environmental Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston, said the lead was most likely introduced into the spices during the grinding process, although it might have been deliberately added to increase weight. Whatever the source, he warned that travelers should avoid buying spices in markets in poor countries, as they may not be inspected or tested. He added, however, that you're not likely to encounter enough lead to worry about from eating in restaurants on vacation.

SHORE WATCH

Pretty Dirty Beaches

Better monitoring is probably responsible for the record number of beach closings due to hazardous bacterial contamination in the United States last year, according to a recent annual report by the National Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environ- mental advocacy group. But even so, the nearly 20,000 closings and health advisory days represent a stark warning.

Eighty-five percent of the closings and advisory days were prompted by dangerously high bacteria levels, indicating the presence of human or animal waste. Consequences: gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, and ear, nose and throat problems. More federal help is needed to help communities reduce runoff and update aging sewage systems, said NRDC spokeswoman Nancy Stoner. But the main federal program for helping them do that -- the Clean Water State Revolving Fund -- was cut by Congress last month. Details: www.nrdc.org.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

South Pacific Trio

Fly from New York to Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand for $1,431 including taxes. Details: What's the Deal?, P3.

Reporting: Cindy Loose.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.